Unraveling a Solution to Nicaragua’s Crisis

HAVANA TIMES – In recent interviews, General Humberto Ortega (Ret) and former Nicaraguan foreign minister Francisco Aguirre Sacasa – now a banished ex-political prisoner – both insinuated that the United States might carry out a military action to remove Daniel Ortega from power. Together with other opposition analysts and leaders, these prominent figures have proposed possible solutions to Nicaragua’s sociopolitical crisis – solutions that would put an end to the repression, the consolidation of totalitarianism and dynastic succession. In this article, I will try to unpack these proposals, determine their true reach, and assess their viability.

Let’s start with the premise that the prestigious “Intelligence Unit” of The Economist magazine has been reiterating since 2022, after exhaustive political, economic and social analyses: Daniel Ortega will be in power until the 2026 elections or until his death. Despite this, outstanding political analysts and some opposition leaders have speculated that some form of implosion could occur, leading to a sudden fall of the dictatorship – a sudden insurrection; the collapse of the government structures; a rebellion on the part of dissatisfied factions of the Army. Although these assertions encourage us and sustain hope, the regime’s actual advances towards the consolidation of total authoritarianism (I’m going to call it totalitarianism, although it lacks the ideological component) and a police state would indicate that they’re merely wishful thinking.

The Biden Administration, like that of Trump before him, cancelled visas, sanctioned high officials and companies tied to the regime, exerted pressure through diplomatic channels, and reiterated that the  Ortega regime must be held accountable for their human rights violations and crimes against humanity. But they never defined a targeted policy to force them to change their repressive policies. Quite the opposite. Since 2018, the United States has strengthened its relationship as Nicaragua’s primary trade partner. According to recent data from the US Embassy in Managua: “the US supplies one third of Nicaragua’s imports and receives nearly 60% of its total exports.”

The executive branch of the United States didn’t block the financial organisms from giving resources to the regime, nor did it apply the full weight of the NICA Act or the Renacer Law passed by Congress. Some experts and foreign policy analysts believe that the two administrations mentioned have acted very cautiously towards the Ortega-Murillo regime because they’ve perceived the opposition as too weak, fragmented, and uncoordinated to have the capability of representing an alternative to Ortega.

Under such conditions, neither the sanctions applied up until now by the United States, Canada, Great Britain, and the European Union; nor the statements and resolutions of the OAS and the UN; nor the conclusive reports on human rights violations; nor the tweets making fun of the Ortega-Murillo duo, or denouncing them as criminals are going to dislodge them from power.

We should recognize that the Nicaraguan opposition has done an excellent job of denouncing and exerting political influence in the OAS, as well as among international human rights organizations, parliaments and governments.  Like little burrs they can’t shake off, the dictatorship faces broad and detailed reports from the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights, the OAS Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts, the UN’s Human Rights Committee, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and others, detailing their human rights violations. However, given the lack of any domestic or international penal actions that can be applied, they replicate and broaden their repression with ever-greater cruelty and in total impunity. As the IACHR has pointed out, the impunity leads to the “erosion of the foundations of democracy and the chronic repetition of human rights violations.”

A “surgical” military strike?

Although prominent figures have spoken of the possibility of a “surgical” strike from the US military (similar to the December 1989 operation in Panama to remove ruler Manuel Noriega), this is neither possible nor probable, and has been neither broached nor considered by US foreign policy strategists. Nicaragua wasn’t mentioned in the February 5, 2024 Annual Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence Community, which does include Venezuela and Haiti. It’s been argued that a closer integration with Russia or China shouldn’t lead to a clash with the United States. And that’s how it is – the “Global South” now has more freedom to decide their alliances; for example, many countries didn’t support the sanctions imposed by the United States and other western countries on Russia, for their invasion of Ukraine.

We’re living in a globally uncertain era and in a multi-polar world. The United States is in decline, with an internal crisis as it confronts an economic, military, cultural and technological rivalry for world hegemony. The arms race once again involves threats of nuclear weapons; there are wars in Ukraine, Palestine, the Western Sahel region, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and others; China has conducted aggressive shows of force towards Taiwan and in the South China Sea. The New Cold War is very different from that which arose following the Second World War. Communism has disappeared. Now all the countries, including China are capitalist, with the exception of North Korea, and to some extent Cuba and Laos.

Today, there’s great economic interdependence among countries, which in the short term makes a war between the great powers improbable, although a conflict in third countries could get out of hand. There’s already a trade, propaganda and misinformation war between the US and China, yet every single day of 2018 saw $1.5 billion dollars in products and services flowing between the two countries. China is now Latin America’s number two trade partner – the chief trade partner of nearly all the countries of South America. It’s involved in mining, telecommunications, electric power generation and transmission, and agriculture.

Strategically, China is looking to broaden its political influence and has been training and arming the police forces in several countries, among them Nicaragua. They’re happy to have an ally that spouts off daily against United States imperialism from right in its very own back yard. They will give the regime all the economic and military aid they require – an insignificant amount to China – but they won’t go beyond that.

Putin is more confrontive. He wants to show his power in the region and provoke the United States in response to their support for Ukraine. However, he has his hands full with the war there, which now looks like a long-term conflict. Except for espionage, intelligence, and campaigns of misinformation and propaganda, he can’t do any more damage to US security from Nicaragua.

A total alignment of Nicaragua with the authoritarian bloc won’t lead the US to launch a surgical strike nor to opt for the policy of regime change they abandoned decades ago. Nor will a military strike occur because of “permanent and direct (rhetorical) attacks” or by provoking the “ire” of Democrats or Republicans; nor because of provocative actions, such as Nicaragua’s serving as a bridge to inundate the US southern border with waves of immigrants that affect Joe Biden’s reelection.

What can be expected from a second Trump mandate – according to advisors and possible future officials – is a more belligerent and confrontive policy towards Nicaragua (Cuba and Venezuela): possibly removing the country from the CAFTA trade treaty and applying more rigorously the provisions of the Nica Act and the Renacer Law. If Biden is reelected, his policies towards Nicaragua will possibly continue, without a strategy for significantly weakening the regime.

Consolidation of totalitarianism

Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo made the transition to the authoritarian bloc (China and Russia) and abandoned the inter-American system after November 2021, when the OAS approved a resolution rejecting the presidential elections, asserting that: “They were not free, fair or transparent and they have no democratic legitimacy.” Canadian foreign minister Melanie Joly affirmed: “the regime of Daniel Ortega removed Nicaragua from the hemisphere’s family of democracies.”

Unlike the Nicaraguan elections of 2011, 2016, and the municipal elections of 2017, that were “whitewashed” by the OAS General Secretary, now no government or entity in the western hemisphere would do the same. After a meticulous and precise analysis of the geopolitical juncture and related factors, the Nicaraguan regime concluded that its only way to hold onto power was to strengthen its alliance with the authoritarian bloc, assume that model of governance, and proclaim itself an enemy of the United States – as foreign minister Denis Moncada did in Moscow in 2022, following the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

On a rhetorical level, in order to consolidate itself and “energize its rank-and-file,” the regime proclaims and implements aspects of the Chinese model of authoritarian governance: eliminate the Rule of Law, civil society, and civil and political rights; abolish freedom of expression and the press; impose a one-party system with a pro Marxist-Leninist tendency; and impose total control over the people. The difference is that in China, the Communist Party has nearly 100 million members, and although Xi Jinping is promoting the return to Marxist-Leninism, he is recognized as a neo-capitalist whose priority is to make China the world’s best economy and challenge the United States in order to remodel the international system and world power equilibrium and assure the ascent of China.

In Nicaragua, in contrast, allusions to Marxist-Leninism come in the context of supposedly defending the failed Sandinista Revolution, although that FSLN was dismantled a good while ago and transformed into a family party composed of structures loyal to Rosario Murillo and Daniel Ortega. In reality, its form of authoritarian government is more similar to Putin’s in Russia, and their regime will continue being a kleptocracy, a mafia State: corrupt, allied with drug trafficking and sustained by terror and wrongdoing.

Read more from Nicaragua here on Havana Times.

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