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.
President Ortega took further steps to muzzle opposition and free speech ahead of 2021 presidential election. Congress 21 Dec passed law essentially banning opposition candidates from running in presidential election scheduled for Nov 2021; bill gives Ortega unilateral power to declare citizens as “coup plotters” and “terrorists” – labels which he has often used to describe opposition – and ban them from standing for election. Organization of American States and EU immediately condemned move; U.S. Treasury same day sanctioned three public officials – Supreme Court VP, National Assembly deputy and police chief in second largest city León – for their support toward undermining “Nicaragua’s democracy”. Govt 23 Dec confiscated properties of media outlets 100% Noticias and Confidencial and of two NGOs which had been shut down after 2018 protests. Local militia 6 Dec killed member of Mayangna indigenous group in Bosawás natural reserve, Jinotega region (north). Following devastating hurricanes last month, residents in Bilwi town, North Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region (north east), 4 Dec demonstrated against govt, accusing authorities of withholding aid delivery to those who do not identify as sympathisers of ruling Sandinista National Liberation Front. Inter-American Commission on Human Rights 2 Dec reported that govt imprisoned over 1,600 anti-govt demonstrators between April 2018 and May 2020. U.S. 7 Dec extended Temporary Protected Status for Nicaraguan nationals, which allows them to live and work in U.S., until Oct 2021.
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.