Democracy in Nicaragua: The Fifth Time’s the Charm!


The instability in Nicaragua has been fueled by poor economics, unfair politics, and an unaccountable leader. This erupted on April 18th and will likely not be resolved anytime soon. (Photo via Pixabay under Creative Commons license).

The Republic of Nicaragua is the largest country on the Central American Isthmus and is the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. This is partially because of the poor state of their politics. During the 1930s, a dictatorship was established by General Luis Somoza. Years later, during later parts of the Cold War, the U.S. intervened multiple times, instating a new democracy. In the 1990s, Nicaragua’s leader, Arnoldo Aleman, stole millions of dollars in foreign aid and tax money from the country making the economy even weaker. Recently, President Daniel Ortega’s current cabinet has come under fire for recent reforms.

“My understanding is that the government is not the most transparent. The government began with plans to make social security reforms. Demonstrators began in the streets; freedom of speech was going on, but the police used deadly force to stop them. There’s looting, raiding, and so many issues. Nicaragua is a country full of turmoil; they’ve been through dictatorships and failed governments. There’s so much nepotism going on. The vice president is the president’s wife. The son of the president controls the major news outlets. There’s a lot of hostility right now,” says Matt Humphrey, a missionary partner to One-by-One International in Nicaragua.

The situation has brought about peaceful protesting from those who oppose the reform. However, these protests turned violent when the National Police tried to quell the demonstrators. This has brought on the question: who is to blame for these riots?

“I believe that the riots themselves are justified because of what they are rioting against. The reforms that are being made are obviously not helping the population and neither is the oppressive government. I believe that they should try to stay nonviolent, so there are fewer lives taken due to the conflict,” says senior Ian McDowell.

At this point, 42 citizens have been confirmed dead by the Nicaragua Center for Human Rights, but many Nicaraguans believe this number is much higher. President Ortega’s cabinet claims that the protesters are at fault for causing unrest.

“He shouldn’t blame them. He should take at least some responsibility here. One person [cannot] cause a whole nation’s problems. It’s not one group’s fault, and there shouldn’t be one group blamed. [The protesters] are allowed to be angry. Protesting shouldn’t be to the point of murder, but if something is making them upset, they have the right to protest,” says sophomore Noah Schmidt.

After underwhelming attempts to calm the nation, Ortega eventually told the nation that he would not enact the reform. Rioters continued to march, claiming that it wasn’t about social security anymore —it was about Ortega’s leadership.

“From my previous knowledge, I feel like Ortega is not going to implement the reforms in order to get the rioters to stop. However, once people stop paying attention to him, it seems possible that he will implement these reforms. If he does end up implementing the reforms later on, I believe the rioting [will] become more frequent than it is now,” says McDowell.

Ortega held a rally on April 30th attempting to draw support. Thousands were estimated to have gathered; however, some believe that a majority of the supporters were either government workers who were forced to be there or part of the generation that had to live through the Nicaraguan Civil War.

“Ortega had a rally the other day with government officials. The people are basically being forced to pledge allegiance or their livelihood is put at stake. Most people are living off of $2 per day; they can’t afford to not support Ortega. A lot of the time, he doesn’t make appearances to the public—at most, maybe thirty times per year. In the last few weeks, he made eight appearances. He realizes that his government is on the ropes,” says Humphrey.

Where does this leave the Nicaraguans? As a product of countless interventions from the United States, the nation’s democracy is teetering. Although things look bleak, the riots have seemingly made Daniel Ortega’s once unshakeable grip on the nation weaker. It may not mean the end of his regime yet, but a more democratic Nicaragua seems to be on the horizon.

“The United States isn’t about to force a regime change. A change would have to come from the people, but I don’t see it happening anytime soon. People can only live with a lack of freedom and a lack of a voice in the government for so long. I don’t think you can stifle people’s voices and freedoms and expect it to not erupt. When a husband and a wife are representing a country, that’s not a true representation,” says Spanish teacher Mary Donohue.