Ortega, the 72-year-old leader of the Sandinista revolution that deposed the brutal dictator Anastasio Somoza in 1979, is repeating history. A quick look at the hashtag #SOSNicaragua on social media shows the violence unleashed by his police and paramilitary forces that has left more than 200 people dead.
Now the city of Masaya, a symbol of the resistance, is under siege. Attacks over the past two days against unarmed residents in the city, about 15 miles south of the capital, Managua, have escalated. Ortega’s forces have killed 21 people, according to the Nicaraguan Association for Human Rights, and wounded many more. Masaya, a former Sandinista bastion, is acting in self-defense and has announced that it doesn’t recognize Ortega as president. The city’s residents have set up barricades after pushing back the police.
Masaya reflects Nicaraguans’ frustrations with Ortega. The president and his wife, Rosario Murillo, who have been in power for well over a decade, are the state: The courts, the electoral body and the congress all bend to their will. Protests in April over changes to the social security system have turned into a nationwide movement for the democracy. The trigger was the violent response to peaceful demonstrations, which exposed the totalitarian government for what it is: a cruel dictatorship.
Tens of thousands have marched on the streets demanding that Ortega step down. The last mass demonstration, on May 30, Mother’s Day in Nicaragua, ended with more than a dozen dead. Now the people are claiming and protecting their blocks and neighborhoods in defiance, using rocks and makeshift mortars to push back Ortega’s murderous hordes. The army has said that it won’t intervene, but some of the high-caliber weapons used against civilians seem to come from the military.
Ortega’s government has dismissed the protests as “a conspiracy sponsored and financed by the United States” and has sabotaged efforts by the Catholic Church to broker an end to the conflict. The regime’s representatives attend the dialogue and immediately turn around and violate any agreement reached — the police and paramilitary forces continue to spread death and terror in the streets.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has documented cases of torture, illegal detention, press censorship and killings as part of the long list of crimes committed by Ortega. The government has allowed a commission from the court and the U.N. to visit. They must record the atrocities and urge the international community, in particular the Organization of American States, to help restore the democratic order in Nicaragua.
The demands of the people are clear: justice for those who have been killed, a return to democracy and the resignation of the ruling family.
Ortega is calling for a “peaceful constitutional solution” to the crisis, but he just wants to remain in power. His human rights violations have made him an illegitimate leader well outside of the Constitution. He needs to step down.
We are sending the #SOSNicaragua message to the world because we want the international community to hear the struggle emanating from this small patch of land in the middle of the American continent. We have paid a great price for rising up against this dictatorship, and we are not leaving the streets.