JOSHUA MARIN-MORA: “¡Hagan internacional la noticia!” pleaded a college student of the National Autonomous University of Nicaragua (UNAN). The young woman implored the internet to spread the news around the world of what was happening as she and other students sought refuge in a nearby Catholic church. On the night of July 13, 2018, armed, pro-government supporters loyal to President Daniel Ortega rained gunfire on the school and church in response to student protests against the regime. Several demonstrations across the country began on April 18 against social security reforms that would decrease benefits at a greater cost. Thirty people were killed during these initial demonstrations and despite the reforms being cancelled, government opposition across the country has continued to grow. Now Nicaragua is witnessing the largest uprising since its civil war in 1990.
Weeks after the April conflicts, a National Dialogue began on May 16 promoted by the Catholic Church, political forces, and the Inter-American Human Rights Commission. Ortega and his wife (the vice-president) were requested to resign and on May 23, a week after its inception, the National Dialogue was suspended indefinitely. The Nicaraguan Foreign Minister, Dennis Moncada Colindres, objected that the agenda of the Dialogue would lead to a coup d’état for a change of government outside the constitution. Students, businessmen and civil society called for changes that would advance the national elections, prohibit presidential re-elections and change the Supreme Electoral Council. On May 30, Mother’s Day in Nicaragua, paramilitary groups and the national police suppressed a march in honor of those killed during the protests and more violence erupted in the following days.
In April of 2018, Nicaraguan police confirmed the liberation of over 200 students who were detained for protesting the Ortega regime. They were found on the outskirts of the capital, Managua, barefoot and with shaved heads. After being found they recounted detailed stories of how they were tortured while detained. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights concluded that the, “State of Nicaragua has violated the rights to life, personal integrity, health, personal liberty, assembly, freedom of expression, and access to justice.” In addition to the torture, reports spread that the government was censuring different media outlets that were on the scene covering the protests. On April 20, a radio station critical of the Ortega government was attacked and burned down. Even further, medical professionals of the state health units were arbitrarily dismissed, including 146 doctors, for tending to the wounded during the protests. This retaliation sparked a “medical march” against the dismissals.
Víctor Cuadras is a Nicaraguan college student who continues to risk his life as a leader of a student group protesting the government of Daniel Ortega. On July 12, he spoke to the press and denounced the presence of Cuban and Venezuelan intelligence in Nicaragua since Ortega took power in 2007. According to Cuadras, the stories of torture victims suggest that there is possible foreign support for the Nicaraguan government. “Castro replicated his recipe of repression and harassment in Venezuela and now they do it in Nicaragua.” Cuadras said. “There are a lot of people that while being tortured heard Venezuelan and Cuban accents in the clandestine prisons.”
July 27 marked the 100th day of protests; 448 killed, 2,830 injured, and 595 missing. Thousands of Nicaraguan people are fleeing the country seeking refuge from Ortega’s cruel and oppressive regime. The UN Refugee Agency is calling for international solidarity and support. People should be able to return to their home countries. Unfortunately, for Nicaraguans seeking asylum in Costa Rica, Panama and Mexico, or those protected in the US by TPS, going home is not an option. Ortega has said that he will not resign from the presidency before his term expires in 2021. National Dialogue is scheduled to resume and the people of Nicaragua continue to call for constitutional reforms and for an earlier, free, election that will allow them to exercise their rights and re-establish their democracy. Hagan internacional la noticia, #SOSNicaragua.