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Violence interrupts peace talks in Nicaragua

More than 180 people have died in violent clashes between citizens and pro-government forces over the last two months in Nicaragua. People are demanding the resignation of President Daniel Ortega, who has dominated Nicaraguan politics for nearly 40 years, and Vice President Rosario Murillo, his wife. Elisabeth Malkin of The New York Times joins Hari Sreenivasan for more.

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  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Many of the migrants crossing the southern border with the United States are fleeing violence in their home countries in Central America — most often, Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. But there's another crisis in the region this time in Nicaragua where Daniel Ortega's government proposed cuts to pension and social security in April triggered violent protests. Peace talks started but in the past few weeks government backed forces began demanding Ortega's resignation.

    Joining us now from Mexico City is Elizabeth Malkin, a reporter for The New York Times who covers Central America. She's just back from Nicaragua where she witnessed a battle in the town of Masaya earlier this week. Thanks for joining us. First of all, what are the core issues that people are fighting over or pushing back against?

  • ELIZABETH MALKIN:

    Well, Daniel Ortega won election 11 years ago and when he did that he began to take over control of all the branches of government. So basically, Daniel Ortega has control over the Supreme Court, the legislature, the electoral tribunal and people really feel that this is turning into a one party state. You have to be loyal to the government in order to get basic benefits. You have to join the party in order to get any access to government jobs. And you know, the proximate cause was the cuts to social security. And so what began as peaceful protests suddenly changed when the government fired on people and the social media had an enormous impact because what you had were pictures of elderly people being beaten up by crowds toiled to take action. This spread rapidly with social media and that created outrage and turned into this large opposition that has shown no signs of folding and they want Daniel Ortega out. They want him out now and they won't take anything less.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    But what's the status of any peace talks or any mediating forces here?

  • ELIZABETH MALKIN:

    There is a broad alliance called the Alianza Cívica and it really includes groups that normally would never talk to each other. What is happening is, politicians, which perhaps it's a good thing, but it includes the business community, student groups who've been very important and farmers group. There are feminist groups, the mediators are the church, which is highly respected in Nicaragua and Daniel Ortega himself asked for the church to mediate. But at the same time the church has been instrumental in trying to stop the violence. So, these talks have been really going on since the end of April and what the coalition of opposition organizations would like is, you know, a discussion on early elections, on human rights, on some kind of trial, justice for what is now over 200 deaths, and reforms that will allow some kind of return to democracy where this one party, one man rule is dismantled.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    All right. Elizabeth Malkin of The New York Times joining us by phone from Mexico City. Thanks so much.

  • ELIZABETH MALKIN:

    Thank you very much for having me.

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