It’s nearly been a year since the anti-pension reform protests in Nicaragua were met with a violent government crackdown. Over the course of these last several months, Nicaragua has begun to resemble 2017-2019 Venezuela in more ways than one. As President Danny Ortega’s aberration from democratic governance, tightening grip on the presidency, and relentless assault of the civil liberties of his people continues, many Nicaraguans are faced with a difficult choice. Stay or leave? Speaking with Nicaraguans on behalf of National Public Radio, Carrie Kahn explores what it’s like for everyday Nicaraguans to live in such desperate circumstances:
Blanka Callejas looks out over the production floor of her family’s factory just outside the Nicaraguan town of Granada. Workers scrub down huge metal vats where they process fruit for the Callejas brand of jams and preserves, a staple in Nicaraguan homes for decades. She is worried about how she will pay her 50 employees.
These days, she says, jam has become a luxury.
Nicaragua has been in turmoil since last April, when President Daniel Ortega launched a brutal crackdown on opponents. At least 325 people have been killed, thousands injured and 550 arrested. In December, Ortega expelled international observers who were invited into the country to look into allegations of human rights abuses. The Organization of American States said at the time that the expulsion of its observers “further places Nicaragua into the terrain of authoritarianism.” The economy, after years of growth, is now in recession.
That has left many Nicaraguans grappling with the difficult decision of whether to stay, or go.
Callejas says she’s not giving up, despite her company’s sales having plummeted 40 percent since the crisis began last April.
“I know what it’s like to be in exile, to be alone,” she says, remembering back in the 1970s, when as a teen, she had to flee to Costa Rica for a while. She had taken up arms against the Somoza dictatorship with the Sandinista rebels. President Ortega was a leader in that fight, but now many of his critics and old allies now say the leader is behaving like an authoritarian ruler himself.
This time around, Callejas says she won’t leave her business or employees. Her son, however, did leave the country, fearing he was targeted by the authorities and their allies.
“They labeled him a terrorist, a vandal, a criminal, just like they have done to all protesters,” she says.