The Nicaraguan presidential elections were held on November 7th, 2021. There were seven ballot options for the North and South Caribbean Coast Autonomous Regions: the Constitutionalist Liberal Party, Independent Liberal Party, Alliance for the Republic, Nicaraguan Christian Way, Nicaraguan Liberal Alliance Party, Yapti Tasba Masraka Nanih Aslatakanka Party (regional opposition party for the Carribean Coast), and the FSLN Front/Sandinista Alliance (led by Daniel Ortega). The voter turnout was about 65%, with 75% of those votes going to the Sandinista Coalition. These numbers have matched that of previous elections such as in 2016 the FSLN received 72% of the votes with a 68% voter turnout according to the Organization for American States (OAS) and in 2011 the Sandinistas received 62% of the votes according to the Carter Center. There were also more than two hundred foreign election observers from more than 27 countries and 67 of these people were also journalists.
However, despite these signs of a normal functioning democracy, American and European media have decried these elections as unfair and Ortega a dictator. They allege that Ortega has imprisoned opposition candidates and banned foreign observers. It’s true that Ortega is running for his fourth term. However, it’s also important to remember that term limits aren’t very common outside the United States. Even then, the cap on term limits only became established in the United States after 1951 with the passage of the 22nd Amendment. Franklin Roosevelt won the presidency four times, yet no one would call him a dictator, in fact he is one of America’s most beloved presidents. Angela Merkel, in Germany, also served for more than fifteen years as Chancellor of Germany, yet no one is calling Germany a dictatorship. Ortega maintains a strong base of support among the Nicaraguan people, this is a fact recognized by the Carter Center and M&R Consultores (an apolitical polling group in Nicaragua).
Ortega and the Sandinistas were vital in overthrowing the US backed Somoza government, who after murdering Augusto César Sandino, a general who organized a rebellion of workers and peasants against the occupation by the U.S Marines, installed Anastasio Somoza and his family as puppets. The Sandinistas made Nicaragua into one of the safest countries in Central America and one of the most gender equal countries in the world. They uplifted millions of people from poverty and redistributed land from the landowners to the peasants. They are also one of the most food sovereign countries in the world with 80% of their food being produced within their own borders. Another fascinating fact is that 51% of property titles in Nicaragua were given to women, according to the World Bank.
This is a number that’s far greater than in Panama where women only own 34% of the property. Nicaragua also doesn’t suffer from the same amount of gang violence as its neighbors in El Salvador or Honduras. Its homicide rates are also the lowest out of all Latin American and Central American countries: 3.5 out of 100,000 inhabitants are killed by homicide in Nicaragua, compared to 37.6 inhabitants out of 100,000 in Honduras. The re-election of Daniel Ortega is a rejection of US imposed neoliberalism. The people of Nicaragua are not blind or stupid. They can see what neoliberalism has done to their neighbor Honduras, where gang violence, homicide, and most egregiously femicide are rampant. There is a reason why people support the Sandinistas and it’s not because they are brainwashed.
In addition, the notion that “opposition candidates” were arrested is very easily contradicted by the fact that there were up to seven ballot options and that Ortega’s name was not even the first to appear on the ballot. The first person to appear on the ballot was the leading opposition candidate Walter Espinoza Fernàndez, from the Constitutionalist Liberal Party. However, the majority of western sources claim that Ortega has arrested and silenced opposition candidates.
This is patently untrue when according to observers who were actually in Nicaragua during the elections one could find flyers and posters for the opposition everywhere. It’s also worth noting that the most popular TV channel in Nicaragua (Channel 10) isn’t owned by the government or the Ortega family but by a Mexican businessman called Ángel González. The vast majority aren’t in the hands of the government, instead they are in the hands of businessmen and entrepreneurs. TV stations in Nicaragua broadcast a variety of opinions both anti and pro-government.
While it is true that Dora María Téllez and Cristiana Chamorro and both did oppose the Ortega government, it’s also worth pointing out that they were found guilty of a variety of crimes that would have gotten them arrested in the United States or anywhere else in the world. Téllez conspired with the United States and played a part in the bloody 2018 coup, where hundreds of Nicaraguans were killed and Sandinistas were hunted down by right wing militias. If such an act occurred in the United States, Téllez would have been promptly imprisoned for treason if not worse. Chamorro, head of the Chamorro foundation and a descendant of the old colonial elites, received millions of dollars from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED).
The Chamorro foundation has in turn sponsored tabloids and newspapers that call for the overthrow of the Nicaraguan government and the Nicaraguan government also found inconsistencies with the amount of money they reported compared to the amount that they received. The Chamorro family, nonetheless, has repeatedly rejected investigations from the Nicaraguan government. Money laundering, tax evasion, advocating for the overthrow of the government, and use of foreign funds in elections are all illegal in the United States. However, when an independent country that rejects neoliberalism or American imperialism tries to enforce these very same laws it gets labeled as authoritarian and is punished with sanctions, just look at Iran, Venezuela, Chile in the early 1970s, Iraq, and Syria.
The RENACER Act was passed on November 3rd, four days before the elections. The RENACER Act calls for heightened sanctions on Nicaragua and restricts lending international financial institutions from lending money to the country. This comes despite the fact that Nicaragua is still a very poor country and that despite claiming these sanctions are only targeted towards the Ortega family and high ranking government officials, history has shown that “targeted sanctions” rarely harm the targets, instead it’s the people that suffer the most.
However, despite the various obstacles that has been thrown at them, Nicaragua, led by the Sandinistas, is no less deterred from continuing the legacy of General Augustino César Sandino in kicking out the American occupiers, whether that be in the form of US Marines stationed off the Coast of Honduras, puppet governments in the form of Somoza, right wing paramilitaries in the form of the Contras, or the use of astroturfed candidates and political movements to overturn the Sandinista Revolution. These elections have shown not only that the Sandinistas are overwhelmingly popular but that there is an alternative to neoliberalism.
N.C. Cai is a Chinese American Marxist Feminist. She is interested in socialist feminism, Western imperialism, history, and domestic policy, specifically in regards to drug laws, reproductive justice, and healthcare.