“Jimmy” went for some beers and chips at a convenience store, on the evening of Saturday, June 25, and never imagined that two men posing as customers would rob the store, located in the Monseñor Lezcano neighborhood of Managua.
“They entered wearing their motorcycle helmets, and without taking them off they began to threaten all of us, starting with the cashiers. They stole money from the convenience store and robbed several of us, luckily I had left my cell phone in the car,” he recalls.
A video of the robbery circulated on social networks and shows the moment when one of the criminals orders the customers to get down on the floor to search them, looking for their phones and money. One of the customers manages to hide his cell phone among the products.
“You don’t imagine that you will be assaulted like this in a store, but it’s a reality that we citizens are facing more and more every day when we walk down the street or even in our own homes,” says “Jimmy”.
The same convenience store chain had suffered a similar robbery at its branch in Jardines de Veracruz, in February; and in July another of its stores on Carretera Masaya was robbed.
Sixteen days before the robbery, "Jimmy" witnessed another robbery in the same Monseñor Lezcano neighborhood, when the same thing happened at a branch of Disnorte-Dissur. The video of the security cameras also circulated on social networks.
“You see these videos and they look like movie assaults. It’s a reality that you don’t understand well until you experience it firsthand. These men can shoot anyone with total impunity in a moment of anger,” reflects this young 29-year-old from the capital.
Robberies and assaults are on the rise in Nicaragua. The photo is a dramatization // Photo: Archive
“On the third attempt of robbery, they stole my purse”
On the night of Saturday, April 9, young university student Rebeca Godoy Picado felt terror when she saw a man get off a motorcycle and pull out a gun.
“I was buying food with a friend and the only thing I managed to do was to hide my cell phone by placing the plate of food at that height, but the man took my bag with all my documents, personal items, and some money,” she recalls.
The most surprising thing for Rebeca is that the robbery occurred in front of the porch of a house, where there were several people who were paralyzed when they saw the robbery. This happened when she was just a few blocks from her home in Colonia 9 de Junio, in the capital.
“Robberies have definitely increased a lot in this neighborhood, they happen at any time of the day and even in front of witnesses. I had already been robbed twice before, but I was able to avoid it,” she says.
The first time it was a drunk man who pulled a knife and tried to steal her cell phone. “Luckily I had it in my backpack and he only went through my pants pockets,” she says. The incident occurred in the morning.
On the second occasion, she was going to the grocery store to buy something and did not have her cell phone with her. “It was at night and two men approached me on a motorcycle, one of them got off with a gun and searched me all over, but as I was not carrying a phone he let me go,” she explains.
“They've even fired bullets”
In less than two months, Rebeca has learned of at least five stories of assaults that have occurred in her same neighborhood. “An acquaintance was assaulted and threatened with a knife when she was going to bring her daughter to school shortly after noon,” she says.
Two weeks ago, half a block from her house, employees of a telephone company who were taking a break were assaulted. “They were five salesmen who were leaning back when two men on a motorcycle came to rob them with a gun in hand. Two of the boys ran away and the robbers shot at them,” she mentions.
Rebeca says she has never filed a complaint with the police. Neither for the assault nor for the robbery attempts. “I feel I don't have enough information to lead to the capture of these men and I don't think they are going to solve anything,” she says.
Increase in crime
Users on social networks constantly denounce being victims of assaults in the streets of Nicaragua; which until recently was -according to Daniel Ortega's regime- “the safest country in Central America”. However, a recent survey by the firm CID Gallup revealed that 45% of Nicaraguans interviewed said they had been victims of robberies or assaults in the last four months.
Nicaragua has the second highest number of reported robberies or assaults, after Guatemala, out of a list of 12 countries surveyed in Latin America, surpassing countries such as Ecuador, Peru, Mexico, Colombia, and Venezuela. The study was conducted among 1,200 citizens in each country, between May 10 and 19 of this year.
For Elvira Cuadra, sociologist, and expert in public safety issues, the serious aspect of this data “is that it is not only a perception of insecurity but that these are people who report having been victims of robberies or assaults”.
The survey reveals that 540 out of 1200 Nicaraguans report having been victims of these events in the first four months of the year.
“It’s not that people believe they live in an unsafe country, but that a robbery or assault actually happened to them. It is a reality that delinquency and criminality have increased and this is reflected in the police data,” says Cuadra.
Cuadra, who is also director of the Center for Transdisciplinary Studies of Central America (Cetcam), indicates that the increase in insecurity and crime is linked to the context of violence that has been installed in Nicaragua since 2018, particularly by the violence exercised from the State itself against the population.
Another factor that has had an influence is that the Police have stopped fulfilling their role of crime prevention and control to dedicate themselves to executing actions of political repression against the citizenry. The impunity with which paramilitary groups are allowed to commit crimes has also added to this.
“It is perceived that there are more weapons on the streets. and this is also somehow related to these paramilitary groups that use weapons and have been allowed to act with impunity, as it has given them permission to use those weapons for purposes other than repression,” Cuadra said.
Added to this, she adds, is the massive release of criminals who have been granted pardons “without following the procedures of the law” because they have been carried out in a “discretionary” manner, without any guarantee that they will not commit the same acts that led them to prison.
From 2014 to 2021, according to monitoring by the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (Cenidh), 33,690 common prisoners have been pardoned by the regime. To these, 1,000 more pardons were added in April, and 1,300 last July 27, totaling 35,990 releases of common prisoners from 2014 to date. Neither the Police, the National Penitentiary System nor the Interior Ministry specifies the crimes and convictions for which they are exempt. Some of the releases have triggered alerts by identifying among those released from prison people accused of murder, femicide, robbery with violence, assaults, aggression, gender violence, among others.
Police data reveal more robberies
The police's own figures reveal an increase in criminal activity in the last four years. According to the Statistical Yearbook 2021, that year 2111 complaints were registered per 100,000 inhabitants, while a year earlier the figure was 1910.
The rate of robberies in all its modalities (with force, violence or intimidation) went from 148 per 100,000 inhabitants in 2017, to 177 in 2019, and 224 in 2020. In 2021, the figure dropped moderately to 189 robberies per 100,000 inhabitants.
However, citizens claim that there is a high degree of underreporting because most people decide not to report, as happened twice to “Humberto”, a student from Diriamba who has been robbed twice between 2021 and 2022.
“Last year I was robbed when I went to a party, some kids came out with knives to steal my wallet and cell phone. The second robbery was in June when I was coming from my girlfriend's house, but this time they pointed a gun at me and again stole the same things,” he says.
For “Humberto”, going to the police was unnecessary. “They never do anything and if they are caught, they are on the loose a few days later. You know several thieves and you always see them go to jail and get out as if nothing had happened,” he complains.
Perception of insecurity increases
A Cid Gallup survey, conducted in September 2020, revealed that eight out of ten Nicaraguans believe that the climate of insecurity in the country, through crimes, robberies with violence or intimidation, and assaults, had increased.
The measurement showed an abrupt increase in the perception of insecurity, going from 49% in May 2020 to 83% in September 2020.
The survey explained that this year registered the highest perception of insecurity in the last decade, surpassing the previous record of 62% in 2010.
A survey conducted by the organization Expediente Abierto and the University of Arizona, called “Citizen Security in Nicaragua: Trends and Challenges in 2021”, indicated that 52.4% of the population considered that crime and delinquency in Nicaragua increased in the last year.
This is despite the fact that the Police have increased their number of personnel. From 2007 to 2020, the National Police went from 9290 to 17,349 members, according to data published in its statistical yearbooks, analyzed by CONFIDENCIAL. The total in 2021 would be 19,019 members, according to police notes that report three graduations with an estimated 2101 members in that year.
“There is no point in having more police if they are devoted to anything else but taking care of the population”, criticizes “Humberto”, who says he is afraid that for the third time his wallet and phone will be stolen. With resignation, he admits, “I don’t doubt that it will happen again”.
This article was originally published in Spanish in Confidencial and translated by our staff