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THE CURRENT POLITICAL SITUATION IN NICARAGUA

Steven Cortez, Stacey Casas, Raphael Martin, SOUTHCOM Team

Week of Monday, November 22, 2021


Woman protesting for democracy in Nicaragua[1]


Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega won the elections on Monday, November 8, 2021 with more than 75% of votes, after imprisoning most of his political rivals throughout 2021.[2] This is the fourth term President Ortega and his party, Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), have won since 2007.[3] Over the past few decades, Nicaragua has seen an increase in political opposition candidates, journalists, and human rights defenders being jailed for speaking out against the Ortega administration’s policies.[4] The economic recession has almost certainly contributed to the rise of political corruption by those seeking power and influence. Moreover, the economic crisis, limited freedom of expression, and political corruption have almost certainly caused mass migration out of Nicaragua by citizens seeking better living standards. If the US and neighboring countries do not work towards improving the conditions for Nicaraguan citizens, it is very likely this internal crisis will spill over into neighboring countries.


After winning a legislative majority in 2014, President Ortega altered the Constitution to remove presidential term limits.[5] The November 8, 2021 electoral victory and the FSLN qualified majority in the National Assembly will likely allow the Ortega administration to continue exceeding its political authority. Its power consolidation will likely continue throughout the current fourth term. The election of President Ortega raises the concern that his administration is likely to target political opponents that spoke out against his actions throughout the election cycle. The Ortega administration’s power consolidation almost certainly poses a threat to grassroot and civil society groups that focus on government transparency and democratic values.


Criminal groups seeking to expand their influence have been known to develop close ties with government officials and elites to solidify protection and gain access to States’ resources.[6] Since Nicaraguan presidential term limits were removed, it is likely that any influence by criminal individuals or groups in government decision-making will be harder to dissolve. Being a centrally controlled government, it is very likely that successful illicit activities within Nicaragua are affiliated with a number of government officials, as in the case of tax evasion. Illicit activities such as money laundering, tax evasion, and drug trafficking almost certainly increase inequality among the population and take money away from government social programs that could provide services for educational and healthcare needs.


Since 2018, an estimated 108,000 migrants have left Nicaragua looking for asylum, with most fleeing to neighboring Costa Rica.[7] With the influx of Nicaraguan migrants seeking asylum across the region, it is very likely that there will be delays in processing their immigration cases. This will likely contribute to political and economic tensions between Costa Rica and Nicaragua as it could put a strain on Costa Rica’s ability to provide sufficient border security. The increase of Nicaraguan migrants across the region will almost certainly raise the risk of exploitation by criminal groups and smugglers, who will very likely attempt to extort them for passage to the US. The US government and the neighboring countries should continue monitoring the humanitarian and migratory consequences of the economic crisis in Nicaragua, as migration will likely continue to increase.


Businesses and religious groups were among the last remaining supporters of the Ortega Administration.[8] However, once the domestic political crisis increased in 2018, criticism from high-ranking members of the clergy began, calling for an end to government-related violence on Nicaraguan citizens.[9] As part of the Ortega administration’s political crackdown, the government banned an additional 30 civic organizations and professional associations.[10] Such measures will likely weaken the Nicaraguan economy further since businesses, who are looking for foreign direct investment (FDI), will almost certainly be deterred from investing in the country due to its hostile business environment. Similarly, if migration continues to increase due to the political, social, and economic crises in Nicaragua, there will likely be fewer remittances entering the country. Fewer remittances and domestic investment make it very likely that the country will continue experiencing an economic recession. The Ortega administration is likely to reach out for possible allies, such as China or Russia, to strengthen trade relations between the States. This would almost certainly move Nicaragua further away politically from the US and other neighboring countries.

The Organization of American States (OAS) adopted a resolution to urge the release of presidential candidates and advocated for legitimate elections.[11] On November 19, 2021, President Ortega announced plans to withdraw Nicaragua from the regional organization.[12] This decision is almost certainly a power move to combat OAS criticisms of the recent election results. It is very likely that the OAS will continue to increase pressure on Nicaragua to prevent their relationship from becoming adversarial. This pressure will likely begin with open dialogue with the Ortega administration to emphasize the importance of reestablishing democratic values into the electoral process. It is likely that OAS member States are fearful of autocratic tendencies spreading through the region, emboldening other leaders in the region to attempt to consolidate power. The election of President Ortega will very likely push the country to become more economically and politically isolated from OAS member States than before as they continue to voice their frustrations with the Nicaraguan crisis.


The US is planning to implement new sanctions with international partners against the Nicaraguan government as they consider the latest election was unfair.[13] This almost certainly indicates a clearer position against the Ortega administration’s policies and opens the possibility for future tension between the two States. The sanctions are likely to push Nicaragua to develop stronger relationships with US adversaries. The new sanctions will almost certainly negatively affect Nicaraguan citizens the most, who are already enduring the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is very likely that sanctions will exacerbate the current economic crisis and lead the Ortega administration to cut diplomatic relations with the US. The volatility of the US-Nicaragua relationship almost certainly poses a threat to the US diplomatic mission based in Managua, Nicaragua, and opens the possibility that US diplomats will be expelled.


The Counterterrorism Group (CTG) and the SOUTHCOM Team recommend the United States and Central American governments, human rights groups and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) increase their collaboration efforts so that better communication and countermeasures are put in place to address Nicaragua’s future relationship with the international community. Focus should be shifted to include more cross-regional support in Central America. The US' relationship with Costa Rica will almost certainly be a strategic advantage that allows the US to increase regional pressure on Nicaragua. By having additional support in Central America, the international community can increase pressure on the Ortega administration which could also be a strategy that could be proliferated across the region to ensure democratic values are upheld. With diligent monitoring, the US and other allies will almost certainly be better equipped to deal with the constantly evolving political situation in Nicaragua that affects the greater stability of the region. The intelligence community should remain vigilant in its monitoring and dissemination of intelligence, in order to prepare for increased economic and political tensions in Nicaragua, as it will almost certainly affect the economies in neighboring countries.


The SOUTHCOM Team will continue to monitor and analyze the evolving current political, economic, and social situation in Nicaragua. Through its Worldwide Analysis of Terrorism, Crime, and Hazards (W.A.T.C.H.) Officers, CTG continuously tracks all events to provide current, fact-based analysis. The SOUTHCOM and NORTHCOM Teams will utilize Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) to ensure optimal recommendations can be provided to key stakeholders. Collaboration with other CTG Teams will assist in creating well-rounded, up-to-date analysis regarding Latin America and the Caribbean.


The Counterterrorism Group (CTG) is a subdivision of the global consulting firm Paladin 7. CTG has a developed business acumen that proactively identifies and counteracts the threat of terrorism through intelligence and investigative products. Business development resources can now be accessed via the Counter Threat Center (CTC), emerging Fall 2021. The CTG produces W.A.T.C.H resources using daily threat intelligence, also designed to complement CTG specialty reports which utilize analytical and scenario-based planning. Innovation must accommodate political, financial, and cyber threats to maintain a level of business continuity, regardless of unplanned incidents that may take critical systems offline. To find out more about our products and services visit us at counterterrorismgroup.com.


________________________________________________________________________ The Counterterrorism Group (CTG)

[1] Justice and Democracy for Nicaragua” by alisdare1 licensed under Creative Commons

[2] Nicaragua's Ortega secures fourth term, U.S. threatens sanctions, Reuters, November 2021, https://www.reuters.com/world/americas/nicaraguas-ortega-coasting-victory-after-contentious-election-2021-11-08/

[3] A Road to Dialogue After Nicaragua’s Crushed Uprising, International Crisis Group, December 2018, https://www.crisisgroup.org/latin-america-caribbean/central-america/nicaragua/72-road-dialogue-after-nicaraguas-crushed-uprising

[4] After jailing rivals, Nicaraguan president poised for reelection, Los Angeles Times, November 2021, https://www.latimes.com/world-nation/story/2021-11-06/after-jailing-rivals-nicaraguan-president-poised-for-reelection

[5] Nicaragua: reforma oficializa la reelección indefinida, BBC, January 2014, https://www.bbc.com/mundo/ultimas_noticias/2014/01/140128_ultnot_nicaragua_reeleccion_presidencial_daniel_ortega_az (Translated by Google)

[6] Nicaragua Elites and Organized Crime: Introduction, Insight Crime, July 2021, https://insightcrime.org/investigations/nicaragua-elites-organized-crime-introduction/

[7] UNHCR calls for more support for Nicaraguans forced to flee, UNHCR, April 2021, https://www.unhcr.org/en-us/news/press/2021/4/6079cd184/unhcr-calls-support-nicaraguans-forced-flee.html

[8] Expresidentes latinoamericanos piden aislar a Ortega y aplicar carta de OEA, Swiss Info, November 8, https://www.swissinfo.ch/spa/nicaragua-elecciones_expresidentes-latinoamericanos-piden-aislar-a-ortega-y-aplicar-carta-de-oea/47093944 (Translated by Stacey Casas)

[9] Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega slams Catholic bishops as allies of 'coup plotters', DW News, July 2018, https://www.dw.com/en/nicaraguas-daniel-ortega-slams-catholic-bishops-as-allies-of-coup-plotters/a-44756962

[10] Nicaragua: Chronicle of an Election Foretold, Nacla, November 2021, https://nacla.org/news/2021/11/08/nicaragua-election-ortega

[11] Ortega's government is undermining Nicaraguan election, OAS says, Reuters, October 2021, https://www.reuters.com/world/americas/ortegas-government-is-undermining-nicaraguan-election-oas-says-2021-10-20/

[12] Nicaragua arrests former ambassador to the OAS, critic of Ortega, Reuters, November 2021, https://www.reuters.com/world/americas/nicaragua-arrests-former-ambassador-oas-critic-ortega-2021-11-23/

[13] EXCLUSIVE U.S. preparing new sanctions in response to Nicaragua's Nov. 7 election -officials, Reuters, October 2021, https://www.reuters.com/world/exclusive-us-preparing-new-sanctions-response-nicaraguas-nov-7-election-2021-10-29/


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