Nicaragua´s increasingly explosive civil unrest was unleashed on the government Tuesday, as a group of public university students attacked the National Assembly – the only branch of government not controlled by President Daniel Ortega – shattering several windows with homemade mortar explosives fired from the street.
Lawmakers from the various political parties appeared visibly rattled as a mortar explosion shattered several skylights overhead in the main chamber of parliament, showering shards of glass upon their heads.
“Luckily the big pieces of glass fell where there weren´t any people, because it could have killed someone,” opposition lawmaker and National Assembly Secretary Wilfredo Navarro told The Nica Times. “Each day these mortars are getting stronger and stronger with a longer range – and we all know it´s the Sandinistas who are sponsoring this.”
Despite being classified as a weapon in Nicaragua´s Law of Arms, the Sandinistas have repeatedly defended the use of mortars as a “popular form of expression.” The National Police, whose questionable role appears increasingly ornamental, have yet to confiscate any weapons or arrest anyone for firing the mortars in more than a year of nearly continuous Sandinista protests.
The student protest was against a recently passed law creating a new National Council of Evaluation and Accreditation (CNEA), which students fear will divert part of their constitutionally mandated 6 percent of budget spending for 10 public universities.
Lawmakers have admitted that the law was “a mistake” and have committed to support a presidential veto of the law expected this week.
Meanwhile, other masked “students” blocked streets in downtown Managua Tuesday, firing mortars and stopping cars to demand drivers show them identification, according to reports on Chanel 10 TV. Police were nowhere to be seen.
The Sandinistas are calling on their supporters from across the country to march on Managua on Saturday to celebrate their contentious “victory” in the 2008 municipal elections. In clear defiance of a police permit that allows the opposition to march on the same day, the Sandinistas have called for 100,000 Ortega supporters to march along the opposition´s previously established protest route, setting the stage for violent clashes between the two groups.
Human rights activists are calling the Sandinistas counter-march an “irresponsible” provocation that some fear could lead to a major bout of political violence on par or worse than the riots following last year´s allegedly fraudulent municipal elections.
Government critics say Tuesday´s student attack against the National Assembly and another Sandinista Youth demonstration planned for Friday are part of a greater Orteguista terror campaign to deter any form of protest by the opposition majority.
“The Sandinistas are trying to create chaos and crisis,” said lawmaker Navarro. “This is all part of their strategy to scare people so they won´t take to the streets during the protest march on Nov. 21.”
See the Nov. 20 print or digital edition of The Nica Times for more on this story.