The Pro-Human Rights Association of Nicaragua reported on July 26 that the paramilitary force has killed 97 people since July 11 and is responsible for 595 “kidnappings” and disappearances of citizens since the unrest began in April.
“Today in Nicaragua, there exists an undeclared state of siege,” Alvaro Leiva, executive director of the rights group, said at a news conference.
While Ortega claims he has played no role in the creation of the militias that patrol the streets, television broadcasts from earlier this month show the president embracing hooded gunmen after they broke up an anti-government protest in Masaya, according to a McClatchy report.
”They can detain people on the highway. They can search vehicles, ask for papers, search cellphones,” said Sergio Ramirez, a writer who served as Ortega’s vice president from 1985 to 1990 but is now a critic. “You can turn up tortured on the side of the road or jailed in El Chipote,” a notorious prison.
Lesther Aleman, a 20-year-old university student who took part in early rounds of Catholic Church-mediated negotiations between Ortega and the opposition, told McClatchy that the paramilitary forces are pursuing anyone who supports the opposition.
“People who offer provisions are being hunted. People who go to the marches are being hunted. Those who have lent their homes as safe houses are being hunted. They are on a constant witch hunt,” Aleman said.
While Ortega has commented in recent days that his regime is gaining the upper hand, his opponents say his policies have devastated the nation’s economy.
Reports say 800 of the Nicaragua’s 2,500 restaurants are dark and residents have pulled some US$715 million from banks since the beginning of April.
“People go home at 5 or 6 and they don’t leave at night out of fear,” said Lucy Valenti, president of the Nicaraguan National Chamber of Tourism.