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.
Situation remained tense as govt threats and attacks on political opponents and churches continued, and domestic and international pressure on govt mounted, including new U.S. sanctions. Govt nevertheless released 91 political prisoners 30 Dec and moved them to house arrest following mediation efforts by papal nuncio Waldemar Sommertag; according to local human rights bodies, a further 65 remain in prison. Domestically, opposition organisations Civic Alliance and Blue and White National Unity worked to create more cohesive front, 12 Dec presenting joint proposal for electoral reforms. At least 70 civil society organisations 10 Dec denounced systematic violation of human rights. President Ortega’s brother Humberto 11 Dec released letter directed to his brother calling for release of all political prisoners before Christmas. Ortega’s international isolation increased; U.S. 12 Dec imposed another round of sanctions, targeting another of Ortega’s sons and three Nicaraguan entities including DNP Petronic, national fuel provider managed by Ortega’s family; Legislative Assembly 14 Dec approved its nationalisation. Russia meanwhile thanked Nicaraguan govt 12 Dec for its support in UN. Legislative Assembly 10 Dec approved 2020 budget, foreseeing just $22.5 million in aid from five countries, compared to $386.4 million from 21 countries when Ortega returned to power in 2007. Govt maintained domestic repression. Police 3 Dec gave awards to officers who participated in raid which left five people dead, including two officers and three civilians allegedly involved in 2018 protests. Catholic church 8 Dec denounced police detention for twelve hours of priest accused of disrupting public order. Permanent Commission on Human Rights (CPDH) 10 Dec said it had received around 3,000 complaints regarding allegedly state-sponsored human rights violations. Police 12 Dec charged on opponents and journalists attending presentation of opposition’s electoral reform plan in Managua, reportedly wounding at least six.
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.