As the coronavirus disrupted economies and sickened millions around the world, countries in Central America witnessed an increase in protests against government corruption.
In Nicaragua, unrest began when current President Daniel Ortega led a revolution against the dictator Anastasio Somoza in 1979. According to The New Humanitarian, recent protests against Ortega are rooted in demonstrations that “initially flared in April 2018 against a social security reform … [and] later morphed into broader political unrest.” The government’s response to the protests led to at least 325 deaths, including university students.
Mariandrea Garay, sophomore business and intercultural studies double-major, is from Managua, the capital of Nicaragua. She was present during the uprising in 2018. “Since then, it has been like you cannot go out with your flag outside because you immediately go to jail if they don’t kill you first. You cannot sing the national anthem in public,” Garay said. “I feel it was a revolution even though it wasn’t too many changes, just the fact that the whole country shut it down because they don’t want the dictatorship. It was the first time after the dictatorship in 1979 that the country started to become united.”
Nicaraguans have continued to push back against government corruption that has increased in intensity during the pandemic. On Aug.17, the cyber-hacking group Anonymous released files from the Nicaraguan Health Ministry, according to Global Voices. The documents “revealed a surplus of 6,245 positive COVID-19 cases in Nicaragua that were previously unknown to the public.”
“[Nicarguans] know what really is happening. They know the reality here, so they are trying the best they can with the resources they have,” Garay said in response to the revelation of the actual data. “But there’s also a lot of other people that don’t really care, so there are two realities in the same country.”
Protests have erupted in Honduras over the forced disappearance of four leaders from the Garifuna community—an Afro-Indigenous descendant community struggling to defend their land on the Caribbean coast of Honduras—according to Peoples Dispatch. The kidnappers have been identified as members of the Police Investigations Bureau.
Harold Sánchez Lagos, senior electrical engineering and mechanical engineering double-major, is from San Pedro Sula, Honduras. “There have been many protests demanding that the justice system sheds light on the case, but mainly local protest in the city of Tela for example,” Lagos stated. “Sadly, the number of protests has gone down significantly due to the pandemic. We are hopeful that they are still alive.”
Honduras is facing a healthcare crisis of its own. According to Peoples Dispatch, “The government promised that the mobile hospitals would be ready in June” in order to expand the number of public hospitals. However, “the entire amount has been spent, [and] only two of the seven hospitals have been deployed.”
Protestors have demanded to know where the money has gone. “There are unscrupulous people that take advantage of [emergency decrees] and commit acts of corruption such as the purchases of mobile hospitals, way overpriced and that, months and months after, haven’t arrived yet,” Lagos said. “My hope is that one day, there will be a president and enough people in the [government] who whole-heartedly fight against corruption. That day my country will have many more opportunities to flourish in the future.”
Inspired by the Honduran demonstrations, protestors painted “¿Donde está el dinero?” on the Plaza de la Constitución in Guatemala City, Guatemala to demand more “transparency in spending for the pandemic and other resources,” according to Explica. Deputy Aldo Dávila, a member of the Winaq Movement bench and demonstrator in the Aug. 15 protest, said, “It is unfortunate that [Alejandro Giammattei] says that it is up to us [to take care against the coronavirus] because it is his responsibility and he is not doing it. That is what the president of Guatemala is for.”
Rosita Tirado, junior international business and business entrepreneurship double-major from Quetzaltenango, Guatemala, believes that the protestors need to take a big picture approach. “When we talk about questioning the government, we don’t have to look just to the president. We have to also look to the people who see in charge of other things like … the health department,” Tirado said.
Tirado, finding herself frustrated by some of her fellow citizens’ inaction and complaining, decided to help others impacted by the economic fallout. “In my case, I don’t have money, like to buy food for people. But I know people, and that’s what I did. I asked for help to be able to help others,” Tirado said. “It’s probably sad, but that something in our culture is we are used to criticizing others, but we are not the ones who start working and acting.” Through her fundraising efforts, Tirado was able to give bags of food and supplies to over 30 families, according to a Facebook post shared by Joe Walenciak, professor of business at John Brown University.
In response to the protests fighting against corruption and widespread hunger, Tirado has hopes that Guatemala will become more innovative in the future. She shared that digital tools for education, online shopping and entrepreneurship have advanced over the past few months. “Right now we can’t see that because we’re in the middle of the storm, but I feel that once it has passed, people will see that we learned a lot and gained resiliency.”