Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 April 2019

Nicaraguans in Costa Rica set out to mount anti-Ortega border protest

Former Marxist guerrilla and Sandinista leader accused of cracking down on dissent

Nicaraguans living in Costa Rica hold pictures of their loved ones at Plaza de la Democracia in San Jose. AFP
Nicaraguans living in Costa Rica hold pictures of their loved ones at Plaza de la Democracia in San Jose. AFP

Hundreds of Nicaraguan dissidents set off on Sunday from Costa Rica’s capital to the Nicaraguan border to protest against President Daniel Ortega, and encourage his domestic opponents.

More than 300 people have been killed as the Ortega administration has responded, often brutally, to months of anti-government protests.

A fleet of buses and a handful of cars left San Jose at around 6am local time. The protesters aim to reach the border town of La Cruz in Guanacaste province, almost 270 kilometres north, by the afternoon.

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“We’re going to tell the people they’re not alone and tell the government we’re still alive and fighting to return to a different Nicaragua,” said one of the protest organisers, Francisca Ramirez, a leader of Nicaraguan farm workers.

Ms Ramirez said she fled Nicaragua in October after being threatened by pro-government forces.

The so-called Caravan for Freedom and Justice is due to end with a walk of about 4km from La Cruz. But it aims to stop short of the Penas Blancas border post to avoid problems. Police were waiting on the Nicaraguan side by mid-morning.

Demonstrations in Nicaragua that began in April against planned welfare cuts – later dropped by the government -– quickly changed into a broader protest against the leftist Mr Ortega.

A former Marxist guerrilla leader and Cold War antagonist of the United States, Mr Ortega has held power continually since 2007. Some critics now liken him to the dictator he once fought to remove. He accuses adversaries of plotting a coup.

As many as 40,000 Nicaraguans have left for neighbouring Costa Rica since the protests started, according to the group organising the caravan.

Monica Baltodano, head of the foundation Popol Na, one of several non-governmental organisations recently raided by the Nicaraguan government, said the protest hoped to take about 1,000 people to the border with Costa Rica.

On Saturday, Nicaraguan police beat at least seven journalists, including one of the country’s best known editors, with batons as part of an escalating crackdown on independent media.

Updated: December 17, 2018 09:20 AM

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