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.
Judicial moves sent chilling message to opposition and media. In capital Managua, judge 3 Sept issued arrest warrant for three relatives of opposition platform Civic Alliance leader Juan Sebastián Chamorro over alleged tax arrears; judge 11 Sept ordered seizure of independent broadcaster Canal 12’s assets as part of tax arrears case. President Ortega 15 Sept said he would seek to impose life sentences on those convicted of hate crimes; comment followed 12 Sept killing of two girls in Mulukukú municipality, North Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region, but some in opposition including ex-vice minister José Pallais interpreted it as threat to opposition representatives; govt 17 Sept began gathering signatures to ask Supreme Court of Justice and National Assembly to introduce tougher sentencing guidelines. Police 25 Sept raided headquarters of feminist organisation María Elena Cuadra in Managua. Govt-controlled National Assembly 22 Sept started discussing bill that would increase scrutiny of citizens and organisations receiving foreign funds – dubbed as “foreign agents” – and ban them from participating in politics. Opposition same day strongly objected to proposal. International actors expressed concern over intensifying state repression. Inter-American Commission on Human Rights 10 Sept reported 45 govt opponents arrested by police since early Aug. UN Human Rights Chief Michelle Bachelet 14 Sept denounced persistent attacks against opposition and press, while U.S. Sec State Mike Pompeo next day accused Ortega of “doubling down on repression” and becoming “a dictator”. NGO Amnesty International 30 Sept said govt was “preparing for a new phase of repression” in light of new draft laws that “attempt to silence those who criticise government policies”.
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.