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.
Political deadlock persisted while govt continued to harass opposition and U.S. increased pressure on President Ortega over human rights abuses. Papal nuncio Waldemar Sommertag – one facilitator of 2019 dialogue between govt and opposition Civic Alliance to resolve crisis that began 2018 – 3 March ruled out possibility of talks resuming soon, said priority was electoral reforms ahead of Nov 2021 presidential election. Following Feb launch of joint opposition platform “National Coalition”, Francisca Ramírez, peasant (campesino) leader in exile in Costa Rica, 9 March criticised coalition for not adequately representing social and student movements that were crucial to 2018 protests against govt. Harassment of opposition continued; govt supporters 3 March stormed poet and opposition figure Ernesto Cardenal’s funeral service in capital Managua, reportedly clashing with attendees and attacking journalists outside church. Media organisations Confidencial and CONNECTAS 2 March accused security forces, including military, of 30 extrajudicial killings of campesinoOct 2018-Dec 2019; security forces denied accusations. U.S. govt 5 March imposed sanctions on National Police force, including three commissioners, over accusations of human rights abuses; U.S. House of Representatives 9 March passed resolution calling on Ortega’s govt to comply with March 2019 agreements with Civic Alliance, halt repression and implement electoral reforms; resolution also urged U.S. administration and international community to hold Ortega govt accountable for human rights abuses, including through considering additional sanctions, and restrict access to foreign financing until it allows for free and fair elections. UN 10 March said over 100,000 Nicaraguans had sought refuge abroad since crisis started in 2018. Opposition criticised govt for failing to take action against COVID-19. Govt 14 March organised march in Managua in support of those affected.
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].
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.