Nicaragua is gripped by protests and catastrophic levels of violence. This insider’s account highlights to the rest of the world the extent of the crisis.
Editors Note: This account relates to the ongoing campaign of terror and brutality being visited upon Nicaraguans, suffering under the brutal repression of protests by President Daniel Ortega. Demonstrations first erupted on April 16th, in response to social security reforms that increased taxes while restricting benefits, particularly for workers and retirees. More than a month of protests has now left over a 100 people dead, as calculated by international and Nicraguan human rights bodies.
(The video above is of a youth named Jose Martez being carried to the ambulance, where he died, after being shot by “turbas” in Managua)
The night was quiet with little mortar fire. Our neighbour ‘M’ told me he had called his friend by chance in Managua and she had told him her son was one of the protesters shot dead by police in Managua on Wednesday. The protesters now know, their government is using snipers to kill with precise head, and chest shots, using Russian made Dragunov rifles from up to a kilometre away.
This morning just a few kilometres away in Masaya, a town we know well and used to visit to buy plants and flowers, the people at the barricades were attacked by plainclothes police and paramilitaries at 6 am, when they knew there would be fewer people defending the roadblock. Two men were killed, one man, age 27 called Lopez, the other for whom I do not have details about. Twenty other local people were detained and taken to El Chipote torture centre in Managua.
Our neighbour ‘R’ told me that many boys from the tranque (roadblock) outside our house here in Granada went over to Masaya to support the protesters there. No cars or trucks or motorbikes are now being allowed through the roadblock and there is an eerie silence along our road. The long lines of heavy goods vehicles seem to have been abandoned by their drivers and are as quiet as the tombstones in the cemetery which runs along the road and from where police snipers sometimes fire at protesters.
Today the supermarket was teeming with people stocking up on basic essentials and the mood was nervous. Three security guards with shotguns stood around in black. One kept wiping the sweat from his neck and forehead every few minutes with a bright blue handkerchief. Workers who usually waved and said hello with a smile were distant, some didn’t notice me at all and were lost in their own thoughts. They have more to think about now.
The word most people are using to describe the situation is ‘feo’ (ugly) and ‘caliente’ (hot). Many are amused to find out we live next to the roadblock, the ‘hottest’ area in this city of 100,000 people.
My Spanish is improving as I read and translate articles on the situation here and speak a lot to neighbours. ‘¿Hay Noticias?’ (‘Any news’?) I ask. Today was very quiet, apart from the killings in Masaya and of an American citizen in Managua. He had been driving across Managua to help a friend and was caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. Images of his burned-out car and bloodied corpse was splashed all across social media. Nicaraguans are not squeamish when it comes to showing blood.
‘R’ told me that our neighbourhood has an alarm system. Yesterday during the speeches here by the roadblock, a protest organiser told the crowd that if the local church bell started ringing, it meant that the tranque was in danger, and we should go to help. ‘R’ said this might involve helping the wounded off the streets and into the cars of neighbours who had cars so that they could be taken to the hospital, or into the safety of our houses. Neighbour ‘M’s wife said she would open the door if any of the protesters at the roadblock were being shot at and needed to hide.
In contrast to the music and dancing of last night, this silence stinks of burning rubber, gunpowder and tension. The country is now at war. A war between ‘la pueblo’ (the people) and their government, whose assassination squads have so far killed 130 in the space of 50 days, in a country with a population of only 6 million. There is no police force now in Nicaragua, and killings are carried out by thugs paid by the hour (between $10 and $20 an hour) by the Ortega regime to terrorize the people of the neighbourhoods. They are sometimes called JS ( Sandinista youth) but usually “turbas” another word thugs. Armed, very dangerous, mercenary. Once paid, they blend back into their neighbourhoods, many are criminals. Just today, they attacked a protester barricade in Managua and killed two people. There are probably 1200 injured, many disappeared and tortured.
The waiting and the silence are sickening. We need to stay quiet but at the slightest noise our dogs will start barking loudly, and there is nothing we can do to stop them. We want to be here for our neighbours. However, opening the gates of our house could mean becoming a base for the protesters from which they can launch the defence of their barricade and their battles against Ortega’s police. Paramilitaries and Sandinista youth mobs pay 200 cordobas ($10) a day to attack students, protesters and anyone who helps them. The other day, a 15-year-old boy was shot in the neck and killed for taking water to the protesters.
All the cases I have mentioned have been verified and documents on social media and the few remaining independent channels, which are also now under daily and nightly attack from regime thugs and paramilitaries. So far, we have been with them in our thoughts and hearts, but are nervous about how involved we can allow ourselves to become, knowing the attitude of the regime towards ‘foreign interference’.
How long can we continue as ‘normal’, or ‘neutral’, when those neighbours who know us, know that our sympathies lie with the protesters, the majority of our neighbours? It is the quiet minority we need to be careful of, those loyal to the regime who watch quietly from behind their curtains, who take photos of the protesters, not all of whom keep their faces covered with masks and scarves. War has a habit of drawing you in like a black hole, which pulls you into its centre. It makes everyone afraid, no matter what they say. Even the security guard in the shop with his shotgun – especially him.
We are trying to carry on as normal. The cicadas are chirping. The fans are whirring. But inside, we are waiting for the church bell.