Nicaraguan President Cancels Pension Plan Changes to End Deadly Protests

Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega has scrapped plans to overhaul the country’s social security system. 

His announcement last week of changes to the country’s pension plan sparked days of deadly protests. 

The president said Sunday the plan to increase worker contributions to social security and to lower pensions is being “revoked, cancelled, put aside.” He added, “We cannot allow chaos, crime and looting.” 

Officials said Friday at least ten people had died in the protests. 

Some rights groups estimate the death toll since Wednesday, when the demonstrations began, is as high as 25, including a journalist reporting live via Facebook.

In a nationally televised address Saturday, Ortega said he was open to negotiations so that there is “no more terror for Nicaraguan families.” Ortega added, however, that he would only meet with business leaders. 

“What is happening in our country has no name,” Ortega said. “The kids do not even know the party that is manipulating them…Gang members are being brought into the kids protests and are criminalizing the protests.”

Soon after his Saturday speech, demonstrators were back on the streets in several cities, including the capital, Managua, after tensions had calmed down somewhat Friday night. 

Late Saturday, journalist Angel Gahona was covering the protests live on Facebook from Bluefields, a town on Nicaragua’s Caribbean coast, when he was shot and killed. In the footage that has circulated widely on social media, gunfire is heard, Gahona falls down and several voices call out to him.

The United States condemned the “excessive force used by police and others” and called on the government to allow journalists to operate freely. 

The European Union said the violence was “unacceptable.” 

President Ortega is a former guerrilla soldier. His vice president is his wife Rosario Murillo. 

A court decision allowed Ortega to run for re-election in 2011, even though the country had a one-term limit. Three years after that, his leftist Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) party, gained enough support in congress for a constitutional amendment to allow unlimited presidential terms.