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At Least 24 Dead After Riots In Nicaragua

Apr 23, 2018
Originally published on April 23, 2018 9:20 pm
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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Now to Nicaragua, where as many as two dozen people are dead after protests erupted over changes to the country's pension plan. The student-led protests began last week after President Daniel Ortega introduced a plan that would increase pension contributions and reduce benefits. The U.S. State Department is pulling some of its embassy staff and families out of Nicaragua in response to the violence.

NPR's Carrie Kahn is there and joins us now. Hi, Carrie.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Hi, Ailsa.

CHANG: So you just got there last night. What has the mood been like today?

KAHN: Today it's interesting. You know, it's Monday. People are trying to get back to work. It depends where you're going. I was just in a supermarket that was jammed - packed with people just trying to get as much food as they can. It's been a very long...

CHANG: Yeah.

KAHN: ...Tense weekend here. People are just waiting to see what's going to happen. I was in another neighborhood where a lot of the violence and the protests were happening. And people are trying to clean up, but there are still barricades up and remnants of how tense it has been here in Nicaragua.

CHANG: Are these protests continuing all across the country?

KAHN: They are in large cities. There are protests in Managua - some that are very large, some that are small. There's an island in the middle of Lake Managua. They've had small protests. They are continuing breaking out across the country.

CHANG: So the president retracted his planned changes to the pension system. How satisfied do people seem with the proposals?

KAHN: It's just not going to be enough. It feels like that's what's going to happen. I was at a large gathering of protesters last night, and the genie's out of the bottle. People have much more grievances with the government than just the problems with the pension system. Now people are very upset about the high murder toll, the repression by the police, their response to the protesters. And it's just sort of uncapped all the grievances that people have had about this government and President Ortega and his wife, who's very controversial here, who is the current vice president.

CHANG: Can you remind us why she's controversial as well?

KAHN: She is an interesting character. She was - this last election was named the vice president. She gets on the national news - the official television stations every day around noon, 1 o'clock where she just sort of talks off the cuff about things happening. She is the communications director. She's the vice president. A lot of people feel like she is the force behind the president these days.

CHANG: So you went to the university where student protesters have holed up. What have you been hearing from them? What do they want?

KAHN: Right. This has been sort of the center of the protests, the polytechnical university in Managua. And these protesters have taken over the area around the university. And they've stayed there for days. And I was just there earlier today, and they said that police had come in last night, started shooting. One student was killed. It has been reported widely in the local press here, but we're unable to confirm that. I did talk to a nurse that was inside and said he personally attended to two injured students.

So the tensions between the students and the police continue. And I asked them, what is it that you want? And every - mostly what they're saying is that Daniel Ortega and his wife need to leave office. So it seems like the stalemate and the political troubles that are happening in this country are going to be difficult to resolve, and it's going to take a while.

CHANG: Yeah. That's NPR's Carrie Kahn in Managua, Nicaragua. Thank you very much, Carrie.

KAHN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.