The human rights experts of the UN “vigorously condemn the acts of violence, repression and assault” and declared the following: “We are shocked to see that the repression and the use of excessive and indiscriminate violence by security forces of the state, including the riot police and pro-government armed groups, has not been curbed. As a result, many people have died and others have been injured.”
According to the UN, approximately 280 people died since the beginning of the social protests and 1830 people were injured. A report written by CODENI (the Nicaraguan Federation of Non-Governmental Organizations Working with Children and Adolescents) states that 26 of the deceased were children, of which 4 were younger than 7 years old. Most of the victims were shot. In addition, more than 500 people have been detained and hundreds of people are at risk after being victims of attacks, harassments, threats and other forms of intimidation, according to a report from the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights (IACHR).
IACHR conducted an investigation in Nicaragua from 17 till 21 May. In their report, they mention serious human rights violations in the context of the social protests: arbitrary arrests of young people, the diffusion of propaganda and stigmatisation campaigns against the protesters - labeling them as “delinquents” or “vandals”, “organising acts of terror and organised crime” -, the excessive and arbitrary use of police forces, censorship, intimidation and threats against leaders of youth movements, refusal of health care to the injured as a retaliation for their participation in the demonstration,… IACHR formulated 15 recommendations for Ortega’s administration, none of which have been met up until now.
That is why they now launched a Special Monitoring Mechanism for Nicaragua (MESENI, by its Spanish acronym) on site to follow up on the recommendations made during their visit. After three weeks of research, MESENI ascertained the intensification of the repression and raids by the National Police forces and paramilitary groups with the aim to dismantle the barricades erected by the protesters in different cities.
The government has denied any responsibility, blaming criminal groups and opposition groups with political agendas for the current situation.
This situation in Nicaragua, of course, also affects our four local Mobile School partners in Managua, Matagalpa and León. Since the end of April our partners have had to cancel all outreach sessions due to the unstable situation and due to the barricades.
“Being young and being a student is a crime these days in Nicaragua, so we don’t risk going out with the mobile school, since it brings together groups of young people”, says one of the mobile school street educators. The safety of the street-connected children and of their teams is the number one priority of all our partner organisations and at Mobile School, we of course fully support their decision to stay off the streets until it is safe to resume outreach activities.
In the student city of León, partner Asociación Niñas y Niños del Fortin runs two mobile school projects to reach out to street-connected children and their families.
© Tom Exelmans.
Amalia Cuadra, the founder and director of the organisation, mentions that recent events have caused a lot of problems for them. Collaborations with international organisations, built over the years, have abruptly come to an end following the crisis in the country, resulting in less resources, both economical and human.
The situation is, thus, not only affecting our partner organisations in the short term. All of our partners rely on the support of international organisations. In addition to financial support, they rely on volunteers to support the local teams of street educators. Due to the current crisis, all foreign volunteers had to leave the country immediately and all collaborations with organisations have been put on hold for at least one year.
Although their outreach work has been temporarily discontinued until the situation stabilises, all of our partners are still running their other projects. They want to be there for the people they support, especially in these difficult times. Mobile School will keep monitoring the situation and we will continue to support our partners through online coaching, in any possible way.
What exactly triggered the crisis in Nicaragua?
There seem to have been two important triggers for these massive civic protests.
The first trigger were the forest fires at the national park of Indio Mais, a tropical nature reserve home to indigenous people and to significant biodiversity and endangered species, early April 2018. Following the fires, demonstrators marched in Managua to protest what they regarded as an insufficient government response to the fires, which burned 5,500 hectares of the national preserve.
The second trigger for the outburst of protests was the announcement of social security reforms, raising income and payroll taxes while reducing pension benefits by 5%. Citizens already angered by the inadequate handling of the fires hit the streets on 18 April. The demonstrations were met with a violent response from the authorities. After five days of turmoil in which nearly 30 people were killed, Ortega announced the cancellation of the reforms. That wasn’t enough to put an end to the opposition, however.
What began as a movement against the pension reforms, mostly led by Nicaraguan university students, has grown into a larger call for president Ortega and his administration to step down.
© Javier Bauluzal/Al Jazeera
Earlier protests of dissatisfied Nicaraguans were easily repressed by the anti-riot forces of the government, but now a united front of citizens is marching the streets, saying they will not stop marching until there is justice and democracy in Nicaragua. The Catholic Church and Nicaraguan’s business sector have joined in calls for early elections. Ortega’s refusal to consider holding these early elections is what has broken down repeated attempts at talks between the government and civil society groups and what has lead to two national strikes since the beginning of the protests, on 14 June and on 13 July.
Viva la revolución
Daniel Ortega overthrew the dictatorship of Somoza in 1979 during the Sandinistic Revolution, as a guerrillero. Ortega, figurehead of the revolution and immensely popular, became the president of Nicaragua between 1985 and 1990.
© VRT NWS
To destabilise the young democracy in Nicaragua, the United States instituted an economical boycott against Nicaragua and organised a counterrevolution. This led to a cruel civil war between the sandinistic guerrilla and the infamous “contra’s”, militions supported by the Americans. The majority of the people in Nicaragua eventually turned their backs to sandinism and the Sandinists suffered a defeat during the elections of 1990.
Ortega kept working on a comeback and got reelected in 2006. He has been the president of Nicaragua for the last 11 years. Ironically, in those 11 years, he went from being seen as a revolutionary popular hero to having zero tolerance for the current revolution of the Nicaraguan people.
Money money money
In spite of the increasingly autocratic nature of Ortega’s rule, Nicaragua has seen substantial economic development in the last decade, from which many have benefitted. If the current crisis prolongs much longer, the economical consequences for the entire country are unforeseeable. Many people have already lost their jobs and the economic cost of this crisis has been estimated to be hundreds of millions of dollars.
The international community has reacted to the current crisis in Nicaragua by calling for a dialogue and earlier elections, but so far no real actions have been taken.
Hopefully the streets of Nicaragua will be safe again soon…
- H. Spriet & A. Baccaert. (2018). Daniel Ortega, van revolutionaire volksheld tot dictator van Nicaragua. Consulted on 9/7/2018 via https://www.vrt.be/vrtnws/nl/2018/06/04/ortega--president-van-nicaragua--van-revolutionaire-volksheld-to/
- H. Spriet. (2018). Ondanks hoge dodental nieuwe protesten in Nicaragua. Consulted on 23/7/2018 via https://www.vrt.be/vrtnws/nl/2018/07/13/ondanks-hoge-dodental-nieuwe-protesten-in-nicaragua/
- BBC News. (2018). Downward spiral: Nicaragua’s worsening crisis. Consulted on 9/7/2018 via https://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-44398673
- J. Bauluz. (2018). Behind the barricades of Nicaragua’s anti-government protests. Consulted on 9/7/2018 via https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/inpictures/barricades-nicaragua-anti-g...