Increasing violence in Nicaragua sparks US expat exodus

Published:  23 Jul at 6 PM
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Thousands of US expatriates are considering packing and leaving due to government-led violence focused on an uprising against the country’s president.

Protests against Nicaraguan president Daniel Ortaga began some three months ago, with the resulting government crackdown killing at least 300 citizens. Early last week, massive protests against Ortega culminated in an invasion by heavily armed paramilitaries and police which took back control of the city. This and other incidents are causing concern and fear amongst Nicaragua’s large expatriate community, most of whom are from the USA.

Over the past 15 years, many thousands of expats have arrived in Nicaragua, attracted by its seeming stability, tropical climate and low crime rate. Many from the USA saw the country with its six million nationals as an even less expensive alternative to the established expat retirement communities in nearby Panama and Costa Rica. Over the past three months their dreams have been wrecked as the sound of mortars and gunfire shatter the night and marauding pro-government paramilitaries prevent them from leaving their villas and apartments.

The vast majority of affected expats are too scared to speak out, fearing violent government reprisals. Tourism is dead in the water, with over half the country’s restaurants and hotels closed and six thousand tourism jobs now lost. Non-emergency personnel at the US Embassy have been ordered to leave and American tourists are being told to find another vacation spot. International flights are arriving almost empty and leaving full to the gills of expats whose affordable retirements are just a memory.

The chaos began when Nicaraguans determined to protest over tax hikes in social security payments were violently attacked by mobs of paramilitaries and police. Rather than disbanding, the protestors ramped up their activities and demonstrated their outrage. Cities and towns dependent on tourism and expat communities for their revenue have been especially hard-hit, with the historic town of Granada, set on the shores of Lake Nicaragua, a particular target. Its town hall has been destroyed by fire and several protestors were killed during demonstrations. It’s now a ghost town, with its cobblestoned streets deserted and its Spanish colonial architecture on view to no-one. A small core of determined expats are refusing to leave, saying it’s where they feel most at home.
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