On April 18, 2018 Nicaraguans came together for one specific cause – to see an end to President Daniel Ortega’s government. Non-violent protests broke out due to the changes of social security reforms which increased taxes and decreased benefits. Since then, Ortega has responded with violating human rights and civil liberties in Nicaragua. He continues to gamble with citizens safety in the midst of a global pandemic.

President Ortega has governed Nicaragua since 2006.

Through the years he has dismantled democratic institutions. Ortega successfully has gained control over every branch, and ministries of government, by appointing close friends, and family. Ortega even allowed his wife Rosario Murillo to become Vice President in 2017.

During this time he began to stigmatize, and criminalize civil societies. He unleashed a secret violent oppression towards peasants, and indigenous communities. He led constant attacks on the country’s independent press. Prior to 2018, Ortega denied political participation from other sectors, which allowed his government to be a one-party system.

The changes to security reforms was the wake up call for Nicaraguans. After being silent of their frustration with Ortega’s government in the last 14 years. The April 2018 uprising was an “auto-convocado” movement. Nicaraguans from all sectors in a self-summoned manner took the streets to denounce the government.

Young people from across the nation were the protagonists of the civic uprising.

They defied the government with a cell-phone in their hand and their social media skills. This gained international attention. As a result of this Ortega, and Vice President Rosario Murillo unleashed a violent attack.

Ortega-Murillo gave the order to kill any demonstrators, especially the nation’s youth. Nicaraguan authorities used “weapons of war” to kill demonstrators. Their tactics were clear, to shoot in a chaotic manner to instill terror.

A protester in Trafalgar Square, London with a sign saying Justice & Democracy for Nicaragua.
Protesters in Trafalgar Square attempt to mobilize support in Britain for opposition to the autocratic rule of Nicaragua’s president, Daniel Ortega, in June 2018. Photo by: Alisdare Hickson / CC BY-SA 2.0.

Between the bullets, Nicaraguans organized marches.

They set up roadblocks, and makeshift barricades throughout different cities. The population supported the students, who were trenched in their university with humanitarian aid. They set up medical posts, to assist those injured by government authorities.

Ortega felt threatened to see the majority of the population united to demand his resignation. This caused him to violently respond and purposely took advantage of Nicaraguans being unarmed. His security forces were able to orchestrate brutal attacks.

In one specific event students from the National Autonomous University of Nicaragua (UNAN Managua) sought refuge in the Divine Church. At the church they endured a 17 hour paramilitary attack, taking the lives of two students Gerald Vásquez, and Francisco Flores.

In order to strategically get rid of dissidents the government conducted “operation clean up”. Nicaragua’s security forces armed with ak-47 and snipers entered the cities. With full force they removed roadblocks and barricades. This is where armed groups in conjunction with the police arrest dissidents.

After “operation clean up” Ortega-Murillo passed a law that criminalizes any form of anti-government manifestations.

Completely restricting Nicaraguans from their civil liberties.

The repression and violence have caused the death of more than 300 people. An estimate of 100,000 Nicaraguans are currently living in exile. Most have migrated to neighboring countries like Costa Rica and others to the United States and Europe.

An Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts (GIEI-Nicaragua), compiled a report in which they state the following:

“That the government of President Ortega has committed critmes against humanity in the context of the crisis that began in April of 2018.”

Two years later, and in a middle of the current global pandemic, Ortega continues to violate human rights. Ortega has responded to Covid-19 recklessly, by understating the dangers of the virus.

While government officials across the globe were calling their citizens to take specific measures to combat the virus, Ortega did the opposite. He never called for quarantine. Instead he promoted large gatherings. He kept schools and borders open. In addition he fired medical doctors who requested PPE to combat the pandemic.

His failure to respond to the virus has put the lives at risk for all Nicaraguans.

While Nicaraguans are trying to survive under a global pandemic, they still have to navigate through an on-going socio political crisis. Ortega continues to arrest dissidents. Currently, it’s estimated that there are 86 political prisoners who are living in inhumane conditions.

Ortega continues to repress citizens from their civil liberties. He continues his attack on the press, and on political opposition groups.

The future for Nicaraguans is unclear, but what is clear is Ortega will continue to violate human rights. With an economy in decline and the uncertainty of living in a country without democracy, migration will only continue to increase.

As long as the country is governed under authoritative President Ortega, the international community must not lose sight of Nicaragua.

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