NICARAGUA: Negotiations Remain Stalled, as Ortega-Murillo Government and Alianza Cívica Wage Battle via Press Releases.

Negotiations between the Ortega-Murillo administration and the Alianza Cívica stalled almost a month ago, on April 3, when the parties were unable to reach any agreements on two important issues, democracy and justice. Now, both sides are locked in a battle of press releases, rather than a negotiation.

Since April 3, the Ortega-Murillo administration has churned out a flurry of press releases, pledging commitment to the effort. The Alianza Cívica has responded in kind, through matching statements accusing the government of bad faith and unwillingness to comply with agreements that have already been signed.

Both sides agreed to an agenda on March 20, defining four areas for negotiation, political prisoners, strengthening constitutional rights, strengthening of democracy and electoral reform, and truth, justice, reparation and non-repetition.

To date, there are signed agreements on only the two first points, though the government has not gone beyond allowing the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to conciliate differing lists of political prisoners. Public mobilization is still forbidden and no one has been set free.

Four weeks into the stalemate, the press release duel continues, as both sides put forth their version of events in an effort to influence local and international public opinion.

The day-to-day reality in Nicaragua, though, only supports one version, and it is not the government’s, at least not as far as the international community is concerned.

Indeed, the OAS Permanent Council has held two special sessions to discuss Nicaraguan crisis, on April 5th and 26th, as part of a process that could lead to the application of Article 20 of the Democratic Charter to Nicaragua and an eventual suspension from the OAS. In addition, the United States issued unilateral sanctions against Laureano Ortega Murillo and against the BANCORP bank, now being dissolved and liquidated after a failed attempt to nationalize it. As for the European Union, sanctions are not off the table, though there has been no new developments since March 14, when the European Parliament voted on a resolution requesting “a staggered process of targeted and individual sanctions, such as visa bans and asset freezes agains the Government of Nicaragua and those individuals responsible for human rights breaches.”

With mounting international pressure, the Ortega-Murillo administration issued its latest press release this morning, reiterating that the government’s delegation attends negotiation sessions every day, promptly at 10 AM.

The statement leaves out the fact that most days they sit across the table from no one. The Alianza Cívica, citing repeated government non-compliance, has mostly stayed away from the INCAE, where meetings are usually held.

Press releases do not lead to concrete solutions to the crisis — stated the Alianza on April 25 — Solutions come from unequivocal signs of compliance with agreements.”

The Ortega-Murillo government does not share this view, as indicated in today’s press release. The administration said that, “all the Agreements that we have taken, as well as those that we still have to reach, will be implemented in strict adherence to our Constitution, our Laws and Legal Framework.”

The language is a departure from prior statements that listed “accomplishments” at the negotiation, such as finalizing an agenda and excarcerating 236 prisoners, who were transferred to house arrest. That excarceration falls far short from the agreed-upon liberation and nullification of trials and charges, contemplated in the Agreement for the Liberation of Persons Deprived of Liberty (see objectives section).

This time, though, the Ortega-Murillo administration focused on a very immediate concern, sanctions.

On March 20, when the Alianza and the government agreed on an agenda, both sides committed themselves to call “upon the international community to suspend sanctions”, once negotiations led to agreements on all areas. As stated before, this condition has not been fulfilled.

Nevertheless, the Ortega-Murillo administration has become more vocal about the sanctions this week. On Tuesday, Daniel Ortega delivered an invective-laden speech, in which called the Alianza team “miserable human beings,” “Judas,” “Cain,” “weaklings,” and “traitors to the motherland.”

Those who go on hand and knees, begging for sanctions against their own people, those who rejoice overtime there is a sanction against their people, they are the most abject beings on the face of the earth,” raged Ortega.

Today’s statement followed up in the same vein, as the government characterized the Alianza Cívica as “happy and joyful accomplices of interventionist Policies and violations of Human Rights”, for their refusal to support the government’s efforts to stave off sanctions, characterized as “illegal” and damaging to “all Sectors of the Nicaraguan Society and, particularly, on the most vulnerable, the poorest.”

Sanctions thus far have targeted individuals, rather than the country as a whole, though other forms of economic pressure, such as the unilateral cancellation of cooperation agreements, have also been applied. As a result, the Ortega-Murillo government lost millions of dollars in aid from Canada, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg.

Nevertheless, Ortega conflates the loss of the aid with sanctions against his wife, son, and members of his inner circle.

Today’s statement, furthermore, presents the Ortega-Murillo government as the champion of the disenfranchised. It even invokes the Catholic social teaching concept of “preferential option for the poor,” that is, the idea that “The Christian faithful are also obliged to promote social justice and mindful of the precept of the Lord, to assist the poor.” The use of the term in the government’s statement is worth noting, given that its relationship to the Catholic Church has deteriorated substantially since the start of the crisis, over a year ago.

Indeed, the Nicaraguan Episcopal Conference issued a stern pastoral message, rebuking the Ortega-Murillo government, barely hours after Ortega’s speech on Tuesday.

In response to the administrations statement du jour, the Alianza’s José Pallais told  press gaggle that “any request to lift sanctions can only be set in motion once the agreements are finalized,” as stated in the negotiation agenda that both parties agreed to. Pallais added that the government was responsible for the sanctions, because of their unwillingness to comply with the agreements about political prisoners and citizen rights.

“The effects will cease once the causes cease,” said Pallais, “we are more than willing to keep moving forward towards agreements, which also means to make progress towards compliance […]. However, we would be doing a disservice to the country if we   [supported the lifting of sanctions] while we have ongoing repression and while we have political prisoners.”

Both sides meet today, to discuss the implementation of the agreements about political prisoners and citizen rights.

Press statements are expected later today.