Forces loyal to Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega deepened their crackdown on the country’s opposition on Wednesday, appearing to take full control of a rebel stronghold in the city of Masaya. A day earlier, heavily armed police and paramilitary fighters stormed the neighborhood of Monimbó, killing at least three people and taking 40 others into custody, according to a human rights group.
“In recent days the widespread attacks against the civilian population have intensified and grown in terms of scale and coordination, with aggressors carrying lethal weapons deployed to cities like Masaya that have come to symbolize the resistance to President Ortega’s merciless regime,” Erika Guevara-Rosas, the Americas director for Amnesty International, said in a Wednesday statement.
“This is a massacre in Monimbó,” high school teacher Álvaro Gómez said to the Wall Street Journal. “They’ve killed a bunch of youths who are resisting with homemade mortars, bombs and their anger.”
The violence there brings the death toll in Nicaragua to around 300 people — mostly civilians — since mid-April, when an unpopular pension-reform proposal sparked protests against the Ortega government. Those demonstrations escalated in the weeks that followed, with protesters setting up barricades in cities across the country.
They have been met with bloody and ruthless repression. A mass demonstration on May 30 in the capital, Managua, saw a dozen protesters gunned down by security forces. Over the weekend, pro-government militias cleared out protesting university students in the capital, driving them from their campus and forcing about 200 students to take shelter in a Catholic church.
My colleague Joshua Parlow was among them, pinned down by gunfire and trapped for about 16 hours in the church’s compound, where two of the wounded died from their injuries. The paramilitaries had blocked ambulance access, and it required the intervention of senior church officials and the U.S. State Department to break the impasse and allow the eventual evacuation of the students.