The head of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has described as "alarming" the ongoing violence in Nicaragua, where months of clashes between protesters and the forces of President Daniel Ortega have claimed almost 300 lives.
Political tensions in the Central American country have soared since protests against a now-aborted pension reform began on April 18 before mushrooming into general opposition to Ortega and his government.
The bloodshed caused business support for Ortega, himself a former rebel leader, to evaporate, while the influential Catholic Church has attempted unsuccessfully to mediate a peaceful solution.
Paulo Abrao, executive secretary of the IACHR, which is part of the Organization of American States (OAS), told AFP in an interview "the situation in Nicaragua is alarming and growing worse by the day.
"The approach taken by the government in recent days seems to be closing off any space for dialogue," said the Brazilian.
Here are the key points of Abrao's discussion with AFP, edited for length and clarity:
Q. The Nicaraguan government is saying that "atrocities" committed by the opposition are not being reported. Is that true?
A. To the extent that people feel threatened, they react to defend themselves. But the proportions of those killed (20 police among the 285 dead) and injured (more than 1,800) clearly demonstrate that there has been a combined police and para-military operation against those opposing the government.
Q. Are these so-called "cleansing operations"?
Q. Indeed the state has called them "cleansing operations" while ignoring the path of dialogue and carrying out repressive actions through mass arrests and killings. The authorities justify these operations as necessary to regain control of the state. And now they're claiming that there are terrorists among the protesters.
Q. The IACHR says the crisis is deepening. Why?
A. There has been an escalation of violence and new forms of repression. We're seeing abductions, land seizures, home invasions. The situation in Nicaragua is alarming and growing worse by the day.
Q. Nicaragua has just passed a new law on terrorism. How do you see this?
A. With great concern. It makes it easier for prosecutors or police to portray protesters' actions as terrorism. On Monday, trials began against students presented on television as terrorists. This criminalization process seems to be accelerating.
Q. The IACHR has denounced attacks against the Catholic Church, which has been trying to mediate in the crisis. Is dialogue still possible?
A. The bishops' posture has been very dignified: in spite of the attacks they call for resumed dialogue. But with cleansing operations underway -- and the criminalization of opponents accused of terrorism -- no meeting was possible.
The picture today is very serious.
Q. What is the government telling the IACHR?
A. The government insists there is a coup underway, that there are terrorists, and that this justifies the use of force. We are insisting on the need to resume dialogue -- the only path to fashion a democratic solution to the crisis.
Q. The IACHR denounced human rights abuses in Venezuela during protests there. Is there a parallel to Nicaragua?
A. Obviously, there have been attempts to keep Nicaragua from becoming a new Venezuela: a state completely closed to international scrutiny, with elections not internationally recognized, with political prisoners, with state repression. But it seems Nicaragua is headed down that path.