WASHINGTON: Daniel Ortega, President of Nicaragua, promised Democracy but has begun to act like a dictator and a cruel one at that. In this, the 2018 Nicaragua Revolution, perhaps as many as 300 people have been killed in and because of recent demonstrations. There are many injuries.
Approximately 30 percent of the Nicaraguan population lives on less than $2 per day. In rural areas, poverty rates are especially high. Fifty-percent of Nicaraguan households live in extreme poverty. With little access to schools or job opportunities, much less electricity or running water, rural Nicaraguan families often rely on operating small farms for food and to earn a livelihood.
And their station in life does not change.
Nicaragua is not a naturally poor country.
Nicaragua is a socialist country following ten years of civil war from 1980-90 and the economic crisis of 1987. The GDP in Nicaraguan relies on agriculture, fishing and forestry, leisure and business tourism. The country rates as the safest Central American country for tourism and tourist dollars, prior to the latest revolution, have been growing exponentially.
Tourism has grown 394% over the last decade, making it the second biggest source of foreign capital.
Gold and silver found in the mines, Siuna, Rosita, and Bonanza have been among the country’s dominant trade since 1880. According to a recent study the mining sector has been able to double gold production and increase silver output by up to seven times in the last 11 years.
A Revolutionary History
Augusto Nicolás Calderón Sandino, was a revolutionary and leader of a rebellion between 1927 and 1933 against the U.S. military occupation of Nicaragua. Sandino, whose image, silhouette and statue can be seen all over Managua, the capital city, was referred to as a “bandit” by the United States government.
However, Sandino’s exploits made him a hero throughout much of Latin America, heralded for his resistance against the United States Marine Corps over a six-year guerrilla war.
After the inauguration of President Juan Bautista Sacasa (1932–36) the U.S. pulled out of Nicaragua. The Great Depression in the U.S. was partially responsible for the withdrawal of troops as we simply could not afford to support the efforts.
Sandino was assassinated in 1934 by National Guard forces of Gen. Anastasio Somoza García. Behind a coup d’état , Garcia went on to seize power. After being elected by an overwhelming vote as president in 1936, Somoza García resumed control of the National Guard and established a dictatorship.
The Somoza family dynasty would rule Nicaragua for more than 40 years.
The Sandinista National Liberation Front
Sandino’s political legacy was claimed by the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), which finally overthrew the Somoza government in 1979. In what was called “Operation Reptile” a seven-person Sandinista commando team attacked the president, Somoza was assassinated.
The Sandinista team was armed with two Soviet-made machine guns, two AK-47 assault rifles, two automatic pistols, and an RPG-7 rocket launcher with four anti-tank grenades and two rockets. One of the team members said:
“We cannot tolerate the existence of millionaire playboys while thousands of Latin Americans are dying of hunger. We are perfectly willing to give up our lives for this cause.”
Under Luis Somoza, during the 1960s and 70s, Nicaragua was becoming one of Central America’s most developed nations. This came to a crashing end in 1972 when 90% of the capital city Managua was destroyed in an earthquake. Instead of using relief money to rebuild the city and help Nicaraguans, Luis Somoza’s embezzling most of the relief money coupled with the government’s corruption allowed the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) to become a popular opposition party.
The Sandinistas and a guerrilla group associated with them with the support of a large portion of the people as well as the Catholic Church took power in July of 1979. Somoza fled the country later to be himself assassinated in Paraguay in September of 1980.
The Sandinistas, under the command of Daniel Ortega inherited a country in ruins with over 600,000 people homeless due to the earthquake, 50,000 dead from the insurgency that eventually overthrew the government, and a debt of US$1.6 billion. – Opportunity.org
Ortega and the Sandinista Guerrilla Movement
Daniel Ortega joined the Sandinista guerrilla movement in 1963 and was a leader in the revolution against the former dictator, Anastasia Somoza. After the Somoza dictatorship was overthrown, Ortega became the head of the National Reconstruction Board.
He was elected President of the country in 1984, serving from 1958 to 1990. However, Ortega lost the presidency in 1991 to Violeta Chamorro (1990-1997), Arnoldo Alemán (1997-2002), and Enrique Bolaños (2002-2007) before winning once again in 2006.
Suspected Election Rigging by Daniel Ortega boots Bolaños from power
The president from 2002 through 2006 was Enrique Bolaños, a U.S.-educated engineer who worked to reduce corruption and advance economic development in the country. During a trip with Patrick Bolaños, nephew of the politician, this writer spent time bouncing through the countryside for meetings with farmers organizations, taking calls on his cell phone and discussing economic development. Only it was not to last.
Ortega found ways, during the Bolaños presidency, to practically ensure that he would win the election in November 2006. Because of the country’s electoral system, he could do so with just over one-third of the votes cast.
Bolaños turned over the reins of power.
Subsequently, Ortega won the election with a majority of the votes. There was, however, suspicion of widespread election rigging.
Taking power once again, Ortega has been overseeing Nicaragua for nearly twelve years, however, conditions for the country, where the majority lives in poverty, have not improved.
April 2018: Civil Unrest in Nicaragua begins
On 18 April 2018, demonstrators in several cities of Nicaragua began protests against President Daniel Ortega’s social security reforms. Ortega sought to increase taxes and decrease benefits to an already struggling populace.
Within the first five days of unrest, nearly thirty people were killed, Ortega announced the cancellation of the reforms.
Opposition denouncing Ortega and demanding his resignation has quickly become one of the largest protests in his government’s history and the deadliest civil conflict since the end of the Sandino led Nicaraguan Revolution
The Central American country recently celebrated the 39th anniversary of the Sandinista revolution. Many now say Ortega is on the same path as the dictator he first overthrew 39 years ago.
The country’s still widespread poverty is a source of dissatisfaction. Many people were upset by the government’s decision to let a Chinese group build a canal through the middle of the country, an effort that would cause vast environmental damage and put the countries greatest resource, the fresh water found in Lake Nicaragua at risk. The government has had slow response to forest fires.
The government tried to ensure the solvency of the social security system by increasing contributions and reducing benefits, and the protests began in earnest. Those changes have now been rescinded, but the protests continue
In addition to the people reported killed in the past several weeks, many have been injured. Government forces have invaded a university and a church and been accused of torture.
People are acting out against what they see as money wasters.
Daniel Ortega, a leader of the struggle against the repressive rule in Nicaragua, now heads a repressive government. He needs to let the people’s voices guide his policies and actions for the rest of his term, hold fair elections in 2021, or sooner, and peacefully step down if he is defeated.
About the Author:
Ken Weiss is an international development consultant turned writer. He has lived in 6 countries and traveled to about 70, including Nicaragua several times. His languages include English, Spanish, French, and a few words of others. His publications include four trade books and several articles.