May 5 marked the beginning of an intended thirty-day strike, with public transport workers and truckers in Nicaragua protesting rising fuel costs and the lack of government impetus to do anything about it. With road blockades in several places in Managua and almost no public intercity transport allowed whatsoever, Nicaragua is at an effective standstill. Containers full of goods sit stalled on the sides of highways, and even sports teams have canceled weekend matches. When baseball is put on hold in Nicaragua, you know it is serious.
The focus of the strike centers on three unions’ demands for government subsidization at the fuel pump. The Federation of Taxi Drivers, National Transportation Coordinator and the Interurban Transportation Directorate demand that gas prices, currently at about US$4.70 per gallon, be reduced by more than US$2.00 per gallon and frozen. However, the government remains firm that such a policy would bankrupt them, and the Ministry of Transport and Infrastructure has offered to reduce the price of gasoline by only US$0.30 a gallon.
In Managua, some urban buses continue to run – those that already receive heavy fuel subsidies from the government. However, travel in the city is both risky and tense, and taxis refuse to drive in neighborhoods where there are known blockades. This week informal reports told of several strike-breaking taxis which were stopped by strikers at blockades. Strikers dragged passengers out and then stoned the vehicle. On Wednesday, more than 100 people were arrested in the city of León over the strike, and at least 15 police officers have been injured in interactions with the strikers. Reports trickle in of violent scuffles in most major cities throughout the country.
While many hope an agreement will be reached between the government and the transport workers prior to the planned month-long strike, several Nicaraguans we spoke to say that the situation has to get worse before it gets better. A 1999 transportation strike left two people dead and 48 wounded before a resolution was reached.
Mneesha Gellman and Josh Dankoff for Upside Down World, May 16