Senior citizens fight for pensions, launch sit-in at Nicaraguan Social Security Institute (INSS) to #OcupaINSS
June 21, 2013
Leaning heavily on his cane, Roger Velasquez, 77, stands off to the side of the protest scuffle, too feeble to join in the shoving match with police officers one-third his age.
“They are siccing the National Guard on us,” Velasquez says in a quiet and tremulous voice, referring to the National Police as if they were the former state security agents that protected the Somoza dictatorship.
Velasquez, a doddering and white-whiskered former construction worker who paid into the social security system for more than a decade of formal employment, says he has no income in his old age. That’s because he lost his job at the construction firm one year before completing the mandatory 750 weeks of required pay-in to be eligible for a government pension. Now he lives off of charity from others.
“In the name of God, people give me 10 cordobas or 20 cordobas, and with that I buy food,” he says.
Though too unsteady in body and voice to mix it up with police officers or join his cohort in shouting revolutionary protest slogans, Velasquez hobbled to Thursday’s protest in front of the barricaded offices of the Nicaraguan Social Security Institute (INSS) to show his support for the thousands of other senior citizens who are demanding partial pensions from the government.
“Police, enemy of the poor!” yelled one elderly woman, shaking a bony fist at the police line that was holding the perimeter one block from the INSS office in downtown Managua.
The government’s social security institute has been closed since Tuesday, when a group of 100 senior citizens occupied the building to demand access to partial pensions—a cause they’ve been demanding for more than four years.
Police responded to the occupation by declaring a state of siege, shutting off power and water to the building and blocking others from bringing food, water or medicine to the elderly demonstrators inside. The protest grew increasingly tense throughout Wednesday, as angry demonstrators—both old and young—tried to break through the police line to bring supplies to the senior citizens. A group of youth activists climbed onto the roofs of neighboring houses to try to throw food and bottled water over the building into the courtyard, prompting police to climb up on the roofs and chase them down.
In the ensuing dust-ups in the street below, a few heads were cracked and half a dozen protesters were detained by police, dragged off in chokeholds. One of the detainees from Wednesday’s protest told The Nicaragua Dispatch on Thursday that he was beaten by police and held overnight in the infamous jail cells known as “El Chipote,” where some of the worst abuses of the Somoza regime were committed.
Photo of the brutality:
On Wednesday evening, university students from Managua joined the demonstration in solidarity with the senior citizens, using the social media hashtag #OcupaINSS to mobilize others. Confronted with a growing protest, police forcibly removed the elderly demonstrators from the INSS building at 1 a.m. on Thursday morning. Most of senior citizens were brought to the hospital where they were registered and examined by medics and then released.
But their ouster from the INSS building didn’t slow the protest, which resumed on Thursday morning as senior citizens and youth activists returned to the scene to clash with police, who held the line one block from the closed government offices.
“How can it be that the government is using young people to repress the elderly!” yelled 65-year-old protester Francisco Castro. “I am a veteran of war. We sacrificed our youths to have a better country for future generations. But not for this!”
“The police are supposed to protect the people, not Daniel Ortega!” yelled another protester.
“Don’t any of you have grandparents?” shouted another.
On the fringes of the protest, exhausted senior citizens slumped onto the curbs or under trees, trying to find some shaded reprieve from the scorching midday sun.
The first photo reads: “Police, I’m your grandpa. Don’t hit me.”