Maybe it’s because many of us are glued to the television watching the World Cup, or focused on President Trump’s latest lies about asylum seekers, but the bloodshed in Nicaragua — where more than 220 people have been killed in recent protests — should get much more international attention.
Over the past two months, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega’s regime has killed more people in street protests in his country than did dictator Nicolás Maduro in last year’s brutal repression of protesters in Venezuela. And Nicaragua has a population of only 6 million, compared with Venezuela’s 32 million.
Yet, amazingly, there is hardly an international uproar over what’s going on in Nicaragua. You don’t hear much talk about adopting international sanctions against top officials of the Nicaraguan regime, like the financial and travel sanctions that the United States and European and Latin American countries have imposed on top Venezuelan officials.
It’s not like there’s any confusion over who’s to blame for the recent killings amid Nicaragua’s political violence. Virtually all human rights groups agree that Ortega’s police-backed paramilitary goons are the culprits.
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“There’s no civil war here. There is no confrontation between two armed forces, but government forces who are carrying out a massacre against a civic insurrection,” Carlos Fernando Chamorro, publisher of Nicaragua’s political newsmagazine Confidencial, told me.
According to a June 22 report by the Organization of American States’ Inter-American Human Rights Commission, there have been 212 dead, 1,337 wounded and 507 arrests since Nicaragua’s street riots erupted in late April. At least a dozen more protesters and bystanders have been murdered since.
Nicaragua’s Roman Catholic Church, which is mediating between the regime and the Civic Alliance — a coalition of students, labor unions, business groups, academics and intellectuals — has asked Ortega to convene early elections by March 2019 as a condition to resume on-and-off suspended peace talks. Most Civic Alliance members want Ortega to leave immediately.
Even Nicaragua’s leading business organization COSEP, which until recently was close to the Ortega regime, is now officially demanding that Ortega allow early elections with credible international observers. And President Ortega’s brother Humberto, the founder of the Sandinista army and former Sandinista army chief, told me in a text message that he, too, supports early elections sometime in 2019.
President Ortega’s term ends in 2022. He has been in power since 2007 and was last re-elected in a dubious electoral process in 2016.
While the church-mediated talks drag on, Nicaragua’s economy is coming to a halt, many roads are blocked by protesters, and most cities look like ghost towns after sundown.
“There’s a de facto curfew at 6 p.m. because people are afraid of going out,” says Juan Sebastian Chamorro, head of the FUNIDES private-sector think tank and a leading member of the Civic Alliance.
Before the government’s bloody repression of the protests, FUNIDES was projecting a healthy 4.7 percent economic for Nicaragua this year. But now, if the current turmoil continues for another two months, the think tank projects that Nicaragua will have a negative growth of minus 2 percent.
Should the Trump administration impose sanctions on Nicaraguan officials, as it has with Venezuelan officials? The answer is Yes, but preferably jointly with European and Latin American countries.
Unilateral Trump administration sanctions may help Ortega play the victim and could help him unite his increasingly fractured Sandinista base, some Nicaraguan opposition leaders tell me. But collective U.S., European and Latin American sanctions would are much needed, they say.
During the past 10 years, the Obama and the Trump administrations, as well as Nicaragua’s business community, erred in not standing up more forcefully against Nicaragua’s slow-motion transformation into a de facto dictatorship.
Now that Ortega has unleashed his armed thugs against a civic uprising, it’s time to focus world attention on this small Central American country — and to do something about it.
Watch the “Oppenheimer Presenta” TV show Sundays at 8 p.m. on CNN en Español. Twitter: @oppenheimera