You either die a hero, or live long enough to see yourself become the villain. Sadly, for the people of Nicaragua, Daniel Ortega, once a Sandinista and a trusted emissary of change to his people, chose the latter.
It’d be flippant, under most circumstances, to use a quote pulled from a comic book movie to describe the doings of an autocratic dictator, but the desperate, comic book villain death grip that Ortega has held onto the seat of the Nicaraguan presidency these past few years makes it feel right, somehow.
Painting himself as a good fella that's simply trying to hold his country’s shit together, Ortega, the police elements loyal to his government, and the paramilitaries under his sway have been responsible for at least 450 deaths since this past April when peaceful protests broke out over the Nicaraguan government’s plans to reform the nation’s social security system. Under Ortega’s new scheme, the poorest people in a nation full of poor people would have been forced to pay more for their pensions while receiving less. The protests soon turned violent. Then, they turned deadly. Currently, Ortega, who claims that the violence in his nation has come to an end, is living behind barricades and armed guards. His people want him gone.
The Financial Times has, hands-down, the best explanation on why this is, that I’ve run across:
Juan José is digging a latrine on the small, 8m by 25m plot the government of Daniel Ortega has given him to build a house. It is prime real estate, across from a smart golf club on the outskirts of the Nicaraguan capital, Managua. Given that he is out of work, he is particularly happy not to have to pay rent.
He has long considered himself a supporter of the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) — the one-time revolutionary movement that has led an elected government for over a decade. But now he has qualms. The land where he and others are building houses, many sporting the red and black Sandinista flag, has been commandeered by the government — probably as an act of political revenge — since the start of an uprising four months ago.
“We were OK with the government before,” the 47-year-old former hardware store employee says, leaning on his shovel. But now, “I’d prefer a president who doesn’t kill us”.
A president that doesn’t kill you. That’s the dream, these days.
If you’re interested in how Ortega went from being a hero of his people to the corrupt, villainous turd that he is today, you’ll want to read Jude Webber’s excellent profile on the Nicaraguan strongman for some telling background and a concise timeline.