Almagro: OAS searches for a “critical path” in Nicaragua

“The dialogue covers institutional and political topics, not just electoral ones.”

By Carlos Fernando Chamorro  (Confidencial)

El secretario general de la OEA, Luis Almagro, con representantes de la Iglesia católica en Managua. Foto: Jorge Torres/EFE/Confidencial
El secretario general de la OEA, Luis Almagro, con representantes de la Iglesia católica en Managua. Foto: Jorge Torres/EFE/Confidencial

HAVANA TIMES – After finishing a round of meetings with all the political and social sectors of the country, including the government, Luis Almagro, Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS), told Confidencial that the dialogue between the OAS and Nicaragua isn’t limited to “electoral topics”.

In a brief interview via e-mail, Almagro explained that “the dialogue is focused on identifying and exchanging views on topics of an institutional nature within the political system, not only on electoral themes.”

The diplomat indicated that that the conversations he sustained in the country with political and social sectors not recognized as partners by the government will provide “inputs that feed the dialogue” between the OAS and the government.  He expressed optimism that Nicaragua would manage to “heal its wounds and move towards the future.”

In his first declaration after visiting Nicaragua, Almagro responded in the following way to three questions from Confidencial:

What is the scope of this political dialogue between the OAS and Nicaragua? Is it limited to the electoral system and the November 6th elections, which provoked a national demand for a profound electoral reform, or does it include the fulfillment or violation of the OAS’ Inter-American Democratic Charter?

The dialogue is focused on identifying and exchanging views on topics of an institutional nature within the political system, not only on electoral themes.  It’s a dialogue that will be approached constructively. We hope that the exchange will contribute to finding a critical path towards strengthening the rule of law in both the short and medium term.

We’ve found fertile terrain for dialogue and we trust that tangible results can be obtained.

In the meetings that were held in Managua, you received proposals from political sectors, and from social and religious and civic movements who’ve been denied any kind of systematic representation or recognition from the government.  Is this an exclusive dialogue between the government and the OAS, or will the proposals from the aforementioned sectors form part of the dialogue? Could these groups participate in future exchanges with the government?

I maintained extensive contacts with a broad variety of political groups, social movements, civil society, religious groups, the private sector, etc.  Clearly, such conversations and the inputs they generated will serve to feed the dialogue that the OAS maintains with the government at this time, a dialogue which has been advancing in a positive direction.

The exchange between the Nicaraguan government and the OAS began a month and a half ago.  Are there any concrete advances? What is needed to produce an agreement or a commitment to reestablish democratic rule of law and free elections in the country?

I don’t want to fast forward to the conclusions at this phase of the dialogue.  What’s certain is that President Daniel Ortega invited the OAS to develop an active participation with a view towards the 2017 municipal elections and the process leading up to them. I consider that a very positive step.

Nicaragua is in a position to heal its wounds and move towards the future with optimism.  We will continue to collaborate in that direction.

Opposition expects “an unfinished accord”

They’ll continue demanding free elections within a movement that includes the social forces

Within 45 days, the OAS and the government will issue a joint report, including a plan for political and institutional reforms; or possibly there’ll be two separate reports making visible their disagreements.

Eliseo Nuñez, leader of the Broad Front for Democracy (FAD), expects they will come to “an unfinished accord with minimal concessions on the part of the government so as to open an additional window of time.  Ortega needs to know what the exterior policy of the United States will be; therefore he isn’t going to define himself.”

While this is happening, the opposition will continue demanding free elections. “We hope that all kinds of political movements will plug in with the FAD, and that they’ll look for common denominators.” Nuñez explained that the government actions aimed at destroying the political parties instead generated a more horizontal political leadership, distancing itself from the struggle for candidacy because the electoral system didn’t function. “Now there are no more discussions about quotas of power, but about restoring the democratic system in the country,” he affirmed.

Nuñez offered his declarations on the television program Esta Semana, together with former deputy Victor Hugo Tinoco – also of the FAD – and lawyer Gabriel Alvarez.

Tinoco emphasized that in recent months they’ve achieved a new articulation among sectors of civil society, farmers, and political movements that were outlawed by the Ortega regime. For this reason, instead of fading, the opposition has strengthened. “For the first time in Nicaraguan political life, the clash between authoritarian power and the need for democracy is going to begin to develop outside of the discredited institutional framework,” the former deputy remarked. 

Lawyer Gabriel Alvarez feels that recognition of the results of the November 6th election is inevitable, as a fact that can’t be undone, but that such acceptance shouldn’t lead to the conclusion that the next elections are going to be held under democratic conditions.  The expert in constitutional law explained that Ortega’s concept of “authoritarian power” is incompatible with the OAS Inter-American Democratic Charter and as a result, “this problem can’t be resolved.  Such a concept is menace to stability and will deepen the crisis.

Almagro quoted the Inter-American Democratic Charter

Although the OAS Secretary General made no mention of the Democratic Charter in his public declarations with President Ortega, he did broach the topic in the meeting with the other political forces. Victor Hugo Tinoco informed us that in their brief discourse, the OAS secretary “said he hadn’t come to resolve the internal affairs of the opposition or other political figures, but to see if Nicaragua was fulfilling the country’s commitment with the Inter-American Democratic Charter.”

Eliseo Nuñez emphasized that they made Almagro and the OAS mission that accompanied him aware of the government repression against people who requested basic things like free elections, freedom of expression and freedom of movement.  “They saw that the marches were suppressed with no discussion.  This affects what the Democratic Charter establishes in Articles 3 and 4, where it lays out what democracy is and what rights the citizens have,” emphasized Nuñez.

For his part, lawyer Gabriel Alvarez noted that Almagro’s meeting with sectors of civil society included farmers, women, indigenous people and human rights defenders.  He further stated that each group has become increasingly aware that their local demands are linked to the central problem, which is the authoritarian, anti-democratic system. “Those involved in the movement against the canal know that while the Ortega regime exists the law that they’re asking to repeal will remain on the books.  While it does, they also know that their rights will be threatened,” the attorney assured.

Tinoco termed the recent affirmations of Chontales bishop René Sándigo a lack of respect for the farmer’s movement.  Sándigo had stated that the farmers were being manipulated by the MRS (Sandinista Renewal Movement) and other organizations.  The farmers, Tinoco said, are opposed to having their land expropriated, and now they’ve discovered that “their struggle to eliminate the canal law isn’t possible without a basic democratic framework. This is a tremendous achievement, and Ortega now has an even graver issue on his hands,” he warned.