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Challenges facing a potential new government in Nicaragua

How to overcome the problems of a dictatorship to democracy transition. Punish criminals. Do justice, not revenge.

There will be those who feel it makes no sense to talk now about the dangers that a government that succeeds the Ortega dictatorship would encounter. They may be right, but I think that it is necessary to do so. Likewise, to talk about the political program that will begin to be implemented. In fact, the two are intimately linked.

A young woman at the march, dressed in a folkloric blue and white dress and handkerchief. These colors have become symbols of civic resistance. Photo: Carlos Herrera | Confidencial

A “blue and white” government will not find a panacea. On the contrary, it will govern over a minefield that the surviving Ortega forces will want to detonate every time they want to impose their agenda on the new public administration.

The crux of the problem lies in the fact that a legitimate post-dictatorship government must do justice. It is the least it can do, because it is an urgent demand of the mothers and other relatives of the young people and others killed in the “Vamos con todo” (We’ll go with everything) of the Ortega-Murillo regime to quell the social rebellion of April 2018. It is also an obligation with political prisoners and all Nicaraguans who want freedom and democracy.

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The Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts (GIEI in Spanish) bequeathed to us the wonderful concept of “transitional justice,” which the new Government must apply. This implies investigating to find the truth of what happened, including the death of a score of police officers.

The investigation will yield evidence to organize fair trials, not political ones, but legal, technical and professional ones. Due process will prevail as the motive for carrying them out is not revenge, but justice. Only those found guilty will be sentenced.

The ill-gotten wealth must also be investigated and withheld when proven illicit. Then transferred to the public coffers and used to finance the initial tasks of the new government.

Transitional justice includes moral and financial reparation. The first is achieved with the investigations to determine the truth, which must be widely and sufficiently disclosed. Also needed are complementary measures such as the construction of a memorial, the production of books, magazines and memoirs that conclusively establish what happened. Whatever is found must be recorded in print, in videos, documentaries, and films.

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And reparation materializes with financial compensation. It will not be like the 27 million dollars for the family of US citizen George Floyd, victim of police racism, but rather in accordance to the finances of the country.

Applying transitional justice requires specialists and funding, which is feasible. Its results are also linked to the indispensable restructuring in the National Police. Those commanders and subordinates stained with blood must pay for their crimes. This also applies to the Army.

The new government must also take into account it is very difficult to govern a divided country. A country with enemy sides. Therefore, it must create conditions so there is no vindictiveness against that 25%, which is the estimated social base of the surviving Ortega-Murillo regime. They should be able to exercise their citizenship rights in the free and democratic Nicaragua we want. Those who participated in the massacre must be prosecuted.

Due to the experience acquired in the streets of all the cities, regions and communities of the country, the scenario in 2022 will be different from that of Ortega’s supporters at the beginning of 1991, when Violeta Chamorro took office. They will not be free to do what they want as they did then.

Attempting to apply transitional justice entails serious dangers because initially Ortega dislodged from power will continue to be in control of the Police and the Army. At least until the day when the current police commanders are removed. Additionally, beginning to dismantle the organized paramilitary forces, armed to destroy the roadblocks even using anti-tank rockets.

Given the foreseeable resistance of Ortega’s supporters for justice to prevail, special measures would have to be adopted. I know it is controversial because in some countries they have acted poorly, but in many others the UN “Blue Helmets” have done well.

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With a dictatorship out of power but with a huge economic power and control over the armed apparatus, a new government will require, at the beginning, a military support that could be provide by a multinational force specially organized by the United Nations.

Of course, first we must cross Lake Victoria’s falls, achieving the electoral reforms, the freedom of political prisoners and the restoration of public liberties. And, afterwards, the burning quicksand of elections with a dictatorship that does not want to leave power and is adept at committing fraud.

If the sweep of the regime takes place in the elections and these results are safeguarded, a massive flight of the now powerful agents of Ortega is foreseeable. But even so, in the dictatorship-democracy transition, a thousand dangers will lurk. Part of the solution is that we prepare right now to overcome the obstacles that may arise.

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