A new report suggests Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega is more interested in “buying time and staving off further sanctions” than in genuine reconciliation, despite the government’s recent release of all political prisoners held since Nicaragua’s April 2018 uprising.
“President Ortega agreed to resume talks (with the opposition) almost certainly in order to preserve his rule at a moment of acute economic and political weakness,” the report from the International Crisis Group (ICG) think tank concluded. “Much of his negotiating strategy has been to stretch talks as much as possible and exhaust the opposition.”
The ICG survey suggested that opposition parties need to “fine-tune their demands” going into the next round of negotiations and encouraged international support of those challenging Ortega’s authoritarian rule.
“Foreign powers and multilateral organizations should continue exerting pressure on the government,” the report stated. “They should prepare to impose further sanctions if the government fails to meet its commitments and progress in the talks lapse.”
Crisis Group officials based their research on interviews of Nicaraguans from various private and public sector organizations, religious groups, academia, and human rights experts, in the first half of 2019.
Interviewed also were victims’ groups, security, and Nicaraguan exiles in Costa Rica.
Government officials declined interviews.
The report commended Ortega. “The release of most political prisoners before the 18 June deadline suggests [Mr. Ortega] is committed to a negotiated path out of the crisis,” the think tank said.
A third round has not been scheduled as two topics remain pending for future talks: electoral reform and justice for the victims of last year’s violence.
The ICG report says the pivotal issue is that of election timing. The Ortega government has publicly ruled out the possibility of advancing elections and the presidential couple (Rosario Murillo and Daniel Ortega) has made clear it intends to remain in power until the end of its term in 2021.
On the elections issue, “Yet a compromise seems possible” says the report, but, on justice for victims, “although both sides claim to seek redress for victims, the government and opposition are entrenched in seemingly irreconcilable positions, an agreement on justice reforms will be harder to reach”.