Saturday 2 December 2023

A Totalitarian Regime in Nicaragua, The “Bukele Model” in El Salvador, and a “Dynastic Shift” in Honduras

Alberto Cortés: "I would like Costa Rica to resume its democratic leadership and support the transition in Guatemala, but I'm not sure it can"

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Q24N (Confidencial) The illegal confiscation of the campus in Managua of the Central American Institute of Business Administration (INCAE – Instituto Centroamericano de Administración de Empresas), a month and a half after the confiscation of the Central American University (UCA), confirms the “authoritarian and despotic tendency of the Ortega Murillo regime, which already has a totalitarian orientation”, says political scientist Alberto Cortés Ramos, professor at the University of Costa Rica (UCR).

The representation of populism in Central America: Nayib Bukele (El Salvador), Xiomara Castro (Honduras) and Rodrigo Chaves (Costa Rica. Photo collage from

In an interview with Esta Semana and, the political scientist analyzed the authoritarian tendencies in other Central American countries: the “Bukele model” in El Salvador, the “dynastic shift” of Xiomara Castro’s government in Honduras, and the “corporate authoritarianism” in Guatemala, which is trying to invalidate the triumph of President-elect Bernardo Arévalo.

In Costa Rica, the UCR researcher warns of a loss of political support for the “confrontational style” of President Rodrigo Chaves, who is not seeing positive results in his government because he has discontinued state policies. “Resilience is being tested, the ability of institutions to resist attempts to bypass established democratic procedures or regulations,” says Cortes, referring to the rulings of the judiciary that have placed limits on the decisions of the Executive.

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“I believe that the institutional framework will manage to remain solid and prevent the country from having an authoritarian drift as in other countries”, he assures, but he has doubts that Costa Rica can exercise democratic leadership in Central America. “I would like Costa Rica to resume its democratic leadership in Central America and support the transition in Guatemala, but I am not certain it can, nor do I think we are going to see it do so in the coming year. That would be my prediction”, says the political scientist.
Ortega’s dictatorship in Central America

The news of greatest impact this week in Nicaragua has been the illegal confiscation of the INCAE campus in Managua by the dictatorship of Daniel Ortega. How is this new aggression of Daniel Ortega’s regime being read in Central America, in academia, in the governments, in the business sectors?

The initial reading is a corroboration of a trend that has been seen by the Costa Rican academic sector and, I believe, the regional academics as well. The level of cruelty of this dictatorship towards the university sector is remarkable. We must remember that not even Somoza did this in Nicaragua. INCAE is a postgraduate and training entity in Business Administration and Entrepreneurial Sciences, it was not an entity that threatened the regime, neither for its volume of students, nor for its critical orientation. I think it is also a sample of the vindictive rationale with which this regime acts. In short, one by one they are closing entities, organizations and institutions that played a role in the 2018 protest. INCAE had a role of being a space where the Civic Alliance in 2018 and 2019 prepared for the negotiation process that was taking place at that time, and it seems that this was later interpreted as support for the “coup perpetrators.”

INCAE hosted the second national dialogue, in which – by the way – an agreement was signed between the Government, signed by Foreign Minister Denis Moncada, and the opposition to suspend the police state in Nicaragua, which this week marks five years of total de facto suspension of guarantees in the country.

Daniel Ortega (Nicaragua), Nayib Bukele (El Salvador), and Xiomara Castro (Honduras). Photo collage from

Possibly there is also some retaliation to sectors of the business community that are related to INCAE. But in any case, it seems important to me not to forget that INCAE was closed after they had closed the UCA, which was the private university with the longest trajectory, solidity in terms of research capacity and level of criticality. And before that, 27 other universities had been closed, confiscated and passed into the hands of the regime, which basically means that in Nicaragua there is no university autonomy as we know it in the rest of the Central American region. This inevitably calls for concern and reinforces that in Nicaragua there is an authoritarian, despotic regime, which even has a totalitarian orientation.

Despite this rejection, which has been expressed through Central American academic entities, some Central American parliaments and some Central American political leaders, there is still a certain tolerance for the Ortega dictatorship. For example, the Honduran government of Xiomara Castro openly advocates for the Ortega regime in international forums, and, on the other hand, a representative of Ortega presides over SICA (Central American Integration System) in Central America. His regime benefits economically from their relationship with the BCIE (Central American Bank for Economic Integration) and perhaps except for Costa Rica, Ortega is not subject to any condemnation in the Central American spaces as is the case, for example, in the UN Human Rights Council or the OAS.

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Yes, in the regional dynamics there are from complicit silences to positions clearly favoring the regime. You mentioned the case of President Xiomara Castro, who unfortunately in recent times has been speaking with inaccurate information in defense of the dictatorial regime of Ortega and Murillo, especially when she speaks of a blockade. In the case of Nicaragua, it should not be forgotten that the United States is the main trading partner, the main source of foreign direct investment and the source of remittances which represent almost 20% of Nicaragua’s Gross Domestic Product. So, Cuba and Venezuela have a different type of sanctions than Nicaragua. In Nicaragua we cannot talk about an economic blockade, that is just not true, and it is unfortunate that President Castro is putting regimes with different types of sanctions in the same category. In the case of Nicaragua there have been individual sanctions against specific sectors and not general ones.
The “Bukele model” and Honduras

Let’s talk about the situation in each country. In El Salvador, Nayib Bukele is advancing towards presidential reelection in March next year, violating his own Constitution, but with great popular and national support. What does the Bukele model represent for Central America?

Bukele has had a great capacity to articulate a narrative that has as a corollary a process of highly repressive content. This has made it possible to recover “normality” in certain sectors and in certain parts of El Salvador, in terms of gang control. This, to a great extent, has generated an explanation for the support he has at the polls and at the electoral level. Bukele, unfortunately, is now a reference for the region, in terms of advancing an ultra-iron fist policy that has little respect for due process. Due process is a guarantee of respect for human rights and therefore, as pointed out by various authors, this iron fist policy is being studied and put into practice by other states. In Honduras, President Castro is resuming the iron fist policy to supposedly control criminal gangs and drug trafficking.

In Honduras there is criticism of Xiomara Castro’s government, even within her own Libre Party that brought her to power, and with some of her allies, who say she is reproducing a type or model of a family regime with authoritarian tendencies.

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There was a lot of expectation, when the election took place, that she could generate a new style of presidential management, more open to dialogue, more democratic, because former president (Manuel) Zelaya had more of a strongman style. And normally this type of strongman leadership is accompanied by authoritarian methods and style. Many people in the campaign, thought this was something that could be modified by President Xiomara Castro after she was elected. However, in practice it is evident that the main force behind the dynamics of the Libre Party and the Government is Mel Zelaya, and this has begun to deteriorate the image of the President. In addition, a shift of a dynastic nature is now being noticed. This has generated rejection and concern within and outside the Libre Party. Additionally, the Honduran government’s international shift in support of Ortega has been another factor that has generated concern in sectors of the international community.
Arévalo’s Presidency Under Siege in Guatemala

A few months ago, Guatemala generated hope for democratic change after the electoral victory of Bernardo Arévalo, but this electoral result continues to be threatened by the powers that be, to the point that this Friday the Attorney General’s Office once again raided the Electoral Tribunal and seized the records of the results in an attempt to invalidate the elections. Can Bernardo Arévalo govern in this besieged presidency?

The surprise electoral result in favor of Bernardo Arévalo was a breath of fresh air for those of us who are concerned about the authoritarian drift that is taking place in Central America. It is evidence that the Guatemalan people are clear about what is happening in their own country and took advantage of a small window of opportunity to express their will. What we are seeing now in Guatemala is a dispute between the power group that had set up a corporate authoritarian regime and the forces that are trying to move towards a democratization of the country. Therefore, I believe it is important for the international community to send clear signals of support to consolidate this democratic transition and to respect the will of the Guatemalan people, which was clearly expressed at the polls, especially in the second round, and to consolidate Bernardo Arevalo’s presidency. In reality, it will obviously be a complex process. President Arévalo will try to dismantle the mafia-like and corrupt corporate network that has been the controlling power in Guatemala. And that is not going to be easy, but let’s hope that first he will be able to get to the presidency and then he will be able to move forward with the process of transformation in Guatemala.
Democratic Resilience in Costa Rica with Chaves

In Costa Rica, this week President Rodrigo Chaves decreed a national emergency to address the migration crisis caused by the wave of migrants at the southern border, where more than 320,000 people have entered this year. What are the implications of this emergency for Costa Rica and its refugee policy?

I think this will mean a worsening of the conditions for those seeking refuge. But we must start from the premise that Costa Rica is, on the one hand, a receiving country of migration, especially Nicaraguan, but it is mostly a transit country. Obviously, this has to do with agreements that President Chaves has made at the international level, which are clearly going to make Costa Rica play a role in retaining the refugee population that is in transit to the United States. President Chaves is creating conditions and narratives to justify the political actions he will have to take to manage the increase in the number of migrants heading north to the United States.

This will mean, at some point, the presence of the migratory population in transit in the country for a certain period. I believe that it is, therefore, a statement oriented to define the discursive field, in the sense saying -we are going to have a firm hand with the migrant population, we are not going to allow disorder and we are going to control this situation. I think, consequently, there is going to be a toughening of the refugee policies. In fact, Costa Rica has already had a reduction in its reception of the refugee population that is moving more towards the north, as in the case of the Nicaraguan population.

In addition to this emergency, there has been an alarming increase in homicides in Costa Rica, which could be linked to organized crime and to the increase in drug trafficking Is there a citizen security crisis in Costa Rica?

The situation has deteriorated, and it is urgent that the government take short-, medium- and long-term actions. I believe that there must be a greater presence of public forces in urban and rural territories. The presence of police forces must be increased. We also must improve the intelligence that is being gathered to address these hot spots, I know that the security forces know where these hots spots are. What we need, however, is a much more aggressive intervention in the sectors that are suffering the most intensely from the country’s socioeconomic crisis to ensure that the youth have opportunities and do not have to drop out of school. The security officials should go and see how young people survive and help their families -even- with the drug dealing activity that is growing in the country.

If in this context we continue to cut investment in education, funding for scholarships to retain students in school, we are inevitably creating a breeding ground for organized criminal groups to recruit young people and bring them into these criminal gangs, including the gang members and boys and girls who are lending themselves to criminal activities linked to drug trafficking.

There must be a significant response at the policy level, not at the government level. This is State policy. There must also be a response from all branches of government and from the communities and civil society.

This article was originally published in Spanish in Confidencial.Digital

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Q24N is an aggregator of news for Latin America. Reports from Mexico to the tip of Chile and Caribbean are sourced for our readers to find all their Latin America news in one place.

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