By Gabriela Selser (dpa)
HAVANA TIMES – Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega sent a message to the nation Saturday evening amidst serious riots and clashes in Masaya, a city near the capital, where he invoked God to ask for “strength to achieve peace.” .
The brief audio message of Ortega, broadcast on television last night without projecting his live image, was directed to the population of Masaya and “to all the families that suffer this tragedy that saddens us today”.
“We want to reiterate the call and commitment to put an end to the death and destruction, so that no more blood of brothers is spilled,” said the president.
“Peace is the way and the only door to coexistence and respect, for the tranquility and security of all, we ask God to give us the strength to achieve it”, concluded Ortega.
Ortega faces the most serious crisis in his 11 years of government and one of the worst in the recent history of Nicaragua.
The protests began nearly a month ago with student demonstrations in rejection of a Social Security reform, which increased the quotas for workers and companies and taxed pensions; but they spread and became more acute after the violent repression unleashed by the Police and paramilitary groups against unarmed university students.
Catholic Church Maintains Call for an End to the Violence
Before Ortega, Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes urged to put a stop the crisis and said that the violence in Masaya, 25 kilometers from the capital, left one dead and several wounded on Saturday.
In Masaya, in the midst of confrontations between police and civilians, an emblematic arts and crafts market was set ablaze.
“I truly urge all those people who, from one side or the other, can influence putting an end to this situation to do so,” said Brenes, archbishop of Managua and president of the Episcopal Conference.
“It is truly sad that once again we are fighting among brothers,” added the cardinal, in clear allusion to the wars that shook Nicaragua during the last century.
“I invite everyone to look for a way to stop this situation (…) to continue praying to the Virgin Mary, who is surely shedding her tears to see how we are destroying each other,” he said.
The army says it will not attack civilians
For its part, the Nicaraguan Army assured that it will not engage in acts of repression against civilians and maintained that “dialogue is the solution” to the present conflict.
“There is not a single soldier involved in acts of repression,” military spokesman Colonel Manuel Guevara told dpa. He added that in this period of social upheaval, the role of the Army has been “to safeguard vital objectives for the functioning of the country.”
The Army will continue to “strictly adhere” to the norms established in the Constitution of the Republic, affirmed Guevara while the violent events occurred in Masaya were taking place.
Alvaro Leiva, director of the Nicaraguan Association for Human Rights (ANPDH, nongovernmental), told channel 15 TV that three policemen were being held by residents who said they had allegedly set fire to the handicraft market.
In the populous indigenous neighborhood of Monimbó, considered a symbol of the insurrectional struggle in Masaya against the dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza (1979), the fighting lasted for hours.
The soldiers used tear gas and rubber bullets to dislodge the residents, who resisted throwing stones and mortars (homemade bombs).
The government portal “El 19” blamed “groups of vandals” and “violent protesters” for the events.
Students say Ortega is Sabotaging a Possible Dialogue
Victor Cuadras, leader of the April 19th University Movement (M19A), pointed to the police and government activists for having “savagely repressed” civilian demonstrators.
Cuadras accused President Ortega of “sabotaging the efforts of dialogue,” despite having sent a message the day before accepting conversations with students, private business associations and civil society groups.
“Ortega sent a message last (Friday) night but simultaneously sent his forces to repress the people, what message does that send?” Cuadras asked.
The leaders of the M19A, along with representatives of the private sector and civil society, announced Friday they are ready to dialogue and urged the Government to immediately invite the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to investigate the deaths that occurred during the protests.
Cardinal Brenes, who will mediate in the dialogue, gave the Government a deadline of noon Monday to extend an invitation to the IACHR.
In announcing the almost immediate response of Ortega, Vice President Rosario Murillo said they want the dialogue although she did not mention the demand for the IACHR presence.
The ANPDH counts 54 deaths in the violence recorded since mid-April, while the authorities only recognize 13 deaths.