At least two more people have died during violent overnight protests against President Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua. On Saturday, The Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (CENIDH) told AFP news agency that one person had been killed in the northern city of Jinotega and another had been killed in the capital city of Managua. The incidents brought the death toll to at least 152 people since demonstrations began this April.
The man killed in Jinotega was the victim of an armed attack on protesters who were guarding a barricade intended to keep security forces back. “Paramilitaries linked to the government gunned down boys who were fighting in the streets for liberty and democracy,” said a statement from the city’s student movement, calling it “a night of terror.” The man killed in Managua was a young motorcyclist who died from a bullet to the neck after two armed men on board motorcycles shot him.
The protests began on April 18 over controversial pension reforms and then exploded into a mass effort to pressure the president’s exit. More than 150 people have died in clashes with security forces and armed gangs loyal to Ortega, according to CENIDH, which also said 1,340 had been wounded. The current unrest has escalated to the point of the British government warning against all but necessary travel to Nicaragua.
Ortega has ignored calls to step down or bring forward elections due to be held in 2021. He was democratically elected in 2006 but has been accused of an increasing authoritarian rule, along with being corrupt. With calls from the public being ignored there is a concern that this behavior could lead to a civil war within Nicaragua.
Protesters took to the streets demanding Ortega’s removal and accused authorities of using “lethal force” to crack down on the demonstrations. Demonstrators continued to block roads throughout Nicaragua as part of the mass protests demanding the removal of Ortega – a former fighter – who has held office for 11 years. The country’s influential Catholic bishops met on Thursday with Ortega to discuss a plan to reboot talks to quell the crisis, presenting “the pain and anguish of people who have suffered in recent weeks” to the leftist leader. Silvio Jose Baez, the auxiliary bishop of Managua, said Ortega “asked us for a period of reflection to give us an answer, which we asked he give us in writing” – after which they will consider the feasibility of reviving talks.
Then on Wednesday, Nicaragua prepared for a nationwide strike to protest “extreme conditions” under Ortega. The announcement from the Central American country’s top civic alliance said that a 24-hour work boycott was to begin Thursday at 12:00AM, which triggered a mass rush to supermarkets throughout Nicaragua to stockpile supplies. “This is a national and peaceful civil strike that covers the entire country and all economic activities, except those related to the preservation of life and the coverage of basic services for the population,” announced the National Alliance for Justice and Democracy.
The coalition made up of civil, student and business representatives is a key player in the stalled talks to stop the crisis, which has seen brutal clashes between anti-government activists and security forces loyal to Ortega. The group demands an “immediate” decision from Ortega on the possibility of reviving negotiations mediated by Nicaragua’s influential Catholic bishops. The country has not heard from its leftist leader since last week, when he met with top clergy members. At the meeting, the bishops presented Ortega with a plan to expedite the next presidential poll slated for late 2021 and institute electoral and constitutional reforms. “Dialogue is the way to review the political system of Nicaragua from its root to achieve an authentic democracy and justice,” the civic alliance said.
The call to strike comes as the country experiences a sharp and sudden increase in violence, with police and pro-government paramilitaries attacking activists in an attempt to end the unrest. Economists estimate that the crisis has cost the already extremely poor country around $600 million. The country cannot afford the crisis for reasons beyond economic value. Steps must be taken to let Ortega’s government know it cannot violently retaliate against peaceful protesters, and we must encourage Ortega to accept early elections that would democratically unseat him. Ortega has said that if he agrees to early elections, he would not resign his position, which is what he needs to be convinced to do through peaceful steps. “We have proposed early elections, but with the condition that the dictator Daniel Ortega resign first and then have early elections; that is our position and we are not going to back off. If the elections are to be called in six months, how many people will have to die? We reiterate: we want him out,” said Medaro Mairena, the leader of the Anti-canal Campesino Movement.
Some people are calling on the U.N. to step up its response because it has taken no real action in the matter, while some support the national strike as the best next step towards peace. One thing is for sure: time is running out for Daniel Ortega and we can only hope that the correct steps, such as ending the violence against protesters, are taken as his time as President comes to an end.
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