Ortega’s choice: on the political unrest in Nicaragua

The anniversary of the 1979 revolution to oust the dictator Anastasio Somoza evokes mixed memories in Nicaragua. The bitter political unrest in the country, now into its fourth month, shows no sign of abating, with President Daniel Ortega digging in his heels. The veteran Sandinista guerrilla leader’s refusal to heed pleas to call elections next year, two years ahead of schedule, threatens to prolong the bloody conflict, with the confrontation already claiming more than 260 lives. The trigger for the protests was the recent reform of the social security policy aimed at simultaneously raising individual contributions and reducing benefits. Whatever the economic rationale, the move was perceived by people as needless provocation and a double penalty. But by the time the regime saw wisdom and rescinded the measure, it was already too late. Anger over the social security reform morphed into broad-based opposition against the rule of Mr. Ortega, who has been in office for 11 years in his current spell in power, and his wife Rosario Murillo, who is Vice President. Mr. Ortega has scrapped constitutional limits for high office, and there is speculation that Ms. Murillo is being groomed to succeed him. Students and the business community coalesced under the banner of the Civic Alliance for Justice and Democracy. But their demand for Mr. Ortega to quit and call early elections was met by the paramilitary forces with a heavy hand. Images depicting the savagery behind the refusal to allow the rescue of victims of bullet wounds went viral, rallying human rights groups and volunteers from the Roman Catholic Church. Despite the best efforts of the Nicaraguan Bishops’ Conference, the situation has worsened: more than 30 deaths were reported last week alone.


The Central American state, which has seen rapid economic growth in recent times, is forecast to raise output by only around 0.5% to 1.5% this year. This is a substantial reduction by the country’s central bank from its initial projection. The modest estimate is ascribed to the economic pain and loss of thousands of jobs from the continuing unrest and the resulting uncertainty. This situation could persist on account of the breakdown in dialogue between the government and protesters. When mass demonstrations erupted in April, commentators expressed serious doubts whether Mr. Ortega would easily relinquish power. The fears have been validated since then, even as the situation has deteriorated. Conversely, Nicaragua’s fractured opposition lacks a unified strategy to channel the discontent into a political plan of action. That only strengthens the regime’s sense, howsoever misleading, of its own invincibility. Mr. Ortega should know that he cannot sustain the crackdown for too long. The need to call early elections has only grown more urgent.


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Printable version | Oct 24, 2021 6:01:06 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/ortegas-choice/article24476835.ece

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