Opposition mobilizations began last week, sparked by President Daniel Ortega’s proposed social security reform, and have resulted in the loss of nearly 30 lives and hundreds of injuries. The demonstrations emerged from a dispute between Ortega’s center-left Sandinista government and business sectors over how to deal with a USD $75 million social security deficit, in part inherited from previous governments.
President Ortega favored a moderate social security reform, in which more costs would fall on private enterprises, whereas Nicaragua’s powerful business lobby, COSEP, promoted an IMF-inspired plan involving draconian cutbacks to a range of social programs.
Spurred by incendiary text messaging, the protests began when the COSEP lobby suspended dialogue with the government, opening the path to Ortega’s plan being implemented on July 1. On Sunday, however, the Sandinista government stepped back and repealed the proposed reform in a bid to ease the unrest. Nonetheless, the COSEP and allied opposition groups vowed to continue the demonstrations, this time demanding Ortega’s resignation.
On the same day, Venezuela’s main right-wing opposition coalition, the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), threw its support behind the protestors, claiming that the Nicaraguan government was using a model “exported” from Venezuela.
“We call on the international community to support the struggle of the Nicaraguan people as they have done with Venezuela,” the MUD said in a statement.
For his part, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro condemned the violence, which he compared to the deadly anti-government mobilizations led by the MUD last year that resulted in over 125 dead in four months.
“Just as they hurt Venezuelans,” he said, “so they are hurting the Nicaraguans [with] violence, fire, bullets and death.”
Maduro added that he was sure the Nicaraguan government wanted peace and would achieve it.
Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, for his part, has accused Washington of sponsoring the protests against his government in an further weaken leftist and progressive forces in the region.
The US government agency USAID has reportedly funded programs in the Central American country aimed at “defending civil society” to the tune of 31 million dollars last year.