MANAGUA – The first session of Nicaragua’s national dialogue to seek a way out of the crisis that has left at least 58 people dead in recent weeks, ended on Wednesday amid harsh reproaches, mainly between students and President Daniel Ortega.
The president, who arrived at the Our Lady of Fatima Seminary in western Managua – the dialogue site – with his wife amid heavy security was greeted with cries of “murderer” by many of the demonstrators on hand there.
The inauguration of the dialogue began about 10:15 am and just when the Catholic bishops – the mediators of the process – turned the floor over to Ortega, the university students present at the negotiating table shouted “They were students, they weren’t criminals!” referring to the dozens of people killed in the recent protests.
“Mr. President, we demand an immediate end to the repression,” said the students’ representative in the dialogue, Lesther Aleman.
Aleman’s outburst made a significant impact because he interrupted Ortega with his powerful voice and because he made clear that the main issue in the dialogue will be obtaining Ortega’s resignation.
While Aleman insisted that the young people who have died were killed by government oppression, Ortega remained impassively in his seat, along with his wife and vice president, who could not hide a certain amount of nervousness.
After the outburst, Ortega began his remarks, noting the thousands of deaths that occurred during the country’s civil war.
He said he regretted the deaths in recent protests against his government, numbered at at least 58 by humanitarian organizations, but he defended the actions of the police, who “have orders not to shoot” at the demonstrators.
“Blood is the same color, the same blood flows in all of us. All of us are saddened by the deaths of our loved ones. We have reason to be outraged,” he said.
Ortega, who at no time in his speech either ordered a halt to the repression or condemned it, said that the police have “been a victim in this campaign.”
He said that “nobody agrees with the deaths of young people of different political beliefs,” but he added that it was a lie that the government was holding political prisoners or that anybody had been “disappeared.”
“Situations like these only resolve themselves within the framework of the law and justice, and for that reason we’ve invited the (Inter-American Commission on Human Rights) to be part of this effort,” he said.
Student representatives interrupted Ortega several times during his remarks and called upon him to order a halt to the repression “right now,” but the session finally ended with the students reading the names of the people who had lost their lives in violence.
The dialogue is intended to put an end to the crisis sparked 29 days ago that has resulted in between 58 and 65 deaths, depending on whose figures one uses.