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Daniel Ortega: A Cold War Relic

The crisis in Nicaragua explained

Embattled President Daniel Ortega has been a fixed presence in Nicaraguan politics for decades. Following the fall of longtime dictator Anastasio Somoza, Ortega became president in 1985, heading the leftist Sandinista National Liberation Front.

With deep ties to Fidel Castro, he faced US opposition. The Reagan Administration supported a right-wing guerrilla movement aimed at bringing him down.

Daniel Ortega (right) with Fidel Castro (left)

After losing re-election in 1990, Ortega became a major opposition figure.

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Ortega finally won the presidency in 2006, riding the wave of leftist presidents in Latin America. He became a close friend and ally of Hugo Chavez. He has since changed tack, allying himself with the country’s traditionally right-wing business community and clergy.

Coupled with changes in electoral law, Ortega has prolonged and cemented his rule.

In 2016, he barred international observers and nominated his wife as Vice-president. The pair won the election, which was condemned by the opposition and criticized internationally by the United States, the Organization of American States (OAS) and the European Union.

In April 2018, Ortega announced a move to reform Nicaragua’s pension system, saying that fiscal changes were needed. The reform sought to impose a 5 percent tax on retiree and disability pensions while increasing social security contributions by up to 22.5 percent. The move unleashed large-scale protests nationwide, which have been the biggest challenge Ortega has faced during modern tenure.

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The pension plan was abandoned but protests continued, demanding Ortega’s ouster. UN Human Rights experts denounced the state’s harsh repression. As the death toll rose, Nicaragua’s Catholic Church has demanded that Ortega allow international organizations entry to Nicaragua to help investigate the deaths and tried to set up talks between the opposition and the government.

The opposition, comprised of students and a wide range of civil society groups, sat down with the government fora round of talks on May 16. The Clergy said the talks would be focused on “justice, democratization, and peace.” The opposition’s main demand: new presidential elections in 2019. The government rejected the demands and talks broke down.

Stalemate and instability. The death toll in two months of nationwide violence has risen to 186 (as of June 19). Three rounds of dialogue have failed, with unabated protests and repression. Ortega demands that protesters bring down their street barricades. But the opposition continues to demand that the government call for new elections and let in the UN and EU into Nicaragua. Ortega has not yet agreed to either demand.


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