Nicaragua shops close for strike

STRUGGLING::While most banks, shopping malls and gas stations were closed in the capital, many businesses in nearby neighborhoods remained open for business


Sun, Sep 09, 2018 - Page 5

Many shops, banks and gas stations were closed on Friday in a 24-hour strike in Nicaragua called by the opposition in protest at “political prisoners” and the rule of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega’s government.

In Mercado Oriental, one of the capital’s main trade districts, most of the 20,000 shops and businesses were shut, while few people were out on the streets.

“It’s an excellent strike, this is how we are supporting those who were taken, who are being tortured, who have no business being in jail just for protesting,” 38-year-old shopkeeper Geidy Areas told reporters.

A normally busy road south from Managua to Masaya, where many shops operate, appeared more desolate than normal.

Friday’s strike, the first since July, was called by the opposition Civil Alliance for Justice and Democracy.

More than 300 Nicaraguans have been charged with crimes for taking part in protests, including 85 who are accused of terrorism.

The alliance is demanding dialogue with Ortega’s government after months of turmoil that rights groups have said left more than 300 people dead.

In Managua, most banks, gas stations, shopping malls and book shops were closed, but there were more buses and public transport vehicles running than during strikes in June and July.

In an important economic zone north of Managua, many hardware stores, shops and cafes remained open.

“People have to keep struggling, because they’ve got bank debts and need to feed their children,” said food vendor Johana Blandon, who works in a busy free-trade zone to the east of Managua.

Government offices were operating as normal.

Nicaragua’s descent into chaos was triggered on April 18, when relatively small protests against now-scrapped social security reforms were met with a government crackdown, backed by armed paramilitaries.

Catholic Church-brokered peace talks broke down in June after Ortega rejected a key opposition demand to step down and move forward presidential elections.

Last week, Ortega expelled a UN human rights mission after it published a report criticizing the “climate of fear” in the Central American country, one of the poorest in the region.

The UN denounced a wide range of serious violations, including the disproportionate use of force by police, which in some cases resulted in extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention and torture.

Ortega, a former guerrilla leader who has been in power for the past 11 years, denied the claims and described the UN as “an instrument of the policies of terror, lies and infamy.”

The US condemned what it called the “arbitrary detention” of six prominent student members of the National Dialogue movement.

“These students are the latest example of the thousands of citizens who are peacefully and democratically protesting government actions, only to be harassed, detained, disappeared or even killed,” the US Department of State said in a statement, adding that five of the students had since been released.

“We will continue to stand by the people of Nicaragua and hold the Ortega government to account for its repression and violence,” it said.