View a photo slideshow of the Nicaragua protests here.
MANAGUA – Wearing yellow shirts bearing the name of the organization Rescate Nicaragua (“Save Nicaragua”), five protesters scaled a billboard tower last Saturday to deface President Daniel Ortega’s image with graffiti. Climbing on top of each other, they resembled a giant yellow caterpillar inching upward toward the pro-government sign that proclaimed, “We are continuing to change Nicaragua.”
That face was soon covered with black spray-paint, the words “Save Nicaragua” lining Ortega’s chin. Below, protesters chanted, “Yes to democracy, no to dictatorship!”
Nearby, some 500 protesters marched through the capital in opposition to Ortega’s reelection bid, thought by many to be unconstitutional.
“We are marching today to demonstrate to Nicaraguan people that they don’t have to vote for Ortega,” said Pedro Rivas, 64. “It seems like many people are scared of Ortega and scared to vote for a different candidate. The truth is that they shouldn’t be scared to vote against Ortega, they should be scared to vote for Ortega. If we vote for him, we are voting for the end of our democracy.”
But with less than four months until the Nov. 6 elections, small sporadic protests seem to be falling flat. Four anti-Ortega demonstrations held so far this year have drawn less than 2,000 people.
Last week’s event was organized by eight politically unaffiliated organizations whose members said they are “encachimbados”, a slang phrase meaning “fed up,” with the country’s inability to block Ortega’s reelection bid. They say his campaign violates Article 147 of the Nicaraguan Constitution, which prohibits presidents from serving consecutive terms. Ortega’s reelection would mark his third term in office, which is also disallowed by the constitution. Ortega, who was president from 1985 to 1990, has said his candidacy was legitimized by a Supreme Court ruling in 2009 (NT, Oct. 16, 2009).
Members of the ruling Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) consider his reelection bid legal. “If the Supreme Court ruled that he could run, he should be able to run,” said Wilmer Torres, a Sandinista campaign worker promoting Ortega’s reelection. “That is the part that is always lost in protests. The constitution allows for him to run again and, according to the polls, the people of Nicaragua want him to remain as the president.”
Many political analysts and Nicaraguan historians disagree. “The Supreme Court ruling, which was questionable, did not follow proper procedure. The constitution does not allow reelection, nor does it say anywhere that it can be modified by the Supreme Court,” political analyst Felix Maradiaga said. “It’s entirely illegal.”
According to a CID Gallup poll in June, public opinion of Ortega has improved in the last 12 months. Of 1,200 Nicaraguans polled, 42 percent said they approve of Ortega’s performance in office. Only 37 percent disapprove.
“The Nicaraguan president has had an important increase in popular opinion in comparison to the end of 2010,” a report on the poll said. “With the approaching elections, the Nicaraguan people feel that their life is better with Ortega and that the opposition remains divided.”
A separate CID Gallup poll earlier this month found that Oretga is more popular than rival candidates Fabio Gadea, of the Nicaraguan Liberal Alliance, and former President Arnoldo Alemán, of the Liberal Constitutional Party. The poll found that Ortega held 38 percent of the popular vote, followed by Gadea with 27 percent and Alemán with 14 percent.
Too Little Too Late?
While Ortega’s face is omnipresent throughout Nicaragua and the capital, publicity for the campaigns of Gadea and Alemán is harder to spot. Critics worry that this lack of unity among opposition candidates will all but ensure an Ortega victory in November.
“We aren’t just fed up with Ortega,” said Marvin Parrales, of the Pedro Joaquín Chamorro Movement, adding that, “it’s also with the lack of action against a possible dictatorship. If the opposition parties truly cared about the future of the Nicaraguan democracy, they would put their egos aside and work together before it is too late.”
Others, such as Rivas, who fought against the dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza in the 1970s, are convinced Ortega’s victory is inevitable. Rivas predicts that while more protests will likely be held during in upcoming months, stronger opposition will solidify after Ortega takes office.
“Some say that we aren’t in the process of a dictatorship but we definitely are heading towards electing a dictator,” Rivas said. “[Ortega] has the support of only 38 percent of [voters]. If he wins, the other 62 percent will begin the true fight after Nov. 6.”