2018 has been a tumultuous year for Central America.
Unfortunately, this includes Nicaragua, where President Danny Ortega’s increasing authoritarianism has disrupted the country’s relatively superior economic and political stability in the region.
Eight months after a spontaneous popular uprising left 322 people dead and 565 others in jail, Nicaraguans from cities across the country have gone underground.
They are hiding from an increasingly authoritarian state that is methodically tracking down those who participated in the large-scale and often violent protests against the government of President Daniel Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo.
“They are hunting us like deer,” said Roberto Carlos Membreño Briceño, 31, a former legal clerk for a Nicaraguan Supreme Court justice, who gave up his law license and fled this year after his bosses saw a photo of him at a protest. He now lives in hiding on a ranch in Costa Rica with 50 strangers, including a ballet dancer who goes by code name “The Eagle.”
When hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets in cities around Nicaragua to demand the president’s immediate ouster this spring, many observers thought that Mr. Ortega’s days in office were numbered.
Instead, convinced that he was facing an attempted coup by well-financed political parties, Mr. Ortega responded with an increasingly brutal and repressive strategy to quell the opposition movement and has tightened his grip on his power.
Now, nearly 40 years after the leftist Sandinista Front led by Mr. Ortega ousted the Somoza dynasty that had ruled Nicaragua for decades, he is accused of becoming the very dictator he helped depose all those years ago.
The 73-year-old Mr. Ortega and his wife, 67, control virtually every aspect of government, including the National Assembly, the Supreme Court, the armed forces, the judiciary, the police and the prosecutor’s office. The many Ortega adult children manage everything from gasoline distribution to television stations.
The protesters who once had such high hopes of forcing Mr. Ortega to step down after nearly 12 years in the presidency are reduced to recording subversive videos calling for his ouster while wearing T-shirts over their faces.
Hundreds of civilians who never picked up a weapon or lit a match have been charged with terrorism-related crimes under a new law that broadened the definition of terrorism.