Ometepe: the Oasis that Lost its Peace

The “Ojo de Agua” natural spring is one of the most popular spots on Ometepe. These months it has been practically empty. Photo: Carlos Herrera / Confidencial

 

Riot police and paramilitaries have imposed weeks of persecution and detained at least 11.

“There is no peace on this island.  If it was an ‘oasis of ‘peace’ before, I can tell you that it has become an oasis for the devil” – Jorge, 48 years old

 

By Maynor Salazar   (Confidencial)

HAVANA TIMES – Max Cruz Gutierrez was the victim of six bullets on October 8th. “The riot police and the paramilitaries shot him in his house”, in front of his wife Marvis Salazar and his two children. “They did it because he was one of the organizers of the marches on Ometepe Island”, said one of the victim’s relatives, who asked to be identified as Ignacio, to protect his identity.

The April 18th explosion of the crisis in Nicaragua prompted Max to join the protest on the island that were demanding the departure of President Daniel and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo.  But on October 8th, five patrol units, with riot police, regular police officers and paramilitaries, showed up at his house, blocked all access to the house and intimidated those who were trying to observe what was happening.

The armed men ordered Max to come out of the house with his hands up, but there was no response from inside the house.  Unsatisfied by this, the armed men shot at the main gate and forcibly entered the home. 

Max Cruz and his wife Marvis Salazar

“We had never seen anything like this.  We saw the patrols arrive, and the men got out of their vehicles and violently forced their way into the house.  Max came out, on his knees, with his hands in the air, but one of the men grabbed his son and put his boot on his face.  They forced his wife to the floor.  Then Max got mad and grabbed his machete and struck the man who was hitting his wife”, said a neighbor who requested anonymity.

The officers shot him, and Max was on the floor. He didn’t move and he bled a lot. His children screamed and his wife cried. The scene of terror did not faze the armed men. They abducted his wife and Max was dragged around the porch of his house, then down a stretch of the street, and in full sight of the neighbors, they threw him into the bed of the truck. Everyone assumed that Max was dead.

Days later, Max appeared hospitalized in the Lenin Fonseca hospital in Managua. His condition is stable, but he will have to undergo surgery to correct the damage to his right leg and remove the bullets from the rest of his body. If he responds well to the operation, he will be transferred to the recovery room and then most likely to one of the Public Ministry’s prisons.

Max’s wife was first taken to the “El Chipote” interrogation center.  One of Max’s sisters visited her and was able to verify that she had two wounds to the chest, apparently from a pellet. She was then moved to “La Esperanza”, the women’s prison in Tipitapa, and has not been heard from since.  

Mayor breaks the truce

The demonstrations against the Ortega regime began on Ometepe Island just after April 18th.  As in the rest of the country, the people on Ometepe were initially speaking up against the Social Security reforms and later continued to mobilize to demand justice for those assassinated as a result of government repression.

Guillermo is 60 years old and was part of the struggle against the Somoza dictatorship.  Today he says that Nicaragua is under another family dynasty.  “This man [Ortega] does not want to leave by the civic route, and so he’s not interested in dialogue.  He is not willing to leave on good terms,” he says.

On the island, Sandinista sympathizers confronted the so-called self-convoked, and during April and May, there were attacks from both sides, with rocks and mortars.  The tourists left Ometepe and the confrontations continued, scaling up until the Sandinista office in the municipality of Altagracia was burned.  That was near Max’s house.

“On social media, people were saying that the Mayor, Aurora Alvarez, was going to be lynched.  She went to look for the priest, and the blue and white leaders, and they came to a truce.  That was the beginning of June,” recalls Guillermo.

The parties agreed to a truce – no marches, and no persecution.  “At the beginning, it was fine. You didn’t hear any mortars.  There were no marches and some of the national tourists began to come back.  But then the betrayal happened.  The mayor broke the truce at the beginning of August and said in a meeting that those who had burned the FSLN officers had been identified in a video, that they were all going to prison and that police reinforcements were coming”, says Jorge, another islander.

Confidencial tried to get the mayor’s version of events, but her office said she was not available.

Zero tourism 

With the truce broken, the protesters returned to the streets and on October 6 the “April 19th Movement” organized a “cyclethon” calling for the freedom of political prisoners.  That took place without incident, but the next morning, numerous police entered the island and took four prisoners: Luis Miguel Diaz, Evert Barrios, Miguel Angel Rosales Cruz and Jose Maria Gonzalez.

The Ometepe Ferry, with a capacity of 85 passengers, held less than 20 this past Thursday. All were national passengers. Carlos Herrera | Confidencial

“Since that day, there has been no peace on the island.  If we used to call Ometepe Island an oasis of peace, I can tell you that today it has become the devil’s island”, says Jorge.

Duval Briceño is the owner of the Venecia Hotel in rural Altagracia.  It has not been open since May and has reduced its personnel from 15 to 2 employees, who are there just to keep up the property.

“The island has been in bad shape economically since the crisis began.  I have two other hotels, and they’re closed.  None of the workers have come back because the situation is so bad, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to change”, Briceño laments.

The owner of the Venecia Hotel thought that that the situation would improve in June or July, but reservations into August and September were canceled.

“We work with the tourist agents.  They bring large groups in – from Holland, France, Belgium, Germany … from all over Europe, but everyone has canceled.  This has really affected me, because I always had workers who were building, improving things, but then this happened, and I haven’t been able to do that.  I’ve been saved by the fact that I have a few cattle and some other things,” he says.

The streets on the island are deserted.  The tourist centers are empty.  The famous Charco Verde is also closed.  The tourist guides don’t have clients and those locals who are still open don’t have anyone coming in. 

There aren’t many tourists at the popular Ojo de Agua natural spring resort either.  While they normally receive about 60 visitors daily, the site is down to 5 or 10 per week.

Filomena Cabrera, co-owner of the tourist center says that at one point 10 armed police entered the property for a “routine inspection”.  The only visitors still there fled immediately after that.



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