Strike called across Nicaragua

The Phnom Penh Post - - WORLD - Maggy Don­ald­son

NICARAGUA’S top civic al­liance called on Tues­day for a na­tion­wide 24-hour strike to protest “ex­treme con­di­tions” un­der Pres­i­dent Daniel Ortega, who has yet to de­cide on re­viv­ing talks over the cri­sis that has left at least 148 dead.

The day-long strike was set to be­gin on Thurs­day at noon (1800 GMT) “in sol­i­dar­ity with the vic­tims” of the two months of un­rest, which has seen bru­tal clashes be­tween anti-gov­ern­ment ac­tivists and se­cu­rity forces loyal to Ortega.

“This is a na­tional and peace­ful civil strike that cov­ers the en­tire coun­try and all eco­nomic ac­tiv­i­ties, ex­cept those re­lated to the preser­va­tion of life and the cov­er­age of ba­sic ser­vices for the pop­u­la­tion,” an­nounced the Na­tional Al­liance for Jus­tice and Democ­racy, a key player in the now stalled cri­sis talks.

The coali­tion also de­manded an “im­me­di­ate” de­ci­sion from Ortega on the prospect of re­viv­ing ne­go­ti­a­tions me­di­ated by Nicaragua’s in­flu­en­tial Catholic bish­ops.

The coun­try has not heard from its left­ist leader since last week, when he met with top clergy mem­bers, who pre­sented him with a plan to ex­pe­dite the poll and in­sti­tute elec­toral and con­sti­tu­tional re­forms – key ac­tivist de­mands.

“Di­a­logue is the way to re­view the po­lit­i­cal sys­tem of Nicaragua from its root to achieve an au­then­tic democ­racy and jus­tice,” the civic al­liance said.

The an­nounce­ment comes af­ter the coun­try un­der­went a sharp es­ca­la­tion in vi­o­lence in re­cent days, as po­lice and pro- gov­ern­ment paramil­i­taries at­tacked ac­tivists wield­ing sling­shots and home­made mor­tars in an at­tempt to tram­ple the up­ris­ing against Ortega.

The din of ri­fle blasts and mor­tar ex­plo­sions echoed overnight and into the morn­ing through­out the streets of Managua, even af­ter gov­ern­ment se­cu­rity forces force­fully cleared the bar­ri­cades.

Eco­nomic up­heaval

Ac­tivists have erected the block­ades on over two thirds of the coun­try’s roads in a bid to fend off anti-riot forces and pres­sure Ortega into di­a­logue.

But the makeshift road­blocks also have wreaked eco­nomic havoc: even in the un­likely sce­nario that the gov­ern­ment “ac­cepts an early ne­go­ti­ated exit” by the end of July, the Nicaraguan Foundation for Eco­nomic and So­cial De­vel­op­ment (Fu­nides) es­ti­mates the coun­try would post losses of $404 mil­lion and bleed 20,000 jobs.

As­sum­ing Ortega con­tin­ues de­ter­mined to stay, Fu­nides an­tic­i­pates Nicaragua would lose $916 mil­lion in added value and 150,000 jobs by De­cem­ber.

The protests that be­gan April 18 over con­tro­ver­sial pen­sion re­forms have ex­ploded into a mass ef­fort to pres­sure the pres­i­dent’s exit.

At least 148 peo­ple have died in clashes with se­cu­rity forces and armed gangs loyal to Ortega, ac­cord­ing to the Nicara- guan Cen­ter for Hu­man Rights (CENIDH), which also said well over 1,000 had been in­jured.

Nicaraguan politi­cian Ed­mundo Jar­quin, who in the past had formed po­lit­i­cal coali­tions with Ortega, called it “fore­see­able” that the leader would refuse cer­tain “con­ces­sions in terms of jus­tice and democrati­sa­tion” from the bish­ops.

Then “it will only be pos­si­ble for Ortega to re­sign,” he wrote in an anal­y­sis of the cri­sis, “and all the forces within Nicaragua – San­din­istas and non-San­din­istas, in­sti­tu­tional and non­in­sti­tu­tional – must con­verge, and seek to end the mas­sacre.”

But some Nicaraguans appear ready to take up arms.

“For me, what is hap­pen­ing is a stag­gered civil war,” said a student leader known as “El Gato” who is among the hun­dreds who have oc­cu­pied Managua univer­sity grounds in protest for more than a month.

“Most of us don’t want to see it like that, but per­son­ally I think there is go­ing to have to be a mo­ment in this story when we’re go­ing to have to arm our­selves to be on the same level as them,” he said.

“We can­not con­tinue to lose broth­ers’ lives.”

The sit­u­a­tion is par­tic­u­larly acute in Ortega’s former strong­hold Masaya, a city of some 100,000 peo­ple just south­east of Managua.

The de­part­ment of the same name birthed the coun­try’s famed rebel Au­gusto Sandino, who launched a pop­u­lar up­ris­ing against US mil­i­tary oc­cu­pa­tion in the 1920s and 30s. He in turn in­spired Ortega’s guer­rilla army – the San­din­istas, to­day the name of Ortega’s party – which over­threw dic­ta­tor Anas­ta­sio So­moza in the 1970s.

But ac­tivists across the coun­try are turn­ing on Ortega in a sim­i­lar fash­ion, in a mass move­ment that kicked off with strong univer­sity student lead­er­ship.

El Gato says be­fore the protests, Nicaragua was tee­ter­ing at a break­ing point.

“For many years, I have been ob­serv­ing and keep­ing silent for fear of reprisals,” the 25-yearold said. “I be­lieve that this fight is just – we are for­ti­fied in here to pres­sure the gov­ern­ment and speak out against what it’s been do­ing against Nicaraguans.”

Asked how long he would stay, the student’s eyes nar­rowed be­neath the ban­dana mask­ing the rest of his face: “As long as it takes.”

EZEQUIEL BE­CERRA/AFP

Nicaraguan liv­ing in Costa Rica demon­strate in San Jose on Tues­day, in sol­i­dar­ity with those ar­rested and killed in the re­cent protests against Pres­i­dent Daniel Ortega.

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