Prior to Friday’s resumption of dialogue
HAVANA TIMES – A 24-hour national strike called by the Civic Alliance paralyzed Nicaragua on the eve of the resumption of a dialogue with the government and amid new attacks by police and paramilitary forces against civilian protesters that raised the death toll to more than 160 in a little less than two months, reported dpa news.
The work stoppage began at 00:00 local (06:00 GMT) and throughout Thursday left the streets, parks, shopping centers in the main cities of the country deserted. The rural towns, which also joined the protest, became ghost towns. Meanwhile the government said people went to work at their state jobs as normal and noted that some businesses opened.
The strike, which ended at midnight, was called to demand that President Daniel Ortega stop the repression and return to the national dialogue to discuss his exit from the government, according to the members of the Civic Alliance that brings together students, business people and society civil.
On Wednesday afternoon, the Episcopal Conference of Nicaragua (CEN), mediator in the dialogue, revealed that Ortega had agreed to resume the process and that they will meet again on Friday morning. However on Thursday Ortega said that he and his wife will not go to the dialogue and instead will send the foreign minister for them, lowering expectations on what might occur.
Consulted by dpa, lawyer Azahalea Solís, a member of the Civic Alliance, declared that they will attend the dialogue to demand an “immediate halt to the government repression” and to insist on the resignation of the president.
“Ortega’s time has run out and our position is immovable: he must leave power,” said Solis. She also noted that last week Civic Aliance members met in Managua with Caleb McCarry, envoy of Republican Bob Corker, president of the Foreign Relations Committee of the United States Senate.
McCarry, who also met separately with Ortega and the bishops, told them that the 72-year-old president would be willing to move up the 2021 elections without withdrawing from the government, which Solis described as “unacceptable.”
Similarly, anti-canal peasant leader Medardo Mairena said: “Our priority is to stop the killing through the resignation of Ortega and his leadership of slaughterers, we cannot continue with a genocidal government.”
For their part, university students Víctor Cuadras and Zaya Hernandez said that Friday’s session will be “crucial” and “decisive”, since “it is not a dialogue table, it is the table of surrender and Daniel Ortega must accept it”.
After the announcement of a new session of the national dialogue by the bishops, police and shock forces attacked entrenched protesters in Nagarote and Leon (western), Masatepe, Diriamba and Jinotepe (south) on Wednesday night.
Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes, president of the CEN, expressed his “condemnation and repudiation” of the events and made “a call to the authorities and the National Police to stop their attacks against the people.”
Alvaro Leiva, president of the Nicaraguan Human Rights Association (ANPDH, independent), told channel 15 TV that six people died, seven were injured and at least 10 were detained in those places during the Wednesday night attacks.
Leiva launched a S.O.S. at the international level due to the “very serious situation” and “deep crisis” that the country is experiencing, and said that the new incidents raise to 168 the death toll since the protests began on April 18.
The figures of the ANPDH are similar to the also independent Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (Cenidh), which on Thursday reported 164 deaths and some 1,400 injured.
“We are updating the figures at every moment, it is terrible, every day there are people killed,” Cenidh director Marlin Sierra told dpa.
Leiva said that a team of journalists from local channel 10 was attacked and stripped of their cameras in the city of Nindiri, near Masaya. In Leon, the director of Radio Darío, Aníbal Toruño, denounced harassment and threats. Since the beginning of the protests, the government’s paramilitary forces have targeted journalists for abuse and theft of their equipment. At the beginning they even did so wearing new governing party T-shirts but later changed to their hooded street atire.
Leiva added that the ANPDH is investigating allegations about flights of small planes that allegedly sprayed pesticides on opposition demonstrators in Jinotepe and Diriamba. A similar event occurred earlier this month in Masaya, where numerous people reported being intoxicated.
For his part, Paulo Abrao, executive director of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), an autonomous entity of the OAS, wrote on his Twitter account: “Nicaragua must immediately cease the repression of demonstrators and guarantee respect for life, integrity and security of all people who are exercising their rights.”
Likewise from Geneva, UN human rights experts called today for an “immediate end to the violence and repression in Nicaragua.” They further said: “We are deeply shocked to see that the repression and excessive and indiscriminate use of force by state security forces, including riot police and pro-government armed groups, has not been curbed.”
The Civic Alliance of Nicaragua Calls Friday’s Meeting “Decisive”
Representatives of the Nicaraguan Civic Alliance described as “crucial” and “decisive” the session of the national dialogue that will resume on Friday, when they will insist on the resignation of President Daniel Ortega, reported dpa news.
In the local media it is speculated that Ortega could offer to advance the presidential elections of 2021, but without renouncing his position.
According to attorney Azahalea Solis, this was revealed to the Civic Alliance by an emissary of the United States Senate who met with them last week.
“We answered what we have always said: that elections with Daniel Ortega in power are not acceptable,” Solis said. She added that this position is the one that will be maintained tomorrow in the dialogue, if the Government comes with that proposal.
Similarly, the peasant leader Medardo Mairena told television channel 15 that the popular sectors “do not trust Ortega and therefore demand his immediate resignation.”
“If we go to that table, it’s to ask him to resign, if we wait to have new elections with him as president, how many more people are going to die?” he asked, referring to the continuous attacks of police and paramilitaries against civilian protesters.
“Our priority is to stop the massacre through the resignation of Daniel Ortega and his leadership of slaughterers, we can not continue with a genocidal government,” said Mairena.
For his part, Víctor Cuadras, a member of the Civic Alliance for the student movement, said tomorrow’s meeting will be “crucial” and that they hope it will culminate with an agreement that will lead to the retirement of the president, who has governed since 2007.
“It will be a decisive session, we continue to maintain that this is not a dialogue table, it is the surrender table and Daniel Ortega must accept it,” said university colleague Zayda Hernandez.
The CEN bishops did not disclose the contents of the letter, nor did Daniel Ortega. They indicated that everything will be publicly known Friday at the Fatima seminary, the venue for the dialogue, which is expected to be broadcast live throughout the country.