Jorge G. Castañeda
More than 350 people, the majority of them students and protesters, have died since April in Nicaragua, where a broad social movement seeking the resignation of President Daniel Ortega was ignited by an aborted pension reform.
In a country of a little over six million inhabitants, the number of dead, jailed and missing is striking. Almost 40 years after Mr. Ortega and the Sandinista Front overthrew the corrupt and bloody Somoza dynasty that ruled Nicaragua for nearly half a century, students and activists are calling for the departure of what they consider an unforgivable historical repetition. “Ortega y Somoza, son la misma cosa” (Ortega and Somoza are the same thing) is their rallying cry.
Peasants, activists, the National Autonomous University, former and current opposition leaders have all come under attack; female protesters and even children have all become victims of Daniel Ortega’s goon squads. The regime is rapidly becoming a dictatorship, something that the Latin American and international communities should do whatever they can to stop. No one wants another Venezuela in the region.
While the regional and international community was initially slow to react to the repression in Nicaragua, they have recently begun to take a more active role. The United Nations secretary general, António Guterres, issued a statement condemning the violence last week; the Organization of American States approved a resolution condemning the repression and calling for “timely, free and fair” presidential elections. An ad hoc group of nations from Latin America, including Argentina, Brazil and Mexico, had denounced the carnage in Managua and in the iconic city of Masaya, which harbored the most heroic resistance against Somoza back in the ’70s.
A group of countries is working behind the scenes with the church and the business community — as well as with Washington — to broker a deal that calls for three key elements. First, an end to repression and the use of paramilitary or goon squads to beat up or murder students. Second, the resignation of Rosario Murillo, Mr. Ortega’s wife, vice president and power behind the throne, and her promise not to run for president in the next elections. Third, internationally observed elections early next year, with the president bowing out beforehand. This mediation effort and the ensuing agreement may or not succeed, but at least an effort is underway to end the bloodshed.
Unlike the situation in Venezuela, which in addition to repression and other human rights violations has been experiencing a humanitarian, economic and migratory crisis for several years, the Nicaraguan conundrum might well be solved through regional and international cooperation. Venezuela has oil, Russian and Chinese support; Nicaragua has none of the above. But two significant obstacles stand in the way.
The first is the ongoing support by much of the Latin American left for the Ortega regime. Just last week, more than 430 participants at a Havana meeting of the São Paulo Forum — an annual meeting of leftist political parties and other organizations from Latin America and the Caribbean founded in 1990 — expressed solidarity with Mr. Ortega and condemned the “terrorist, coupist right groups” attempting to overthrow him, with, of course, the support of United States imperialism. In addition to Cuba, the presidents of Venezuela, Bolivia and El Salvador attended the conference, along with Brazil’s former president and representatives of potent left-of-center, pro-Ortega organizations from Colombia and Ecuador.
The Latin American left is no longer what it was barely half a decade ago, but it continues to be powerful, well-organized and well-connected. While little survives of the old Sandinista mystique in the Ortega clique today, it can still count on traditional international and regional support. This support was decisive in bringing him to power in 1979; it can be equally crucial in maintaining him there today.
The second obstacle is Mexico. The country played a critical role in 1979, leading the regional opposition to Somoza and the Carter administration’s attempt to retain “somocismo sin Somoza.” It subsequently supported the Sandinista regime, as well as a negotiated peace in Central America.
In 2000, Mexico abandoned its traditional anti-interventionist foreign policy and strongly emphasized the collective defense of human rights and democracy in the region. There was a short-lived and halfhearted attempt to return to obsolete stances between 2007 and 2015. Under the foreign minister, Luis Videgaray, the country has attributed far greater importance to universal values than to traditional introversion and isolationism.
Until July 1 of this year. On that date, Andrés Manuel López Obrador was elected president in a landslide victory that overturned Mexico’s politics, but also, probably, its foreign policy. A broad coalition of left-of-center moderates, conservative evangelicals, hard-left radicals and traditional Mexican nationalists was swept to victory with 53 percent of the vote, 32 points above of the runner-up, Ricardo Anaya. One of their boilerplate stances was a new foreign policy for Mexico.
Among the points Mr. López Obrador has stressed is an uncompromising return to Mexico’s traditional views on not getting involved in other nation’s politics and not expressing opinions on the human rights situation in other countries. His foreign minister-to-be, Marcelo Ebrard, stated that simply discussing the Nicaraguan or Venezuelan cases at the O.A.S. was tantamount to interfering in these nations’ internal affairs. The new government, which takes office on Dec. 1, would accordingly refrain from such initiatives. Mr. López Obrador sent the chairwoman of his party, Morena, to the Havana conference of the São Paulo Forum, whose final declaration she signed. Another of his envoys there made a strong speech of support for Latin American governments of the left, including Nicaragua’s.
In other words, Mexico, the second-largest nation in the region, will no longer be part of the broad Latin American coalition seeking, unsuccessfully until now, a solution to the Venezuelan nightmare and to the Nicaraguan quagmire.
At best, from the perspective of human rights and collective defense of democracy, it will look homeward and inward and simply distance itself from any regional challenge. At worst, it will side with regimes such as the Nicaraguan and Venezuelan ones, evoking the principle of nonintervention but in fact sympathizing with them politically and ideologically.
If the current effort to find a solution in Nicaragua is to succeed, it must come to fruition before December, as long as the Peña Nieto administration is in office and active on this front. While Mr. López Obrador should condemn the bloodshed in Nicaragua and support President Enrique Peña Nieto’s and the O.A.S.’s efforts to mediate a solution, and defend human rights in the region, he is unlikely to do so. After Dec. 1, don’t count on Mexico.