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Nicaraguan President Ortega Fights For His Political Future

Apr 24, 2018
Originally published on April 24, 2018 9:43 am
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Now let's focus on the struggles of Nicaragua's president. Daniel Ortega is a figure of his country's past - a Cold War socialist leader. He is a figure of his country's present - returned to power and in his third consecutive term. But as for the future, he faces opposition from students, workers and even his former allies in the business class. NPR's Carrie Kahn reports from Managua.

(SOUNDBITE OF CAR HORNS)

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Demonstrators filled nearly a mile of Managua's main boulevards yesterday alongside honking cars and motorcycles. This was clearly the largest repudiation of Ortega since he took office more than 11 years ago.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Ortega, Somoza son la misma cosa.

KAHN: Men and women dressed in white and carrying Nicaraguan flags chant Ortega, Somoza are one and the same, comparing the former revolutionary rebel to the dictator he and his Sandinista rebels helped overthrow nearly 40 years ago.

MILVIA BAEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "We want this dictator that we have now to leave," says Milvia Baez, a saleswoman for a pharmaceutical company. She says, "we want to be able to freely express ourselves." Over the past week in response to a presidential decree hiking social security taxes, protests erupted. In response, police forces cracked down on demonstrators, leaving as many as 30 dead, according to human rights advocates. Many of those killed were students at the capital's polytechnical university, where dozens remain holed up inside. Masked students guard the front gate of the tree-lined university. One leader, who would only give his name as Aguila, the eagle, kept his face covered throughout our interview. He says there is no negotiating with President Ortega.

AGUILA: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: Holding several shells of what he said came from police shotguns, Aguila says there's no way to negotiate when Ortega is killing innocent people. More difficult to repair than Ortega's rupture with the students may be his crumbling alliance with Nicaragua's business community, a relationship that has served both well, says Eric Farnsworth of the Washington, D.C.-based Council of the Americas. He says without the business leaders, Ortega has few cards left.

ERIC FARNSWORTH: His options become much more limited, and most likely, he's going to have to rely even more on the security forces and perhaps rule in a more authoritarian manner.

KAHN: For years, Ortega has delivered strong economic growth and a stable security situation compared to Nicaragua's neighbors. In exchange, many say the country's business community has looked the other way as Ortega consolidated power, weakening democratic institutions. During yesterday's march, business leader Edgar Lugo (ph), who owns a major hardware store in Managua, says time has run out on that unjust alliance.

EDGAR LUGO: That was very selfish in our part, I mean, if you ask me, because it's not something that you just discuss between the people that have the money and the people that have the power.

KAHN: Lugo says democratic change must happen, and it's time for Ortega to realize that. Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Managua, Nicaragua.

(SOUNDBITE OF YPPAH'S "OCCASIONAL MAGIC") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.