The critical environmental and sustainability issues of Nicaragua:
1. Political and Economical unrest
Until last year, Nicaragua was a tourism hot spot and home to one of Latin America’s fastest-growing economies, ticking upward at about 5 percent per year. Things began to turn, however, after longtime benefactor Venezuela pulled its aid in 2017 amid an economic collapse of its own. As Caracas turned off the spigot, which was running at hundreds of millions of dollars a year, Nicaragua was forced to cut back. The instability has rocked Nicaragua’s developing market, which is now expected to contract by 6 percent this year. The workforce has shrunk by 10 percent, and panicky investors have pulled out some $1 billion in capital. The tourism sector, once a pillar of growth, has been particularly hard hit, with many hotels and restaurants closing or cutting back service.
2. Government Crackdown
An enormous concentration of power by the executive has allowed President Daniel Ortega’s government to commit egregious abuses against critics and opponents with complete impunity. In April, massive anti-government protests broke out countrywide due to the announcement that Ortega would slash social security benefits as a cost-cutting measure. Police, in coordination with armed pro-government groups, brutally repressed them, killing hundreds, and injuring several thousand. Government forces were responsible for most of the 324 people killed as of September, a figure that included 23 children; and for most of the over 2,000 injured. Some killings constituted extrajudicial executions. As the crackdown intensified, some individuals responded violently and 22 police officers died between April and September, according to official statistics.
3. Women and Girls’ Sexual and Reproductive Rights
Nicaragua prohibits abortion under all circumstances, even if a pregnancy is life-threatening or resulted from rape or incest. The 2006 total abortion ban penalizes women and girls who have abortions with prison terms of up to two years. The penalties for medical professionals range from one to six years in prison for providing abortions. A 2008 legal challenge submitted to the Supreme Court argued that the ban was unconstitutional. The court never ruled on this case, nor on a similar one regarding the 2014 constitution. The abortion ban remains in place and forces women and girls facing unwanted pregnancies to have clandestine abortions, at great risk to their health and lives.
Rampant corruption within Nicaragua’s political circles impairs the functioning of state institutions and limits foreign investment. International companies report widespread favoritism and impunity among public officials. The judicial system functions under heavy political pressure, and courts are susceptible to corruption and manipulation by politicians and criminal organizations. High-risk areas for bribery include Nicaragua’s tax and customs sectors, where the application of regulations and procedures is arbitrary and is plagued by extortion, facilitation payments, and kickbacks. According to the Corruption Perceptions Index 2019 given by Transparency International, Nicaragua ranks 161 out of 180, with a low score of 22 out of 100. It is one of the 3 countries which comes under decliners, as Nicaragua declined by 10 spots from 2018 (152/180) to 2019.
5. Political Discrimination
During the crackdown, the Nicaraguan Health Ministry authorities fired at least 135 doctors, nurses, and other health workers from several public hospitals in apparent retaliation for participating in protests or otherwise expressing disagreement with government policy. At least 40 professors from the National University of Nicaragua (UNAN), a public institution, were fired since the start of the protests for supporting or taking part in anti-government demonstrations, according to the media. The Inter American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) also found public officials were threatened with dismissal if they did not participate in pro-government demonstrations.