The diary entries below follow the first, Sunday in Masaya, already published in Two Worlds. They are from the rest of the period in which Masaya was full of roadblocks, which ended on July 17 2018. None of these could be published at the time as it was too dangerous to do so: they were added to Two Worlds in December 2020.
Saturday in Masaya (written May 13)
Saturday, 12 May must be counted as the worst day in Masaya since the earthquake in 2000 which destroyed dozens of houses and killed five people. Yesterday, one young person died and houses were also destroyed, but also I fear so was Masaya’s reputation.
A pitched battle started late on Friday night and continued during Saturday. What happened earlier in the week was that the barricades in Monimbó, most of which had been partially dismantled, allowing people to go about semi-normally, were reinstated. The aim presumably was to enforce the strike that had been called, but that was only being observed by a minority, if at all. So taxis were prevented from circulating and normal cars had to argue to get past and pay a fee, typically 20c (in the carretera, the fee was much higher, 200c).
During the early hours of Saturday there was open conflict, I’m not sure whether involving the Juventud Sandinista or police or both. The opposition, having destroyed the FSLN office in Monimbó last month, managed to get to the main FSLN office in San Jeronimo and destroy that. They also ransacked the house of the former deputy mayor, Jacaranda Fernández, who has the misfortune to live on the main street through Monimbó where the fighting was taking place. Apparently her family is safe but the house destroyed. It was sad to see pictures of a house I’d visited with its furniture being dragged into the street and set on fire.
During the day the police attacked again, and reportedly took 20 people prisoner. The opposition captured one of the police however and were showing him on Facebook – although saying that he would be released. It is not clear how the police lost control of the situation but the opposition youths then, effectively, went on the rampage. They attempted to set fire to the Old Market (the biggest in Nicaragua for sales of ‘artesenia’ to tourists) and succeeded in destroying nine of the shops, one belonging to a close friend of ours. They then set fire to the old town hall and the house next door to it. This was particularly sad as not only was it one of Masaya’s biggest old colonial buildings but at the front it housed the Museum of Masaya’s ‘Heroes y Martires’ of the revolution. My wife (whose late brother’s photo was in there) can’t have been the only Masaya resident to have been struck with grief at this gross act of vandalism.
Next to the town hall, the house owned by the mayor’s brother was also burned down. Amazingly, such is the determination of those on Facebook to blame everything on the ‘Orteguistas’, the mayor’s sister, from Miami, posted that they were to blame for destruction of her family’s house. This implied that Orlando Noguera, the mayor, had destroyed his own family’s home and that of his former deputy, Jacaranda, as well as the town hall and the FSLN offices presumably, along with much else. The gangs that caused the fires then looted many of Masaya’s shops, so that all of the main places selling TVs, motor bikes etc have now been ransacked.
Apparently during the attack on the town hall, there was one victim – a young man. No one seems to know where he comes from, he doesn’t appear to be from Masaya. Of course the opposition identify him as one of their members – yet it is not them but supposedly the Juventud Sandinista that is burning down buildings.
We’ve been directly involved only insofar as we had a sick relative who had to be taken to hospital on Friday night and collected on Saturday – he said while he was there they treated both an injured policeman and one of the opposition youths. The latter, when he realised the police guy was there, started shouting that they would come and burn down the hospital. Today Abi took her nephew back to Masatepe and had to negotiate two barricades. As she left one, a guy was firing a mortar into the air and it exploded in the side of his face, badly injuring him – this seems to symbolise the collective madness which is gripping the Masaya area.
As you can imagine the population is pretty scared by all this, a proportion are definitely supporting the opposition, my judgement is that most want peace to be restored and dialogue instead of fighting. The opposition no doubt has a lot of people who sincerely want change but they are being used to create mayhem – bringing in known troublemakers from outside communities and paying them to fight behind the barricades. Of course their rhetoric is that they are being prevented from protesting peacefully but blocking streets for days on end and threatening bus and taxi drivers is hardly peaceful, quite apart from the destruction that occurred yesterday.
I ought to add that my own family here is split on all this – at least one of the younger members is actively helping those behind the barricades. Others have been sympathetic too but now the situation has deteriorated I think they realise that chaos will only bring… more chaos. Masaya’s economy, its image to the outside world, and hence the livelihood of the people of Masaya, have suffered immense damage that it will take a long time to rectify.
Another Sunday in Masaya (written May 21)
There can be little doubt that Masaya is the place which has suffered most from the recent protests and violence. While much of Managua seems to have returned to normal, Masaya is in a sorry state.
First, sporadic violence is still occurring, and people are still being intimidated. My wife was threatened with a mortar at a barricade at the end of last week because she refused to have a slogan against high petrol prices sprayed on the pick-up. She was allowed to pass, but there have been many more instances of intimidation. The main police station in Masaya has been attacked twice, even though the police have promised not to re-enter Monimbó, the barrio where the violence has been concentrated.
Second, Monimbó especially is a real mess. Almost every street has the remains of barricades (still crossing the whole street in some cases), and every street has parts where the paving stones have been dug up (in some cases, in recently paved streets) to make barricades. No taxis were circulating and most traffic was on foot, bikes or motorbikes. Going towards the centre of the city, various houses or shops have been ransacked or burnt out. We know that some of the owners have lost all their possessions.
Third, the effects are also obvious in the city centre. The banks are functioning but are clad with zinc sheets. Pali is being repaired after it was ransacked. In the street leading to the town hall, three buildings, including of course the town hall, have been burnt out and only the facades remain. They include the municipal library. The main market has been successfully protected and is open again, but the stallholders have to be very vigilant about further attempts to ransack or burn it. The crafts market was only partially destroyed by fire. However, of course it still has no customers. It was a Sunday afternoon, but no cafes were open. By Monday morning, several schools and businesses were still closed.
Perhaps the worst effect is the change in the environment – people’s views are polarised (including within our own family), there is a prevailing attitude of intolerance, delinquent groups have been strengthened through their fights against the police and reinforced by people brought from outside, and law and order has been seriously weakened, especially in Monimbó. As an example of the lawlessness, several of our neighbours now have plasma TVs stolen from shops in Masaya (all the big consumer good shops in the centre were ransacked, as well as some smaller shops).
One older person said to me it would take 20 years for the city to recover. I very much hope that the process will be faster, but it is hard to see a positive outcome for Masaya from what it has experienced in the last month, whatever the result of the national ‘dialogue’.
Friday in Masaya (written June 30)
Yesterday we had to travel to Managua which means a 3km walk across the southern side of Masaya to get to the parque central, where we could get a taxi to Managua. The whole of this area is controlled by the opposition and has no police or council workers. The ‘walk’ means negotiating perhaps 15 barricades, some augmented by deep trenches dug across the roads. Most of these are now unmanned, although at one a hooded youth with a mortar was checking some people’s paperwork as they went past. The streets of Monimbó look like some weird natural disaster has taken place, which has ripped up the streets themselves into piles of stones, torn down trees, burnt out several buildings and forced businesses and schools to close and people to live behind closed doors. In some parts there are people on the street selling produce that would normally be sold in the market, but the main road through Monimbó is eerily quiet. The barrio has now been like this for a month. For the past week it has been relatively peaceful, although there is no police presence and (I’m told) few people are on the streets after 5.00pm. Apart from motorbikes, we saw one pick up and one bus during the whole of the walk. People say ‘hello’ but the atmosphere is very tense.
Once you pass the last barricade, a block before the central park, everything changes – the streets are busy, taxis and buses are operating, some shops are open. Going up to the market, the streets are full and the market is busy again, now that lorries can get through with deliveries. We went to the hospital, which is operating normally.
However, on the return trip from Managua it was obvious that the north-west side of Masaya leading up the Managua main road is still far from normal. Few businesses are open, and none of the banks or the usual restaurants; many if not all schools are closed (of course, the biggest, the main secondary school, is sadly destroyed). What was the commercial core of central Masaya, one of Nicaragua’s most prosperous cities, looks abandoned. The bigger shops that were ransacked are still closed. The police and council are working with local people to repair the roads and there are no longer barricades at least on the main streets. But in contrast to Managua, which in the parts through which we passed seemed normal, Masaya is in a sorry state.
Thursday in Masaya (written July 5)
Another walk across town today revealed no progress in removing the tranques in Monimbó – in fact, they seem to stronger than before if anything. In one place on the main road towards the central park, three guys were actually digging a deeper ditch behind the tranque. They have also prohibited motorbikes from crossing until Saturday. This seems to be because they think the Frente are holding El Repliegue this weekend, but we don’t think it is taking place at all. For the first time, crossing one of the tranques (you have to go through a narrow gap in the adoquines) I heard two women saying everyone had to ‘understand’ that the tranques were necessary.
In the northern half of Masaya, most of the tranques have gone and those left are being removed, I think. But most businesses and all schools are still closed. Kids have now lost more or less a term of schooling – and of course many of them have lost the school itself, given that the main secondary school (3,700 pupils) was burnt down twice. Some repair work has started there and also in the tourist market. On this side of the town (ie. most of the centre), the police and municipal workers are working, government offices are open (‘Migracion’ opened this week, and had a huge queue outside of people wanting to leave for Costa Rica). Unlike in Monimbó, the council is collecting domestic rubbish. It’s able to do this as it received some new vehicles from the government to replace the ones set on fire a couple of weeks ago.
The atmosphere seems lighter in general, although someone waved a firearm at us as we went through one of the tranques. We’ve heard that the new barricade set up yesterday, on the old road Masaya-Niquinohomo where we live, has been removed. Abi was stopped there yesterday and had to remove the tree branches across the road herself. She borrowed a machete from a house to do this, and was then threatened by a group armed with an AK47; later someone came running to tell us the house had been burnt down. But it hadn’t. And today they were forced to take the tree trunks away anyway by taxi drivers, apparently because they’d only put them there so as to charge people to go past.