A group of people protest on Wednesday, May 16, 2018, when the National Dialogue begins at the Fatima Seminary in Managua (Nicaragua). EFE / Welcome Velasco.
A group of people protests on Wednesday, May 16, 2018, when the National Dialogue began at the Fatima Seminary in Managua (Nicaragua). EFE / Welcome Velasco.

Unrest in Nicaragua: A brief explanation

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"Another hot iron broke in Nicaragua," says Silvio Rodríguez’s song after the triumph of the Sandinista Revolution of 1979, which forced the then dictator Anastasio Somoza Debayle to resign as leader of the government.

This phrase has a new meaning today.

Nicaragua has been experiencing a new wave of violence in its streets for several weeks, fueled by the reform promoted by the current government of Daniel Ortega that includes an increase in individual contributions to the pension system.

As reported by the Human Rights Organization, the death toll so far is more than 60 people, and at this point, the protest goes far beyond a simple pension reform.

The failure of a revolution

Daniel Ortega has been leading Nicaragua since January 10, 2007, and assumed power during the boom of the so-called Bolivarian Revolution promoted by Hugo Chávez in Venezuela.

Having been one of the most important leaders of the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), he was head of state between 1979 and 1990, when the FSLN lost the elections to the National Opposition Union that brought Violeta Barrios de Chamorro to the presidency, which has been considered as the first democratic episode in the contemporary history of the country.

Thanks to the so-called "new Electoral Law" of 2000, the candidates could win with 40 percent of the vote, which gave the advantage to the Sandinista leader again, despite the strong rejection of the population.

Ortega returned to power in 2007, being reelected in 2011 and 2016, but his term has been tainted by corruption, economic dependence on Venezuela, and strong repression.

From the beginning, Ortega pleaded to agreements with Cuba and Venezuela, detonating an internal political crisis that opted for the formation of the "Block Against the Dictatorship", which sought to "counteract" some of his measures.

In spite of this, Ortega managed to close independent media and tighten his fist in increasingly authoritarian measures, announcing from the beginning his intentions to remain in power.

As of 2010, Nicaragua was the victim of a significant reduction in exports, a freeze on international aid and a reduction in remittances. Ortega would be accused by several Human Rights organizations of "financing mobs of young people from poor neighborhoods to repress the demonstrations of the opposition," as explained by the political analysis portal Latinoamérica Libre (in Spanish).

Denunciations of fraud in the elections, the freezing of public powers and the constant arrogance of the president transformed what remained of the Sandinista Revolution into a return to a dictatorship very similar to Somoza's.

The people got tired

On April 16, 2018, the new reform of the pension system, administered by the Nicaraguan Institute of Social Security (INSS), was signed and published two days later. A wave of protests and demonstrations broke out on the street.

According to El Observador, the measures were "extremely important to ensure confidence, stability, and well-being," said the vice president/first lady, Rosario Murillo.

But the reality is that, in a country heavily hit by poverty and economic backwardness (the deficit of 2017 closed at $76 million), an increase from 19 percent to 21 percent in the contribution of each individual to the state from his pension was simply untenable.

During the following days, students from the National Agrarian University (UNA) and the University of Engineering (UNI) went out to protest, facing strong repression by the police.

After the first protester killed, the Higher Council of Private Enterprise (Cosep) joined the student complaints, asking the Government "to respect the constitutional right to protest and not to suppress the demonstrations," as reported by Diario de las Américas.

The Cosep broke ranks with the government for the effect that its new measures would have on the already beaten economy of the country, and finally, Ortega agreed to dialogue, revoking the reform on April 22.

But the damage was done, and the Nicaraguan people no longer demanded only respect, but a new government and a return to democracy.

Among sackings, mass marches and the first protesters disappearing in the hands of government forces, the country falls into an acute social and political crisis, which is currently trying to resolve itself in a dialogue between the government, civil society and the private sector, whose first meeting was held Wednesday at the Seminario Nacional Nuestra Señora de Fátima in Managua.

Ortega and his wife were booed when they arrived, and the people are asking for his resignation.


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