Nicaragua on Fire

September 23, 2018

Information Reports, Latin America

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Written by Brennan Albrecht

This past summer, Nicaragua has experienced one of the worst political crises it has faced in the 21st century. President Daniel Ortega headed legislation in the spring of 2018 that saw vast reforms to Nicaragua’s social security program. The reforms involved increasing taxes while lowering the pension rate by five percent, a move which has proved to be extremely controversial given President Ortega’s history of authoritarianism. The protests have escalated since April and it is estimated that over 300 people have been killed, with thousands more arrested and injured [1].

Daniel Ortega rose to prominence as a leading member of the Sandinista movement, which worked in the 1970’s to overthrow the Somoza government, a right-leaning dictator who had governed Nicaragua for most of the 20th century until that point. Despite US opposition and intervention to the Sandinistas, the group eventually took power and Ortega became president in 1984.  Despite some gains, the Sandinista government was criticized for being corrupt and inefficient, and Ortega was ousted in the 1989 election. During his time as an opposition leader, he used his prominence to rebuild his base on a platform that was less communist but still relied on socialist principles.  In 2006, he was re-elected as president, with his wife, Rosario Murillo, as his vice president. Although his government was less Marxist than before, Ortega quickly regained much of the strong power he enjoyed during his first presidency [2]. In 2009, Nicaragua’s Supreme Court removed term limits from the Nicaraguan constitution, thus allowing Ortega to run for re-election as many times as he wanted [3]. This decision has been heavily criticized by the international community, and the effects of it are being felt by Nicaraguans facing a government crackdown on free speech and assembly.

The protests began after the aforementioned tax and social security reforms implemented by the Ortega-controlled Nicaraguan assembly. University students drove the main protests, but many others, including religious and community leaders, have since spearheaded protests of their own [4]. Ortega quickly moved to quash the protests using violent means. Police and soldiers have frequently used live ammunition and large amounts of tear gas to disperse protesters, and the government has armed members of the Sandinista Youth (a youth group for members of the Sandinista party) and turned them into paramilitary groups [5]. These groups have been accused of using even more violent methods of dispersing and arresting protesters, and the government has continuously denied their existence despite video evidence to the contrary [6].

The UN has continuously attempted to get involved by trying to establish peace talks and detail human rights abuses, but the Sandinista government has taken hostile measures towards any UN representatives in the country. Near the end of August 2018, Ortega forced a UN human rights team out of the country, thus spurring condemnation and action from the UN Security Council and others in the international community [7]. Further action will be taking place over the next several months. Ortega has also rejected attempts at peace talks with Catholic leaders from within the country. The protests have slowed somewhat, but it is likely that they will continue to go forward until some sort of referendum on Ortega takes place or the government clamps down entirely, which would certainly invite a heap of condemnation and sanctions from the rest of the world [8].

 

Sources:

1] “Downward spiral: Nicaragua’s worsening crisis” BBC. July 16, 2018 https://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-44398673

2] “Profile: Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, from revolutionary leader to opposition hate figure” BBC. July 19, 2018 https://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-15544315?intlink_from_url=https://www.bbc.com/news/topics/cyqp7x0y4xwt/nicaragua-crisis&link_location=live-reporting-story

3] “Nicaragua court backs re-election” BBC. Oct. 20, 2009 http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/8316167.stm#sa-link_location=story-body&intlink_from_url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.bbc.com%2Fnews%2Fworld-latin-america-15544315%3Fintlink_from_url%3Dhttps%3A%2F%2Fwww.bbc.com%2Fnews%2Ftopics%2Fcyqp7x0y4xwt%2Fnicaragua-crisis%26link_location%3Dlive-reporting-story&intlink_ts=1537562805001-sa

4] “El presidente de Nicaragua anula la polémica reforma de la Seguridad Social acosado por las protestas” El País. April 23, 2018. https://elpais.com/internacional/2018/04/22/actualidad/1524431569_880896.html

5] Miles, Richard. “Sounding the Alarm on Nicaragua” Center for Strategic and International Studies. July 23, 2018. https://www.csis.org/analysis/sounding-alarm-nicaragua

6] “Downward spiral: Nicaragua’s worsening crisis” BBC. July 16, 2018 https://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-44398673

7] “Security Council takes up Nicaragua crisis, with some reservations” UN News. Sept 5, 2018. https://news.un.org/en/story/2018/09/1018442

8] Miles, Richard. “Sounding the Alarm on Nicaragua” Center for Strategic and International Studies. July 23, 2018. https://www.csis.org/analysis/sounding-alarm-nicaragua

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