The Nicaraguan community in South Florida has unleashed a wave of condemnation over the recent violence that has killed 34 people in the Central American nation in protests against Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega.
“Se reventó la chimbomba (all hell broke loose),” Claribel Orozco, the owner of a shop in the Managua strip mall in Sweetwater.
The protests started April 18 as a rejection of Ortega's proposals to reform the country's social security system, but have turned into unprecedented attacks on Ortega's rule.
The Nicaraguan community in South Florida, which the 2010 U.S. Census estimated at 105,000 people, has staged its own protests.They protested Wednesday night in front of the Nicaraguan consulate in Miami, where they held a massive gathering on Saturday.
“There's a sense of indignation because … we are in a state of emergency. The situation is out of control. There are many deaths in few days,” said one of the protesters, María Belén Ruíz, 24.
As of Wednesday, 34 people have died and at least 66 have been wounded, according to the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights.
The United Nations has urged the Ortega government to clarify the deaths and allegations of police abuse.
Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Fl., and Bob Menendez, D-NJ., urged the Organization of American States to work with the Interamerican Commission on Human Rights to carry out a swift investigation of the violence as well as censorship of the Nicaraguan news media.
“This affects me, just as it affects the majority of Nicaraguans. We are torn because I am here, and they are practically living a war,” said Orozco, 52.
The violent repression of the protests has reminded many Nicaraguans in Miami of the violence that led them to emigrate in the early 1980s, after Sandinista guerrillas toppled the Somoza dictatorship.
Ortega, a Sandinista who was first elected president in 1984 and served until 1990, was re-elected president in 2007, 2011 and 2016.
“I have lived in the United States for 36 years. I came as a child because of the Sandinista revolution, and now the students are being murdered,” said Johans Castillo, 47.
Trying to defuse the conflict, Ortega has withdrawn the proposed social security reforms, which would have reduced pensions by 5 percent.
Students at the Universidad Politécnica de Nicaragua are demanding the release of jailed activists and the dismissal of police officials responsible for the harsh crackdowns on the protesters.
Nicaraguans abroad do not hold much hope for Ortega's offer of negotiations.
“This government cannot go on. The people do not want it. It has shown itself to be an enemy of the people, and it must go,” said Castillo.
The Catholic Church in Nicaragua has offered to mediate the conflict and facilitate a dialogue among the government, the students and the business sector.
In Miami, Our Lady of Divine Providence Church at 10205 W. Flagler St. will host a Mass for conciliation on Thursday evening.
“With all due respect for [Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes] who has been on the side of the Nicaraguan people and supported the university students, I don't believe in sitting down with murderers to negotiate anything, only the … immediate resignation of Daniel Ortega and (wife) Rosario Murillo,” said Renato Jose Novoa, 38, as he protested Saturday in front of the Nicaraguan consulate.
El Nuevo Herald was unsuccessful in reaching the consulate for comment.
Nicaraguan demonstrators outside their country have said they have no political interests but support the street protests.
“I feel that Nicaraguans are more united than ever," said protester Alejandra Stadhagen, 20. "There are no political parties. He (Ortega) did away with them all.”