SEATTLE — Violence and death have reigned in Nicaragua over the past several months, since President Daniel Ortega proposed a change to the country’s social security program on April 18. For a developing country where 30 percent of the population lives on less than $2 a day, this decision was devastating to many Nicaraguans, and has both exposed already existing poverty in Nicaragua and increased poverty for many.
Nicaraguans immediately began protesting the decision in the streets and were met by police shooting into the crowds. Sixty people were killed in the initial protests, and as the reason for the chaos and violence has changed from protests of Ortega’s policies to demands that the man who has a combined 23 years of presidency step down, more than 300 Nicaraguans have died.
Ortega has denied controlling the paramilitary troops who have killed so many Nicaraguans and refuses to resign. Young people and students form the backbone of the protests and claim they are prepared for a civil war and that political prisoners have already been taken. The clash between Nicaragua’s longtime president and the majority of the youth has brought to light several facts about poverty in Nicaragua.
Poverty in Nicaragua Related to Political Monopolies
Nicaragua’s government is out of touch with the poor majority. In rural Nicaragua, 50 percent of households live in extreme poverty. Good schools and job opportunities are limited outside the cities, perpetuating poverty as generations of Nicaraguans continue relying on the same small farms, and thus remain in extreme poverty.
Income distribution is uneven. Agriculturalists and indigenous people remain the poorest and have less access to healthcare services than other Nicaraguans, an injustice that has come to light in recent protest marches.
Meanwhile, Ortega and his wife, Rosario Murillo, have consolidated power and eliminated opposition in the government. They dominate the legislative and judicial branch as well as the executive, thus isolating themselves from voices that represent other views, such as the rural Nicaraguans living in extreme poverty. This explains why less than 10 percent of Nicaraguans support their president.
The poor majority do not have access to media. Nicaragua’s media remains in Ortega and Murillo’s control through their children, who run a variety of businesses that comprise Nicaragua’s Communications Department. Another influential family, the Chamorro family, maintains the two newspapers that oppose Ortega. Therefore, even the opposition remains in the hands of the few, and the poor have little opportunity to express opinions through the Nicaraguan press. They remain isolated from the government in Nicaragua, as exposed through one of the only vehicles of protest left to them, the marches that have been occurring since April.
Missionaries Describe Recent Violence in Nicaragua
Natalie Goff has been a missionary in Nicaragua since August 2013, living in the village of Masastepe with her husband Stephen and a team. However, the violence escalated so much that by June 9, she and the rest of her team were forced to temporarily return to the U.S.
At a presentation at Cedar Mill Bible Church in Portland, Oregon, Goff described the events that forced her to leave the place that has been her home for the past five years. The entire team (except for Stephen, who chose to remain in Masastepe), stayed as long as they felt they could. To explain the decision to leave, Goff shared that the paramilitary killed people close to her home just four days after she left, and that most Nicaraguans were left fighting back with only rocks and homemade mortar. Her presentation highlighted the ways that the recent violence has exacerbated poverty.
Food Shortages a Consequence of the Violence
Blockades and food shortages have increased hunger for rural Nicaraguans. Goff explained that poverty in Nicaragua causes living paycheck to paycheck to take on a new meaning, where people struggle daily or weekly to meet basic needs with their earnings, as opposed to the monthly way Americans often view this struggle.
It quickly became impossible to leave Masastepe because of the barricades built to keep the police and their weapons out, causing the grocery stores to lack stock. What little food there was quickly spiked in price, and most villagers could not afford it. Donations following Goff’s presentation allowed her husband to journey to buy 1,500 pounds of rice and beans to feed local families that could not afford food, but clearly, a more permanent solution is required to combat poverty in Nicaragua.
Naturally, with more than 300 dead, many Nicaraguan families have lost sources of income. As with spiking food prices, this has devastating consequences for poverty in Nicaragua where people look daily and weekly to paychecks for survival.
This violence threatens Nicaragua’s progress in combating poverty. Between 2014 and 2016, poverty in Nicaragua decreased from 29.6 to 24.9 percent and extreme poverty from 8.3 to 6.9 percent. While violence has increased poverty, these recent victories in poverty rates provide hope for Nicaragua when an outcome emerges from this clash between the people and government.
– Charlotte Preston