Nicaragua: The Numbers After 100 Days of Protests

As Venezuelans know all too well, it’s important to keep track of every life that’s been lost, every person that has disappeared on the road to freedom.

A protester, who had been arrested for participating in a protest against Nicaragua President Daniel Ortega's government, cries after being released by police in Managua, Nicaragua June 13, 2018. REUTERS/Oswaldo Rivas
Photo: Reuters retrieved

Statistics are necessary, and sometimes, tragic.

For Nicaragua, numbers have become the obligation to set down the record of what’s happened in the last 100 days. How many people have died? How many have been wounded? How many have been arrested? How many are in prison? These are the questions that those involved in the conflict try to answer. However, there’s one that everybody shies away from, the one Nicaraguans dare not ask:

Will I be the next?

On June 27, NGO Nicaraguan Pro Human Rights Association (ANPDH) issued a report saying that 448 people had died since April 18, in clashes between protesters and paramilitary groups. They also report 2,830 people wounded and 595 missing.

That was the context for Raynéia Lima, a medical student from the American University (UAM) who was gunned down in her car when heading home. Lima was Brazilian and had been living in Managua for six years, she would’ve graduated in three months. She arrived in Nicaragua without speaking a word of Spanish and, little by little, earned the trust and love of classmates and friends. The versions offered by the Nicaraguan national police and the Brazilian diplomatic corps are contradictory. The former says Lima was stopped by armed civilians who shot her; the latter says local investigations haven’t cleared up the details.

The opacity makes it hard to collect information at the moment all across Nicaragua, not to mention that “death wagons” (4×4 trucks packed with armed Ortega supporters) lurk the streets, cracking down on any kind of protest or journalistic effort. Citizens have resorted to groups in phone applications and social media, to stay tuned on what’s happening. Meanwhile, the government denies any wrongdoing on its part and avoids mentioning the statements issued by the Inter-American Court on Human Rights (IACHR) and the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights, confirming evidence of “murders, extrajudicial executions, possible torture and arbitrary arrests” in Nicaragua.

These situations are recorded in thousands of videos and pictures reaching the press daily, showing several areas of Managua still blocked with barricades, protesters armed with stones, molotov cocktails and anything they can throw against paramilitaries carrying live-ammo. Ortega supporters have also looted catholic churches, after the president said in his July 19 speech that “the bishops and church representatives have been fomenting violence in our country.” Many temples have been left in shambles, their seats, altars and religious figures vandalized.

The ANPDH says that this is the most intense crisis the country’s seen since 1980, and the evidence isn’t just in the death toll, but in the economy. Most of Nicaragua’s cities look desolate during high commercial traffic hours. The local Stock Market cautioned that this year, the Gross Domestic Product will drop by 3% and Gerardo Argüello, stock market representative, told EFE that economic growth could be between 3% and 5%, because “we don’t know how this situation will end. Companies are working with a significant drop in sales.”

Meanwhile, the Chamber of Private Companies denounced how the government is withholding their assets and Citizen Power Councils (a local version of Venezuelan Communal Councils) keep a constant record of “idle properties and land” that could be expropriated “for the people’s benefit.”

Little by little, the country’s daily life has been derailed to a constant fight for survival. Schools finished their academic year two months ahead of time, and universities are working with minimal staff (mainly because students aren’t going to class). Many Nicaraguans have sought asylum in Costa Rica and the United States.

In the end, it doesn’t matter who leaves or stays: all citizens are victims of a crisis without short-term solution.