Hundreds Have Been Killed In Nicaragua Protests As President Ortega Refuses To Step Down

Ortega denies he’s behind the slaughter, in spite of the fact paramilitary groups that have been linked to the government are responsible for the killings.

Armed pro-government militia members flash victory signs as they occupy the Monimbo neighborhood of Masaya, Nicaragua, Wednesday, July 18, 2018. (AP Photo/Alfredo Zuniga)

Armed pro-government militia members flash victory signs as they occupy the Monimbo neighborhood of Masaya, Nicaragua, Wednesday, July 18, 2018. (AP Photo/Alfredo Zuniga)

In an interview with Fox News Monday night, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega denied his government’s involvement in the deaths of hundreds of anti-government protestors and refused demands to step down and call for early elections. The ongoing crisis in the country began when peaceful protests against pension reform were brutally suppressed by pro-government groups. The ongoing unrest has claimed the lives of over 400 people and injured more than 1,800, with a further 400-500 people being held in detention centers, according to Nicaraguan human rights groups.

Thousands of protestors, mostly university students, continued to voice their dissent against Mr. Ortega’s increasingly authoritarian rule, despite sustained violent repression. Reports from human rights groups and NGOs, including the UN Office of Human Rights, detail “extrajudicial killings, torture, arbitrary detentions, and denying people the right to freedom of expression.” Most of the violence is blamed on paramilitary groups that have been linked to the government. As opposition to the crackdown has spread, these groups increased their violent methods. Goaded by Mr. Ortega, they have even begun attacking churches where protestors have sought refuge. Though violent clashes have decreased in the last week, it is unclear if tensions will subside.

In the interview with Fox News’ Bret Baier, Mr. Ortega denied any government involvement, instead claiming – without any evidence – that these groups were funded by opposition politicians and drug cartels. His government has maintained that violence was perpetrated by protestors tied to opposition groups and that security forces are simply restoring order. Currently in his third term in office (he also ruled from 1979 to 1990 following a coup), Ortega refused to move elections forward from 2021, claiming this would bring about further instability to a crisis he views as normalizing.

The international community has condemned the violence. A declaration by 13 Latin American countries “acts of violence, intimidation and the threats directed towards Nicaraguan society.” The US State Department has sanctioned three Nicaraguan officials and revoked the visas of several others tied to the government-backed suppression. A House resolution condemning the violence was introduced in Congress earlier this month.

Global Outlook // News / Nicaragua / World