Nicaraguans face a future of repression and economic hardship under longtime leader Daniel Ortega, who won Sunday’s election widely denounced as a “sham,” analysts said.
Ortega, 75, has previously been called a dictator by Western countries who have threatened to increase sanctions after cracking down on opponents in the run-up to elections.
Sunday’s vote took place with challengers from Ortega and his wife and vice president Rosario Murillo in prison or under house arrest.
Next year “will be a decidedly difficult year for the government, but also for the population, both economically and politically,” Elvira Cuadra, security and governance expert at the research institute told AFP. Nicaraguan IEEPP policies.
The European Union and the United States have imposed sanctions on allies and family members of Ortega and Murillo after the regime’s crackdown on anti-government protests in 2018, in which more than 300 people were killed.
Punitive measures have increased since the detention of 39 opposition figures, including seven potential presidential candidates, from June.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the bloc would “examine all instruments at our disposal to take further action” against Ortega’s “autocratic” regime.
On Monday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Washington would apply sanctions and other measures, “to promote the accountability of those complicit in supporting the anti-democratic acts of the Ortega-Murillo government.”
The Organization of American States, which has sharply criticized the opposition arrests, will discuss the issue at a General Assembly this week, where Nicaragua faces suspension.
– No ‘magic wand’ –
But experts say growing isolation is unlikely to strain Ortega’s hand.
They warn that this could worsen Nicaragua’s dire economic situation and fuel migration.
“Failure to recognize the legitimacy of an election does not work like a magic wand transforming the situation of democratic collapse in Nicaragua,” said Kevin Casas of the Stockholm-based Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance.
Nicaragua will likely seek to soften the sanctions blow by forging stronger alliances with US rivals Russia and China, Casas said.
The population, however, has nowhere to turn.
Nicaragua, with 6.5 million inhabitants, relies heavily on foreign money: from January to August, it received nearly $ 1.4 billion in remittances from citizens abroad.
Aid from the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the Inter-American Development Bank and the Central American Bank for Economic Integration so far stands at more than $ 1 billion this year, the said. independent political analyst Eliseo Nunez.
But it will “stop” in 2022, he added.
The poorest country in Central America already had a poverty rate of 44.4% in 2019, before the Covid-19 pandemic, according to the Nicaraguan Poverty Research Center FIDEG.
“People live on the bare minimum, the cost of living is too high, they run survival businesses that sell everything from water to auto parts and second-hand clothes from their homes or on the streets. “, economist Luis Nunez told AFP.
Given the economic and political challenges, some 100,000 Nicaraguans have fled abroad since 2018, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights said.
“Ortega operates in an increasingly hostile environment,” said an International Crisis Group analysis, noting that it has “about half of the popular support it enjoyed before 2018” and has severely damaged relations with the sector private and the Catholic Church.
Ortega has alienated himself from sections of society, with those arrested including politicians, community leaders, students, journalists and businessmen – all labeled “terrorists” striving to overthrow him with the support from the United States.
Nicaraguan Catholic priests on Sunday urged worshipers to boycott the “electoral farce”.
– ‘Ortega only has repression’ –
“Ortega has no instrument to reverse the political crisis, international isolation and social expressions of the crisis, such as unemployment, underemployment and poverty,” said Nicaraguan political scientist Enrique Saenz.
“Ortega only has repression and repression is not enough to quell the rejection of the population indefinitely.”
But Cuadra noted that a climate of “repression and surveillance” makes rebellion difficult.
Ahead of Sunday’s vote, the official results of which showed he won with 75 percent, Ortega said he would call a national dialogue.
But Eliseo Nunez called it a simple attempt “to seek the legitimacy he did not win at the polls.”
Observers have said Ortega may offer to free some of his jailed opponents and give limited power to business leaders, although no real compromises are to be expected.
If talks take place, “it will probably force some actors, like big business, to establish a space for dialogue, but it is based on wills taken hostage to the point of threats and arrests,” Cuadra said.
According to Saenz, the only political groups Ortega tolerates are those “which are subordinate to his will in exchange for small advantages”.