Editorial

Nicaragua rocked: why the government should prevent escalation of violence

Protests over welfare reform have brought Daniel Ortega’s authoritarianism into focus

The violence and the clampdown that have convulsed Nicaragua, marked by mayhem on the streets of Managua and other cities, have left many dead, and undermined President Daniel Ortega’s authority. The public protests were triggered by the government’s decision to simultaneously raise individual contributions and reduce social welfare benefits and pensions. The economic rationale behind the move was to contain the ballooning social security deficit of recent years, based on the financial projections by the IMF for the end of the decade. But the economy registered a healthy rate of growth last year and the current account deficit has been falling. Given this, the government could have considered staggering the painful economic measures. The backlash has forced Mr. Ortega to roll back the reform proposal. But the damage was been done, and the reversal of the decision has energised the opposition to mount a concerted challenge to Mr. Ortega’s authoritarian style of functioning. Rosario Murillo, his wife and the Vice-President, is said to be the power behind the throne, and has been criticised for placing close family members in crucial positions. ‘Comandante Daniel’, as Mr. Ortega was popularly known among his Sandinista revolutionaries, has over time altered the constitution to overturn the prohibition on a second term and, in a separate manoeuvre, allowed for indefinite re-election bids. An example of the creeping unaccountability was the decision to bar international observers during the 2016 elections, which Mr. Ortega won for a third successive five-year stint.

 

The current escalation has revived memories of the 1970s, with parallels being drawn between the dictator Anastasio Somoza, whom Mr. Ortega overthrew. The release of a few student protesters has done little to ease tensions, as calls grow louder for guarantees that the President and the Vice President will not seek re-election in 2021. Another demand is for the next polls to be advanced. While the outcry reflects public anger against an authoritarian ruler, there is no sign yet that the current mood could be channelled into a coherent political alternative. The government should do everything in its power to prevent any escalation of the violence, which has claimed more than 60 lives according to the country’s Permanent Commission on Human Rights. The dialogue with the protesters should start. The country offers yet another instance of the dangers posed to democratic accountability by those dispensing with presidential term limits. Leaders in various Latin American states have made it a habit to prolong their tenures by curtailing political freedoms. It is time the matter was considered at a larger regional forum.

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Printable version | Jul 8, 2020 7:50:04 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/nicaragua-rocked/article23741026.ece

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