Nicaraguan police and pro-government paramilitaries moved to reassert control over the city of Masaya by force Tuesday. The city that had declared a breakaway government the day before, prompting clashes with protesters, resulting in the death of at least six people, according to human rights workers.
That brought the death toll in two months of nationwide violence to 186.
Bursts of gunfire resounded in three neighborhoods, including the main entrance to the city, where government forces have gained control, the head of the Nicaraguan Human Rights Association Alvaro Leiva said.
Masked gunmen in civilian clothes and riot police descended on the city of Masaya. Video from the scene showed protesters shielding themselves behind street barricades amid gunfire.
As night fell, people in Masaya set up barricades to protect against another government assault. Trucks carrying armed men rumbled through the streets.
Earlier, Leiva said residents were resisting “within the scope of their possibilities” but were under “disproportionate” attack by the security forces.
Masaya, about 24 kilometers south of the capital, Managua, was a bastion of support for Daniel Ortega and his Sandinista rebels, who overthrew the dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza in 1979.
A onetime leftist guerrilla, Ortega led the country from 1979 to 1990 and then returned to the presidency in 2007. Ortega and his wife, Rosario Murillo, who was elected vice-president in 2016, have held near-total power for years.
For the past few weeks, Masaya has been controlled by protesters opposed to President Daniel Ortega, protest leaders say they don’t recognize the Ortega’s government, forming a five-member “junta of national salvation” to administer Masaya. City hall is abandoned.
On Tuesday, pro-government forces used tractors and tow trucks to clear barricades from the main road leading to Masaya.
The auxiliary bishop of Managua, Silvio Baez, appealed to the government to back off. “Stop the attack on Masaya. Respect the life of the population,” he tweeted.
On Monday, leaders of student protesters and civil society groups in Managua said they were ending negotiations, the National Dialogue sponsored by the Episcopal Conference of Nicaragua, with Ortega.
“Masaya is on strike, there is no presence of the central government, nor of the municipal government, and it’s logical that facing so much repression and death, the population does not feel represented,” said Alvaro Leiva, director of the Nicaraguan Association for the Defense of Human Rights.
Among the dead in Masaya on Monday is Marcelo Mayorga López, who was shot in the head and left in the middle of the street. “In a cart I took him (the body),” his wife, Auxiliadora Cardoze, told El Nuevo Diario.
“A policeman who was standing next to me laughed,” said Auxiliadora Cardoze. “Help me, help me get him out …” the woman shouted at the protesters, who could not help because of the presence of police. A video of her, screaming desperate to be allowed to recover the body of her husband, went viral on Tuesday.
In the end, said Cardoze, four policemen (two women and two men) helped her to lift the body onto a cart, but not the officer who laughed at her misfortune. When all this was happening, gun shots and mortar fire were being heard.