The overthrow of the Somoza dictatorship in 1979 and the triumph of the Popular Sandinista Revolution represent two decisive moments for the social and participative development of Nicaragua. At the Central American conjuncture of the Cold War, levels of political participation increased thanks to the strong social mobility of the revolutionary era and the empowerment of the Nicaraguan population through the creation of organizations such as the Sandinista Defense Committees and the Sandinista Confederation of Work.
However, it should be noted that it was not until the arrival of the Esquipulas II Peace Accord in 1987 that the institutionalization of Nicaraguan democratic innovations began to be truly visible. The 1987 Constituent Assembly was drafted after a series of sectorial and territorial Open Town Halls in which civil society laid the foundations that equated universal suffrage with the right to participatory democracy mechanisms. As of that year, more than 30 laws were approved that strengthened the autonomy of the municipalities and promoted the participation of civil society in the ideation, development, and evaluation of public policies (i.e., the Law on Municipalities and the Law on Citizen Participation, amongst others).
The democratic transition of 1979 led to the defeat of the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), and a liberal democracy began with the election of Violeta Barrios. This new neoliberal period reconfigured the country economically - socially and politically, substantially increasing the country's inequality indexes and, in turn, the number of social conflicts. The high levels of conflict persisted until the arrival of Enrique Bolaños, who reestablished certain institutional models for citizen participation at the local level. Despite this, in 2006, Nicaraguan society’s growing discontent with the policies of the neoliberal era resulted in a change of political power, which led to the reinstatement of new mechanisms for participatory democracy. These spaces of citizen participation are, for the most part, supported by a national legal framework, or promoted by the same bodies of the Government.
The return of the FSLN to power is highly controversial. While the 2014 reform introduced numerous tools for citizen participation (for example, expanding indigenous communal property), the new Sandinista regime brought with it different objectives from those of the revolutionary project. This has established a hegemonic Executive power that does not implement mechanisms of citizen participation such as revocation measures.
The Sandinista period in Nicaragua is perceived as an experience of "unprecedented popular participation". The open town halls of 1986 were, perhaps, the greatest expression of this and one of the most relevant cases of democratic innovation of the Central American country. These assemblies were held throughout the country as part of the consultation and debate process of the Political Constitution Reform Project in 1986, from which the current text (1987) is derived. They established the legal framework for decentralizing the power of the Central Government and laid the basis for the democratic transition of the country.
Nicaraguan civil society has promoted many innovations supported by this legal framework, such as citizens' law initiatives. There are also numerous institutional designs that strengthen citizen representation and the political inclusion of indigenous and African-American peoples. Even though some cases of digital innovation are recorded, they are not numerous, which is explained by the limited access to the Internet of the Nicaraguan population - only 15 out of 100 households in the country have access to the Internet.
As for the democratic innovations of citizen participation carried out during the period of neoliberal governance, it is worth emphasizing the program of Autonomous Schools. Despite being criticized for the disadvantages of engendering a decentralized budget management, these schools spread rapidly throughout the country, which could imply that the pilot program received a high degree of acceptance from the public. It is also worth mentioning the Guided Projects by the Community, which are distinguished by being carried out through a methodology that confers the power of the government to the communities. In them, the civil society is in charge of the ideation, the contracting and the administration of the projects for their respective locality.
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