Nicaragua has been experiencing a wave of protests since April, and the resulting death toll has grown to over 270. Most recently, ten people were shot and killed by Nicaraguan police after setting up roadblocks in opposition to President Daniel Ortega’s regime. Days prior to this attack, there was a violent standoff at a Catholic church, as over 200 student protesters took refuge inside. It was reported that the students were under fire for 12 hours, and two were killed. Government forces, under President Ortega, have been forcefully repressing these protests. This repression and escalation in violence has only resulted in further calls for Ortega’s removal. The people of Nicaragua are currently living in fear of opposing their government, which has fallen out of their favor.
President Daniel Ortega came into power in 1979, after serving as a guerilla leader in the Sandinista revolution against Nicaragua’s dictator at the time. Ortega was instated as a member of the junta which ruled after the dictator was overthrown. In 1984 Ortega was elected president, a role which he held until he lost reelection in 1990. In 2006 Ortega was once again elected president. He has subsequently been elected three more times after he passed an amendment which abolished term limits for the presidency. His long time in office has allowed him to consolidate power. Ortega’s wife currently serves as the Nicaragua’s vice-president, and his children hold important business positions in the nation. He has also gained control of various government branches as well as large part of the media.
Recently, Ortega’s government has experienced a divide with the Catholic church. In the earlier years of Ortega’s regime, the government enjoyed positive relations with the Catholic church. The Church occupies an important part in Nicaraguan society, and Ortega has supported Catholic bishops and also continued the nation’s ban on abortions. However, the Church turned away from Ortega’s regime in light of its human rights violations. The violent crackdown on opposition has led the Church to side with the people against the oppressive government measures. This loss of the Church’s support has contributed to Ortega’s unstable position and his fall from favor.
The protesting against Ortega’s government began in April, after the government announced its plan for social security reform. The reforms would increase the cost burden on workers, thus sparking outrage from the people. The people began protesting in the streets throughout the country. Along with the Church, Ortega previously maintained good relations with major businesses, but the social security announcement damaged these as well. Businesses were angry that they were not consulted regarding this decision, so they have sided with the protesting workers. The protesters demand that Ortega and his wife resign, or that elections are held early and fairly. Ortega has had armed forces try to suppress the protesters, resulting in the high number of deaths.
Ortega’s efforts at repression have only served to further stir up protesters. The people are angry about reported corruption of the regime, and about their violent treatment. Nicaragua is home to some major drug cartels, and many believe that President Ortega supports the groups. His practice of naming close family and friends, namely his wife, to important positions has inspired cries against nepotism. Ortega is further in trouble due to the varied allegiance of his military and police. At the start of the protests in April, some police officers refused to harshly suppress protesters and thus were arrested. It was reported that the police commissioner subsequently resigned. Despite this resistance, the people of Nicaragua still live in fear of opposing the government. One student who was involved in the recent standoff at the church opted not to give his name to a USA Today reporter, as he feared the consequences. However, this fear has not been enough to stop protesters, who continue their calls for change.
In the face of calls for his removal, Ortega still does not show signs that he will step down. He has celebrated his coming to power this week on the anniversary of the 1979 revolution. He spoke at a rally in which he praised his own government and criticized the Catholic church. In addition, he posed his own government as the force for peace, and the protesters as aggressive terrorists. Leading up to this celebration, President Ortega’s forces had been cracking down on protests especially near the site the celebration was held. Roadblocks and demonstrations had to be eliminated in order to clear the way for the celebration to be held without any impediments. Despite Ortega’s calls for peace, his forces continue to implement violence.
It seems that the only way to achieve the peace that Ortega himself champions is for him to step down. Either he must resign, or he must allow early and unfettered elections so that the people can freely choose their own leader. The violence must come to an end to prevent the death toll from growing any higher, and to do this Ortega must give in to the people’s demands. Calls for democratic principles to be followed reflect the Nicaraguans’ current oppression and desire to bring about a change in leadership. Ortega has been called a dictator, and no people should be subject to the whims of one person’s total power. Therefore, to ensure that the people of Nicaragua get the rights and freedoms they deserve, Ortega must step down.
The support of other nations will be valuable for furthering the peoples’ agenda. The United States has expressed its disapproval of Ortega’s violent measures and its support for the elections that the people are calling for. The US has also placed visa restrictions on those “responsible for human rights violations or undermining democracy in Nicaragua,” according to USA Today. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has been investigating the violations that have occurred in Nicaragua, and using its findings to encourage other nations to pressure Ortega’s regime for change. These efforts are helpful in demonstrating to Ortega the need for him to give in to the people’s demands. Hopefully he will realize that there is only one path to peace, and that path does not consist of him remaining in power. Nicaraguans are fighting hard and refusing to relinquish their visions of democracy, and Ortega must resign in order to make this vision of peace and freedom a Nicaraguan reality.