Nicaragua Anti-Canal Protests Despite Repression

“Police, brothers, do not repress us, we are your people that say NO to the canal project and demand the repeal of law 840. We demand the right to our land”.

By Franklin Villavicencio  (Confidencial) 

Photos: Carlos Herrera

HAVANA TIMES – The government’s intention was to prevent the concentration of people. However, the peasants managed to group themselves into scattered clusters in four departments of the country: New Guinea, Boaco, Juigalpa and Rio San Juan. They changed strategy and converted a national march into regional protests.

As of Friday, April 21, members of the National Police harassed peasants and activists who were traveling to Juigalpa to attend the anti-canal march number 87. Despite having surrounded the entrances and exits of this city, about 200 people demonstrated at the La Tonga bridge, the point where the march was scheduled to leave and walk a kilometer towards the traffic lights of the cemetery.

To get to Juigalpa from the pacific side of the country, three roadblocks had to be overcome: San Benito, the Boaco junction and Las Banderas. At each point, a dozen Police agents stopped vehicles and in some cases carried out physical searches of the people in a supposedly “routine check.”

However, many people overcame the road blocks. At 9 am, on the La Tonga bridge, a group of peasants and activists from the National Council in Defense of the Earth, Lake and Sovereignty grouped together to start the anti-canal march. At the other end of the street was the meeting point of the counter-march called on Friday, April 21, by Vice President Rosario Murillo.

Protection for Ortega supporters

At the entrance to Juigalpa, buses loaded with sympathizers to the Ortega government were guarded by vans of the National Police. There was also a large number of students from public schools, who were summoned by the government.

The countermarch dubbed “Love for Nature, Green Heart”, by Murillo, received Police protection and free circulation in the streets of Juigalpa. Meanwhile farm leader Francisca Ramirez and other citizens were stranded in La Fonseca, blocked by 300 riot police which prevented them from making the journey to Juigalpa.

Confidencial arrived at the junction of San Pedro de Lóvago, where there was a police checkpoint and parked the vehicle. A dozen police detained a van with several peasants on board.

The detainees, evidently peasants, came from Guinea and were headed to “a party in a neighboring community”. They were searched and guns and knives were seized. Antonio García Ruiz affirmed that they were in order and there were no reasons to detain them. After reviewing them, an agent approached the driver of the Confidential vehicle and told him to get out of the car. The agents searched the vehicle, opened bags and retained Eddie Osorio’s documents for half an hour. After they delivered the documents, the team returned to the starting point of the march.

At La Tonga, about 200 people gathered to start the demonstration. Suddenly a cordon of 30 riot police stopped the march of the peasants and activists.

Despite the blockade, the mood of peasants and citizens of civil society did not falter. A group of people unfolded a four-meter blue and white flag and stood with it a few steps from the riot police, who in the inclement sun appeared fatigued.

Meanwhile, young activists shouted at the agents: “We love you because we are Nicaraguan brothers and sisters. Long live the National Police! “.

“Police brothers, do not repress us, we are your people that say NO to the canal project and demand the repeal of law 840. We demand the right to land and quality education. We demand the right to rally and be heard. Our struggle is popular, from north to south, from sea to sea,” said supporters of the peasant struggle.

Juigalpa guarded from north to south

Juigalpa remained besieged. The idea was to start the march from the La Tonga bridge and walk a kilometer to the traffic lights of the cemetery of Juigalpa. This plan was not possible to realize due to the considerable number of riot police blocking passage. Meanwhile, 140 kilometers south, in Nueva Guinea, the peasants arriving from their rural communities could not move on because of the relentless police checkpoint.

Nonetheless, many people arrived from various parts of the country, managing to get beyond the police checkpoints scattered along the roads. One of them was Maria Lopez Vigil, who was stopped three times and said that those who were in the car were religious people and were going to a meeting. “We arrived, we passed and here we are. We have to represent them. We are here with them,” said Vigil.

Kener Gonzalez Marin, 21, was another of the demonstrators. The night of Friday the 21st he arrived to Juigalpa (his home town) from Managua and had no complications on the way. However, he reported that there was a bus that was “kidnapped” and taken to the police station in this city. He wants young people to be integrated into these struggles and grouped into genuine social movements.

At about 10 o’clock in the morning the stand-off took on more effervescence and the sympathizers were face to face with the riot police.

“We want to march! We want to march! “, could be heard through megaphones. “Rosario Murillo, you’ve sank the bottom. Ortega thief, the Chinese man [with the canal concession] is your boss. Ortega, usurer, your with the bankers. Ortega rapist, the creator waits for you. Viva Nicaragua! Come on, comrades! Long live the peasant movement! ” shouted a man with a black beret, long hair and dark glasses.

Support for the peasants was such that many residents of Juigalpa joined the stand. Jose Miguel Espinoza Urbina, 74, was one of them. He lives in the city, but fears that Lake Cocibolca (The Lake of Nicaragua) would be contaminated by the canal. [Juigalpa gets a large portion of its drinking water piped to the city from the lake.] “We have to support the peasants who are going to have their lands taken away. He asked, “Where are those of us who live in the city going to get our food from?

Successful Protests

At 11 o’clock in the morning, the sun in the center of the sky did not give a truce. Both sides were sweating and tired, both the riot police and peasants. On the other side of the cordon, Commissioner Roberto Gonzalez Kraudy, director of National Transit Security, was approached by Confidencial to hear his statements, but he did not answer any of the questions.

Behind the peasants and activists, an endless row of trucks and vehicles called for passage. Some villagers complained that the National Police were responsible for delaying traffic. “We are working and they are holding us back. The police should let the peasants pass, that’s fair. We all have the right to express ourselves, be it any party or ideology, “said Elvis Jiron, one of the blocked drivers from Juigalpa.

Five minutes later, the peasants moved aside, the traffic advanced, but the riot line continued to obstruct the road to the protestors.

At 11:30, the Police sent for reinforcements. Two dozen riot police got out of patrol cars and ran to join those already in the area.

Half an hour later when the march was almost over. Attorney Monica Lopez, an advisor to the peasant movement, reported that in Juigalpa some 400 people and thousands more gathered in other parts of the country. “What was put in evidence is that this peasant movement fights civically and the government uses repression and violence for one reason, because what the government is most afraid of is people in the streets and that is what Nicaragua should do: take to the streets,” said Lppez.

Meanwhile, peasant leader Francisca Ramirez ended the demonstrations at noon and gave an emotional speech. “Today is a day of pride and a day of indignation because it hurts when we hear the national anthem, but thanks to all of you, who when faced by threats of violence, grabbed on to what the national anthem says: ‘No more brothers and sisters stained with the blood,’ ” said Ramirez in a choked up voice.

In the afternoon, the National Police issued a press release saying: “Persons identified as members of the so-called National Council for the Defense of the Earth, Lake and Sovereignty, caused serious alterations to the public order, hindering the constitutional right to free circulation … The so-called march number 87, like the previous ones, was carried out illegally, without authorization from the police authorities, affecting the normal development of the country’s productive, economic and commercial activities. ”

Medardo Mairena Sequeira, deputy coordinator of the National Council in Defense of the Earth, Lake and National Sovereignty, sent a letter on April 19, which is in the hands of Confidencial, informing Juigalpa’s Commissioner, Bayardo Napoleon Rosales, that on April 22nd a “public, civic and peaceful demonstration” would take place. The police institution sealed the letter and marked it received.

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