By Natalie Varney, Intern
Over two weeks ago, political and social unrest broke out in Nicaragua in protest against President Daniel Ortega’s change to the country’s social security system. Ortega announced the change in hopes to stall the growing deficit of the country. The reform forces Nicaraguan workers and employers to contribute more to the Nicaraguan Institute for Social Security than previously required, while also diminishing retiree benefits by 5%--igniting violent protests throughout the country.
University students rallied against the president’s decision, only to be matched with pro-government mobs that attacked them. Police apprehended the peaceful demonstrations with tear gas and rubber bullets; the students responded with throwing rocks. Additionally, several media stations were cut off as the government attempted to mediate the tension. Protests against the social security reform quickly became an international issue once the death toll began to rise, according to Human Rights organizations. The rising death count has only incited more protests; the protests are considered to be the largest in the country’s history since the end of the Nicaraguan civil war.
|Part of the "Walk for Peace and Dialogue" in Managua on April 23.|
(INTI OCON/AFP/Getty Images)
The Nicaraguan government currently reports a death toll of 10, representing an immense difference from the toll the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights represents: a staggering 43 as of Saturday evening, April 28th. At the same time, other organizations report a death toll of more than 60, with hundreds injured. The United States’ Department of State has removed all officers and family members from the country.
On Sunday, April 22nd, the president of Nicaragua rescinded the social security changes, yet failed to mention the death of multiple students due to the protests. Instead, Ortega was quick to point his finger toward either right-wing or gang infiltration. Despite his rescinding of the reform, his words only seemed to fuel a passion stimulating a rebellion for his immediate removal of office.
Last year, the Vermont Council on World Affairs hosted many visitors from Latin America through exchange programs. One visitor from an exchange program is a current resident in Nicaragua. While not involved in any of the demonstrations, the resident has witnessed protests in the northern part of the country and said that he has seen people screaming for Ortega’s removal “because he has become the same dictator as ex President Somoza.”
Ortega first emerged in the international limelight as a Nicaraguan guerrilla leader and Sandinista in 1963, aiming to overthrow the country’s current dictator at the time: Anastasio Somoza, who ruled since 1937. Ortega’s leadership in a military campaign ultimately pushed Somoza into exile from Managua, Nicaragua in 1979. A few years later, Nicaraguan voters elected Ortega as president, despite United States’ President Ronald Reagan’s pro-marxist accusations and financial aid to an anti-Sandinista group, known as the Contras.
In 1990, Ortega was denied a second term when voters chose Violeta Barrios de Chamorro in an election where he was presumed to win in a landslide. He was continuously rejected a return to power by voters in subsequent elections, however, Ortega generated a massive political comeback when he was elected back into office in 2006.
|President Daniel Ortega with Vice President and wife,|
After his return to power, Ortega quickly persuaded legislators to do away with constitutional term limits for the president, allowing him to remain in office since 2006. Interestingly enough, Ortega has divided a generous amount of power over the last decade with his wife, Rosario Murillo, with whom he currently shares the executive branch as president and vice president, respectively. The Nicaraguan resident also mentioned that Murillo has a continuous presence in the media, where she tries “to simplify the problems of the country, just to manipulate [citizen’s] minds.” Nicaraguan citizens view the shared power as some sort of “dynasty,” and many fear a potential presidential run by Murillo in the 2021 election.
It is no question that Ortega has “dictatorial tendencies,” as he has continuously interfered with the law and the Nicaraguan Constitution throughout his time in power. Protesters recognized similarities between Ortega and dictator Somoza when videos emerged of them chanting, “¡Daniel! ¡Somoza! ¡Son la misma cosa!” While a rhyme in Spanish, the quote translates to: “They are the same thing!”
The announcement of the new social security reform is simply the last straw for Nicaraguan citizens regarding Ortega’s abuse. Their freedom of speech and expression is under fire, and people are dying in the streets. According to the Nicaraguan resident, citizens have finally woken up to Ortega’s manipulation and “want to stop [government] injustice.” Protesters now demand Ortega’s immediate resignation, as demonstrations do not seem to have an end in sight.
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