MANAGUA, June 2 (UPI) -- A U.S. citizen was killed Saturday morning in Managua amid ongoing political violence in Nicaragua.
Sixto Henry Vera, a 48-year-old man with dual citizenship in the United States and Ecuador but who had lived in Nicaragua for several years, was found stripped naked with bullet wounds to his head and body at approximately 3:30 a.m on Saturday. The perpetrators also set his vehicle on fire and left his body in the middle the street.
The Nicaraguan National Police blamed Vera's death on "delinquent groups," which a spokesperson described the in a manner that closely resembles anti-government demonstrators.
"Delinquent groups with masks, firearms, mortars and molotov cocktails who operate out of the Polytechnic University of Nicaragua sector murdered Sixto Henry Vera, caused serious injuries to Marcos Pomares Varela and burned two vehicles," a police spokesman said in a statement.
But mistrust over the police is strong in Nicaragua after they allegedly killed more than 70 protesters in April and more than 10 on Nicaraguan Mother's Day, which was celebrated Wednesday -- and some of those close to Vera believe it's the police who are responsible for Vera's death.
"We're in a situation here where you can't trust the police. Plain and simple," said Agner Aleman, a friend of Vera's who was at the party earlier that night, suspects police who didn't like Vera's online posts insinuating illegal police activity were involved. "They don't care who you are or where you're from. They want to show their power, their authority."
Just before his death, Vera was celebrating his birthday with friends at a bar he owned, the Ranchito Sport Bar. Video taken one hour before he was killed shows Vera listening to a mariachi band perform for him as he takes shots of alcohol with his birthday guests.
According to friends and family who were at Vera's bar last night, a police officer friend of his came by to look at photos and video recordings Vera posted to a WhatsApp group used by neighbors in a gated community as a type of neighborhood watch network. The footage included Nissan Hilux trucks -- a common police vehicle in Nicaragua -- without license plates driving around and possibly breaking into houses in the neighborhood.
After the police officer friend left, Vera got a phone call about that friend getting into an accident. Vera went to his aid with another friend at the party, Marcos Pomares Varela, and as they were driving down Carretera Masaya, one of Managua's main avenues, they were ambushed. A chase ensued, Vera crashed his vehicle and he and Varela were shot.
"He survived by playing dead," Aleman said. "Henry is the type of person who would fight back no matter what. He wouldn't be able to survive something like that."
Bystander video posted online shows Vera's last moments as he lays on the street, naked, face-down, covered in blood and seemingly shaking his head as his vehicle is engulfed in flames in the background.
The U.S. Embassy in Nicaragua expressed its condolences for Vera's family in a statement.
"The death of a U.S. citizen is of great concern to our Embassy," Ambassador Laura Dogu said.
Violence in Nicaragua, which for years has been considered one of the safest countries in Latin America, has escalated since protests against social security cuts began in April. Those protests quickly turned deadly, with police blamed for killing more than 70 protesters, many of whom were university students, over the course of just a few days.
Although Nicaragua President Daniel Ortega rescinded the plan to cut social security benefits while raising taxes, the protests have continued due to the government's deadly response to protests, growing in to a movement against state violence and the Ortega government.
The death toll has continued to rise since April and has now surpassed 100 in the 45 days since the social security protests began.