The realm of modern politics has been an era in which the state formation dominates. The intricate web of political institutions that comprise a state determines the degree to which people enjoy freedom, civil liberties, and the power to petition that state. What often distinguishes those who have these abilities from those who do not in the first place, however, is citizenship. In Nicaragua, citizens subject to the authoritarian rule of the government spearheaded by President Daniel Ortega were stripped of this fundamental right in a series of political moves designed to crush dissent and opposition against the current administration.
Ortega’s actions follow the course of precarious balance that has defined the political situation in Nicaragua since his rise to power in 2007. Ortega has incrementally crossed the boundaries for the use of executive political power, systematically dismantling the structure of checks and balances on presidential authority. Such disproportionate use of power has crept beyond a domestic issue in Nicaragua. While formal authorities such as the International Court of Justice are yet to intervene in this conflict, world leaders have condemned Ortega’s actions on the basis of international law, which strictly forbids the act of stripping citizenship for arbitrary reasons, including on “racial, ethnic, religious, or political grounds.”
By procedurally undermining democratic institutions, President Ortega has tightened his grasp on authoritarian rule. The reasons that those who were stripped of citizenship received for their exile from the nation were simply that they were “spreading false news” and working against national integrity. To exacerbate matters, Ortega has received preliminary permission from the Nicaraguan legislature to alter the bounds of the constitution to allow those deemed “traitors” to the nation to be stripped of citizenship as well. Such a vague interpretation of supposedly the highest law of the land makes the grounds for what constitutes a traitor nebulous. Thus, the malicious figures of authority in government have free rein to abuse this newly established power to their advantage, thereby further damaging the democratic process and devolving into a web of authoritarianism.
The implications of not possessing any form of citizenship are severe; those placed into this category are essentially classified as “dead to the state.” There are no means of legal recourse, or enforcing one’s rights in the state they hold citizenship in, meaning they are essentially trapped in a state that can impinge their freedoms and fundamental rights on a whim. This status forces them to seek asylum in foreign nations. Most notably, Spain and the United States have offered a place in their own countries for these non-citizens to rebuild their livelihoods. Following the announcement that the upwards of 200 political prisoners who have been jailed since the anti-government protests in Nicaragua grew prevalent will be released, Spain has put forward a path to citizenship. The United States, for its part, offered a more temporary solution to the former Nicaraguan political prisoners. The prisoners have entered the United States on humanitarian visas with 1-year expiry dates, while the Spanish government formulates a plan to posit a more standardized path to citizenship that political prisoners seeking refuge can undertake in the future.
As for why Ortega has released the prisoners at this particular moment in time, it is likely due to external international pressures. With that being said, the debacle of statelessness in Nicaragua is not groundbreaking nor unprecedented. Although on a much smaller scale, Augusto Pinochet, the iron-fist ruler of Chile from 1973 to 1990, removed upwards of 3,000 political dissidents from the public sphere in an attempt to maintain his power. However, perhaps the closest example resembling the current situation in Nicaragua is that of Bahrain in 2012. Bahrain’s government has moved to strip citizenship from citizens who were outspoken against the government, a process that has eluded international attention due to the country’s status as a small nation.
Although Ortega’s administration seems to have monopolized power in Nicaragua, the regime has proven to be vulnerable to shakedowns. As former intelligence chief Adolfo Marenco was jailed for disagreeing with Ortega’s politics, internal rifts have been evident. The best way to move forward will be to exploit this internal turmoil by adding international pressure from intergovernmental organizations, such as the United Nations, and by individual nations. As noted, issues with authoritarian rule and statelessness are not unprecedented. However, each case is unique and does not necessarily conform to a standard in which we can apply past solutions to the present. Despite the lack of precedent, innovative solutions and consensus can be arrived at through collective political action.
In particular, regional collective action may be the key to applying sufficient pressure on Ortega’s administration and stopping the tyrannical, unilateral actions of his government. For instance, Nicaragua’s largest economic trading partners include Mexico, El Salvador, Costa Rica, and Honduras. If these nations were able to collectively sanction Nicaragua on the basis of their political violations of democracy, thus restricting the movement of essential resources flowing into the nation, the country may reconsider its behavior.
Additionally, more countries could offer Nicaraguan exiles a path to citizenship. Other Latin American countries such as Argentina, Colombia, Ecuador, and Mexico are already following suit. Expanding this list of countries could offer not only solidarity to the Nicaraguan prisoners, but also offer a more practical alternative to staying in their home country, where they could be persecuted, jailed, and stripped of their freedoms without appeal. By implementing the aforementioned solutions, the international community could create a political blueprint better equipped to handle similar situations in the future and ensure that fundamental rights are protected no matter the circumstance.
Featured Image Source: The Guardian