69298-Ometepe-Island-1024x576 Oh, Nicaragua. You're breaking our hearts. Nicaragua
Beautiful Ometepe Island, in the middle of Lake Nicaragua. (Photo credit: Expedia.com)

If you haven’t heard about what’s going on right now in Nicaragua, you’re not alone. With the media dominated by Trump and his antics, precious little coverage has been given to the relatively new uprising in this Central American country. In a nutshell, civil unrest broke out in April when the Daniel Ortega government threatened some pension reforms that would have taken a big bite out of rank-and-file Nicaraguans’ paychecks. Apparently it was the straw that broke the camel’s back after years of escalating tension with the increasingly repressive Ortega regime.

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One of the many lovely buildings in the colonial city of Granada

There’s a lot more to it than that, but the conflict has escalated into a full-blown revolution in which upwards of 150 peaceful demonstrators – mostly students and young people – have been murdered by Ortega’s thugs. Beautiful colonial cities have been torched, tourism is in ruins, and the economy is devastated. It’s having repercussions throughout Central America, since the roadblocks have brought all commerce into and out of surrounding countries to a standstill. It will take many, many years for this wonderful country to recover, and that’s IF the conflict is resolved soon.

The latest Nicaraguan revolution is slowly getting more attention from the international press. Here are a few stories:
The Guardian, “Barricades draw battle lines over Nicaragua’s revolutionary heritage”
The Daily Beast, “Facing Down the Death Squads in Nicaragua”
The Washington Post, “Nicaragua is nearing national catastrophe”
And, ominously, this:
Time, “Nicaragua is Heading Down the Same Dark Path as Venezuela”

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Entering Nicaraguan waters and getting ready to raise our hand-made courtesy flag

When we visited Nicaragua in 2004 aboard our sailboat, we were completely charmed by its scenic beauty, its incredible potential, and – most of all – its people. The country had put the bloody years of the Sandanista-Contra revolution far behind it, and things seemed peaceful. There was a feeling of optimism and a can-do spirit among the young Nicaraguans we met.

One young man, who I’ll call José, worked as a server at the marina where we berthed our boat for several weeks. Only 18, he had ambitions to become a hotel food and beverage manager. He and his family were very poor, and he lived with his parents and many brothers and sisters in a tin shack with a dirt floor. We marveled at how neat and tidy these young people were, even living in such poverty, as they showed up for work at the marina every day.

We, along with the other boaters, took up a collection to send José to school for a degree in hotel and restaurant management. This outstanding young man did us all proud, graduating with honors and going on to run several different resorts in Nicaragua. He only recently married a beautiful young woman, and the future was looking bright indeed for both of them.

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A pristine beach on the northern Nicaragua coast

I am still in contact with José on social media and yesterday he told me that the situation there is very grim. He said conditions are getting worse every day, and the lack of dialogue is escalating things. He also said that the only hope is involvement from other countries. Fat chance the US will do anything to help (but given its so-called “help” during the Contra era of the 80s, that might be a good thing).

We have another friend there, a fellow expat blogger who lives with her husband on Ometepe Island. Although the island has stayed relatively peaceful so far, they are making plans to leave as soon as possible. This blogger, who takes beautiful photos and writes lyrical stories of life on the island, is heartsick to be leaving behind the home they’ve built along with the library that she helped to establish. While their safety is the immediate concern, my hope is that they will be able to return home soon.

We dedicate this blog post to the people of Nicaragua. Please know that our hearts are aching for you today. Our hope is that you will come through this crisis stronger than ever – and with the representative government you deserve.

16 Comments

  1. Patricia Powers Reply

    Susan, this is so well written, as usual, and we weren’t aware of the situation. It is very heartbreaking and we thank you for making us aware. There is so much the US could be doing if the world and our government cared.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thank you, Patti. Our hope is that this post will help spread awareness, in its own little way.

  2. I am sitting here this morning, the day of the National Strike, sipping my coffee and sobbing while reading your heartfelt post. The parrots are chirping. I hear the howler monkeys in the distance, and the symphony of roosters crowing across the island. The ferries that signal the beginning of our day as they chug past our house stopped running in solidarity with the paro (strike). Until I read the horrifying news on the internet each morning, all appears normal.
    Yet, nothing is normal. No one is safe.
    I compare Nicaragua to the wild, wild west. Lawlessness abounds and the national police and paramilitaries ride around in unmarked Toyota trucks, masked and armed with Ak 47s, shooting indiscriminately at unarmed defenseless citizens. Their only protection is to build a roadblock, or tranque, from the “Somoza” stones that pave their streets and highways. I watched a video of mothers and grandmothers armed with pots and pans, banging those pots furiously to chase away a group of armed thugs. They sit behind their tranques during the late afternoon and sing hymns, while praying for the massacres to stop.
    Rumors are rampant! We live with stress and uncertainty daily. Last night, Jinotepe was attacked. The police flew drones to find the tranques, and then tore them down and walked the streets shooting into people’s homes. I heard they flew a plane over Jinotepe and sprayed pesticides over the city, but as of this morning that is unconfirmed.
    What madness! The atrocities are unbelievable. One of my friends said, “This is not a crisis, it is a catastrophe.”
    I fear for my friends and the lovely Nicaraguans who have adopted us into their lives. I cry for the people because they have no options. Costa Rica has eased visas for Nicaraguans to enter. Hundreds of Nicaraguans are applying for passports so they can escape with their children and families to CR. Our goddaughter, who was in her third yr. at UNAN university in Leon is going to CR to live with her aunt. We gave her money to go to Managua to apply for a passport, but because of all the roadblocks and danger, she cannot get to Managua.
    Meanwhile, the Nicaraguans I love, wait. They wait for peace, they wait for food and gasoline, they wait for an end of their suffering. I sob, I cry out for help for Nicaragua. But, we can wait no longer. It is tragic!
    PS, I haven’t written much on my blog recently, but I hope to spread the stories of my friends after we leave.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      I’m sobbing right along with you. Having to leave your friends, so many of which must be like family, must be so hard. Why is it always the people – not the governments, not the politicians – that have to suffer? The grandmothers with their pots – what a picture that paints 🙁 I hope your goddaughter can get out soon. I read somewhere that Costa Rica is relaxing visa requirements for Nica refugees.

      What do you think the outcome of the strike will be? Will it have an impact?

      We are looking forward to reading your blog posts and getting the unique point of view that only you can provide. Hugs.

  3. Poor, troubled Nicaragua. This may be an example of American intervention & disruption doubling back on itself, at a time when the U.S. no longer feels obligated, or entitled, or inclined to direct policy in a foreign land. From its support of the corrupt Somoza family, to its tawdry & senseless support of the Contras, the U.S. helped create this latest crisis, and with any luck will stay away this time, unless a more compassionate initiative is forthcoming from Washington. Given the current administration’s proclivity for building walls, that’s not likely. It appears there will be much bloodshed in Nicaragua, and afterward nothing will have changed. And no, thoughts & prayers won’t help. A standup, strong, caring U.S. is what’s needed now to offer safe harbor, and sadly we have nothing like that.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Yes, it’s really uncanny how history is repeating itself here. And so ironic that Ortega, who was the key revolutionary figure before, has morphed from a populist to a totalitarian. Absolute power corrupts absolutely, I guess. A standup, strong, caring US? Not in this lifetime, but when has US intervention in Latin America ever been motivated by compassion? That’s an especially ludicrous prospect now.

  4. I had no idea about this sad news. I feel for the people of Nicaragua and hope that a solution will be found very soon.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thank you for your comment, Gilda. I think we can all play a role here in getting the word out about this, since the media isn’t really doing its job. And I share your hope that things will be resolved soon.

  5. I too am heartbroken. Such sad news. I’m so glad you have stayed in touch with some of your friends there.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thank you, Mimi. I hope things will be able to return to a somewhat normal state one day, but it doesn’t look like anything’s going to get resolved soon.

  6. I’m heartsick for the country as well. I’ve been getting updates privately from our friends there. The updates on social media have died down only because I think they fear for their lives with censorship. Our expat friends already left and have no idea when or if they will ever be able to go back. It’s bad and I wonder if we even know the half of it because of censorship. Just heartbreaking.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      It’s wise of your friends to be careful what they post. My understanding is that censorship is much stronger there now and people who speak out on social media are putting themselves at risk. So sad.

  7. Several months ago when I read that Ortega’s wife was appointed vice president I remember thinking ‘oh this can’t be good’. Then last week I learned that the situation in Nicaragua was in fact spiraling downward really fast. It’s so sad that this country which endured civil war in the past is now facing yet another grim prospect. I hope things will get better soon because in the end it’s the people who always suffer most.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      I had that feeling when I heard Ortega had been elected president, back in 2007. I thought, how can such a revolutionary (controversial) figure morph into a president that will truly represent all the people and lead Nicaragua into a peaceful and prosperous future. I’m so deeply sad to see that my skepticism was spot-on.

  8. Such a timely and heartfelt post. We spent six months in Nicaragua (2013-2014) mostly in Granada where we volunteered for an NGO feeding kids and teaching English. We fell in love with the country, considered making it our home and still feel a bond with it and many of the friends we made. The country and people are unbelievably beautiful and it makes us weep to see what’s happening. Tourism is Nicaragua’s lifeblood and sadly, with the renewed cycle of violence, the poverty and hunger will only grow more severe. I echo your thoughts about a hands-off approach now given the US tragic intervention in the 70’s and 80’s when the administration backed the brutal Somoza dictatorship and the Contras. And, sadly l can’t see the current administration providing any humanitarian aid. A good reminder for those who support MAGA might be that America encompasses many other countries as well. Anita

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thank you, A&R – good to hear from you. It’s surprising how many of our traveling friends have first-hand experience visiting Nicaragua, and the tourism industry is so critical there. But from what we hear, airplanes coming into the country are practically empty now. Even setting aside the violence, the people that work in tourism are suffering terribly. And MAGA – well, don’t get me started. Puerto Rico comes to mind when I think of how little the current administration cares about its “other” American sisters and brothers.

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