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The government crackdown on protests continues to intensify in Nicaragua as roughly 450 demonstrators have been killed with thousands more injured as of August 2, 2018 as reported by the Human Rights Watch. President Daniel Ortega has carried out a bloodbath since April against protests of his social security reforms, which increased taxes and decreased benefits. In support of the Nicaraguan government are pro-Ortega paramilitaries that have carried out many attacks against peaceful protestors demanding early elections to espouse the president. In addition to the outright violence, the paramilitaries have also kidnapped dissidents of Ortega and brutally tortured them. Although the government denies allegations of supporting the paramilitaries violence, their actions would be impossible without Ortega’s support. The 2018 protests have been the largest civil conflict in Nicaragua since the Nicaraguan Revolution. Despite international and domestic pressure, Ortega refuses to allow early elections and continues to repress anti-government protests with extreme violence.
President Ortega suggests that there is no sense in early elections because the opposition will not beat him if it put up to a vote he says, “There is no sense in an early election.” Although multiple human rights organizations have condemned the actions of the government, Ortega denies allegations of human rights violations and denounces the credibility of the organizations. “Human rights organizations are politicized, have a systematic policy against the government and push people to file complaints. They invent anything.” The United States has a long and unique history with Nicaragua. In the 1980’s, the Reagan administration supported the anti-government ‘Contras’ and now strongly condemn the Ortega government, who has been president since 2006. The White House said in a statement, “The United States strongly condemns the ongoing violence in Nicaragua and human rights abuses committed by the Ortega regime in response to protests.” Additionally, according to Reuters, the US has placed sanctions on top Nicaraguan officials and has taken back vehicles donated to the national police, which have been used to repress protestors. The US views the protests as demands for democratic reform following years of illegitimate elections and consistent repression over free speech. The White House says the above of sanctions are, “[a] start, not an end, of potential sanctions.”
The US condemnations are a good start, but not nearly enough to decrease the violence on the Nicaraguan protestors. The Nicaraguan government perhaps can more easily be coerced into ceasing violence against citizens, but the bigger concern are the aggressive paramilitaries that are acting outside of the law with no consequences for their heinous actions. As the government begins to increasingly face sanctions and condemnations from other nations and international organizations, they will continue to deny the allegations of supporting the paramilitaries to be able to keep the pressure on protesting citizens with less consequence. The US must work with other Latin American countries and the UN to ensure the safety of those seeking refuge as well as a crackdown on the paramilitaries. The UN must take a more aggressive role against Ortega to help decrease further casualties.
This year’s protests started in April and have led to thousands of injured demonstrators and hundreds of dead. Nicaragua has faced instability since the 1979 revolution, with on and off anti-government protests from the citizenry. Most recently, demonstrators have protested increased taxes with lowered social benefits, which can be life threatening in a country stricken with poverty. It is uncertain how long the protests can continue at the current rate of violence from the government, but consistent support internationally will likely give protestors hope to remain steadfast in their quest for legitimate democracy.
Nicaragua faces a delicate time in their short history as a democracy. The 2018 protests echo the course of action that occurred in Venezuela recently, and it is very possible that Nicaragua and other unstable Latin American countries could collapse in a similar way. Without proper international support, it is guaranteed that the Ortega government will continue the bloodbath against demonstrators.