One year ago the largest Nicaraguan protests in a generation began. Hundreds of thousands of students, workers, priests, and farmers came out demanding economic and social reform, as well as the resignations of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, and his wife Vice President Rosario Murillo. There was fervent hope across Central America that the protests would be the start of Nicaragua’s shift towards democracy. Sadly, this was not to be. In similar fashion to what Nicolas Maduro has done in Venezuela, Ortega responded by tightening his grip on power.
The wave of protests in April, 2018 caught Ortega and his regime entirely off guard. For a short period of time it appeared possible that the regime might fall, but Ortega slammed it shut with an unrelenting, and brutal crackdown. Since last April 500 protesters are known to have been killed, and over 1,200 have been imprisoned, or have disappeared. Over 50,000 Nicaraguans have left the country in the past year. A good number of them are attempting to seek asylum in the United States, exacerbating the growing crisis on the US southern border.
Although the crisis in Venezuela is consuming the lion’s share of international attention for the moment, many nations are aware of what’s going on in Nicaragua. Washington is becoming more interested in large part because of the connection Ortega’s government has with Cuba, and because of the consequences Ortega’s suppression is having for the situation on the US southern border. The Trump administration has levied economic sanctions against Managua, as part of a larger package also aimed at Cuba and Venezuela. Nicaraguan business leaders are being targeted and the hope is that the pressure will erode the support that Nicaragua’s business community has given to Ortega’s government.
Like Venezuela, the situation in Nicaragua is stalemated at the moment. If the current round of sanctions fails to have the desired effect, the US will likely add more. Unfortunately, if Venezuela is any measuring stick, it will be a long time before they have a negative effect on Daniel Ortega’s regime. If ever.