Who to believe about Nicaragua?Posted: May 18, 2018
More than three weeks after the beginning of violence in Nicaragua, many of the country’s biggest cities continue to see chaos on the streets. The initial spark, changes to the pension system, have long been forgotten. It has now turned into a clash between the government and its supporters, and some sections of the opposition, supported by the United States.
There’s no doubt that the initial violence included killings by police, FSLN supporters and opposition students. The government has since launched three initiatives to examine the events which led to up to 42 deaths, including: “a National Dialogue without conditions involving all sectors which will be mediated by the Bishops’ Conference; a Truth, Justice and Peace Commission set up by the National Assembly; and an investigation by the Prosecutor’s Office to hold all those responsible for killings, violence and sabotage to account” (see here for further information from the same article by the Nicaragua Solidarity Campaign).
People’s first reaction, even among government supporters, was anger that such violence was seen on Nicaraguan streets, scenes which they expect in places like Guatemala and Honduras. This anger, and sadness, was fed by an unrelenting social media campaign, seeking to blame all violence on the government, and inciting people to not only to protest, but to attack both private and public property.
The protests have also shaken the solidarity community. Anyone familiar with Nicaragua will know that the Ortega government is supported by many, but also intensely disliked by others. This opposition includes both the extreme Right, and those who see the FSLN as having sold out. These divisions are also represented in international opinion on the current crisis (see here).
Since the events of April 19-24, Nicaragua has seen peaceful protests, some organised by the government, some organised by the churches. Much of the country has returned to calm. But on many nights violence returns to some streets, with tourist buildings and shops being ransacked, FSLN political and local headquarters torched. A lot of the violence has crossed the line from protest to looting and extortion, particularly in cities like Masaya (see here).
The continued unrest is now aimed at destablising the government, and getting rid of Ortega and the FSLN. This has been a long term goal of the United States and its allies in Nicaragua. Last year the National Endowment for Democracy provided over $1 million to finance ‘civil society’ organisations (see here). Many of these helped ratchet up the tension after the initial clashes, using social media to make unverified claims of killings, torture and “disappearances”. At a time when there were deaths on the streets and arrests, this only inflamed the situation.
Many of these organisations, and leading figures in the opposition, have been actively lobbying in Washington to pass the NICA Act, which would see the US use its veto in lending organisations to cut off Nicaragua from international loans. These loans are used to finance Nicaragua’s social programmes, which has made the FSLN government so different from the neo-liberal presidencies from 1990 to 2007. When people call for the removal of Ortega, they are also calling for the ending of these programmes for the poor (see here).
US Vice President Mike Pence has stated that undermining the governments in Nicaragua, Cuba and Venezuela is a Trump administration priority (see here).
The FSLN government under Ortega is far from perfect. Even the National Dialogue, the best way out of the current upheaval, will not be straightforward (see here). But we know where to look to see the alternatives. They already exist in countries like Guatemala and Honduras and Brazil, where the poor get poorer, and violence is a way of life.