Five days of clashes between protesters and police have left 28 people dead, and Sunday, looting also gripped parts of the country.
The unrest began Wednesday over pension reforms announced by the Nicaraguan Social Security, INSS, with people in support and against taking to the streets.
By Sunday, violence had erupted across the country. Hardest hit were the major cities of Managua and Masaya. The independent media muzzled by the government, journalists assaulted, one allegedly killed during a Facebook Live report and pro-government demonstrators mobilized to counter the protests.
Sunday afternoon, President Daniel Ortega, called an end to the violence with his statement that the pension reforms were now revoked. The President called the workers and employers to the negotiating table “with a fresh slate”.
Today, Monday, the public schools are closed. The Ministry of Education said the closure would be indefinitely while the protests continued.
Neighboring nations like Costa Rica, the European Union, the United States and the Vatican have expressed concern at the situation and called for calm. Pope Francis made a point to include Nicaragua in his Sunday service in St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican.
The Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights director, Vilma Nunez, warned that there was “a lot of misinformation” going around about the level of the violence and the number of deaths. Memes and fake news spread to small towns, some alluding that President Ortega was on the run and had fled the country, Cuba was the chosen destination.
Looters on Sunday hit supermarkets and municipal markets in Managua and Masaya, though reports of looting in smaller centers were hit and miss. In one small town, north of Managua, that had been relatively peaceful since the start of the protests, residents were becoming nervous of learning that a small group of youths was planning to burn the local town offices.
Unconfirmed reports also included doctors treating those wounded in the clashes, saying that police officers were resorting to deadly force. “The wounds suffered by students have been from firearms. Anti-riot police had been using rubber bullets, but not anymore — they are using live rounds,” said one doctor on the social media.
Transnica and Ticabus, with multiple day services between Managua and San Jose, Costa Rica (the latter to Honduras and El Salvador as well) shut down operations, saying they could not guarantee passenger safety on Nicaraguan roads.
“We don’t want him as our president anymore. We don’t want this dictatorship,” a male student who declined to give his name said the aim now was to see Ortega step down from office, he told AFP.
The unexpected and uncontrollable wave of violence in an otherwise relatively tightly controlled country has caused international alarm. For its part, the Ortega government repeated its message, “don’t meddle with our internal affairs”, mainly directly at Costa Rica and the United States, both denouncing the excessive force used by police and others.
The European Union called the violence “unacceptable” and also demanded that news media be permitted to do their work.“Protests need to be conducted peacefully, and pu blic security forces must act with maximum restraint,” EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said in a statement to AFP.
“This has not been seen for years in Nicaragua,” Carlos Tunnermann, a former Nicaraguan ambassador to the United States told AFP.“There is a malaise of the population not only over the reforms but for the way in which the country has been run,” he added.