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A defaced mural of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega in Catarina, Nicaragua. A defaced mural of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega in Catarina, Nicaragua, May 7, 2018 (AP photo by Moises Castillo).

As Ortega Tightens His Grip, Nicaragua Braces for Volatile Elections

Friday, June 4, 2021

It’s hard to imagine that three years ago, Nicaragua was rocked by huge anti-government protests that paralyzed the country before being ruthlessly quashed. Today, despite the COVID-19 pandemic and a lack of vaccines, the capital, Managua, is abuzz with activity. Shopping malls are teeming, while the intersections are crowded with beggars and vendors. Everyday life in this Central American country seems to have returned to normal. Visible scars of the 2018 unrest remain only in the form of graffiti, although many of the protest slogans have been daubed over with pro-government messages proclaiming, “The commander remains”—a reference to President Daniel Ortega. Anti-riot police watch over traffic roundabouts, clearly bored but ready to quell the first signs of public dissent.

With presidential and legislative elections scheduled for November, the coming months will test whether the calm is more than skin deep, as Nicaraguans face the prospect of lifetime rule by Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo. During a recent visit to the country, I heard a common refrain from disenchanted Nicaraguan voters: “They’re going to steal the elections.” ...

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