The role of the police in Nicaragua’s current crisis is a key one. From the opposition standpoint, they are the source of most if not all the violence. Yet in practice, ever since the national dialogue began in response to the demonstrations and deaths in mid-April, the police have been operating under severe constraints. Here are some examples.
First, on May 11 the Catholic bishops whose role is to mediate a peaceful settlement demanded the police be withdrawn as a precondition for the ‘national dialogue’ that then began. This order has meant they aren’t on the streets doing their normal police duties. The order hasn’t been strictly observed, but it’s been an important restriction on what they can do. In some areas such as Estelí the policing policy denied the opposition the pretext of more numerous student deaths, and thus won over public opinion.
Second, ever since at least April 23rd police were ordered not to use lethal fire which, where the order has been observed, has put them at a disadvantage against murderous opposition gangs who have been using firearms. In Estelí, on April 20th, between 500 and 600 people attacked a small group of police and firefighters who, along with around 150-200 municipal workers, were defending the town hall.
Third, the barricades in the streets have enormously limited police movements. The worst acts of destruction have been in places where the streets are blocked (until a few days ago there were some 200 barricades in Masaya, for example, and Leon has a similar number). In the area where the family house fire occurred in Managua (on Apr 16, with six deaths including two children), there were numerous barricades.
Fourth, police and their families are under threat. So far, nine police have died and scores have been injured. Police on the streets have to patrol in groups – individual police have been captured and tortured. Via social media the police are being blamed for most if not all the violence, exculpating the opposition gangs. In the case of Masaya and some other places, the police have been under siege in their own police stations (for Masaya it was for over a month).
Fifth, the nature of the attacks being carried out makes them very difficult to control – opposition groups arrive in large numbers, and can quickly throw Molotov cocktails or set off mortars to start fires before police can get to the scene. The sheer number of attacks is also a huge problem – for example the health ministry has issued a 100-page report detailing attacks on health centres, vehicles and staff. The education ministry produced a similar report.
Sixth, police numbers and equipment are limited. Since 1979 Nicaragua has not had the ‘militarised’ police force that exists in Honduras, Mexico, etc. – they have no armoured vehicles, just open pick-ups. The whole model of policing has been based on trust between population and police, which largely existed until Apr 19.
Finally, in many incidents there is real confusion as to who are police or not, as many uniforms and police vehicles have been stolen, and reportedly the opposition have had imitation uniforms made. This reinforces the claims that the police are the source of all the violence. The latest tragic death of a child in Managua (Apr 23) was blamed on the police, even by the parents. Yet a neighbor who videoed the shooting recorded one of the gang members from the barricades shouting ‘I shot the child’. Once this was published on social media, the neighbor’s house was set on fire.
Nicanotes is not claiming that the police are the innocent parties in the present unrest, but the investigations by bodies such as the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and Amnesty International have been extremely one-sided. The constraints on the police, and the violence they have had to endure, must be properly recognised in the detailed assessment of human rights violations that the IACHR is due to carry out.
Original post: Nicanotes.