There is a political crisis happening in Nicaragua. Its spark was a set of reforms to social security that President Daniel Ortega’s government put in place to address the budget shortfall facing the country’s social security system, though, at this point, there is a broader set of concerns and threats.
For years, the government had been in negotiations with the business sector, represented by the Superior Council of Private Enterprise (COSEP), to look for a solution to the budget shortfall. COSEP pulled out of negotiations earlier in April. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) called the situation urgent and had pushed for deep cuts to benefits and additional “reforms” with which the government did not agree. Facing the pressure from the global neoliberal economic system, Ortega’s government met with some unions to develop an alternative plan, which did still involve increases in people’s social security contributions and decreases in their benefits, but which was not as painful as what the IMF wanted to implement.
When thousands of people took to the streets to protest these reforms, including workers and students, they encountered repression and violence, including repression by Nicaraguan forces. According to the Center for Economic and Policy Research, “Local human rights organizations report that at least 38 (and up to 63) people have been killed … including two police officers and at least one journalist who was shot in the head while filming live on Facebook.” We do not assume that the state is responsible for all of the killings. That said, it is clear that the state has some serious responsibility for the repression, including not only killings but also reported arrests, beatings, and shutdown of independent media, and this has us deeply concerned.
However, the growing discontent with the current Ortega government is not just about the social security reforms. Ortega’s administration has been challenging the imposition of global neoliberal forces in some respects, but at the same time, they are pushing controversial proposals such as the construction of the Interoceanic Canal and many other extractivist projects without the people’s consent. These developments are centered around the idea of economic growth based on foreign investment, without regard for the ecological devastation and massive levels of displacement of peasant and Indigenous communities that they cause. In addition, Ortega’s government has a tendency toward socially conservative views especially around issues like women’s reproductive rights. On these and other issues, it is not known for tolerating dissent.
At the same time, it is important to recognize that the Ortega government comes out of a history of revolutionary struggle and is one of the only remaining left governments in the region. It has implemented some important social programs that advance the visions of workers and peasant communities around the country such as cutting poverty in half, from 48% to 25%, according to World Bank data. However, peasants and workers continue in the struggle for an Integral and Popular Agrarian Reform to improve the living conditions of thousands of landless peasant families. Among their demands are policies to protect peasant food production and cooperatives; and implementation of free, prior and informed consent to stop land grabbing and extractivism projects.
There is a real concern that the right wing in Nicaragua is using the momentum of recent protests and critiques of the Ortega government to try to destabilize the government and take power, as we have seen happen in other countries in Latin America, with the support from the US. This is a threat that could reverse the achievements gained by popular sectors in Nicaragua. Indeed, some protestors are calling for an end to Ortega’s government as a whole, raising concerns that this could be a step in a possible soft coup. Of course, as much as we are critical of Ortega’s government, we are also deeply concerned about the possibility of a right-wing takeover.
In the face of the widespread protests, the Ortega administration has now announced that it will not implement the planned social security reforms and will renew negotiations with COSEP with mediation by the Catholic Church. However, this process of dialogue and negotiations could be far from a resolution that protects the interests and rights of the Nicaraguan people, if it doesn’t center transparency, inclusion and multisectoral democratic participation, including from workers, peasant, Indigenous Peoples, women, students and social movements.
Grassroots International condemns the use of violence and repression and supports the democratic right to protest.
Grassroots International condemns the use of violence and repression and supports the democratic right to protest. We support the call for an independent investigation to bring to light those responsible for the deaths, as well as their intellectual authors. We also believe that in order to obtain a just resolution, the government must have an inclusive dialogue and negotiations that incorporates all the sectors of the Nicaraguan society beyond the private business sector. And at the same time, it is important to keep a watchful eye to guard against a possible coup, while continuing to build and support global social movements that are resisting the global neoliberal economic model.
Grassroots International stands in solidarity with the Nicaraguan people, especially peasants and Indigenous Peoples that have been working towards food sovereignty, the protection of people’s rights to land and territory, women’s rights, and building an economic model that prioritizes and protect the needs of people and nature.