Three decades from the end of its civil war, Nicaragua was shaken in 2018 by a mass uprising that President Daniel Ortega met with a violent crackdown. Hundreds died and thousands fled the country as security forces broke up mostly peaceful protests, spurred by an unpopular reform to the social security system. Despite Ortega’s major achievements in the fight against crime and economic development, critics accused him of undermining democracy and seeking to establish a dynastic authoritarian regime. Through its fieldwork and advocacy, Crisis Group seeks to contribute to a negotiated exit from the crisis and prevent further bloodshed.
Political repression and economic hardship are pushing Nicaragua toward a low-intensity, protracted conflict. In this excerpt from our Watch List 2019 - Third Update for European policymakers, Crisis Group urges the EU to press for compliance with earlier agreements and a fresh round of negotiations that can help the country out of this deadly standoff.
Govt faced mounting international and domestic pressure to take action against COVID-19, and continued to harass opposition. After business associations 1 April called for cross-party action to tackle virus, head of National Assembly Gustavo Porras next day ruled out possibility of taking strong confinement measures. International agency Pan American Health Organization 7 April expressed concern over govt’s handling of crisis, citing “inadequate” prevention and control. In televised speech 15 April, President Ortega reiterated lockdown would prompt economic collapse. Opposition movements repeatedly called on population to self-quarantine; joint opposition platform National Coalition 19 April condemned govt’s “lack of willingness” to address emergency. Govt repression of opposition continued unabated. Notably, police 19 April reportedly detained at least three people in town of Moyogalpa in south who were peacefully commemorating anniversary of 2018 uprising, prompting residents to capture police officer; next day, police allegedly raided community, freed officer and arrested two other people; police denied sequence of events. After govt 8 April announced release of 1,700 prisoners ahead of Easter celebrations, NGO Amnesty International 16 April called on govt to also release “those detained solely for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly”.
President Daniel Ortega’s government has released almost all political prisoners held since Nicaragua’s April 2018 uprising. It should stay this course, honouring its other commitments to the opposition in national dialogue. International actors should promise consequences if the government drags its feet.
Public resentment is high in Nicaragua after street protests in April were crushed in a brutal government crackdown. To prevent further unrest, President Ortega should implement agreed electoral reforms while international actors maintain diplomatic pressure to create conditions for dialogue.
What we are seeing is a quiet stifling of opposition [in Nicaragua].
As the coronavirus spreads, and the U.S. presidential election looms, the Trump administration and Mexican government continue to deport migrants from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. Some deportees are carrying the virus. Central American states should press their northern neighbours for more stringent health measures.
Watch List Updates complement International Crisis Group’s annual Watch List, most recently published in January 2019. These early-warning publications identify major conflict situations in which prompt action, driven or supported by the European Union and its member states, would generate stronger prospects for peace. The third update to the Watch List 2019 includes entries on Afghanistan, Nicaragua, Sudan and Yemen.