Top Stories

This is the aftermath of Nicaragua’s protests against Ortega

There’s an uneasy calm on the streets of Managua and other cities across Nicaragua.

University campuses that were once occupied by students have been reclaimed by black-clad police with rifles. In the small city of Masaya, a focal point of the unrest, workers have replaced the cobblestones that protesters used to build barricades; meanwhile, paramilitary members wearing ski masks sit idly on street corners, keeping the peace.

“The way we see it, we’re at a stalemate,” said Harley Morales, a 26-year-old sociology student and leader of the protests. “A catastrophic, destructive stalemate.”

For President Daniel Ortega, reimposing order came at great cost: The scale of the repression has left the president politically isolated. More than 300 people have died in the crackdown, most of them protesters killed by security forces and state-controlled paramilitaries, according to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

Internationally, even some of Ortega’s once-stalwart allies on the left have decried the violence and urged him to step aside. And domestically, quiet on the streets does not mean the opposition has been defeated.

Makeshift crosses in the Jean Paul Genie traffic circle in Managua commemorate protesters killed in a government crackdown. Juanita Ceballos for VICE News.

Ortega now faces a coalition of university students, peasants, nonprofits, and the Catholic church. Crucially, the alliance also includes the corporate sector, which for the last 11 years was one of Ortega’s most powerful allies.

Read: Nicaragua’s government is brutally cracking down on its people, but protests are spreading

“What caused us to split with the government?” said José Adán Aguerri, president of the Superior Council of Private Enterprise, Nicaragua’s preeminent chamber of commerce. “The separation happened the moment the first protester died.”

What happens next is largely a question of whether that coalition can keep up the pressure on the government — and keep from splintering long enough to force Ortega to accept early elections.

“In the alliance you have sectors of society with competing, in some ways irreconcilable interests,” said Morales, the student leader. “And I think we still haven’t had a sincere discussion about our visions for the kind of Nicaragua we want to see.”

This segment originally aired August 7, 2018 on VICE News Tonight on HBO.