Unfortunately, the script I foresaw several months ago seems to be playing out as expected. Daniel Ortega and his wife Rosario Murillo appear more anchored in power every day, while the democratic Nicaraguan opposition remains fragmented and waiting for a miracle. Will lightning strike the El Carmen presidential headquarters and residence? Probably not.
Different opposition groups – and there are dozens – have placed their hopes on the international bodies and organizations. However, these bodies are limited to condemning the dictatorship’s cruelty with strong statements, and imposing sanctions with mixed effects. There’s no concrete alternative to support, and the international organizations emphasize that the push must come from within Nicaragua. At the same time, there are a lot of other, bigger problems on the world scene.
Meanwhile, the Ortega regime has courted two strong allies. China is promising housing and other infrastructure projects for its renewed ally, and Ortega is willing to give Russia whatever it wants in its new Cold War with the United States. Being a thorn in the US side can lead to extra financial benefits from Moscow for Ortega.
Many in the Nicaraguan opposition talk about something crystalizing in the medium run: to some, a year or two; for others, two to three. However, they’ve offered nothing tangible to the general population, despite announcements every few months of new efforts to form an opposition unity. After 4 years with no change and so many dashed hopes, few inside and outside the country believe in what appears to be a fantasy. Promises and good wishes are not enough to give people real hope for actions that can weaken the dictatorship. The many Nicaraguans who quietly oppose the dictatorship currently see no light at the end of the dark tunnel.
Hence, 2022 has become the year of the exodus: of activists, journalists, and ordinary citizens of all ages, who see no future under the Ortega-Murillo family dynasty. The government takeover of private universities, and the closure of numerous civil society organizations and confiscation of their assets, is only speeding up the emigration. That leaves two main options – getting out or hunkering down in a survival mode with all the limitations that implies – many who can are opting for the former.
Ortega actually sees this exodus as beneficial. On the one hand, any organized opposition is weakened, while on the other, money sent to relatives as remittances will help the economy survive.
The Political Prisoners and Exiles
The 180+ political prisoners and those to come are all guilty as charged in Ortega’s kangaroo courts. They will all receive sentences that keep them out of circulation for many years. They, too, have been left with scant hopes. If they’re approaching death, which is quite possible in some cases, they might get house arrest to die at home. Others may eventually get an offer of banishment from Nicaragua as an option for release, a practice employed for decades by the Cuban government. The human tragedy of the prisoners facing never ending torture, illnesses and interrogations has reached a level where even some Ortega functionaries and supporters quietly believe enough is enough.
There was a major political prisoner release in June 2019 under a false amnesty which included many leading activists and independent journalists. Nearly three years later, the government has re-jailed and re-sentenced dozens of them, constantly harassed their family members, and many of the rest left into exile as their only option.
The over 130,000 exiles since the 2018 rebellion are trying to make a go of it in their host countries, despite Covid, legal hurdles, dangerous border crossings, and xenophobia. Some are doing better than others; the poorer they were in Nicaragua usually means their situation is more precarious in exile. Nearly all, of different educational and economic backgrounds, have psychological scars. Back in Nicaragua, broken families are only partially kept together by virtual communication. The toll on the children left behind is as immense as it is immeasurable.
While the number of exiles is huge for a small country, the total number of Nicaraguans fleeing is dwarfed by other, much larger migrant crises. Chances are good that the Nicaraguan diaspora will continue with relatively little international notice.
Back in the country, most of Nicaragua’s big business community have opted for silence, despite the arbitrary arrest and sentencing of several of their colleagues. A portion of this wealthy elite will most likely try to make a deal with Ortega, to be able to continue making money. While Nicaragua may never return to the pre-2018 heyday of the “government-business alliance”, businesses can still be profitable.
For the Nicaraguan and foreign executives associated with the exploitative free trade zones, mining companies and other export enterprises, dictatorship works to their advantage. It guarantees a continuation of low wages and stifles labor organizing and demands for better conditions and workers’ rights. Getting and keeping workers is unlikely to be a problem: if survival and keeping a job is the only issue, people will put up with a lot.
It’s all very sad, for this beautiful country which has struggled so long and so hard. Some readers may think I’m being too pessimistic. Frankly, my wish is to be proven wrong ASAP.