The Return of Ortega (2006-Present)
- Where to Go
- The Best of Nicaragua
- Nicaragua’s Best Surfing
- Hiking Nicaragua’s Ring of Fire
- Nicaraguan Arts & Crafts
- Nicaragua’s Great Green North
- Sportfishing in Nicaragua
- Down the Río San Juan
- Nicaragua’s Celebrations & Fiestas
- Volunteering in Nicaragua
- Diving & Snorkeling in Nicaragua
- Managua’s Revolutionary Driving Tour
The Pact strengthened Ortega’s hand, and through the Sandinistas in the National Assembly he methodically weakened and divided the political opposition. Mayoral elections in 2004 went overwhelmingly to the Sandinista party, while Bolaños’s new coalition, APRE, suffered significant defeats in most departments.
Alemán, under house arrest, could do little to counter him, and in late 2004 Ortega’s and Alemán’s people again conspired to change the criteria under which one could become president: the threshold for victory was lowered from 45 percent to 35 percent and the mandatory margin over the second candidate was set at 5 percent, both criteria skillfully tailored to Ortega’s proven electoral capacity.
The FSLN party was by then largely only Daniel supporters or “Danielistas,” the old guard of the Revolution having been blocked in an FSLN primary, while breakaway Sandinistas’ new party, the Movimiento Renovador Sandinista (MRS) lost its chance when its popular candidate, Herty Lewites, was felled by a mysterious heart attack while campaigning.
Ortega, ever the opportunist, embraced the Catholic church by supporting a total abortion ban, assured the private sector and Brettons Woods institutions that he had no intention of returning to a policy of land confiscation, and that he would support free enterprise and a capitalist economy. He married his longtime partner Rosario Murillo and “atoned for the sins committed during the FSLN in the 1980s.”
Says Álvaro Vargas Llosa, “What this farcical saga tells us is that Daniel Ortega was much more interested in being president than in being principled.” And in November 2006, Nicaraguans turned out in record numbers to vote and were stunned to discover Daniel Ortega had won the presidency with only 38 percent of the vote.
Ortega kept his promise to respect private enterprise, but he worked vigorously to ensure his return to power would be permanent. But despite rhetoric about the continuation of the 1979 Revolution, there was nothing revolutionary about Ortega’s mandate. His administration relentlessly pursued political foes and solidified FSLN control of the courts, the National Assembly, and attempted the same with the police and military to lesser effect.
State agents ransacked the offices of a leading investigative journalist, Carlos Fernando Chamorro (son of the former president and slain newspaper man) and a women’s NGO, and sent agents to confiscate the computers of 15 other organizations including Oxfam, under suspicion of money laundering and “subversion,” a provocative accusation of supporting opposition political parties.
At least 10 journalists have been beaten and opposition radio stations have had their equipment destroyed. Masked gangs attacked both major newspapers in November 2009, launching mortars and rockets at the building. Meanwhile, youth spray-painted “Viva Daniel” from one end of Managua to the other.
Under the new administration, Sandinista “supporters” were required to register with their local Consejo Popular Ciudadano (Community Citizen Committee, CPC) and receive a membership card. Non-cardholders found life close to impossible, as suddenly doors were closed to them. Cardholders were permitted to skip certain college exams, non-cardholders could not; cardholders got chosen for scholarships, non-cardholders did not; cardholders got discounted food at the markets, non-cardholders did not.
Government workers have also been subjected to intimidating and illegal workplace recruitment campaigns by the Sandinista party, facing the threat of dismissal if they refuse to accept the party card. Once signed up, one of their new political obligations is to turn up at party rallies, and stand at key intersections in the capital waving party flags in their spare time.
Within the same strategy, the CPCs aligned themselves with criminal gangs and disaffected youth to ensure opposition protestors were unable to assemble in public places. With thinly veiled threats of “the Sandinistas control the streets,” popular protests were quickly put down over 30 times in 2008 alone by stone-throwing Sandinista “supporters”—little more than paid mobs—and dissent of any form was stifled.
An opposition march organized by civil society groups brought more than 50,000 people on to the streets to protest at the 2008 electoral fraud and Ortega’s reelection plans. Thanks to a massive police turnout—70 percent of the 10,000-strong national police force—the march was protected from threatened attacks by Sandinista thugs.
Ortega strengthened diplomatic ties with Libya’s Mohammar Qhadaffi, Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez, and of course Cuba’s Fidel Castro. Nicaragua was the only nation to recognize the two republics Russia liberated from Georgia (South Ossetia and Abkhazia), and the abortion ban claimed its first female victims, starting with an 18-year-old who was denied the right to terminate a pregnancy that had developed life-threatening medical complications. Both she and the five-month-old fetus perished.
In 2008, municipal elections for regional officials were overtly sabotaged to engineer a victory for the Danielistas. It drew the immediate ire of the international community, who withdrew financial support for development projects. Between the United States, which suspended its Millennium Challenge program, and the member states of the European Union, over $300 million in funding were suspended.
Ortega responded by threatening to send a trillion dollar bill to the European Union to compensate for the ravages of colonialism, and Hugo Chávez offered to substitute the $300 million, which he never did. But Ortega’s obstinate march toward dictatorship continued. He was, however, unable to gather the votes for the National Assembly to abolish term limits, something his Honduran and Bolivian colleagues were doing. So the Supreme Court justices loyal to Daniel met over a weekend in August 2009 and ruled that term limits were a violation of Daniel Ortega’s constitutional rights.
Despite blustering by the opposition members of the National Assembly, Ortega insisted, “this decision is stone; it cannot be altered.” An increasingly skeptical populace is gauging whether they are ready to accept Ortega as their newest leader-for-life.
William Easterly quotes, “It took the Sandinistas twelve years to make a saint of Somoza; it took Violeta only five years to make saints of the Sandinistas; Alemán needed only two years to make a saint of Violeta.” But Ortega made Alemán look good almost as soon as he took power. Sadly, Ortega’s violent and self-serving government has put the final nail in the coffin of the Revolution’s reputation, as Ortega has become a dictator just as bad as the one he overthrew.
Meanwhile, in the mountains north of Jinotega, a group of disaffected miltants calling itself the Fuerza Democratica Nicaragüense (FDN) emerged in late 2009. “We oppose the second dictatorship of Daniel Ortega,” they announced, and angry, disaffected Nicaraguans are gradually joining and supporting them. To date, no military action has been attributed to them, but analysts speculate it will just be a matter of time. Sound familiar?
© Randall Wood & Joshua Berman from Moon Nicaragua, 4th Edition