Political unrest in Nicaragua has reached new heights. In recent weeks, protests against the corrupt authoritarian regime of President Daniel Ortega have been violently crushed by the national police, killing over 100 people and injuring over 1,000.
Although Nicaragua has up until recently been known as a peaceful country, it has fallen into the hands of a government that is not afraid to massacre its own people, including teenagers. A six-week-long political uprising has been met with unnecessary brutality. On certain occasions, state security forces have opened fire on peaceful rallies. The country is now in the greatest state of turmoil since its revolutionary times in the 1960s and 70s.
In late April, for instance, police forces and groups in vehicles opened fire on facilities belonging to a university in the capital city of Managua and set them partially ablaze. Several students trapped on campus were killed or seriously injured in the assault. Then, in late May, at least 15 people were killed during a peaceful march held on Nicaragua’s Mother’s Day to honor the mothers of students killed during other demonstrations. Later in the same month, masked attackers in vehicles indiscriminately shot at civilians in Managua, killing one person and injuring several others.
The instability began as civilians began to protest against reforms to Nicaragua’s pension system in mid-April. Footage of repression by pro-government groups known as “grupos de choque” went viral on social media and incited public outrage. Although university students have taken the lead in the protests, people all across the country, from varying age groups, occupations, and political parties, have taken to the streets to demand their rights.
Demonstrators have put up a roadblock on major highways in order to defend themselves from government forces. Yet the Nicaraguan state has been determined to squash any dissent in whatever ways possible. For instance, even doctors have been told by the Ministry of Health not to treat injured protesters, including those coming in with potentially fatal gunshot wounds. But authorities have denied responsibility for any deaths, instead blaming criminal gangs.
On May 21st, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) published a report after a working visit to Nicaragua denouncing serious human rights violations characterized by the excessive use of force by the government and armed third parties. Among the outlined abuses were illegal and arbitrary detentions, torture and inhuman treatment, censorship and attacks on the press, and threats to discourage citizen participation in politics. The IACHR also urged the government to end the repression of the social movement and to uphold democratic values such as freedom of speech and freedom of assembly.
In response to the violations, the United Nations has called on the Nicaraguan government to carry out thorough and transparent investigations into the deaths of civilians. On June 6th, UN Secretary-General António Guterres welcomed a declaration supporting the Nicaraguan people and calling on the country to stop the violence. The UN is now encouraging dialogue to establish a third-party group of international experts to further investigate the ongoing violence. The Trump administration has also announced that it will revoke the visas of several prominent Nicaraguan authorities, including police commanders and government officials, that it holds most responsible for the human rights infringements.
Still, it is unlikely that Ortega will step down voluntarily. Even if an early election were to take place, it would require intense scrutiny by third parties to ensure fairness. It is clear that more international pressure by state governments and NGOs should be put on the Nicaraguan government find a peaceful and democratic way of dealing with the political crisis.
Featured Image via Flickr/Cancilleria del Ecuador