Trócaire forced to end operations in Nicaragua after work registration cancelled by state

Hundreds of NGOs and civil society groups have had registrations cancelled by Daniel Ortega’s government since 2018

Irish charity Trócaire has been forced to end its operations in Nicaragua after its registration to work and provide supports in the central American nation was cancelled by the state.

After more than three decades working in Latin America’s second-poorest country, a spokeswoman for the Irish Catholic Church’s overseas development agency confirmed that Trócaire is one of “several hundred NGOs that have had to cease operations in Nicaragua due to the cancellation of our registration by the state of Nicaragua”.

The charity, which began running aid programmes in Nicaragua in the 1970s and opened a full-time country office in 2002, supported more than 51,000 people in need last year, said the spokeswoman. “We are deeply disappointed that we can no longer deliver vital humanitarian assistance to communities we have worked with for over 30 years.”

Trócaire is just one of hundreds of NGOs and civil society groups who have had their registration for work cancelled by the Nicaraguan government led by president Daniel Ortega. The leader of Nicaragua’s left-wing Sandinista revolution in the 1980s was sworn into his fourth term as president early this year and is the longest-serving leader in the Americas. His critics say the president has become corrupt and authoritarian and has turned his back on his revolutionary ideals.


The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders warned in June that Mr Ortega’s cancellation of NGOs was part of the “systematic repression” the country has suffered since 2018 against individuals and organisations “that defend and demand respect for human rights”. This “persecution” which aims to “eliminate all dissenting voices and political opposition” only increased in the months leading up to the November 2021 elections, when Mr Ortega turned the country into a one-party state and jailed all opposition presidential candidates, said the observatory.

This “harassment” of civil society groups does not only concern political or human rights organisations but also women’s rights groups and those working in the arts, the media, education, science and the environment, said the observatory.

Last week, the Costa Rica-based Nicaragua Nunca Más human rights collective warned that the cancellation of a further 100 civil society groups in late August signalled the state’s determination to “exercise absolute control and silence its people”.

The Government started cancelling NGO registrations four years ago when people took the streets in April 2018 to protest Ortega’s leadership. Hundreds were killed and thousands injured in a brutal crackdown on protesters by police and armed pro-government groups.

In the four years since, Ortega and his wife Rosario Murillo, the country’s vice-president, have tightened their grip on power, attacking freedom of expression and turning the country into a police state. Meanwhile, more than 200,000 Nicaraguans have fled across the border into Costa Rica, seeking safety and stability from their southern neighbour. There have also been reports of a significant increase in the number of Nicaraguans travelling north into Mexico and over the US border.

In August, the Nicaraguan government finalised its takeover of the offices Nicaragua’s La Prensa newspaper which has criticised Ortega’s control of the country. The state took control of the newspaper’s offices last year but a team of reporters in exile have continued updating the website from abroad. The government says the paper’s former offices will be now used as a cultural and polytechnic centre.

Also in August, Bishop Rolando Álvarez, one of the most influential leaders of Nicaragua’s Catholic Church and a vocal critic of Ortega’s government who has called for free and fair elections, was placed under house arrest alongside five priests, one seminarian and a cameraman for a religious television channel. Police said the cameraman and clerics were later transferred to a prison in Managua.

— Additional reporting from Reuters

Sorcha Pollak

Sorcha Pollak

Sorcha Pollak is an Irish Times reporter and cohost of the In the News podcast