Nicaragua is facing its biggest uprising since 1990 when it was in the midst of a civil war, according to the New York Times.

For the past week, tens of thousands of protesters have crowded the streets to demand widespread reform and the resignation of President Daniel Ortega.

Despite winning some concessions, the protesters seem to be digging in for the long haul, the Times reports.  

“This is the turning point,” historian Mateo Jarquín Chamorro told Global Citizen. “While previous protests have been led by opposition politicians, these were spontaneous retaliations by middle class students against government policies.”

“It’s years of pent-up frustration over political exclusion and mediocre governance,” he added. “There was no outlet before, but this social crisis provided the spark.”

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Ortega’s government, meanwhile, has been violently cracking down on the dissent. So far, dozens of people have killed, the Financial Times reports.

“They’re destroying the image of Nicaragua, with all that it cost us to construct that image,” the president said of protesters in a televised speech.

Now, the country seems to be heading toward a full-blown crisis — but how did it get here?

Here are three things to know about the current state of unrest.

1/ It started with social security

Last week, Ortega approved a series a reforms to the country’s social security system that would require higher payments from workers and provide less money in pension payments as a way to close the federal deficit, CNN reports.

This infuriated people throughout the country who immediately began calling for a reversal of the policy.

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Ortega soon caved, but because of a violent crackdown by law enforcement, the protests soon expanded to include a much broader range of issues, according to the Times.  

“It’s really about much more, and that become evident in the fact that starting in the second day of the protests, people weren’t even talking about the pensions anymore," Chamorro said. 

“People are protesting against the repression itself,” he added.

2/ People are protesting Ortega’s authoritarian rule

Chamorro said that Ortega has been steadily amassing control of society over the past few decades and this concentration of power has turned Nicaragua into one of the most corrupt countries in the world, according to the corruption watchdog Transparency International.

“In 2016, Ortega removed all constitutional term limits, expelled all lawmakers form the opposition party, banned outside political observers, and installed his wife as vice president,” he said.

“Ortega and his wife have used this power sharing agreement, oppression, and business friendly policies to consolidate control of all parts of government and the security apparatus,” he added.

This authoritarianism was playing out against a growing backdrop of dissent.

More than 30% of the country lives in extreme poverty and the imbalance between Ortega’s wealth and the common citizen’s plight has galvanized protests.

The crackdown on citizens has only served to heighten demands for the president’s resignation, similar to the political crisis in Venezuela, which has been spiralling into disaster for years.

3/ The protests could get more violent

Scores of protesters have been arrested, imprisoned, injured, and killed during the protests of the last week and law enforcement has been pushing to squash the uprising, according to the Financial Times.

People from all rungs of society, however, see the protests as a turning point from which there is no going back.

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“Nicaragua changed,” José Adán Aguerri, president of an influential business organization in the country, told the Times. “The Nicaragua of a week ago no longer exists.”

“I have only ever voted for Daniel Ortega,” Reynaldo Gaitán, a baker, told the Times. “Daniel is over. His term ends here.”

A dialogue is set to be brokered by the Roman Catholic Church over the weekend, according to Al Jazeera, but student protesters have rejected mediation while Ortega is still in power.

Intersections have been blocked, vehicles have been burned, and people have been camping out in the streets, the Times reports.

"The death toll keeps climbing in a stomach turning manner, because a lot the people we thought were detained have either turned up in critical conditions in hospitals or dead in the morgues," Chamorro said. 

Where the protests go from here is uncertain, but Chamorro, whose grandfather was killed in an earlier civil war, sees it as the end of an era.

“Nicaragua will never be the same again,” he wrote in an op-ed. “Mr. Ortega and Ms. Murillo should now face the fact that any realistic, sustainable solution to this crisis must contemplate the end of their pretensions to establish another dynastic dictatorship.”

Global Citizen campaigns on the United Nations’ Global Goals, which call for the peaceful and transparent governance. You can take action on this issue here.  


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