Don't let Nicaragua's Ortega become a Mugabe
The West must use leverage to prevent bloody confrontation.
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Yet, this may be the direction this Central American nation is heading after a much-disputed election on Nov. 9. And the current political confrontation may portent worse things to come for Central America.
The electoral authorities have long been controlled by the government, which also banned most international observers – notably the Organization of American States (OAS), the EU, and the Carter Center – on account of being dominated by "foreign powers" bent on discrediting President Ortega. In a later twist to the impasse, on Nov. 18 Sandinista mobs used force to prevent an opposition demonstration from taking place in Managua, the capital.
So far the reaction of the world to all this has been rather muted. It shouldn't be.
This is just the latest episode in Nicaragua's downward spiral toward authoritarian rule under Ortega. Before this crisis, the government used its command to arbitrarily cancel the registration of two main opposition parties, and harass prominent critics – such as poet Ernesto Cardenal and respected journalist Carlos Chamorro – as well as numerous nongovernmental organizations. Even humanitarian outfits such as Oxfam have been bizarrely accused of being Trojan horses of imperialism.
This trend does not end there. A package of constitutional reforms that Ortega seems to hope to ram through congress includes the prospect of successive presidential reelection, currently banned. Nor is the erratic behavior confined within the Nicaraguan borders. In a particularly surreal quirk, Nicaragua alone joined Russia in recognizing the newly "independent" republic of South Ossetia. Ortega, after a long exile from power, has remained true to his thuggish ways of the 1980s, only now bereft of a cause and tarnished by a legacy of corruption.
What happens in Nicaragua matters. The consistent inability of its political elite to govern responsibly and build functioning democratic institutions is part of a problem that has the potential to ricochet. With annual foreign investment inflows comprising 6 percent of its GDP, Nicaragua can not afford sustained political instability. Neither can its neighbors.