MANAGUA – Nicaraguan military and defense experts claim President Daniel Ortega should reflect on the recent uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia to prevent a similar scenario here.
“President Ortega should be seeing himself in the mirror right now as he watches the news from Egypt and Tunisia,” said Nicaraguan security and defense expert Roberto Cajina, who served as a top military advisor to the president’s brother, Gen. Humberto Ortega, in the 1990s.
Cajina said Ortega needs to reflect on the political crises in both countries, and realize that authoritarian regimes “don’t last forever, and don’t end the way their leaders expect them to.”
“When democratic spaces are closed and rule of law is dismantled, violent rebellion is all that is left,” Cajina said.
Last month, a popular uprising in Tunisia toppled a family-run government that was accused of massive corruption and repression of dissidents, as well as general ineptitude and incompetence in responding to rising unemployment. A week later, tens of thousands of Egyptian protesters took to the streets calling for greater political freedoms and an end to the 30-year-rule of their country’s strongman.
In the case of Tunisia, the army did not step in until the country’s leader, President Zine Al Abidine Ben Ali, fled the country. In the case of Egypt, the military occupied parts of the capital and other major cities this week, although at press time it was unclear if Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was still in charge or if the military brass was acting on its own.
In Nicaragua, security experts warn that Ortega’s determination to sidestep constitutional term limits to consolidate power and remain in the presidency could eventually put the Nicaraguan army in the uncomfortable situation of having to decide for themselves what is legal, what is legitimate and what their role and responsibility is according to the constitution.
“Look what happened in Honduras,” Cajina said, referring to that country’s 2009 constitutional crisis that led to the military ouster of President Manuel Zelaya. “The politicians couldn’t resolve the country’s political and legal problems, so the military stepped in and started making decisions.”
Cajina said Nicaragua’s army doesn’t want to be put in a similar situation, but that it could get pushed into the uncomfortable scenario of interpreting the constitution if elections here lead to a situation of anarchy.
Still, Cajina doesn’t think that the army will be deployed or used as an agent of state repression during the campaign. The question, he says, is what happens after the elections if the people start to protest?
Retired military General Hugo Torres worries that Ortega is not learning from current events or even his country’s own history.
Since returning to power in 2007, Ortega has been trying to “subjugate all state institutions, including the police and army, under his political project,” Gen. Torres told The Nica Times this week.
While the state institutions – and even the National Police – have been easily corralled by Ortega, the army’s institutional strength and advanced level of professionalization has forced the president to take a different approach, Torres said.
That’s why Ortega rushed to pass the three-law military and defense package at the end of last year, to try to make the army more of a partner in his political project and give the president the legal mechanism he needs to declare a state of emergency and order the military into the streets if things get screwy, the retired general claims (NT, Dec. 3, 10, 17, 24, 2010).
“In an electoral year, Ortega could declare a state of emergency under any pretext – not just in response to a hurricane or natural disaster, but in response to a political situation,” Torres warned.
Torres said he thinks the military laws were approved as part of Ortega’s plan to respond to any anticipated popular uprising, similar to those of Tunisia and Egypt.
“The situations in Egypt and Tunisia should be a call to reflection for leaders like Ortega,” Torres said. “But unfortunately, I think Ortega is reading the situation differently.”