MANAGUA, Nicaragua - The Trump adminsitration has strengthened its condemnation of government sponsored violence in Nicaragua and for the first time late Monday officially called for early elections as " a constructive way forward," to ening the two-month old politicial crisis that has claimed 180 lives.
"Attacks and threats against peaceful protestors and the general population are unacceptable, and must cease," State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert, said brief statement late Monday. Nauert urged the Ortega government to an "immediate and full" implementation of a human rights agreement on June 15.
At the same time, the Trump administration sent a delegation to Managua on Tuesday, headed by Carlos Trujillo, the U.S. ambassador to the Organization of American States (OAS), to meet with Ortega, as well as the Catholic church and the opposition, according to Univision News sources.
The civic rebellion in Nicaragua is now two months old with a mounting death toll of 180, according to the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (Cenidh). The latest gruesome killing: a family of six, including a five-month-old baby and his two-year-old sister, burned alive in their home by paramilitaries on Saturday in the Carlos Marx neighborhood of Managua.
Nicaragua's Catholic bishops and the opposition to the government have demanded the dismantling of the paramilitary groups and a halt to the violence as part of a National Dialogue. However, the government response has been evasive and has caused the suspension of the dialogue on two occasions.
The most recent impasse occurred on Monday after the government failed to send letters of invitation to several international human rights groups to investigate the killings. as it had promised as part of the dialogue on June 15. The invitation letters were due to be sent "immediately" to the Interamerican Commission on Human Rights (IAHCR), a body of the OAS, as well as High Commissioner for Human Rights of the United Nations and the European Union.
"The breaches (to the agreement) on the part of the government are already many," said Carlos Tünnermann, a member of the opposition. In Geneva, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, on Monday urged the Ortega government to send "without delay" an invitation for his office to enter Nicaragua. "The seriousness of these events (in Nicaragua) may well merit an international commission of inquiry," he said.
The Nicaraguan Bishops' Conference announced that the National Dialogue would not resume until the government submits the letters.
The bishops last week proposed early elections to the Ortega government as an exit. Ortega is not due to leave office in 2021, but the proposal would bring elections forward to March 2019. Ortega privately agreed to early elections after three secret meetings 10 days ago with the U.S. ambassador and an envoy of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committeee, according to Univision News sources. But he has since back-tracked, as police and his paramilitary supporters have intensified their campaign of violence on the streets.
Nicaragua's highly respected author and former vice president, Sergio Ramírez, said Ortega may not want to make public his deal with the United States on advancing elections "because that can create panic and disorder" among his most hardline supporters.
"Now we are facing an unarmed revolution, a civic revolution that I hope will stay that way until the end, because what we should least want here is a civil war," Ramírez told reporter Carlos Fernando Chamorro on the digital news show 'This Week.'
The recent winner of the Cervantes Prize, and former Ortega ally, added that Niacaragua had become "ungovernable" under Ortega and it was impossible to see how he could continue in power.
No limits to paramilitary violence
The blatant abuses by heavily-armed paramilitary groups operating openly in the streets in conjunction with the police, has reached new extremes in recent days. In a gruesome arson attack on Saturday, paramilitaries closely linked to the Sandinista youth wing, set fire to a building killing a family of six, including two small children, in revenge for their alleged support for anti-government protesters, according to neighbors and witnesses.
Roberto Orozco, a specialist in security issues, said that the Ortega government has adopted "a strategy of state terrorism" through the use of irregular groups to terrify people from protesting in the streets.
The government denies the existence of paramilitaries, regardless of the abundant evidence and reporting by human rights groups. The climate of terror is evident every afternoon when the sun goes down and a virtual curfew goes into effect as citizens hurry home to take refuge from paramiltary "death squads" roaming the streets with assault rifles aboard Toyota Hi-lux pickups.
"We condemn that part of the government's strategy now is to fire bullets in different neighborhoods of Managua to keep the citizens intimidated," José Adán Aguerri, president of the powerful private sector group, COSEP, which is part of the oppositon Civic Alliance.
Meanwhile, in cities across the country, the government appears to be losing its grip, despite its use of repression.
On Tuesday, residents in the city of Masaya, located 20 miles south of the capital, announced that had formed a "self-government" erected scores of barricades across the city after they expelled the Sandinista municipal authorities, except for a group of police officers holding out in the besieged station for two weeks.
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"We are the first free territory of the dictator Ortega," said opposition leader, Cristhian Fajardo, speaking during a press conference in the middle of the street on Monday afternoon. Access to the city Monday night was cut off from the rest of the country to prevent a Sandinista counter-attack.
(Wilfredo Mirando Aburto reported this story from Managua and David Adams reported from Miami.)