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Nicaragua to vote on bills tightening Daniel Ortega's grip on security, media

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Some fear the president, who’s seeking reelection next year despite a constitutional ban prohibiting his candidacy, could use the laws to remain in power by force. “These laws would institutionalize Ortega’s paranoia and authoritarian style of government,” says constitutional law expert Gabriel Alvarez.

Ghosts of the 1980s

Ortega’s proposed laws would give the president unchecked authority to declare martial law and launch “national mobilizations” in the name of defending Nicaragua’s “established democratic order” against domestic and foreign threats. The legislation also calls for the creation of a new spy network under the umbrella of a “National Security System” comprised of “institutions specialized in intelligence and information” that will report directly to the president.

The Border Law, meanwhile, would give the Army administrative control of a 15-kilometer-wide border zone in which all property would be classified as “national terrain.” The law would also create a new “Border Security Zone” within five kilometers of the frontiers, where all land would become “inalienable” state property.

Foreign investors fret that the border law could be confiscatory, and Nicaragua’s native and ethnically-African population on the north Atlantic coast says the proposed legislation invokes ghosts of the 1980s.

“These laws revive the bad memories of (the) ‘Red Christmas’ campaign in 1981, when the Sandinista government – the same one that’s in power now – used the same justifications of national defense and sovereignty to militarize the border and forcibly removed us from our communities,” says Lottie Cunningham, a director of the Center for Justice and Human Rights for the Atlantic Coast, an advocacy group that focuses on the land rights of native people.

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