Daniel Ortega assumes his fourth term in Nicaragua under new sanctions and with few allies

The leftist president of Nicaragua, Daniel Ortega, assumed his fourth consecutive term on Monday, punished by new sanctions from the United States and the European Union (EU), but supported by China and Russia.

With a “yes, I swear” to respect the Constitution and the laws, Ortega received the presidential sash from the head of Parliament Gustavo Porras, in a solemn session with the presence of the allied presidents of Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro; from Cuba, Miguel Díaz Canel and the outgoing president of Honduras, Juan Orlando Hernández.

Hours earlier, Washington and Brussels announced new sanctions against Nicaraguan officials and insisted that the elections won in November by Ortega, with his wife Rosario Murillo again as vice president, were a “farce”.

“The Ortega-Murillo regime continues its subjugation of democracy by organizing bogus elections, silencing the peaceful opposition and detaining hundreds of people as political prisoners,” said the US Treasury Department.

The European Council, meanwhile, noted that Ortega and Murillo “are responsible for serious human rights violations, including the repression of civil society, support for fraudulent presidential and parliamentary elections, and the undermining of democracy and the rule of law. “.

In his inaugural speech, Ortega, 76, made fun of Washington’s sanctions, which hit the president of the Supreme Electoral Council, Brenda Rocha.

“The Yankee empire was awarded … once again with cruelty,” claimed Ortega, who called the US measures “cowardly” actions that “are cruel (…) not only with Nicaragua,” but also with Cuba and Venezuela, which They have also been subjected for years to “brutal sanctions” that must stop.

In the last three years, the United States and the EU have launched new sanctions against family members, relatives, officials and some Nicaraguan entities such as the Police and the Prosecutor’s Office, for corruption and violation of human rights.

Washington and Brussels consider that the November 7 elections, in which Ortega was re-elected with the main opponents imprisoned or in exile, were not “democratic”.

Several Latin American countries through the Organization of American States (OAS) also ignored the legitimacy of the elections and demanded the release of the imprisoned opponents.

The actions of the international community have been described by Ortega as “aggressions” against his country.

In a speech, Ortega hinted at the opening of a new stage to resume government plans interrupted by the protests that broke out in 2018, but did not give details.

“Our goal is to give continuity to the good progress that we had until April 2018. That is a clean slate,” he said.

Manuel Orozco, analyst and member of the Inter-American Dialogue, told AFP that Ortega and Murillo inaugurate their mandate “not without challenges” due to international pressure, citizen discontent, a seriously deteriorated socioeconomic situation and strong dissent between their government base and the Sandinista elite.

Ortega tries to balance those challenges by approaching Russia and China, but without making internal political changes, preserving the repressive apparatus and keeping political prisoners as a transaction card, Orozco pointed out.

In this context, Ortega resumed diplomatic relations with China in December, after undoing the ties that the country had for more than 30 years with Taiwan and recognizing the principle of “one China.”

The reestablishment of relations with Beijing was accompanied by a donation of thousands of vaccines and, three weeks later, the opening of the Asian country’s embassy in Managua.

Ortega highlighted in his speech the cooperation agreements, signed on Monday by his son Laureano, investment advisor, with the Chinese delegation, on cooperation to integrate Nicaragua into the new silk road, an initiative of Beijing.

Managua strengthened its ties with Moscow, which has provided it with extensive cooperation, from wheat, vaccines against COVID-19 and buses to renew collective transport to a satellite station.

In addition to the leaders of Cuba, Venezuela and Honduras, dignitaries from Bolivia, China, Mexico, Russia, Palestinian Belarus, North Korea, Syria and the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, among others, attended his inauguration.

The release of some 160 imprisoned opponents will weigh on Ortega’s decisions at the beginning of his fourth term, according to Orozco and the Sandinista poet and dissident Gioconda Belli.

More than 40 opponents, journalists and critics of the government were detained between June and December 2021, including seven potential rivals of Ortega in the November elections.

This group is joined by another 120 people who are imprisoned for participating in the 2018 protests, whose repression left 355 dead and more than 100,000 exiles, according to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).

The government considers the detainees to be “criminals” who organized for a coup with the help of the United States.