Political repression and economic hardship are pushing Nicaragua toward a low-intensity, protracted conflict. In this excerpt from our Watch List 2019 - Third Update for European policymakers, Crisis Group urges the EU to press for compliance with earlier agreements and a fresh round of negotiations that can help the country out of this deadly standoff.
Attacks on opposition, press and clergy increased, while internal divisions continued to plague opposition platform National Coalition. Media association and civil society group Violeta Barrio de Chamorro Foundation 7 Aug reported 30 attacks on press in July and identified police as main perpetrator, while police 15 Aug temporarily detained eight members of opposition Blue and White National Unity (UNAB)’s political council in Estelí city, Estelí department (north). At least five churches late-July to early-Aug denounced acts of vandalism, thefts and assaults; notably, Episcopal Conference 1 Aug condemned assailants who previous day set chapel of capital Managua cathedral ablaze. After National Coalition member Constitutionalist Liberal Party (PLC) 6 Aug sent letter to Organization of American States Sec Gen Almagro demanding joint control of Supreme Electoral Council with ruling Sandinista National Liberation Front Party, major coalition members UNAB and Civic Alliance 11 Aug suspended their participation in coalition’s working committees; U.S. State Department same day called for unity in virtual meeting with UNAB, Civic Alliance and campesino (peasant) movement; Civic Alliance official 25 Aug accused campesino movement of allying with PLC to control coalition. Amid COVID-19 pandemic, concerns grew over incidents at southern border with Costa Rica, with reports of Nicaraguans attempting to return home through illegal crossings after govt mid-July introduced stricter conditions for entering country. Govt continued to receive criticism for reportedly downplaying and mismanaging COVID-19 crisis, with NGO Citizens’ Observatory reporting death toll 20 times higher than officially admitted as of 19 Aug.
President Daniel Ortega’s government has released almost all political prisoners held since Nicaragua’s April 2018 uprising. It should stay this course, honouring its other commitments to the opposition in national dialogue. International actors should promise consequences if the government drags its feet.
Public resentment is high in Nicaragua after street protests in April were crushed in a brutal government crackdown. To prevent further unrest, President Ortega should implement agreed electoral reforms while international actors maintain diplomatic pressure to create conditions for dialogue.
What we are seeing is a quiet stifling of opposition [in Nicaragua].
As the coronavirus spreads, and the U.S. presidential election looms, the Trump administration and Mexican government continue to deport migrants from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. Some deportees are carrying the virus. Central American states should press their northern neighbours for more stringent health measures.
Watch List Updates complement International Crisis Group’s annual Watch List, most recently published in January 2019. These early-warning publications identify major conflict situations in which prompt action, driven or supported by the European Union and its member states, would generate stronger prospects for peace. The third update to the Watch List 2019 includes entries on Afghanistan, Nicaragua, Sudan and Yemen.