Nicaragua is living a series of riots and protests that have shaken Daniel Ortega’s government, and caused the US government employees based in the country to fly back as requested by the State Department, but is it really a new Nicaraguan revolution?
To understand these riots, we first need to understand part of Nicaragua’s contemporary history and the previous Nicaraguan revolution. Starting with Daniel Ortega, current President and often called “dictator”; he has been in charge since 2007, but before that, he ruled the country from 1985 to 1990.
Ortega is a controversial man for being a member of the FSLN (Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional, which is a socialist political party that did fight for gender equality and general healthcare, but committed several human rights abuses and mass executions), while the Sandinistas governed Nicaragua with Ortega, the US supported a local militia called the Contras, they were meant to take down the Nicaragua government.
The FSLN fought hard against the Contras, but they lost the electoral battle in 1990. Ortega came back to power 17 years later, and since then, he has been pointed as an authoritarian ruler for co-opting all the government branches, personalizing Nicaragua’s institutions and security forces, and forcing his re-election through a sham electoral system.
Ortega’s government, following a Marxist-Leninist ideology, once had the support of the working classes and progressive social movements, but he wasn’t very popular among the business elite and the US leaders.
At the moment, it’s been said that Ortega has lost support from Nicaraguans that once supported him, a big student’s movement and even Sandinists. They say he has lost his roots and forgotten about where he came from, and the critics accuse him and his wife, who is now Vice-President of the country, of establishing a family dictatorship, so the nickname “Nicaragua dictator” may be accurate after all.
Nicaragua Protests: How Did They Start?
Keeping in mind that Ortega’s popularity is not at its peak, that in 2014 he approved a constitutional amendment that abolished presidency term limits, allowing him to run for an unlimited number of five-years term, that he stills carries with the stigma of being accused by his stepdaughter of sexual abuse, and that there are still Contra rebels against him, it seems clearer why Nicaragua is not pleased with his ruling.
The most recent riots started on April 18th, when demonstrators marched in the country’s capital, Managua, protesting for what they considered an insufficient response from the government regarding terrible forest fires that were affecting indigenous people; as well as against the new Nicaraguan Social Security reforms.
These reforms cut benefits by 5% and raised income and payroll taxes, it basically increases contributions for workers and employers, but lowers overall benefits, and of course, the private sector workers weren’t happy with the measures and went to the streets to demand a change.
Soon, protests became violent, causing the death of 26 people, including a journalist. Riots spread and dozens of shopping establishments were looted.
Ortega’s response took 3 days to arrive, he declared that protesters were being manipulated by gangs and other political interests, but he was willing to negotiate the reforms. However, police brutality did not stop, and the number of killed protesters, detained citizens and newspapers censored increased; in consequence, riots got worst.
So, Is a Nicaraguan Revolution on its Way?
Probably not as the one we saw back in the 80’s, but Ortega’s decision to take back the reforms did not calm the protesters, and that is because deep down, the riots were not only caused by the reforms, Nicaraguans have spent the last 10 years with the same ruler and are probably facing another 5.
The Catholic Church has agreed to serve as a mediator in this conflict, but students that joined the riots do not want to negotiate anything, they are destroying socialist symbols around the country because they want to send a message: no more dictators.
So far, 42 people have died for this situation, and even though Ortega backed his measures and the Head of the National Police resigned after strong criticism, it is unacceptable that an Army has to face unarmed civilians demanding justice.
Nicaragua’s protest seem very similar to the ones that Venezuela has been facing over the past 4 years, both nations have Presidents accused of dictatorship and whether they actually qualify for the term or not, we need to understand that eternal re-election is not democracy, and the excuse of “the people been manipulated by imperialist interests” is getting old.