CIVICUS Civil Society Index

An international action-research project by and for civil society

Restrictions and the politicisation of civic space: challenges for civil society in Nicaragua

Posted by civilsocietyindex on April 1, 2011

The Civil Society Index (CSI) was implemented in Nicaragua by La Red Nicaraguėnse por la Democracia y el Desarrollo Local (RNDDL – Nicaraguan Network for Democracy and Local Development), along with CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation (CIVICUS).

The key finding of the CSI study in Nicaragua relates to the external environment dimension, which assesses the conditions within which civil society operates. This was the lowest score of all five dimensions in the Nicaraguan CSI, and the report notes that the situation shifted rapidly during the process of the research study. Two contradictory trends are revealed. Over the last few decades, many CSOs have promoted human rights and citizen participation in public administration, in particular for vulnerable groups such as women, children and indigenous peoples. After concerted campaigns, a series of laws were passed favouring political democratisation, such as the law of citizen participation and the public information access law, in an effort to strengthen spheres of dialogue and negotiation with the state. But at the same time, and contradicting this democratisation process, the major political parties made a pact to dole out state powers and set electoral rules that suit them. The report suggests that disregard of the rule of law and the application of rigged laws has been a historical trend, in which the current government participates.

Nicaragua’s national context is undoubtedly unfavourable for civil society to flourish, given its high levels of poverty, inequality, corruption, and economic stagnation resulting from the current crisis in global capitalism. Politically, the state is seen to have little capacity to carry out basic functions. Laws are considered restrictive due to difficulties in obtaining legal status, and discriminatory fiscal control methods are applied according to party affiliation of CSOs. One third of CSOs surveyed said they had been the victims of aggression by the local or national government over the last 10 years, including abuse of power, restrictions on strikes and mobilisations, aggression and depravation of liberty, injury and libel, the closure of legal spheres of participation and violations of human and civil rights. The situation has worsened with the arrival of a new administration in 2007 that has implemented a system to exclude social organisations and that has limited rights of association, expression and cooperation of non-affiliated CSOs.

The picture painted in the report is therefore one of contrasts. Civil society has a great number of strengths, practising the values that it promotes, achieving significant impact, and with a fairly well developed infrastructure. However, civic space is fundamentally challenged by the political environment in Nicaragua. Political and legal restrictions and attacks on civil society, both formal and subtle, create difficult operating conditions. Civic space has become highly politicised, threatening to subject the everyday activities of CSOS to their affinity – or lack of affinity – with the ruling party. Until steps are taken to depoliticise civic space and safeguard civil society against attacks from government, the report concludes that civil society will continue to struggle to realise its full potential and build on its strengths.

To read the full report, click here

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