What’s Happening in Nicaragua Right Now
A couple weeks ago, I began hearing rumblings of problems in Nicaragua ~ on Instagram, of all places. “Pray for Nicaragua” posts were going up, & sobering accounts of violence occurring at the hands of the government. But oddly, I could find nothing about this in the newspaper, & the nightly news seemed stuck in its perpetual cycle of: “Trump-Comey-Clinton-FBI scandal-Stormy Daniels-blah-blah-blah.” Same old shit, ad nauseam. Perhaps because I’ve traveled there extensively, it was harder for me to ignore these rumblings of unrest. I longed to know: what’s happening in Nicaragua right now, in 2018?
So I reached out to some friends I made during my time in Nicaragua. I wanted to hear what was actually happening in Nicaragua from them ~ without the filter of a potentially biased press. Unfortunately, they confirmed much of what I was slowly gathering from news sources like “The Guardian,” & “La Prensa,” one of Nicaragua’s major papers. Their bottom line: Nicaragua is in the midst of an enormous civil revolt, protesting a government they feel has become increasingly corrupt & authoritarian.
What’s Happening in Nicaragua Right Now
“My land Nicaragua is still in mourning. All for a government that does not know how to listen. Nicaragua is crying tears of blood, seeing how they prefer to kill and do not want to take the time to change. But that same pain gives birth to a force that no person can pacify. Higher our painful song grows and there will not be a corner of the world that can ignore us. Because the truth can never be silenced. Because where they drop a flower, four more will grow.”
Poem by @canon_chiick
Here’s how the conflict started: on April 16th, 2018, Ortega announced that he’d be cutting 5% from due pensions, while simultaneously raising taxes. In short: the money had run dry. That set off a chain of protests across the nation, many student-led. But my question ~ was a 5% pension cut enough to send a mostly peaceful country into all-out civil unrest? That seemed an extreme response. What else was going on here?
My friend Alejandro Perez, who is a tour guide in Granada, helped fill in some gaps for me. In his words:
“Well basically, Daniel Ortega has depleted the social security system, & wants to charge the pensioned, retired Nicaraguans to try & make up for the money [he has] abused of.” When retirees began protesting these cuts, Alex says, factions from the Sandinista party (Ortega’s party) began attacking them. It was then that students interceded, trying to protect their elders.
“Now, the population has revolted,” Alex continues, “because the government is disrespecting [& brutalizing] the very people who made the country what it is today.” The student’s point of view: ‘If they will [cheat] our elders, they will eventually do that to us as well.’
What’s Happening in Nicaragua Right Now?
To date, 148 people have been killed due to the conflicts, many of them students. The population at large, is placing these deaths at the hands of Ortega & his military, in a desperate, last-ditch attempt to remain in power. But many say, this merely displays what has turned into, over the years, an increasingly authoritarian regime.
Oretga’s response to the killings? That they were being carried out by “criminals,” not members of his government or military.
Things came to even more of a head in Nicaragua when a journalist, named Angel Gahona, was shot & killed while live-streaming, during a protest against Ortega. Covering the protests in his home of Bluefields, along Nicaragua’s Carribean coast, Gahona literally broadcast his own death on Facebook. The government detained & blamed two young men for the shooting; but most believe that this was yet another government-sponsored killing. Gahona had long covered the “dangerous” topic of government corruption, & many people in his community believe he was silenced deliberately.
Gahona’s case may still be unsolved, but if his shooting was an attempt to snuff out dissent, his father is convinced that it has failed.
“They wanted to silence Ángel’s voice,” he said. “But they only made it spread.”
Mother’s Day Protest in Nicaragua
On Mother’s Day in 2018, a protest referred to as the “Mother of All Marches,” was led by Nicaraguan mothers who have lost children to the violence of these conflicts. But what initially started as a peaceful protest turned into bloodshed & violence, after armed, pro-Ortega factions open-fired on protesters. With (a reported) 11 people killed, & 79 more wounded due, the Church, who had been trying to assist in peace talks, ended their efforts to work things out with Ortega’s government.
Pope Francis has said, from the Vatican, that he is “very worried” about the situation in Nicaragua, & is calling for an end to all violence.
“We feel oppressed and disrespected by a government that talks about peace but does nothing but promote violence. We don’t want any more dead ~ our mothers suffer when we leave our homes because they are not sure we will return.”
– Carlos Alfredo Portobanco, a 26-year old Nicaraguan student
What Others are Saying About the Conflict
Prior to the latest eruption of violence in Nicaragua, Amnesty International had just released a report accusing Nicaragua’s government of concocting a deliberate campaign of often deadly repression, meant to quash all opponents, as well as the revolt against them.
“The Nicaraguan authorities have turned on their own people in a vicious, sustained, and frequently lethal assault. [And] the brave people of Nicaragua have shown that they will not be silenced.”
– Amnesty’s Americas director, Erika Guevara-Rosas
Guevara-Ross further claims that Ortega’s government has “shamelessly tried to cover up these atrocities,” showing “contempt for those who dare to stand up to them.”
The richest man in Nicaragua, & its first ever billionaire, Carlos Pellas, added his voice to the growing anti-Ortega chorus by calling for early presidential elections, in an attempt to find “an orderly way out” of the crisis.
Is Nicaragua Safe for Travel Right Now?
The short answer: NO. Nicaragua is NOT safe for travel right now, as of June 2018. In the words of my friend Alejandro (Alex), “It’s very dangerous for everyone right now.” Road blocks have been set up all over the country by rebel forces, who are demanding Ortega’s resignation. It is difficult even for Nicaraguans to safely navigate around the country, & it is most definitely NOT the time for foreigners to visit Nicaragua.
“The only solution we have left is to take to the streets, setting up roadblocks to defend ourselves from the Government and the violence of its repressive forces.”
– Rural leader, Francisca Ramirez
Setting up road blocks is one tactic in the protest. But leaving the country is another. Passport lines at many of Nicaragua’s migration offices are endless, as citizens attempt to leave the country & flee from the violence ~ many, to neighboring Costa Rica.
What’s Happening in Nicaragua Right Now?
A nationwide strike was held yesterday, June 14th, to protest the government’s deadly repression. Businesses were shut down, & the streets were eerily silent, from the capital of Managua across the nation. Yet, violence still persisted, as a young, 15-year old altar boy in Leon was shot in the chest by paramilitary forces.
In the wake of this violence, many of Ortega’s own former comrades are turning on him, accusing him of long-time cronyism & corruption.
One of those former comrades is acclaimed Nicaraguan novelist Sergio Ramírez, who also served as Vice President under Ortega from 1985-1990. He has called today’s youthful protesters the “grandchildren of the revolution.” And in an eerie echo of American women, in reaction to the recent spate of powerful men accused of abuses of power, Ramirez says of his once-comrade Ortega: “His time is up.”
“His time is up.”
– Sergio Ramirez, Nicaraguan Novelist & former Vice President, on Daniel Ortega
***If you are from Nicaragua or currently living there, I would love to hear from you & your experience of these recent events in Nicaragua. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or speak of your experience in the comments below.
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