Nicaragua: Latin America's Left Betrays Its Own History By Excusing Ortega

Leftist states defending rigged elections to be held Nov. 7 in Nicaragua are not so much protecting regional socialism as approving despotism itself, which they too were victims of...

Daniel Ortega and General Aviles saluting

President of Nicaragua Daniel Ortega with Army General Julio Cesar Aviles

Marcelo Cantelmi


BUENOS AIRES — Four days before Christmas 2020, Nicaragua's parliament, which follows the dictates of the country's ruling couple, Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo, passed a law to effectively outlaw their political rivals. Barely two paragraphs long, the pernicious and pompously named Law to Defend the People's Rights to Independence, Sovereignty and Self-Determination for Peace, lumped the entire opposition into the category of "traitors to the fatherland."

It ruled that anyone the government considers terrorists and "plotters" could no longer seek elected office. It also provided a pretext for the arrests in the subsequent months of the main opposition aspirants for presidential elections, now set for November 7.

The regime insists the law does not target opponents but "foreign agents working to undermine the constitutional order." Before parliament voted, Ortega, bellowed that "anyone who won't defend Nicaragua... doesn't deserve to call himself Nicaraguan." Clearly he sees the fatherland and his regime as the same.

History repeating differently

Ortega's discourse is nothing new: the junta regimes of the 20th century have long used such terms to denounce opponents.

In a communiqué from September 12, 1973, Chile's recently installed coup regime denounced the leaders of the deposed socialist government as "traitors to the fatherland."

The vacuous Left's verbal jousting ends up justifying dictatorial methods.

In Argentina in December 1977, the dictator Jorge Rafael Videla told the daily La Prensa that "Argentine citizens are not victims of repression. The repression is against a minority we do not consider to be Argentina."

Ortega and his wife are not just using the same formula, but effectively confirming their adherence to the same methods and intentions. This makes it all the more surprising when regional governments, and especially those with still-fresh memories of a sinister past, avoid condemning such attacks on public institutions and humanity itself.

Jorge Rafael Videla swearing an oath as President of Argentina in 1976


Of past juntas

Just recently the Argentinian ambassador at the Organization of American States (OAS), termed "improper and unreasonable" its declaration from October 20 urging Nicaragua to respect some fundamental rights that would have been demanded of any regime in the 1970s. In this case, the OAS had simply urged the immediate release of opposition presidential aspirants, and assurance of free and fair elections.

The call had 26 votes in favor including all members of Mercosur, bar Argentina. It used the pretexts cited by six other countries including Mexico and Bolivia, which also invoked the principle of non-interference. It's a legitimate notion certainly, and has become a cherished doctrine for self-styled progressives in the hemisphere. But its limits must be the violation of institutional rules and human rights in a country like Nicaragua, Venezuela or Cuba.

More depressing still is discerning the calculations hidden behind such decisions. Argentina has presented its candidacy to head the UN Human Rights Council, and needs Nicaragua's vote, as diplomatic sources have told me.

This is a position that rotates by region, and Latin America's turn comes in 2022. Argentina occupied the Council's vice-presidency under its last, conservative government — so it seems that our leftist government will resort to any shenanigan to get ahead of its rivals. Even these little maneuverings have echoes in the 1970s.

When everything becomes utilitarian, the vacuous Left's verbal jousting ends up justifying dictatorial methods. Venezuela has its secret prisons and torture centers, not unlike those of the past right-wing Argentine junta — as does Ortega, and must be condemned with the same vigor. To do so is to help preserve the system for all that we call a republic.

The OAS charter states that its signatories have agreed that democracy is the people's right, and its full implementation, a duty of governments.

Presidential candidate Felix Madariaga arrested by the police in December 2020


Echo of Paraguay's Alfredo Stroessner

Specifically, the charter's Article 23, which Nicaragua, Mexico and Argentina have signed, states that "Member States are responsible for organizing, carrying out and assuring free and fair electoral processes." The hemisphere is right to denounce Nicaragua, as its government is subverting itself to ensure Ortega will win a fourth, consecutive mandate on November 7.

Because without this repression, his near-certain victory would be, well, highly improbable. According to a Gallup poll, the favorite to win was Christiana Chamorro. She was the first of some 30 politicians detained since June 2 last year, including her brother Juan Sebastián Chamorro, Arturo Cruz, Félix Maradiaga, Miguel Mora and others.

People see what they want to see.

The only remaining rivals are people close to the regime or without a hope of winning, in a sham contest that recalls those of Paraguay's General Alfredo Stroessner, who was fond of elections with predictable results.

The conduct of Managua's allies evokes other historical distortions. During the Argentine dictatorship, the countries of the communist block and in our region, Cuba in particular, would work together in that Human Rights Council so dear to the Kirchner clan — precisely to block condemnations of the Videla regime's bloody antics and the disappearance of thousands in Argentina.

Dictatorial excess

The pretext then was that Videla supplied wheat to the Soviet Union, skirting sanctions imposed by the United States.

Clearly, before as now, people see what they want to see. Defending excesses in Nicaragua or Venezuela is more than sympathizing with your peers. The barely concealed aim is to undermine, or confound, the institutional limits to power.

The OAS, which regional "progressives" like to disdain, sent a mission to Argentina in the 1970s and issued a report in September 1979 on the state of human rights there. Nicaragua's socialist friends should read it today. It denounced "grave violations of fundamental human rights recognized in the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man." The violations, it stated, "affect a range of rights including the right to life, to personal liberty, security and physical integrity, and the right to justice."

One wonders when looking at the mirror of history, who or what is being defended, and betrayed, when an official today dismisses public condemnations of dictatorial excesses as inappropriate? To answer these would mean taking off the masks of some of the most recognizable faces in the region.

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