Managua is sinking under a pile of garbage, amid a dispute between hundreds of homeless who scour the city's dump looking for items to sell and the workers seeking to supplement their wages.
For over a week the city's poor -- who recycle bits of copper, bronze, aluminium, iron or even plastic and glass as they eke out a living in Nicaragua's capital city -- have blocked access to municipal garbage trucks.
AdvertisementSo a pile of rubbish is growing up around the city as residents discard their trash in the streets and alleys, leaving it for the poor to pick over.
''Please, please don't take my photo. I'm too ashamed to let anyone see me, said one woman, who gave her name as Guadaloupe.
''I've been doing this for three years. There is no other way to work. We are very poor and I have had to take my daughter out of school to help me,'' she said.
Guadeloupe is one of five people hired by a man for a daily wage of three dollars and 50 cents to forage through the dump for him. He then collects the scrap and sells it on.
As dawn rises, the dispossessed arrive on foot, on rickety bicycles or even in carts drawn by bony horses hoping to unearth an iron bar or a bit of copper pipe, for which they can earn between 30 cents to a dollar a kilo, from beneath the stinking piles.
Xiomara, a young girl of 13, says she rifles through the rubbish for 12 hours a day. ''I'm saving up for my birthday, so I can have a little party,'' she said.
The municipal dump is under police guard and has been deserted since the start of the blockade. Columns of steam rise up from the 45-hectare site under the baking sun, along with a putrid smell. Overhead, vultures circle in the sky.
For Managua's 1,600 garbage scavengers, known as ''churequeros,'' the city's dump is their only source of income.
''Garbage to recycle. It's all ours,'' read one sign draped over the dump's entrance wall.
Mauricio, a farmer who arrived in Managua more than 20 years ago, has fought hard for his coveted place in the trash mountains where he works alongside his son.
He collects all types of waste plastic to deliver to a charity, which in turn sells it to processing companies for making kitchen utensils.
''I had no job and no means to survive that. I watched what the other people were doing, and it looked like a winner and so I stayed here,'' recalled the man, who arrived in the city during Nicaragua's unrest in the 1980s.
The protestors have slammed the municipal garbage men for trying to keep the best finds to themselves and for barring them from the site.
''They have salaries, and bonuses, health insurance and other benefits which we don't have'' said Maritza Salgado, one of the protest leaders.
She said the city's employees have hired people to forage through the rubbish for them and find anything salvageable to be sold to help boost their pay packets.
Managua's Mayor Dionisio Marenco said he can't find a way out of the crisis, and President Daniel Ortega has warned that he will intervene if no solution is found soon.
Meanwhile, the garbage is accumulating on the streets of Managua, triggering fears it could soon pose a health hazard.
The garbage blockade this week extended to municipal dumps in Nindiri and Tipitapa, two nearby towns where some of Managua's mounting garbage is being diverted.