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We Can't Lose Sight of Ortega's Abuses in Nicaragua

July 29, 2020
The Hill


In March, as the coronavirus pandemic reached Nicaragua, President Daniel Ortega disappeared from public view for over a month. It was a shocking neglect of his duties, eclipsed only by his latest disappearing act, which lasted 39 days. Ortega’s shameless attempts to avoid blame for his government’s disastrous response to the coronavirus pandemic show his disregard for Nicaraguan lives. As countries throughout the world face our own challenges, Ortega surely hopes that Nicaragua—like its president—will become “out of sight, out of mind.” The international community must not take its eye off the ball.

Nicaragua’s ongoing human rights crisis began in April 2018, when citizens took to Managua’s streets in massive anti-government protests. While the demonstrations were prompted by proposed social security reforms, they came to represent broader outrage with the Ortega government. Ortega’s security forces responded by killing more than 320 people, committing a crime against humanity.

Fast forward two years, and the protests have subsided, but human rights protections have deteriorated. At least 44 indigenous people have been murdered since 2015, mostly in illegal land invasions. Political prisoners, which currently number 86, are systematically tortured. Over 100,000 Nicaraguans have been forced to flee the country in the last two years, with many finding refuge in Costa Rica. Unfortunately, the Trump administration has continued its counterproductive policy of deporting Nicaraguans, with the number of removals having increased nearly threefold from Fiscal Year 2018 to 2019.

In other words, the reality for most Nicaraguans was already bleak before the pandemic revealed the depths of Ortega’s callousness. His government never closed schools or businesses or issued stay-at-home orders, and it went ahead with its own large gatherings. At the same time, it sought to cover up the pandemic’s impact, including with midnight burials and by classifying deaths as “atypical pneumonia”, hoping to deflate the death toll. The official coronavirus death count is 99, but the Citizens Covid-19 Observatory suggests it’s closer to 2,500. Ten doctors were fired in June for criticizing the regime’s disastrous response and the Pan American Health Organization also went public in May after its staff were repeatedly denied access to hospitals.