In Depth

Is Nicaragua the new Syria?

Nikki Haley warns that Central American nation is travelling ‘down the same path’ to civil war

The US ambassador to the United Nations has warned the organisation’s Security Council that Nicaragua is travelling “further down” the same path that led to a brutal civil war in Syria.

Nikki Haley, the current council president, said that the UN must intervene to halt Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega’s “tyranny from threatening peace and security” in the region. 

“With each passing day Nicaragua travels further down a familiar path,” she said during a meeting on Wednesday.

“It is a path that Syria has taken. It is a path that Venezuela has taken,” Haley added, alluding to the ongoing social crisis and violence in the latter country.

More than 300 Nicaraguans have been killed since April, after peaceful protests over government welfare cuts were violently suppressed by security forces.

Foreign Affairs argues that there are clear similarities with events in Syria, where civil war broke out after a popular uprising against President Bashar al-Assad was met with brutal repression.

“Police and paramilitaries arbitrarily detain citizens every day,” says the US-based news magazine of the Ortega regime. “They are tortured, accused of terrorism, organised crime, illegal possession of weapons, and a litany of other crimes.

“Hooded, heavily armed irregular forces roam the streets, shooting at will. After 6pm, most cities in the country look deserted. The Nicaraguan government, much as it did under [former dictator Anastasio] Somoza, has declared war on its people.”

However, the International Peace Institute’s Global Observatory argues that unlike the Syrian regime, the Nicaraguan government does not have sufficient power to avoid being overthrown.

“Even if [Ortega] temporarily silences dissenters, the bases of his dominion have been dramatically and irrevocably shaken,” the site says. “What remains to be seen is how his regime will fall. One can only hope that democracy in Nicaragua will be restored by the instruments of an ‘electoral’ rather than an armed revolution.”

The numbers don’t support Haley’s comparison either. The death toll in Nicaragua, around 300 people over the past five months, is dwarfed by that in Syria at the same stage in that conflict, estimated to be more than 2,000 by international organisations.

Haley also claimed that “when human rights are denied, the violence and instability that follow spill over borders”.

On this point, the US ambassador appears to be correct. At the UN meeting, the representative for Costa Rica, which borders Nicaragua to the south, claimed that his country had seen 12,830 requests for asylum from Nicaragua since April - which he described as a “significant increase” on previous years.

But as Reuters points out, this number “pales in comparison with war-ravaged Syria’s estimated 5.5 million refugees, a number almost equivalent to the entire population of Nicaragua”. 

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