Nicaragua’s President Daniel Ortega and accompanied by his wife, vice-president, Rosario Murillo, on Wednesday presided over the opening of a national dialogue to resolve recent unrest and deadly protests in the country.
In the televised debate designed to ease weeks of unrest, Ortega and opposition groups traded angry accusations.
In typical Ortega oration, he blamed criminals and gang members had infiltrated opposition protest rallies but student activists branded him “a murderer”.
The dialogue between the government, the private sector, opposition groups and non-governmental organizations, being mediated by Nicaragua’s Episcopal Conference (CEN), was held at an archdiocese in Managua.
President Ortega said the aim of the talks was to restore peace and to “get past this tragic moment”. But he was interrupted by students who called for “an end to the repression”.
“We have come to demand you order the immediate halt of the attacks. You’re the boss of the paramilitaries, of the troops, of the mobs backing the government,” said Lester Aleman, a leader of the student coalition.
The call for Ortega continue for him to as head of the national police to give the order to stop the police violence against the protesters. Ortega was pressured until finally he said, “it is done, the order has already been given” after conferring with those surrounding him.
Ortega reiterated that deaths had happened “on all sides”, not just among the protesters, adding that police now had orders to not open fire. “They (protesters) are not little angels,” repeated several times as he was interrupted.
For her part, Rosario Murillo, describing herself as the “mother of Nicaragua”, called for respect, “respect for all Nicaraguans” and love for the country.
Union leaders at the meeting called for an interim government to take over until fresh election could be called. Protesters shouted anti-Ortega slogans as the president left at the end of the day and chanted: “The people, united, will never be defeated.”
Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes, the archbishop of Managua, urged both sides to come together to break the cycle of violence.
Ortega told the opening session that the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) was invited “to accompany” the dialogue and to send representatives to investigate the violence and allegations of political prisoners or disappeared.
Nicaragua has seen violent protests since April 18, after the government announced changes to the social security system. Those changes have since been revoked, but demonstrations have continued.
University students represented at the dialogue table say 68 people have been killed in clashes with security forces, some 500 people have been injured, and a large number have been arrested.
The students read out the name of each and every person that has died in the clashes.
The ‘dialogue’ will resume on Friday, May 19.