Police investigate violent protests in northern Nicaragua

July 25, 2008

NICARAGUA A special investigative police commission is looking into violent protests at the offices of a microfinance firm in northern Nicaragua that left five police injured and one civilian blinded in one eye with a rubber bullet.

The protests turned violent after President Daniel Ortega told indebted protesters to march on bank offices earlier this month in a speech in the northern farming town of Jalapa.

Police Chief Aminta Granera told reporters Tuesday that when four police arrived to secure the entrance of the microfinance firm Fundenuse in Ocotal, Nuevo Segovia, so that workers could enter and exit safely, the officers were confronted by protesters wielding machetes, shovels, and Molotov cocktails.

“We have every constitutional right to protest, to make our demands, but those protests can never violate the rights of others,” Granera said.

Fundenuse is one of several microfinance firms that have closed their doors for more than a week since protesters took to their offices, and in some cases threatening employees, according to a statement from the Nicaraguan Association of Microfinanciers (ASOMIF).

Police and microcredit agencies say a group of farmers called the Movement of Producers of the North led the protests that turned violent this week, even though the group had made recent agreements with the microcredit agencies to settle disagreements over their debts.

“We express our surprise and worry for declarations made by the president of the republic on July 12 in Jalapa, calling for a renegotiation with microfinanciers, even though we´ve already agreed to a debt restructuring agreement with the members of the movement, with (Sandinista) legislators as witnesses,” ASOMIF said in a statement.

The statement said the microfinanciers lament that Ortega “hadn´t been informed” of the agreement. ASOMIF added that its credits support some 350,000 families, and that without their small credits supporting small producers, “social instability and unemployment would be greater still.” Movement members told local press they are demanding restructured debt with lower interest rates.

Ortega has yet to comment on the violent protests.

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