Guest Editorial: Ortega must go for the sake of Nicaragua

Farmington Daily Times
Guest Editorial

The U.S. Embassy in Managua removed all nonessential personnel and family members from Nicaragua on Monday after five days of violent clashes between antigovernment protestors and dictator Daniel Ortega's enforcers. The trouble may not be over.

Mr. Ortega is the Sandinista revolutionary who first came to power in 1979 with Soviet and Cuban backing. During more than a decade of rule, he and his comrades grabbed millions of dollars in private property and homes. 

This cleanup — known as "the piñata" — by self-described champions of the poor is a great lesson in socialism. Mr. Ortega agreed to an election in 1990, believing he could win. But international observers defended the vote, and the Sandinistas were ousted.

Unfortunately they kept control of the military, and in 1999 center-right President Arnoldo Aleman cut a deal with Mr. Ortega, who led the Sandinista Party. Mr. Aleman agreed to lower to 35 percent the threshold for victory in a first-round presidential election. In exchange, Mr. Ortega agreed to ensure that Mr. Aleman wouldn't go to jail on corruption charges.

In 2006 Ortega squeaked into the presidency with 38 percent of the vote and immediately began to consolidate power with the help of Venezuela's Hugo Chávez, who sent oil shipments on long-term credit. While Nicaragua's debt was swelling, Mr. Ortega was selling the oil at market prices and racking up profits.

He also took control of the country's Supreme Court and electoral council. Much of the business community turned a blind eye to his power grab because they were invited to share the wealth.

Now the Venezuelan gusher has dried up and so has Mr. Ortega's support. The protests began small after the government announced that it would cut old-age pensions and require larger contributions from workers. But after enforcers tried to quell the protests, thousands took to the streets.

News reports show that thugs on motorcycles beat pension protesters with pipes and electrical cords. A journalist in Bluefields was assassinated by a bullet to the head while on the air. Eyewitnesses report police looting shops. The government has pulled the plug on more than one television station.

The newspaper La Prensa, one of the bravest voices in Nicaragua, weighed in Monday with an editorial "Ortega Has to Go." A number of former revolutionaries, including Mr. Ortega's brother Humberto and former junta vice president Sergio Ramírez Mercado, have broken with Daniel and appealed to others in the country to stop the violence.

But even if Mr. Ortega's business partners in the military brass agree, a succession path is not clear. Mr. Ortega's vice president is his wife, and the head of congress is a loyal henchman. The Trump Administration ought to raise its voice on behalf of Nicaraguans who want a second revolt against a dictator.

The Wall Street Journal, April 24