NicaNotes: The Attempted Coup in Nicaragua in 2018: Why Support for It Collapsed

By Dan Kovalik and John Perry

(Daniel Kovalik is a Senior Research Fellow at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs—COHA. He teaches International Human Rights at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. John Perry is based in Masaya, Nicaragua, and writes for the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, London Review of Books, FAIR and elsewhere.

[Two previous articles described the build up to the attempted coup in Nicaragua and how the media were crucial in convincing the public to support it. This article, covering the period from May 30 onwards, shows how the initial support peaked, then collapsed.]

The “roadblocks of death” strangled the country’s transport system and became the scene of intimidation, robberies, rape, kidnappings and murder. Here we see armed roadblock operators south of Estelí, several with conventional weapons, others with “homemade” mortars.

After more than a month of conflict, most Nicaraguans hoped that a “national dialogue” set up by the Catholic Church would lead to peace, but in fact it led to renewed violence. During the hiatus before the dialogue began, and with the police now confined to their police stations on Daniel Ortega’s orders, roadblocks were set up on all the country’s arterial roads and throughout many key cities (see the map published by one of the coup leaders). Quickly dubbed los tranques de la muerte (“death roadblocks”), they not only strangled the country’s transport system but became the scene of intimidation, robberies, rape, kidnappings and murder.

Map of roadblocks in Nicaragua in June 2018, published by coup leader Francisca Ramirez.

The limited public support for the coup reached a climax at the so-called “Mothers’ Day march” on May 30, 2018. Two huge demonstrations took place in Managua, one in support of the government and a bigger one supporting the coup. The day began and ended with violence. Sandinistas travelling to the march from Estelí were ambushed at the roadblock to the south of the city: 27 people were shot, three dying from their wounds. In total, 28 people would die in that one day, of whom seven were Sandinistas, eight were opposition protesters and the rest of unknown affiliation or bystanders.

Most of the deaths in the capital occurred because groups of protesters tried to cross police lines to attack the rival Sandinista march. Roadblocks were set up near the national stadium, from which protesters confronted the police. Some were filmed carrying firearms and even apparently shooting at fellow protesters, as seen in this documentary by Juventud Presidente (a pro-Sandinista media group). Other, peaceful, protesters leaving the large march were caught in crossfire: allegedly this came from police sharpshooters, but may well have been a “false flag” operation to create chaos, because 20 police officers received firearms injuries. Later, some of the incidents were “forensically” examined by a “group of experts” commissioned by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). A special website was created to show the evidence gathered, which focused solely on deaths among the opposition, as did a wider report on casualties by the same “expert” group. In response, an open letter was sent to the IACHR’s parent body by dozens of activists and solidarity organizations, pointing to the startling inaccuracies and omissions in the reports. Possibly as a result of the letter and accompanying article,  a video reconstruction of the fatal incidents posted on the special website, was later taken down.

Rival “Mother’s Day” marches in Managua on May 30, 2018: the opposition (top, photo from the BBC) and Sandinistas (below, photo from El19 Digital). A Google search for images of the marches will return only one photo of the Sandinista march.

For the US government, corporate media and international human rights bodies, the “Mothers’ Day march” became emblematic of the protests. The opposition still laud the march as a triumph but afterwards it could be seen as marking the peak of their support. This was because in the weeks after May 30 the violence intensified: even the biased reports from local “human rights” groups show that for the whole of June, the majority of victims were ordinary people or Sandinista supporters. A family house in Managua’s Carlos Marx neighborhood was destroyed by fire: six people were burnt alive, including a baby and a two-year-old girl. Arson attacks were launched against the pro-Sandinista Radio Ya, the old colonial town hall in the tourist city of Granada, and the main secondary school in the city Masaya, serving over 3,000 pupils. Many other public buildings and homes of government supporters were destroyed. The opposition tried to blame all these incidents on Sandinista mobs, with opposition media such as 100%Noticias often having reporters present immediately an attack took place, so as to grab the headlines.

But for several violent incidents, it was more difficult to twist the story. On June 13, student leader Leonel Morales, who had urged fellow students not to support the protests, was kidnapped, shot and left for dead. On June 12, the municipal depot in Masaya was destroyed, together with all the vehicles used to maintain the city streets; those guarding the plant were kidnapped, culminating in the disabling torture of Reynaldo Urbina (who is known to both of us). Both the Catholic Church and one of the Nicaraguan “human rights” bodies collaborated with the kidnappers.

On June 19, while the police station in Jinotepe was under siege, protesters brought two stolen fuel tankers close to the building and tried to explode them. On June 21, a young, gay Sandinista, Sander Bonilla, was kidnapped and tortured in Leon by the opposition in the presence of a Catholic priest.

On July 12, a supposedly peaceful procession of vehicles driven by opposition supporters entered the small town of Morrito and launched a fusillade of gunfire at the police station, killing five people. Local media portrayed the incident as a “confusing exchange of fire” in which a protester had been killed. A widely used photo showing the victim was false, however: it had been taken in Honduras in 2009.

Protester “killed” in the attack in Morrito on July 12: the photo is actually from Honduras, taken several years earlier.

Perhaps the saddest incident occurred in Masaya on July 14-15. Young, unarmed, off-duty police officer Gabriel de Jesús Vado Ruiz was kidnapped, tortured and, on the second day, killed. A Catholic priest, Harvin Padilla, was recorded telling the culprits that videos should not be posted because of the bad image they would create. Another priest, Edwin Roman, together with human rights worker Alvaro Leiva of local “human rights” body ANPDH, then attempted to remove the corpse and hide the crime.

Gabriel Vado’s body burns next to a roadblock in Masaya, July 15, 2018.

Of course, the accepted history of the coup attempt, as told by the US government, international bodies such as the UN Human Rights Council and most of the media, is that nearly all the victims were protesters, mainly students, killed by police or by Sandinista “paramilitaries”. The truth is far more complicated; people on the ground, especially those living in the places most affected, became increasingly aware of the opposition’s intentions. As Idania Castillo, a Sandinista quoted in Dan Kovalik’s book, Nicaragua: A History of US Intervention & Resistance, points out: “The goal of the insurrectionists… was not just to depose the government, but to destroy all vestiges and historical memory of Sandinismo itself.” In a recent conversation, a friend who lived through the worst of the violence in Masaya, and survived an attempt to kill him when armed protesters burst into his home, described how, at nighttime, Sandinistas identified at roadblocks were stripped and painted blue and white (the colors of Nicaragua’s flag) before being forced to flee naked; neighbors would meet them with towels and water.

By late June and early July 2018, patience with the insurrection had evaporated and most Nicaraguans simply wanted a return to the peace and stability that existed beforehand. Even those who were not government supporters, including many who initially joined the protests, could see where they were leading. They had experienced the benefits of a Sandinista government and (if they were old enough) the previous attempt to overthrow it violently, in the 1980s. Social progress was under threat and conflict was intensifying. It was time for three months of mayhem to come to an end.

The final article will explain how the coup attempt was halted, discuss its aftermath and consider what it means for the future of Nicaragua’s revolution.

By Nan McCurdy

Biden Nominates Death Squad Backer Elliott Abrams to Diplomacy Panel
President Joe Biden said on July 3 that he would nominate Elliott Abrams to a position on the United States Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy. Abrams was a supporter of the worst human rights violations in Central America in the 1980s and has been guilty of similar human rights abuses since. He pleaded guilty to two Iran-Contra offenses and defended, in testimony before Congress in 2019, the 1981 massacre at El Mozote in El Salvador where the US-trained-and-equipped Salvadoran military killed as many as 1,000 civilians. More recently Abrams served as the U.S. Special Representative for Venezuela from 2019 to 2021 and as the U.S. Special Representative for Iran from 2020 to 2021. Both of these countries suffer under illegal US unilateral coercive measures, also known as sanctions, which have brought untold suffering to their populations.

“Elliott Abrams, enemy of human rights, apologist for mass murder, should have no place within spitting distance of any Democratic administration in any capacity,” Common Dreams quoted Slate journalist Alex Sammon as stating. Nicaragua solidarity activists believe that President Biden is showing utter contempt for the human rights of the people of Nicaragua and of other countries, who have suffered so much already at the hands of the United States, by nominating Elliott Abrams to a “diplomacy” commission.  This nomination must be withdrawn by the President or stopped in the Senate!

Please write with urgency to President Joe Biden at asking that the nomination be withdrawn.

Then write to your Senators because this nomination must be approved by the Senate. The Commission’s web page states: “The Commission consists of seven members appointed by the President, with the advice and consent of the Senate.” So, Senators could hold up this nomination or even stop it. The nomination will likely come before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Check this list of Committee members to see if your Senator is on the list:

To find material to support your letter, consult this Common Dreams article. This CNN article has some great links with information about Abrams’ Central America years. To learn more about his involvement in the Iran-Contra Affair and illegal aid to the contras, this document from Brown University is good. Then, on his appointment as special representative for Venezuela, these pieces from The Intercept and from CNN are good.

Teachers Celebrate Better Working Conditions
Schoolteacher Bernarda López Reyes, General Secretary of CGTEN-ANDEN-FNT, said that progress is being made in Nicaragua with quality education and teachers prepared to face any educational challenge who are satisfied and proud of their work and who have a collective bargaining agreement with better conditions and coverage. “We always know that the government has the political will. Our collective agreement establishes that the bonus given to teachers is 600 Córdobas, however, on June 28, this was raised to 900 Córdobas.”

López Reyes recalled that, during the neoliberal governments, education declined because public schools charged fees as did health care centers and almost everything else in this country. This was demoralizing for the teachers and many left their calling; the governments eliminated many rights acquired during the Revolution in the 1980’s. The teacher’s union, ANDEN, fiercely defended all those early conquests, which today are once again being enjoyed by the teachers. During the neoliberal years there was a lot of corruption and that was part of the reason teachers were paid poorly.

Today all that no longer exists because ANDEN is watching over quality education and above all, free education. She is convinced that education is fundamental to eradicate all forms of poverty. Today teachers feel job stability and confidence. In 2007 teachers earned an average of US$65 per month, currently the salary is close to US$300 dollars. Every year teachers receive a salary increase. Today there is internet in the classrooms, tablets for students, good furniture, good infrastructure and this means a drastic and positive change for the efforts of teachers to provide quality education, accompanied by their own ongoing training. “The growth, progress and development that education has had is very great. We applaud the efforts made by our government, because they are also the struggles of teachers for the development of our country,” said López. See photos:  (Radio La Primerisima, 29 June 2023)

Sao Paulo Forum in Support of 1986 World Court Ruling in Favor of Nicaragua
The Sao Paulo Forum approved a resolution in support of Nicaragua’s policies towards women and a resolution in support of Nicaragua’s demand for compliance with the 1986 ruling of the World Court at The Hague, reported Vice President Rosario Murillo. “At the Sao Paulo Forum, which concluded July 2, a resolution of support was approved for all the initiatives, all our laws and our practices in relation to women’s rights.” She added, “And they also passed a resolution in support of Nicaragua’s demand that The Hague ruling be complied with by the United States, which has promoted invasions, interventions, wars and destruction of our patrimony.” She summarized saying, “The Sao Paulo Forum declared itself in support of Nicaragua’s demand that the US comply with the ICJ sentence, and compensate Nicaragua to the full extent of that historic ruling.” (El 19 Digital, 3 July 2023)

Nicaragua Launches Mobile Application for Earthquake Alerts
The Nicaraguan Institute of Territorial Studies (INETER) launched an early warning application for earthquakes and invited the population to download it to receive alerts seconds before earthquakes happen. Nicaragua is known in the region for carrying out national drills addressing different natural phenomenon in order to protect life [see story below]. (Juventud Presidente, 30 June 2023)

More than Two Million Citizens participate in National Life-Saving Drill
On June 30 Nicaragua carried out a national drill for preparation and protection of life in multiple situations caused by natural phenomena like earthquakes, floods and fires with the participation of more than two million citizens. (Juventud Presidente, 1 July 2023)

Nicaragua Reaches Goal in Influenza Vaccination Campaign
Health authorities reported that during the National Influenza Vaccination Campaign, 593,904 doses were administered, for a 99% compliance with the goal. The campaign began on June 19 and concluded on June 30, with the goal of administering 600,000 doses of vaccines. See photos: (Radio La Primerisima, 30 June 2023)

Nicaragua is Building the Most Hospitals in Central America
Nicaragua has built 25 new modern hospitals since 2007 and has by far the most hospitals in the region. The construction of the hospitals in Leon, Nueva Segovia and Bilwi in the Caribbean are advancing quickly. The replacement and equipping of the Nueva Segovia Departmental Hospital, made up of seven buildings, will provide attention for the whole department. It will have modern technology, hospitalization areas, a better imaging service and will provide better diagnostic precision to patients. US$72 million is being invested in this hospital which will have 236 beds and five operating rooms where 40 surgeries will be performed daily. (Informe Pastran, 3 July 2023)

Nearly Three Million Students Served with the National Healthy Schools Plan
The Ministries of Education and Health reported that, with the National Healthy Schools Plan, 2,929,304 consultations have taken place as of June 29. According to the latest bulletin, 525,721 minors have had their blood pressure measured, detecting 659 with problems; 514,678 eye exams were done, identifying 5,694 children with a need for eyeglasses; 455,899 talks were given to students, parents and teachers on personal hygiene care. Similarly, 448,694 language evaluations were performed, detecting 4,179 children with speech problems; 450,712 hearing evaluations were performed, detecting 4,485 with hearing disorders. Specialists carried out 277,639 checks to identify head lice, delousing 93,963 students; 255,961 demonstrations were given on good tooth brushing technique and 24,540 students had cavities filled. See photos: (Radio La Primerisima, 30 June 2023)

More than 800 People Treated in Neurosurgery Mega Fair
On July 1, 822 people from the six municipalities of the Department of Estelí were treated at the mega neurosurgery fair held at the San Juan de Dios Departmental Hospital. On that day, 450 laboratory tests, 71 x-rays, 27 electromyographies (EMGs), 31 CT scans, 25 electroencephalograms (EEGs) and four surgeries were performed. The mega neurosurgery fair was attended by 22 specialists from all the health units in the country. See photos: (Radio La Primerisima, 3 July 2023)

FAO Provides Protection and Conservation Funds to Nicaragua
On June 28 the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the Global Environment Facility, announced the approval of US$174.7 million for 26 projects in countries around the world to create or improve the management of approximately 17.9 million hectares of protected areas, restoring critical ecosystems and mitigating greenhouse gas emissions benefitting 1.6 million people. In Nicaragua, the funds will be used to finance the project for the protection and conservation of globally important forests located in the Bosawas Biosphere Reserve and the Indio Maíz Biological Reserve. The FAO representative in Nicaragua, Iván León, stated that “the project will strengthen the development of the livelihoods of Indigenous and Afro-descendant peoples, ensuring the conservation of forests and creation of an agricultural industry adapted to climate change.” (Nicaragua News, 29 June 2023)

One Million Plants Grown During Reforestation Campaign
Within the framework of the “Green, I Want You Green Campaign,” the government, in coordination with the municipalities, has cultivated more than one million ornamental, forest and fruit plants in the 182 nurseries that make up part of the campaign throughout the country. These will be planted in different public spaces, such as parks, boulevards, squares and avenues. Among the varieties are: palm trees, mosaicos (Fittonia albivenis), rainbows, begonias, crown of Christ (Euphorbia miliinam), hibiscus, cypress, madero negro (Gliricidia sepium), cedro pochote (Cedrela tonduzii), madroño (Arbutus unedo), tangerines, avocado, almonds and papaya. See photos: (Radio La Primerisima, 29 June 2023)

Bluefields Reaffirms its Commitment to the Revolution
Hundreds of Bluefields workers, youth, women, and historic Sandinistas walked on July 1 through neighborhoods to the cry of “No Pasarán, No Pudieron Ni Podrán”, welcoming the month of Victorious July. They reaffirmed their commitment to the struggles for the vindication of rights, social justice achievements and the development for the Caribbean Coast. The projects in Nicaragua are very focused on improvements in the lives of the Indigenous peoples, Afro-descendants and Mestizos. See photos: (Radio La Primerisima, 1 July 2023)

180 Fire Stations Have Been Built
On June 30 the United Firefighters moved two trucks with the capacity to transport 2,500 gallons of water to San Benito where the country’s 180th fire station will be located. The station will be inaugurated on July 4th and will be named after the hero Heriberto Manuel Olivas Romero. Commander Lenin Quiróz, deputy director of the General Directorate of Fire Stations, said that “The new station will be located at kilometer 34 of the Pan-American Highway, a strategic location for mobilization to various points of the country. The firefighters of the new station will be able to assist in emergencies in Matagalpa, El Rama and Managua. We are talking about an important triangle to serve Nicaraguan families.” Quiróz said that the United Firefighters attend emergencies integrally “because we respond to prevent and extinguish fires, help with traffic accidents and that is why our government is establishing a new station of the United Firefighters in that sector.” He explained, “In June we have completed the cycle of the three stations that we are inaugurating monthly and we are already starting, in the month of July, to inaugurate three other fire stations,” among which is Ostional, bordering Costa Rica. The station will be staffed by 11 firefighters who were trained at the Alvaro Diroy Méndez National Fire Academy. (Radio La Primerisima, 30 June 2023)

Foreign Investment Has Generated 1,500 Jobs
Minister of Finance Ivan Acosta reported on June 30 that 48 new foreign companies have begun work in the country, and are generating approximately 1,500 jobs. The companies are located in Managua, Rivas, Granada, Chontales, Chinandega, Carazo and León and are of Chinese, US, and French capital, among others. Acosta emphasized that the number of new companies demonstrates the confidence and dynamism that foreign investment is experiencing and this is having a positive impact on the national economy. (Radio La Primerisima, 30 June 2023)

Hero of Peace Bismark Martinez Honored in Jinotepe
On the fifth anniversary of his kidnapping, torture and cruel murder during the 2018 coup attempt, Sandinistas, relatives, co-workers and political and civil authorities remembered Bismarck de Jesús Martínez with affection and more commitment to struggle in the city of Jinotepe. At the place where his martyred body was buried, very close to the municipal stadium, Pedro Selva, the mayor, Mariano Madrigal and the relatives of the hero unveiled a monument in his honor and named him Hero of Love and Peace. The obelisk was visited by comrades who paid tribute to him and placed floral offerings. See photos: (Radio La Primerisima, 30 June 2023)