On Monday, business owners from Granada affiliated with the National Chamber of Tourism, sustained a heated meeting with Mayor Julia Mena and Departmental Chief of Police Alejandro Ruiz in which they demanded that the officials “fulfill their Constitutional mandate” and guarantee the security of their businesses, the tourists and of the general population. The demand followed incidents of looting and threats in the recent days in the majority of the sites around the area.
[Granada is considered the leading urban tourist hub in Nicaragua.]
The meeting lasted around two hours and ended with the signing of an agreement in which the mayor and the police chief committed to use the police forces to “protect the businesses from looting” and to safeguard citizens who want to “demonstrate peacefully”.
The agreement also guarantees the free circulation of citizens and vehicles, as well as the reestablishment of the streetlights, and police protection for the fire department so it can move about freely to attend to any emergency. It also includes the promise of an immediate response from the authorities to any call from the “businesspeople from the city of Granada.”
To lend authority to the agreement, the document was given an official reading and signed by the mayor, the chief of police, a representative of the Tourism Institute, from the Ministry of Governance and the business representatives. Together with the government authorities they formed a commission that will meet once again on Tuesday to evaluate the work of the state institutions.
“We hope that this can go forward, because that’s everyone’s desire; we hope that they can really reestablish the order that’s needed without the need to repress anyone. I believe that those of us who march in the daytime aren’t the ones who have vandalized properties by night. That’s very clear and we ask that what each person has expressed here not be held against them, that there not be any repression.” declared Xiomara Diaz, co-owner of “The Garden Café”.
A heated meeting
On Monday, May 14, the business owners from the Granada tourist sector sent a letter to the city’s mayor expressing their concern for the criminal actions that had occurred in days past. The letter spoke of their insecurity and of the looting that had victimized some business owners.
The mayor’s response was positive and she agreed to meet with the entrepreneurs that same afternoon. At 3:30 pm, some 100 small business owners approached the Dario Hotel to hear the position of the mayor and the chief of police, as well as the stance of the Tourism Institute (INTUR) and the Ministry of Governance.
One by one, members of the business community spoke up to manifest their concerns. One of them pointed to the lack of willingness on the part of the authorities to attend to emergencies, stating that neither city hall nor the police were responding at such moments, although “if you’re on a motorcycle without a helmet, there they are.”
Mayor Julia Mena initially ignored the demand of this letter and other business leaders, inferring instead that their comments were “rude”. “I thought we agreed to be polite,” was her response. Immediately afterwards, she downplayed the true objective of the meeting and asserted that the marches organized in Granada have been “for political goals and fertilized by outside forces that have managed to provoke the disorder that’s taking place in this city.”
The mayor’s speech caused anger among the business owners, who rose from their seats ready to walk out of the meeting.
“Look, we’re foreigners; I came from Switzerland to start a business here. Everything worked well for three years, tourism was working, but – What’s happening now? Now we have tourists sobbing in the hotels because they’re frightened, and we’re asking ourselves: Where is Intur and the mayor? What are the police doing?” questioned the proprietor of the El Jardin Hotel.
The hotel owner went on to say that he had served the people of his country as a member of the Swiss Border Police for fifteen years, and he didn’t understand the lack of disposition on the part of the police of the city. “I’m a foreigner, and my heart is in Nicaragua, but if the country continues this way there’s going to be great chaos,” he affirmed.
Xiomara Diaz, co-owner of “The Garden Café” said that she regretted the mayor’s words and declared that it saddened her greatly that the authorities and the business community couldn’t act in concordance and had so many disagreements. She reflected on the insecurity and the lack of protection that they feel after seven at night.
“We’ve had several incidents, and the response that we’ve obtained on the part of the police has been: “Go ask for help from so-and-so who’s been the one organizing this commotion.” They’ve also advised us to look for our own private security personnel because we’re all alone. I think that such a response isn’t conducive to any understanding between the private and public sector; we feel that the relationship is totally broken,” Diaz stated.
The businesswoman didn’t feel that the Police were protecting them. She added that the large quantity of “videos and photos in which the riot squads appear side by side with antisocial elements wanting to get into the homes or businesses” exposed this insecurity, leaving them at the mercy of any looter that came into their business to steal.
Arriving at an agreement
Police Chief Alejandro Ruiz then entered the discussion, although he didn’t respond to the interrogatives of the business owners. He confined himself to saying that the solution should involve all sectors, and that Granada had been one of the cities “least affected” by the looting.
“We’re fully disposed to work with you. You’re asking for the intervention of the police; it seems reasonable to me that the police act to reestablish order,” Ruiz said, justifying the inaction of the police authority because the citizens have judged them “in a certain way.”
Ruiz’s response caused general indignation. The owner of the Polish Nail Salon, Ariana Portillo, described how she had been an eyewitness to officials manifesting indifference in the face of the looting of her business; instead of supporting them with action, they merely observed from afar some looters stealing everything.
“I arrived at three in the morning. Two policemen were passing by my business and stopped to wait and see if we were part of the people who were taking things out of the establishment, or if we were the owners. I went up to where they were and told them that I was the owner. I asked why they were waiting so long to find out who was in the shop,” Portillo said.
After listening to the majority of the business representatives, the mayor asked those present an ambiguous question: “Do you want the police to act?” Some timid voices answered “yes”. The mayor then repeated the same question several times and later ordered the police chief to respond to this “clamor” of the business community.
The police chief then took the mike and said that the Police would protect the businesses of any group in Granada, no matter who was who. “We can’t identify those who are doing good or bad, for that reason we’ll do it this way.” Ruiz’ response provoked renewed discontent among those present.
“The point is, you should do your work. I’m from one of the neighborhoods near the center, and for several days now members of the Sandinista youth and gang members have been going out in pick-ups at night to loot. You should be doing your work there, because we’re not looting ourselves here,” a business owner argued.
Father Augusto Rios from the Xalteva Church asked to speak and reiterated the same theme. “We should be careful to be clear about what we’re asking. The police say that they’re going to protect the businesses, but from whom?” the priest asked, adding that the most sensible thing was to create a commission made up of business owners and the public sector to guarantee that the requests were being fulfilled.
Finally, the business leaders elaborated the points of agreement and asked that the commission members sign. As mediators of this pact, Father Rios and Monsenor Luis Vallejos also signed the document.