Democracy and rights
The rule of law has been gradually eroded in
Nicaragua, which today is one of the least democratic
countries in Latin America. Power has gradually been
concentrated on the president, who has increasingly
restricted the scope for critics and opponents. In the
footsteps of the mass protests that erupted in the
spring of 2018, the repression worsened considerably.
In international rankings of political and civil
liberties, Nicaragua raged extensively in 2018. Since
then, violence has been waged against protesters, many
in the protest movement, imprisoned and others subjected
to harassment and attacks. Over 300 people were killed
during a few months of unrest and more than 500 were
jailed. In 2019, some concessions were made and
political prisoners began to be released (see further
Offers a comprehensive list of airports in Nicaragua, including international airports with city located, size and abbreviation, as well as the biggest airlines.
On the list of Economist Intelligence Units,
Nicaragua now ranks among "authoritarian regimes", the
worst of four categories. The only other countries in
Latin America that count there are Cuba and Venezuela.
At Freedom House, Nicaragua has been moved from the
"partly free" category to "not free" countries.
In Transparency International's corruption index, the
country is ranked 161 out of 180 countries - again, only
Venezuela and Haiti are ranked worse in the Western
Hemisphere (the entire list is here). Nicaragua's
investment has deteriorated over a number of years due
to the increasing concentration of power.
President Daniel Ortega controls most of the
democratic institutions and is thus accused of
curtailing their independence and efficiency. Ortega has
also circumvented civil rights, which has contributed to
the extensive protests in which many former Sandinist
supporters also participate.
The criticism has grown against how power has
gradually been concentrated to the party and to Ortega's
own family. His wife Rosario Murillo was even before she
became vice president in 2017, including the president's
spokesperson and head of a communications council, which
gave her control over state advertising in the media.
She is also responsible for the so-called civil power
councils (see Political system) and has a central role
in government appointments, official events and in the
management of natural disasters. Many people in
Nicaragua talk about a new family dynasty: four members
of the Ortega family are advisers to the president. One
son is a minister and another led negotiations with the
Chinese company, which is scheduled to build a canal
through Nicaragua (see Modern History).
Freedom of expression and media
According to the constitution, freedom of speech and
printing exist, but both the liberal governments
1990-2006 and the current Sandin government have tried
in various ways to control the media. The Sandinists
have tried to control the media reporting, inter alia,
by giving interviews only to government-run media, not
infrequently owned by President Ortega's family.
Information that should be public is not always
disclosed to opposition media.
In connection with the protests in 2018, the
government acted directly against media freedom, when
several independent TV channels reporting on the unrest
were shut down. A journalist was also shot to death
during a Facebook broadcast. Dozens of journalists were
injured during the protests. Over 50 fled abroad and
others were arrested. Later in the year, the police
raided independent media organizations and seized
equipment. The owners were arrested and charged with
terrorist offenses, even though they were released a few
months later. The authorities have also actively opposed
independent media. In September 2019, one of the
country's major newspapers, Nuevo Diario, closed, citing
that the regime made it economically, technically and
logistically impossible to continue publishing the
Also during Ortega's re-election campaign in 2016,
there were many attacks on representatives of
independent or government-critical media. Reporters who
monitor demonstrations are often regarded as
participants and thus risk being exposed to the power of
order. Journalists are also exposed to direct-targeted
dirt-throwing campaigns and death threats.
In Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index,
Nicaragua 2020 has fallen to 117th place (see list
here). It is a major deterioration in a couple of years
but still better than several other countries in the
region where deadly violence is directed more towards
journalists. Murder of journalists is one of the
rarities in Nicaragua, although two journalists were
murdered in 2004 because of their professional practice.
Radio and TV are the media that reach most people.
Since Ortega came to power, he and his family have
purchased several TV stations.
There are no restrictions on access to the internet,
but several non-profit organizations say the government
is monitoring their correspondence via email.
Judicial system and legal security
The judiciary is formally independent, but in
practice strongly politicized. The judges are appointed
on party political grounds. Since the 2011 elections,
the FSLN Government Party has its own majority in the
National Assembly and thus full control over the
appointment of judges in the Supreme Court and the
Supreme Electoral Council (CSE). Another example of
politicization is the Supreme Court's decision in 2009
to annul the constitutional clause that prevented the
president from serving two terms in office (see
The courts are also characterized by corruption, lack
of resources and inefficiency. Politicians and other
influential people can easily influence the courts
through bribes or promises of gene services and favors.
There is a lack of public defenders, even though all the
defendants are entitled to one. Few crimes lead to
convictions. According to Nicaraguan human rights
organizations, impunity is particularly widespread when
it comes to crimes against women.
The police and the military are the institutions for
which the residents have traditionally had the
greatest confidence. Despite the low wages of the
police, corruption is not as widespread here as in many
other Latin American countries. In addition, Nicaragua
has not been hit as hard as especially the neighboring
countries in the north by gang crime and drug smuggling.
However, the events of 2018 have drastically altered
many citizens' image of the security forces, due to the
extensive violence against protesters.
There are also reports that police at the local level
have become less independent due to cooperation with the
Citizens Council (see Political system). Conditions in
prisons are difficult and problems with overcrowding and
lack of clean drinking water, food and medicines are