Nicaragua suddenly exploded over the weekend with an outpouring of discontent with President/dictator Daniel Ortega. Thousands took to the streets, starting on Wednesday. By Sunday, the clashes with government forces had left as many as 30 dead, with casualties on both sides.
The street violence in Managua — which began with university students, ironically, protesting Ortega’s planned rollback of Social Security for senior citizens — seemed unexpected, but on target in countering the president’s repression. Thousands of Nicaraguans live in South Florida, many going into exile decades ago.
Latin American nations must be vocal in their support for Nicaraguans living under an undemocratic administration, and the United States must broaden its gaze beyond Cuba and Venezuela, making clear this is unacceptable.
Before the weekend was over, the leftist Ortega had responded to the bold challenge to his authority and reversed course, canceling the cutbacks that would have forced citizens to pay more into Social Security and retirees to receive 5 percent less.
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Ortega has faced other protests since his 2007 re-election. But experts say this was the largest popular uprising in Managua since the end of the nation’s civil war almost 30 years ago.
For those who don’t remember, Ortega led the 1979 leftist Sandinista revolution to overthrow a right-wing dictatorship and became president in 1980s, a tenure rocked by a civil war with the U.S.-backed Contras. He was voted out in 1990, but returned to politics.
Ever since, he has presided over what Herald columnist Andres Oppenheimer last year called, “the slow-motion disappearance of democracy.”
Unfortunately, he’s taken his moves straight out of the Castro/Chávez/Maduro playbook: repression of the Nicaraguan people and interference with the National Assembly — which, in 2014, compliantly scrapped term limits, allowing Ortega to run for a third term. He’s manipulated the Supreme Court and local elections; banned key opposition parties; and taken a television station off the air.
Ortega blames the uprising on well-financed right-wing groups taking advantage of one issue to criticize his presidency. However, Ortega remains a power-hungry Sandinista at heart and did nothing to deter his young Sandinista supporters from beating protesters.
While the poor support Ortega, in a twisted deal, observers say that much of Nicaragua’s business class has remained silent about his abuses.
There’s an unspoken agreement that Ortega will allow business owners to do whatever they want as long as they don’t criticize him.
But even that pact is being ripped up. Monday, COSEP, the country’s powerful business association, called a national protest in solidarity with aggrieved students.
Even though Ortega has backed down and rescinded his Social Security reforms, protests have continued, with Nicaraguans emboldened to speak out more freely against the anti-democracy regime Ortega and his influential wife, Rosario Murillo — who just happens to be his vice-president — have imposed. Ortega clearly is setting himself up to be president-for-life.
Weary Nicaraguans are pushing back.
What’s clear is that Ortega’s shenanigans are now being exposed on the world stage — and the world must pay attention.