On October 19, CHDS held the second in its series of Hemispheric Forums, hosted by Prof. Howard Wiarda and moderated by Amb. Cris Arcos. Under discussion were the upcoming November 6, 2011, Nicaraguan Presidential and Parliamentary elections and how their outcome could impact the Western Hemisphere. The program featured three regional experts, each of whom shared their views on the upcoming elections.
Former Ambassador to Nicaragua Robert J. Callahan described the context of the upcoming elections, giving a brief history of Daniel Ortega’s previous elections. In 1990 Daniel Ortega was defeated after having had a strong showing in the polls leading up to the elections. Ortega learned from this that he cannot trust the polls. In the 2008 municipal elections he resorted to vote theft to ensure his victory, a sure sign that he is willing to violate the constitution in order to stay in power. Since 2008 Daniel Ortega has dominated all the branches of government within the Nicaraguan system, relying heavily on the $500 million annual allotment in government assistance from Venezuela.
The second speaker was Amb. Bosco Matamoros, former Nicaraguan Ambassador to Spain and the Nordic Countries and the current advisor on U.S. policies and international affairs to the Nicaraguan Opposition in Managua, Nicaragua. He stated that he thinks the upcoming elections will be dramatic. Ortega’s concern is that the elections appear legitimate to the international community; their response will have a large impact on the economic situation. Ortega can be seen as the favorite and the other candidates, the opposition, as fighting for second place.
Third to speak was Nicaraguan native Professor Manuel Orozco, Director of Remittances and Development at the Inter-American Dialogue. He stated that 1970s-style democracy is at its end—there is now a political vacuum in the global context. The political light of current leaders is reaching its end as well. In Nicaragua “everyone wants to be president” and everyone opposes everyone, which, in turn, results in the lack of a strong unification of the people. Prof. Orozco believes that of the current candidates, given the weakness of the opposition, Ortega may the best option. Plus, 50 percent of the population still thinks he is “cool.” Furthermore if protests over the election were to materialize, he thinks they would be suppressed by civilian groups supporting Ortega and that the private sector would remain complacent as long as government policies suit them and taxes remain low.
Prof. Wiarda emphasized Nicaragua’s lack of institutions and infrastructure, the weaknesses of nonofficial or non-Sandinista civil society, and the country’s underdevelopment, ranked as one of the poorest in Latin America. Nicaragua has few resources and will always be poor, whether under capitalism or socialism. Arguing from a provocative position designed to stimulate discussion, Prof. Wiarda asked why, absent the Soviet Union and the Cold War, we should continue to pay strategic and foreign policy attention to Nicaragua.
The presentations were followed by a lively question-and-answer session.