Ortega closes NGOs in Nicaragua, cutting off essential services

Security guard standing near poster hanging on glass door (© AFP/Getty Images)
Operation Smile, which financed free surgeries for children with cleft lip and cleft palate, was among the nongovernmental organizations shut down by the Ortega regime in March. (© AFP/Getty Images)

The Ortega-Murillo regime has destroyed the ability of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and other groups to help the Nicaraguan people, including organizations that provide humanitarian support and public services and that protect human rights.

In early June, the regime voted to cancel the legal status of 144 NGOs for allegedly violating new regime regulations, forcing organizations that provide critical services to Nicaraguans to close their doors. Several more rounds of large-scale closures have followed.

Experts say the regime is attempting to shut down any organization or entity that Ortega or his politicians do not control. These actions violate fundamental freedoms, including freedom of association, peaceful assembly and expression. In some cases, the regime has intentionally misinterpreted international standards on money laundering and terrorist financing to justify closing NGOs.

“These cancellations have the objective of eliminating all social and political vision that differs from that established by the regime,” said the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders in a June 2 statement. “The ultimate objective is to eliminate all possibility of an independent civil society in the country.”

Over the past year, Ortega officials enforced strict and arbitrary regulations, making new demands for cumbersome records and paperwork. Organizations that did not or could not comply risked closure. Even organizations that provided the required documentation say officials refused to take their documents, according to the BBC.

The canceled NGOs include human rights and environmental organizations, and groups providing medical access, social services and educational tools to underserved populations. Universities have also been forced to close.

In 2022 alone, the regime has canceled more than 1,000 NGOs.

Damaged door and knob suggesting forced entry (© Alfredo Zuniga/AP Images)
A broken door is seen open at the offices of the Popol Na Foundation after it was raided by the national police in Managua, Nicaragua, in 2018. (© Alfredo Zuniga/AP Images)

“The Ortega-Murillo regime for years has chipped away at Nicaragua’s democratic institutions and, along with a small circle of enablers, has allowed corruption and impunity to reign,” said State Department spokesperson Ned Price. “Nicaragua is increasingly deepening its relationship with Russia as it turns its back on the Nicaraguan people.”