For the past two months, Nicaraguans fed up with President Daniel Ortega’s tyrannical hold on power and disastrous crony capitalist policies have been slaughtered in the streets.
Unarmed, tired, and cornered, peaceful people continue to demonstrate in public displays of discontent, only to be killed by snipers, arrested and tortured, or starved in besieged cities.
So far, at least 280 people were killed. More than 1,500 more injured, and hundreds have gone missing or have been arrested. The rebellion has turned the country upside down. But not because protesters are raising hell—instead, the country is at a breaking point because the Ortega administration refuses to listen or let go of power.
Ortega amassed a great deal of support after having ruled the country since 1979. He then helped bring the socialist Sandinista movement to power in 1990 and was then reelected again in 2007 after a populist campaign. It was after Ortega pushed for reform that allowed him to stay in power that things started to go downhill.
Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights president Vilma Núñez told The Miami Herald that Ortega “turned [the protests] into a massacre.” And the signs of despair are clear.
In the capital, a spray paint reads, “The state did it,” which refers to the murder of protesters. But the Ortega government says right-wing gangs are behind the killings.
Even the Catholic church was called in to mediate a talk between protesters and the government, and the bishops said, “enough.”
“It is not possible to resume national dialogue while the people of Nicaragua are being denied their right to protest peacefully and are being repressed and murdered,” they declared.
But as the people uprising against the state continued to be slaughtered with impunity, Nicaraguans wonder if resistance will have the effect they hope. Even businessmen, who are considering going on a national strike, are fearful of what comes next.
“By January of 2019, Nicaragua will no longer exist,” an anonymous businessman told reporters.
“Although the private companies and all of the business people have tried to avoid it, I don’t see how we can continue maintaining the situation like it is now without a national strike,” he added.
“We don’t have weapons, so what else do we have left? Keep protesting, keep showing our faces and keep suffering the casualties?”
Ortega has always been clear about the Sandinista movement and its roots being socialist. But as the need to stay in power grew, so did his ties with the private sector. With cronyism being the driving force of the Ortega administration, and with his wife, Rosario Murillo, as his vice president, a virtual dictatorship has been installed.
As the president becomes richer thanks to his government’s cozy relationship with the business elite, the media remains censored. With the opposition being persecuted and snipers being sent to kill unarmed protesters, it’s hard to ignore the countless young men and women in the country who have grown tired. But to many of them, Ortega is the wrong guy because he’s betrayed the socialist cause. To them, Ortega hasn’t done enough to “lift the poor.” Instead of the current dictator, they want someone who will put the government to take even more action to bring total equality to the country.
But history has shown us that when governments act to make people more equal, they succeed—but not by lifting them. Instead, they make everyone equally miserable.
The people of Nicaragua are at an important time in their country’s history.
They can choose to turn their back to the old world of authoritarianism, whether it’s called socialism or not, and embrace real freedom of association.
If that’s the path they choose, they will see growth like never before. Liberty will also flourish as a result. But if they choose to continue embracing the same type of socialist policies implemented by Ortega, except by someone else, not much will change.
As they face the tough questions that will shape their immediate future, I hope they are able to see the light and choose to put liberty before whatever potential ruling elite may come next. And I hope the transition is one of peace and hope, not revolution and hardship.