Nicaraguans get fooled (and killed) again, July 2018

Over the past 3 months there have been many tragic reports from Nicaragua, where the erstwhile revolution has gone right off the rails. In what seems like a remote and distant past – 39 years ago in July 1979 – Sandinista Comandante Daniel Ortega drove into Managua on a pickup to announce the end of the Somoza family dictatorship after very bloody uprising. But in the spirit of cold war tension the US government didn’t much like the new rulers in Nicaragua and a ”contra” armed conflict was launched from bases in Honduras. Thus, in the 1980s thousands more Nicaraguans died in the struggle, which culminated in a Central American brokered peace agreement and elections in 1990. The Sandinistas lost power; the people were weary of violence and hundreds handed over their weapons to create a sculpture of rifles in a central square in the capital.

In contrast to the neighbouring countries – Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador – Nicaragua has been relatively peaceful since 1990 and relatively unaffected by the drug dealing cartels and gangs which have wrought havoc in the region. Modest economic growth ensured that living standards improved in both rural and urban areas. But when the Sandinistas regained power at the 2006 elections, Daniel Ortega and his wife Rosario decided that their family was destined to run the country, subsequently muzzling or buying off any opposition and gaining the backing of the powerful Catholic Church. As born-again Christians, their revived revolution entailed banning abortion under any circumstances and attempting to pacify the citizens with symbols of the good life such as bizarre religious inspired decorations in the streets of the capital.

Many students and young people were not taken in, however. In April 2018 protests erupted after the government tried to introduce a pension reform, which meant that contributions would increase and payments would be reduced. When thousands of people marched in opposition to the new measures, pro-Sandinista mobs and militia were mobilised to attack them. These thugs and sections of the police have killed some 400 protesters since April, many of them in their teens. The students have occupied schools and colleges, as well as the town of Masaya, some 30 kilometres from the capital.

The protesters are demanding that the Ortega clique be removed from power and elections held. Many church leaders and Central American human rights organisations support them. But the Sandinistas, like the Somocistas in the 1970s, refuse to negotiate and prefer to behave like a sect of aging authoritarians denouncing the young people and students as ”coup makers” and rebels.[1] A stalemate seems to have ensued, in which neither the Ortega clan and their followers, nor the students and protesters are willing to give ground. “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss” sang The Who in the 1970s. In Nicaragua the wheel has turned full circle, the revolutionaries have been corrupted by power and have tried to fool the people into submission. When that wasn’t enough, the government has used the full force of armed repression against “el pueblo.” But the outcome of the struggle hangs in the balance…

PS We lived in Managua from 2002 to 2005 and were able to observe the intrigues and political manipulation by the Ortegas as they prepared to re-assert control. In a strange echo, we have also lived in Ouagadougou the capital of Burkina Faso, where a similar “semi-dictator” Blaise Campaoré, clung to power until a wave of popular discontent (street protests) in 2013-14 finally led to his downfall after 27 years as President… He escaped to Côte d’Ivoire. Where will the Ortegas go?

[1] The Nicaraguan newspaper La Prensa has published an article comparing the Ortegas and the Somozas to determine which gang was worst:

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