HAVANA TIMES – In what appears to be an effort to destroy any sense of peace and tranquility on Ometepe, a majestic island in the Lake of Nicaragua, riot police and paramilitary forces of Daniel Ortega’s government have imposed a virtual state of siege during the last 15 days against anyone suspected of not supporting his regime. Even school children and the elderly are at risk.
After first seeing its previously blossoming tourism industry collapse for the foreseeable future starting six months ago, now its other main traditional economic activity, the harvest and export of plantains is at risk because the Central American truck buyers will think twice of traveling to the island where the paramilitaries have created a state of lawlessness.
Through a statement, the Articulation of Social Movements described the situation that Ometepe Island is going through, calling it a “prison”, after the police, paramilitaries and riot police took over the only road that goes around the island. They also enter communities and homes at will, terrorizing the population, reported 100% Noticias.
The offensive of the government’s armed groups occurred after opponents tried to hold a bicycle protest on October 7th. Street patrols, house searches and/or arbitrary detentions are occurring daily forcing many residents and their children into hiding.
In their statement, the national Articulation of Social Movements expressed that it has evidence that on the foothills of the island’s two volcanoes there are people hiding, some falling sick. The complaint has been lodged with the Office of the High Commissioner of the United Nations, now in Panamá, after they were expelled from Nicaragua by Ortega.
Indigenous community a focus of paramilitary repression
One Ometepe community highly affected by the siege is Urbaite, with a mainly indigenous population just below Concepción volcano. It has been a bastion of protest against the Ortega government.
According to residents, since October 7th the community is the target of an unprecedented police and paramilitary deployment in order to “intimidate and arrest the leaders of the Peasant Movement who organized anti-government protests,” said one opposition member in the area, who preferred anonymity when speaking to El Nuevo Diario newspaper.
Urbaite is located six kilometers from the town of Altagracia. A portion of the community’s population “was at the epicenter of the demonstrations that took place on the Island of Ometepe that included sit-ins in front of the City Hall,” said the protestor.
It is believed that more than 40 people are in hiding in the mountainous areas of the island, including entire families, who out of fear of repression and being captured, left their homes. The paramilitaries are reportedly trying to hunt them down.
Another inhabitant, also on the condition of anonymity, explained that in the midst of uncertainty and fear, people have defied the police persecution and paramilitary troops that roam the streets.
“Here they have conducted house searches without a court order, they have stolen motorcycles, household items and household appliances, claiming that the owners do not have their purchase invoices. [Curiously, this is a similar method used against opposition members and independent journalists in Cuba.] Vehicles that participated in the numerous demonstrations cannot circulate on the island for fear of being confiscated,” said the protestor.
“As part of that persecution and harassment, two policemen -including a woman-, have been injured trying to climb the Concepción volcano to hunt down people in hiding. One person had his fishing boat taken, because they claimed that he was using it to take protesters off the island,” he said.
It was learned that on Saturday, the invaders released three brothers of a poor Urbate family, after severely beatng them.
Tourism entrepreneurs say they have also been further affected by the heavy police deployment and the presence of hooded paramilitaries.
“This has not only generated uncertainty and fear among the residents, but also scared away the few tourists who had stayed and this caused the closure of more business and loss of jobs,” said a hotel owner.
Water transport from the mainland to Ometepe has also been adversely affected by a reduction in passenger demand of up to 75%, reported El Nuevo Diario.
“Before the police and paramilitary deployment arrived, a Costa Rican tour operator was exploring the island to see the possibility of bringing tourists, but seeing the amount of armed ‘authorities’ and people escaping, they retreated. National tourism has also dried up, noted an employee of one of the ferries.