Daniel Ortega. (AP)

Daniel Ortega (AP).


Let's Treat Nicaragua Like the Repressive Government It's Become

By Eric Farnsworth

Nicaragua's "repressive and threatening behavior demands a response," writes AS/COA's Eric Farnsworth in the Miami Herald.

Finally, some good news from Nicaragua: the mid-January release to the Vatican of Bishop Rolando Alvarez and 18 others unjustly imprisoned for practicing their faith. Their exile to Rome removes a major irritant for the regime of Daniel Ortega and his wife and vice president, Rosario Murillo, whose brutal crackdown on religious freedom had unwittingly turned Alvarez into an international human rights cause celebre.

The temptation for observers will now be to turn to more pressing matters but the regime’s increasingly repressive and threatening behavior demands a response. And while no one wants a return to the 1980’s, at the very least Washington and others should seek to curtail the regime’s worst excesses, ending free trade privileges, expanding individual sanctions and restricting finances that entrench Ortega and Murillo and their enablers in power.

Oppression of Nicaraguan civil society is rapidly intensifying. In addition to the ongoing harassment of people of faith and their leaders, the International Committee of the Red Cross has been kicked out of the country, the only such instance worldwide, along with over 3,500 other NGO’s and civil society groups that have lost their legal status and seen their assets summarily confiscated. The regime has closed 18 universities. Not even Miss Universe Sheynnis Palacios is immune; authorities seeking to undermine the cathartic impact of her November crowning have brazenly attacked the local pageant operator and her family and cruelly stripped away their citizenship.

Ortega and Murillo’s lawlessness extends beyond Nicaragua. Irregular migration is a favored tool. Remittances from Nicaraguan migrants are approaching an astounding 30% of GDP, an economic lifeline encouraging citizen outflows. Cubans, Haitians, and Venezuelans purposefully transit Nicaragua en route to the United States. So do South Asians and others. Trafficking in persons is a two-fer, generating hard currency for the regime while complicating U.S. migration politics.

Beyond migration, relations with leading purveyors of global chaos China and Russia have been upgraded while Iran’s are intensifying.

After losing elections in 1990, Ortega returned to power in 2006 with barely 38% support. He has been continuously re-elected by gaming the system. President Joe Biden called the most recent vote, in 2021, “neither free nor fair, and most certainly not democratic.”

Conditions have worsened since then. Ortega and Murillo have politicized the security forces, dismantling the judiciary, and capturing much of the economy including the private sector. Press freedom is gone; Nicaragua is the only Latin American country without print newspapers. Political prisoners like Bishop Alvarez are picked up by flying squads, jailed without due process. In 2018, student-led protests were violently suppressed...

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