Man selling T-shirts in Nicaragua Inti Ocon/Getty Images

The Sandinista Shell Game

An economic slowdown in Nicaragua is likely sooner rather than later. At that point, local business leaders will feel rather less proud of their cozy relationship with an authoritarian government – and the government will find it much harder to secure a restive population’s quiescence.

SANTIAGO – On every other block in downtown Managua, massive billboards proclaim that, owing to God’s grace, “Years of Victory” are here. Aside from the Almighty, the purveyors of such victories are the larger-than-life President Daniel Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, both duly portrayed with gaze fixed heavenward. Their creed, one reads, is “Christianity, Socialism, and Solidarity.”

That a socialist revolutionary – who first came to power after violently ousting the dictator Anastasio Somoza – should seek legitimacy in a Christian god is odd. Even odder is the relationship Ortega has forged with the local business community. Influential tycoons proudly report that the government consults with them on all economic legislation. Critics accuse business of “co-legislating” with the regime.

When the United States government recently caused a stir by claiming that foreign investors were being driven away from Nicaragua by influence peddling and arbitrary legal enforcement, José Adán Aguerri, the head of the leading business organization, Cosep, came to the government’s defense. If the US Embassy provided him with a list of foreign companies facing obstacles, Aguerri claimed, he would ensure that their problems were solved.

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