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’s management of COVID-19 crisis continued to come under scrutiny, opposition created united front and govt faced further international pressure to ensure accountability for human rights abuses. Opposition platform Blue and White National Unity 6 June sent letter to UN Sec Gen Guterres requesting special representative be sent to Nicaragua to help with political and public health crises; relatives of political prisoners 11 June said 45 political prisoners suffering from COVID-19 still jailed. NGO Citizen Observatory, whose members include health workers, continued to dispute govt’s account of low number of COVID-19 cases and deaths, counting 1,688 possible deaths against govt-reported 64 as of 17 June. Major opposition parties and civil society organisations 25 June signed agreement creating National Coalition to “fight for justice, democracy and against the dictatorship” ahead of general elections scheduled for next year; signatories include Blue and White National Unity and other opposition platform Civic Alliance, whose hesitancy to sign agreement created internal rifts, with several figures announcing departure 17-25 June. International actors maintained pressure on govt to ensure accountability for human rights violations, including repression of opposition and civil society since 2018 protest movement. U.S. Senate 16 June passed resolution encouraging President Trump’s administration to hold Ortega and allies accountable for human rights violations and to couple pressure with diplomatic efforts; at Organization of American States’ Permanent Council meeting 24 June, Sec Gen Almagro suggested organisation declare rupture of democratic order in country; Switzerland same day imposed sanctions on six high-level officials sanctioned by EU in May in response to ongoing human rights violations and curtailment of democracy and rule of law, and urged authorities to uphold national and international laws on human rights.
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.