In April 2018, a small group of university students in Nicaragua held a protest in response to President Daniel Ortega’s government reforms to the pension system. This protest was crushed violently by a pro-government group, which had commonly been used to quell anti- government activity. The footage of this violence went viral in the country, more protests erupted, and the government again responded violently. This created a vicious cycle and led to a swift fracturing of the country. In response to the violence and violations of human rights, many Nicaraguan citizens called for democratic reforms and sought to hold the Ortega regime accountable. Now, more than a year later, the government’s forces continue to oppress any citizen opposition. To date, more than 300 have been killed, more than 500 have been unjustly detained, and thousands have fled the country.
Shortly after the conflict erupted, people from all parts of Nicaraguan society joined the movement to bring stability and democracy back to their country. As tensions rose within Nicaragua, Catholic bishops began a mediation process between the government and the Civic Alliance for Justice and Democracy, a group of civilians dedicated to bringing about a new era of peace and democratic rule in Nicaragua. These negotiations began in May 2018 and continued off and on throughout the summer. However, progress came to a halt in July 2018.
It was not until February 2019 that negotiations commenced again, this time with a smaller group of six government officials and six opposition members. These dialogues are currently at an impasse but proved successful earlier this year in securing the release of hundreds of political prisoners. While tension remains high in the country, and violations of human rights are still being recorded, there is hope that through dialogue, peace can come to the nation.
The crisis is disrupting the social fabric and stability of Nicaragua, with its effects rippling throughout Central America. Yet, Fellows are committed to stepping up, addressing the challenges, and working toward a better future.
Outside of Nicaragua, the international community began to impose economic sanctions that restricted trade and capital flow into the country. These sanctions, while effective in placing pressure on the government, also created immense economic stress on the Nicaraguan people. The bleak economic landscape, combined with the regime crackdown, led to thousands fleeing Nicaragua into neighboring countries. This refugee crisis is most acutely felt by Costa Rica, which hosts the largest number of Nicaraguan refugees. However, despite the challenges, many organizations are working to protect these refugees and provide new opportunities for them to rebuild their lives abroad.
Moved by this crisis, a group of AGLN Fellows are working toward peace and justice in Nicaragua. In July 2018, a number of Fellows and distinguished leaders, including former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, gathered at the Action Forum to discuss potential strategies to stabilize the situation. From these conversations emerged collaborative efforts by Fellows designed to channel aid and resources into the country. The crisis is disrupting the social fabric and stability of Nicaragua, with its effects rippling throughout Central America. Yet, Fellows are committed to stepping up, addressing the challenges, and working toward a better future. They come from different Fellowships, classes, countries, and walks of life, but despite these differences, Fellows are unified by their commitment to bring stability to Nicaragua. These Fellows have embodied values-based leadership and will continue to do so until the work is finished.