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Nica Democracy Under Fire

MANAGUA, Nicaragua –Responding to a call to order by Congressional President René Núñez, opposition lawmakers returned to the National Assembly Thursday morning escorted by police to protect them from the Sandinista mob waiting outside and firing homemade explosives at the building.

With the sound of bombs exploding outside, the National Assembly opened a tense session, during which many opposition lawmakers vented their frustration with the violent and lawless events of the past week.

Thursday’s session, however, did nothing to defuse the crisis. Instead of addressing President Daniel Ortega’s controversial executive order to allow 25 magistrates to remain in power beyond their term limits – the decree that sparked the current crisis – lawmakers focused on approving several new loans from international lenders and rubber-stamping several administrative motions that required no serious debate.

The Sandinista media were quick to hail the National Assembly session a “victory for the people.” But after a week of chaotic street violence that reaffirmed Nicaragua’s horrible international image, the ruling party’s claim to victory is dubious at best.

The most dramatic act of violence occurred April 20, when a mob of several hundred Sandinista thugs attacked the Holiday Inn Select with a barrage of fragmentation bombs, breaking 10 windows, destroying the electrical system and causing serious damage to the roof. The Sandinista mob, led by ex- Supreme Court magistrates Rafael Solís and Armengo Cuadra, attacked the Holiday Inn when they discovered that opposition lawmakers were secretly convening a legislative session inside the hotel to avoid the mob outside the National Assembly.

Inside the hotel, the opposition lawmakers met in a conference room and were finally able to present a motion against Ortega’s executive order – known as the decretazo.

The 47 legislators voted to send the bill to commission, even though the Sandinistas claim the session was illegal and won’t be recognized.

The Holiday Inn, meanwhile, took the brunt of the Sandinistas’ fury. Hotel general manager José Enrique Solórzano told The Nica Times this week that he estimates the material damage was $20,000, and that they lost another $20,000 in canceled events and lost reservations, as tourists fled out the backdoor on foot.

Solórzano said he’s afraid to try to charge the Sandinista Front for damages. “If I pass the bill to them, they’ll pass the bill back to me,” he said.

Solórzano also expressed his disgust with the inefficiency of the National Police, which prevent the Sandinista mob from entering the lobby but did nothing to stop the attack, which lasted nearly an hour.

The Nicaraguan-American Chamber of Commerce (AMCHAM) released a blistering statement afterwards accusing the Sandinistas of “promoting terrorism.”

AMCHAM blamed the executive branch for the attack on its association member, stating, “We firmly and energetically denounce the vandalism perpetuated by agents of the ruling party, whose gangsterism and delinquent attitude put at risk the security and lives” of the hotel’s clients and staff.

The violence continued the following day, as Sandinista mobs attacked the party headquarters of opposition leader Eduardo Montealegre and destroyed two vehicles, one belonging to a Liberal Party congressman and the other to Channel 12 TV. A subsequent scuffle between Sandinista journalists and Montealegre supporters resulted in Multinoticias reporter Nelson Hurtado suffering head injuries.

By mid-week, the situation had become bad enough to draw a response from the Organization of American States (OAS), which released a statement expressing its “profound worry” about the situation in Nicaragua and calling on political leaders to preserve the country’s shaky institutions. While the weekend will provide a temporary reprieve to mounting social and political tensions, leaders of the business sector and civil society are demanding that police do more to protect public safety next week, when the crisis resumes.

“We express our profound concern about the lack of effectiveness and the belligerence of the National Police,” reads a joint statement released Thursday by leading business chambers and civil society groups.

See The Nica Times for more on Nicaragua’s political unraveling and culture of violence.

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