Nicaragua’s Ortega: From Egalitarian Ideals To Boundless Ambition

As President Daniel Ortega and his relatives continue to accumulate power in Nicaragua, they are becoming a close copy of the venal political dynasty Ortega fought to overthrow.

Daniel Ortega in January 2007
Daniel Ortega in January 2007


BOGOTÁ â€" It is paradoxical, to say the least, that the former guerrilla chief who fought to topple a dictatorship in Nicaragua should now become a bit of a dictator himself. Critics are saying that Nicaragua's President Daniel Ortega is gradually taking control of, well, everything in the country â€" much like the Somozas, members of the patrician family that ran Nicaragua practically as a fiefdom in the 1960s and 70s.

It seems there is a new dynasty in town, the Ortegas. Recently President Ortega announced that his running mate as vice-president in elections this November would be the first lady, Rosario Murillo. And while this violates the constitution, it will likely be legalized by the Supreme Court, which the president easily manipulates according to his every whim.

With a calculated strategy, in a country without the separation of powers, authorities have effectively removed any juridical and physical obstacles that might hinder the president, his wife and their children from settling firmly into power.

In early June, the Supreme Court sacked the leader of the opposition Independent Liberal Party (PLI), Eduardo Montealegre, as its legal head. In doing so, it also voided the party's chosen candidate for president, Luis Callejas, who dropped out of the race. The court then appointed Pedro Reyes, an obscure figure known principally for his close ties to Ortega, as the PLI's new leader; his first move in that role was to realign PLI's 28 parliamentarians with the government. They resisted, so Reyes asked the Electoral Court to sack them, which it did on July 29.

Thus the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), the president’s party, appears to be the only one fielding a presidential candidate, and the only one with parliamentary representation.

The next step was for Ortega to put his wife forward for the vice-presidency, making her his putative successor. She had already been his right-hand woman, the country's chief minister or cabinet head, acting foreign minister and chief of protocol, and has just written a new history of Nicaragua. Nothing moves in Nicaragua without her consent.

Furthering this nepotism is the couple's oldest son, a presidential adviser on investments who negotiated a deal with a Chinese magnate to construct the country's controversial interoceanic canal. Another son is said to manage the ample funds received in aid from Venezuela, estimated to have surpassed $3.5 billion since 2007, while yet another son controls most of the media with his mother. To round out this tight-knit circle there are a lot of close collaborators and former guerrilla fighters in the new "Ortegan" oligarchy, which has amassed a fortune for itself.

Daniel Ortega Saavedra was president in the 1980s, lost the presidential elections in 1990 and then moved heaven and earth to return to the post. He made peace with the former Archbishop of Managua, Cardinal Obando y Bravo, a fierce opponent of his. The same with his archenemy Arnoldo Alemán, a corrupt right-wing politician and president from 1997 to 2002.

In 2007, Ortega became president once again, and he has tightened his grip on power ever since, becoming Nicaragua's strongman through elections many have qualified as fraudulent. None of this is at odds, apparently, with the Sandinista slogan "Nicaragua: Free, Blessed, Christian and Caring."

Certainly, the country has become one of the most stable in Central America, with minimal levels of violence compared to its neighbors. It is a country where business leaders have agreed not to meddle in politics as long as the government leaves them to their own devices. Yet most of the country's impoverished citizens live on handouts from various state agencies run by Ortega, his wife, the party nomenklatura and the so-called Base and Neighborhood Committees. Meanwhile, Ortega’s eldest son is organizing a Puccini festival to kick-start his début as a tenor.

All this helps to explain why people with integrity â€" such as former vice-president Sergio Ramírez, journalist Carlos Fernando Chamorro and other veteran militants of the Sandinista Front â€" decided years ago to split from their party and Ortega.

In the words of one former Sandinista commander, Dora María Téllez, "All Ortega has done since 2007 has been to accumulate power, all the power there is. The mistake is to think Ortega will stop. He has no limits ... In Nicaragua, dictatorships are not born of the military, but of families."

Events are proving her right.

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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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