Daniel Ortega’s Last Stand in Nicaragua

Nicaragua has rapidly descended into a tenuous leadership situation, and America may have no choice but to intervene on some level if the situation spirals much further. Though the Central American nation has been in chaos even before current President Daniel Ortega participated in a military coup that resulted in junta rule from 1979-85, it appears that his grip on power may be once again slipping. The United States’ national security and immigration interests dictate that, to stem a northern flow of a new wave of Nicaraguan migrants to whatever extent possible, the situation not be let to fester.

Ortega first tasted power as the Sandinista National Liberation Front took power after violently ousting the Somoza dictatorship in 1978-9. They ruled through the Contra Wars of the 80s, which included Ortega’s election as president in free elections of 1984. After the Tela Accord in 1989 both the SNLF and Contra armies were disbanded, and free elections were once again held, resulting in the ouster of many Sandinista incumbents, Ortega included. To the surprise of many, the Sandinistas willingly handed over power to the victors. The people had apparently grown tired of Ortega’s Marxist-Leninist policies, marked by the nationalizing of industry, land “reform”, wealth redistribution, and other earmarks of a socialist/communist system.

However, Ortega would remain a latent opposition political candidate. And, despite losing in 1996 and 2001 presidential elections, he once again was elected president in 2006. Twelve years after his presidential rebirth, it appears that Ortega is back on the brink of falling from power.

The latest show of opposition arose when protests broke out on April 18th of this year. The social security system in Nicaragua is rife with abuse and unbalanced coffers. So, when Ortega announced that workers and employers would be mandated to contribute an increased percentage of their paychecks and profits to the social security system, it didn’t sit well with the people. And they let the government know.

Ortega quickly sensed that he had badly misjudged how the people would react, and reversed his course only days later. But by that time, the anti-Ortega grease fire had been ignited, and three months later it remains uncontained.

Protests that began primarily with students and pensioners has now gained the backing of business groups, political opponents, and NGOs. Though their motives and solutions are disparate, their resolve to oust the Ortega government is very much united. For the Ortega regime and the general stability of Nicaragua – given what recent regime change has brought North African and Middle Eastern nations – this is an alarming reality to face. The relative success or failure of an Ortega ouster would rely on the nation’s ability to elect a better, presumably non-Marxist leader in the aftermath, and to do so quickly. Yet, the opposition has yet to present any viable alternatives, and Ortega is still president, for now.

But make no bones about it: Daniel Ortega is very much on the ropes.

The protests have not yet resulted in the aim of regime change, but the opposition has unwittingly contributed to conditions that will only make it more difficult for Ortega to remain in charge. The widespread unrest sent an already-tenuous economy into a nosedive, which has only stirred up more antipathy among the people towards their government. All economic indicators are now bad. In a way, the people have themselves to blame for this, but it’s Ortega who will ultimately be held responsible.

‘The country’s central bank was more optimistic, forecasting growth of 4.5-5 percent for 2018. At the end of May, however, the central bank revised its projection down to 3-3.5 percent. On June 29, the bank’s president dropped expectations further, to just 1 percent growth. The bank also noted that foreign direct investment in the first quarter had fallen 27 percent year-on-year to a mere $322.3 million, and it revised projected unemployment to 6 percent from 3.7 percent to account for an estimated 85,000 lost jobs.’ (Geopolitical Futures)

Keep in mind that, according to GPF, these are the optimistic economic projections.

According to the Nicaraguan Foundation for Economic and Social Development, ‘215,000 jobs had already been lost – 2.5 times the central bank’s estimate. It also reported that in the best-case scenario (i.e., the crisis gets resolved by the end of July), the Nicaraguan economy would still contract 0.3 percent this year, and economic losses would total approximately $637.9 million.’

It doesn’t take these economic assessments to see that Daniel Ortega is in deep trouble, with no apparent way out. But, with the protestors apparently unwilling to hear any talks of compromise and the Ortega government similarly resolved to remain in the presidential palace, the future holds a great possibility for escalation.

Talks have been tried. Talks have failed. Protestors have called for early elections. Ortega has ruled that possibility out. Paramilitary troops have been deployed to disperse the protestors. Protestors have remained present and vocal.

Nicaragua is headed full-steam down a path to chaos, and at some point, the United States will have to decide whether they will intervene, especially if a lawless Nicaragua characterized by widespread unemployment and antipathy for authority results in greater control by gangs. This could all mean one thing: mass migration towards America’s southern border, and it’s unlikely that the U.S. presidential administration will let this go without some kind of intervention.

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