The escalating political violence between the Sandinistas and opposition factions took a dangerous turn Sunday afternoon when Sandinista protesters blocked opposition marches in the contested municipalities of Nindirí and Nagarote by allegedly firing shrapnel-laden bombs at their foes.
“They are practically weapons of war. This is what they used during the Sandinista insurrection” that toppled dictator Anastasio Somoza in 1979, said Edmundo Jarquín, leader of the opposition Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS) party.
Jarquín signed a statement along with opposition Liberal Party leader Eduardo Montealegre decrying the Sandinista Front’s alleged use of “contact bombs” that reportedly injured three protesters in Sunday’s march.
But police spokesperson Vilma Reyes said riot police, who were again forced to use tear gas to break up the clashes in Nindirí, have no evidence that the homemade mortar rounds were being laced with shrapnel.
“We have no serious injuries. If they were using those kinds of weapons there would be serious injuries and deaths,” Reyes said.
She added that both sides were shooting the regular homemade mortar rounds.
Jarquín said the Sandinistas, who have routinely blocked opposition marches since last September, are violating the constitutional right to peaceful assembly. Jarquín and Montealegre accused President Daniel Ortega of “dividing and polarizing Nicaraguans.”
Liberal Constitutional Party spokesman Leonel Teller, meanwhile, warned that political violence in Nicaragua has gotten out of hand and “could end in civil war” if things continue the way they are in Nicaragua.
“We know how this started, with electoral fraud on Nov. 9, but we don’t know how it will end,” Teller told The Nica Times in a phone interview last week.
“Anything could happen – we don’t know how far this will go,” he added.
Violent Start to ’09
The first act of political violence this year came Jan. 7, when opposing political bands clashed in the streets of the contested municipality of La Concepción, Masaya, resulting in four people injured from being attacked by Sandinistas.
The following day, in the nearby municipality of Nindirí, suspects reportedly under the influence of alcohol fired mortar rounds at the house of former Liberal Constitutional Party mayoral candidate Lucas Reyes about 2 a.m. The attack was allegedly in response to reports that bullets were fired earlier at the house of Sandinista Mayor-elect Clarisa Rivas.
The same day, in the northern border outpost of Wiwilí, a group of assailants burned the mayor’s office to ground–in the early hours of the morning. Three young men and a woman were arrested Jan. 9.
Police spokeswoman Reyes said the arsonists apparently doused the building with fuel before setting it ablaze around 1 a.m.
When firefighters – stationed four hours away – arrived on the scene, the blaze had already been controlled by local residents, said Jinotega fire chief José Dolores Morales. Morales said there were no victims, but that 80 percent of the building, including municipal documents, were burned to ashes.
The Sandinistas have announced that they will continue to maintain a presence in the streets to prevent the opposition from trying to “destabilize the country.”