Since anti-government demonstrations began in April, the aggressive and violent response from the Nicaraguan government – led by the increasingly authoritarian President Danny Ortega – has driven a many as 20,000 Nicaraguans to flee to neighboring countries in the region, primarily Costa Rica. This week, a caravan of displaced Nicaraguans is departing Costa Rica for the Nicaraguan border with a serious message.
“We’re going to tell the people they’re not alone and tell the government we’re still alive and fighting to return to a different Nicaragua,” said one of the protest organizers, Francisca Ramirez, a leader of Nicaraguan farm workers.
Ramirez said she fled Nicaragua in October after being threatened by pro-government forces.
The so-called “Caravan for Freedom and Justice” is due to end with a walk of some 4 kilometers from La Cruz. But it aims to stop short of the Penas Blancas border post to avoid problems. Police were waiting on the Nicaraguan side by mid-morning.
Demonstrations in Nicaragua that began in April against planned welfare cuts – later dropped by the government – quickly morphed into a broader protest against the leftist Ortega.
A former Marxist guerrilla leader and Cold War antagonist of the United States, Ortega has held power continually since 2007. Some critics now liken him to the dictator he once fought to oust. He accuses adversaries of plotting a coup to topple him.
As many as 40,000 Nicaraguans have left for neighboring Costa Rica since the protests started, according to Articulacion de Movimientos Sociales, (Articulation of Social Movements), the group organizing the protest caravan.
Monica Baltodano, head of the foundation Popol Na, one of several non-governmental organizations recently raided by the Nicaraguan government, said the protest hoped to get around 1,000 people to the border with Costa Rica.
On Saturday, Nicaraguan police beat at least seven journalists, including one of the country’s best known editors, with batons as part of an escalating crackdown on independent media.“