Crisis in Nicaragua
In a letter blaming President Daniel Ortega for driving the country into a “state of terror,” Nicaraguan Supreme Court justice, Rafael Solís, resigned. According to The New York Times, Justice Solís explained that President Ortega did not follow through on his suggestions to negotiate and was pushing Nicaragua down the same path as the Somoza dictatorship they helped overthrow in the 1970s. “The country is not doing well. What is coming is worse,” he warned. With Nicaragua headed in a downward spiral, the United States has begun to step in. It is clear that something needs to change in Nicaragua, but United States intervention may not be the right option.
President Ortega played an important role in the Nicaraguan Revolution. As maintained by The New Yorker, he led the Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional — the F.S.L.N., translated to the Sandinista National Liberation Front — in overthrowing the Somoza regime. Due to the Sandinistas’ communist ideology and ties to the Soviet Union, the CIA created the Contras, a rebel group that The New Yorker said ultimately “led to the economic devastation of Nicaragua and the collapse of the Sandinistas’ hold on power.” When President Ortega resumed power, he had created connections with powerful people who helped keep Nicaragua going.
Consequently, the catalyst for the latest “state of terror” began when Venezuela’s economy collapsed and reduced aid to Nicaragua, according to an article by The Economist. The Washington Post said that for a long time, “Hundreds of millions of dollars in cheap Venezuelan oil provided by Hugo Chávez’s government padded the budget and boosted social programs.” After losing the influx of oil and subsequently the aid, Nicaragua’s Social Security Institute was running out of money, so President Ortega proposed some reforms to sustain it. However, the plans announced April 2018 included reducing pensions for retired workers and increasing employer and worker contributions to social security.
In response to the controversial idea, protests broke out and police responded with a strategy that Amnesty International described as “shoot to kill.” Hundreds of people died, mainly due to the police and militias. In addition, World Politics Review said that “at least three public hospitals refused to treat people who were gravely injured during the demonstrations” and “tens of thousands of Nicaraguans have fled into exile.” Many protesters who remained in Nicaragua were arrested.
Next, already swarmed with disapproval towards the government, President Ortega was accused of ordering extreme acts to suppress the media. According to Gulf Times, President Ortega blamed “hate-sowing coup-mongers” for the violence — yet reports dispute that statement. Notably, an article by The Daily Beast reported that the Nicaraguan government tortured a detained protester, Dania Valeska Alemán Sandoval, in order to get her on tape confirming the word of the government. The Daily Beast quoted Sandoval: “They brought one of my compañeros and put him on his knees and put an AK47 to his head.” Later, BBC reported that Carlos Fernando Chamorro, a popular Nicaraguan journalist, was threatened by the government and proceeded to flee to Costa Rica. The New York Times claimed that the government also “expelled teams from two branches of the Organization of American States that were investigating allegations of human rights violations” and shut down certain human rights groups and independent media outlets within the country. Nicaraguans are extremely hesitant to let outside groups meddle in their internal affairs due to the devastating intervention by the United States in the past, however, their own government is not doing them any favors.
Even before some of these incidents were uncovered, many Nicaraguans criticized President Ortega and called for moving up the 2021 elections. It became evident last year that Nicaragua was not moving in a good direction. Nicaraguans worried that the country would repeat history and suffer through a civil war, as evident by the resignation letter of Justice Solís. The economy worsened and World Politics Review stated that the country’s GDP decreased by 4 percent in 2018, even though Nicaragua was already one of the poorest countries in Latin America. To top it off, Nicaraguans felt threatened by their government. For example, Havana Times described how “the presence of police in cemeteries all over the country alarmed Nicaraguans who had arrived to leave flowers on the graves of their deceased family members” and ended up witnessing the arrest of Alex Vanegas, “who remains in jail despite a judicial order for his release.” The Global Observatory clarified that a new Nicaraguan anti-terrorism law “is being used to criminalize political dissent.” People in Nicaragua and abroad noticed the need for change.
Due to the situation, Havana Times quoted people from the “first meeting of leaders of Nicaraguan organizations and groups in the world” supporting United States and other countries’ sanctions against violators of human rights in Nicaragua. Later that month, as stated in The Washington Post, the United States imposed sanctions on Nicaragua’s national security advisor and President Ortega’s wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo. Along with the announcement, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said, “Vice President Murillo and her political operators have systematically sought to dismantle democratic institutions and loot the wealth of Nicaragua to consolidate their grip on power.” Two months later, Reuters reported that the national security advisor of the United States, John Bolton, announced sanctions placed on Nicaragua’s petroleum company: “Through sanctioning PdVSA, the United States has also sanctioned Nicaragua’s ALBANISA, the government’s joint venture with PdVSA and slush fund of the corrupt regime of Daniel Ortega.” BBC said that the European Union threatened to place sanctions on Nicaragua as well. From an outside perspective, it may seem like implementing more international sanctions is the responsible course of action. However, Nicaragua’s ‘state of terror’ stemmed from a crashed economy and further sanctions may just contribute to the existing problem.
Despite protesters and international pressure, the Nicaraguan government revealed in late January that they are implementing the reforms, as reported by World Politics Review. According to NPR, President Ortega claimed to have scrapped the idea after the pushback from protesters, but World Politics Review reflected that “His resolve only appears to have strengthened amid the crackdown” from organizations and governments around the globe.
As France 24 pointed out, President Ortega needs to “understand that if he continues down this path, the only thing that will happen is he will bury his party and every possibility that his regime survives politically," explained sociologist Oscar Vargas. President Ortega has put himself at risk of falling from power in the same way as his predecessor. Furthermore, The Global Observatory explained that the issue in Nicaragua started a bigger complication in the region: “Costa Rican authorities recently revealed that more than 20,000 Nicaraguan citizens have applied for asylum in that country, raising alarms about a potential new refugee crisis in Central America.” Over the past year, it has become undeniable that President Ortega and the Nicaraguan government forced their country into a critical period. Although something needs to be done, it is likely that international action will be detrimental. The United States should hesitate to step in, especially given its dark history with intervention in Nicaragua.