A crackdown on anti-establishment protesters carried out by the communist government of Sandinista President Daniel Ortega and his supporters in Nicaragua over the last two months has left nearly 180 people dead and imprisoned almost 2,000.
The clashes between protesters and armed groups loyal to Ortega, including law enforcement officers and paramilitary troops, have also left an estimated 500 others injured, the Latin American Herald Tribune (LAHT) reports.
Ortega, the leader of the leftist Nicaraguan revolutionary movement known as the Sandinistas, is targeting the very same people he claimed to have liberated from alleged oppression at the hands of U.S.-backed President Anastasio Somoza in the late 1970s.
The Nicaraguan city of Masaya, known as the birthplace of the Sandinista Revolution, was among the first to rise against the communist president after pro-Ortega militiamen looted businesses and terrorized locals “ISIS-style” to suppress protesters, rebel leader Cristhian Fajardo declared Monday, according to the LAHT.
ISIS refers to the Islamic terrorist group the Islamic State (ISIL) that has wreaked havoc in various regions across the world, particularly in the Middle East.
“Masaya, the birthplace of the Sandinista Revolution of the late 1970s, has become a rebel stronghold as residents prepare to form a commission for self-government following the ouster of authorities friendly to President Daniel Ortega’s administration, rebels told reporters, the Herald Tribune notes.
The Ortega government, which denies any wrongdoing, has launched a bloody offensive to regain control of Masaya, BBC reports.
According to the Associated Press (AP), the communist regime has invited international organizations to travel to Nicaragua to investigate political violence.
“Wednesday’s announcement appears to solve an impasse that halted negotiations between President Daniel Ortega’s government and its opponents,” AP reports, referring to the decision to allow groups to document the carnage in Nicaragua. “Talks broke down after the government did not provide proof that international observers would be allowed to enter.”
The move to allow international organizations to visit Nicaragua came after violence flared up on Tuesday following the suspension of peace talks to end the deadly protests, Reuters notes.
Since the start of the popular uprising against Ortega in April, the communist government has reportedly imprisoned an estimated 2,000 people in the infamous El Chipote prison in the Nicaraguan capital, the Agence France-Presse (AFP) news agency reveals.
AFP describes the facility as “a symbol of Somoza-era torture,” adding, “The institution’s reputation for brutality is as deeply entrenched as its underground cells, which reach far beneath a rugged hill in the city’s center.”
Referring to her son Wilder Octavio Garcia Saldana, an anonymous mother who has joined dozens of people protesting the sudden extrajudicial imprisonment of their relatives and friends, told AFP, ”The only ‘crime’ I think my son has committed is to march.”
“He raised the flag of Nicaragua, the patriotic symbol of our country,” she told AFP. “We want liberty.”
In a statement issued Wednesday, the Nicaraguan American Center for Democracy, a U.S.-based non-profit, said the ongoing crackdown is the “bloodiest on record for Nicaragua during times of peace.”
According to human rights groups, the Ortega government has launched a campaign of terror against those who dare to oppose him.
AFP learned from Braulio Abarca, a lawyer at the influential Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (CENIDH), that in just one day the agency received dozens of cases denouncing “illegal detentions with beatings; with cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment, and with clear signs of torture perpetrated by the National Police.”
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) reportedly documented “a pattern of massive and arbitrary arrests” in the early days of the anti-Ortega protests.
According to the U.S.-based non-profit, IACHR “witnessed firsthand the government’s brutality against unarmed civilians as they visited the country to investigate the crimes against humanity” in mid-May. “Their preliminary findings after a short visit to Nicaragua revealed and condemned the murder of 76+ people, as well as the 900+ who were wounded and the many other tortured, imprisoned, and/or missing.”
Citing the commission, AFP reports that prisoners held by the communist regime were stripped of their belongings and deprived of food and water with some “shaved, handcuffed with rigor and subjected to asphyxiating blows.”
Gonzalo Carrion, the legal director of CENIDH who survived the Sandinistas uprising in the late 70s, described the current situation as “a state of terror.”
Protests reportedly began to rage in the wake of the Ortega government’s April 18 implementation of social reforms that raised taxes and decreased benefits.
“Nicaragua has been convulsed by unrest since Ortega in April proposed cutting pension benefits to cover a social security shortfall. The plan, later dropped, triggered demonstrations that turned fatal and led to demands for his resignation,” Reuters explains.
“April 18th marks a turning point for Nicaraguan history, when peaceful student-led protests met government forces ready to kidnap, torture, and assassinate its own citizens for expressing their discontent with the president’s corruption and abuse of power,” the Nicaraguan American Center for Democracy added.
Since then, between 174 people and 200 people have been killed in clashes between pro-Ortega forces and protestors, various news outlets report.
Among the fatalities are 13 from the birthplace of the Sandinista Revolution, the city of Masaya, the Herald Tribune acknowledges.