More than 200 people have been killed in the unprecedented wave of unrest sweeping Nicaragua in recent months.
In mid-April, plans for social security reform sparked protests and the discontent soon degenerated into street battles.
The protesters want the resignation of President Daniel Ortega, a former Communist guerrilla fighter at the helm since 2007, after a previous stint in power from 1979 to 1990.
The western city of Masaya has become the stronghold of the rebellion. Reporters from France24 get a look inside the anti-Communist rebel stronghold.
The presence of armed and hooded paramilitaries on the streets of Nicaragua has sparked calls for the army to intervene to end two months of unrest that has killed more than 200 people.
Human rights groups have consistently denounced the shady pro-government forces which are accused of being involved in the killing of scores of anti-government protesters.
“You cannot have two armies in this country. Under the constitution, the Nicaraguan army should disarm the paramilitaries,” said a former ambassador to the US, Carlos Tunnerman, now a member of a civil society delegation in talks with the government to end the unrest.
The protests began in April as demonstrations against now-scrapped social security reforms, but a heavy-handed police reaction transformed them into demands for justice for those killed, and for the exit of President Daniel Ortega and his wife Vice President Rosario Murillo.
The military has publicly committed itself not to take part in repression of anti-government protests and called for dialogue and an end to the violence.
But its attitude has been criticized as ambiguous. When Ortega appeared in public for the first time since the beginning of the protests, he was accompanied by the army chief, General Julio Cesar Aviles. And residents in flashpoint areas have reported the presence of soldiers or ex-soldiers siding with riot police during clashes.
“If the army is claiming to contribute to a peaceful solution through dialogue, it must disarm paramilitary groups,” said Edmundo Jarquin, a former presidential candidate and member of a dissident wing of Ortega’s leftist Sandinista party.
Several analysts told AFP that the army’s main aim is to defend its own economic interests.
Through an offshoot financial arm, the military controls construction, real estate and financial companies, as well as a hospital, and has investments in the New York Stock Exchange, said military analyst Roberto Orozco.
“That could be one of the factors that could tip the balance. When your corporate interests are threatened or when you reach a situation of total ungovernability,” he said.
Defence and security specialist Elvira Cuadra said, “the position of the army with respect to the Ortega-Murillo government has been more of an alliance than of subordination”.
“This is down to its institutional strength, the force of arms and the economic power it has acquired over several decades,” she said.
The army has played a crucial role in the recent history of this poor Central American country, fighting two wars in the 1970s and 1980s and many believe that if it wanted to, it could intervene to stop the violence and politically pressure Ortega to resign.
The 13,000-strong force grew out of the former FSLN guerrilla movement that overthrew dictator Anastasio Somoza in 1979. According to a 2016 review by the Security and Defense Network of Latin America, it operates on an annual budget of US$75 million, (RM303 million).
Ortega has kept the relationship sweet over his years in power by changing the length of service and the retirement age to benefit the Sandinista old guard.
As a result, says Orozco, “the army is divided. The High Command is loyal to Ortega, not only for business reasons but also because he kept them in their commands”.
But the rank and file are “discontent” because the power rests with the old guard and promotions are frozen.
Meanwhile, the police have been given “shoot to kill” orders by the Marxist President Daniel Ortega.
Amnesty International said this of Nicaragua in a new report:
“The Nicaraguan authorities have turned on their own people in a vicious, sustained and frequently lethal assault on their rights to life, freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. The government of President Ortega has then shamelessly tried to cover up these atrocities, violating the victims’ rights to truth, justice and reparation,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International.
“The state must immediately stop repressing the people who protest, particularly young students, and respect their right to criticize public policies. Instead of criminalizing them, the government of President Ortega must allow an international commission to be established to carry out a prompt, impartial and effective investigation, and, where appropriate, bring charges against all those suspected of committing or ordering extrajudicial executions or the excessive use of force and other serious human rights violations and crimes under international law.”
The condemnation of Ortega’s socialist government came pouring in from around the world after his security forces burned an entire family in their house after they refused to allow snipers on their roof.
Jose Maria Hernandez, 63, uncle of the building’s owner, said his nephew and nephew’s wife died in the blaze that had resulted from a confrontation with police.
“This is a massacre. A barbarity. These police surrounded the house and burned it after my nephew refused to let them put snipers on the roof,” Hernandez told Reuters outside the building, which had spewed thick black clouds of smoke.
The tyrannical government denied any involvement in the incident, which it blamed on common criminals.
The family owned a mattress business and lived above the shop.
Local media in Nicaragua reported that the property was set on fire by hooded men who threw Molotov cocktails at the house.
The head of the Organisation of American States, Luis Almagro, said he condemned “this act of terror, which is a crime against humanity, which cannot remain unpunished”.
Mr Americana, Overpasses News Desk
June 29th, 2018