Nicaragua human rights among the worst in the region
Under President Daniel Ortega, Nicaragua has been called a police state and the North Korea of the Americas.
Nicaragua was once meant to be a utopian society based on socialist principles. In practice, it has become an authoritarian regime where citizens have few rights and have been subjected to torture, arbitrary detention, and restrictions on the press, speech, religion, assembly, and political affiliation. Freedom House awarded Nicaragua a political freedom score of 5/40 and a civil liberties score of 14/60 for an overall score of 23/100, which is considered not free.
President Ortega has maintained his position since 2007, steadily intensifying his repression, particularly since the 2021 presidential elections. The government ordered security forces to use violence to disperse crowds of political protestors. Police and military employed tear gas, rubber bullets, and even live ammunition against civilians calling for reform. Freedom of the press and speech have been stifled.
According to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights:
"The IACHR and its Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression (RELE) warn that in Nicaragua, there are no guarantees for exercising the right to freedom of expression, nor the conditions needed for effective civic participation in matters of public interest."
The government has shut down as many as 3,300 NGOs, including the Red Cross. Political dissent is met with extreme reprisals. Hundreds of opposition figures, journalists, human rights activists, and even potential presidential candidates have been arbitrarily detained in recent years. Many are held incommunicado, without access to legal counsel or family.
Prisoners are subjected to cruel and unusual punishment. Reports of torture and ill-treatment within Nicaraguan prisons are rife. Detainees have spoken of beatings, electric shocks, and denial of medical care.
Starting from the beginning of February 2023, the government has annulled the citizenship of over 300 purported political adversaries. On February 9, Nicaraguan authorities forcibly expelled 222 of these individuals, who had been unjustly detained for political motives, and sent them to the United States. People who have been exiled from the country have also been denied re-entry.
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Violence directed against indigenous and Afro-descendant minorities has increased, including murder, harassment, the burning of homes, and the seizure of their land. Violations committed against the civilian population by various government organs include murder, imprisonment, torture, and sexual violence, deportation, and politically motivated persecution.
The IACHR expressed concern for the Musawas, Wilú, and Suniwas communities of the Mayangna Indigenous group, whose lives were endangered due to persistent complications in the process of legalising ownership of their territories. In 2022, at least 25 Miskito families were forcibly displaced from their residences in the Sang Sang hamlet in the Caribbean Coast region due to threats from armed individuals in the context of land dispossession.
Crimes against humanity
The IACHR report on the closure of civil space in Nicaragua noted that freedom of religion is also being curtailed.
"The closure of civic and democratic space in Nicaragua has included restrictions on freedom of religion through the prohibition of religious celebrations, criminalization of religious services, closure of religious media, confiscation of property and bank accounts, expulsion of religious orders, and other acts of repression and retaliation against members of the Catholic Church due to their role as mediators in the National Dialogue in 2018 and their critical role in denouncing human rights violations."
Priests and bishops have been arrested, and the broadcast licenses for Catholic media have been suspended. The government also froze the bank accounts of several dioceses. Ortega's government shut down Caritas Nicaragua, the aid organisation of the Catholic Church that provides relief and food aid to the country's poor.
The same day the government shut down Caritas, it closed down John Paul II Catholic University and the Autonomous Christian University. In addition to the government seizing a Jesuit-run university, it also closed 27 others, including secular universities.
Without the ability to speak out against the government, the democratic process has been severely weakened. The fact that the country’s vice president, Rosario Murillo, is the wife of President Ortega, is evidence of the corruption in the system. The two have worked to remove checks and balances from the political system, giving themselves more control over the executive, judicial, legislative, and electoral branches.
In 2023, the UN Human Rights Council-mandated Group of Human Rights Experts on Nicaragua (GHREN) found that the government of Nicaragua, as well as pro-government groups, has been guilty of crimes against humanity.
As a result of the worsening situation, many Nicaraguans have fled the country. Thousands of journalists, religious leaders, civil society leaders, human rights workers, and opposition leaders have had to escape for fear of being killed. Roughly 220,000 Nicaraguans are seeking asylum in neighbouring Costa Rica.
Nicaragua maintains diplomatic relations with nefarious nations that do not exert a positive influence on its allies to improve their human rights or quality of democracy. Managua maintains diplomatic relations with North Korea, and each country hosts the other’s diplomatic mission.
President Daniel Ortega has a close relationship with Chinese leader Xi Jinping, and the countries have formed a strategic partnership. In a call with President Ortega, Xi Jinping expressed appreciation for Nicaragua’s adherence to the One-China Policy. Nicaragua is a member of the Belt and Road Initiative and seeks economic support from China in the face of Western sanctions.
As China continues to partner with and economically support countries like Nicaragua, Cuba, and Venezuela, there's little improvement in their human rights and democracy. This has broader implications, with China pressuring these nations to shift their recognition away from Taiwan. The United States feels the impact in the form of increased illegal immigration at the Southern Border. And the people of Nicaragua, caught under a repressive regime supported by the Chinese chequebook, remain perpetual victims.
Antonio Graceffo, PhD, China-MBA MBA, is a China economic analyst teaching economics at the American University in Mongolia. He has spent 20 years in Asia and is the author of six books about China. His writing has appeared in The Diplomat, South China Morning Post, Jamestown Foundation China Brief, Penthouse, Shanghai Institute of American Studies, Epoch Times, War on the Rocks, Just the News, and Black Belt Magazine.
Images: Wikimedia Commons
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