Shops, banks and businesses across Nicaragua stayed closed on Friday in the latest 24-hour strike called by opposition leaders since protests against the government of Daniel Ortega broke out in April.
In the Centro Comercial, an upscale shopping center in downtown Managua, the usually bustling avenues were empty, save for the watchmen outside shuttered storefronts and a short line of men waiting to use the ATM outside a closed bank.
Friday’s strike was called by the opposition Civic Alliance to demand the release of activists including student leaders Edwin Carcache and Alejandro Centeno, who were imprisoned this week on charges of terrorism.
“With 200 political prisoners and [new] murders every day, this strike is just one more sign that nothing is normal here in Nicaragua,” said Ana Margarita Vigil, a 40-year-old national director of the outlawed opposition Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS).
After security forces and paramilitaries retook rebel strongholds in July, Ortega’s government has attempted to draw a line under the crisis, but protests have continued, and negotiations brokered by the Catholic church have stalled.
Most shops and small businesses in the capital were closed on Friday, while in the nearby city of Boaco, local media reported only 7% of businesses were open.
Jorman Estrada, 23, lounged outside the bar where he normally works as a waiter. “All the bars, restaurants and businesses in this neighborhood decided to close today to support the national strike. We all have to work together to end the repression,” he said.
Earlier this week, Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the United Nations, told the UN security council that Nicaragua risks becoming another Venezuela or Syria if it continues to stifle dissent.
Last week, Ortega expelled a UN human rights mission after it published a report denouncing government repression and describing a “climate of fear” in the Central American country.
The government, however, describes the protesters as terrorists and fake agitators paid by foreign organizations.
“The majority in Nicaragua want work and peace,” Rosario Murillo, Ortega’s wife and vice-president, said on Monday. “[But] there are still blind people out there … these small groups [are] of bitter, blind, low-lifers, souls full of misery.”
Some larger businesses remained open and, in one of the hemisphere’s poorest countries, many people said they had to keep working to avoid destitution.
“I’m in favor of the strike, something in this country has to change,” said Freddy Hernández, a 33-year-old father of two selling avocados and coconuts door-to-door in central Managua. “But if I don’t sell anything today, my family won’t eat – so I can’t join in.”
“This strike is how the people tell the dictatorship that they won’t take any more of this repression,” said Dora María Téllez, who played a key role in the 1979 Sandinista revolution, but later split with Ortega and founded the MRS. “This is evidence that the struggle against the Ortega dictatorship continues, that we Nicaraguans will not give in until Nicaragua has justice and democracy.”