The situation in Nicaragua has been steadily worsening since protests started on April 18, 2018, when people took to the streets to march against President Daniel Ortega’s efforts to overhaul the social security system by increasing tax burdens and decreasing pension benefits. The government responded to the protest with brutal repression, deploying paramilitary forces to assault students and elderly citizens marching for their rights. Cellphone videos and photos of the government attack went viral, sparking large protests against the corrupt and repressive regime of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo.
Since then, more than 212 people— mostly young protesters— have been killed by state forces, more than 1,300 people have been injured, and more than 500 have been arbitrarily detained. Sandinista police and paramilitary forces continue to terrorize the population on a daily basis as Nicaragua spirals into violence and ruin. The Organization of American States has identified the Nicaraguan crisis as one of most dire and pressing issues in the hemisphere.
Daniel Ortega first came into power after the Sandinista Revolution overthrew former US-backed dictator Anastasio Somoza in 1979. Ortega officially became president in 1984, but was voted out of office in 1990, ending a decade of U.S.-financed counterrevolutionary war. After trying unsuccessfully to return to power democratically, Ortega finally won reelection in 2006 over a divided opposition. He spent the next decade undermining Nicaragua’s institutional democracy, consolidating all four branches of government under his control, banning the opposition, and rewriting the constitution to lift presidential term limits to set himself up as president for life, along with his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo.
The most brutal massacre occurred on Nicaraguan Mother’s Day, on May 30, when police and government snipers opened fire on a peaceful march, killing 15 and injuring 200. Two weeks later, on Father’s Day, government forces killed another 6 people, including a 14-month old baby who was shot in the head in his father’s arms.
Chaos and violence now rule the streets of a country once believed to be the safest in Central America. Nicaragua has become a failed state, with murders, looting, and robberies occurring in broad daylight. Citizens live in fear of the night, when paramilitary groups and police go out in white pick-up trucks, abducting people and shooting indiscriminately with battlefield weapons.
Across the country people have built barricades to protect their neighborhoods from the paramilitary. The barricades have choked trade and transit across the country, which has grinded to a near-stop in recent weeks. The government continues to deny any responsibility for the violence, but they’re not fooling anyone, as evidenced by resounding international condemnation at the Organization of American States.
What’s happening in Nicaragua is not a political issue or an ideological left-versus-right issue. This is a humanitarian crisis orchestrated by a brutal regime that’s killing Nicaraguans of all political persuasions in a country that only desires to be free again.