Anxiety, Ambivalence, and Ambiguity: Nicaragua’s Uncertain Way Forward

“It’s a terrible reality.”[i] These were the words of a 36-year old Nicaraguan man named Milton when asked about the crisis in Nicaragua.[ii] Milton made these comments while waiting in line, with hundreds of others, outside Nicaragua’s main passport office.[iii] Nicaraguan citizens have been camping outside of the office and even selling their places in line to the highest bidder.[iv] People from Nicaragua are fleeing the country because of a political crisis that has stifled Nicaragua’s economy and challenged President Daniel Ortega.[v]

Problems began for Nicaragua when longtime benefactor, Venezuela, decided to withhold aid in 2017 amid its own economic turmoil.[vi] With this avenue of funding cut off, Nicaragua was forced to cut back its own government programs.[vii] In mid-April, the Nicaraguan government announced a plan to alter Social Security by reducing pensions by 5%.[viii] The government also announced raising taxes on companies and employers, which businesses vehemently opposed.[ix] On April 18, both students and business leaders led a march against these reforms in Managua, Nicaragua’s capital, as well as in the western cities of Leon and Matagalpa.[x] Nicaraguans were demanding a return to a true democracy by calling for Ortega’s removal and suggesting electoral and political reforms.[xi] These protests quickly became violent and led to a government crackdown.[xii] Nicaraguan police and paramilitary forces, working in connection with the Nicaraguan government, shot at demonstrators.[xiii]

The violence drew attention from human rights groups, the U.N, and foreign governments.[xiv] Human rights advocates measured that at a minimum 300, and maybe as many as  450 persons were killed since the protests began.[xv] Additionally, the Nicaraguan Pro-Human Rights Association asserted that an estimate of 600 people had either been kidnapped or had disappeared.[xvi] Student and youth casualties fueled the greatest anger towards the Nicaraguan government.[xvii] In response to youth casualties, mothers of victims protested on Nicaragua’s Mother’s Day.[xviii] However, the protest ended in fifteen deaths.[xix] During, and in the wake of, these violent protests the UN accused the Ortega government, military, and Nicaraguan police force of human rights violations.[xx] These accusations included instances of torture and extrajudicial killings.[xxi] According to the UN, pro-government entities acted in a “joint and coordinated manner” with the Nicaraguan police.[xxii] However, on the basis of interviews with police officers and Sandinista activists, in an attempt to verify protestor claims of torture and abuse, the UN concluded that “beyond a number of cruel isolated incidents, these acts were neither organi[z]ed nor common.”[xxiii]

With Ortega resuming control, the amount of violent protests has subsided.  However, the way forward remains unclear.[xxiv] At this point, Nicaragua is in a “stage of repression” since protest leaders, and protestors, have gone into hiding or fled to other countries.[xxv] For example, 26-year old Harley Morales (student leader of the opposition) has gone into hiding.[xxvi] After resuming control, President Ortega refused demands to step down as president or hold early election.[xxvii] He instead went on an interview tour and sought to convey the country had returned to business as usual.[xxviii] The consensus is that the best way to move past this crisis is through a dialogue.[xxix] Ortega’s control and the lack of protest leadership, continue to serve as hindrances to the resuming of talks with the Ortega government.[xxx] However, pressure from Latin America, the U.S., the E.U., and the Catholic Church could ignite some conduct reform indicating Ortega’s willingness to move forward with a dialogue.[xxxi] Yet, a stalemate continues as it remains uncertain whether talks will begin soon.[xxxii] This stalemate may come at a great cost, the longer dialogue is delayed the greater chance frustration sets in and Nicaragua sinks into an anarchic regime.[xxxiii]


[i] Kirk Semple, ‘There’s No Law’: Poltical Criss Sends Nicaraguans Fleeing, N.Y. Times (Aug. 6, 2018),

[ii] Id. (noting Milton asked his last name remain unpublished for fear of government retaliation).

[iii] Id.

[iv] Id.

[v] Id.

[vi] Rocio Cara Labrador, Nicaragua in Crisis: What to Know, Council on Foreign Relations (Nov. 26, 2018),

[vii] Id.

[viii] Id.

[ix] See id.

[x] International Crisis Group, A Road to Dialogue After Nicaragua’s Crushed Uprising (Dec. 19, 2018),

[xi] Id.

[xii] Kirk Semple, supra note 1.

[xiii] Id.

[xiv] Rocio Cara Labrador, supra note 6.

[xv] Kirk Semple, supra note 1.

[xvi] Id.

[xvii] Rocio Cara Labrador, supra note 6.

[xviii] Id.

[xix] Id.

[xx] Id.

[xxi] Id.

[xxii] International Crisis Group, supra note 10.

[xxiii] Id.

[xxiv] See Kirk Semple, supra note 1.

[xxv] Id.

[xxvi] Id.

[xxvii] Id.

[xxviii] Id.

[xxix] Id.

[xxx] International Crisis Group, supra note 10.

[xxxi] Id.

[xxxii] Id.

[xxxiii] See Kirk Semple, supra note 1.