MANAGUA, Nicaragua – Several bouts of Sandinista-authored violence Saturday afternoon tainted an otherwise peaceful day of civic protest. Following a peaceful opposition march by more than 100,000 Nicaraguans, Sandinista sympathizers attacked several opposition groups returning home from the march.
A band of Sandinistas heading to the government´s counter march Saturday afternoon attacked the headquarters of the opposition Liberal Constitutional Party (PLC) with mortars, breaking windows and causing damage to the building. Another group of Sandinistas fired mortars at the Channel 2 television station, while others attacked a caravan of Liberals returning home from their march.
The Sandinista violence, although limited in scope, occurred despite the governing party´s efforts to hold a peaceful demonstration of “happiness and celebr ation.” By the time President Daniel Ortega took the stage in downtown Managua at 5 p.m. – with religious music playing and a giant sign advertising his government as Christian – more than 100,000 state employees and government supporters were in the street, many drinking beers despite an alleged liquor ban.
Yet despite using the government´s resources to mobilize its people and obliging state workers to attend, the Sandinistas weren´t able to draw a much larger crowd than the opposition.
Chanting “democracy yes, dictatorship no,” a floodtide of civil society and opposition political parties marched on the streets of Managua Saturday morning to show their repudiation of the government of President Daniel Ortega.
Security provided by some 7,000 police officers, who closed most of downtown and kept Sandinista counter-protesters several hundred meters away at all times, ensured that the march was conducted peacefully and without any serious incidents of violence, which helped allay widespread fears that clashes might erupt.
Just in case, the opposition provided its own muscle. Proving that the Sandinistas don´t have a monopoly on disenfranchised youth, former President Arnoldo Alemán´s PLC sent hundreds of masked youths into in the streets to fire their own homemade mortars in the air and at the ubiquitous Ortega billboards that overlook the city.
Meanwhile, other youths used spray paint to cross out pro-government graffiti scrawled on buildings and wa lls throughout the city.
But for the most part, the march was conducted peacefully and respectfully, and represented the diverse cross section that is Nicaragua´s majority opposition. Businessmen from Managua marched alongside impoverished campesinos from Boaco. University students marched alongside workers. Former contras marched alongside dissident Sandinistas who oppose Ortega.
The march was, in short, an example of the Nicaraguan unity and reconciliation that Ortega´s government had promised, and – probably unintentionally – has achieved in the opposition.
The march culminated one block north of the Supreme Electoral Council (CSE), which is accused of rigging last year´s municipal elections to benefit the Sandinistas.
On stage in front of a sea of flags and homemade signs denouncing Ortega´s government, march organizer Violeta Granera of the civil society group Movement for Nicaragua, announced that the “civil resistance will continue after the march and won´t end until the country is able to peacefull y and civilly end this bad government,” so that Nicaragua “can again be a republic.”
At the other end of the street, a group of Sandinista protesters, who were separated by several police lines occupying a three-block “no man´s land,” tried to drown out G ranera ´s speech by filling the skies with hundreds of mortars, all exploding at once.
But the opposition, who greatly outnumbered the Sandinistas gathered at midday, raised their voices above the explosions, chanting “Viva Nicaragua,” “No Dictatorship, ” and “Ortega Get Out!”
Event organizers, who thanked the police for offering protection, called the march – which was by far the largest against the Ortega government to date – an historic success.
“The Nicaraugan people have shown President Ortega that the streets belong to everyone,” said opposition figure Jaime Arellano. “There was one Nicaragua before Nov. 21, and there will be another Nicaragua after Nov. 21. The people aren´t afraid anymore and we are going to work peacefully and civilly so that Ortega doesn´ t continue destroying this country.”
“This is the beginning of the unity of the Nicaraguan family,” said former President Alemán, who was present at the march.
See the Nov. 27 print or digital edition of The Nica Times, a Nicaragua-based publication of The Tico Times, for more on this story.