Peace is not returning to Nicaragua. The greatest unrest since the 1979 revolution was unleashed by pension reforms put forward by authoritarian president Daniel Ortega. Originally devised with the intention to improve the state’s ailing public finances, the scheme has pushed the Central American country over the edge. After many years of simmering tensions under the shadow of allegations of electoral fraud, the erosion of democracy, arbitrary expropriation of farmers, as well as mass lay-offs in the public sector, the people reached their boiling point. In April 2018, thousands of Nicaraguans took their protest to the streets of the capital of Managua. The originally peaceful demonstration, however, was violently broken up by security forces, with a number of civilians losing their lives.
This harsh response by the government sparked a chain of protest across the country – this time directed at Ortega himself. In the weeks that followed, mass protests, roadblocks, and strikes broke out in many locations, some of which were dispersed by security forces and paramilitary groups in brutal street battles – often with fatal outcomes for civilians.
In August, the government finally succeeded in clearing the remaining barricades and thereby in pushing back the protest movement. However, the situation has not abated: Ortega is now attempting to stifle any renewed flare-up of the protests with an iron fist. Security forces and paramilitary groups are now reported to be patrolling the streets, forcing their way into homes and arbitrarily arresting people. In its August report, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights accused the Nicaraguan leadership of a “disproportionate use of force” as manifested in serious human rights abuses against critics of the government: extrajudicial killings, “enforced disappearances,” widespread arbitrary detentions, torture, and ill-treatment have all been documented.
Nevertheless, demonstrations are still taking place to this day. However, the protest movement’s strength seems to be gradually fading in the face of this brutal repression. Persecution is already driving thousands of demonstrators and opponents of the government underground or out of the country entirely, forcing them to give up their work or studies and leave their families behind. More and more this is having a demoralizing effect on the movement, as a result of which some analysts expect Ortega will hold on to power for the time being.
However, the consequences of this turmoil are already devastating. With the economy on its knees, poverty continues to spread. The critical security situation combined with an infrastructure paralyzed by protests has led to serious shortages of basic supplies. Along with a lack of food and hygiene products, this means limited access to medication and hospitals. These factors, in conjunction with the bitter disillusionment that many Nicaraguans feel after having believed the country past such civil-war-like conditions, lay the groundwork for a continuingly tense situation. Thus, in the long run, the population’s frustration might increase again to the point that renewed protests with violent clashes might result, dragging the country further down a dark path of violence and unrest.
In view of the situation described above, into which even uninvolved parties can easily be drawn, as well as the generally high level of criminal activity, the security risk in Nicaragua is currently very high.