Nicaragua: An Opportunity or a Crisis?

Protests against the government of Nicaragua began Wednesday, April 18, triggered by President Ortega’s approval of a resolution that would alter the Nicaraguan Institute for Social Security (INSS). The resolution would require employees and employers to contribute more to the social security system, while retirees would receive less in pensions. In response to the violent protests, which have left at least 25 dead, President Ortega reversed the resolution. However, it remains to be seen if this action will be sufficient to end the protests, which have spread throughout the nation and are motivated by a wide array of grievances.

The resolution to change social security sparked the protests, but underlying these protests are grievances about Ortega’s consolidation of power, nepotism, repression, and censorship placed on social media and news outlets.

If the Ortega administration aims to alter the INSS it must do so in conjunction with the private sector, business groups and various others opposed to the change. As President Ortega takes steps forward, he must include a diversity of perspectives and consider major changes to the administration, or he is likely to face continued protests. However, it will take more than this to appease the protesters, many of whom are looking for more than the withdrawal of the social security bill. The business community has released a statement claiming that it will not participate in any discussions until the police violence stops and freedom of speech is restored. Student activists are calling for the release of those arrested during the demonstrations, while many are going further to demand that the presidential couple be removed from office. Thousands flooded the streets of the capital, Managua, on Monday, April 23, in protest of President Ortega remaining in office.

Conflict over needs and interests occurs in all societies and can be a powerful force for positive change. However, if left unchecked, grievances and other conflict dynamics can lead to violence and instability. The people of Nicaragua have serious longstanding grievances against the government. The Alliance for Peacebuilding is concerned about the increased risk of violence. The protestors should actively work to ensure that violence doesn’t escalate. As Maria Stephan, the Director for Non-Violent Action at USIP, believes “[A movement’s] ability to achieve significant political change will be greatly enhanced if it maintains nonviolent discipline.”

It is not clear yet if revoking the INSS decision will be enough to placate the protesters. However, the intensity of the protests and the involvement of many people who have never been active before shows that it will be difficult to go back to the status quo in the long term. Stephan’s research shows the ability of opposition groups to organize, plan, and maintain nonviolent discipline will help determine whether this protest moment sustains itself and leads to positive political change in the future.

Alliance for Peacebuilding is the leading global network working to end conflict and build sustainable peace worldwide. Our 120+ members work in 153 countries.

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