On June 7, during a closed-door meeting, the Mediation Commission chaired by the Episcopal Conference of Nicaragua delivered a proposal for ending the crisis to President Daniel Ortega. His answer came on June 12, but it was only made public Saturday, during the fifth session of the National Dialogue Table between the government and the Civic Alliance for Democracy and Justice (consisting of representatives of civil society, private enterprise, agricultural producers, university students and their associations).
In their proposal, the bishops called for early presidential elections in 2019, possibly as early as March 29 (the president’s current mandate would otherwise expire in 2021), a guarantee of the separation and independence of public institutions from any political party, a guarantee of periodic free elections with the presence of local and international observers, the removal and replacement of the magistrates on the Supreme Electoral Council, constitutional reform and the introduction of term limits.
Ortega replied that the government was reiterating its full willingness to listen to all the proposals submitted within an institutional framework, and asked in return for the free movement of people and goods to be restored, made impossible because of the presence of more than 400 barricades across the whole territory of the country. The government also reiterated “its absolute commitment to democracy and justice for all Nicaraguan families.”
An agreement was finally reached at the meeting Saturday regarding access for the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Organization of American States (OAS) into the Caribbean country. The negotiations at the National Dialogue Table will continue during the coming hours and days in order to work out in more precise terms the details of the coming agreements regarding the democratization of the country. All in all, on paper it would seem that the intention to resolve the conflict was present, but the streets tell a different story: the dead now number more than 200, including many children.
The police and riot police are keeping a number of cities under siege, showing the duplicitous attitude of the government: during the first day of dialogue (May 16), the only occasion when Ortega and his wife showed themselves in public, “il Comandante” gave assurances that the police forces had orders not to intervene against demonstrators and the civilian population; however, from that time on, repression and violence from state forces grew at an extraordinary rate, leaving the words of the president with very little credibility.
On June 15, after the bishops read Ortega’s conciliatory words on national television at 9 p.m., a night of terror began in the cities of Managua and León: the number of those murdered has not yet been determined—unofficial sources quoted by the Vatican’s Sir agency speak of 146 victims—but the brutality of the images that have spread on social media speaks for itself, and one cannot avoid drawing conclusions about the hypocritical cynicism, bordering on sheer lunacy, of the president’s statements.
Rumors had been circulating for some days about Ortega’s willingness to accept early elections, after a meeting between Ortega, Murillo and Caleb McCarry, delegate of the Foreign Affairs Commission of the US Senate. As a member country of the OAS, the US has begun to exert direct pressure on President Ortega, and has recently revoked the US visas of many government officials from Nicaragua. During these days, a group of Nicaraguan expatriates living in the United States has asked the Treasury Department to sanction 32 people under the Magnitsky Act, which applies in cases of corruption and human rights violations—a list that includes seven of the nine children of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo.
There are many questions about why Ortega had a closed-door meeting with McCarry, an expert in democratic transitions (the same man who, at the time of the George Bush administration, was working with Condoleezza Rice on a democratic transition in Cuba). Most importantly, there are questions about what cards Ortega might play when dealing with the United States.
The impression one is left with is that, while on the streets the death toll keeps growing, Ortega is vying behind closed doors to save his own skin.