Nicaraguan Opposition Stumbles, Ortega Bides his Time

Inauguration of the National Coalition: June 25, 2020 . Photo: Nayira Valenzuela

The impasse could be an opportunity to reorganize the forces of a true opposition.

By Bonifacio Miranda Bengoechea (Confidencial)

HAVANA TIMES – Daniel Ortega’s keynote speech on July 19, in the small event marking the 41st anniversary of the Revolution, summarized the FSLN’s strategy for the short-run.  They’ll continue covering up the real data on the pandemic while natural selection takes care of the most vulnerable population.

They’ll continue to resist and not bend before the sanctions imposed against the authoritarian couple’s inner circle, and they’ll patiently await the results of the presidential election in the United States.

The status quo cracks apart

The regime managed to reestablish its internal control at an enormously high political cost. It was a Pyrrhic victory. It’s ever clearer that the correlation of forces that they managed to impose in the middle of 2018 is quickly breaking apart due to the effects of the pandemic, three years of economic recession and the increase in popular discontent.

In politics, we shouldn’t confuse the essence with the appearance. In appearance, this regime is unscathed, everything is normal, nothing has happened. In essence, it’s not that way. The regime is panting and losing blood on all sides, but is managing to sustain itself and prolong its agony through two factors that are worth examining.

Sanctions and Trump’s erratic policies

On the international plane, the world crisis accentuated by the pandemic has forced the majority of the governments to concentrate on resolving their own domestic problems. The violations of human rights in Nicaragua no longer holds the priority it did before.

Before the pandemic, Trump had de facto accepted that Ortega and Murillo would be serving out their term, but in exchange for making some reforms in their political regime to guarantee free elections in 2021.  The regime then took astute advantage of the slow rhythm of the waiting period to reaffirm their internal control and to abort a negotiated way out.

In an evident pivot in the last months, Trump has intensified the sanctions against high functionaries of the Ortega-Murillo regime with the clear objective of forcing them to negotiate with the opposition, so as to permit the realization of free elections with international observation. Different declarations from US State Department spokespersons confirm this.

Trump desperately needs to present some “win” in his international policies, in moments when his popularity had plummeted due to his terrible management of the pandemic. He needs to find some small “trophy” that would help him convince voters and diminish the advantage Joe Biden is currently showing in the polls.

In addition, Trump needs to cover up the failure of his policies in Venezuela and Cuba in order to recover the angry Hispanic voters. In his last public appearances, Trump hasn’t spoken about Nicaragua. In an incidental way, the topic of a possible solution to the crisis in Nicaragua became an important matter in Trump’s strategy for getting reelected.

Holding their breath

This international context hasn’t passed unnoticed by Daniel Ortega, who has opted to resist the pressures and sanctions, and to await a change of administration in the United States. That’s the reason that his speech on July 19th ignored the opposition and failed to attack the policies of the United States. His strategy is simple and clear: await the result of the November 3rd elections in the US.

This wait will not necessarily be a passive one. At any moment, some small process of reform could begin in slow motion, or a cosmetic reform like the recent administrative resolution of the Supreme Electoral Council. However, given the lack of belligerence on the part of the opposition, the final results of any electoral reform seem to depend on the electoral results in the United States.

To Ortega, negotiating with Biden isn’t the same thing as negotiating with Trump. Although the Nica Act represents a bipartisan agreement among both Democrats and Republicans regarding Nicaragua, there are specific shades of difference between the parties. Biden has shown himself to be more interested in renegotiating relations with Cuba, an undertaking that would inevitably touch on Venezuela and Nicaragua.

Between November 3, 2020 and January 20, 2021, there could be many surprises, and the opposition should be prepared, under penalty of sinning despite the warnings.

Directionless and on tiptoe

In the national landscape, the most favorable factor for the dictatorship is the weakness and crisis of the opposition. This weakness isn’t a product of the divisions, as many argue, but of the absence of a clear strategy that would allow them to regroup and channel the enormous popular discontent that exists.

The latest polls reveal, on the one hand, that the popularity of the FSLN is at the lowest point in its history; and on the other, that the pandemic and the economic crisis are the principal problems that concern the population. The opposition has been incapable of elaborating a policy that offers an adequate response to these concerns, and that would tie them to the inevitable electoral battle.

It’s not enough to post statements on social media. They need to undertake the tenacious and systematic work of organizing the population in the neighborhoods and communities, giving voice to the popular demands. No such proposal or guideline currently exists.

Inevitable conflicts

The creation of a National Coalition, far from promoting unity and harmony among its members, has unleashed an intense internal struggle for control of this organization, long before the inception of the electoral campaign.

With the heavy cross of unity on its back, the National Coalition is marking its own Stations of the Cross. The first fall happened before the proclamation of its existence on June 25, and was barely overcome at the last minute by approving a transitory article that still hasn’t been applied. The second stumble and fall had its origin in the complaints of the Civic Alliance for Justice and Democracy regarding the refusal to discuss the contents of that transitory article. And a probable third fall will occur with the quantification of the youth representation.  And, probably, there will be many more stumbles.

While this is occurring, the Liberal Constitutionalist Party (PLC) has entrenched itself in the National Coalition. In case anyone had doubts about this, the last declarations of the PLC leaders confirm that they’re using the National Coalition as a trampoline for regrouping their former structures. The PLC has even gone on the offensive, calling for the unity of all the old Liberal party tendencies into one party. This maneuver is aimed at knocking their eternal rivals, now grouped in the Citizens for Liberty Party, out of the game.

The fact is, the majority of the groups in the National Coalition –  the Civic Alliance, the Blue and White Unity movement, the National Democratic Forces and the Rural Movement – don’t have legal status, so at the moment of an electoral campaign the specific weight of the political parties will be a determinant factor. Under the current electoral system, they’re the only ones that can inscribe candidates.

Create new political options

This reality has forced the Blue and White Unity to begin, a bit late, the process of creating or strengthening their territorial structures in order to be able to position themselves in the internal conflict. In the same way, the Civic Alliance has ratified its authorities and also reformed its statutes, “to include representatives of the territorial structures of the Civic Alliance in the directive bodies and the decision making. Said delegates will occupy these spaces very soon, once the process of installing the departmental juntas all over the country is finished.”

These movements indicate to us that an inevitable conflict is approaching between the emerging forces and the old “mosquito” parties.  If new electoral options aren’t urgently created, an electoral alliance will have to center around the PLC or any other established party.  The possible impasse should be taken advantage of to reorganize the forces of the true opposition.