In the year since civil unrest first broke out against the administration of Daniel Ortega on April 18, 2018, more than 300 people have been killed, 900 people remain political prisoners, and an estimated 60,000 Nicaraguans emigrated—mostly heading south to Costa Rica.
“This is a stunning display of state terrorism—the use of state police forces and paramilitary forces that are not accountable to anybody,” says former U.S. Ambassador John Feeley in this Latin America in Focus podcast interview with AS/COA Online’s Holly K. Sonneland. The Ortega regime’s repressive tactics come straight out of the Cuban playbook, says Feeley, who served for close to three decades in the U.S. foreign service—most of it in Latin America—before leaving the service in March 2018. That level of brutality, he says, deserves to have the United States, the OAS, and the democracies of the hemisphere sit up and take note. What’s kept Ortega in power thus far is what Feeley refers to as “the big capital”—about small number of powerful families with business empires that have benefitted from economic growth during Ortega’s 13-year tenure. Ultimately, if Ortega is to leave, Feeley expects it could be through closed-door negotiations with the private sector.
Meanwhile, the country of 6 million lost 450,000 jobs last year and has seen its economy go from around 5 percent GDP growth to a nearly 4-point contraction in the span of 12 months. A tax overhaul passed in February aimed to raise funds for the cash-strapped Ortega administration, but so far is only exacerbating the problem.
Who stepped in to Ortega’s aid with a $100 million loan? Taiwan, which continues its tug-of-war with China over recognition in Central America. “My first thought was, shame on Taiwan for doing it,” says Feeley of the loan. “But I know that in the world of checkbook diplomacy, morality is the last thing that they’re thinking about.”
Feeley talks about his own firsthand view of the Taipei-Beijing tussle while ambassador to Panama and the potential 2020 Democratic hopeful with a nuanced understanding of U.S. diplomacy in the Western Hemisphere.
- OAS investigators presented their findings on Nicaragua's human rights crisis alongside Feeley at an AS/COA event in February. Watch the video.
- Nicaraguan activist Bianca Jagger denounced Ortega at an AS/COA event in September. Watch her presentation.
- New to the podcast? Check out past episodes of Latin America in Focus and subscribe on iTunes, Soundcloud, Stitcher, Google Play, and Spotify.
This episode was produced by Luisa Leme. The music in this podcast was performed at Americas Society in New York. Learn more about upcoming concerts at musicoftheamericas.org.