Nicaragua Unrest: What You Should Know

More than 170 people have died in Nicaragua since unrest began two months ago. Protesters have taken to the streets demanding President Daniel Ortega and his wife and vice-president, Rosario Murillo, step down.

A framed photograph that shows Rosario Murillo, second from right, the first lady and vice president of Nicaragua, set on fire by protesters, burns during clashes with riot police in the Monimbo district of Masaya [Alfredo Zuniga/AP]
Police and pro-goverment (paramilitaries) have been accused of using “lethal force” to crack down on the protests.

On June 17, the day after a resumption of the National Dialogue where government and civic groups agreed to cease hostilities, remove roadblocks and allow for a foreign inquiry, at least eight people were killed in renewed violence.

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Nicaragua’s President Daniel Ortega speaks at the opening of a national dialogue, in Managua, Nicaragua. the one and only day he attended personally. [Alfredo Zuniga/AP Photo]
Here is what we have so far:

What triggered the protests?

  • Demonstrations began on April 18, when the government introduced plans to cut pensions and social security, including decreasing pension payments by five percent and increasing worker social contributions by 0.75 percent. The change also increased employer contributions by 3.5 percent.
  • Sandinista Youth, a group aligned with Daniel Ortega’s Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), launched counterprotests in support of the reforms.
  • The government cracked down on the protests, and several people were killed, including journalist Angel Gahona, who was shot dead while reporting on the protests live on Facebook.
  • The first fatalities were reported on Thursday, April 19 when two civilians and a police officer were killed in clashes. The same day, a number of television outlets were reportedly taken off the air.

People carry a banner that reads in Spanish, ‘The future of a country is its children. The future is students. Stop killing them’ during a protest at the Jean Paul Genie roundabout against the government of President Daniel Ortega, in Managua [Alfredo Zuniga/AP]
“These are acts of repression and unexplainable censorship by the government, the government has been very secretive in releasing information to the public, but this censorship is at a new level,” Miguel Mora, director of 100% Noticias.

Ortega scraps pension cuts

  • The government maintained that the Nicaraguan Social Security Institute (INSS) was very close to insolvency and that if changes were not made, it would end without liquid assets by 2019.
  • Ortega, the last of the Latin American revolutionaries still in office, called for renewed dialogue with the private sector over the social security reform and welcomed modifications to implement the reforms “in a better way”.
  • But in a televised meeting, aired on April 22, President Ortega scraped the controversial reforms. In the meeting, Ortega denounced protesters for acting like “gangs killing each other”.
  • “We must re-establish order, we will not allow chaos, crime and looting to reign,” he said.

A demonstrator fires a homemade mortar towards the riot police during a protest against Nicaragua’s President Daniel Ortega’s government in Managua, Nicaragua [Reuters]

Demands for Ortega’s resignation

  • Due to the heavy-handed tactics used by the government to curb the demonstrations, tens of thousands of people continued to protest, demanding Ortega’s resignation.
  • “We are fighting not only for the INSS, we are fighting for all those years of pillaging of the people by the Sandinista regime,” an engineering student in Managua who identified himself as Cristofer told AFP news agency during the protests.
  • Ortega’s government has faced condemnation in recent years over plans to build an inter-oceanic canal, for hobbling political rivals, and consolidating power when his wife, Rosario Murillo, was elected vice president in 2016.
  • Ortega has been elected three consecutive times since 2007 after serving a first presidential term in the 1980s.

Anti-government protesters arrive by caravan from the capital to show solidarity with the town of Masaya, Nicaragua [Alfredo Zuniga/AP]

Reactions

  • The UN has called for access to investigate the deaths and has accused the government of using excessive force.
  • On May 29, Amnesty International released a report accusing the government of working with pro-government armed groups to suppress the protests. It also said authorities “adopted a strategy of repression, characterised by excessive use of force and extrajudicial executions”.
  • Nicaragua’s Catholic church was serving as a mediator between the government and the protesters, calling for a reduction of hostilities and dialogue and issuing an ultimatum to the government to push for international oversight. Talks between the government and opposition broke down in mid-May
  • On May 31, the church issued a statement saying it would not resume talks while the Nicaraguan people “continue to be repressed and murdered”.
  • On June 15, Ortega and civic leaders agreed to cease hostilities, remove roadblocks and allow for a foreign inquiry into the country’s bloodiest confrontations since a civil war ended in 1990. Despite the apparent truce, violence broke out a day later and at least eight people were killed. Both sides resumed talks, however, to address the Catholic Church’s proposal to anticipate general elections and implement political reforms.
  • Nicaragua’s main business lobby urged President Daniel Ortega to hold early elections to steer the country out of weeks of destabilising protests.
  • The Organization of American States and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights have also said they would investigate the unrest.
  • Ortega told supporters that Nicaragua “is not private property” in response to the demand, according to local newspaper La Prensa.
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