The government of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, a former Marxist revolutionary icon, has engaged in widespread political repression and human rights abuses over four months of social unrest, according to a United Nations report released Wednesday.
The report from the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights details the Ortega administration’s use of extrajudicial killings, kidnappings and torture of political opponents.
In other cases, public employees who have spoken out against Ortega have been fired, and political dissidents have been attacked by masked mobs of pro-government civilians.
“Repression and retaliation against demonstrators continue in Nicaragua as the world looks away,” U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said in a statement. “The violence and impunity of these past four months have exposed the fragility of the country’s institutions and the rule of law, and created a climate of fear and mistrust.”
More than 300 people have been killed in Nicaragua since mid-April, when retirees and students began demonstrating against Ortega’s cuts to social security programs. The protesters were met with a crackdown by police and young government supporters, kicking off a cycle of escalating violence. (RELATED: Pence Denounces Nicaragua, China And North Korea For Brutalizing People Of Faith)
The government eventually rescinded the program cuts, but student-led protests have continued across the country. Ortega blames the unrest on an international right-wing conspiracy to bring down his administration.
Meanwhile, the crackdown in Nicaragua has triggered a minor refugee crisis in neighboring Costa Rica. At least 23,000 Nicaraguan dissidents have applied for asylum in Costa Rica since April, according to the U.N. refugee agency.
“The level of persecution is such that many of those who have participated in the protests, defended the rights of the protesters, or simply expressed dissenting opinion, have been forced to hide, have left Nicaragua or are trying to do so,” the U.N. report stated, adding that there are “no conditions for the free and safe exercise of the rights to freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly and association” in the country.
Ortega, 72, rose to prominence as a leader in the Sandinista National Liberation Front, a Marxist group that overthrew Nicaragua’s ruling Somoza dictatorship in 1979 and formed a revolutionary government. Ortega won his first term as president in 1984 amid a civil war between the Sandinistas and U.S.-backed Contra forces.
Voted out of office in 1990, Ortega returned to the presidency in 2006 and has since won two more terms in elections marked by allegations of ballot fraud. He further consolidated power in 2016 when the Sandinista-controlled legislature changed the constitution to eliminate term limits and force lawmakers to vote on party lines.
Ortega has resisted calls for new elections even as key groups in the Sandinista coalition, particularly university students, have turned against his government. He has also said he will not step down before his term ends in 2021.
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