MANAGUA – The streets of Nicaragua’s capital once again became an unruly mob scene Thursday as roving bands of masked Sandinista youth, party fanatics and state workers took to the streets to protest what they claim is “U.S. interventionism” in their country’s internal political affairs.
A group of several hundred Sandinistas protested aggressively outside the U.S. Embassy, launching mortars at the embassy building and spray painting anti-U.S. and pro-Sandinista graffiti on embassy property. Vandals, many of whom were bussed in for the protest, broke embassy security cameras, exterior lighting and attempted to destroy the signage for U.S. Consular Services.
Nicaraguan police assigned to protect the embassy stood by watching and didn’t intervene, even when protesters spray painted the embassy walls next to where they were leaning.
In other parts of the capital, streets were blocked by similar protesters in several points in the city, prompting the United Nations to issue a warning to its employees to avoid affected areas.
“Death to the yanquis! Death to the empire!” screamed one Sandinista Youth leader into a microphone outside the U.S. Embassy. Others yelled revolutionary slogans once used against the Somoza dictatorship in the 1970s.
Protesters –many of whom were masked and some wielding sticks, bats or rocks – demanded the ouster of U.S. Ambassador Robert Callahan in response to a speech he gave Oct. 28 to the Nicaraguan-American Chamber of Commerce (AMCHAM), in which he reiterated the U.S. government’s concerns over the state of democracy in Nicaragua (http://www.ticotimes.net/dailyarchive/2009_10/1026092.cfm)
In his speech to the business chamber Wednesday afternoon, Callahan questioned the controversial ruling by Sandinista magistrates in the Supreme Court to overturn a constitutional ban on consecutive reelection and clear the way for President Daniel Ortega to run again in 2011 (NT, Oct. 30).
“From our point of view, the Supreme Court acted improperly and with unusual speed, in secret, with the participation judges from only one political movement and without any public debate or discussion,” Callahan said. “We think that an issue of such importance and concern for the future of Nicaragua’s democracy deserves due deliberation and analysis.”
The Sandinistas responded furiously. “That gringo can’t tell us what to do,” said Andres Castillo, one of the Sandinista protesters outside the embassy Thursday afternoon.
“Let Nicaragua resolve Nicaragua’s problems,” said another protester, Silvia Reyes. “This is the restitution of the rights of the people,” she said of Ortega’s reelection, repeating the party line verbatim.
A U.S. Embassy spokesman declined to comment on the violence yesterday. But AMCHAM president Roger Arteaga told The Nica Times that the ambassador had called him to tell him what had happened and warn him that AMCHAM might also be targeted for similar vandalism.
AMCHAM responded by sending its staff home for the day and talking with police. Arteaga, meanwhile, lamented the violence and the increasingly instability of Nicaragua.
“Attacking the U.S. Embassy is not going to resolve the problems of Nicaragua,” he said. “When ideas run out, the only thing left is force. And this government has run out of ideas.”