The employers of Nicaragua break with Ortega
Business sector says that the corporatist model “got exhausted” and they support a change in the government
by Carlos Salinas
Among the changes generated by the unprecedented popular rebellion in Nicaragua, which for the past 43 days has demanded the departure of President Daniel Ortega from the government, is the end of the corporatist model that for ten years was one of the main pillars that gave it stability to the regime.
On Tuesday night, the Higher Council for Private Enterprise (COSEP), the country’s leading business chamber, demanded that its members resign “in an immediate manner” to any relationship they had with the Ortega Executive, while two of the most powerful businessmen of the country, Carlos Pellas and Piero Coen, affirmed that this corporatist model “was exhausted” and that a change of Government is necessary.
The COSEP said in a statement made public on Tuesday night that from April 18 – when Ortega unleashed a fierce oppression against demonstrations that opposed a Social Security reform imposed without consensus – he suspended his participation “in any meeting with government authorities as a consequence of our rejection of repression and our commitment to justice and democracy in Nicaragua.” Many members of the chamber, however, held positions in commissions, committees or just directives of public institutions, within the model of partnership between the private sector and the government developed by Ortega. Since yesterday that relationship was broken.
The businessmen criticized the repression and acts of violence unleashed by the Executive, which has not implemented the recommendations made by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (CIDH), which demanded the end of all forms of repression, respect for the rights of Nicaraguans to protest in a peaceful way, the protection of the demonstrators and the creation of an international, autonomous mechanism to investigate and clarify the violations of human rights in the country since April.
On Monday, Nicaragua experienced one of the most violent days since April, after forces of the Sandinista Front, para-police groups and riot police attacked the campus of the National University of Engineering (UNI), where a hundred students had barricaded themselves that demand the end of the Sandinista government. The images retransmitted live on television showed the officers shooting at close range in what is the commercial and financial heart of Managua.
The violence left two dead, more than 40 wounded, a score of young people imprisoned, businesses attacked, the façade of a pro-government radio and journalists assaulted.
Relatives of these detainees were showed up on Tuesday at the headquarters of the Directorate of Judicial Assistance, in Managua, popularly known as “El Chipote” and denounced as a torture center. The mothers of these people demanded their release and after several hours of pressure a group of priests could access the building. After a quick negotiation they obtained the promise of the authorities to release 22 young people captured on Monday. They were delivered to the Metropolitan Cathedral of the Nicaraguan capital, but other mothers reported that their children were not on the list, whom they call “disappeared”.
“We demand the immediate release of young people and citizens who are still illegally detained,” the businessmen said in their statement.
The tourism business sector of Nicaragua – one of the pillars of the economy of this country – also declared their stand Tuesday night. This union has been hard hit by the crisis. There are hotels in the colonial cities of Granada and Leon –postcards of this country in front of the world- that do not have guests, others that work at 20 percent of their capacity, while the restaurants reported losses of up to 50 percent.
In its statement, the Chamber of Tourism blamed the government for the violence and urged all its members to participate in a national demonstration to be held on Wednesday, May 30, Mother’s Day in Nicaragua, which would be led by the mothers of those killed by the repression. The demonstration, to which all business chambers, university students, peasants and civil society organizations would join, promised to be gigantic.
“We reiterate our firm and clear position next to the people who fight to achieve justice for the murdered, wounded, tortured, disappeared and illegally detained,” said the businessmen. “Tourism, someday, when peace shines in our homeland, we can recover it, but the lives of more than 90 Nicaraguan brothers, mostly students in the prime of youth, we will never be able to recover them. For that reason and for them we demand justice. ”
The most symptomatic statements of the break with the government came, however, from two of the country’s leading entrepreneurs.
Piero Coen, president of a group of companies with interests in the agribusiness, finance and real estate sector, criticized the government’s fierce repression in an interview with journalist Carlos Fernando Chamorro, director of Confidencial magazine.
Coen advocated a “quick, orderly and peaceful” exit from the crisis and claimed that the corporatist model was “unsustainable.” For Coen the businessmen “we no longer set the tone”. In similar terms, Carlos Pellas, the powerful entrepreneur who leads the Pellas Group, producer of the famous Ron Flor de Caña, said in an interview with the newspaper La Prensa that “the model that brought the country was exhausted” and that is needed “urgently” a change, what happens by advance elections and “deep institutional transformation.”
Ortega had imposed for 10 years an economic model in which decisions were made between him and the business leadership. The president guaranteed the entrepreneurs stability and advantages to do business, while they did not intervene in the political decisions of Ortega and his authoritarian drift. Thus, they allowed the kidnapping of the institutions, the reform of the Constitution so that the Sandinista ex-guerrilla would perpetuate himself in power and develop a dynastic government, with his wife as vice president, and with denunciations of serious violations of human rights and freedom of press.
“Ortega has now been configured the worst scenario. It has the people in the streets, the citizens demand that that he leave power and now it has fallen the model that was one of its pillars, the relationship with capital”, explains to El País, Azahaléa Solís, participant jurist at the table of the National Dialogue that seeks to find a solution to the deep political crisis that the country suffers.
“This scenario is darker for Ortega,” he adds. Solis adds that now there can be no “soft landing”, that is, a long-term solution through an agreement with the OAS, which bet that Ortega would finish his term in 2021.
“That agreement is outdated and anachronistic,” the analyst said. Although it is difficult to predict what will be Ortega’s response to the rupture of the businessmen, a symbolic action by the president shows his weakness: he ordered to build more barricades with huge stones around his house, in the capital El Carmen neighborhood, and increased the perimeter security, with dozens of armed officers in the area.