Nicaragua to vote on bills tightening Daniel Ortega's grip on security, media
Nicaragua's legislature votes today on three proposed laws that, critics say, would give President Daniel Ortega sweeping new authority to create a domestic spy network and censor the media.
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“The last time Nicaragua had a personal army was under [former dictator] Anastasio Somoza, who ironically was overthrown by Ortega,” Mr. Isacson says. “The two are starting to look more and more like each other.”Skip to next paragraph
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Bills 'ensure peace and democratic order'
President Ortega quietly introduced the three bills to congress earlier this month and demanded they be approved “urgently." When opposition lawmakers asked for a week to read and analyze the three defense bills, Ortega lambasted them as “traitors.”
Sandinista lawmakers insist the laws will not be used as instruments of repression or confiscation. They also dismiss claims that the proposed Law of National Defense, which establishes the “inalienable right and obligation of Nicaraguan citizens to participate actively and belligerently in national defense,” would reestablish military conscription similar to the one that existed during the contra war in the 1980s.
Head Sandinista lawmaker Edwin Castro insists his party has “no intention to implement obligatory military service,” which was banned in the 1996 Constitution. The Sandinistas say the defense bills are written in the spirit of ensuring “peace, security, and democratic order.”
Opposition lawmaker Victor Hugo Tinoco, whose Sandinista Renovation Movement says it will vote against the bills today, agrees the laws are needed but worries about Ortega’s urgency to pass them. “These are fundamental laws dealing with national security and the border; they have to be discussed and analyzed,” Mr. Tinoco said.
Merry Christmas, from Daniel
The opposition Liberal Constitutional Party (PLC) was in meetings all last week with Sandinista lawmakers and military brass to rewrite the most worrisome articles of the bills. PLC lawmaker José Pallais says consensus has been reached to make “substantive changes” so that laws approved this week will be “totally different” from Ortega’s original bills. The PLC and Sandinista lawmakers together represent the majority needed to approve the bills today.
But some analysts claim the PLC, which has long played the role of minority partner in Nicaragua’s infamous political power-sharing pact (“el pacto”), is trying to sugarcoat a bitter legislative pill.
“This is Ortega’s Christmas present to the Army,” says retired Gen. Hugo Torres, who headed the military’s intelligence department in the 1990s. “The bills give the Army too much power, more than normal.”
Mr. Torres says Ortega is trying to turn back the clock on efforts to professionalize and institutionalize the Nicaraguan Army. “Ortega is advancing in his dictatorial project under the old system,” the retired general said. “He didn’t learn anything from the 1980s.”