Nicaraguan Dissent Threatens To Cause The Next Big Refugee Crisis

Nicaragua, once considered one of Central America’s safest countries, is now seeing a mass exodus as over 4,000 citizens scramble to leave every month. Since its nation-wide revolt in April 2018, over 100,000 have fled Nicaragua, and the number only continues to grow, placing huge burdens on the surrounding countries.

Costa Rica, Nicaragua’s closest neighbour, has received the most Nicaraguan refugees with over 77,000 documented within the country. Others have fled to Panama, Mexico, and even Europe in an attempt to escape the government’s censorship and militaristic violence.

Although these countries have been quick to accommodate Nicaragua’s refugees, their pre-existing populations have shown growing resentment towards the displaced population. Just last August, over 500 people marched in anti-immigrant demonstrations in Costa Rica while waving Costa Rican flags, threatening refugees, and yelling, “Nicaraguans out.”

This threatens to exacerbate the already-enormous number of refugees across the world, from Syria, Rohingya, India, and other countries, thus putting more pressure on countries which are already struggling to deal with refugee populations.

All of this stems from the attempted coup against Nicaraguan President, Daniel Ortega, during early 2018.

During the 1980s, Ortega was a leftist icon thanks to his part in the 1979 Sandinsta Revolution that successfully overthrew the right-wing Somoza administration. However, since his 2006 re-election, critics have accused Ortega of undermining democracy and human rights. Some have even gone so far as to say that he has become the kind of brutal and corrupt tyrant that he once stood up against.

Human Rights Watch has stated that “an enormous concentration of power by the executive has allowed President Daniel Ortega’s government to commit egregious abuses against critics and opponents with complete impunity.”

And in 2018, this concentration of power and its abuse led to huge rebellions across the country. Although the protests originated from disputes about pension reforms, they eventually evolved into a more general anti-government rebellion.

These protestors were met with violent police brutality. In coordination with armed pro-government groups, police arbitrarily arrested, kidnapped, and tortured thousands of Nicaraguans in an attempt to “eradicate the structural conditions that support opposition voices and critics.” Since then, the citizens of Nicaragua have been living in a state of constant censorship, violence, and repression.

Journalists, government critics, and civil society activists have been attacked on the streets. According to Amnesty International, pro-government supporters attacked protestors in Managua during November of last year. The protestors were demonstrating against the government’s corruption and subversion of freedom of expression and as such, the government supporters threw stones at them. In August of the same year, members of a civil society group were attacked after discussing a proposal for alternatives to the government’s existing social and economic policies, which resulted in 30 casualties. A few months later, a 24-year-old member of the same civil society group was attacked by three men who proceeded to break her arm and threatened to kill her and her family if she continued to work for the civil society.

Although violence has been decreasing since the revolt, the rate of punishment has continued to fuel the refugee crisis around the world.

Attacks on civilians, whether committed by the government or by self-professed, pro-government vigilantes only serve to further atomize the country. Cities are split between government and rebel control and danger is around every corner.

And while Ortega’s shadow continues to loom over the country, the oppression and corruption will only continue, and all Nicaraguans can do is try their best to escape.