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Nicaragua Unrest
Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs

U.S. Support for a Return to Democracy in Nicaragua


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Two years ago, the people of Nicaragua rose up peacefully to call for change. Unfortunately, their calls for freedom and transparency were answered only with bullets. Ortega and VP Murillo must provide for a democratic transition and a healthy, prosperous, and free Nicaragua.
Michael R. Pompeo
Secretary of State

What Happened to Democracy in Nicaragua?

On April 18, 2018, peaceful public protests broke out in Nicaragua following a government proposal to raise taxes and lower pensions, along with an inadequate disaster response to wildland fires on the Caribbean coast. The government eventually responded to these protests by killing dozens and arresting hundreds, which spurred additional protests and broad calls for President Ortega to step down from power.

How Did We Get Here?

President Ortega and Vice President Murillo then responded with a sustained campaign of violence and repression, targeting anyone who opposed their regime’s abuses — including journalists, members of civil society and any others who dared exercise their right to free assembly and expression.

The people of Nicaragua face persecution and deadly attacks at the hands of the Ortega government as they protest for justice and peace. Fr. Raul Zamora, a Nicaraguan clergyman, tells the story of attacks he witnessed at his parish in the capital, Managua. The U.S. stands with the people of Nicaragua protesting for democracy and the safety of their families and neighbors.

Since this initial crackdown, the Ortega regime has continued to use violence and intimidation to quell protests and ensure its grip on power.

To date, approximately 80 political prisoners continue to be unjustly jailed by the Ortega regime and thousands of people have been forced to leave their homes or fled to exile.

What’s at Risk?

Since the crackdown in Nicaragua began, the Nicaraguan people’s suffering has increased significantly. Those who speak out against the violence, oppression, and attack on human rights of the regime are risking their lives. Per the 2019 Human Rights Report, 161 new political prisoners were arbitrarily detained by the Ortega regime.

A woman carries a portrait of Eddy Montes Praslin after his wake in the streets of Matagalpa, Nicaragua, Sunday, May 19, 2019. Montes Praslin, a Nicarguan-American dual national who died in a prison disturbance in Nicaragua, served in the U.S. Navy and was a staunch opponent of the government of President Daniel Ortega, his cousin said Saturday. (AP Photo/Oscar Duarte)

For example, in May 2019, a U.S. – Nicaraguan citizen, Eddy Montes, was shot and killed by prison guards. His crime? Helping injured pro-democracy protesters.

The regime continues to attack, harass, and intimidate individual journalists to stop them from reporting on the illegal acts being perpetrated by the government. Per the Committee to Protect Journalists: “Nicaragua grows more dangerous by the day for independent journalists, with newsroom raids, detention, invasive questioning, and equipment seizure.”



A Country Under Siege


    • More than 320 individuals have been killed.
    • Thousands have been injured.
    • More than 80,000 have been forced to flee to neighboring Costa Rica.
    • The economic prediction for 2020 includes a GDP decrease of up to 10 percent.



U.S. Efforts to Restore Democracy

In the more than two years since the government of Nicaragua launched a brutal crackdown on the country’s citizens, the U.S. continues to exert economic and diplomatic pressure on the repressive and corrupt regime of Daniel Ortega in order to reach the conditions necessary for free and fair elections.

  • The U.S. has sanctioned 22 Nicaraguan individuals and 8 Nicaraguan entities under existing legal authorities since the start of the crisis. Canada, the European Union, and the United Kingdom have also begun rolling out similar designations for economic sanctions.
  • President Trump affirmed U.S. commitment to restoring democracy and the rule of law in Nicaragua by enacting the Nicaragua Human Rights and Anticorruption Act of 2018. Prior to the law’s passage, the Treasury Department had designated a number of government officials and associates of President Ortega, including Vice President Murillo — President Ortega’s wife — for individual financial sanctions and/or visa restrictions.
  • Sanctioning Nicaragua’s Banco Corporativo (Bancorp), which had served as a slush fund for the Ortega family, as well as Laureano Ortega, a son of President Ortega and Vice President Rosario Murillo. Both actions froze all U.S. assets owned by Bancorp and the younger Ortega, and barred U.S. nationals from engaging in business with them. This led to the prompt shuttering of Bancorp.

  • Additional sanctions have targeted the Nicaraguan National Police (NNP), Nicaraguan Army General Julio Cesar Aviles, Finance and Public Credit Minister Ivan Adolfo Acosta, Juan Carlos Ortega Murillo, a son of President Ortega and Vice President Murillo, and Difuso Comunicaciones S.A., which Ortega Murillo used to spread regime propaganda and defend the Ortega’s violence and repression.
  • Beyond economic pressure, the United States continues working with the international community to support the Nicaraguan people’s demands. We continue to call for the Ortega regime to end the repression of the Nicaraguan people, guarantee their basic civil liberties, restore respect for human rights, and ensure electoral reform allowing for free and fair elections.



A Brighter Future for Nicaraguans

Nicaragua can once again return to democracy. But the Ortega regime is loath to allow free and fair elections that would threaten their family and the ruling Sandinista party.

The United States, working with the international community, supports the Nicaraguan people’s demands for basic democratic freedoms and critical reforms allowing for free and fair elections.

How can we achieve this?

  • Joining with others in the international community, including the Organization of American States  and the European Union, to demand that the Nicaraguan regime implement the electoral reforms necessary for free and fair elections.
  • Pressing for the full restoration of civil liberties, including freedom of expression and association. Genuinely free and fair elections cannot occur in an atmosphere of repression with more than 80 arbitrarily detained political prisoners.
  • Supporting Nicaraguan civic organizations pressing for respect for human rights, and demanding access for international human rights organizations to monitor conditions on the ground.

Discover More

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