A memorandum of understanding signed by the Ortega government and the Organization of American States (OAS) three years ago will lose its validity today, February 28, unless President Daniel Ortega requests an extension of its assigned period.
The accord, according to a former diplomat, will expire “with neither pain nor glory”, given that Nicaragua never really moved forward with any changes.
The document, signed by Luis Almagro, OAS secretary general, and Daniel Ortega, with a relevant period of three years plus the option to extend, established agreements for cooperation in certain political and electoral matters, plus initiatives to strengthen related Nicaraguan institutions.
Francisco Aguirre Sacasa, a former Nicaraguan foreign minister, noted that Ortega signed the agreement because “he wanted to gain time” and appear interested in reforming the electoral system, “without really having to do so.”
“Ortega wanted to ratify the status quo with a few minor changes, so as to tell the international and national communities that he had reformed the electoral process,” commented Aguirre.
April 2018 changed everything
Nonetheless, the regime’s plans were altered in April 2018, when a popular civic insurrection lasting nearly six months unmasked the cruel and murderous face of the Ortega regime. At least 325 citizens were killed and another 2000 wounded by the government repression, according to the registries of national and international human rights organizations.
“That memorandum was signed three years ago, when Almagro hadn’t yet made any pronouncements about the type of government that Nicaragua had, and the negotiations had been handled with great confidentiality,” Aguirre stated. He was referring to the fact that after April 2018, the OAS secretary has urged an electoral way out of the Nicaraguan crisis, and has hardened his posture towards Ortega, although he continues to avoid classifying him as a “dictator”.
Another change is that the international community has now also joined the call for a peaceful way out in Nicaragua, one that would involve reforms to the electoral system, allowing for free and transparent elections.
At the beginning of the month, political parties and civic organizations, among them the Civic Alliance and the National Blue and White Unity Movement, requested that the government and the OAS extend the deadline for the memorandum’s period of validity, as well as extending “specific areas of cooperation, according to the demands of the national reality.”
Weighing the risk of sanctions
The OAS statutes establish that this type of agreement can only be prolonged by request of the government. For the Ortega regime to request such an extension, there’d have to be more international sanctions facing them, said Mauricio Diaz, former Nicaraguan ambassador to the OAS.
“The sanctions are the only things that concern the government. There’s no other pressure here, except the sanctions,” remarked the ex-diplomat.
Aguirre coincides with Diaz that the signing of a new memorandum “will depend exclusively on international pressure, and on Ortega’s desire to avoid more sanctions being leveled against his government, be it from the United States and Canada, or those that the countries of the European Union might possibly impose.”
“The Comandante [Ortega] is weighing the choice of signing [a request] or not, exclusively in terms of the international situation,” added former foreign minister Aguirre.
Waiting for the OAS elections
Aguirre also pointed out that Ortega is awaiting the next election for OAS secretary general, scheduled to take place on March 20 at the OAS General Assembly, the regional organization’s highest body. A candidate needs the support of a simple majority – 18 votes – to be elected.
“If he’s going to enter into a new agreement with the OAS, Ortega first wants to see who his counterpart will be,” Aguirre stated, adding: “there’s a candidate from Ecuador who Daniel Ortega sees as a very favorable counterpart.”
That candidate is Maria Fernanda Espinosa Garces, Ecuador’s former foreign minister, who is currently backed by the Bolivarian Alliance countries, including Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua, to unseat Almagro. The former Ecuadorian diplomat has admitted to being an admirer of the Sandinista Revolution and considers Nicaragua’s vice president, Rosario Murillo, “an example” for Latin American women.
“Ortega prefers to negotiate a memorandum with Maria Espinosa,” Aguirre asserts, “since a new agreement should include “modifications to the human element” in the Supreme Electoral Council and “talk about a much more robust national and international observation, with guarantees that the elections will be free and transparent.”
Negotiations with limited partners
The regime’s congressional deputies have announced their intention to negotiate electoral reforms, “only” with those political parties that currently have official representation in the National Assembly. This would leave out the more recently established opposition organizations such as the National Blue and White Unity, the Civic Alliance and the Group for an Electoral Reform.
Diaz warned that the regime is planning to “bring in the SICA (Central American Integration System) to try and occupy the space that corresponds to the OAS”. The former regional organization is directed by Guatemalan ex-president Vinicio Cerezo Arevalo, considered to be an Ortega ally.
“The SICA wouldn’t have the representativity nor the authority that the OAS has,” the former ambassador declared.