‘They are murderers’: Nicaragua buries victims of latest violence

Embattled President Daniel Ortega denies repressing protesters and called recent unrest a “conspiracy” by the opposition aimed at “terrorising” people

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 02 June, 2018, 1:56pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 02 June, 2018, 7:49pm

Mourning families held funerals across Nicaragua on Friday for 16 people killed in one of the bloodiest days of protest in the country, where weeks of anti-government demonstrations have left more than 100 dead.

Anguished relatives sobbed over the caskets of their loved ones at a series of funerals in the capital Managua, shocked over the brutal repression of what was a peaceful Mother’s Day march on Wednesday.

Hundreds of people packed into a church in Managua for the funeral of 14-year-old high school student Orlando Cordoba.

He was hit by a bullet while marching in a protest against President Daniel Ortega’s government at the Central American University.

The teenager’s body was draped with a blue-and-white scarf bearing the legend “Free Nicaragua.”

“Lord give me peace in my heart … I never expected this,” said his weeping mother, Yadira Cordoba, as she clung to his coffin while it was being closed.

Policeman Armando Reyes asked fellow officers to leave the funeral of his son Francisco Reyes, 34, who was shot in the head during Wednesday’s march.

“It wasn’t a dog that died,” he said.

The dead man’s mother, Guillermina Zapata, said: “I am very hurt. I never imagined they would take my son’s life. They murdered him without a problem, they are murderers.”

Similar emotional scenes were repeated at other funerals as victims were laid to rest after what protest umbrella group Civic Alliance described as the “worst massacre” since the demonstrations started on April 18.

Ortega, 72, has dominated Nicaraguan politics since leading the Sandinista revolution that ousted dictator Anastasio Somoza in 1979.

He took over the country as head of a ruling junta and then president until 1990, then returned to power in 2007 – and looks determined to stay there, despite the protests and the devastating loss of his once-solid support from the business elite.

The seven-week-old protests began over a much-hated pension reform and ballooned into a threat to Ortega’s rule.

The embattled president denies repressing them, and called Wednesday’s unrest a “conspiracy” by the opposition aimed at “terrorising” the people.

He has rejected calls to step down and the Catholic Church, which has tried to mediate the conflict, has refused to resume the talks as long as government “repression” continues.

Casting further shadows over the talks, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights warned that Silvio Jose Baez, the auxiliary bishop of Managua who was mediating them, had received “death threats” and that his life was in danger, in a statement released in Washington.

The Organisation of American States meanwhile said Ortega’s government had agreed to a timeline for proposing electoral reforms by the end of the year.

However, the announcement is unlikely to placate the opposition, which is calling for the immediate overhaul of a system it says has been hijacked by the president.

The protests resumed on Friday, but in far smaller numbers.

Many of the protesters at the Metrocentro plaza in Managua – the focal point of the demonstrations – said people were too afraid to come out after Wednesday’s crackdown.

“It’s a cruel form of repression,” said one demonstrator, referring to Wednesday’s killings. “There were babies there, one or two years old, and they just opened fire. It was a horrible massacre. And yes, we’re scared. But it’s even scarier to do nothing,” said one protester who asked to remain anonymous for her safety.

Waving flags and signs with messages such as “Down with the dictatorship!” the protesters rallied along some of the capital’s central arteries as passing vehicles honked in support.

Jose Zamora, 36, a communications student, said Wednesday’s crackdown showed Ortega was scared.

“Sources say there were about 3,000 people there and he gave the order to repress them,” he said. “He’s afraid of the people.”