Violence in Nicaragua throws up troubling possibilities

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The government faces the challenge of continuing with the reform process and negotiating with all sections of society while watching out for attempts at intervention

By Gerardo Gamarra / The Dawn News / April 23, 2018

Protests have erupted in Nicaragua over the last few days after the announcement of a series of reforms to the social security system, that have caused 27 deaths and considerable violence. Observers have also warned about the possibility of a ‘soft coup’ in the region.

On April 16, the government announced reforms to the Nicaraguan Institute of Social Security (INSS). The adjustment increases the rate of retirement deductions to workers’ wages from 6.25% to 7% and reduces pensions by 5%. The goal is to increase the social security budget for social sectors with greater needs and ensure a 10-year sustainability for the new plan.

Groups of students and retirees began to protest, and soon, the opposition joined in.  Demonstrations took place in the epicenter of the INSS building, which was the site of violence as protestors for and against the reform clashed.

Immediately, sectors of the opposition flooded social networks, calling for protests against the government, in a situation reminiscent of Venezuela. Supported by a part of the political establishment and sectors of the Church, the opposition’s demonstrations led to another wave of violence that caused the death of journalist Ángel Eduardo Gahona, who was covering the events.

The Nicaraguan government invited the opposition to dialogue after the rejection of the reforms by a section. On Sunday, April 22, after the events that took the lives of 27 people, President Daniel Ortega affirmed that “we can’t allow chaos, crime and plundering to take over, and we will act according to the law and the Constitution, and to guarantee the reestablishment of social peace”.

The government has now called off the reform so as to promote dialogue. President Ortega said that protests “are normal in every country”, but what’s not normal is that protesters “go out to destroy or armed to kill, on the contrary, they march peacefully”. Therefore, he called workers and employers to discuss the reform peacefully. It remains to be seen whether this attempt to defuse the situation will succeed.

The Nicaraguan government faces the challenge of reforming the INSS while maintaining dialogue with all sectors of society. It also has to watch out for the attempts at a soft-coup, a strategy which has sought to be applied in many countries of the region, especially Venezuela.

The manipulation and in many instances, opportunistic exploitation of protests, often leading to deaths has been a staple of US-led neoliberal policy in the region. A key role in this is played by NGOs, which often have links with the opposition and work actively towards the overthrow of leaders, promoting certain narratives of freedom of expression and human rights. Such campaigns have been actively waged in Venezuela, against a democratically elected President in Brazil and have led to the persecution of leaders of the peoples of the continent who have promoted egalitarian initiatives.

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