Nicaraguan government blames opposition for 197 protest deaths
MANAGUA, Nicaragua – The Nicaraguan government on Tuesday accused the opposition of “coup-driven terrorism” and blamed it for 197 deaths that have occurred in nearly four months of protests against President Daniel Ortega.
Rosario Murillo, who is Ortega’s wife, vice president and chief government spokeswoman, made the allegation to state media.
She vowed that protesters and opposition sympathizers who have been convicted over the unrest, would “pay for their crimes.”
The death toll of 197 presented by Ortega’s government is far lower than the toll given by human rights organizations in the country.
One such prominent organization, the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights, says 317 people have been killed and at least 2,000 wounded in brutal repression by Ortega’s security forces against the protests.
“Those figures are being manipulated” to damage the image of Nicaragua’s government, Murillo asserted.
She counted 22 police officers killed, but just five university student protesters.
More than 130 opposition figures have been arrested and charged with terrorism offenses under a new law that carries penalties of up to 20 years in prison.
Ortega, in a flurry of interviews with foreign media late last month, asserted that the unrest was over and the country was “normalizing.” He said the turmoil was fomented by the United States.
However, opposition figures have said they will keep up the protests to demand Ortega and Murillo step down.
They are determined to see “a free Nicaragua,” a student opposition leader, Lesther Alemán, 20, told AFP in an interview this week.
Another university student in Managua who would not be identified for fear of official reprisal, said: “Many of our comrades have been arrested. We know they are being tortured, that they are being held without eating.”
Every day, dozens of Nicaraguans flee over the southern border to Costa Rica to escape what they say is persecution by Ortega’s government and by loyalist paramilitaries.
Murillo labeled the protesters “coup-mongers, terrorists, right-wingers, satanists, vandals, criminals.”
The United States has repeatedly warned Nicaragua over the violence and repression.
On Tuesday, the U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Francisco Palmieri, tweeted: “We denounce continued arbitrary detentions and call for the release of all individuals arrested for peacefully expressing opposition to the Ortega government.”