Source: Associated Press
22 April 2018
President Daniel Ortega says changes implemented on 16 April have been cancelled.
Nicaragua’s president has withdrawn changes to the social security system that triggered deadly protests and looting.
President Daniel Ortega said in a message to the nation that the social security board of directors had cancelled the changes implemented on 16 April. The overhaul was intended to shore up Nicaragua’s troubled social security system by both reducing benefits and increasing taxes.
The changes touched off protests across the Central American nation that escalated into clashes with police as well as looting. The demonstrations appeared to expand to include broader anti-government grievances.
Human rights groups said at least 26 people were killed in several days of clashes. Dozens of shops in the Nicaraguan capital of Managua were looted during unrest that extended into Sunday.
Unlike his appearance on Saturday with the police chief, Ortega announced the cancellation of the overhaul accompanied by business executives who account for about 130,000 jobs and millions of dollars in exports.
Earlier in the day, Pope Francis said at the Vatican that he was “very worried” about the situation in Nicaragua and echoed the call of local bishops for an end to all violence.
Images broadcast by local news media showed looted shops in the capital’s sprawling Oriental Market district and at least one Walmart.
Police apparently did not intervene on Sunday, in contrast to what had been a strong response to earlier demonstrations in which dozens were injured or arrested.
“We are seeing social chaos in Nicaragua provoked by the absence of government leadership, and the crisis has been combined with poverty, and that in any society is a time bomb,” sociologist and analyst Cirilo Otero said.
Ortega had said on Saturday he was willing to negotiate on the social security overhaul, but said the talks would be only with business leaders.
He seemed to try to justify the tough response against protesters by the government and allied groups, accusing demonstrators, most of them university students, of being manipulated by unspecified “minority” political interests and of being infiltrated by gangsters.
Nicaragua has been one of the more stable countries in Central America, largely avoiding the turmoil caused by gang violence or political upheaval that has at times plagued Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala in recent years.
But top Nicaraguan business lobby COSEP has backed peaceful protests against the government, and said it would not enter talks with Ortega to review the social security plan until he had ended police repression and restored freedom of expression.
A former Marxist guerrilla and Cold War antagonist of the United States, Ortega has presided over a period of stable growth with a blend of socialist policies and capitalism.
But critics accuse Ortega and his wife, Vice-President Rosario Murillo, of trying to establish a family dictatorship. The country remains one of the poorest in the Americas.