Following­ the eruption of violence in 2018, Nicaragua, the poorest country in Central America, has seen its economic progress stagnate and its domestic life falter. The additional unrest is making Nicaraguans more vulnerable to violence and instability. While Nicaragua’s overall crime rate is low, certain areas, like the rape of minors and political violence, are high. These 10 facts about violence in Nicaragua provide a glimpse after one year of conflict.

10 Facts About Violence in Nicaragua

  1. Political violence occurred in 2018 in response to the government’s social security reforms. Protests occurred between April and July, and the government responded brutally. More than 300 people were killed and hundreds detained during three-month anti-government protests where citizens demanded that President Daniel Ortega — who has been in power since 2007 — step down. In the subsequent six months, the government arrested and jailed opposition leaders and those who challenged his authority, his human rights abuses, his consolidation of power and his low 10 percent approval rating.
  2. Sixty thousand Nicaraguans have sought asylum from the violence in Costa Rica. In July 2018, Costa Rica alone received about 200 requests by Nicaraguans for asylum per day. The U.N. is seeking to support countries who take Nicaraguan refugees.
  3. Violence between protesters and government-sponsored paramilitary groups disrupts access to resources. Roadblocks appear without apparent reason, mostly around cities, and limit the availability of food and fuel.
  4. Civil unrest continues unpredictably. Although protests are forbidden, they occur and government forces respond with violence. The poor infrastructure in parts of the country limits the potential of international assistance.
  5. Access to healthcare is limited due to the unrest. Government hospitals are understaffed and frequently deny treatment to suspected protestors. Ambulances are unreliable, denying treatment or not visiting certain areas.
  6. Sexual assault, especially against girls, is common. More than two-thirds of the 14,000 rapes reported between 1998 and 2008 were committed against girls under the age of 17, and nearly half of them were under the age of 14. More recent statistics during Ortega’s presidency are unavailable, but anecdotal reports suggest that gender-based violence is widespread. A stigma follows survivors of rape, but not perpetrators. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has expressed grave concern.
  7. Domestic violence against women is controversial in Nicaragua. The Nicaraguan Constitution contains both protections against and provisions for violence against women under certain circumstances, like marriage. Legal dialogue has fluctuated through the 2010s. In 2012, in response to high levels of femicide and little legal response, a women’s rights group pushed through Ley Integral Contra La Violencia Hacia Las Mujeres (Law 779) expanding the legal definition of violence against women, establishing specially-trained prosecutors to hear gender-based violence cases and further protect victims. Since then, 779 has been systematically weakened by a series of legislative and presidential decrees. Local conservative legislators and religious leaders see 779 as potentially destructive to families if women could seek reprisal for domestic violence. Although rape is illegal, domestic/intimate violence, child-marriage and dating violence is still high.
  8. Violence is hurting Nicaragua’s economic growth. Between 2014 and 2016, poverty in Nicaragua decreased from 29.6 to 24.9 percent and extreme poverty from 8.3 to 6.9 percent. But due to the social and political unrest since April 2018, the economy contracted in 2018 by 3.8 percent. The World Bank supported Nicaragua through the International Development Association (IDA), the World Bank’s fund for the poorest countries, to support poverty reduction measures in the country.
  9. Violent street crime is spotty, but regional, and is greater in urban areas after dark. Street crime is more prevalent in Managua, Puerto Cabezas, Bluefields, San Juan del Sur, Popoyo, El Transito and the Corn Islands.
  10. The homicide rate is low and falling. The homicide rate held steady with 15 in 100,000 people 2014-16, but it fell to 6 in 100,000 in 2018—far lower than comparable economies. Men commit homicide six times more frequently than women and people ages 15-26 are the most likely to commit homicides.

Heather Hughes
Photo: U.N.

Nicaragua Law 779 Women Protesters Face Attackers
Thousands of Nicaraguan women have taken to the streets and protested against the recent reforms made to the Comprehensive Law Against Violence Toward Women (Law 779), which could make women who have been victims of sexual crimes participate in face-to-face mediation with their abusers.

Implemented in June 2012, Law 779 criminalizes violence towards women and has been criticized since its implementation by opponents such as conservative and religious organizations, as well as men’s groups, and has been accused of promoting discrimination toward men. These groups also strongly prohibited the law’s initial stance against mediation between victims and abusers, claiming that it represented radical feminist opinions and eliminated the presumption of innocence in a trial. The opponents to the law presented it to the Nicaraguan Supreme Court declaring it unconstitutional and demanded reforms, which were approved by the Nicaraguan parliament on September 20.

Violence against women in Nicaragua is a widespread problem considering the 19 percent increase in domestic abuse cases reported from January to August 2012 than in the same period in 2011. Many women’s groups associate this increase with the incorrect implementation of the law, but no clear indication has been found proving these claims. Nonetheless, Law 779 was a success for women’s groups in the Central American nation, as it was the first in the country’s history to criminalize violent behavior towards women including femicide, as well as guaranteeing emotional, physical, and sexual integrity of women. The law additionally demands that more state resources are used to tackle the problem of violence towards women and implementing violence prevention programs.

When the mediation reforms were approved, the major step in equality backfired on women’s groups who had spent decades lobbying for Law 779 to pass in the first place. More specifically, with the new reforms, it is now legal for there to be mediation for crimes with the abusers’ sentences being less than five years. These sorts of sentences are given for domestic cases such as physical injuries, psychological violence, sexual assault at home or at work. Crimes that result in sentences longer than five years and could not be considered for mediation would be ones where the victim suffered from serious physical wounds or femicide.

Nicaragua’s society is extremely patriarchal, with most women relying economically on their husbands or boyfriends; women are given the responsibility of holding the family unit together. This pressure on Nicaraguan women often leads them to agree to mediation even though it puts their lives at risk. However, according to the head of the Supreme Court, mediation will be voluntary when reforms are implemented, and it can be requested or denied by either party. Women will not be obligated to participate in the mediation process. Despite this however, the newly approved reforms are still a setback to progress for Nicaragua’s women and put them in a vulnerable and emotional position wherein they could face their attackers, leading to shame and terror.

Despite women’s groups’ protests over the reforms, the rest of the population believes that it is more effective that the government strengthens the existing processes in place and implements Law 779 in a just way to protect women from domestic violence.

– Elisha-Kim Desmangles
Feature Writer

Sources: The Guardian, IPS, AJWS