If the Sandinista government can continue its success in managing Covid-19, it will likely pay dividends at the ballot box despite increased interference by foreign powers.

This November, Nicaragua will hold elections for its next government. In the second of our two-part series, Alborada analyses the challenges for the country’s governing Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN).

You can read part one here.

Electoral reforms: the Nicaraguan way

Integral to ensuring sovereignty and fairness in Nicaragua’s elections this year are the electoral reforms that were recently passed after intense scrutiny by 85 out of 90 sitting parliamentarians. There are two important aspects to these reforms. The first is the huge step towards gender parity, which is part of the wider FLSN campaign for gender equality. All electoral bodies in the future must constitute at least 50 per cent women, necessitating wider representation on upcoming electoral lists.

In contrast, when such proposals have been put forward in countries such as the UK, they have continually been met with opposition. No such law enshrining women’s representation at parliamentary level exists in the UK, but it now does in Nicaragua. This speaks to a broader system of electoral representation in the country, in which all citizens 16-years-old and over can vote. Photo ID cards with barcodes, which 95 per cent of citizens now possess, are used at the ballot box. A new ID card programme, which has set up 132 offices across the country, is pushing for 100 per cent attainment by November. Electoral turnout has averaged 70 per cent since 1984.

The second amendment of note is the one restricting international financing of candidates and parties. In essence, it maintains national sovereignty over elections and an equal electoral playing field:

The financing system for parties or alliances of parties establishes that they may not receive donations from state or mixed institutions, whether national or foreign, or from private institutions, when they are foreigners or nationals while abroad. They may not receive donations from any type of foreign entity for any purpose. It should be noted that this same system of prohibition of foreign funds for the electoral campaign is also applied in countries such as Germany, Sweden, France, Italy, Spain, among others.

It’s certainly not a radical proposal but one that is necessary considering the events of 2018. However, it is this second amendment that led, in part, to the withdrawal of Cristiana Chamorro from this year’s presidential race. Cristiana Chamorro is the daughter of former Nicaraguan president Violeta Barrios de Chamorro, the same former president installed in 1990 at the behest of the US after a decade of contra warfare. The Chamorro family owns La Prensa and Confidencial, newspapers funded partly by USAID. In 2020 alone, the Violeta Barrios de Chamorro Foundation received US$1,697,400 from USAID as part of a Media Strengthening Programme. Since 2015, they have received US$6 million. Meanwhile, the European Union, through the Spanish government’s Agency for International Development Cooperation (AECID), have transferred €831,527 to the Chamorro Foundation.

The fact that Cristiana Chamorro  who is vice president of La Prensa  is in receipt of millions of dollars from foreign entities, which she then allegedly tried to launder, is in clear violation of laws 1040 and 1055 passed by the Nicaraguan parliament (which comprises various political parties aside from the FSLN). Many US media outlets, sourcing information from opposition media, have spun this as a clampdown on the FSLN’s oppostion. But the fact remains that Chamorro has allegedly broken the law.

Alongside these reports is the so-called banning of the Democratic Restoration Party (PRD). Once again, the PRD broke the country’s electoral law. Owing to the pandemic, parliament voted to extend the registration date for political alliances running for the presidency, including forming alliance pacts, by six months. This meant that alliances could register until 7 May 2021, six months before election day, when it has traditionally been one year. The PRD then attempted to register a political alliance after this date. This invalidated their candidacy. The ‘banning’ was, again, simply the Supreme Electoral Council following very clear electoral laws.

Even with Cristiana Chamorro and PRD out of the race, that still leaves 17 parties competing for November’s election, including six regional parties that broadly represent indigenous, autonomous movements. Of these 17 parties, 11 are grouped into alliances. This is a healthy, competitive democracy, remarkably different from the quadrennial two-horse race in the US that passes for an election. Critics of the FLSN continually point out that Daniel Ortega will be running for a fourth term, uttering the word ‘dictator’ in the same breath. Those same critics rarely point out that Angela Merkel has been Chancellor of Germany for 16 years straight, which is four terms already. Some have even called for a fifth term of Merkelism.

The media attacks on Nicaragua’s upcoming elections show a clear bias. In tandem with the RENACER Act and RAIN mission, there is a blatant attempt by the US and its ideological allies to sow doubt around the legitimacy of the elections and, at worst, create violent dissent on the streets. We cannot forget this is all happening to the backdrop of Covid-19, of which the FSLN’s handling has been exemplary.

Covid-19 in Nicaragua

Part of the reason the US and its allies might be escalating the hybrid war is because of the way Sandinismo has handled the pandemic. A free public healthcare system, with just a miniscule amount of the resources comparatively found in countries like the UK or US, has managed to keep Covid deaths to just 185 (at the time of writing) from a population of approximately 6.5 million. This a remarkable achievement by anyone’s metrics. It has done this without having to result to the continual, debilitating lockdowns emblematic of other parts of the world. John Perry writes:

Nicaragua announced its strategy much earlier (in late January, when most Western countries were still dismissing the likelihood of a pandemic); it prepared wards in 18 hospitals to receive COVID patients, and reserved one hospital solely for this purpose; it put health checks in place at points of entry to the country with mandatory quarantines, and it began a program to combat misinformation being purveyed via social media (several rounds of house-to-house visits, a free phone line, streetside clinics and more).

What’s most impressive about Nicaragua’s response is that it has had just one COVID peak then subsequently ‘flattened the curve’ of cases and deaths. Half of its cases and deaths took place between mid-May and mid-July 2020, and since then Nicaragua has kept the virus at very low levels. Strict controls at the border and active door-to-door ‘health brigades’ have been essential in this and help explain how Nicaragua has avoided repeated lockdowns. From March 2020, Nicaragua has had the lowest level of infection and the highest recovery rate in the region.

The country also has one of the lowest death rates per 100,000 population in the world. Recent articles have questioned this, pointing out that statistics on excess deaths challenge the official Covid-19 death reports, but even if this turns out to be the case, Nicaragua has to be seen as successful in containing the pandemic and still enabling people to work and to feed their families, a very high priority in a country which lacks the resources to support people who lose their jobs because of the pandemic.

It paints the country in stark contrast to its neoliberal neighbours like Honduras, which today function as a narco-state neo-colony of the US. For comparison, Honduras has suffered  6,259 deaths from Covid-19 from a population of 10 million. That’s 623 deaths per million, compared with just 28 deaths per million in Nicaragua. The Ortega administration is receiving millions of doses of Sputnik V and Covishield vaccines, freely vaccinating almost the entire population of over-60s with one dose, with the second doses beginning on 7 June. As of 28 May, those under 60 are now receiving their free vaccinations from the country’s extensive ‘health brigades’.

The world has seen how quickly these Covid success stories can fall apart. But if the FSLN can continue its success in managing Covid-19 until November, it will likely pay dividends at the ballot box. Unfortunately, before then, we will have to witness increased shameless interference by global imperialist powers. It’s therefore incumbent on all internationalists, anti-imperialists and socialists to defend Nicaraguan autonomy and its right to self-determination.

Organisations in the West like Friends of the ATC (Rural Workers Association), La Via Campesina, the Nicaragua Solidarity Campaign Action Group and the Alliance for Global Justice are all doing fantastic work  hand-in-hand with Nicaraguans  to combat this political interference. We should push more groups, including trade unions, to participate. Meanwhile, journalists mentioned in part one like John Perry, Ben Norton, Stephen Sefton and Rick Sterling are doing essential investigatory work to provide English-language resources about Nicaragua and imperialist meddling. If we support these efforts, we support Nicaraguan sovereignty. We must not allow Nicaragua to become anyone’s colony, ever again.

This was produced in collaboration with the Nicaragua Solidarity Campaign Action Group. For more information about NSCAG, click here. With thanks to John Perry for his suggestions.

Read part one of ‘The Run-Up to Nicaragua’s 2021 Elections’ here