Yesterday (Sunday 6 May 2018) I travelled with a ‘peace caravan’ organised by the local FSLN in Masaya, to respond to the violent protests by opposition groups. I’ll try to report objectively what happened. Note: this article had to be removed soon after it was posted, because of threats of violence to my family. I found it and restored it, to its original position, in December 2020.
About 200 people gathered with flags and signs (‘No a la violencia’) on the main road to the north of Masaya, near El Coyotepe. The people were all from Masaya and I knew many of them. We set off in about 20 cars and 30 motorbikes into Masaya, playing Sandinista music. I was interested to see the response of bystanders – the vast majority simply came out to watch, a minority waved support or signalled disagreement. My rough count put the supporters slightly ahead of the dissenters but this was hardly scientific. We passed around the parque central and into the main street leading to Monimbó.
On arriving in front of the San Sebastian church, the leaders of the caravan were met with a hail of stones. This was not just a few youths throwing stones picked up at the side of the road. This was dozens armed with piles of fist-sized stones that could have badly injured anyone they hit. There was chaos on the street with vehicles of all kinds trying to do U-turns to escape the stones. The caravan turned around, there was no attempt to throw stones back and everyone eventually returned by different routes to El Coyotepe.
After another hour or so the caravan set off again, now joined by more vehicles that had been to Nindiri. We went along the main road around the north and east of Masaya. Police had sealed off the entrance to Masaya that leads down into Monimbó, so that the caravan could pass (the youths were by now waiting there to attack it). As we approached Catarina and Niquinohomo, it was notable that there was much more support from people by the side of the road.
In Niquinohomo there was a peaceful rally with perhaps 1,000 people around the Sandino statue, which broke up at about 5.00pm and people started to return individually to Masaya.
Fortunately, we and others had decided to hide the flags and the signs for the return trip. There was an ugly scene on the main road down from Catarina towards Masaya: a much bigger opposition caravan of buses, motorbikes (about 200) and a few cars was coming up from Masaya. They had number plates from all over – Masaya, Granada, Managua and (unlike our caravan) there were few women or children. They had pulled vehicles across to block one side of the road at one point, and menacing youths were out on the road scrutinising passing cars coming down the hill, obviously looking for flags etc. We passed without being stopped and returned safely to Masaya.
That’s what I saw. Here is what I was told by local people. The streets in Monimbó have been a real mess because big patches of adoquines have been ripped up to make barricades. At the end of last week the alcaldia delivered new stones and materials for people to repair their streets. Many have done so, however they were threatened by the opposition to leave the streets as they were. Fortunately, many people defied the threats.
I’m told that the youths who throw stones get 500 cordobas for doing this (some have stopped because they are demanding more money). Those prepared to take their motorbikes get a gallon of petrol + 300 cordobas. Certainly the ones throwing stones yesterday must either have had them delivered in quantities or else they broke up the new adoquines to make them. Someone has money to pay for this and for the buses that were taking people to Niquinohomo.
It was obvious that the opposition caravan that went to Niquinohomo was looking for confrontation, or why else would they have gone there after the demonstration they had in the same place only the day before? According to news channel 100 Porciento Noticias, they were stopped by the police from having their ‘peaceful’ protest. The same programme didn’t cover the earlier, entirely peaceful march by Sandinistas. The same opposition groups went on to throw stones and burn down at least one building in Catarina.
My own view is that, especially with the strike called for today (Monday), the opposition’s aim is to create chaos in order (as they see it) ‘to bring down the dictatorship’. What do they want to put in its place? – the evidence from their behaviour is not exactly encouraging. Of course they hope to provoke the FSLN into more violence too (and I’m well aware of how this started, what I’m interested in is how it finishes). I was pleased that on yesterday’s FSLN demonstration there were no weapons and when confrontation happened they backed off. However, there are plenty of ‘simpatisantes’ who want to respond to violence with violence.
In my view this would be a disastrous course of action as it is exactly what the people I saw yesterday want to provoke. To me the way forward nationally is via the ‘dialogue’, however imperfect. At local level, many people are saying they simply want to get on with their lives, do their work and return to ‘la normalidad’. I think pressure from ordinary people is the only way to stop the violence locally and there are some signs of this happening in Masaya. But will this be enough?