Nicaraguan troops this weekend conducted a series of raids on rebellious towns in the Masaya department south of the capital.
The attack follows months of violence between government forces and protestors, who are demanding that President Daniel Ortega step down.
Ortega is an old ally of Hugo Chavez who in the 70’s led a revolution against former Nicaraguan President Anastasio Somoza Debayle. He served as president from 1985 to 1990 and was re-elected in 2007.
Once-lauded as a revolutionary hero, Ortega has since transformed into a dictator with complete control over the National Assembly, Supreme Court, and electoral commission. As a Marxist-Leninist, he has implemented controversial policies including land reform and wealth redistribution.
Widespread protests against Ortega began in April over a proposed pension-reform plan and quickly turned violent. Most cities are in open rebellion and civilians have set up checkpoints on major roads to prevent the government from transporting weapons.
“We are being attacked by the National Police and paramilitaries armed with AK-47’s and machine guns in our indigenous neighborhood of Monimbo,” said Alvaro Gomez, a local. “We are resisting with homemade bombs and stones.”
Monimbo has been the epicenter of resistance since the protests began in April. More than 270 people have been killed since. Another 1,500 have been injured and an estimated 838 have been detained by the government.
In June, the Human Rights Watch accused pro-government gangs of “killing protestors with total impunity in the streets” and urged world leaders to intervene.
In July, the Trump Administration announced sanctions on three Nicaraguan officials for their brutality against citizens.
“The situation is serious,” said Alvaro Leiva of the Nicaraguan Association for Human Rights. “We need to open a corridor to evacuate the wounded.” Leiva issued calls for help to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the bishops of the Episcopal Conference, and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
The raid this weekend came one day after pro-government gangs orchestrated a 20-hour attack on 200 students trapped in a church in Managua. Two people were killed and 14 were injured.
The situation ended with the intercession of Catholic bishops, who have been trying to mediate between the two sides. The bishops’ conference on Saturday accused Ortega’s government of refusing to engage in sincere dialogue in order to find a solution.
Ortega has refused calls from the bishops to move the 2021 presidential election to 2019.