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Nicaraguan security services fire indiscriminately into crowds of protesters, killing dozens

Nicaragua is waging a "shoot to kill" campaign to crush protests.

Riot police arrive to crack down on a protest by engineering students in Managua on May 28, 2018. (Photo by INTI OCON / AFP)
Riot police arrive to crack down on a protest by engineering students in Managua on May 28, 2018. (Photo by INTI OCON / AFP)

Nicaraguan security services are waging a brutal campaign of repression — including extrajudicial killings, collaborating with paramilitary groups, and a “shoot to kill” policy — to crush recent protests in the country, according to a report by Amnesty International.

According to the report, released Tuesday, Nicaraguan National Police have been using live ammunition with their weapons and firing indiscriminately during anti-government protests, despite the fact that “the security forces are authorized to use firearms in extreme situations, when other means are ineffective and their use is unavoidable.”

Security camera footage shows police firing at students with shotguns, and eyewitness testimony says they are using “less-than-lethal” options in an unsafe manner, which is resulting in permanent injury. According to the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights, at least 76 people had been killed by May 21, with hundreds more injured.

To make matters worse, Amnesty’s report alleges that the Nicaraguan government has actively collaborated with paramilitary groups to further disrupt anti-government protests. These groups, known as “turbas sandinistas” (or Sandinista mobs) were “apparently used by the government to generate disorder, make threats and carry out attacks, including some that may have proved fatal, and operate outside the law governing the behavior of state forces policing demonstrations.”

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These groups were not only given tacit permission by the security services to attack protesters, but also allegedly actively collaborated with the police to perform extrajudicial killings.

“Most of the deaths that occurred in the country…are the same, these are carefully aimed shots fired with precision at the head or jugular or chest,” Ileana Lacayo, a Nicaraguan journalist, told Amnesty International. “They are shots that aim to kill… these are not stray bullets, they are targeted, the shots were fired directly at specific people.”

Protests in Nicaragua initially began on April 18, after President Daniel Ortega proposed austerity measures for the country’s social security system, which would see taxes increased with pension benefits falling 5 percent.

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Ortega, who is currently serving his third term in office with his wife, Rosario Murillo, installed as vice president, eventually scrapped the proposed measures after two days — but the protests snowballed into a wider set of grievances against Ortega’s regime, which has been plagued by corruption.

Ortega’s response was to crack down. “We have to re-establish order,” he said. “We cannot allow groups to impose chaos, crime and looting.” But protests have continued regardless, making it the most extensive (and deadliest) unrest since the country’s civil war ended in 1990.

Upcoming peace talks are planned between the government, the business sector, the Catholic Church, and the university students who have been at the forefront of the protests. Although the government has promised investigations, many Nicaraguans won’t be satisfied until Ortega, who ruled the country during its brutal civil war in the 1980s, is gone.

“Nicaragua is being left without university students because the government of Nicaragua is killing them,” Norlan Rodríguez, who lost his nephew Jesner, told the New York Times. “I am a Sandinista, and have been so since I was a little kid. But they killed my boy and I will never give those people my vote again.”