MANAGUA – Amid calls for peace and concerns of violence, as many as 100,000 Nicaraguans from pro and anti-government political factions are expected to march on Managua Saturday, while National Police will shutdown much of the capital to try to keep the two groups separate and maintain some semblance of order.
Civil society, the private sector and the various opposition political parties united Thursday to reaffirm their commitment to march “against re-election, against electoral fraud, against disrespect to the constitution, against hunger and unemployment, and against the dictatorial actions of the government of Daniel Ortega.”
The Sandinistas, meanwhile, have called a countermarch of 100,000 government supporters – including state employees from across the country – to allegedly “celebrate” last year´s municipal election results and other “Sandinista victories.” Some Sandinista supporters have gone so far as to suggest Saturday´s event will be as monumental as the July 19, 1979 celebration of the revolutionary victory over the government of Anastasio Somoza.
Following the Sandinistas´ call to march along the same route as civil society, the National Police convinced the anti-government protest march to change its route, which it did in exchange for promises of police protection.
The National Police have come under increased criticism for their failure to ensure people´s constitutional right to protest; past demonstrations against the government have fallen under repeated attack by Sandinista mobs, none of whom have been arrested after more than 30 incidents of attack in the past year.
President Ortega gave a national address Nov. 18, issuing a characteristically confusing message filled with calls for peace tinged with threats of aggression. Ortega insisted that freedom of expression exists in Nicaragua and that everyone has the right to march peacefully, “without converting Managua into a battlefield, into a theater of war.”
But Ortega also accused the opposition of “only wanting liberty (of expression) for them.” Referring to the incident several weeks ago, where several anti-Sandinista youth protested the controversial re-election decision by egging Sandinista magistrate Francisco Rosales, Ortega said: “They think they have the right to throw eggs at the magistrate … that´s fine, that´s their right! But why are they going to get annoyed if they get eggs thrown at them?”
To minimize possible bouts of violence, police are banning people from carrying firearms, ammunition and flammable liquids, and are imposing a liquor ban in the city.
The ban, however, doesn´t prohibit the use of homemade mortars, which the Sandinistas have been using with increasing frequency and firepower to attack the opposition.
Education Minister Miguel de Castillo Thursday defended the use of mortars in protests, saying “they are part of the culture,” even though there is a law against their use.
“It´s difficult to apply the law because the phenomenon of (mortar use) is complex,” de Castillo told The Nica Times, when asked if he thought the law should be applied. “You´d basically have to put a police officer behind every student and protester.”
The U.S. Embassy, meanwhile, released an alert to all its citizens traveling to and around Nicaragua tomorrow to “maintain a high level of security awareness and to avoid large crowds due to the potential for violence.”
U.S. citizens are also urged to “not drive through barricades encountered on the street, to keep windows up and doors locked in their vehicles, and to carry a cell phone at all times.”
The warning notes, “Activities observed during past demonstrations include, but are not limited to the use of tear gas, rubber bullets, firing of improvised projectile launchers ( morteros ), rock-throwing, tire burning, road blocks, bus/vehicle burning, and other types of physical violence between law enforcement and protestors or between rival political factions.”
Nicaragua´s Catholic Bishops Council is also calling for peace. In a strongly worded communiqué released Nov. 18, the bishops expressed concern about Nicaragua´s “growing moral deterioration … the predominance of force over reason, disrespect and manipulation of people, the threat to fundamental rights such as free expression and mobilization” and a general “social decomposition.”