For the past week, large-scale demonstrations have wreaked havoc across Nicaragua and resulted in at least 34 deaths. Looters have also been pillaging shops, especially in Managua, the capital of this small Central American country. But in the midst of this chaos, surprising photos were posted on social media, showing locals defending their supermarkets from looters. Our Observer was among them.
The first protests broke out on April 18, with demonstrators denouncing a pension reform that would raise taxes for both workers and employers, and cut benefits by five percent.
People have taken advantage of the protests to loot stores, markets and supermarkets, as shown in several videos posted on social media.
In reaction, some shopkeepers decided to move some of their merchandise to safer locations. Others armed themselves in an attempt to thwart the looters. More surprising yet, some civilians organised to defend their local supermarkets against looters, as shown in several other videos.
"No to looting," shout people in this video, filmed in front of Monseñor Lezcano supermarket (which is owned by La Colonia) in Managua last weekend.
In this video, civilians return products that looters had taken from La Sabana supermarket (owned by La Colonia) last weekend in Managua.
In this Facebook post, the company La Colonia – which owns about 20 or so supermarkets in Managua – expressed thanks to "all the people who participated in the defence of the establishments that came under attack".
Locals defend this Maxi Palí supermarket in Managua last weekend
"We created a WhatsApp group to talk about how we could defend ourselves”
Kevin, aged 25, lives in District IV, located in the northern part of Managua.
On Saturday April 21, we got word that supermarkets in Managua had been looted. So, along with some friends and neighbours, we created a WhatsApp group to talk about how we could defend ourselves if the same thing started happening in our own neighbourhood.
We felt it was important because we want to have food on the shelves, especially if the situation in the country gets worse.
Starting on Sunday, around 8am, we learned that people had driven a truck up to the Oriental supermarket, which is right by my house, and that they were trying to get inside. In our WhatsApp, a group of us decided to meet at my house. There were about 70 of us, mostly young people, when we set off for Oriental. We brought along rocks, bats and even pipes because we knew it might get violent.
When we got to the supermarket, there were some weird-looking people there. We made paper signs saying “No to looting” and put them up on the fence around the supermarket.
"No to looting" read signs on the outside of the Oriental supermarket in Managua. (Video filmed by our Observer on April 22.)
"The battle lasted about 20 minutes”
Then, the suspicious-looking people started throwing stones at the entrance of the supermarket. There were about 90 of them. We starting yelling “no to looting” and told them to leave.
After that, they started throwing stones in our direction and we responded in kind. The battle lasted about 20 minutes. In the end, they backed off, especially after we called in neighbours and friends as reinforcements.
At the same time, residents of another neighbourhood arrived with firearms and a handmade mortar. At first, we were wondering who they were there to support but they joined our side. They fired in the air and the looters left, saying that they’d come back later.
Guns were fired near the Oriental supermarket in Managua. (Our Observer filmed this video on April 22.)
"We organised a watch over the supermarket until 5am”
We put rocks on the road to prevent other vehicles from driving up. Then, we organised to watch over the supermarket until 5am. Around 2am, there was another looting attempt.
I don’t know who the looters were. Maybe they were just criminals. But I also suspect that the government was involved somehow, especially because there is a police station right by the supermarket in my neighbourhood, but the police didn’t intervene during Sunday’s clashes.
One of the opposition parties has alleged that groups close to the government organised the looting to make it look like it was the protesters, so as to turn the public against them and justify repression of the demonstrations. It also may have been a way to convince businesses to stop supporting the protestors. Many articles in the press also mentioned that the police weren’t very reactive to the looting.
Moreover, several videos were circulating online that seemed to show police actually looting, such as the one below. These only served to strengthen suspicions.
Faced with the sheer scale of the protests, President Daniel Ortega decided to cancel the plans for social security reform on April 22. But protests continued, with demonstrators denouncing the violent repression of these movements and the arrests of their fellow demonstrators. They also say they are protesting living conditions across the country and the hijacking of power by Ortega, who is already serving his fourth term.
On April 25, the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights reported that 34 people – most of them students – had been killed since the start to the protests and that numbers would probably rise.
This article was originally written in French by Chloé Lauvergnier (@clauvergnier).