Today the US Peace Corps evacuated Nicaragua.
Since Wednesday the country has been in a state of unrest. There are reports of 30 or more fatalities, hundreds of incarcerations, and missing people. The unrest started last week when the social security system announced that it was facing insolvency. They raised social security taxes and cut benefits by 5% for people that are already retired. 100 today, 95 tomorrow. People took to the streets in outcry. Just the week before there were large forest fires in the Indo Maíz Biological Reserve and the people were extremely critical of the government for not responding. Add on top of that the government’s use of the social security fund as a piggy bank and a widespread belief that the government is corrupt, and the people seriously wanted to make their voices heard.
The protests of the people were met by violence from the Sandinista Youth – the student arm of the ruling Sandinista party. Anti-riot police and the army fanned out across the country’s largest cities, and the general perception was that they allowed the counter-protesters to beat up and attack the protesters. From there the situation devolved. Rubber bullets turned into lead ones. Tear gas streamed into cathedrals in Managua and León. Tourists fled and school classes were cancelled around the country. Students holed up in their universities were attacked by the police, political buildings began being burned down, and a journalist was fatally shot on live television. There was also widespread looting.
Many Nicaraguans were downright scared. They were scared for their homes, their businesses, and their lives. Many people from the revolution in the 70’s and the counter-revolution in the 80’s are still alive. Tens of thousands of people lost their lives in those decades, and the destruction was widespread. Foreigners have been flocking to the airport in the hopes of leaving the country as fast as they can. Nicaraguans, unfortunately, do not have the same liberty to so easily depart.
On Sunday President Ortega revoked the changes to the social security system. However, for most people, the gesture is too little too late. He can’t revoke the bullets. Not to mention, the political repression remains in place, and the problems provoking the changes to the social security system will not go away. Protests are sure to continue.
Last night the police raided UPOLI, one of the last holdout universities in Managua with student protesters. At least one student was killed and many more were injured. Today there is a large march in Nicaragua condemning the violence and calling for political change. It continues as I write, but so far it seems to be proceeding peacefully. Nevertheless, all Peace Corps Volunteers are being temporarily evacuated out of the country. This is saddening for me. I am deeply connected to the Peace Corp’s mission and many of the Volunteers. My replacement is still a volunteer in León, living in the same bedroom I lived in for two years. I hope she, and the rest of the Volunteers, can get back as soon as possible.
Most Americans probably have no idea what is going on in Nicaragua. I urge you to inform yourself, share with others, and use your voice (truly, any form of expression) to call for just change and an end to violence against peaceful protesters. Even more so, realize that our country is not immune to this unrest. In fact, it already happened in Charlottesville, and countless times during the 1960’s. Last year, in our country, a peaceful protester was killed and the President showed no interest in condemning the perpetrators. Assuming that these sorts of things cannot and do not happen in the United States is ignorance at your own peril and the peril of others.