from Bill Slaughter, FPC Clean Water Team
In mid-April the government of Nicaragua made changes in the state controlled retirement system that increased the contributions required of individuals and employers and reduced the benefits to retired individuals. Following the announcement, the public (led primarily by college students in Managua) rallied in the streets in a peaceful protest. The government responded with the army, police, and paramilitary by attacking the protestors with tear gas, rubber bullets, and live ammunition. Sixteen people were reportedly killed.
President Ortega rolled back the retirement plan changes, but the government’s reaction led to further protests. Ortega has responded by prohibiting the TV and radio stations from broadcasting stories that show the army, police, and paramilitary in a bad light. Likewise, the newspapers are also restricted, social media is monitored, those individuals posting negative comments are subject to arrest and imprisonment, and a 6:00pm curfew has been imposed. This reaction is spreading the opposition to the government.
The most recent reports indicate that the death toll has now exceeded 300 individuals, mostly students. There are many more who have disappeared. The public health system has been ordered not to treat injuries to protestors, but to treat only army, police, and paramilitary personnel. Fortunately, there are some doctors who are taking a risk and treating the protestors.
On the Caribbean side, where our water systems are located, the violence is lower, but still there. The curfew is enforced, electric power is now uncertain, roadblocks are keeping food delivery trucks from supplying an adequate amount of food, transportation services are more limited due to a shortage of fuel, and businesses are closing and laying off workers.
In Kukra Hlll, where our fourth Clean Water installation is located, the largest employer, a palm oil processor, provides jobs for 80% of the community’s labor force. The company is closing and terminating all employees until conditions allow for business to resume. Restaurants are closing, and tourism is virtually dead.
Our systems are producing water as best they can, but people can’t afford to pay for it so the system operators are not able to be paid. For some operators that is the main source of income for the family. Expendables such as filters, bottles, caps, etc. cannot be obtained, and this threatens the quality of the water. Travel to and from the U.S. is very limited. The U.S. embassy is not issuing visas, and Nicaragua is reportedly refusing entry to non-Nicaraguans.
Unrest is spreading to other countries in the region including Honduras and Haiti. Nicaragua could be key to what may happen in other countries.
Please keep our friends and all in Nicaragua in your prayers along with those in Haiti and all countries that live with this turmoil in their lives.