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From revolution to oligarchy in Nicaragua

  • 14 November, 2021

  • 4 Min Read

From revolution to oligarchy in Nicaragua

Context: "From revolution to oligarchy in Nicaragua" is an important topic for UPSC GS Paper 2 and Prelims.

Nicaraguan President ‘won’ a fourth term in an election that lacks legitimacy.

  • If one were to emerge in 2021 out of a time capsule hidden in 1979 and were to meet Daniel Ortega, the person would scarcely believe that he is the same man 42 years later.

  • Mr. Ortega got “re-elected” as President of Nicaragua in the elections held on November 7 that were widely discredited as a “sham” exercise.
  • Several opposition candidates were arrested prior to the polls and were unable to campaign or contest the elections.
  • International observers were not allowed to monitor the vote and even the official turnout figure —65% — has not been accepted as credible by poll-watchers, who claimed that the actual voting percentage was barely 18.5%.
  • There are barely any traces of similarity between the man who was re-elected for the fourth time as President and is ruling the country with an authoritarian fist and the face of the Sandinista revolution that overthrew the Somoza dictatorship in 1979.
  • Then, Mr. Ortega was one of the leaders of a collective in charge of the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), the opposition group which included armed guerrillas fighting the U.S.-supported Anastasio Somoza’s regime.
  • After Somoza’s rule was overthrown, Mr. Ortega became a member of the five-person ‘Junta of National Reconstruction’ that ruled the country and soon became the face of the government as it embarked upon a programme of social and economic reforms based on a mixed economy model.
  • Later in the 1980s, the Sandinistas had to wage another civil war against rebels, mostly drawn from the Somoza regime, called the “Contras”, who were supported by the U.S. The Sandinistas were returned to power in 1984 but Mr. Ortega lost in the 1990 elections to the National Opposition Union in a peaceful transition.

Party of reconciliation

  • Mr. Ortega then spent several years in the opposition before returning to power in 2007; by this time the FSLN led by him had moved away from orthodox leftist policies and had rebranded itself as a party committed to “reconciliation” with the conservative sections of Nicaraguan society.

  • Soon, Mr. Ortega had managed to overturn the constitutionally mandated term limits and was re-elected to power in 2016, but prior to the elections, the FSLN had already delegitimised the political opposition and removed it from the legislature.

  • By now, Nicaragua had transitioned into to a “hegemonic electoral autocracy” (as a paper by Martí i Puig et al in 2020 termed it).
  • Far from a collective leadership which included ex-revolutionaries and democratic-minded popular civil society figures (that the 1979-1990 arrangement entailed), Nicaragua, under Mr. Ortega, resembled caudillo-style personalised rule that reverted to patronage to sustain its popularity.
  • This was made possible by ample funding from other allies in the region — Venezuela, in particular.
  • But once Venezuela experienced its own economic crisis and the aid dried, Mr. Ortega’s regime embraced austerity. This led to severe protests in 2018, but they were brutally put down with the help of paramilitary groups and armed police.
  • Since then, Mr. Ortega’s regime has transitioned further into a new oligarchy that is not too dissimilar from the Somoza regime that terrorised and controlled Nicaragua for four decades from the 1930s.
  • Nicaragua’s economy has suffered since 2017 — The Economist reported that political unrest hurt business confidence and tourism, leading to a shrinking of the GDP by a seventh, and formal jobs falling by a fifth before the pandemic struck.
  • Mr. Ortega’s family is firmly in control of institutions such as the media. His wife and the country’s Vice President, Rosario Murillo acts as the regime’s spokesperson and his immediate family has captured the media airwaves in a vice-like grip as a Reuters investigation revealed that many media companies had been bought by them.
  • The Organization of American States condemned the November 7 elections as being “not free, fair, or transparent” and that they “lack democratic legitimacy”.
  • The Joe Biden administration in the U.S. has plans to announce new sanctions against the regime. The rising discontent and fissures within the ruling FSLN and growing disenchantment with the Ortega-Murrillo dynastic rule from the poor in Nicaragua suggest that it will not be easy for Mr. Ortega to weather the growing storm.

Source: The Hindu


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