Violent clashes between police and protesters in Nicaragua’s capital city of Managua are finally starting to settle down. The political discord, which has reportedly left as many as 25 people dead, was sparked last week when president Daniel Ortega announced an overhaul to the country’s social security system. Although the protests spread to the cigar-making city of Estelí, the cigar industry has not been affected.
“There was no impact on my factory. Absolutely none,” assured Dr. Alejandro Martinez-Cuenca, owner of Joya de Nicaragua Cigars, the oldest premium cigar manufacturer in Nicaragua. “As far as I know, all the factories are operating.”
Martinez-Cuenca, who lives in Managua, told Cigar Aficionado via phone call that things are definitely much calmer in the capital city today.
Other Nicaraguan cigarmakers echoed this statement.
“The factories and the farms are working normally and we hope to continue to do so,” said Nestor Andrés Plasencia, who produces cigars in Estelí, and is one of the largest growers of premium tobacco in Nicaragua.
“Nicaragua has already gone through a civil war,” Plasencia added. “We are very confident that the dialogue between all the parties will resolve this situation.”
Cigarmaker and tobacco grower A.J. Fernandez told Cigar Aficionado that his operation has not been affected and his workers are not on strike.
“Of course we’re worried,” said Fernandez, “but we’re hoping that this governmental situation will be taken care of sooner rather than later.”
The turmoil erupted last week when president Daniel Ortega announced plans to reform social security requiring Nicaraguan citizens (both employers and employees) to pay more money into the state’s ailing welfare system. The government also announced an additional 5 percent tax on the pensions of Nicaragua’s retirees.
The news triggered five days of deadly riots across the country, prompting Ortega to revoke the new tax plan yesterday in hopes of restoring order. The cancellation seems to have worked for the moment, but the U.S. Department of State isn’t taking any chances. It issued a Level 3 travel advisory, strongly discouraging U.S. citizens from traveling to Nicaragua. (Level 4 is the highest.)
“The previous resolution of April 16, 2018, which was the resolution that kicked off this whole situation, is being revoked, canceled, put aside,” Ortega said, according to a report by Reuters.
While some of the protests spread to Estelí, most of the violence took place in the nation’s capital, 92 miles away.
Martinez-Cuenca said cigar operations for the entire country have not been affected. “The protests in Estelí were limited to the municipal park areas downtown and did not affect the factories,” he said.
Reports on the number of fatalities have been inconsistent. The Red Cross has reported that nine people have died, but human rights organization CENIDH (Centro Nicaragüense de Derechos Humanos) claims the death toll to be 25. Among the dead is a local journalist who was shot in Bluefields on Nicaragua’s Caribbean Coast while documenting the unrest.
Nicaragua is the leading exporter of premium cigars to the United States. In 2017, the country sent more than 148 million premium cigars to the U.S.—more than any other country in the world.
“The people of Nicaragua have been working very hard to achieve this position,” said Martinez-Cuenca. “Ten years of work cannot be destroyed in one day. It’s important to realize that this was not an attempt to overthrow the government. This was a protest. A genuine expression of the people, and I think the government is ready to listen.”