In a rare interview with Fox News on Monday, Nicaragua’s communist leader Daniel Ortega blamed the deaths of over 300 people during anti-government protests on paramilitary groups and reaffirmed his refusal to step down.
During the interview, the 72-year-old strongman blamed the violence that has besieged the country over the past three months on paramilitary groups and made the unsubstantiated claim that drug cartels and opposition MPs were funding the violence.
“It’s been a week now that turmoil has stopped. Matters are becoming more normal in the country and there have been some demonstrations both against and in favor of the government,” he said. “There were armed attacks by paramilitary groups against organizations of the state, against the police, against loyal Sandinista families, and then they [the protesters] started blocking the entire country.”
“These are groups that obey political organizations, some are members of the Liberal Party … and they’ve been organizing these paramilitary groups for some time now, and they have taken advantage of every small situation to launch attacks,” he continued.
Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega on paramilitary groups attacking protesters: At night, when there are no peaceful demonstrations, we've had clashes provoked by the paramilitary forces, organized by people that are against the government. #SpecialReport pic.twitter.com/OeHzQOuewD
— Fox News (@FoxNews) July 23, 2018
Protests in Nicaragua began in April amid anger over social security reforms and a growing fear that the country is slowing becoming a socialist dictatorship similar to that of Maduro’s Venezuela, with Ortega repeatedly refusing to allow early elections.
“We were elected by the voters,” he said. “The next election is not scheduled until 2021. And then we’ll have to see who will be voted in for the new administration.”
The United Nations has accused Ortega’s forces of dozens of human rights violations that begin with the unlawful detention of between 400 to 500 protesters.
“A wide range of human rights violations are being committed including extrajudicial killings, torture, arbitrary detentions, and denying people the right to freedom of expression,” a spokesman for the United Nations Office on Human Rights said last week. “The great majority of violations are by the government or armed elements who seem to be working in tandem with them.”
A former communist guerrilla who has led the Sandinista National Liberation Front since the 1970s, Ortega’s government is currently presiding over high rates of unemployment and stagnant economic growth.
He also remains a close ally of many of the world’s most autocratic regimes, maintaining close relationships with leftist Latin American allies such as Cuba, Bolivia, and Venezuela, as well as regimes further afield including China, Syria, and Russia.
In 1998, Ortega was accused of rape by his stepdaughter Zoilamerica Narvaez, who alleged that he molested her as a young girl while they were in a guerrilla camp in neighboring Costa Rica. However, he has never faced any formal charges.