Map: internationalteflacademy.com
Map: internationalteflacademy.com

HAVANA TIMES – The monthly Envio magazine recently came out with its February edition which includes a review of the political situation facing Nicaragua in an election year.

A preliminary sketch of this year’s electoral scenario

The official propaganda is trying to sell the certainty that Daniel Ortega will be reelected for the fourth time in November. While there’s much to support that idea, it has its weak points. With many hands still to be dealt on the electoral game table, all we have so far is a rough sketch of how the year might play out.

Envío team

Nicaragua is the only Latin American country today in which confidence in elections as a civic mechanism for changing government has taken a major dive. In the past two municipal elections (2008 and 2012) and the 2011 presidential elections, the incumbent Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) is widely alleged to have obtained its overwhelming majority of municipal governments and absolute majority of national legislative seats through fraud.

Ethical journalism still requires the use of the term “alleged” but only because the government has prevented the evidence from being presented, the challenges from being heard and even the recommendations in international electoral observer reports from being implemented. But there’s no doubt in the mind of most Nicaraguans or most members of the diplomatic corps.

Will there be fraud in 2016?

The specter of a new fraud runs through all independent pre-electoral analyses. Even though it’s hard to imagine the opposition posing any real threat, particularly with the Ortega government’s largesse to the poor having won it grateful popularity, there’s a generalized suspicion that President Ortega will employ fraud again to prevent any of the opposition parties from regaining even a foothold in the municipal governments or the National Assembly.

While the frauds have eroded the Ortega government’s legitimacy both at home and abroad, the charges and evidence haven’t translated into significant political or economic repercussions from the international community, with the exception of the initial freezing and even cancelling of several development programs, among others by the US government after the 2008 elections. What has prevailed after the immediate scandal appears to be indifference, at least publicly. In some cases, however, that stance grows out of the view that public disagreement with the government has no beneficial effect and pulling out of the country altogether—as several Scandinavian countries have done—leaves them with no diplomatic leverage.

This year, even those who most strongly predict Ortega’s inevitable victory in November are also acknowledging the need, even urgency, of assuring that the results are unquestionably accepted by the country’s entire population and validated internationally.

Changes without change?

The demand for fair and transparent elections has already produced more than 40 weekly half-day civic protests in Managua and other departmental capitals. Have they had any effect on Ortega?

Rosario Murillo, primera dama y portavox de gobierno, Daniel Ortega y Miguel Obando y Bravo. Photo: 19digital.com
Rosario Murillo, primera dama y portavox de gobierno, el presidente Daniel Ortega y el cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo. Photo: 19digital.com

Heading the list of demands for transparency is the replacement of all top magistrates of the Supreme Electoral Council (CSE), Nicaragua’s fourth branch of government. After giving no signals whatever of entertaining such a notion despite one tainted election after another, Ortega finally changed something in the CSE just prior to the unusually late official call for this year’s elections. Following the death of Liberal CSE magistrate José Marenco Cardenal in July of last year, his seat was filled by a woman—Judith Silva of the governing party. In January of this year the rumor began to circulate that the highly questioned CSE president, Roberto Rivas, would be switched to the diplomatic corps. While nothing has come of that wishful thinking, two Ortega loyalists from the FSLN’s “old guard” unexpectedly resigned their magistrate posts, claiming they were stepping down to expand the electoral branch’s “gender policy.”

And indeed, in their place Ortega proposed two women who have come up through the ranks of the Sandinista Youth. The Coalition for Democracy—made up of the Independent Liberal Party (PLI), the Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS), the Christian Democratic Union (UDC) and the New Christian Alliance Party (PANAC)—proposed six candidates, four of them also women, but those designated by Ortega will surely be the ones elected by the National Assembly.

Is this a gatopardista strategy, that paradoxical concept from political science that “if we want everything to stay as it is, everything must change” taken from Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa’s 1950s novel Il Gattopardo (The Leopard)? Rivas’ departure would unquestionably have some symbolic weight, since the bulk of the criticisms of the CSE’s disgraceful performance have targeted him, but it would have no more significance than any other symbol. In fact, the CSE presidency has for months been in the hands of Lumberto Campbell, a Creole comandante from the Caribbean Coast who is very close to Ortega. The CSE personnel is so beholden to Ortega from top to bottom that nothing short of a massive cleansing and restructuring would offer any hope of real change.

Will the appointment of women to the top CSE posts have any real significance? Very doubtful, as there’s not a single women’s organization in Nicaragua that doesn’t question the govern¬ment’s gender policy, given that none of the women who received high-level elected or appointed posts in line with the government’s 50-50 law have been able to command respect in the political sphere. Is this coat of varnish aimed at convincing the international community, gaining some legitimacy with it?

Contradictions within the governing party

Some interpret the changes as a concession to First Lady Rosario Murillo, a rebalancing of the CSE that’s more in her favor (three against four). This hypothesis is based on the latent, unresolved and growing conflict between the FSLN’s old guard (those who fought against Somoza, experienced the war of the eighties, remained loyal to Ortega in the nineties and have now largely found themselves sidelined) and the new youth—and female—contingents Murillo has been so successfully promoting in the FSLN.

Be that as it may, the CSE is crucial to guaranteeing continuation of the Ortega family’s power project. The FSLN has had no other presidential candidate since 1984, over 30 years, and Daniel Ortega now aspires to another five-year term. His running mate has not yet been announced. Will it be a businessman? Another military officer? A woman? The latest national CID Gallup poll (January 7-12) shows a clear split regarding the possibility that Murillo will be his Vice President, with 49% answering that it would be good, 42% that it wouldn’t and the rest expressing no opinion.

Which election observers should be invited and when?

Beyond the changes in the CSE leaders, the demand for electoral transparency is focused mainly on the requirement that both national and international observers be allowed to monitor the elections. Ortega’s sympathizers see this as a way of ensuring the legitimacy of their leader’s government, while his adversaries trust it will prevent fraud and even believe it will guarantee Ortega’s defeat. Both sides argue publicly that if Ortega continues to do so well in the polls, he has nothing to fear from his reelection being signed off on by observers.

The latest survey by the national polling firm M&R Consultores (December 12-29, 2015) shows an overwhelming consensus: 83.3% of those polled want national observation, 82.1% want international observation and 72.2% want unspecified “reforms” in the electoral system “to return credibility to the process,” with 74.9% of the latter identifying themselves as FSLN sympathizers.

Former FSLN mayor of Managua Dionisio Marenco, who remains loyal to Ortega despite having been sidelined for years from his party’s decision-making, has specifically detailed which observer teams he believes should be invited by the CSE: internationally, the United Nations, Organization of Ameri¬can States (OAS), European Union and Carter Center missions; and nationally, Ethics and Transparency and the Institute for Development and Democracy (IPADE).

Observers must be permitted not only in the days prior to voting, but weeks, even months before election day. They should be given full access in order to assure, at the very least, the unbiased issuing of ID-voting cards to all eligible voters and the cleansing of the electoral roll, currently rife with under-age names, the deceased, foreigners and people who have long since emigrated. They must also be allowed to carefully monitor the CSE’s strict compliance with and application of the Electoral Law, given the ad hoc irregularities it has implemented or at least permitted the FSLN to implement in previous elections.

Rejection

One can detect President Ortega’s unwillingness to permit electoral observation in his December 1 speech at the graduation ceremony for new Army cadets. It was only five days before Vene¬zuela’s parliamentary elections and Ortega confidently predicted the victory of deceased President Hugo Chávez’s 2006 creation, the United Socialist Party (PSUV). He also called OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro a “servant of the Yankees” because of his declarations about the Venezuelan elections, which included an 18-page letter to Venezuela’s National Electoral Council criticizing the decision to disallow OAS observation and lamenting the lack of conditions for transparent elections. Ortega said that “every day it’s more embarrassing to be in the OAS,” adding that “they want to forget those periods when US troops counted the votes; how shameful! Some would like this to happen again here in Nicaragua. But that politics of shame is buried in the past and it’s now the peoples who decide. And the best observers the peoples have in elections are the [party] monitors at every voting table. The rest, those international observation groups, managed above all by those who continue viewing our nations as colonies, are nothing more than instruments of interference and intervention.”

Did Ortega speak so defiantly out of blind trust in the PSUV’s victory? Did its resounding defeat make him rethink his stance? Refusing or accepting reliable and credible observation seems to be one of the dilemmas he has yet to resolve. Naturally, opening the doors to observation could undermine his confidence in his own reelection, or at least in ensuring a repeat of the absolute and loyal majority he holds in Nicaragua’s parliament.

In late January, Gerardo Icaza, director of the Department for Cooperation and Electoral Observation of the OAS Secretariat for the Strengthening of Democracy, responded in Almagro’s name to a letter sent in November by Nicaraguan opposition political parties and civil society organizations requesting his attention to the country’s critical electoral panorama. Icaza assured them that the OAS is committed to democratic processes in the hemisphere.

Ortega’s objective and subjective advantages

Ortega’s objective political advantages are undebatable. Nicaragua exhibits a stability that, even with the rearmed opposition groups in the country’s northern mountains and north Caribbean region and the increasingly visible social conflicts, contrasts significantly with the tragic and convulsive situation in the countries of the Northern Triangle (Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador).

Another important advantage for Ortega is rooted in the success of the strategy the FSLN undertook following its shocking loss in the 1990 elections, when it set about dividing the political opposition, particularly the Constitutionalist Liberal Party (PLC). A strategic milestone toward that objective was achieved with the pact between Ortega and President Arnoldo Alemán, the PLC caudillo, that closed the 20th century in Nicaragua.

The FSLN leadership has always demonstrated significant maneuvering skills to divide, confront, buy or coopt the Liberal opposition, and the latter has played into their hands with its interminable in-fighting and self-interested complicity. Alemán’s own comportment as a blatantly corrupt and corrupting political leader also helped, particularly when after ending his term in 2002 he was convicted of embezzlement and money laundering. Whether abandoning the PLC out of disgust with its increasingly bad reputation or driven by political ambition to create their own party, its defectors have left their decade-long majority party a mere shell of its former powerful self.

The ongoing context of national stability and his party’s political adeptness give Ortega two of the subjective advantages he enjoys today. After 10 years of FSLN government, the population has lost much of the fear it once had of the Ortega “of the eighties,” identified with war and economic disaster. The majority now equates the absence of conflict with democracy and perceives Ortega as almost invincible, all-powerful. Those old enough to recall his actions when he governed “from below” in the 15 years between his 1990 defeat and his 2006 reelection can also imagine how dangerous and disruptive it would be if he were displaced from government.

The social programs

And of course, all of his government’s populist social programs have earned him the gratitude of their beneficiaries, in strong contrast to the “let them eat cake” attitude of the proudly neoliberal governments that reigned during that 15-year interval. “There’s finally a government that remembers us,” is a comment often heard among the impoverished sectors. Ten years of massive giveaways of sheet-metal roofing in poor neighborhoods and communities (Plan Techo); low-interest loans to help poor urban women start micro-businesses (Usura Cero); and credit packages of farm animals, seeds and tools for poor rural women who have access to an acre and a half of land (Hambre Cero) have created expectations in which recipients hope to go on receiving and those not yet benefitted hope to get on the list. It didn’t take people long to learn that stating gratefulness to the “comandante and his compañera” and expressing political loyalty to and promising to vote for the FSLN is the key to making the cut… Meanwhile, the loyalty of the lowest-paid state employees is bought with a “salary complement” (Bono Solidario) that because it isn’t a real raise on the books could be taken away at any point.

While no current information is available on the repayment rate of the credit-based programs over these 10 years, an early figure for arrears on the loans to women, known to be the most reliable credit risks, was 80%. It is evidence that the governing party’s para-state organizations were either unprepared for their liaison role in managing these programs, or were clear that securing votes was more important than the downside of contributing to the culture of nonpayment that had become so widespread in the eighties.

The youth

Added to this backing from the poor acquired through the social programs is the popular support the governing couple has earned with the youth, mainly in urban areas. Although there is some debate about how much what is called Ortega’s “hard” support has grown since he won back the government in 2007 with 38% of the vote, his backing among the 16- to 24-year-old youth vote is indisputable.

These young people, a sizable segment of Nicaragua’s population, give Daniel Ortega his greatest support. They have virtually no basis for comparison with any other government and have benefited from continuous initiatives (communication and Internet access programs, as well as cultural, recreational, environmental, educational, sports and charity projects). In the most recent CID-Gallup poll, 57% of those surveyed in this age bracket say their party of preference is the FSLN “because it has the best program for the youth.”

The countryside

All these programs, with the exception of Zero Hunger, have essentially benefited the poor urban sectors, which are prioritized in today’s FSLN strategy just as they were in the eighties. The consistent increase in the minimum wage and expansion of state jobs are both decisions marked by the focus on expanding the party’s urban base. The same objective is behind the construction of 100 parks in Managua and dozens more in the urban areas of other departments, with sports fields and courts, children’s games and free Wi-Fi access.

The FSLN’s reelection project is less airtight in the countryside. The lack of support to the rural economy, the Army’s authoritarian presence in areas that still bear the scars of the war of the eighties, the particularly strong opposition in areas that will be affected if the canal project goes ahead, the alliance with big capital that has revived and supported the reconsoli¬dation of large landholdings and the fraud that imposed governing party mayors on staunchly Liberal municipalities have all cultivated a breeding ground of rural opposition that could get out of hand in the elections.

The Catholic Church

Bishops, priests, nuns and also the Catholic faithful increasingly resent the government’s continual manipulation of their religious symbols and discourse. And they’re still waiting for the government to respond to the 16-page document Nicaragua’s bishops presented to President Ortega on May 21, 2014, laying out their concerns about “the family, the great social problems, human rights, the relationship between the Church’s missionary work and certain governmental policies, some problematic aspects of the Atlantic Coast and, finally, the country’s institutional problem.”

That same text, titled “In search of new horizons for a better Nicaragua,” also raised the question of reforming the electoral system: “We very respectfully ask that you give your word of honor to ensure that the 2016 presidential electoral process in Nicaragua will be absolutely transparent and honest, with new and honorable members leading the CSE; one in which there is no doubt that the will of the people is shining through; with an identity card system independent of the CSE that will ensure that every Nicaraguan has received an ID card in a timely manner before the elections; and with an electoral process unreservedly open to observers from national and foreign institutions.”

The economy

Virtually none of what Ortega has done in these 10 years can be explained without talking about Venezuela’s cooperation. But the exceptional opportunity he had to use his access to a volume of funds no previous government has ever enjoyed to initiate Nicaragua’s productive, social and educational transformation—and he didn’t do it—is running out.

The steep fall in crude oil prices has reduced the value of oil sales in the country, which are basically in Ortega’s hands. At the same time, Venezuela has been cutting its imports of Nicaraguan products recently after Caracas had become our country’s second largest trade partner in recent years. The US$2 million in exports from Nicaragua to Venezuela in 2006, originally treated as a form of barter to be applied to our huge oil bill with that country, had ballooned to $376 million by 2014.

But things have changed. Nica¬ragua’s exports to Caracas are now apparently managed separately from its oil imports. Miami’s El Diario Las Américas published a letter sent on December 18 to several Venezuelan authorities by Francisco López, who is both the FSLN’s treasurer and vice president of Albanisa, the joint Nicaragua-Venezuela company set up to manage the oil imports, pay the bill and invest the profits. Sent in the name of Alba-Alimentos, created as part of Albanisa to handle all food exports by Nicaraguan businesses to Venezuela, the letter duns the recipients for payment of an outstanding $173.3 million debt for their import of Nicaraguan coffee, beef, beans and dairy products.

Adjustments

Ortega’s reelection aspirations this year must make do with fewer Venezuelan resources, an international economic panorama in which world market prices for our exports have also dropped and predictions by NASA of one of the most negative El Niño currents in the past six decades, which will mean a third consecutive year of drought for Nicaragua. Will the government have both the resources and the forward planning needed to ameliorate the crisis that empty wells, failed crops and dried pastures will produce, particularly in Nicaragua’s already parched “dry corridor”?

Both the World Bank and FUNIDES, a Nicaraguan think tank, announced in December that for the first time in several years the country’s annual economic growth will not hit 4%. With percentages that vary only slightly, unemployment continues to be the main economic problem Nicaraguans complain about in all polls. It’s also the main reason emigration hasn’t stopped growing.

How will a more fragile national economy and a more complex international one than in recent years influence Ortega’s reelection expectations, particularly as sound economic management is the issue most touted to legitimate his government? Will the economy be determinant in his reelection or not? Will the less favorable economic situation open another fissure in his project?

When oil prices began to fall precipitously in mid-2015, the government took steps to prepare to deal with the resultant drop in Venezuelan cooperation. By today, all the social programs that were being financed off-grid with Venezuelan petrodollars have been incorporated into the national budget. The government isn’t about to cancel them in an electoral year and fortunately the economic growth of the past few years has given it the resources it needs to maintain them.

Venezuela

The late Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez was lucky enough to enjoy international oil prices of over $100 per barrel for years. He warned on various occasions that Venezuela’s situation would be unsustainable if the price fell to below $40. And he was right. But even if crude prices were to recover in the coming months, Vene¬zuela is no longer the country it was.

The December 6 elections have drastically changed the country, both econ¬omi¬cally and politically. Although the Petrocaribe agreements aren’t an opposition priority at the moment, their conditions could vary and they could even eventually disappear.

In fact, Venezuela has already had to reduce its supply of crude to Nicaragua. According to Central Bank data, the import value of oil and its derivatives from Venezuela had fallen by 59.8% in October 2015 compared to a year earlier. That reduction, which amounts to $517 million, is due in part to the drop in oil prices, but also to the lower volume of oil supplied by Caracas.

Ortega and his main officials have shared no information with the population about the repercussions these changes in Venezuela have had, are having or will have here at home. The only person who has said anything, and then dismissively, is presidential economic adviser Bayardo Arce: “We don’t depend on Venezuela. Everybody needs to take it easy, even if Venezuela’s National Assembly cuts us off totally.”

United States

In sum, the economic restrictions Ortega is saddled with in this reelection are more severe and the national economic panorama is less favorable than at the time of his 2011 reelection. And the international sphere and the place he’s carved out for himself in it aren’t particularly encouraging either.

Nicaragua’s elections will be held only two days before those in the United States, and there is no doubt that the situation would become more complicated for Nicaragua if any of the front-running hardline Republicans (Ted Cruz, Donald Trump or Marco Rubio) wins, or even if the Democrats win with Hillary Clinton. That would be even truer if Ortega wins through a documentable fraud.

Latin America

Ortega’s leftist rhetoric has become obsolete in Latin America, even among progressive governments. Some of those governments have now lost power, and others are embroiled in political and economic crises. Have they really begun to disappear only because of “conspiracies by the empire” to destabilize them and provoke “soft coups”?

Even Noam Chomsky, the unimpeachable US leftist thinker, while lauding the fact that Latin America’s New Left governments have substantially thrown off imperial domination for the first time in 500 years, believes that the magnitude of the corruption in Argentina, Brazil and Venezuela has discredited their leaders. In a video interview with the New Internationalist he laments the failure of the region’s progressive governments to take advantage of the many promising opportunities offered by both the popularity that accompanied them into government and the new regional integration mechanisms. Supported by those two pillars, they could have designed and pushed forward autochthonous economic and social development models. Instead they allowed themselves to be seduced by extractivism and in several cases, particularly those of Brazil and Argentina, accepted Chinese manufactured goods in exchange for the export of those extracted primary resources, a policy Chomsky sees as “detrimental because it undermines their own manufacturing industries.” As a result, these countries are not moving towards developing sustainable economies but “towards a kind of quasi-colonial relationship that in the long term is quite harmful.” He describes Venezuela as an extreme case, because “they haven’t made any move to extricate themselves from the oil-based, primary product-based economy, which gives them some 95% of their income but in the long term is disastrous.”

Venezuela…

Even though President Maduro’s defeat is still only partial, no one else on the continent has been as thrown by Venezuela’s recent legislative election results as Ortega. Who are Ortega’s international allies today? Cuba, which is seeking an understanding with the United States? Putin’s Russia?

To the dire problems facing the Ortega government’s main partner in Latin America must be added its own unnecessary and very visible screw-ups in its attempts to head up an anti-imperialist left leadership, which has yet to convince anyone and instead is isolating the government. One of the recent gaffes occurred in January 2015 at the meeting in Costa Rica of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), when President Ortega decided to boycott the meeting by leaving early and trying to impose a Puerto Rican nationalist politician as his proxy to give him a forum to denounce the United States for not granting his island independence.

Then in November, Ortega refused to allow thousands of Cuban migrants who had come through Costa Rica from crossing Nicaragua on their way to the United States; he ordered Army troops to stop them at the border, which resulted in some violence. At a special meeting of the Central American Integration System (SICA), he then obstinately opposed any humanitarian resolution of the conflict in an effort to anoint himself as the spokesperson for the denunciation of the admittedly biased US migratory policy toward Cuba.

At the global summit to deal with climate change in Paris the very next month, Nicaragua’s representative Paul Oquist, who is also Ortega’s ministerial-ranking secretary for public policies, attempted to grab leadership of the widespread opposition to the climate agreement’s insufficiencies, but at the wrong diplomatic moment and without having earned the credentials to do so in the previous days. In the Speaking Out section of this issue, Víctor Campos, director of Nicaragua’s Centro Humboldt, who attended that forum, explains what happened.

…and its lessons

The results of Venezuela’s parliamentary elections—an opposition majority in the National Assembly and the political erosion that implies—are powerfully present in Nicaragua’s pre-electoral sketch. The opposition to Ortega stresses that the unity of Venezuela’s opposition and the massive voter turnout prevented the fraud it insists the Maduro government had prepared to correct any small margins of difference unfavorable to it.

The appearance of the Venezuelan Army’s high command once the government learned the dimensions of its defeat, guaranteeing that the results would be respected, is seen as proof that this fraud was prepared. The role of the officers as arbiters was viewed as critical to the initiation of a transition whose end point is not yet known.

The lessons of those elections have been analyzed inside and out by those playing at Nicaragua’s electoral table, even though there’s no sign of any such opposition unity or any candidate attractive enough to challenge Ortega.

PLI legislative representative Eliseo Núñez sees the situation like this: “Insofar as the vote was massive, it made it much more complicated for the Chavista regime to pull out everything it had prepared. Despite the Supreme Electoral Council we have, if we can encourage people to come and vote massively, it will create a powerful pressure that will reduce Ortega’s capacity to do what he did in 2011 and 2012, when the fraud was much more structured and much less evident than in 2008.”

Former PLC legislative representative José Pallais, who has switched to the coalition headed up by the PLI, doesn’t find the parallels quite so simple: “Venezuela’s electoral system was built on the certainty that the population would never vote against Chávez; it wasn’t designed with fraud in mind. Nicaragua’s electoral system is now structured around Ortega’s conviction that people will vote against him and is thus designed for fraud.” He also argues that Nicaragua’s Army won’t act the same way as Venezuela’s, “because it has become an accomplice of Ortega’s frauds.”

The feared combo

Edmundo Jarquín, PLI presidential candidate Fabio Gadea’s vice-presidential running mate in 2011, is banking on the “old guard” Sandinistas and others who have distanced themselves from Ortega and his followers. With them in mind, he sees only one “singularly important” lesson from Vene-zuela’s elections. “We need things to go well in Venezuela,” he explains, “because if they do many Sandinistas will understand that an opposition victory in Nicaragua will just sideline Ortega and what he stands for, just as Maduro has been sidelined without Chavismo ceasing to exist.”

It’s an interesting idea, because shortly after the Venezuelan elections we learned that the abstention of a huge number of Chávez followers was as decisive as the massive vote for the opposition. “Despair, helplessness, disillusion, rage and punishment made close to three million chavistas abstain from voting for the PSUV candidates: absence-punishment and no vote-punishment,” wrote Aram Aharonian, a founder of TeleSUR TV network and director of Latin American Observatory in Communication and Democracy (ULAC), to explain the crucial importance of abstention by Chávez followers as a critique of Maduro. From that perspective, what Ortega could end up fearing most in November is a similar mix to what we saw in Venezuela: an appealing opposition leader able to attract a massive voter turnout combined with abstention by a large number of ruling party sympathizers as the only way to register their discontent with how the leadership is governing.

Nicaragua may have no such appealing opposition leader, but the resentment triggered in so many parts of the country by the arbitrariness of the governing party’s political secretaries, their discretionary use of public resources and the absolute power they exhibit, particularly now that municipal government authorities have been stripped of any autonomy, is another breeding ground for the kind of scenario Jarquín describes as November draws near.

Sovereign security and tranquility

Impeding the development of any threatening opposition leadership and both preventing and patching up any fissures in Ortega’s own project will be priorities for him and his government right up to voting day. Just before Christmas, the Sovereign Security Law went into effect, launching a new national security system coordinated by the President and managed by the Department of Defense Information (DID), the Army’s intelligence section. A good number of state institutions will be subordinated to this system, whose mission will be to determine the risks, threats and “other factors” the Army considers a danger to sovereign security.

At the same time, Communication and Citizenship Coordinator Rosario Murillo released an extensive document to complement the new law “from below.” Called the “Strategy of Tranquility and Safety of Families and Communities,” it calls on all governing party grassroots structures to “detect signs of alert” in the communities. Days later she added a list of concrete “points” to flesh out the text’s strategy, including that “it corresponds to us to analyze in depth all voices, all expressions, all signs, anything that represents a rupture with traditional patterns…” In synthesis, says the text, “this means paying attention to the ways adopted today by the well-known struggle between Good and Evil.”

How will this law, this strategy and these points be applied in the pre-electoral scenario, once the game officially gets underway, should it become genuinely competitive? Will they work as mechanisms of pressure, intimidation and possibly even repression?

New hands still to be dealt

With nearly eight months to go, this is only an initial pre-electoral sketch. Everything, something, nothing or nearly nothing could change as the decisive date approaches. But as one must always expect surprises and be ready with a Plan B in this country, it’s probable that new hands are still to be dealt, defining the unfolding of the game with greater clarity than we can perceive today.


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