If you live in the States and check your news feed regularly, you might have heard about Rosanne’s racist tweet, or the will-they-won’t-they dance between Trump and Kim Jong-Un. But odds are you haven’t heard much about the current civil and political unrest happening in Nicaragua. The Central American country has been dealing with nationwide protests for over a month, along with increased police brutality that has caused the deaths of over 100 individuals (some as young as 16 years old) at the hands of the Nicaraguan government, according to Amnesty International. Hundreds more have been injured, arrested, or have gone “missing,” and at this point there’s no end in sight.
Juventud Latinoamericana debe solidarizarse y alzar su voz contra asesinatos de jóvenes y población civil en Nicaragua 🇳🇮 #SOSNicaraga @xiskya @silviojbaez @OEA_parlamentos @JuventudLAC @JDIoficial @sg_sica @OEA_oficial pic.twitter.com/pNx1l3H303
— Claudio Marte González (@ClaudioMarte) June 3, 2018
How Did This All Start?
On April 18th, the Nicaraguan government announced a plan for social security reform that would cut pensions for the elderly and increase taxes on workers who already struggle to make ends meet. Some are citing this as the reason why the protests began, but it appears as though this was more of a “straw that broke the camel’s back” scenario.
“Prior to the changes to social security proposal, things were already heated with the rainforest Indio Maiz burning down over 12,000 acres and the government not accepting aid from Costa Rica. The social security was the icing on the cake,” Alethea Perez, a Nicaraguan-American artist who still has family in Managua, tells HipLatina.
— Tastuanes 🇳🇮 (@nicadispatch) April 23, 2018
Even before then, many Nicaraguans (and individuals with ties to Nicaragua) recognize that President Daniel Ortega’s rule has been incredibly problematic. Once the leader of the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) that overthrew the Somoza family in the late 70s and early 80s, he went on to become president of the war-torn nation for roughly a decade. In 1990, a new president was elected, but Ortega returned to power in 2007, where he has remained since after changing the country’s constitution to end presidential term limits.
Over time, Ortega’s presidency has slowly begun to resemble the dictatorship of Venezuela. In fact, Ortega and former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez were friends (First Lady Rosario Murillo—who, not coincidentally, happens to be Ortega’s wife—even dedicated a memorial to the late dictator. It has since been torn down during the recent protests). The closeness to Venezuela’s government isn’t something that many Nicaraguans looked kindly on.
“The people see what’s happening in Venezuela and that’s not an option for (Nicaragua),” says 33-year-old Gus Chacon, sports media journalist behind Lemon City Sports, whose family returned to their native Nicaragua while he was still a teenager. “While my heart hurts for the young people that have been murdered for standing up for their freedoms, I know that there were no other options.”
Once Nicaraguans heard about the social security reform, they took to the streets to demonstrate their displeasure but were met with violence from Nicaraguan police officers as well as pro-Sandinista groups known as turbanos. Things took a turn for the worse when, just days into the protests, news of protesters being shot and killed began to spread. Among those killed was Nicaraguan journalist, Angel Gahona, who was shot dead while reporting on the protests via Facebook live.
“The people of Nicaragua have every right to hold peaceful protests against repression and censorship. It was not only due to the social security proposal but years of injustice. Even their media was censored and taken off air those are human rights violations,” says Stephanie Lichtenstein, president of MicroMedia Marketing, whose family is also still living in Nicaragua.
“Ortega’s police force brutally attacked protesters including elders…they shot and killed peaceful protester students that did nothing but voice their opinions…It is a complete nightmare. The people of Nicaragua are in a political crisis,” she adds.
Riot police opened fire on anti-government protesters in #Nicaragua. Up to 77 people died in April during a government crackdown on students protesting President Daniel Ortega’s plans to restructure the social security system. #SOSNicaraga pic.twitter.com/bnijAe9ov6
— Anonymous🐾🐈⬛🍵☕ (@YourAnonRiots) May 29, 2018
What’s Happening Now
Since April 18th, there doesn’t appear to be a single day without civil unrest. Protests have led to clashes with police as well as incidents of looting. Ortega wound up going back on his social security reform plan, likely in the hopes that the protests would end. But with the Sandinista response to the protests, the censoring of the media, and the murders and incarceration of protesters, Nicaraguan citizens don’t seem likely to back down until Ortega and Murillo both step down and allow for new elections.
“The people have been pushed past their limit and are there are no signs that they will accept anything less than Ortega’s and administration’s departure,” says Chacon.
“The general consensus from family down there is it’s gonna get ugly before it gets any better…They want Ortega gone,” adds Perez.
Came to Nicaragua to visit my mom. She’s in delicate health. Had surgery yesterday. Pls pray for her. Always struck by this country’s beauty. Sad to see continued killing spree by Ortega thugs. Daily, Nicaraguans wake-up to horrible headlines of more assassinations. #SOSNicaragua pic.twitter.com/gXP9JkxAcF
— Ana Navarro-Cárdenas (@ananavarro) June 3, 2018
All across social media, you can see footage of the atrocities being committed in the name of the FSLN and Ortega-Murillo. Civilians and journalists have captured video after video of clashes between protesters and turbos, and of civilians being shot at by Nicaraguan police officers, drive-by style. At the recent Madres de Abril protest, a massive event held this past Mother’s Day in honor of all the mothers who have lost their sons during this period of unrest at the hands of Ortega’s police force. There are reports of multiple wounded at the event after being shot by police.
“I hope that Ortega and his wife step down from office and there is peace restored in our country. In order to do this, they need to clean up all the institutions from corruption including the electoral system. The people of Nicaragua deserve justice, liberty, democracy and of course their human rights,” says Lichtenstein. She’s been tweeting regularly about the events in Nicaragua and has tweeted about a number of fundraising efforts to help Nicaraguan protesters, including one for Hospital Vivian Pellas, one of the few hospitals currently allowed to care for injured protesters.
✊🏼 Massive march today in Nicaragua.
They protest against Ortega dictatorship and demand peace, democracy and justice. pic.twitter.com/jjmkZWgZOW
— Xavi Ruiz (@xruiztru) May 31, 2018
At this point, there’s no end in sight for the unrest in Nicaragua. Calls to an end to the violence against protesters have been made by the UN, Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, even the Vatican. For now, all anyone can hope for is that Ortega-Murillo’s government finally cease attacking protesters, and that dialogue between opposing parties can finally bring some peace to the nation.