The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) issued its preliminary report (available in Spanish and English), following its investigation May 17-21, that 76 people were killed during protests that began in April and in demonstrations since. Drawing on hundreds of interviews, they documented that the government of Nicaragua, especially the anti-riot police, had acted with disproportionate and unnecessary force.
The IACHR is part of the hemispheric human rights system, and as such its mandate is to monitor and make recommendations concerning violations of human rights by state actors. The IACHR’s investigation is not, therefore, telling the whole story concerning violence in the country.
One of the weaknesses of this report, and one issued by Amnesty on Tuesday, May 29, is that there is little effort to contextualize the state response with documentation concerning violence perpetrated by opposition groups, who have burned government facilities, attacked demonstrations, fired guns and homemade mortars at police, blockaded roads throughout the country, and so on. So, while most of the protest activity appears peaceful, there is also violence coming from some of the government opponents.
Against this background, the National Dialogue entered its fourth session on May 23rd with a discussion on proposals from a coalition of opposition groups called the “Civic Alliance for Justice and Democracy.” The proposed approach called for substantive systemic changes, including:
- Moving up the general, regional and municipal elections,
- Non re-election for the president,
- Reduction of the number of deputies of the National Assembly
- Application of recommendations of the IACHR.
- Electing a new Supreme Electoral Council
- Separating Social Security from the Government (which I read as privatizing these services, a core demand of COSEP).
- Allowing the Police and the Army to remain subject to civil authority (which they already are, so it's not clear what specific institutional remedy is sought here).
The government indicated a willingness to discuss the proposals, which are clearly designed to challenge the dominant role of the Sandinista party in all branches of the government, on the condition that the blockades on major highways be lifted. The opposition coalition declared that the blockades would remain. In their view, the blockades are applying the only meaningful pressure on the government to negotiate.
The result was a stalemate, and the National Dialogue was suspended on May 24.
The blockades of all major highways in Nicaragua has had an enormous impact on commerce. Though the blockades are cleared periodically to allow some vehicles through, the delivery of goods and the ability of people to get around has been severely impacted. As the blockades continue, they are predictably leading to skirmishes between the blockaders and others; one person was killed at a blockade near Leon last Wednesday.
Following the suspension of the National Dialogue, tensions increased further. In Leon and Chinandega protesters and counter-protesters fought in several neighborhoods. Manuel de Jesús Chávez, a young man caught in the crossfire, was killed with a bullet to the head. Another 76 people were injured, some remain in critical condition.
On Wednesday, May 30, Mothers Day in Nicaragua, the Madres de Abril, mothers of students and others killed in the April protests, held a march in Managua with thousands of supporters. Going on at the same time was a Sandinista rally, where Daniel Ortega spoke, calling for peace. As the rally ended, and people began leaving, the two marches came into contact. Conflict erupted, and spiraled quickly. Two Sandinista youth were among the first killed. In all, 16 people died, 80 more were injured. While most reports speak of an "attack on" the Mothers Day march, it seems things were a bit more complicated. An account from Giorgio Trucchi, in Managua:
[t]he same 'peaceful protesters' again attack the pro-government Nueva Radio Ya, burn, loot and destroy what was left of it. Then they go to the Caja Rural Nacional (Caruna), a cooperative that for years has managed ALBA funds for social projects that have benefited thousands of families. They attack the facilities and burn everything, including parked vehicles.
And so, the bloodshed continues. While everyone is pointing a finger at the government, it is important to point out that since the demonstrations were launched in April, the only groups that have actually benefited from the violence are in the political opposition. Indeed, the opposition strategy seems to be to make the country ungovernable, through roadblocks and attacks on government facilities, until the current administration agrees to a process that will lead to Ortega’s departure.
It is hard to imagine the government agreeing to this. But as the days wear on, the government's position is weakened by the conflict in the streets - and the perception that it is the government or allied forces responsible for the majority of it. In the meantime, government opponents have little reason to go back to the table.
Like Manuel de Jesús Chávez, most of the country is left caught in the crossfire.
Following the deaths during the Mother’s Day March, the National Dialogue, scheduled to restart on May 31, was suspended again by the Bishops acting as mediators.