The Nicaraguan people defeat US-financed 'regime change'
At the start of 2018, Nicaragua enjoyed a reputation as the safest country in Central America. It had the most stable economy in Central America, set to grow by 5%, tourism was booming and the social and economic programmes introduced by the Government had succeeded in halving poverty and extreme poverty, providing an improved standard of living for Nicaraguans and their families. President Daniel Ortega, having been elected in 2016 with 72% of the popular vote, had an approval rating of around 80%. On 18 April, all that changed. Inexplicably, students took to the streets to protest against proposed social security reforms which had actually been accepted by the trade unions and pensioners alike. All hell broke loose – police were accused of firing on the protesters with live ammunition, a fact which has since been disputed, and overnight President Ortega turned from hero to villain, with Nicaragua’s right wing opposition accusing him of despotism, repression and corruption and calling for his immediate resignation. Since that time, the Western media, led by the BBC and the Guardian among others, have subscribed to this narrative and have failed to recognise the truth of the matter which is that what happened was an attempted coup, pre-planned and financed by Washington.
The reason for the protests themselves were spurious, given that the Government’s proposal was introduced as a counterweight to proposals from the International Monetary Fund which had sought an increase in the retirement age from 60 to 65 and which would have led to the privatisation of health clinics.. In response to the protests, the Government quickly withdrew the proposed reforms. And yet within days, the protests had escalated into widespread violence led by political groups and organisations opposed to the government. The supposed reasons for the original protests seemed to be forgotten as the right wing opposition repeated its calls for regime change. A dialogue established by the Government in an effort to end violence and restore peace and stability was repeatedly stalled due to the intransigence of the opposition, who refused to countenance anything other than the resignation of President Ortega.
From April until July, the situation in some areas escalated into extreme violence resulting in the tragic deaths of over 300 people; hundreds were injured, including members of the national police, students, teachers, trade unionists, government employees, business owners, journalists and citizens who were innocent bystanders. There was also widespread arson and the deliberate destruction of public buildings, police stations and private property. Sandinistas and pro-government supporters were particular targets – many were kidnapped, tortured and murdered, with their bodies set on fire. Opposition groups, as a means of pressuring the government to meet their demands for the resignation of President Ortega, constructed thousands of road blocks in towns, cities and on major highways on the Pacific Coast. As with the demonstrations, the road blocks largely started peacefully but rapidly descended into opportunities for violence and extortion. Whilst the Government has been blamed by the Western media and commentators for the ongoing violence and for all deaths, evidence shows that most of the violence has been perpetrated by armed extreme right wing protesters, a fact which is being ignored by the Inter-American Human Rights Commission (IAHCR) and other international human rights organisations such as Amnesty International, who rely for their reports solely on testimony from members of the right wing opposition and media hostile to the government.
The influence of the US in the current crisis cannot be ignored. Between 2014 and 2017, the NED funded over 50 projects in Nicaragua for a total of US$4.2 million. The funding went mainly to organisations concerned about governance, private enterprise, strengthening civil society’s capacity to defend democracy, targeting especially youth and students aimed at fostering “a more active role of youth in defending democracy”, and human rights. It is telling that in an article by Benjamin Waddell in NED funded magazine Global Americans, he unashamedly states “Looking back at the developments of last several months, it is now quite evident that the U.S. government actively helped build the political space and capacity in Nicaraguan society for the social uprising that is currently unfolding.”
The links between opposition forces and the US go back to 2017, when members of Nicaragua’s right wing opposition, unable to win power at the ballot box, visited Washington to lobby right wing Republicans for sanctions against their own country. The result was the introduction of the NICA Act, which threatened to block all loans to Nicaragua unless it fulfilled US conditions. US hostile actions towards Nicaragua have continued and there are clear grounds to believe that there is a strong connection between this and the wave of extreme violence that has engulfed Nicaragua ever since the April 19 protests whose specific aim, coinciding with US policy, is ‘regime change’. In June, students and opposition leaders again visited Washington, this time specifically to ask for help from right wing Republicans such as Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen to oust the democratically elected President of their country.
So what now? The government has dismantled the roadblocks which had served to damage the economy and intimidate local populations. Communities across the country, now free to travel and go to work without hindrance, have been celebrating their liberation. Reconstruction of roads and property is going on in towns and villages where wanton destruction has taken place. On 19 July, on the 39th anniversary of the Sandinista revolution, tens of thousands of Nicaraguans took to the streets in celebration and in support of the government. On 23 July, students not associated with the protests took to the streets to demand justice for the victims of opposition crimes. After months of intimidation and insecurity, savage violence and economic blockade at the hands of the country’s extremist opposition, people in Nicaragua long for a return to a peaceful social and economic life.
The economic impact of the crisis will take some time to overcome. Business closures have left 200,000 people jobless, and unless the crisis ends soon, some 1.3 million of Nicaragua's 6.2 million people “risk falling into poverty”, according to a study by the Nicaraguan Foundation for Economic and Social Development (Funides). The Nicaraguan Central Bank (BCN) has lowered its projection for economic growth this year, from 4.9 per cent to one per cent, while the productive sector — including manufacturing and farming — has accumulated losses of US$430 million, with more than 85,000 jobs lost . Tourism had been growing for the last decade, with more than a million visitors a year, but now some tourist areas are on the verge of collapse. Those who will be most affected are those who are most impoverished and living a hand to mouth existence on the margins in the barrios of the cities and in the countryside.
For now, the attempted coup has failed. It is highly likely that pressure from the US and the right wing opposition for regime change will continue. But for most Nicaraguans, the desire is for life to return to normal and for peace and stability to be restored. The country now begins the long process of repairing the immense damage done by the extremist opposition. As for the future, the Nicaraguan people have a choice. In 2016 they elected a government which would deliver for the poorest and most vulnerable in society. The vast majority of Nicaraguans have no desire to return to the neo-liberal years prior to 2007, when education and health were privatised and many people could not afford to feed their families or send their kids to school. The Nicaraguan people must be allowed to determine their own future, free from US and foreign interference. They did so in 2016 and they will do so again.
The NSCAG has produced a statement and briefing on the crisis – this can be found at the link below:-