Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega and his inner circle have spent 11 years methodically securing their dominance over all the levers of power in Central America’s poorest country. It seemed that the aging former rebel leader, and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, had little cause to doubt their ability to maintain their grip. That’s why the events of the past few days came as such a shock.
A relatively small protest by college students angry over changes to the social security system suddenly erupted into mass nationwide demonstrations and an explosion of violence that left dozens dead and included calls for Ortega and his wife to be removed from power. For now, the ruling couple remains entrenched, but the wave of protests is evidence of an undercurrent of anger and discontent simmering barely beneath the surface.
Just as importantly, the crisis has exposed cracks in the informal coalition that Ortega, his family and his Sandinista Party loyalists built with Nicaragua’s business community—a reminder that other allies could bolt. For once, the Ortega-Murillo stranglehold looks vulnerable.