The lack of democracy and basic freedom in Nicaragua is not a new trend in the country. Over the last century, the country has experienced the invasion of the United States, dictatorship rule by a single family, a violent and bloody revolution, the following Contra War, and controversial elections. However, the latest experience under Daniel Ortega’s rule that came after his 2006 election victory, illustrates how near democracies can easily fall back into authoritarianism.
Nicaragua never fulfilled the criteria of being a well-functioning democracy, but it came closer in the 1990s and early 2000s. The first seemingly free and fair elections took place in 1990, in which the current president Daniel Ortega and Sandinista National Liberation Front (SNLF) tasted their first election defeat, to Violeta Chamorro who would become first and to this date only women president of Nicaragua. The election result was total surprise and shock for Ortega and Sandinistas, who expected to win the election in a clear majority. Ortega and Sandinistas also suffered election defeats in the following two elections, respectively in 1996 and 2001. As a result of ongoing free and fair elections in the 1990s and early 2000, scholars start to classify Nicaragua as an electoral democracy, at the end of 2001 . Freedom House also classified Nicaragua as Partly Free in the late 1990s and even as Free in its 1999 report  .
However, this seemingly good-oriented path in the country has been completely changed with the 2006 elections. Ortega managed to attain power with the help of the pact between his party SNLF and the liberal-conservative party, PLC. This pact between the left and right sides of the political spectrum enabled electoral changes, which reduced the threshold to elect the president. This represents an important example of how elites in a country can pave the way for authoritarianism by making the electoral system more vulnerable. In terms of democratic erosion in the country, rest is history. By using methods and strategies that everyone familiar with from authoritarian regimes, such as legislative changes, personal appointments in critical state institutions, and control over the media, president Ortega managed to turn Nicaragua in few years from a near democracy to electoral autocracy.
The process to 2016 Presidential elections, the election itself, and afterward was the final nail in the coffin of Nicaraguan democratic credentials. President Ortega was re-elected with %72.44 of the votes in a highly controversial and discredited election. The rule of law ceased to exist in the country, while the pressure on the opposition continued to increase.
Today, as a result of the last 14 years under Daniel Ortega, Nicaragua maintains an interesting position in international affairs. It was a country that suffered a lot from its rulers and particularly the United States, during the 20th century, however, there was hope that Nicaragua can follow the trend of democratization in the 1990s and turn itself into some kind of democracy. Those hopes are ended with Ortega’s and Sandinistas’ return and now the world looks into the country and sees a more centralized authority even than the dictatorship of the Somoza family in the past. Nicaragua presents a watch-out case to all democratization movements around the world, while itself be doomed to a negative peculiarity.
The country’s peculiarity became more salient while the world faces the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. Strangely, Nicaragua is one of the countries that seems to deal quite well with the pandemic. As of today, the country has only 13 confirmed cases with 3 deaths, while two neighboring countries Honduras and Costa Rica respectively have 702 and 697 cases and 64 to 6 deaths. The government claims that the country has not affected by coronavirus pandemic severely, and mass events including carnivals and parades continue to be held, despite warnings from Pan American Health Organization. Nicaragua remains to be the only country in Central America, that keeps its border open and has not declared a state of emergency . Despite being absent from public appearance for a month, President Ortega called his citizens to continue their life as normal. It is not surprising that Nicaragua continues to be one of the few countries, along with Belarus and Tajikistan, that are fully carrying on with professional sports. The unifying angle of these three governments along with not being a democracy is their neglect of a global pandemic that can be detrimental to public health. Individual lives never carried much importance to any autocratic regime but ignoring a global pandemic should be a new trend for autocratic regimes.
It seems that the ill fate of Nicaragua continues during coronavirus pandemic. Ortega’s rule, until today violated many freedoms and rights of the individuals, however now citizens of the country face a more serious threat than the violation of their democratic rights. Today, the people of Nicaragua face a contagious and dangerous virus that threatens their most basic right: living. If the government continues to ignore the seriousness of the situation, Nicaragua can easily add another dark page to its unpleasant history.
References Diamond, L. (2002). Elections without democracy: Thinking About Hybrid Regimes. Journal of democracy, 13(2), 36-50.  Levitsky, S., & Way, L. (2015). The myth of democratic recession. Journal of Democracy, 26(1), 45-58.  Freedom in the World 1999. Freedom House.  Wagner, J. (2020, April 14). Looking for a Full Sports Calendar? Try Nicaragua. Retrieved April 28, 2020, from https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/14/sports/coronavirus-nicaragua-sports-events.html
Your article is very informative and your analysis made some great points. I think different types of regimes have done very well and some poorly. From reading various articles to gain more information, I think it is likely Ortega and his administration will continue things as they are for now. As you said, the trend of authoritarian governments ignoring the pandemic is troubling. I have seen in another article that the government is encouraging doctors to avoid items such as sanitizer and gloves, to avoid causing fear.
I wonder how much pressure is necessary for Ortega to give in. The relationship with other Central American countries may suffer as they grow more frustrated with the lack of prevention measure from Nicaragua. They could provide the push of containment and prevention. On the bright side, Nicaraguans are very innovative and are finding new ways to protect themselves.