Nicaragua, Dictators, and Paramilitaries
Written by Mckay Dayton
In 1934 U.S. forces left the country of Nicaragua after a period of guerrilla warfare waged by opposition leader Augusto CŽsar Sandino. As they left the U.S. put Anastasio Somoza in charge and 44 years of a terrible dictatorship backed by the U.S. began. The Somoza family kept power until the civil war in 1978. The Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), a group named after the legendary Augusto CŽsar Sandino, led a movement to oust the Somoza family. Nicaragua chose to create a democracy and in 1984 a man with socialist ideas and dreams named Daniel Ortega was elected president. Unfortunately, during his presidency inflation soared and the U.S. fueled an opposition group of anti-Sandinistas. Daniel Ortega was defeated in the 1990 election, but his FSLN party would make a comeback and reelect him in the 2006 election.
When Ortega became president again in 2007, he had flipped his views and changed his ideas. He started to appeal and connect to the wealthy business people of the country. His institution began to negotiate with the IMF and promised to make strides in paying back the countries debt. They made moves to become more capitalistic such as opening more free trade with other countries and the United States (Toussaint, 2018). Essentially, he became a part of the top one percent and was no longer just fighting for socialism and the poor people of Nicaragua like in 1979 (Toussaint, 2018). Ortega was a man of importance and he wanted to stay in the world of the high class.
To keep Ortega in power his government voted to abolished laws that didn’t allow reelection after a second consecutive term. Because of this he has been reelected twice and in 2016 his wife was elected as vice-president. However, he has been accused of fixing the 2016 election (Diario, 2018). To keep this power, he needed to keep the elite, other countries and international organizations happy. This is when he ran into major problems by trying to keep the IMF happy. Ortega said he was going to fix the social security program. The new program would have increased taxes and give less to those receiving social security benefits. The extra funds would be used to pay back Nicaragua’s debts to the IMF. Things got ugly and since then protests, violence and chaos have engulfed the country.
For almost a year the people and the government have been fighting. 320 people have died, and 600 political prisoners have been taken (Lopez, 2019). To hold on to power Ortega has used paramilitary groups to attack his opposers. Creating a state of terrorism in his own country. Nicaraguans call the paramilitary groups Sandinista Mobs. The mobs use expensive high caliber assault weapons that authorities believe were provided to them by the government. Though the government has denied any association with the groups, they have also been quoted saying that the groups were made up of professional police officers, retired military and volunteers (Fiorella 2019).
These paramilitary groups are unofficial, not named, and well trained military-like teams that are pro-Sandinista or pro government. They are organized and have acted out well planned attacks to break down barricades and take back towns or neighborhoods that were under siege (Lopez and Wallace, 2018). They drive small pickup trucks, wear masks and pro-Sandinista colors and are heavily armed (Diario, 2019). They are accused of setting fire to neighborhoods, using well positioned snipers to kill targets and being ordered to exterminate protestors and anti-government groups (Diario 2019).
These groups have been used to stop protestors and stop civil unrest. Daniel Ortega denies giving orders to these groups, but they seem to be doing his bidding (Molina, 2019). In the past week though, Ortega has come out and said to his people that he wants to have peace talks. This is after the opposition has come out and said they want to reschedule the presidential elections to this year, because Ortega cannot seem to gain control of the chaos (Reuters, 2019). The next official elections are scheduled for 2021.
From the protests that started in April of 2018, the civil unrest is still happening to this day. A country fighting back against a man that has used unofficial paramilitary groups to attack his own people. A man that has changed laws so that he can still be president. He has turned in to what he originally sought to destroy. A dictator willing to do whatever it takes to hold onto power. In 1979 Daniel Ortega fought to end the Somoza dictatorship that lasted 44 years. Today his own people chant “Daniel, Somoza, son la misma cosa.” Or “Daniel, Somoza, are the same thing.” (Diario, 2019).
Aburto, Wilfredo Miranda. “Nicaragua Paramilitary Groups Receive Orders ‘from the Highest Level.’” Confidencial, 19 June 2018, confidencial.com.ni/nicaragua-paramilitary-groups-receive-orders-from-the-highest-level/.
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Fiorella, Giancarlo. “Analysis of Nicaragua’s Paramilitary Arsenal.” Bellingcat, 12 Feb. 2019, www.bellingcat.com/news/americas/2019/02/12/analysis-of-nicaraguas-paramilitary-arsenal/.
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Lopez, Ismael. “After Bloody Protests, Nicaragua’s Ortega Says He Wants Dialogue…” Reuters, Thomson Reuters, 22 Feb. 2019, www.reuters.com/article/us-nicaragua-ortega/after-bloody-protests-nicaraguas-ortega-says-he-wants-dialogue-for-peace-idUSKCN1QB085.
Retana, Gustavo. “Paramilitary Groups Bring Instability to Nicaragua and Central America.” Dialogo Americas, 21 Dec. 2018, dialogo-americas.com/en/articles/paramilitary-groups-bring-instability-nicaragua-and-central-america.
Toussaint, Eric. “Committee for the Abolition of Illegitimate Debt.” Nicaragua: From 2007 to 2018, Daniel Ortega, 5 Nov. 2018, www.cadtm.org/Nicaragua-From-2007-to-2018-Daniel-Ortega-Had-the-Support-of-the-IMF-and.
Toussaint, Eric. “Committee for the Abolition of Illegitimate Debt.” Nicaragua: the Story of the Daniel Ortega-Rosario Murillo Regime, 26 July 2018, www.cadtm.org/Nicaragua-the-story-of-the-Daniel-Ortega-Rosario-Murillo-regime.