Nicaraguan Protests Rattle Daniel Ortega’s Authoritarian Rule
Daniel Ortega faces the most serious challenge yet to his current 11 year rule.
Current Nicaraguan president Daniel Ortega, a former Marxist guerrilla backed by Communist regimes, experienced the greatest threat to his 11-year rule, as more than two dozen protesters have died this weekend amidst widespread rejection of a sweeping government decree enacting social security and pension reform.
Ortega sought to shore up Nicaragua’s troubled social security system by increasing worker and employer contributions and cutting benefits, but many analysts suggest that the protests have more to do with increasing authoritarian rule for the better part of the decade in the Central American nation, during which Ortega has removed checks and balances, and concentrated power in himself and his spouse, Vice President Rosario Murillo.
Under the terms of the reform, worker contributions to their pension plans were slated to increase from 6.25% to 7.25%, while employer contributions were scheduled to rise further, from 19% to 21%, and then 22.5% in 2022. Additionally, current retirees were expected to now contribute 5% of their payments for their medical care.
Social security systems across the world are under strain due to unrealistic financial plans made by central planning bureaucrats. Unfunded pensions liabilities have also become a major concern throughout the developed world, as insufficient numbers of current workers are contributing to fund the generous benefits expected by retirees. The ratios are only predicted to worsen, making for a statistical nightmare for social welfare states.
Ortega called for an income tax increase in his April 16 degree, but has now backed off from the sweeping reforms and promised to table the measure.
Ortega came under fire for the heavy-handed police response to the protests; a majority of the demonstrators are believed to have been killed by either live or rubber bullets, while in Bluefields, the capital of Nicaragua’s South Caribbean Autonomous Region, a reporter for a government television channel was shot to death while streaming on Facebook Live.
Business groups, unions, students, and other civil society sectors have joined the protests, which evidence increasing discontent with Ortega and the ruling Sandinista National Liberation Front. Many charge that Ortega is attempting to install a political dynasty, first appointing his wife as Vice President, with an eye on a future presidential run by Murillo.
Today, as the opposition called for new protests, rioting and looting spread, and the US Embassy ordered its staff and their families to evacuate the country, amidst reports of dozens of businesses being ransacked.
Heather Nauert, of the US State Department, took aim at “the violence and the excessive force used by police and others against civilians,” and the US government criticized the Ortega administration for its crackdown on the press, as independent media outlets have been heavily restricted or shut down entirely, during their reporting on recent developments.
Among the protesters’ demands are the release of those arrested, renewed freedom of the press, and a return to democracy in the Central American nation.
Managua bishop Silvio José Báez took aim at the government, noting, “I see no conditions for any dialogue with the government of Nicaragua,” he posted. “We have to stop the repression, free the young people who have been detained…and discuss the democratization of the country with all sectors of the country.”
While Ortega’s tenure has been marked by respectable economic growth and a reasonable measure of stability and security, Nicaragua remains one of the poorest handful of countries in Latin America, and the protests, in addition to ideological considerations, are likely to reflect a degree of “Ortega fatigue.” He has also been accused of packing key posts with family members and ideological backers and has faced even more serious allegations regarding the sexual abuse of his step-daughter.
Zoilamérica Narváez Murillo, the biological daughter of the current vice president, accuses Ortega of molesting her starting at the age of nine. She now lives in exile in Costa Rica, estranged from her family, and is a sharp critic of her mother and step-father’s political aims. The case never proceeded in Nicaraguan courts, which are largely packed with Ortega loyalists.
Ortega won a landslide reelection in 2016 with over 70% of the vote, in an election that critics claim were marred by fraud. It appears too early to tell at this point if the protests will subside, or if they represent a real threat to the continuity of Ortega’s authoritarian rule.