Chichigalpa, Nicaragua is home to the popular Flor de Caña, the country’s largest and best-known rum, exporting to over 40 countries. It’s owned by Carlos Pellas, the country’s first billionaire. Pellas is also known as the “Sugar King.”
In the same town, citizens are dying at an incredible rate. There’s actually 3 to 4 deaths a day in a community of only 60,000 people. Most of the people who die are sugarcane field workers. Their deaths are caused by chronic kidney disease [CKD].
Fieldworkers are subjected to work in 100 degree weather with no shade and very little water to keep hydrated. In fact, “one day of sugarcane cutting can be compared to running half a marathon, in terms of physical efforts”, says Lieneke Wieringa, advocacy manager for Fairfood International.
Since workers get paid per ton of sugar cane they cut, which is less than a dollar per ton, they work as much as possible with little rest or proper hydration for six months straight to earn a decent wage that they can’t get anywhere else….they will choose literally work themselves to death.
Read more about what people are doing to help sugarcane workers in Nicaragua here.
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There are increased concerns coming out of Nicaragua due to an on-going human rights crisis that began in April 2018 over planned cuts to welfare benefits. The government of President Daniel Ortega has been at the front of this situation and have done everything they can to silence and stop protesters.
This has all lead to multiple violent clashes on city streets between pro-government forces and protesters that have claimed more than 300 lives, injured more than 2,000 people and countless more have been imprisoned. According to human rights groups, this has included torture and the denial of due process. In return, the violence has prompted thousands of Nicaraguans to go into exile.
Here’s how we got to this point and what is being done to put an end to the violence in Nicaragua.
Back in April, the Nicaraguan Government announced that there would be cuts in social security payments. This resulted in immediate nationwide protests that brought flashbacks of the violence seen last year. These cuts were eventually rescinded but not the protests and calls for the resignation of President Daniel Ortega, who’s in his fourth term, to step down and for swift elections to follow. President Ortega balked at the notion of leaving office and says he’ll serve his full term until the next elections in 2021.
The Catholic church continues to be the mediator between the Ortega government and opposition forces in its efforts to initiate talks between the two bitterly entrenched sides to resolve the crippling ongoing crisis. Last week, a Vatican representative called for the continuation of talks and negotiations. The goal here is to try to release reforms to begin “free and transparent elections” in Nicaragua.
“The Holy See has been following with great attention the sociopolitical situation in Nicaragua and believes that the unsettled disputes should be solved as soon as possible,” Archbishop Ivan Jurkovic, the Vatican observer to U.N. agencies in Geneva, told Reuters.
The Vatican is hoping to bring both sides together in a “renewed spirit of responsibility and reconciliation” to hopefully bring forth a resolution “that respects the truth, reestablishes justice and promotes the common good.” Jurkovic said at a speech on Sept. 10 during a session of the U.N. Human Rights Council on the situation in Nicaragua that these talks will be necessary if there is any hope of peace in the country.
“The Holy See strongly believes that it is essential to implement the agreements reached last March, to return immediately to open and mutually respectful negotiations and to realize, at the earliest, the electoral reforms for the holding of free and transparent elections with the presence of international observers,” Archbishop Jurkovic told Reuters.
The United Nations has also called for the immediate resignation of President Ortega, who has overseen violations of human rights in Nicaragua.
As the Vatican voiced its concern about Nicaragua, Michelle Bachelet, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, made comments on the same day about the violence in the country. She noted that while violence has decreased since the Ortega government and the Civic Alliance for Justice and Democracy met for peace talks in February, there is still human rights violation occurring.
“Between August 2018 and July 2019, human rights violations continued to occur in Nicaragua,” Bachelet told the Human Rights Council. “However, since the end of February 2019, when the Government and the Civic Alliance for Justice and Democracy resumed their dialogue, the number of violations against life and personal integrity has decreased, proof that dialogue is a possible and peaceful way to overcome the crisis.”
From mid-March to mid-June, the Ortega administration had released nearly 400 people who were detained due to protests over the last year. The majority, however, were released under restrictive measures. While most major protests have calmed over the last few months, there have been multiple human rights violations that have occurred. The government has banned public demonstrations from those that have criticized them and have also used violent tactics to stop citizens from public self-expression.
“We cannot remain in total silence, we cannot be silent,” Juan Mata Guevara, a bishop of Esteli, Nicaragua, said at the bishops’ conference.“This way of proceeding is an exercise of irrational authoritarianism. This reflects how the regime does not see the needs of those who suffer.”
The crisis in Nicaragua keeps escalating, with journalists, students, and anyone who stands up to the dictatorship are risking their lives to speak up. Nicaraguans are using the hashtag #SOSNicaragua to get the attention of the world to help their fight for libertad.
Some background: the current President Daniel Ortega, was a a student leader in the Sandinista de Liberación Nacional (FSLN), which overthrew then-dictator Anastasio Somoza Debayle. Today, a new uprising of students are reclaiming the Sandinista name and spirit that ousted the last dictator and their target is Ortega.
In April 2018, President Daniel Ortega announced a “comprehensive social security reform.”
CREDIT: @nicadispatch / Twitter
Translation: workers and employers would have to contribute more to their social security and expect 5 percent less of the benefits. Protesters fled to the streets, only to be met with militarized police attacking citizens.
The protests weren’t simply about the social security announcement, as much as the policy change was the last straw. Many Nicaraguans are upset over government corruption and believe that government officials have been using citizens’ social security savings as their own petty cash.
More than 400 people are reported dead since the violent conflict began.
CREDIT: @nicadispatch / Twitter
“We are in the streets asking for Ortega and his wife to go. This has already gone beyond the social security issue. Here there have been dead, wounded, and he does not even apologize for his killings or the savage repression against the people,” Mauri Hernandez, one of thousands of demonstrators at a central rotunda told NBC News.
The scale of the police response has prompted even more unrest.
CREDIT: @Midori1900 / Twitter
Imagine if Trump set police on protestors at #FamiliesBelongTogether marches and you were actually risking your life to speak up? It would create a widespread crisis by anyone’s standards, and it would not be OK.
On top of that, anti-Sandinistas have created a paramilitary that is backed by Ortega.
CREDIT: @BlueLaurita / Twitter
Ortega contradicts himself in multiple statements regarding his aiding the paramilitia who have wounded or killed Nicaraguans, but the fact remains: the National Police and these armed gangs are working side by side.
Plus, a picture’s worth a thousand words.
Ortega cancelled the social security reform but, for months, citizens continue to call for Ortega to step down.
CREDIT: @twosixxx / Twitter
The movement is largely student-led, and the deaths are heart-wrenching. Even Oretega’s own hermano, who once led the Nicaraguan military, called for Ortega to disband the paramilitary just last week.
Then, last week, this happened:
CREDIT: @BretBaier / Twitter
FOX News gave Ortega a platform to speak into President Trump’s ear, and to millions of Americans. When asked why paramilitary are involved in protests against his government, he responded, “Turmoil has stopped and matters are becoming more normal, and there have been some demonstrations both in favor and against the government.”
Nicaraguans and Nicaraguan-Americans are using #SOSNicaragua to call attention to the crisis.
CREDIT: @CDiriangen / Twitter
Brett Baier actually responded to several people, and he did follow through on his promise to grill the leader, who did exactly as expected. He claimed that the people who have died reacted violently, and their murderers were not affiliated with his government.
Nobody bought it.
CREDIT: @nicadispatch / Twitter
One Nicaraguan even tweeted this photo and said, “Someone thought it would be a good idea for Daniel Ortega to give an interview to @BretBaier on Fox News. Someone was wrong. Ortega appeared demented, mendacious and cagado. #sosnicaragua”
Some people tried using Trump’s favorite social media platform to convince him to take action.
CREDIT: @OpaKoukla / Twitter
Y’know, since Trump just parrots everything he hears on FOX News, and Ortega called the paramilitary attacks “terrorism” in an effort to distance himself from the groups. In response to seeing a video of mothers crying over their sons’ bodies, he basically said it’s propaganda to scare people.
The White House responded with a resolution to sanction officials under the Ortega regime.
CREDIT: @MarcoRubio / Twitter
Marco Rubio aided in getting a resolution passed that would prevent Ortega officials from visiting the United States, while allegations of officials poisoning the food and water of students and journalists, and the continued state-led violence ensues.
It’s something, but it’s not enough.
Plus, there’s some confusion over what to call the rebels.
CREDIT: @roxana54755021 / Twitter
Some Nicaraguans consider themselves anarchist Sandinista, holding root to the original intent of the party, which was to overthrow corruption and dictatorship. But since Ortega ran under the Sandinista party, we’re not sure what the U.S. government means by this statement.
Protests escalated when an armed gang took over a Catholic church in Masaya, the battleground for freedom.
CREDIT: @vivanicaragua12 / Twitter
This video shows an armed gang beating down the iron gates of a church raiding it, while students and priests hide behind home-made barricades, meant to block the open fire of the pro-government militia.
After the event in Masaya, tens of thousands of Nicaraguans poured into the streets to support the Church.
CREDIT: @inesanma / Twitter
Catholic officials have been outspoken against Ortega while this brutality has taken place, and Ortega has blamed the Church for encouraging the protests. The Nicaraguan Catholic Church maintains that they are only encouraging dialogue and peace.
Which is why the U.S. decided to have an opinion.
CREDIT: @VoCommunism / Twitter
Thousands of people brutally injured and killed y nada ni nada from the U.S. government, but once a Priest is involved, then they’re humanized. Protestors kept chanting, “Queremos a nuestros Obispos como mediadores!” which means “We want our bishops as mediators!”
Nicaraguans who can’t be there on foot, are doing what they can using the #SOSNicaragua tag.
CREDIT: @rickJMoncada / Twitter
@rickJMoncada is tweeting this at anyone who has a platform to raise awareness around the crisis. Since April, more than 400 people are dead and more than 2,000 injured for resisting Ortega.
Others will carry the flag wherever they go.
CREDIT: @structures3 / Twitter
When you’re Nicaraguense, no matter how far away you are from the crisis, el dolor goes with you.
Nicaraguans at home are doing the work that journalists barely can…because they’re dying.
CREDIT: @NavyBullDog79 / Twitter
If you’re using the #SOSNicaragua hashtag, it’s because you’ve run out of options. If you’re tagging POTUS, Rubio and Pence, it’s because you’re so desperate for help from the country that has always helped free democracy in the past.
Public hospitals are allegedly refusing to treat anti-government protestor’s for their injuries at the hand of the paramilitary.
CREDIT: @gueguensa / Twitter
There was an instance when eight doctors were allegedly fired after they did treat injured protestors, in direct violation of the new rule. The government is turning its back on Nicaraguans.
Meanwhile, women have been at the front of the rebellion.
CREDIT: @brujamistica / Twitter
Oh, did we mention that last year Ortega announced that his wife would become his vice president? His 15 year term comes to an end in 2021, but many fear that she will proceed her husband, and he would still control the government.
Women are straight up defending their rights and turf however they damn well please.
CREDIT: @ComandanteMacha / Twitter
Because es la verdad que la revolución es feminista. Women are actually shooting mortars out into the walls of police officers.
Todavia, Ortega has refused to step down.
CREDIT: @_pizzacloud / Twitter
People continue to die. Mothers continue to bury daughters. Fathers continue to mourn their sons. Just like the revolution that started 40 years ago, young people are fighting for their lives, and many are losing. Nicaragua needs our help.
While we expect the violence to continue, we pray for paz en Nicaragua.
CREDIT: @AJEnglish / Twitter
What can we do? Raise awareness. Share this article, or any article that is telling the story of Nicaragua. Call your representatives and demand that the U.S. takes action. If corruption, nepotism, and authoritarianism can happen in Nicaragua, then it can happen here.