'Washington Post' Reporter Describes Violent Clashes Happening In Nicaragua
AILSA CHANG, HOST:
In Nicaragua, nearly 300 people have been killed in violent clashes between protesters and forces loyal to President Daniel Ortega. It's gotten so bad that a few days ago, pro-government forces attacked a Catholic church. Student protesters had been using it as a shelter. The Washington Post's Josh Partlow was inside the church interviewing the students. Here's how he describes the scene.
JOSH PARTLOW: When I was there, there were three seriously wounded people inside the church. And the police were blocking ambulances from getting in. So for several hours, these people were lying on the floor, bleeding, in pain. One woman, a medical student, had been shot through the leg and had broken her femur. And she was just lying on the ground inside the priest's house, and no one could get help to her.
CHANG: Police knew how badly injured some people were inside the church and were deliberately blocking access to medical assistance.
PARTLOW: Right. And the priest at the time was on his cellphone doing a live radio broadcast appealing for help, describing the situation. The State Department was talking to the government. There was all these negotiations going on with the sole intent of trying to get the ambulances into the church to let the wounded be taken out.
CHANG: Just to take a step back, I mean, these protests have been going on since April. Can you just remind us - how did this all begin?
PARTLOW: So this is frustration and anger in this country that's been building for many years. President Ortega is in his fourth term as president. Over that time, he has undermined democratic institutions in a lot of ways. The spark that set off the protests in April was a change to the social security system that made people pay more and receive less in retirement. And there were videos of elderly people protesting this and then getting beaten by police. And those were seen around the country. And people got extremely upset. And there were large marches in the streets. And when police then fired on those protests and there was further crackdown and violence, that really set things off.
CHANG: You mentioned that the State Department's been communicating with Ortega's government. What have those communications been like? What is the U.S. government saying?
PARTLOW: The U.S. government has been calling on the Nicaraguan government to stop using violence against protesters. They have issued sanctions against Nicaraguan officials. They have essentially said that the use of force against these protesters is unacceptable and that they're calling for a democratic, peaceful solution to the problem.
CHANG: But is any of that pressure making a difference on the ground?
PARTLOW: So far it hasn't made a huge difference. President Ortega has refused to consider early elections. The dialogue process between the church, the protests and the business community has essentially been put on hold.
CHANG: As this situation continues to possibly escalate, I'm just wondering where people are seeking refuge. I mean, most of the migrants coming to the U.S.-Mexico border have been from Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, but not from Nicaragua. Do you get the sense that Nicaraguans are fleeing? Are they about to flee? Are they fleeing elsewhere besides the U.S.? What's happening?
PARTLOW: Yes, there are reports that Nicaraguans are fleeing in large numbers. Primarily to Costa Rica are the stories that have come out so far. And, yeah, it's possible that the numbers of Nicaraguans traveling to the U.S. could increase as well. That hasn't been - like you say, they traditionally haven't been coming in large numbers or at least compared to the numbers of the neighboring countries. But it's possible those numbers could increase.
CHANG: Josh Partlow is a reporter for The Washington Post. Thank you very much for joining us.
PARTLOW: Thank you very much.
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