Nicaragua roiled by continued protests: young leaders report from Managua

*This article was co-written by three OYW Ambassadors from Nicaragua

On Wednesday April 18th, the Government of Nicaragua issued the decree 03-2018 to solve the financial crisis of the National Social Security Institute (INSS). The reform stipulates a 5% deduction in pensions for the elderly and people with disabilities, and an increase in contributions to the Social Security Fund from employers and employees of 2% and 0.75% respectively. In other words, people would be paying more and receiving less.

According to the International Monitory Fund (IMF), a reform is needed because the INSS is projected to run out of liquid reserves by 2019. ‘Even though the INSS ran surpluses from 2007-2012, these were invested in financial assets, largely on government securities’ (IMF 2017).

The Nicaraguan Foundation for Social and Economic Development (FUNIDES) considers that such measure will cost a 1.5% decline in the Gross National Product which transfers to an increase in unemployment and informal jobs.

The decree, created by the board of the INSS and unilaterally approved by the president Daniel Ortega without the consensus of the 92 members of the Nicaraguan National Assembly, is considered by most Nicaraguan citizens, including business owners, as unconstitutional.

Violations against the human rights: to protest peacefully and the free of speech

Given the lack of transparency of the government regarding the creation and imposition of the decree, it motivated the population to peacefully manifest against it, starting at the capital city Managua, and quickly spreading to the major cities of the rest of the country. 

The first two days of protests in Managua turned violent when members of the Sandinista Youth movement – and masked civilian groups affiliated with the government– attacked the protesters. In particular, they targeted the elderly and the university students at the entrance of several universities such as the Central American University (UCA), the National University of Engineering (UNI), the Polytechnic University of Nicaragua (UPOLI), and the National Agrarian University (UNA). The Police not only ignored the attacks led by the Sandinista Youth and masked civilians but also attacked the students. These first two days were the most violent which resulted in a number of casualties.

Corruption, abuse of power from the Police, violation of the human rights to protest peacefully, the right of access to information, freedom of speech, and freedom of the press became the main reasons for the largest protests against the government since the 1990’s. There have been more than 40 protests in 10 departments in Nicaragua. Managua, Masaya, and León have had the biggest concentrations.

The use of fire arms and tear gas by the Police along with the use of homemade grenades by the Sandinista Youth have caused the deaths of 68 people, including a 15-year-old and a journalist (who was transmitting a Facebook live) both shot to the head. On Friday night, the Nicaraguan army was deployed to Estelí and Managua armed with AK-47s to "safeguard public institutions."

Metal signs, wooden doors, rocks, and bricks from the streets have been the main weapon of defence for protesters.

“I experienced oppression when I was participating in a peaceful protest alongside around 10 people in Nindiri, Masaya on Friday afternoon. A masked member of the Sandinistas Youth attacked us with a homemade grenade hitting my right leg and hitting the leader of the protest in the head. Later on, we saw three pick-up trucks with riot police, who as they passed by threw a flash grenade at the crowd,” said OYW Ambassador Bárbara López.

Four channels and two radio stations that were informing of the situation in the country were taken off the television network by the President`s direct order. This started the violation of the freedom of speech and freedom of the press. Journalists who work for independent media have been attacked and arrested. The citizens have used social media as the main means of communication. The president of the Inter-American Press Association, Gustavo Mohme cited in a BBC article expressed: “The censorship of the channels unmasks the authoritarianism of a government that in its 11 years has only sought to dismantle the state for its own benefit and that of its relatives."

On day 3 of the protest, the population started to gather food and medical supplies for the protesters in different places around Managua. The Cathedral in Managua was the main storage place for donations and volunteers were helping to organize and transfer them to provide the protesters with medicine, water and food. It was also a provisional medical centre to cure the injures because a few public hospitals were not treating the wounded protesters. The National Police and the Sandinista Youth tried to force the entrance and didn’t allow the volunteers or the church members to go in or out of the cathedral. The situation extended for several hours until an agreement was reached, and the volunteers were allowed to leave. That same day, the National Police stopped cars on the streets and took the donations away. They also raided the donation centres and any other place were volunteers were trying to help the protesters. The violence from the National Police against the protesters continued, many people were seriously wounded, and others were killed.

On Saturday 21st, the Nicaragua’s Private Business Superior Council (COSEP), considered one of the biggest economic coalitions of the country, called for dialogue with the Government. Among other conditions, COSEP requested the government to stop the violence and persecution of the Nicaraguan population through the withdrawal of the National Police forces from the streets, especially during the peaceful protests. COSEP also requested to include young leaders, academia, and the Church in the dialogue.

What do the Nicaraguan people request from the government?

The University Movement 19 de Abril, a self-organised group of student volunteers several universities, has requested the government to hold an inclusive and public dialogue beyond economic problems, including issues of deep structural reforms, such as free and transparent elections in the shortest time possible. Academia, women organizations, environmentalists, rural and afro-descendants people, among other should participate in the dialogue as well.

Apart of dialogue and the immediately stop the violence against the Nicaraguan population the University Movement 19 de Abril, requested the following actions from the government:

  1. The promulgated revocation the decree 03-2018
  2. To guarantee the physical integrity of the disappeared people and people illegally put on prison
  3. Freedom to people illegally put on prison (including police officers who opposed unfair violence against protesters)
  4. To hold accountable the National Police regarding the unnecessary deaths during the manifestations
  5. To immediate dismissal of the highest representatives of the National Police and National Army
  6. The resignation of the President Daniel Ortega and his wife, the Vice-president Rosario Murillo

The government has barely addressed the issues

Despite the pronouncement of the Office of the High Commissioner to the UN, the European Union, Amnesty International, international organizations such as USAID, and spiritual leaders such as the Pope Francis himself, directed to the Nicaraguan authorities to "prevent further attacks against protesters and guarantee their right to freedom of expression”; the Nicaraguan Government has belittled the causes and effects of the protests.

“A tiny group of vandals- referring to the universities- are trying to alter the peace of Nicaragua” said the vice president Rosario Murillo (and first lady of Nicaragua) during an interview on Friday 20th in one of the five main channels owned and managed by the Ortega-Murillo family.

Until the 4th day of protests, the president gave a speech where the high command of the Nicaraguan Army and the National Police where present. During his speech, the president informed that he accepted to participate in the dialogue required by COSEP. The president called the student protesters “vandals” and compared them with dangerous gangs in the region. He did not mention the people killed or people affected by the protest. Ortega only acknowledged the police officers that had died. Most people did not agree with his approach and were hurt by the way he ignored the people who were killed. The next day, president Ortega revoked the decree 03-2018.

On the 23rd of April, the biggest march in the last three decades took place in Managua. More than 70,000 people walked around 7kms distance from Metrocentro (a mall in downtown Managua) to the UPOLI to pay their respects to the fallen and students that are still protesting at UPOLI. Many other cities in the country also showed support and marched the same day. The Police and the Sandinista Youth were not present in the marches. It was the first time since the protest started that there was no violence.

People were carrying the national flag, singing the national anthem, and shouting phrases like: “Daniel and Somoza are the same” (Somoza was a dictator that the Sandinista Movement helped to take down during the revolution in 1979), “They were students, they were not criminals” referring to the students killed during the protests.

“During the march, I didn’t realise how big it was, I couldn’t see the beginning or the end of it”, said OYW Ambassador Lilliam Castellón.

The second biggest march was held on Saturday 28th. It was convened by the Episcopal Conference of Nicaragua. The protestant groups also held some religious ceremonies. Around 1000 people from The Movimiento Campesino (the farm worker movement) participated in the march. Francisca Ramírez, one of the leaders of the farm worker movement, said: “thanks to the young people and university students, that was the first time the police did not attack them in protests."

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Different groups are being invited to the national dialogue for which there is still not a date confirmed. Students from the UPOLI that are still protesting at the university have been invited to the national dialogue too.

This week, the Church accepted to be a mediator in the national dialogue. The main person that have supported the people has been the Bishop Silvio Baez, the auxiliary of Managua.

The TV channels that were taken down are back on. Some of the prisoners were released, with no shoes, heads shaved, and dropped in the highway. In their testimonies they explained that they were tortured and that were not provided with food or essentials. The other prisoners helped them by sharing their food, water and essentials. There are still prisoners that have not been released. Most of the missing people have been found death in the public hospitals, some families even claim they had to sign a document stating they would not take any further actions to investigate their deaths.

Take action as a global citizen!

How can other Ambassadors help Nicaragua? Whenever possible:

  • Please check the news and share them in your social media using the #SOSNICARAGUA
  • Organize a pacific protest in your city: Guatemala, Costa Rica, Portugal, USA, Canada, Spain, UK, and Sweden have done it!
  • Use your skills or expertise to support Nicaraguan population through online volunteering in NGOs and civil society movements. From our perspective, democracy, governance, social security as well as mental, physical and spiritual healing are needed.

We want to thank the senior management team of OYW and the Central American Coordinator Maria Villela for letting us use OYW as a platform to share the urgent news with the world, as well as to express our thoughts, concerns and possible solutions to the issues that Nicaragua is currently facing.

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This article was co-written by three OYW Ambassadors from Nicaragua. Barbara Lopez works at EcoHuertos Nindiri and the Central American Youth Network and you may contact her via LinkedIn and Facebook. Lilliam Castellon works at an environmental economist consultancy and you may contact her via email at lilliam.castellon@icloud.com. Adrianova Carrion works for the Central American University in Managua and you may contact her via LinkedIn.