Analysis: The OAS, Nicaragua and Bolivia’s Elections

The 50th General Assembly of the OAS was held virtually, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo: Juan Manuel Herrera / OAS

Political scientist Daniel Zovatto warns: “International actions always help, but they don’t replace or substitute what must happen from within.”

Por Ivette Munguia (Confidencial)

HAVANA TIMES – Daniel Zovatto believes the solution to the political crisis in countries like Nicaragua and Venezuela must come from within. The Argentine political scientist and attorney believes the solution depends on the “unity, the coherence” of the opposition. Further, it rests on “the opposition’s consistency in exerting continued pressure on the regime.” It doesn’t, according to Zovatto, rely on the international community and “what it can do”.

Zovatto specializes in areas of democracy, elections and governability. In his judgement, “we must be very realistic” in the expectations of support from the international or even regional organizations.  Countries under authoritarian rule look towards organizations like the Organization of American States (OAS) for help seeking a democratic way out.  In his experience, though: “international actions can help, but not replace or substitute what must be done from within.”

Zovatto has a negative view of actions carried out in this regard by Luis Almagro, OAS Secretary General.  OAS efforts to help countries suffering under authoritarian regimes find a democratic solution, “have failed.” In the case of Nicaragua, “there’ve been multiple attempts” but “without important results.”  Zovatto made these observations during a recent interview on Esta Semana, a weekly news program broadcast online.  The program was removed from the regular airwaves in January 2019, due to the television censorship of Daniel Ortega’s regime.

Similar results with Venezuela

Venezuela is a similar case. There, too, the OAS “hasn’t managed to generate space for dialogue, because it doesn’t enjoy the trust of both sides.” Honduras was a similar case following the presidential reelection of Juan Orlando Hernandez. Secretary General Almagro himself said: “[the elections] should have been repeated. But they were not repeated, and so there we have Hernandez.”

Zovatto believes these regimes know what will happen if they participate in fair elections with an independent electoral organ. In this case, “the most probable outcome is that they lose.” Therefore, “they hunker down in their own country. The armed forces either back them or wash their hands of it.” In such conditions, everything done at an international level “has been demonstrated to be ineffective,” he noted.

In the current context of Nicaragua, “the only thing left is to continue strong pressure from within” to force negotiation. Only then can international and regional organizations, plus friendly countries “add their support to facilitate a solution.”

A look at Bolivia and its elections

Zovatto considers the electoral process in Bolivia “a very important example (…) for the case of Nicaragua.” Despite the political crisis in that country, “space [for a fair election] was created.” The European Union, the Catholic Church, and the United Nations all accompanied the electoral process. “Even when the process was heading off the rails, they were able to get it back on track,” he stated.

However, the difference between the transition government in Bolivia and the authoritarian regime in Nicaragua “is very great,” maintains Zovatto. Because of that, “the strategy to confront it also has to be different.” However, “there are basic conditions” that must be generated “from within”. That process “isn’t quick”, he noted during the interview.

The elections in Bolivia concluded with a defeat for the opposition to MAS. However, they demonstrated the effectiveness of an electoral way out, based on dialogue, fair electoral rules, and an independent electoral organ. That’s “the best road to normalize the situation of countries in crisis,” explained Zovatto.

The political specialist believes that the fundamental role for solving such political crisis lies with a “united and consistent” opposition. The international community “can accompany, create spaces for dialogue, build bridges in moments of crisis, and generate incentives.”

In the international arena, Nicaragua’s crisis has been eclipsed by the crisis in Venezuela, the specialist notes.  “There’s a lot of talk about Venezuela and little about Nicaragua. When we look at the suffering, the human rights violations, and the killings in Nicaragua, they’re equally serious.” “An additional effort” is needed, he stressed, to give it greater visibility within and outside the region.

The failures of the the opposition to MAS

The electoral defeat of the opposition parties in Bolivia was the result of their own errors. They believed that getting rid of Evo Morales in Bolivia would be the end of the “Movement for Socialism (MAS)”. It wasn’t so. “The MAS is – it’s worth repeating – much more than Evo, and that was demonstrated clearly in the election,” Zovatto declared.

The MAS party has a solid base of 30% of the electorate. However, the pollsters had characterized another 23% of the voters as “undecided”. In reality, these were “hidden votes” that ended up favoring the MAS.

Further, the interim president Jeanine Anez “became confused. She ended up proposing herself as a candidate, then she had to retract,” the political scientist recalled. Her government also “managed the economy terribly, managed the pandemic terribly, had corruption scandals that affected people close to them.”

In addition, the Bolivian opposition had “a very racist discourse, a discourse of revenge. This discourse really didn’t help at all to bring around the sector that had distanced itself from Evo. It’s a sector they could have attracted,” Zovatto said. In the end, that “racist” and “violent” discourse chased away votes.   

On the other extreme, the winning formula is “a good combination,” Zovatto feels. Luis Arce is known as a technocrat, a leftist economist with a serene personality. He’s the father of the “Bolivian economic miracle”. At the same time, David Choquehuanca is an indigenous leader and former foreign minister. Choquehuanca had helped Evo Morales recover the connection he’d lost with the indigenous sector.

Voting in the middle of a pandemic

Finally, Zovatto highlighted that the Coronavirus pandemic has become an important factor in the electoral processes. This context “can help you win elections”, as occurred in the municipal elections in Uruguay. Or, “it can generate a totally negative vote on the pandemic,” as was the case in Bolivia.

To Zovatto, the events in Bolivia were “an institutional miracle”, because the country was very polarized. Despite this, the electoral process took place “in peace and with a high level of participation”.

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