It’s never a good sign when your socialist President sends his police and unofficial goon squad into the street to start shooting protesters against his regime. We’ve seen this playbook recently in Venezuela under President Nicolas Maduro and now something very similar in Nicaragua where former socialist revolutionary Daniel Ortega seems intent on ruling for life. From the Atlantic:

Nicaragua is showing all the symptoms of a failed state. At the center of the storm is the corrupt minority government of Daniel Ortega, the former revolutionary leader who now acts more like a cartel boss than a president. Over the past seven weeks, Ortega’s police and paramilitaries have killed more than 120 people, mostly students and other young protesters who are demanding the president’s ouster and a return to democracy, according to a human-rights group. Police hunt students like enemy combatants. Sandinista Youth paramilitaries, armed and paid by Ortega’s party, drive around in pickup trucks attacking protesters. Gangs of masked men loot and burn shops with impunity. Cops wear civilian clothing, and some paramilitaries dress in police uniforms. “This is starting to look more like Syria than Caracas,” one Nicaraguan business leader told me…

The protests against the connubial dictatorship of President Daniel Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, began on April 12 when hundreds of university students took to the streets to march in defense of Nicaragua’s Indio Maíz Biological Reserve. Six days later, the protest grew to thousands of people, as students joined a larger pushback against Ortega’s attempt to increase social-security taxes and reduce pension benefits for the elderly.

The Ortega regime, with its long-running zero-tolerance policy towards any type of street demonstration, did not take well to the mounting unrest. Police and the Sandinista paramilitaries, a group of indoctrinated young people that Ortega uses as a shock force, responded with rabid and disproportionate force, firing rubber bullets and tear gas at students, then switching to live ammunition. “We weren’t ready for the massacres,” Valeska Valle, a 22-year-old student leader, told me. “We never thought the government was going to kill us. We never thought being a university student would be a crime in Nicaragua.”

The story makes clear that Ortega has let the revolutionary pose slip in recent years and given a coalition of business groups a free hand in the country but as recently as 2011 he said of the then-recent US recession, “The unsustainable capitalist model is sinking.” He added, “that country has stopped being a temptation and the alternative is building with the ALBA.” ALBA is the Bolivarian Alternative for the Peoples of Our America, a trade alliance proposed by former Venezuelan socialist Hugo Chavez.

Ortega’s Sandinista are in control of the TV stations in the country but the Economist suggests his path to full-on dictatorship isn’t assured, in part because the country’s economy is still relatively strong. But that could change if there is an extended power struggle. Even if the rebels win, Ortega could do a lot of damage on his way out as he did the last time he lost an election:

The last time he lost an election, in 1990, the Sandinistas did not go quietly. On the eve of the transition the central bank transferred millions of dollars to government loyalists on Mr Ortega’s orders. As bureaucrats vacated their offices they carried desks and chairs with them. Nicaraguans call that episode of asset-stripping la piñata. The carnage of Mother’s Day shows that the price of getting rid of Mr Ortega this time will be even higher.

It’s strange how efforts to create a socialist paradise often seem to end with a tyrant looking to hang on to power at any cost. Why does that keep happening?