Nicaragua’s Unrest Affects Its Neighbors : A Crisis Escalates Across Central America

Nicaragua, a country in Central America, has been going through a bloody sociopolitical crisis since April 18. One, that according to several sources, has been characterized by government repression, paramilitary attacks, arbitrary detentions, executions, threats and persecution against the population that opposes the government of President Daniel Ortega and demands his resignation.

Human rights groups indicate that between 286 and 448 people, mostly students, minors, and civilians, have been killed and thousands have been injured since mid-April when the government announced controversial changes in the Instituto Nicaraguense de Seguridad Social, Nicaragua’s social security system. The changes, that increased contributions, and decreased pensions ignited the largest street protests this country has seen since its 1979-1990 civil war.

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On the other hand, President Ortega has said that the real number is 195 deaths, and dismisses other estimates as “the result of manipulations”. Ortega has described the deadly civil protests as “terrorism” and rejected the calls to leave office, bring forward a new electoral process and (if possible) appoint a transitional government, as solutions to calm the fighting.

He blames the violence on paramilitary groups financed by “drug trafficking, opposition sectors, and the United States’ government.” He said the groups are attacking “the police, the government, and loyal Sandinista families”.

Also, the Nicaraguan government indicated that “it does not accept the creation of any special commission of the Permanent Council of the Organization of American States (OAS) to deal with [Nicaragua’s] internal affairs and does not acknowledge the meetings of the Permanent Council that are held without the consent of our Government.”

* Some political analysts indicate that the protests reflect a very deep social discontent, accumulated during a decade and founded on the contradictions between the government and the people. They go hand in hand with the unpopular, dictatorial decisions and attitudes of the president/vice president couple, Daniel Ortega and his wife Rosario Murillo. Ortega, who has been in power for eleven years, has been accused of sexual abuse, abuse of power and corruption.

Costa Rica’s Official Stand

Recently, in a speech before the OAS in Washington, during his first official trip out of the country, Carlos Alvarado, President of Costa Rica, referred to the “increasingly serious” situation in Nicaragua and advocated for the defense of democracies in the region.

Alvarado urged the Nicaraguan government to comply with the recommendations of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to end the violence. He also highlighted “the historical, economic and family ties” that unite Nicaragua and Costa Rica and that the situation in Nicaragua is a daily reason of consternation and concern for the Costa Ricans”

* Under the presidency of Costa Rica, the Permanent Council of the Organization of American States (OAS)   approved a resolution -promoted by this country- that condemns the serious violations of Human Rights that are taking place in Nicaragua.

Nicaraguans Seek Refuge in Costa Rica

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), at least 23,000 people have fled Nicaragua to Costa Rica due to the neighboring country’s violent conflict. Many of those Nicaraguans are being housed by an estimated 100,000 to 150,000 Nicaraguan families already living in Costa Rica.

* Costa Rican authorities and the UNHCR indicate that an average of 200 asylum applications is submitted daily. William Spindler, UNHCR spokesperson indicates that almost 8,000 asylum claims from Nicaraguan nationals have been registered since April and that another 15,000 people were given appointments to register later since the national processing capacities are exceeded. Spindler has called for international solidarity and support for Costa Rica and other countries that host Nicaraguan refugees and asylum seekers.

*, Unlike migrants, refugees are people fleeing armed conflict, violence or persecution and are therefore forced to cross the border to seek safety. Due to their condition, these people enter the country without assets or work, so the Costa Rican government has to take care of them, providing food, shelter, medical assistance and other services.

* Foreign Minister and Vice-president Epsy Campbell reported that Costa Rica’s government had two shelters ready to take care of people fleeing the crisis. One of the shelters is in the northern zone, La Cruz de Guanacaste; while the other is in the south zone, in Golfito. Between the two, they can accommodate 2,000 people.

* In addition to Costa Rica, which has taken the brunt of the asylum claims and refugees, Panama, Mexico, and the United States have also registered an increasing number of requests from Nicaraguans in the first half of 2018, especially in June. Other countries such as Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala have gradually become transit countries.

Economies at Risk

Besides the tragic loss of lives and the humanitarian costs, the crisis has had considerable economic repercussions. The roadblocks, reduction of commercial activity, fall of tourism revenues are having adverse effects on the economy of the poorest country in Central America after Haiti, the second poorest in the western hemisphere. And the crisis is affecting not only Nicaragua directly, but all of its neighbors.

* Nicaragua is the fourth destination for Costa Rican exports, such as cement, syrups, medicines, and sauces, among others. In 2017, Tico exports to Nicaragua were worth $566 million.

* With a 312 km common frontier, most of Costa Rica’s exports by land to Central America pass through Nicaragua, the neighboring country,

* Mario Magaña, director of Economic and Commercial Affairs of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of El Salvador says that “Due to Nicaragua’s strategic geographical position for regional trade, Central America has been divided in two. The roadblocks on the commerce routes have affected most of the interregional trade, which is practically stagnating. This has had very negative economic consequences for the Central American countries.

* Guy de Pierrefeu, president of the Chamber of Commerce of Industry of Tegucigalpa (CCIT), predicted that the crisis that Nicaragua is going through will generate instability in the country’s trade relations with the rest of the region.

* Juan Sebastián Chamorro, Director of FUNIDES (Nicaraguan Foundation for Economic and Social Development) points out that the collapse of tourism and its closely related industries, like hotels, restaurants, and commerce, is affecting the economy. “Although almost 1 million people arrived [in the country] last year, now tourism is blocked”. “From six in the afternoon, in Managua and other parts of the country, hotels, restaurants and shops are forced to close because of the state of siege caused by violence”.

* According to the National Chamber of Tourism of Nicaragua (CANATUR), tourists from different parts of the world and especially the United States, have canceled their trips to Nicaragua due to the crisis and the sector expects to lose US$ 185 million and 60,000 jobs.

* The president of the Federation of Chambers and Industrial Associations of Central America and the Dominican Republic (FECAICA), Costa Rican Enrique Egloff, said that “the situation in Nicaragua is a problem for all Central Americans” that “has caused shortages of products, especially foodstuffs, and is putting regional integration at risk. ” “We do not see a solution to the political and economic problems in Nicaragua. It is a situation that is keeping the productive sector of the entire region awake at night.”


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VIAGilberto Barrera
SOURCEGilberto Barrera
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