Coronavirus: Opportunity or Obstacle for the Ortega-Murillo Regime?

By Ramon J. Meneses

Rosario Murillo and Daniel Ortega at a pro-government rally.  Photo: el19digital

HAVANA TIMES – Somoza called the 1972 earthquake “the revolution of opportunity” and one of the great results was that most of international aid and a significant part of the national wealth ended up in his hands. Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo already have a large fortune and politically survive by imposing their police state and brutal repression. So, mainly for political reasons, they are also probably thinking that the coronavirus epidemic (COVID-19) represents an “opportunity” for them.

What is the reason why the Nicaraguan government has not decreed any serious measure against the coronavirus and rather goes against the tide to the rest of the countries and to the WHO recommendations? Does the Ortega-Murillo regime have any secret motive?  Or, perhaps, will it come out with some cold and well-calculated action against the opposition?

The case of Italy teaches us that when the first case is detected, it is probable that there are already several sources of contagion. Other epidemics have shown that there is a threshold of around 100 cases, which after it is passed, if no measures are taken, “the contagion accelerates exponentially for several weeks.”

In the case of coronavirus, the health systems, PAHO and WHO already have various methods to measure the speed with which it can spread in a population. The most important thing is to reduce the speed of contagion so that health systems do not collapse.

Nicaragua does not have an information prevention strategy and contrary to the actions taken by other countries, Vice President Rosario Murillo directs marches (“Love in times of COVID-19), keeps schools open and has ordered “to expand and carry out” recreational events during the summer and Holy Week, such as “fairs, contests, catwalks and other initiatives.” Quite the opposite of social distancing.

This “deliberate neglect”—as Oscar Rene Vargas calls it—of the Ortega-Murillo regime is a matter of debate on social networks. “They want to kill us all,” say some, using as evidence the regime’s already known wickedness, represented in the killing of more than 300 people during the 2018 civic rebellion.

There are also those who believe that they want to provoke a humanitarian crisis to receive some international support and as a kind of shield against sanctions from the United States and Canada. Others more sinister think that, since most of those who die are over 60 years of old and have health complications, this would be an opportunity to reduce pension payments and social security expenses.

What is clear is that the regime does not want the coronavirus to become another roadblock that ends up destroying the already badly deteriorated national economy.

Like other Central American countries, the regime will receive one million dollars from the Central American Bank for Economic Integration (CABEI) “to attend the emergency of the disease caused by the new coronavirus (COVID-19).” And, if the scenario presented in its response protocol, revealed in Confidencial, is realized and 32,500 infected and 813 deceased are reached, it is likely that it will receive millions more. But any amount received will not be enough to get out of the deep economic crisis, now further affected by the global recession that is already underway.

The border between Colombia and Venezuela is closed.  Photo:

Economist Nestor Avendano says we are witnessing a “supply shock.” In Nicaragua, tourism is not going to recover, there will be no investments, businesses are going to close, our main commercial partner [the United States] is already in recession, remittances are not going to grow, unemployment will increase and the “normality” that the government so much proclaims will be further remote.

Even without taking into account the long-term economic impact of the coronavirus, it is unrealistic to expect the current economic situation to improve or to even remain as it is.

On the other hand, the current sanctions already affect officials of the regime, companies of the Ortega-Murillo family and a state institution (the Police). It is expected that these types of sanctions will increase. In humanitarian crises, financial sanctions are prone to be flexible, but this is not the case, given that the current sanctions are not directed against the national economy.

As in Cuba, the Ortega-Murillo regime has conveyed to its bases that the virus will not enter Nicaragua due to the hot weather. That argument falls under its own weight. Much to our regret, Nicaragua presents one of the worst scenarios for a rapid spread of the virus: the lack of access to potable water in urban and rural areas, a very limited and deteriorated health system, low educational level, as well as the agglomerations promoted by the regime.

The coronavirus spreads ten times faster than the common cold. By not taking any preventive measure to prevent the spread, or by not taking any restrictive measures, the Ortega-Murillo regime made a huge public health mistake. It has already demonstrated, like Somoza did with the earthquake, that it does not have the capacity to manage a catastrophe or emergency. This has been described by analysts and broad sectors of the population as irresponsible, insane or the result of stupidity, misgovernment and authoritarianism. Ortega and Murillo, it seems, are petrified in their shell of hatred and revenge.

Besides wanting “to avoid affecting the value added tax revenue from consumption and the supposed economic normality in the country,” as Carlos Fernando Chamorro points out, what would be the political reasons that the government sees as an “opportunity” to not adopt preventive measures and  go against other countries inside and outside the region?

The regime is interested in continuing to sell the impression of a “safe country,” in which everything “is normal” and is even immune to the coronavirus or, if the virus affects it, it will be slightly. This message is directed mainly towards their bases, in particular those in the “barracks” (police, military, paramilitaries and militants). By no means does the regime wants to lose the control it still has over its repressive forces.

On Wednesday, March 18, the government reported a first positive case of coronavirus, but rumors suggest that there are already several cases in various cities in the country. The government’s lack of transparency puts us all at risk, Moors and Christians. The coronavirus does not discriminate between opponents or Sandinistas.

If there is a significant outbreak of the coronavirus, as a result of the irresponsibility of the government, national and international pressure will force it to declare a “state of emergency” or any other existing legal form. The record of the regime indicates that it could use that moment to deepen the repression against opposition citizens. It could also consider that the exceptional measures give it “carte blanche” to increase its violations of human rights, behind the back of the international community. That would be a serious political mistake, because the eyes of the international community are already in Nicaragua.

The fight against natural catastrophes and all kinds of emergencies have been militarized and that is an area in which the Ortega-Murillo regime would feel very comfortable. This would allow them to deepen their tentacles of police state, expanding repression and increasing control of the population, particularly the opposition sectors.

In a pre-electoral year, the measures adopted in an emergency framework, could include aspects linked to the November 2021 elections, including suspending, postponing or reforming them according to their interests. Certainly, the coronavirus epidemic makes early elections less likely. What is certain is that the regime will seek to take advantage of the moment to remain in power for many years to come.

The Ortega-Murillo regime wants to take the “opportunity” of the coronavirus epidemic to deepen the repression, stay in power, neutralize the opposition and recover some of the legitimacy lost at the national and international level. It expects to achieve this, motivating and seeking a great humanitarian crisis. But this strategy is already being unveiled by the opposition. The National Coalition, FUNIDES, COSEP, the former health minister Dora María Tellez, professionals and various organizations, promote, from civil society, a true information campaign to prevent coronavirus, calling on the population to self-care, hygiene, solidarity, staying at home and not exposing oneself, and urging the government to adopt measures similar to those of other countries in the region.

That information campaign demands the release of political prisoners, making the regime responsible for any damage to their health by the coronavirus. The medical association Physicians for Human Rights argues that coronavirus will inevitably reach prisons and immigrant detention centers in the United States and has urged authorities there to release all immigrants in detention. Political prisoners and human rights organizations in Nicaragua have reported the unhealthy and subhuman conditions of the country’s prisons. These are a cauldron for infectious diseases, making the epidemic unavoidable in them. Political prisoners must be released immediately.

Somoza took the “opportunity” the earthquake gave him to enrich himself and made more evident the structural vulnerability of that political and social system, the corruption of governmental officials and the unlimited greed of the president himself. The Ortega-Murillo regime already evidences its high degree of irresponsibility, its lack of sensitivity towards the protection and safeguard of the people, its deep hatred and thirst for revenge towards the opposition, and its unlimited desire for control and power. As happened with Somoza, this crisis will also seal the fall from power of Ortega and Murillo.