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Dozens Of Protesters Killed In Nicaragua Following Pension Changes

Apr 22, 2018
Originally published on April 22, 2018 11:04 am
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LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

And to Nicaragua now, where more than two dozen people have been killed in protests. Human rights groups are accusing the government of Daniel Ortega of using live rounds to quell the demonstrations. The violence was triggered by unpopular pension reforms. We're joined now by NPR's Carrie Kahn. Good morning.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Good morning, Lulu.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And, Carrie, this violence has been going on for four days now. Explain what's so contentious about these pension reforms.

KAHN: Sure. The government says it's going to increase income and payroll taxes. People are going to be paying more while they get less services - less pensions. And the pensions are lower. And, you know, they need to try and shore up Nicaragua's really troubled social security system. Now the government is saying that these were proposals, and they can be negotiated. But, you know, Nicaragua is one of the poorest countries in the hemisphere.

And Ortega has maintained power for so long in Nicaragua. This is his third consecutive time in power, his fourth as president. But that's due to his support and the social programs that he provides to the poor because there are so many - that is the base of his support. So this was definitely a blow to his supporters who - they've really looked the other way in recent years as Ortega's gone on to consolidate power and put limits on democratic freedoms. And so it's obvious that this clearly was just the spark that blew up the underlying resentments that have been in the country toward him and to his wife, who's a very controversial figure there, too.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. So the spark - who are these protesters? Who's taking to the streets?

KAHN: Sure. It appears really to be a wide swath of the nation protesting. It's not just limited to the capital, Managua. There are protests in cities all over the country. The most vocal and - have been the students at a main university. But it's become more widespread with pensioners coming out and even actually - and citizens joining these marches. And really, there was a video of a journalist who was giving a report live on Facebook. He was describing the violence in Bluefields, which is a town on Nicaragua's Caribbean coast. And he was shot in the head. It was graphic. It was horrific. And that really has sparked more outrage.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You know, you talk about the government's response. They're trying to sort of say that they might be able to change these pension reforms and negotiate them. But have they really sort of spoken to the protesters' demands?

KAHN: Well, Ortega went on national TV. He went on yesterday. That was the first time he's addressed these protests. And he said he was ready to negotiate over the pensions. But, you know, that appearance, in all ways, just seemed to have really made the situation worse. He said he would only negotiate with the business community, not the students, not the pensioners. And then he went on to accuse the protesters of being politically manipulated by some unspecified groups.

And, you know, that just really seemed to make matters worse. And more people came out on the streets. His response is widely considered to be heavy-handed, with calls for restraint coming from, you know, the business community - which is very powerful in Nicaragua - to the Catholic Church to the U.N. to the Organization of American States. So he's really going to have to deal with this situation because of the calls for restraint coming at him from all ends.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: NPR's Carrie Kahn - Carrie, thank you so much.

KAHN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.