I have been sad and a little surprised to learn of the recent violence in Nicaragua.
Firstly, I would like to note, Nicaragua has been remarkably safe the last 20+ years. While wages remain extremely low, streets are generally safe, the road system good and people are friendly and welcoming. Nicaragua’s general security stands out when compared to the three countries to the north; El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala.
This sudden outburst of protest and violence clearly reveals deep rifts in the society and seething anger towards the Ortega regime – the post-revolutionary husband/wife team who now run the country like their own fiefdom.
These uprisings are supported by student groups and private industry and are in response to pension reforms. Many Nicaraguans exist so close to the poverty line that any change to the social security systems must be terrifying.
During my many conversations with Nicaraguans of all ages, I have not noted this vitriolic anger, but I have universally heard about the disenchantment with President Ortega and particularly his Vice-President wife, Rosario Murillo.
People are far happier with their current society and economy than that of almost any other time in their history.
The democratic debate – at least at a quotidian level – appears healthy, but corruption is deep. People now laugh at the billboards with Ortega’s smiling face declaring; “Christian, Socialist, Solidarity!”
It is said that the Ortega’s have their hands in all business. People are obviously feeling abused and this has been the flashpoint that reveals this latent anger.
It appears Ortega has backed down from the pension reforms. I imagine these reforms are economically necessary, but until leaders respect the rule of law and removed themselves from both obvious and subtle conflicts of interest, people will be angry.
I think of Nicaragua as a beautiful (and hot) tourism destination and have long promoted it as a recommended place to travel. Nicaragua is friendly, safe, fun and represents excellent value.
I hope this is a final show of anger and not the proverbial tip of the iceberg. For my many friends who work in tourism, I imagine this negative press is extremely concerning.
For those of us who came of age politically during the weaning days of the Cold War, Nicaragua was important. Indeed the US/CIA spent more money in 1990 to defeat the Sandinistas (and support Chamorro) than the entire GDP of the country.
Nicaragua’s history is tumultuous. With its massive lake, it has long been the alternate route between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. Spanish colonial rule was predictably oppressive. In 1856 William Walker took over the country, and declared himself president, while reintroducing slavery. While being chased out, he burned beautiful Grenada to the ground.
By the 1960’s Nicaraguans existed to support the Samosa family and their cronies. This horrific dictatorship gave rise to the Socialist Sandinista FSLN movement, which led to violent civil war.
One may remember the Iran-Contra scandal. Remember: the Reagan government helped support the Iranian
Islamic government (and circumvent the arms embargo) in order to finance Right-Wing Paramilitaries in Nicaragua and neighboring countries. Thousands died and many more became refugees. To this day a large part of the Nicaraguan economy is remittance-based (money sent back from relatives abroad).
The Sandinista Government
Despite the war of the 1980’s and a semi-puppet government of the 1990’s, Daniel Ortega managed to take power in 2007 and actually won the 2011 election. The Ortega’s won the 2016 election under somewhat dubious circumstances. Further securing their hold on power. The husband/wife model was chronicled in Netflix’s House of Cards and also contributed to the final downfall of Mugabe in Zimbabwe. The Ortega’s should learn something from this.
Overall, it is fair to say the Sandinistas have been better for Nicaragua than previous dictatorships, or the Chamorro government. There has been a distinct reduction in poverty, massive increase in literacy and improvements in infrastructure.
Some of this can be directly attributed to the Sandinista government, but simply peace is also a major factor in social improvements. We are seeing this in Colombia now – when not spending on military, so much money is available for social investment.
Of course the most obvious model is neighboring Costa Rica. The ‘Rich Coast’ outlawed its military in 1948 and now the country is a model of regional economic development, environmental stewardship and general happiness.
I want the same for Nicaragua!