Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega surprised precisely no one last year when he won yet another term in an election so farcical it verged on grotesque. After securing victory by imprisoning opponents and silencing critics, one might have expected Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, to relax a bit, having dealt a punishing blow to the opposition. Sadly, that’s not what happened.
Since winning his fourth consecutive term as president—his fifth overall—Ortega has only intensified his campaign of repression, and he is now dragging his imprisoned opponents through a series of sham trials in Managua, the capital. It’s the latest chapter in the remarkable story of a man who started as a leftist revolutionary hero and defeated a hated dictator, only to then lead his country back to brutal repression.
Ortega’s story is a cautionary tale of how an incipient democracy can be gradually destroyed. He won his first presidential election in 1985, but went on to lose when he ran as an incumbent in 1990. That’s why, when he was elected again in 2007, he decided to stop taking chances. Ortega has since worked to expand his control over all government institutions by installing his acolytes in positions of power, including in the courts, and using their support to rewrite the country’s constitution and secure advantageous legal interpretations. He has been in office ever since.