Three decades from the end of its civil war, Nicaragua was shaken in 2018 by a mass uprising that President Daniel Ortega met with a violent crackdown. Hundreds died and thousands fled the country as security forces broke up mostly peaceful protests, spurred by an unpopular reform to the social security system. Despite Ortega’s major achievements in the fight against crime and economic development, critics accused him of undermining democracy and seeking to establish a dynastic authoritarian regime. Through its fieldwork and advocacy, Crisis Group seeks to contribute to a negotiated exit from the crisis and prevent further bloodshed.
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.
Amid stalled political dialogue and increasing international pressure on govt, President Ortega’s govt continued harassment of anti-govt movements. Ortega 4 Oct claimed govt is gathering evidence of anti-govt protesters’ abuses to possibly present to International Criminal Court, despite Nicaragua not being party to Rome Statute; also said he would not return private TV station seized by police in Dec 2018 to owners, alleging their involvement in “failed coup attempt”. Opposition continued to denounce govt repression; sociologist and opposition activist Elvira Cuadra 8 Oct presented report claiming police and paramilitaries have killed 60 rural residents and political opponents in 2019. Ortega late Sept appeared to secure support of national police and Supreme Court, which on 26 Sept requested National Assembly remove from office former Court magistrate Rafael Solís, who left country in Jan denouncing Ortega’s repression of 2018 protests. International actors increased pressure on govt; Organization of American States high-level commission – which was denied entry to Nicaragua in Sept – met with opposition and exiles in El Salvador 1-3 Oct. Incoming EU foreign policy chief Borrell 7 Oct called Nicaragua’s crisis worse than Venezuela’s and called for sanctions, while EU Foreign Affairs Council 14 Oct adopted framework for targeted sanctions against officials involved in human rights violations; also passed resolution conditioning lifting of sanctions on full implementation of March 2019 agreements between govt and opposition, return of international rights bodies and govt-opposition pact on electoral reforms; Ortega 16 Oct criticised EU for aligning with U.S. and appointing Borrell. Economic deterioration continued.
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.
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.