Daniel Ortega: Nicaragua’s Political Survivor
Daniel Ortega is a name that has been synonymous with Nicaraguan politics for over four decades. He is a leftist rebel leader who rose to power after toppling a right-wing US-backed regime in 1979. Ortega accepted defeat in elections in 1990, but he was voted back as president in 2006 and has been in the top job since, after three further elections. During this time, he has been accused of increased repression and has been ostracised by the US and its Western allies.
Ortega’s political journey began in the 1960s when he joined the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), a leftist guerrilla group that fought against the Somoza dictatorship. The FSLN succeeded in overthrowing the Somoza regime in 1979, and Ortega became the country’s new leader.
Ortega’s first term as president was marked by a series of reforms aimed at improving the lives of Nicaragua’s poor. He introduced land reforms, nationalised industries, and implemented social welfare programmes. However, his government also faced opposition from the US, which saw the Sandinistas as a threat to its interests in the region.
The US responded by funding and arming Contra rebels, who launched a guerrilla war against the Sandinista government. The conflict lasted for almost a decade and claimed tens of thousands of lives. The US also imposed economic sanctions on Nicaragua, which further weakened its economy.
In 1990, Ortega lost the presidential election to Violeta Barrios de Chamorro, a candidate backed by the US. Ortega accepted defeat and stepped down from power. However, he remained active in Nicaraguan politics and was re-elected as president in 2006.
Ortega’s return to power was met with mixed reactions. Supporters saw him as a champion of the poor and a symbol of resistance against US imperialism. However, his critics accused him of authoritarianism and of undermining democracy in Nicaragua.
During his second stint as president, Ortega implemented a series of policies aimed at consolidating his power. He abolished term limits, stacked the judiciary with loyalists, and cracked down on opposition parties and independent media.
The situation in Nicaragua took a turn for the worse in 2018 when protests erupted against Ortega’s government. The demonstrations were sparked by proposed changes to the country’s social security system, but they quickly grew into a broader movement calling for Ortega’s resignation.
The government responded with force, and the protests soon turned violent. Human rights groups accused the government of using excessive force against protesters and of carrying out extrajudicial killings. The government denied the allegations and blamed the violence on opposition groups.
The crackdown on dissent has continued since then, with more than 300 people killed and tens of thousands leaving the country. The government has also arrested opposition leaders and journalists, and has banned protests and public gatherings.
Ortega’s government has also moved closer to China and Russia, which has further strained its relations with the US and its Western allies. China has invested heavily in Nicaragua, funding infrastructure projects and providing loans to the government. Russia has also provided military aid to Nicaragua, including helicopters and other equipment.
The situation in Nicaragua remains tense, with no clear resolution in sight. Ortega shows no signs of stepping down, and his government continues to face criticism from human rights groups and the international community.
To discuss the situation in Nicaragua further, Folly Bah Thibault hosts a panel of experts on Al Jazeera’s Inside Story. Ben Norton, an investigative journalist and editor-in-chief of Geopolitical Economy Report, joins from Managua. Astrid Montealegre, supervising lawyer for the Nicaraguan American Human Rights Alliance, joins from Los Angeles. Dan Kovalik, a human rights lawyer and author of Nicaragua: A History of US Intervention and Resistance, joins from Pittsburgh.
The panel discusses the reasons behind the crackdown on dissent in Nicaragua, the role of China and Russia in the country, and the prospects for democracy and human rights in Nicaragua. They also examine the impact of US policy on Nicaragua and the wider region, and the challenges facing the international community in dealing with the situation.