A surge of violence has snuffed out economic activity and dimmed prospects to peacefully resolve a political crisis here that began as a protest against tax increases and turned into a revolt against Nicaragua’s longtime leader Daniel Ortega.
The Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (CENIDH) said over 100 have been killed, and another 1,300 people have been wounded in the protests, which have met with a violent crackdown from the government.
“This is now a massacre, a human tragedy where the goal is to exterminate all those young people who think differently than or are critical of the government,” the group’s executive secretary, Marlin Sierra said.
“It amounts to state terrorism.”
Town hall and the local office of the ruling Sandinista party in Granada were burned down by protesters, and several electrical appliance stores were looted and burned, a local businessman said on condition he not be named. He said the police did not show up at any of these places.
Ten people were also killed in running battles over the weekend in the flashpoint city of Masaya, near Managua, said the CENIDH.
Masaya residents armed with homemade mortars and slingshots faced off in clashes with what they said were riot police and vigilante groups loyal to Ortega, who has dominated the Central American country’s politics for four decades, the Wall Street Journal reports.
Separately on Tuesday, the Organization of American States, which was holding its general assembly in Washington, issued a condemnation of the violence and appealed to the Nicaraguan government and other parties to “demonstrate commitment and engage constructively in peaceful negotiation.”
The city braced for a new night of clashes Tuesday, after several nights of attacks that residents say were led by riot police.
“Yesterday we buried one person, the day before we buried another. One was a 15-year-old boy. He begged for his life. He told the policewoman, ‘Don’t kill me, don’t kill me.’ But bam, bam, she shot him,” said Ramona Garcia, 83.
“We’re sick and tired of it. We want that son of a bitch Ortega to go. The people want him to go, all Nicaragua wants him to go,” she told AFP, speaking beside one of the myriad barricades residents have erected in the streets.
Built with cobblestones, furniture, sheet metal and whatever else is at hand, the barricades are meant to keep out pro-Ortega gangs, whom residents accuse of pillaging the city of 100,000 people.
The government blames criminals for the pillaging, and says it sent in riot police at the request of small-business owners.
In Managua, there is a virtual curfew in place after dark, with motorcycle gangs terrorizing those who venture out, according to the CENIDH.
Nicaragua’s government denies links to paramilitary groups and says the unrest is the result of an opposition plot to overthrow it. Police haven’t addressed the alleged police shooting of the teen.
Nicaragua “is committed to stability amidst this wave of criminal violence generated by certain groups of the opposition which conspire from the darkness…to terrorize families,” Luis Alvarado, Nicaragua’s representative to the OAS, said Monday.
Mr. Ortega, a former guerrilla leader who played a central role in the overthrow of the Somoza family dictatorship in 1979, was re-elected by a landslide in 2016 after 16 years out of power. He ran largely unopposed after maneuvering to ban any real contenders.
Barricades set up on key highways have meanwhile ground transportation to a halt. Some parts of the country are beginning to run out of fuel and other essentials.
The country’s business elite, long close to Ortega, have broken with him over the crackdown.
The Catholic Church, also once close to Ortega, initially tried to mediate the conflict. But it called off the talks after attacks on a march led by victims’ mothers last Wednesday left 16 people dead.
The crackdown on what started as relatively small protests against pension cuts has fueled demands for the ouster of Ortega and Murillo.
Ortega blames the violence on right-wing opposition groups he says are conspiring to “terrorize” the country.
The former guerrilla leader first came to power in 1979, at the head of a communist junta installed by the Sandinista rebels after they ousted dictator Anastasio Somoza.
He lost power at the ballot box in 1990, then led the opposition until winning a 2006 election that again returned him to the presidency.
He is now serving his third consecutive term, due to end in 2022.
Mr Americana, Overpasses News Desk
June 6th, 2018