Backtracks on Social Security, then unleashes repression against university students
HAVANA TIMES – On Sunday night, students from the Nicaraguan Polytechnic University (UPOLI) informed that they were attacked by riot police while holding a vigil for those killed by government repression during the first five days of protest.
The young people holed up in the UPOLI – which had formed a bastion against the Ortega government’s repression – posted videos on social media in which shots could be heard and the tension inside the halls was palpable. A center for medical attention had been improvised in one of the buildings to attend to the wounded. At least one death and several injuries were reported during this nocturnal attack.
Hours beforehand, president Ortega had appeared on national television to announce that he was retracting his measures for reform of the Social Security system due to their “lack of feasibility”. Ortega, who appeared surrounded by investors from the nation’s free trade zones, called for a dialogue to which he invited business leaders and Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes, archbishop of Managua. He accused the students who protested over a five-day period of being “armed gang members” who “are killing each other”, but he didn’t speak of the dead nor of the repression unleashed against the demonstrators.
Tension reigned in the country after Ortega repealed the changes in Social Security pensions and quotas that had sparked large protests, leaving a toll of at least 27 dead and over 100 wounded in the five days, as well as looting of numerous businesses and damage to public property.
Groups of students remained holed up in the Nicaraguan Polytechnic University in Managua, behind barricades made of rocks with pieces of billboards and burning tires.
Although the Social Security reforms “created this dramatic situation,” as Ortega recognized in his address, many demonstrators say they’ve also come out on the streets to demand redress of other grievances, such as attacks on freedom of expression and the press, alleged electoral frauds, and the impunity of police actions.
“We’re revoking, which is to say canceling, [the social security reforms] and tabling the initial resolution that triggered this situation,” said Ortega in a live television address from his residence.
But he also warned that his government “isn’t going to allow the imposition of chaos, crime and looting,” and that backed by the laws and the state institutions he will act “with the indicated force.”
The immense majority of Nicaraguans “are condemning these events and support the actions we took to reestablish order and stability,” the leader assured.
Although he insisted on the need to establish these bilateral conversations, Ortega also reproached the Big Business Council (the Superior Council for Private Industry, or COSEP) for attaching conditions for this dialogue with the government. Their conditions included an end to the repression and the liberation of those who were detained.
On Saturday, in his first national address since the crisis broke out, Ortega accused “small groups from the opposition” of being responsible for the destruction, thefts and looting.
On social media, however, users posted images showing members of the Sandinista Youth, groups allied with the government, and the police spearheading these acts of vandalism.
Resistance in the universities
“We don’t want the Ortega-Sandinista politics,” declared a university student who didn’t want to give his name, while he hurried to support his classmates a few meters away, who were calling for reinforcements to chase off the approaching riot police.
For their part, opposition figures like Violeta Granera, president of the Broad Front for Democracy (FAD), affirmed: “the issue is no longer social security, but free expression, corruption, and much more.”
The president of the FAD, a party made up of leaders of the historic opposition forces of Nicaragua, maintained that the situation in Nicaragua “has only two ways out: the resignation of [Ortega] from the presidency; or a call for immediate free, transparent and competitive elections.”
For her part, Margarita Vijil, leader of the Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS), declared: “What Ortega did today doesn’t change the situation in Nicaragua. There are still people being wounded, there are still kids in jail, more than 25 dead, over 100 missing, some of them detainees, and the demands for justice and for the right to speak continue.”
Business leaders applaud the youth
The Superior Council of Private Enterprise (COSEP) applauded the youth for heading up the demonstrations that forced Ortega to backtrack on a decision that would have affected the social security of the workers.
“We recognize and appreciate the peaceful civic struggle headed by our youth that has been decisive in having the government repeal the executive decree that sparked this social crisis,” the Council noted, in a communique issued on Sunday night.
The business leaders also petitioned the government for an “urgent” dialogue, and requested the presence of the Episcopal Conference of Nicaragua as a guarantor.
In the same communique, the COSEP representatives invited all Nicaraguans, not only employees, to a walk “for peace and dialogue” set for this Monday afternoon, April 23, in the center of Managua. They requested that the National Police assure their safety.
Despite the fact that Ortega has retracted the measures that would have raised the Social Security quotas, reduced the pensions and established perpetual contributions, demonstrators insist that their demands go beyond this. They say they’re calling for an end to the diverse abuses against public freedoms perpetrated by the Sandinista government over the past 11 years, and for this reason they’re not calling off the protests. The march convoked by COSEP for Monday could mark a critical juncture in the social crisis.
Atmosphere of war
This Sunday, the day of protest was dominated by looting, and the population’s stampede to stock up on food and gasoline. The latter quickly exhausted supplies, even of cash in the ATM machines.
This desperation on the part of Nicaraguans played out in an atmosphere of a country at war, with streets crossed by barricades, smoke from burned tires, ashes from burned flags of the ruling Sandinista party, and downed metal trees termed “trees of life”, which represented the tastes of the presidential family.
The Catholic Church made public their open support of the demonstrators, offering their churches as asylum amid applause from their congregations.
Classes have been cancelled for Monday in all the schools and universities.
Following Ortega’s repeal of the Social Security measures, Nicaraguans reacted with comments on social media, while many returned to the streets, marking only a brief pause in the air of uncertainty.
(Includes information from the EFE news agency)