PHM-Canada condemns the recent wave of repression against students and civilians perpetrated by the regime of President Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua, and supports calls for the establishment of an independent inquiry into the violence and for a fully representative and participatory national dialogue. PHM-Canada expresses its solidarity with the people of Nicaragua and their continued protest for the right to an adequate and fair social security system, for authentic democracy, for freedom of the media, and against the destruction of the environment by extractive industries — which includes aggressive Canadian mining operations in the country.
As of Monday, April 23, various sources confirmed over 30 dead, and hundreds wounded and arrested in state-sponsored repression over the past 10 days. The violence began April 19, the day that the government announced a package of austerity reforms to the social security system (INSS) that would deeply affect pensions and employer/employee contribution schemes. University students spontaneously went out to the streets to protest in Managua, and were met with violent counter-attacks from the FSLN youth wing, and from the country’s police force, which began firing on students. The first three students were killed in the initial skirmishes. For the next five days, angered by the escalating attacks on students, by the government’s censure of key opposition media, and by the growing numbers of dead, detained and wounded, more students, pensioners, and supporters hit the streets, being joined by protesters in all the major cities in the country. Buildings were burned, including government installations and an opposition radio station. Looting occurred, though evidence suggested that insiders from the party egged on the looters – allegedly to provoke a reason for more repression. A nation-wide protest on Monday included calls for the President to step down due to the repression, ongoing corruption, deep party patronage and authoritarian rule.
Much of the violence of the week was captured on social media, with videos of students hiding under desks, being beaten by the FSLN youth wing, and shot by police being live-streamed on Facebook and Twitter. Footage included a journalist filming the protest being fatally shot to the head. By Saturday, some two-dozen young people were dead and the country was in shock and mourning.
Meanwhile, Vice-President Rosario Murillo referred to protesters as a “miniscule” group, made of “vampires” out for blood, while President Ortega referred to them as “criminals” and “delinquents” calling them responsible for the repression. On Sunday, the government caved, and rescinded the reforms; but they have not assumed any responsibility for the violence. As a post-war country, Nicaragua is highly polarized; the protests have opened old wounds and sacrificed truth, with both the FSLN and the US-influenced official opposition and business class proffering explanations with deep ideological roots. But the evidence is clear. Students are dead. Police fired live ammunition. The government did nothing to stop the repression.
While officially, Catholic cardinals have called for a national dialogue, the conditions for it are not met – no terms of dialogue are set, and students have not been invited. The country remains tense and the underlying problems that ignited this popular uprising have not been addressed. University students, including brigades of volunteer medical students, are still occupying the Universidad Politecnico (UPOLI) in Managua. Some classes have resumed, but attendance is low. Many university classes remain cancelled.
Ortega has been in power for a total of 22 years, currently since 2007. He has wholly transformed the country into a one party/family/state dynasty through electoral, judicial, financial and legislative reforms ensuring his and his family’s permanent ascendency in government while engendering a climate of neoliberal business-friendly patronage politics. Hence the protest chant: “Ortega, Somoza – son la misma cosa” [Ortega and (former dictator) Somoza are the same thing.]
The repression must be condemned, and a true democratic process of dialogue initiated.