Opinion article by Óscar Arias Sánchez. San Jose, Costa Rica – The Nicaraguan people, tired of the deluge of reports of corruption, of the systematic violation of their human rights, of the continuous deprivation of their freedoms, of years of dictatorship and anguished by the eventual result of the elections on November 7, is today like a Noah who clinging to the bow of the ark patiently awaits a signal of rectification and, despite the bad omens, trusts and hopes for a change and a return to democracy.
In Nicaragua, democratic bodies have disappeared. Only a few fans defend the regime of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo. A democrat, from the left or the right, must recognize that Nicaragua is a dictatorship in all its dimensions, where the separation of powers has disappeared, the leaders of the opposition are political prisoners and corruption has taken over the state.
In Nicaragua, the dream of the Sandinista revolution ceased to be a chimera to become an open nightmare, a nightmare in which being an opponent of the regime entails threats, persecution, jail, and in many cases even death.
I witnessed the triumph of the Sandinista Revolution and the flood of hope that it unleashed in the Nicaraguan people. When I was President of Costa Rica for the first time in 1986, I remember telling Daniel Ortega that we expected him to build a new Nicaragua and not a second Cuba, to which Daniel replied: “What I am clear about is that I am not going to build a second Costa Rica”.
In that same administration, I led the negotiation process that culminated in the signing of the Peace Plan in Guatemala City. Another memory comes to mind. While we were in the discussions of the Peace Plan, Fidel Castro told Daniel Ortega not to fall into the trap set by Oscar Arias, and in no way agree to hold elections. However, Daniel Ortega signed the Peace Plan and had no choice but to call presidential elections.
The leitmotif of our Peace Plan was the democratization of the region. The whole spirit of the Peace Plan was inspired by the conviction that no claim for peace is supported if it is not accompanied by a guarantee of respect for human rights and the rule of law; if it is not accompanied by the certainty that citizens will be able to express their agreement or disagreement with government policies, through periodic and pluralist elections; if it is not accompanied by the existence of strong democratic institutions that guarantee social stability; if it is not accompanied, in short, by the distinctive features of any democracy.
With the reelection of Ortega as president in 2006, the controls on the exercise of public power began to disappear again and the limits of that power over the exercise of individual liberties of Nicaraguans were blurred. This deterioration was even more visible in the fraud of the 2008 municipal elections and in Ortega’s obviously unconstitutional efforts to remain in power after 2012 and now, again, in the illegitimate November election.
I still cannot believe that after the signing and acceptance of the commitments made in the Peace Plan, today’s pantomime has been reached. It was not for this that Sandino died. It was not for this that anonymous heroes fell in Jinotepe, León, Masaya and Managua.
Nicaragua’s sad setback reminds us that democracy cannot be taken for granted and must constantly be rescued from the threat of populism and authoritarian delusions. In the defense of democracy, rest is not possible. We must watch over the dream and guard its vigil every day. Democracies cannot defend themselves in hindsight. It is at the very moment of the threat where you have to raise your voice and denounce. Then it may be too late.
We must continue to denounce the constant abuses of the democratic system and human rights that the Ortega-Murillo regime is currently carrying out.
How frustrating it is sometimes to watch how history turns on its own axis. How frustrating it is to see how Nicaragua waits on the threshold of the return to democracy, and when trying to cross the threshold, it turns the door on its hinges, to return again to the same place where it was many decades ago.
Since 2006, we have lived through an air of repetition every five years when Nicaragua holds its presidential elections and we all hope that there will finally be a return to democracy, but when the elections end it is difficult not to feel like Tantalus, trying to drink the water that is always find a little further.
I am aware that the historical evolution has given our peoples political experiences that differ, and that a diversity of formulas for the exercise of electoral freedom is born from this. But the acceptance that a country tolerates a certain degree of formal diversity in the electoral arena should not mislead us.
In the case of Nicaragua, where pluralism is feigned, where there are elections, but opposition political parties are eliminated, where freedom of expression or movement is restricted, where the armed forces are attached to the official party and where economic power of the state puts itself at the service of its party, there is no use for electoral formality.
In Nicaragua, the existence of an election tribunal and the ritual exercise of suffrage are nothing but crude manipulations and a means for a totalitarian system to disguise itself as a democracy.
And that is what the so-called Nicaraguan democracy is: a farce.
Few times in my life I do not see a light at the end of the tunnel and this time I believe that in the next elections in Nicaragua the end of the flooding has not arrived. I believe that an endless ocean still stretches at the end of the horizon, and dark clouds hide the vestiges of the rainbow. However, I have faith in God that an olive tree will grow again at some point in this sister town.
Hopefully, the Nicaraguan people never lose hope and know how to turn their vision to the dawn. May it cling, like Noah, to the edge of the ark, sustained by the faith of a better future and the promise of a new covenant, a covenant with life, with development and with freedom. An alliance with peace and with the return of democracy.
- Óscar Arias was president of Costa Rica from 1986 to 1990 and from 2006 to 2010 and won the 1987 Nobel Peace Prize for his work to pacify Central America
Article was originally published in Spanish by El Universal and translated and adapted by The Q Media