HAVANA TIMES – Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega announced Sunday afternoon the repeal of his controversial Social Security reform that triggered widespread peaceful protests and the subsequent violent government repression starting five days ago, reported dpa.
Speaking on radio and television, Ortega said the decision seeks to “facilitate discussion and broad dialogue” between the government, workers, employers and for “peace be restored.”
After the president’s speech, where he was accompanied by foreign investors from the free trade zones, students held a new demonstration in Managua, where they demanded the release of at least 43 young people arrested by the police, between calls for the government to resign.
Carrying cardboard posters with the names of the dead in the protests (ten according to the Government and at least 26 according to human rights organizations), the protesters stopped traffic in a downtown area of ??the capital and said they will continue to take to the streets until the detainees are released. Ortega said they will be prosecuted.
The reform to the Social Security, which included an increase of the quotas of workers and employers up to 22.5 percent and a 5% tax on current and future pensions, provoked a strong rejection and protests throughout the country, especially after the violent police reaction.
Pressured by the strong protests, Ortega now called for dialogue but rejected the position of the private enterprise sector that conditioned their participation to the cessation of police repression against university students. “A dialogue cannot be conditioned,” he warned.
On the other hand, Ortega invited Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes, president of the Episcopal Conference, to take part in the talks, given that Pope Francis joined today the clamor of the Nicaraguan bishops to stop the violence.
Ortega did not say whether he will withdraw riot police and the Army from the streets and, on the contrary, announced that people arrested during the protests will be prosecuted, including alleged gang members who he said plundered twenty shops and supermarkets in Managua and in the interior of the country on Sunday.
Likewise, Ortega did not refer to the two marches scheduled for Monday in Managua, one called by the big business interests and the other by the Liberal Constitutionalist Party, both, until a few days ago, strategic allies of Ortega.
The protests began last Tuesday, led by university students and spread to several cities in the country, where the demonstrators were attacked by government shock forces and riot police, who dispersed them with bullets and tear gas bombs.
The violence in Nicaragua caught the attention of Pope Francis, who today in St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican declared himself “concerned” and asked “to avoid unnecessary bloodshed.”
“I express my closeness for this beloved country in my prayers and I join the bishops to ask that all violence cease, unnecessary bloodshed be avoided and that controversies be resolved peacefully, with a sense of responsibility,” he said.
While in Madrid, where he will receive the Cervantes Literature Prize tomorrow, Nicaraguan author Sergio Ramirez demanded that the Ortega government “restore freedom and democracy” to its citizens.
Ramirez was accompanied by the poet Gioconda Belli, who praised “the courage of the youth” during the protests. “This is the first step to achieve change” in the country, said Belli.
In Managua, dozens of stores and shops were destroyed and looted, while gas stations were overcrowded for fear of a possible shortage of fuel.
The manager of Walmart Nicaragua, German Brenes, reported that at least 14 stores of the US chain were affected by looting over the weekend. Student leaders have blamed vandalism on groups mobilized by the Ortega government, which then blames the students for their actions.
After supposed threats to attack the main Military hospital, the Army deployed troops in Managua with rifles and helmets of war, according to images transmitted by the governing party’s channel 4 television.
Although the figures of deaths and injuries differ between official data and those of humanitarian organizations, the government confirmed the murder of a journalist shot in the head while covering a protest live on Saturday in the city of Bluefields.
The crime against Angel Eduardo Gahona was recorded in two shocking videos that went viral on social networks.
USA and Costa Rica recommend not traveling to Nicaragua
Meanwhile, Costa Rica and the United States recommended their citizens not to travel to Nicaragua at this time.
“Demonstrations occur daily, often with little anticipation or predictability. Some protests result in injuries and deaths,” warned the State Department.
“The demonstrations usually provoke a strong response that includes the use of tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets, and live ammunition against the participants and occasionally turn into looting, acts of vandalism and acts of arson. Both the Nicaraguan government and the United States embassy in Managua are limited in the assistance they can provide,” the announcement concludes.
The previous day, the Government of Costa Rica issued an alert to its population: “faced with the situation of social violence in the neighboring country of Nicaragua, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Worship recommends not to travel to Nicaragua for the time being.”