Many of Nicaragua’s cigar factories will shut down tomorrow as part of a nationwide strike aimed at forcing a resolution to the country’s civil unrest.
The Asociación Nicaragüense de Tabacaleros (ANT), the Nicaraguan tobacco association, met this morning where its members agreed that it would close their factories tomorrow in the name of worker safety. The organization has roughly 30 members, including most of the country’s largest factories.
“Our priority is to guarantee the livelihood of 40,000 families in Estelí,” said Juan Ignacio Martínez, the former president of the ANT and the executive president of Joya de Nicaragua, in a text message to halfwheel. “However, to ensure the safety and security of our people (due to transport constraints and other risks) we will cease operations tomorrow only, (except for) activities that cannot be stopped. We will resume normally on Friday.”
Martínez said the organization did not take a stance on the civil conflict at large. The companies agreed to pay salaries of the workers, something that is required by law as the business is shutting down for the day.
In April, Nicaragua’s president, Daniel Ortega, announced that the country would revamp its pension system, including cutting payouts to citizens by 5 percent. The announcement sparked protests in the country. Ortega announced he would abandon the pension modifications, but by that point, as many as 30 people had died in clashes between protesters and counterprotesters and allegedly government forces.
Since then, the death toll has risen to an estimated 168 as the violence has intensified.
Yesterday the Civic Alliance for Justice and Democracy of Nicaragua called for a 24-hour strike on Thursday. It’s part of a growing effort to use Nicaragua’s economy to force Ortega back to the negotiating table with protestors, who are now calling for his resignation.
Update: Negotiations between Ortega and protestors, moderated by the Catholic Church, are said to resume Friday. The planned strike will go on as planned.
Last week, over 100 roadblocks were set up throughout the country, which stranded 6,000 cargo trucks throughout the country. That led to a transport association to call for a boycott of activities in and into Nicaragua. The roadblocks have drastically slowed the exports of cigars for many companies and in some cases caused the closing of factories and/or employees not showing up to work.
Multiple sources told halfwheel that on Wednesday trucks were being allowed to pass through a crucial roadblock at the southernmost part of Estelí, the home of most of Nicaragua’s cigar capital. (There are also multiple tweets that show trucks getting through.) It’s expected that the roadblocks will once again be erected, but in the meantime, the anti-Ortega protestors who control the roadblocks are allowing trucks into the city so that supplies such as gasoline and food can be in the city ahead of tomorrow’s protest. Previously gas stations in Estelí were without gas and food deliveries were becoming intermittent.
The lifting of the roadblocks has also been helpful to cigar companies. A representative from one company said it was able to take delivery of two containers from the southern capital of Managua that had “been at the roadblocks for days.”
Those trying to get goods out of Managua through the air might have issues. At least one cargo company has announced it will not be shipping anything tomorrow due to the shutdown. As of Wednesday afternoon, some commercial flights were still shown as scheduled for Thursday, but that could change at any time. The strike officially is set to begin at noon local time Thursday.
In the U.S., sanctions were introduced through a military funding bill that would ban the entry of any government official or person acting on behalf of Ortega’s government “that has perpetrated, or is responsible for ordering or otherwise directing, significant acts of violence or serious human rights abuses in Nicaragua against persons associated with the antigovernment protests in Nicaragua that began on April 18, 2018.”
For many factories, tomorrow will be the first day of shutdowns, for others, there have been disruptions all week.
STG Estelí, the factory best known for producing CAO for General Cigar Co., has been shut down since midday Monday because the guards outside the factory were robbed of their weapons. The taking of weapons—and in some cases the shooting of the guards—has been a problem at many factories and production facilities in the last two week as the violence in the north has intensified.
The ANT does not include every cigar company, but most of the notable Nicaraguan factories and tobacco growers are part of the organization. That list includes:
- A.J. Feranández
- Cigar Box Factory
- Cigar Rings
- Drew Estate
- El Galan
- Joya de Nicaragua
- La Corona
- My Father
- Nicaraguan American Cigars S.A.
- J.C. Newman PENSA
- Nica Sueño (RoMa Craft Tobac)
- Omar Ortez Originals
- Procenicsa (Oliva Tobacco Co.)
- Scandinavian Tobacco Group
- Tabacalera El Dorado
- TAVICUSA (Rocky Patel)
- TRC Cigars
- Universal Leaf
- Victor Calvo
Nick Perdomo, owner of Tabacalera Perdomo S.A.—the largest factory not part of the ANT—told halfwheel his factory was considering shutting down after lunch, but plans were not finalized.
For more information about the situation in Nicaragua, click here.
Patrick Lagreid contributed to this report.