Approximately 85% of all economic activity in the capital was paralyzed as business owners supported the call for the release of Ortega’s political prisoners
How Effective was Friday’s Work Stoppage?
Large businesses, the private banks, supermarkets and international chains united in support of the general strike called by the Civic Alliance.
The Civic Alliance for Democracy and Justice termed Friday’s national strike “successful” – the third such strike in four months of protests against Daniel Ortega’s regime. Some 85% of the large business sector heeded the call put out by the Civic Alliance and backed by the Superior Council of Private Business (COSEP), the American Chamber of Commerce (Amcham), and the Nicaraguan Foundation for Economic and Social Development (Funides).
“The private sector calls for this strike as one more tool of peaceful citizen protest to demonstrate the unity of all the economic sectors and leave it clear that the private sector is with the people,” declared Juan Sebastian Chamorro, a member of the Civic Alliance, on the nightly television news program Esta Noche.
The call to remain closed also included certain informal businesses that joined the strike after midday. Nonetheless, its greatest impact was within the formal sector. “It must be recalled that in essence the strike is a form of protest; as such, a number begin, and then it becomes generalized,” Chamorro added. He further explained that in one day of work stoppage some US $20 – 25 million dollars stop circulating, “depending on the nature of the protest.”
The national strike was announced on Thursday, September 6th, days after Comandante Daniel Ortega denied the existence of political prisoners in the country during an interview with the Spanish-based EFE news agency. Medardo Mairena and Edwin Carcache are two members of the Civic Alliance – an umbrella group that brings together students, business owners and farmers – who were abducted by the Ortega regime and accused of “terrorism”.
Diverse human right organizations assure that the government has imposed a “third phase of repression,” based on abductions, illegal detentions and the criminalization of protest, all carried out against the population that participates in the demonstrations.
“Actions of this kind, like a national strike, serve to make them reflect and see that the economic situation is heading down a very bad road. When the country goes on strike, you have to look for a political solution through dialogue. That’s the pressure we want to exert in a peaceful manner so that we can once again sit down at the table of the [National] Dialogue and speak about the fundamental topics, of how to bring about a change in Nicaragua,” added Juan Sebastian Chamorro.
The announcement of a third 24-hour strike provoked a furor on social media. Some users demanded that the Civic Alliance and COSEP declare an indefinite strike. However, Chamorro explained that this would be “like announcing your own death, and the other side can then just wait for that to occur.”
“A strike isn’t a magic wand nor a silver bullet that’s going to generate a change…. You have to be strategic and intelligent, so that this strike not generate an economic burden for the poorest and that it gives a message of belonging to the country. What happened today lifted the spirits of all Nicaraguan society, giving them a sense of being part of a common cause, such as the liberation of the political prisoners,” Chamorro reaffirmed.
Managua supported the strike
The inauguration of the new branch of Walmart, along the Masaya highway, had to wait. The strike called for by the Civic Alliance on Friday, 9/7/18, paralyzed the formal sector and along the main avenues of the country’s capital, there was minimal movement. Supermarkets, appliance shops, restaurants and the private banks added their push to the protest, whose stated objective was to demand the liberation of all the “political prisoners”.
Streets, markets, private schools, shopping centers, bus terminals and other central points in the different cities, appeared somewhat deserted on Friday morning, since the majority of Nicaraguans throughout the country opted to be part of the protest against Ortega.
In the departments, there was less evidence of the strike, since in the first hours of the morning small businesses and some gas stations opened their doors. In the cities of Managua and Tipitapa extra police deployment could also be observed, but the authorities gave no reason for this.
Traffic along the Masaya highway, one of the most congested routes in the capital, was lessened, with much fewer vehicles and buses. Along the Northern Highway the situation varied over the morning, but after midday there were few cars or trucks circulating along that normally busy road.
In some of the bank branch offices, people arrived very early to withdraw money from the ATMs. Graciela Munoz, who lives in the Carlos Fonseca neighborhood, affirmed that there was only “scarce” movement from her house to a nearby bank located in the Managua commercial Center.
“It’s not like the first general strike. I guess it has to do with the fact that now there aren’t any more roadblocks. I’ve seen people going to the market. They’re probably taking advantage of the fact that they have the day off to do the shopping for the weekend. But it’s not a whole lot of people; for example, I saw my neighbors sitting outside their houses in support of the strike,” the resident declared.
Munoz sald that she works at a restaurant in the capital and that she feels it’s a good thing that private business should back these kinds of protests, since they don’t pose a risk to people, and lets them “recharge their batteries” for future activities.
“It was time for a strike. They were saying that they wanted one that would last five days, but that needs to be well though out. I think we should keep the pressure on the assassin and keep marching, because the streets belong to the people,” was her verdict.
The informal sector went to work
In the markets of the capital, some of the small business owners opened their stalls beginning in the wee hours. Maria Bermudez, who sells fruit in the Huembes market, declared that up until then in the morning sales had been fairly low. She also stated that up until noon few people had come to buy.
“People haven’t come to buy like they always do. By this time (12 noon) I’ve usually sold about half of my fruit. Now I’ve managed to have them buy about ten percent. It affects me that they call a strike, because we then don’t get enough money to eat with,” Bermudez expressed.
The vendor assured that she didn’t support the national strike because she has debts with moneylenders and with the banks. While the latter understand that you can get a little behind in paying the quotas, the former “don’t forgive you” and “if you’re one day late your interest payments are accumulating.”
“If I didn’t have debts and was only selling to maintain my family, right now I’d be home, lying in my hammock and supporting the national strike… But I can’t, because I have to pay my debts,” Bermudez insisted.
Interurban transport functioned irregularly. Some buses delayed their departure in wait of more people traveling to the departments. A fare collector along the Managua-Rivas route, who opted not to give his name, assured that he’d been waiting for over 30 minutes to fill the bus.
“Who knows if we’ll get it filled, because it looks like people stayed home. That’s why you see that bunch of buses parked, and the parking lot full, because we’re all waiting for people to come,” the fare collector declared.
Anabell Martinez, who sells the corn biscuits known as rosquillas in the Roberto Huembes market, stated that this time maybe 40% of the stall owners came to work, at least in this market, while about 60 percent stayed home.
“What happened is that they announced the strike at the last minute. We just found out yesterday and we plan weekly, we offer our promotions and that’s why you see a lot of us selling, or trying to sell, because people have only sold a little,” Martinez revealed.
Cecilia Guzman, who sells clothing, agreed with Martinez and added that if the next strike were announced with anticipation, it’s probable that the businesspeople in the markets would join in the way they did during the two former strikes.
“We’re going to close about 3 pm. Because if people didn’t come in the morning, I doubt very much that they’ll be coming to buy in the afternoon. We’ll come back tomorrow, when everything is back to normal,” the businesswoman said.
Masaya and Leon joined in the strike
Masaya added its weight to the national strike and journalists estimated that about 80% of the businesses shut their doors in the “City of Flowers”. One of the large businesses that was closed was the shopping center known as Plaza Paseo Masaya, that holds banks, a movie theater and supermarkets.
The principal large stores also closed their doors, while the municipal market was functioning at about 50% of capacity up until about 10 am, but many closed up before the normal time due to lack of customers, said reporter Yilber Idiaquez.
There were few passengers for public transport, so that the cooperatives had to wait longer than normal to complete their routes.
Meanwhile, in Leon, according to reporters from Radio Dario, the national strike was a success because the majority of small, medium and large businesses closed their doors and La Salle school, one of the chief private schools, cancelled classes.
Other cities in the strike
The principal businesses in Bluefields, on the Atlantic Coast closed their doors in response to the call from the Civic Alliance for Justice and Democracy, including commercial outlets, clinics and stores. However, the small businesses did remain open to the population.
In Esteli, the strike was only partial. In comparison with previous strikes, this time there was greater movement in the streets, as well as open businesses.
Other cities such as Jinotepe, Diriamba, Matagalpa, and Ocotal also joined in the national strike. Users of social media in those cities shared photos and videos showing empty streets.
In Leon, Masaya, Somoto, Esteli, Granada and Jinotega there were reports of the city waking up to the sight of blue and white balloons scattered along the streets in support of the national strike.
Citizens have been using this form of protest for several days. Those on social media were also complaining of the fact that State workers had dedicated their efforts to bursting the balloons.
With the contribution of Claudia Tijerino.