For the last six months I have been preparing myself to go on expedition to Nicaragua alongside Raleigh International as one of their advanced medics. With a vested interest in Nicaragua as my expedition destination, I have closely followed the Nicaraguan protests in the news and have been perturbed by the complete lack of available information. It was not until a few weeks ago when my expedition was relocated to Costa Rica that I endeavoured to delve a little deeper. It has become apparent that the situation is much worse than the media have portrayed and an already struggling nation is spiralling towards civil war once again.
How did the Nicaraguan Protests begin?
Protests commenced on April 19th in reaction to Daniel Ortega’s, the Scandinista’s president, attempted social reforms by executive order; cutting pensions by 5% and increasing contributions from all workers. Initially a peaceful march, things rapidly escalated when government authorities retaliated with repression and violence; shooting protesters using rifle ammunition with chest and head shots designed to kill.
Others, primarily students, from the cities of Masaya and Managua have joined protests. Their anger is aimed towards Ortega’s regime which, they say, has lost touch with the population and is no longer serving their interests. The large metal trees in the cities, part of a multimillion dollar project, known as Árboles de la Vida have been torn down in rage by those fighting Ortega’s dictatorship.
Since protests began, over 130 people have been brutally murdered and thousands more injured. Those with potentially life-threatening injuries are being turned away at hospital entrances on demand of the president to not treat any wounded protestors. Three public hospitals have been publicly named for refusing to treat injured people.
The Government’s repression
Television stations and media centres have been shut down, some have been set on fire. Anyone seen to be broadcasting is at risk of losing their life. This became a reality for Angel Gahona, a journalist shot dead during a facebook live broadcast of the protests on the Caribbean coast.
Pro-Sandinista groups are taking action on behalf of the government, attacking protestors with home-made mortars whilst police are restraining them. Meanwhile anti-riot police are firing live rounds into crowds of civilians. Both culminating in a spread of fear amongst the population.
Ortega and his wife and vice president Murillo have done little the quell the demonstrations. They claim they have not participated at all in the repression and it is simply a collusion between the students and extreme right political groups to cause destabilisation. Murillo described the protestors as “tiny groups that threaten peace and development with selfish, toxic political agendas and interests, full of hate.”. The Sandinista’s activity in the riots is allowing the government to pass on responsibility for the repression.
After calls from some of his own ministers and The Pope to negotiate peace, Ortega has rescinded the intended social reforms and agreed to participate in dialogue with a select group of societal representatives. These talks have since broken down and the damage to his government’s image has already been done. Protesters can be heard chanting on the street ‘Ortega y Somoza son la misma cosa’, comparing Orteag’s inability to recognise the needs of the public and his brutal repression in April this year to that of Somoza’s response to the 1972 earthquake. When hundreds of thousands of people lost their homes and turned to the government for help they were met with nothing but corruption, brutality and multiple assassinations. Somoza’s underestimation of the public outrage ultimately led to his ruination by Ortega and the FSLN party, who created national directorate and subsequent elected government.
The Economic Impact
The Nicaraguan economy is hugely dependant on the tourism industry and as a result of the current situation, tourists are turning away in droves. Not only have many countries changed travel advice, recommending none but essential travel, they are also cancelling flights and organised trips. People are being turned away at the borders or refused passage at road blocks. Hundreds of millions of dollars have already been lost. In May, the US embassy in Nicaragua advised all family members of embassy staff to leave the country. The UK embassy has advised all British Citizens to leave the country.
Impact on healthcare
Nicaragua is one of central America’s poorest countries still burdened by many communicable diseases, tuberculosis, zika and dengue. Despite having a socialised healthcare system with many advanced tertiary centres, child malnutrition is still a problem in many rural areas. Managua and other cities have high quality healthcare and even attract many health tourists due to the low costs of routine visits. Over 40% of the population live in rural areas were there is little incentive for medical professionals to work. These areas still rely heavily on foreign aid and mission groups to deliver essential services.
Due to the ongoing civil unrest many organisations have pulled out of planned trips to the areas including medical missions from Quebec, Arkansas and several church groups from North Country Mission of Hope. In a time when the people of Nicaragua need help more than ever it is worrying to think how they will be effected without outside projects delivering food and medical supplies.
To date, little humanitarian aid has been offered and unless there is some political stabilisation it is doubtful that there will be any at all.
Some more news articles on the Nicaraguan Protests: