San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Nicaragua’s Ortega tries to expand powers for martial law

With two days left before the National Assembly breaks for year-end recess, President Daniel Ortega sent the legislature three national defense bills that would apparently give the executive branch greater control over the military and civilian population during times of “emergency.”

The bills, which apparently include sweeping new provisions for martial law, national defense policy and border-security measures, were introduced by the executive Tuesday for immediate approval before Friday, which would prevent lawmakers from giving the measures any serious study or debate. 

Analysts and lawmakers woke up this morning in a scramble to read and understand the new bills. There is more than a little suspicion about Ortega’s motives in trying to sneak the important national defense measures through the National Assembly with three seconds left on the legislative shot clock.

“This is like trying to score a goal in extra time in a soccer match,” said one source.

The three bills are titled the “National Defense Law,” the “National Security Law” and the “Border Law.”

Several of the bills’ articles are causing initial concern.

“When the president of the republic and the council of ministers decree a state of emergency for reasons of conflict or public calamity and order the mobilization of forces, means and public goods, the institutions and regional and municipal governments, as well as their public employees, will become part of the utility for defense of the supreme interests and strategic national objectives, and by express orders of the president of the republic will be under the control of the National Army for the amount of time that the state of emergency lasts,” reads Article 22 of the National Security Law.

Other measures that are causing concern are stipulations that the National Defense Law be classified a “state secret” and that all land within 15 kilometers of the border be classified as “national territory.”

National defense expert Roberto Cajina told The Nica Times Wednesday morning that he has meetings lined up all day with opposition lawmakers asking for advice on the new bills. Cajina said he, too, is reading the bills for the first time today.

He said all three laws are “fundamental” to Nicaragua’s national defense and need to be done properly and carefully, not rushed through legislature in the closing minutes of the year. Cajina said his advice to opposition lawmakers is to deny Ortega’s request for urgent approval and study the measures carefully in commission next year.

Ortega, however, controls the majority in the National Assembly, which could allow him to get the bills passed in the next 48 hours, leaving the rest of the country – once again – trying to figure out what just happened.

Follow The Tico Times online for updates on this story over the next 48 hours.

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