Street violence, the Turbas, and Ortegas crisis of legitimacy
This week the streets of Managua are once again plagued by the violence of political protests. Tuesday in front of the National Assembly, Wednesday at the Holiday Inn near the center of town, Thursday in the residencial area of Los Robles. Protestors mobilized by the Ortega administration, referred to as “Turbas” because they often cover their faces and wrap their heads in turban-like cloths, have been bussed to various locations in the city in support of the administration’s position regarding the appointment and tenure of Supreme Court justices. While the political issues are extremely complex (basically, two Ortega appointees are refusing to step down, but their replacements have also yet to be confirmed by the Assembly), at the street level, the result is more violence, fear, insecurity, and traffic. I’ve yet to understand how firing mortars into the hair, waving and shooting hand-made rifles, storming into private hotels filled with international guests, and burning up the cars of opposition party leaders contribute to building a democratic society. While I’m sympathetic to the government’s ideological position and anti-poverty programs, these protests just lead me to question it’s credibility and legitimacy. Friends and colleagues who work in government jobs (e.g. the Ministry of Family) tell me the party line this week is “show up at the protests or be fired or have your wages cut”. Thus it’s impossible to tell whether the people protesting in favor of the government’s position are actually Ortega supporters or are only being paid to show up and wave FSLN flags. Furthermore, I can’t help but feel all this insecurity, the turbas waving guns, the protests turning to tear-gas responses by the police, the mortars fired into the air, just feeds into the culture of violence and machismo that pervades Nicaragua. Just some reflections on “Earth Day” from the hot, humid, insecure streets of Managua.