How do the crises in Nicaragua and Venezuela compare?

Managua (AFP) –


The violent crisis gripping Nicaragua, where anti-government protesters are being hemmed in by an autocratic leader, could raise comparisons with Venezuela.

What are the similarities, and differences? Here are a few:

- Similarities -

1. Political

Protest movements in both countries are demanding the ouster of their respective presidents, Nicolas Maduros of Venezuela and Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua, with early elections called for.

Both leaders have carried out the same strategy.

"They have peeled off opposition leaders and parties. Not through the ballot box but through fallacious and illegal rulings from courts or electoral authorities," a Venezuelan political analyst, Luis Salamanca, told AFP.

"Ortega did that in the 2016 election and Maduro copied him in 2018."

Both also "censored the media and bolstered their authority by getting rid of checks and balances," said Juan Felipe Celia, of the Atlantic Council think tank in Washington DC.

2. Repression

Pro-government paramilitaries called Sandinista "turbas" in Nicaragua and "colectivos" in Venezuela have been used to crack down on protesters, international relations expert Mariano de Alba said.

"It looks like they're acting on their own, but despite being dressed as civilians they are part of the government's security apparatus to assault and intimidate opponents," explained Diego Moya-Ocampos, an analyst at IHS Markit in London.

But Ortega's government was "heavy handed," he said, contributing to a death toll of over 280 in three months, compared to 125 in four months in Venezuela last year.

3. Rhetoric

In both countries, opponents accuse the presidents of having installed dictatorships.

In return, the two governments have labeled the protesters "terrorists" and claimed they were trying to carry out coups with US backing, de Alba said.

4. Negotiations

Nicaraguan sociologist Oscar Vargas said that Maduro and Ortega tried to gain breathing room in mediated talks by playing on divisions in the opposition and trying to wear them down.

5. International pressure

Both governments are isolated internationally and targeted for sanctions.

However Nicaragua, a smaller, poorer country with no oil, has not captured as much attention as Venezuela so far, de Alba said.

- Differences -

1. Economies

Venezuela has sunk into economic disaster, yet it can still count on vast oil reserves, exports of which provide 96 percent of its revenue.

"Ortega relies on the business sector and on Nicaraguans so that the economy keeps going," de Alba said.

"Nicaragua has a very weak, fragile economy and this could become a breaking point if its crisis isn't fixed in the short term," said a Nicaraguan analyst, Elvira Cuadra.

Nicaragua's central bank has cut its 2018 economic growth forecast from 4.9 percent to 1 percent, and some analysts are predicting an even worse contraction.

2. Political heft

According to Caudra, the political importance of the two countries also vary greatly. Thanks to its oil, given away at discount rates to some Latin American and Caribbean countries to forge alliances, Venezuela can count on support in regional fora.

"The inter-American system has taken more time to rebalance in terms of the Venezuelan government than with the Nicaraguan government," she said.

3. Militaries

Nicaragua's military backs talks between the two sides in the country, and is "more institutional," Moya-Ocampos said.

Venezuela's armed forces, on the other hand, "is very much politicized," he said.

"Maduro can count on the military's support. In Nicaragua, the main forces of repression are the pro-Ortega armed civilian groups," Celia said.

4. Opposition

In Nicaragua, the demonstrations are directed by the Civic Alliance for Justice and Democracy, which groups students, business owners, rural folk and unionists. It is not a political party.

In Venezuela, the Democratic Unity Roundtable alliance brings together various political formations, all with different aims but a common protest tactic.

5. Support

Nicaraguan analyst Mauricio Diaz said there was a certain "confusion" in Ortega's ruling Sandinista National Liberation Front party, with "some of the older leaders not taking a clear position."

Alba said that, in Venezuela, Maduro's camp "has seen some big defections, but the ruling coalition has remained united throughout the crisis."