By Maria Fernanda Cuadra, Class of 2019
Tens of thousands of Nicaraguans flooded the streets of Managua on Monday April 23, in a mass call for the resignation of President Daniel Ortega. The demand comes after a week of clashes between peaceful protesters and the government’s armed forces, including the National Police, in which 63 were killed.
Protests began peacefully on April 18, two days after President Ortega announced reforms to Nicaragua’s crisis-hit National Social Security Institute (INSS). The resolution introduced 5% increase in tax to pensions and disability living allowances and an increase in contributions paid by employees and employers. For many Nicaraguans this was yet another demonstration of government over-step, especially as INSS funds’ are widely known to be used as the governing family’s petty cash. People who had gathered to protest the reforms were brutally repressed by the government, through clash forces known as Juventud Sandinista. Armed with pipes, they hit protesters leaving plenty of injured.
On April 19, students from major public universities went out to the streets to protest the repression. Students were further silenced by National Police forces using tear gas bombs and rubber bullets. The level of violence in the government’s response was the final straw in a series of nonconformities that had built up. Those who had refrained from joining the initial protests went out to the streets, resulting in a nationwide movement against Ortega’s 12-year authoritarian rule.
After a week of protests, the death toll elevated to 63. In addition to deaths, human rights movements have confirmed that more than 400 were injured while at least 100 arrests and disappearances have occurred since the protests began. With the government shutting down media coverage of the protests, Nicaraguans are sharing evidence of the abuses on social media using the #SOSNicaragua hashtag.
Ortega’s attempts of withdrawing INSS reforms to contain the anti-government protests has only fueled the opposition and discomfort in citizens, and key allies have started to line up against his pension reforms. His attempts at reconciliation have come too late. The people of Nicaragua began by protesting against the corruption of the INSS, but now the movement has been fuelled by rage caused by years of corruption, lack of democratic processes and complete destruction of institutionality.
Fernanda Maria Cuadra is a first-year full-time MBA student from Nicaragua. Her family is currently protesting against the totalitarian regime in Nicaragua.