The Sandinistas hold firm

Sanctions are unlikely to make much of a dent on Daniel Ortega’s iron grip over Nicaragua.

On a sunny day in the Nicaraguan capital Managua, the country’s mustachioed President Daniel Ortega, is inaugurated for another term. Mr Ortega, who has a strong disliking of democratic politics, has exerted an iron grip on the country for over three decades. His wife is vice-president and friends and family dominate high office. Washington and Brussels want him gone and have imposed a fresh raft of sanctions to that end. Painful they may be but they are unlikely to dislodge Central America’s strongman.     

The sanctions are effectively designed to cripple the Government from the inside out. They will make procurement of foreign military and surveillance equipment difficult and turn the nation into an increasingly ostracised foreign policy pariah. An official in the first Sandinista government and former confidant of President Ortega, commented “It remains to be seen how effective these sanctions will be. Nonetheless, it is the responsibility of foreign governments and multilateral institutions to apply pressure on the Nicaraguan regime. Sanctions will go some way to achieving this. Sanctions don’t just make life difficult for Mr Ortega and those around him – they also send a clear signal to the international community that this is an illegitimate regime.” 

“Sanctions don’t just make life difficult for Mr Ortega and those around him – they also send a clear signal to the international community that this is an illegitimate regime.”

Former Sandinista government official, Nicaragua

The Biden administration is also taking steps to impose visa restrictions on over a hundred individuals it has accused of “undermining democracy”. This will prevent a number of mayors, prosecutors and police, and military officials from entering the United States. For its part, the EU emphasised its targeting of telecommunications companies which act as propaganda tools for the Government. Notably, the Nicaraguan Mining Company, a key source of government revenue, has also been targeted.   

Our sources are sceptical that sanctions will affect a significant impact on the economy – a financial correspondent with decades of experience in the country opined, “They will hurt but in the broad scheme of things, I see more risks in a trade cooldown, for example with Taiwan or South Korea which are key export markets for Nicaraguan commodities.” 

I see more risks in a trade cooldown, for example with Taiwan or South Korea which are key export markets for Nicaraguan commodities.”

Financial correspondent, Central America

However, Washington whilst assertive also needs to be careful not to stir an already fragile cocktail of geopolitical factors pushing migrants up through the region towards the US border. The former Sandinista official explained, “Washington cannot push Nicaragua too far because it knows that the impact of doing so will be to sow the seeds of a new migration crisis to which the rest of the region will be largely indifferent.” 

And on the growing number of political prisoners, could there be any retaliation by the regime towards the opposition this year? It is highly likely given Managua’s brazen muzzling of key opposition figures. Mexico, currently on the Security Council, should focus attention on its southern Latin neighbour, especially the humanitarian impact. 

The correspondent stressed, “It is a test for the non-permanent Latin American members in the Security Council in its credibility. It is true that its Secretary General disapproves of Ortega, but he will have to weave very fine so that the will of the organisation is interpreted and not its militancy or personal hatred as is often characterised in Nicaragua itself.”  

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