The student protests of April 18 in Nicaragua were immediately hijacked by violent right-wing extremists backed locally by sections of the business classes, the right-wing Catholic church hierarchy and center-right politicians, long funded by the United States and allied governments. Internationally, those governments echoed the false claims of their own extreme right-wing politicians, cynically alleging disproportionate repression by Nicaragua's police. Even so, neither Nicaragua's protesting students nor most international progressive and liberal opinion seem to note the paradox that viciously repressive reactionary right-wing forces are supposedly promoting genuinely democratic protests against the most economically successful and electorally popular government in Central America.
Ever since April 21, the Nicaraguan police have limited themselves to a policy of not responding to violent provocations by right-wing gangs and only doing the minimum necessary to control public order. That followed the announcement by President Daniel Ortega of a dialogue process to be mediated by the country's Catholic church hierarchy and the acceptance of that initiative by the main business organization, COSEP. The sequel to those decisions has been extreme, persistent violence from right-wing political groups, ever more intense disinformation on social networks and in opposition news media and also intense right-wing efforts to sabotage economic life via roadblocks and unsuccessful calls for national strike action.
While the moderates in Nicaragua's right-wing have ostensibly called for dialogue and an end to the violence, the most reactionary people in the business sector and the Catholic church either openly encourage the violence or dissimulate their support in unconvincing blanket condemnations of 'all violence.' For example, on the night of April 21, Piero Coen, Nicaragua's wealthiest individual and head of the nation's most important transnational business group, distanced himself from COSEP's call for an end to the violence. Likewise, the right-wing church hierarchy pointedly refuse to condemn their right-wing political allies' support for terrorist violence that has continued claiming lives despite the announcement of the national dialogue process.
In recent days, right-wing terror gangs burned down municipal authority buildings in Managua and in La Concepcion near Masaya. They attacked and damaged other municipal authority offices in Chinandega and Granada, shot dead three people in Managua and also shot and seriously wounded four police officers on traffic duty. In other incidents, the gangs attacked a school bus carrying children with disabilities; threatened and damaged commercial premises; attacked groups praying in public for peace and dialogue, and carried out numerous attacks on drivers and passengers in public buses, private vehicles and taxis. Right-wing gangs have occupied part of the public National Autonomous University (UNAN) and are also preventing classes in the private Polytechnic University (UPOLI). The UNAN authorities have publicly denounced the role of the right-wing CENIDH human rights organization in the occupation of their university.
After more than two weeks of talks, the Episcopal Conference finally secured agreement from Nicaragua's fractious right-wing over their participants in the proposed National Dialogue. Then, on May 11, the bishops presented a letter to President Daniel Ortega setting out four preconditions for what was supposed to have been dialogue without preconditions. Their four preconditions are:
* Immediate entry to Nicaragua of the Inter American Commission for Human Rights to investigate and clarify "deaths and disappearances" of people in Nicaragua.
* Suppression of "paramilitary bodies" and "shock forces" that intimidate, coerce and attack ordinary citizens and also the non-use of police for "any type of repression."
* Immediately stop all forms of repression against peaceful protests, ensure the physical integrity of students, people involved in the National Dialogue and all citizens.
* Give "credible signs" of a willingness to negotiate for peace, respecting the human rights of all citizens and neither oblige public employees to take part in political party demonstrations nor "paralyze national transport" with such events.
In response, President Ortega wrote in the most conciliatory terms possible, accepting the preconditions and merely noting "great concern over the climate of fear in communities where, well beyond the peaceful protests that we respect absolutely, devastating violent actions proliferate, damaging the quality of life of Nicaraguans of all ages who cry out to God for a return to normality."
The clear pro-opposition bias of the Episcopal Conference is hardly news. However, the language of the letter's four preconditions is unusually provocative. The Nicaraguan government had already said it will allow a CIDH mission to visit Nicaragua. But the mention of deaths "and disappearances" adopts the inflammatory language of opposition human rights organizations who have inflated their lists of people killed with various individuals who subsequently protested the false reports of their deaths or whose families have insisted the deaths had nothing to do with the protests. In any case, if the CIDH does its job, it should become clear that no credible evidence exists of any forced disappearances by Nicaragua's police or anyone else.
Likewise, the demand to suppress "paramilitary bodies" also reflects opposition rhetoric. The right-wing opposition accuse anyone who resists their violent terror gangs of being organized by the government. In fact spontaneous self-defense groups have defended their businesses and barrios and public employees have organized to defend their workplaces. The Sandinista students and youth groups who challenged the initial student protests on Wednesday are the only groups that could legitimately be described as shock forces, but they were off the streets by Thursday afternoon, otherwise the violence would have been even worse than it actually was. The government has no paramilitary groups, but the right-wing opposition are funding and supporting paramilitary terror gangs across the country.
However, the bishops have nothing to say about that incontrovertible fact. Of even more concern is the bishops' insistence that the police not be used "for any type of repression." This is completely incoherent with their calls for an end to all violence while also ensuring the protection of the rights of all citizens. The only rational critical interpretation of this point is that the bishops have internalized and adopted the demented right-wing opposition's false belief that government supporters are responsible for attacks on the population, on public infrastructure and on the governing FSLN party's own local offices.
Another indication of the bishops' profound hypocrisy is their call on the government not to involve public employees in government events calling for peace and dialogue and to avoid "paralyzing national transport" with those events. Meanwhile, the right-wing business sector regularly dragoons their employees into the big opposition demonstrations against the government. But, here too, the bishops have nothing to say. Nor do they condemn the right-wing terror groups attacking vehicles or the opposition protesters setting up road blocks, preventing day-to-day traffic from circulating freely.
In the current context of events in Nicaragua, the blatant opposition bias in the bishops' letter indicates that the dialogue will collapse sooner rather than later because the opposition very clearly do not want genuine dialogue. President Daniel Ortega's remarkably conciliatory response to the bishops' provocative letter makes clear he and his team are determined that it will be the opposition representatives that walk away from the dialogue, not the government. What is happening in Nicaragua more and more resembles events in Venezuela.