Venezuela is not the only Latin American country dealing with concurrent economic and political crises. Nicaragua has been in the midst of its gravest national crisis since the country’s civil war. Unfortunately, Nicaragua’s issues have been greatly overshadowed by the drama taking place in Venezuela. Now, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega is taking steps he hopes will help his cause. On Thursday Ortega announced his government is working to resume negotiations with opposition leaders sometime next week. He made the announcement at a ceremony commemorating the death of guerrilla leader Augusto Sandino 85 years ago.
Ortega’s motivation for moving to ease the crisis has more to do with economic realities than it does healing the national rift. The government is facing a $315 million deficit at the moment. The funding, and loans from multilateral organizations which Nicaragua needs to contend with the deficit, and deficit-related issues is no longer available. Protests that broke out last April, and May following Ortega’s aborted pension reform turned deadly when the government launched a major crackdown. Over 300 Nicaraguans lost their lives and hundreds more were arrested on vague ‘terrorism’ charges. Shortly thereafter the multilateral money, which has been like mother’s milk for Nicaragua, dried up.
If negotiations begin, the opposition is almost guaranteed to want Ortega’s resignation, and new elections to be held as its main demands. The Nicaraguan leader is accused by his opponents of establishing, along with his wife and Vice President Rosario Murillo, a corrupt dictatorship since 2007. The opposition negotiators will include representatives of university students, businessmen, and politicians, a cross-section of Nicaraguan society.
At this point there are no official preconditions for the two sides to engage in dialogue. However, a handful of reliable sources have indicated the opposition will likely demand the release of political prisoners before talks get underway. There has been no official word on this by the Civic Alliance for Justice and Democracy (the official name of the Nicaraguan opposition) and it is not very likely Ortega would agree to such a move before talks have even started. On the other hand, Ortega needs these negotiations to produce results, and help jump start funding for the economy. Nicaragua’s president could be more flexible than he’s been in the past if it means achieving his goals.