Tensions—and body counts—continue to mount in Nicaragua as protesters demand the resignation of President Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo.
Saturday, June 26, saw at least eight more killed in a slew of violent protests that have led to the deaths of at least 83 people since they began on April 18. Protests which began in response to Ortega’s plan to cut pensions and social security have since erupted as an intersectional and violent criticism of Ortega’s rule, with allegations of corruption and authoritarianism being leveled at the president by a protesting body composed of “university students, pensioners, environmentalists, feminists, religious leaders, black and indigenous activists, journalists, [and] left-wing and right-wing opposition groups,” according to Penn State University professor Courtney Desiree Morris.
Ortega’s response to the protests has done nothing to ease these concerns. In fact, the violent repression instigated by police and Pro-Sandinista gangs fed directly into them, with the state prohibiting live media coverage, firing into the crowds of protesters, and conducting large-scale arrests.
However, this reality of the conflict conveys a much different image than the one painted by Ortega and his administration. According to Telesur, the president claims to “want peace for all Nicaraguan families,” with the Vice President adding that “we’re totally willing and committed to calling for dialogues on every theme in a respectful manner.”
At the same time, Ortega insists that protesters form a minority that is being manipulated by gang members and drug traffickers with their own ulterior motives and ties to opposing right-wing groups. Vice President Murillo’s statement that, according to Morris, describes protesters as “tiny groups that threaten peace and development with selfish, toxic political agendas and interests, full of hate” captures the attitude of an administration that continues to incite outrage among the very people with whom it claims to seek an open dialogue.
Protesters have responded by heightening the ferocity with which they attack and demolish symbols of administrative power, from billboards depicting the president and Sandinista radio stations to town halls and tax collection offices. Their chants reflect their belief that Ortega, through his time in office, has become just as much a tyrant as Anastasio Somoza, the dictator whom Ortega himself helped to overthrow in a violent coup in the ‘70s.
In her article “Ortega On Trial,” Morris backs these claims with evidence, recounting Ortega’s use of party patronage and police force to consolidate power and quash dissent. She further notes that Ortega’s administration has assumed control over “all four branches of government, the military, and the national police force” and has initiated vitriolic campaigns against feminist leaders, independent media, and other groups that do not align with his party’s vision.
The current state in Nicaragua is one of irreconcilable polarity. While Ortega claims to seek peacebuilding and conversation, the state’s actions in the face of the protests have been violent and inflammatory, and have only continued to incite bloodshed and turmoil. While the administration’s supposed stance of peaceful conflict mitigation is admirable on paper, Nicaragua can only truly begin to move toward peace when the state’s actions reflect its positions and it cooperates with protesters to ensure a fair and just government.