Taxi protest leads to violence in Managua

Nicaragua still has the highest pump prices in Central America, six years after ALBA

Four police officers were injured—one seriously—following a violent clash Monday afternoon with protesting taxi drivers who had blocked three of the principle traffic roundabouts in Managua to demand better gas subsidies.

Officer Heriberto Castro was run over and dragged underneath a vehicle by a taxi driver who tried to flee as riot police moved in break up a day-long protest before 5 p.m. rush hour traffic. The officer was hospitalized after cracking his head open on the street and getting g dragged for several meters under the car. The taxi driver was dragged from his car and beaten by other police.

Taxi drivers started the week the same way they ended last week: with street protests over gas subsidies and demands that the government regulate the circulation of motorcycle taxis. Taxi drivers used their cars to block the traffic roundabouts at Cristo Rey, Rubén Darío and Periodista, and burned a bunch of tires for good measure.

The police waited until 5 p.m. to forcibly remove the taxi drivers, leading to several clashes, injuries and arrests.

At $5.30 per gallon, Nicaragua has the highest gas prices in all of Central America, even with an alleged sweetheart oil deal from Venezuela. Nicaragua, which has the second smallest economy in the hemisphere, has the sixth highest gas prices, according to numbers in a comparative study by Bloomberg.

The Sandinista government started its gas card subsidy program for taxi drivers in June, 2011. Managua taxi drivers currently get a daily subsidy of 80 cordobas—enough for slightly more than half a gallon of gas.

The price of gas, meanwhile, has gone up by more than 22 cordobas ($.96) per gallon, meaning the government subsidy covers less and less every day. The subsidy also does nothing to cover oil costs, which have also risen steeply in recent years.

Meanwhile, the Sandinistas’ oil deal with Venezuela has netted $1.86 billion in ALBA revenue at President Daniel Ortega’s disposal, according to opposition lawmaker Carlos Langrand. That’s money that comes from Nicaraguans fillings up their gas tanks and paying the electrical bill to keep their refrigerators running.