It seems like a classic Orwellian situation. The Somoza family dictatorship in post-Colonial Nicaragua that led to the communist revolution headed by Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), the civil war lasting between 1979-1990 with additional violence led by the Contras rebels, the latter funded by the United States despite such funding becoming illegal as the Reagan administration facilitated foreign arms sales in Iran to launder funds to Contras.
The shattering consequences of the civil war left millions displaced, homeless and living in extreme poverty, with the economy in a state of emergency that required complete reform and a new beginning. Elected President in 2007, Daniel Ortega – former Sandinista leader noted for playing a major role bringing down the former dictator during the revolution – is now in his third-term as President, his wife Rosario Murillo Vice-President and other family members such as Franisco Diaz who leads the National Police and also happens to be the father-in-law of his son. It became clear that the consolidation of power had started several years ago and despite concerns about acts of repression and censorship being unleashed by the government using heavy-handed tactics, the OAS members remained cautious to make any public statements about their concerns.
However, it came to the world’ attention early in 2018 when the violence against protestors intensified as citizens took to the streets after apparent reforms that would see pension cuts that sparked the controversy. While he attempted to appease the protestors, state-sanctioned paramilitary groups used live bullets and excessive force that found hundreds dead since the protests began and even more injured. There have been reports of indiscriminate violence including burning homes and building to force out residents that left a family of six including two children killed, as well as extrajudicially executed by members of the national police.
It is clear that there is a deliberate strategy of lethal force and tactics with the aim of silencing the democratic voice of the people, including a number of violations such as arbitrary detention, prevention of medical assistance or access to medical care, torture and intimidation particularly harassment against journalists, public servants and human rights defenders. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) submitted a final report on the situation that indicated numerous human rights violations committed under international law by the Nicaraguan government, concluding violations to the rights to life, health, personal liberty, assembly, freedom of expression, humane treatment and access to justice.
While the growing international calls for the immediate cessation of the violence and to dismantle the pro-government armed groups, it has only grown worse. The demonstrations were initially organised by students in the capital Managua initially for the failure manage fires in the Indio Maiz Biological Reserve and further perpetuated by the cuts to pension benefits that found the Sandinista Youth and supporters of FSLN to counteract the protests that led to further tensions. While recommendations by IACHR have been made, none have been actioned, particularly dismantling state-sanctioned groups known to have perpetrated most of the violence.
This repetition of Orwell’ famous work Animal Farm is indicative of a continuous global dynamic where the fall of a dictatorship is replicated once again, only different. Twentieth Century history is one of the bloodiest and violent and according to Frantz Fanon, colonialism has utilised absolute forms of violence to ensure a clear division between the colonialists and the colonised. “Imperialism leaves behind germs of rot which we must clinically detect and remove from our land but from our minds as well.” We can draw parallels between the tragic inevitability that the manifestation of violence is perhaps indicative of a continuation of this clear division, whether it is the brutality of the Communist forms of State, structural, and systemic violence or to the Capitalistic forms of oppression and economic violence.
Let’s not forget the United States’ involvement there and now the presence of China; is there are proxy neo-colonialism interfering with the domestic affairs that seducts this political dynamic that is obviously unsustainable with Ortega now another dictator, especially given that war is profitable? Or it is more than that? The United States occupied Nicaragua from 1912 – 1933 and continued to interfere in domestic affairs by supporting Contras perhaps as part of their global cold war efforts against Communism, leading to China who financed the development of the multi-billion dollar canal project that would have enabled “Chinese telecommunications magnate Wang Jing and his Hong Kong Nicaragua Canal Development Investment (HKND) control over large parts of the country. The 2013 canal law also green-lighted environmentally harmful infrastructure projects including ports, free trade zones and a railroad.”
This ongoing battle between the United States and China – Communism Vs. Capitalism – has left the world scarred by the brutality, lack of accountability, and environmental catastrophe that characterises a violence that is both brute physical force as well as manipulation. If we continue to deny this and continue to remain apathetic to international violence with organisations mandated to question these issues drowning in bureaucracy, we will fail humanity by ignoring solutions that will prevent what we saw recently occur in Syria and so many other states around the world.
- Amnesty International: “Nicaragua: Violence and state repression intensify despite numerous efforts at dialogue,” 21 June 2018
- Havana Times: “Ortega’s Orders and the Confession by Nicaragua’s Police Chief” February 14, 2019
- OHCHR: “Nicaragua: Government must end violence and reinstate political dialogue, say UN experts” 14 June 2018.
- Al-Jazeera: “Nicaragua unrest: What you should know” 17 Jul 2018
- The Guardian: “Amnesty condemns ‘campaign of harassment’ against Nicaragua canal critics” 4 August, 2017