Nicaragua | Freedom House

Freedom in the World

Freedom in the World 2017



Freedom Status: 
Partly Free

Freedom in the World Scores

(1=Most Free, 7=Least Free)

Quick Facts

Press Freedom Status: 
Partly Free

Ratings Change, Trend Arrow:

Nicaragua’s political rights rating declined from 4 to 5, its civil liberties rating declined from 3 to 4, and it received a downward trend arrow due to a court’s ouster of the leader of the main opposition party and the National Assembly’s expulsion of 16 opposition lawmakers in the run-up to November elections, combined with government efforts to silence journalists and academics with opposing views.


The election of Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega in 2006 began a period of democratic deterioration in Nicaragua that continues today. President Ortega has consolidated all branches of government under his party’s control, limited fundamental freedoms, and allowed unchecked corruption to pervade the government. In 2014, the National Assembly approved constitutional amendments that paved the way for Ortega to win a third consecutive term in November 2016.

Key Developments: 
  • In November, President Ortega was reelected for a third term, with his wife chosen as vice president. Ortega received more than 72 percent of the vote, with the next closest competitor receiving just 15 percent. The Sandinista party also expanded its already significant majority in the National Assembly.
  • In June, the Supreme Court removed the leader of the opposition Independent Liberation Party (PLI), severely limiting the competitiveness of the November election. In July, the Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) pushed 16 opposition members of the National Assembly from their seats for failure to recognize the actions of the Supreme Court.
  • Freedom of expression and association continued to decline as environmental activists and investigators of the interoceanic canal project were detained and sometimes expelled.
Executive Summary: 

In 2016, the ruling Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) tightened its grip on power. The Nicaraguan Supreme Court stripped the main opposition candidate for president of his party’s leadership in June, and the following month the CSE removed 16 opposition members from the National Assembly for their failure to recognize the new party leader. This resulted in certain defeat for the opposition in the November elections. Despite regular protests against deteriorating democratic conditions, Ortega enjoyed high approval ratings, largely as a result of his handling of the economy and popular social programs.

The Ortega administration engages in systematic efforts to obstruct and discredit critics, and the environment for the media has been in steady decline in recent years. Corruption has been a major issue, with Ortega’s sons and daughters appointed to prominent positions such as ambassador and presidential adviser, and his wife elected as vice president. Significant concerns have also been raised over the lack of transparency and consultation in the project to dig the interoceanic canal across Nicaragua, which was approved quickly and with little public debate. Protests against the plans continued in 2016. Foreign researchers and journalists investigating the project have been detained and removed from the country. In July, six foreign activists holding environmental workshops were expelled.

Aggregate Score: 
Freedom Rating: 
Political Rights: 
Civil Liberties: 

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