The sociopolitical chaos in Nicaragua hasn’t let up since April 2018. Exiled citizens fear returning to their country, peace negotiations are stagnant, President Daniel Ortega refuses to relinquish his position, and paramilitary groups are increasing activities in the streets.
According to the Global Peace Index 2019 report from the Australian nongovernmental organization (NGO) Vision of Humanity, these situations have singled out Nicaragua as the Latin American country where conditions for peace have deteriorated the most in 2018. The causes for instability include violent crimes, deprivation of liberty, political unrest, and violent internal conflicts.
“The decline of peaceful conditions in Nicaragua was provoked by an ongoing political crisis that began in April 2018, when the State and paramilitary groups violently suppressed protests against reforming the pension system. The movement expanded into broader demonstrations against Daniel Ortega’s presidency and demands for additional political reforms, including early elections,” said the report.
Fátima Villalta, a Nicaraguan member of the Coordinating University for Democracy and Justice in Nicaragua, who is in exile in Mexico, spoke with Diálogo about her country’s political situation. “Not reporting massive killings, such as those in June or July 2018, isn’t a sign that things are getting better. After the repression, it was clear that the dictatorship has set up a system of punishment, surveillance, and fear,” Villalta said.
The Nicaraguan Association for Human Rights, an NGO based temporarily in Costa Rica, reports that from April 2018 to January 2019, the country registered 561 deaths and 4,578 injuries - victims of the Ortega government’s repression. It also reports 1,336 people missing at the hands of paramilitary groups.
“Now we are talking about selective killings. They kill people in unclear situations; people involved in protests who went to Costa Rica and returned. It’s the same story; it’s not possible to protest in any way,” Villalta says.
Gabriela Castro, an activist and communication professional at the Central American University of Nicaragua who is in exile in the United States, says that protesting from the safety of exile is the only way to denounce the abuses of the Ortega regime.
“There’s no question that people fear for their lives, fear for what might happen if they go back. Many of us in exile know that Ortega’s abuses can only be reported on from abroad,” Castro told Diálogo. “It’s risky to raise your voice in Nicaragua. Those who are in other nations are the ones who continue to put on pressure to show that people in Nicaragua are suffering, that we live in a dictatorship.”
Almost a year and a half after the protests started in Nicaragua, the outlook is bleak. The chances for early elections are minimal, and repression is commonplace in a country that sees peace deteriorate by the day, Castro added.
“Some people returned [from exile], and many are being killed, harassed, incarcerated. Daniel Ortega is the head of the National Police, and he is responsible for it. The paramilitary, embedded in the communities, are the ones that removed the barricades and attacked the universities; they monitor, report, and are armed by the National Police,” Villalta concluded.