This is an interview of student Jessica Cisneros and professor Yerling Aguilera published in digital newspaper Público from Madrid on June 20, while on a tour of European cities to talk about the situation in Nicaragua. In addition to a good summary of the period from the student perspective, it also begins to address some next steps.
“ORTEGA´S GOVERNMENT HAS COMPLETELY BLOCKED THE PEACEFUL PATH THAT WE HAVE OFFERED HIM FROM THE PEOPLE”
Two young Nicaraguan activists, Jessica Cisneros and Yerling Aguilera, did a tour through different European countries to explain the demonstrations against the Government of Daniel Ortega
Published in the digital newspaper Público, Madrid, June 20, 2018
By Natalia Quiroga
Jessica Cisneros and Yerling Aguilera arrived in Madrid exhausted. The two young women are Nicaraguan activists and very active participants in the student mobilizations that have been held in Nicaragua since the end of April. During the last month the two have traveled through different countries of Europe as part of the Informational Caravan in International Solidarity with Nicaragua. Público spoke with them, a little after beginning a talk full of people, especially women and many fellow country men and women who carried posters, along with blue and white flags. Among many other slogans, shouts in capital letters were heard: “they were students, they were not criminals”.
Two months after the beginning of the most violent repression on the part of the Government of Nicaragua against some social protests, the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (CENIDH) totaled more than 200 people killed. Likewise, Amnesty International is denouncing the lethal strategy of repression on the part of the government, characterized by the excessive use of force, extrajudicial executions, control over the communications media, and the use of parapolice groups to put down the protests.
The demonstrations, led by students with an important leading role of women, and who have been joined by different collectives of civil society, started last April 18th after the government announced a reform of social security without any type of prior consultation. Some days prior, a first episode of demonstrations had been produced to protest for the poor management of the government in a fire that had been happened in the jungle. “On April 18th a group of us teachers, youth and students peacefully demonstrated outside the Central American University in Managua, and we were witnesses to how the Government began to unleash parapolice forces to repress us. We had to flee and find shelter im the University,” points out Aguilera, who is a professor and social researcher in the Polytechnical University in Managua, and an activist for women´s rights and the political left.
VIOLENCE TO REPRESS SOME PEACEFUL PROTESTS
The governmental response to what was the beginning of a peaceful, social student demonstration from the universities was violence. And precisely that disproportionate violence was what generated the domino effect of solidarity among the entire population. “The government, in the face of its incapacity to dialogue and negotiate the social conflict, deployed para police forces to repress the protesting students. The people in an act of solidarity in the face of these events, precisely the solidarity inherited from Sandinism, began to put up barricades, or block the streets in the neighborhoods. I am talking about popular neighborhoods in Managua and also in places that represent the historical bases for Sandinism. In the face of the repressive wave of the Government, there were more uprisings and the people also began protecting themselves through the barricades. Many places of the country have been paralyzed since then.”
In the first days of the protest, Álvaro Conrado, a young man just 15 years of age, took a bullet from the para police forces, while he was taking water to the university students. He became the youngest victim in the protests. “The violence got worse when the government gave the order to not treat any young student or person related to the demonstrations. This child Álvaro Conrado, after being shot, was taken to two public institutions and was denied treatment, and just like him many young people died along the way,” Jessica Cisneros pointed out, a feminist and activist for the right to citizen participation of the youth.
DISCREDIT, CRIMINALIZATION AND PERSECUTION OF THE DEMONSTRATORS
The discredit and criminalization of the demonstrations on the part of the president, Daniel Ortega and his wife, Vice president Rosario Murillo, is ongoing and has insisted from the beginning on relating the protests to current imperialists outside the country, and politically right wing groups in the country. “We started this informational campaign precisely because we perceived that there was a lot of polarization around the information that was flowing outward, also because in Nicaragua there is an authentic monopoly of the communications media, whose owners are the children of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo. The second reason why we are here is because we want to definitively unmask this fascist government.”
“I want to leave very clear that there is no, neither tutelage of any political party nor any group on the right, among other things, because the political parties of the right, and in general political parties in Nicaragua, are nothing more than a satellite of the party that the Ortega group has hijacked. In addition, the parties of the right in Nicaragua do not have any credibility nor following in the country, because they have been part of this honeymoon with the government, we cannot forget that Daniel Ortega came to government thanks to a pact for sharing quotas of power with the right.”
“It has gotten to the point of talk about a coup in Nicaragua, which shows a complete lack of knowledge of political theory, among other things, because there is no quick action to take power; neither the armed forces nor the police forces on the side of the people at this moment. To talk about a coup is to talk about what happened in Honduras and which, it is true, the government of Nicaragua also has been an accomplice to and has legitimized that event,” pointed out Aguilera.
The criminalization of the protestors has not just happened in discourse, or repression in the streets, but also in selective persecution. “They go to the neighborhoods and the homes of the people most involved to threaten them, kidnappings are happening, torture amd bodies appear in the streets,” adds Aguilera. “We ourselves, based on the visibility that the Informational Campaign is having, we are suffering a media campaign to discredit us. We are aware of the fact that, on our return to Nicaragua, they could kidnap us or take us to the Chipote jail, where systematic torture is being denounced.”
In addition to the informational campaign, with the Caravan the young activists also are trying to expose to the European political groups the situation that their country is experiencing. “In Madrid, we have met with representatives of the PSOE (Socialist Party of Spain), Podemos and Ciudadanos and we have asked them to investigate the use that is being made of weapons that have been sold from Spain,” explained Aguilera.
LITTLE PROGRESS IN THE DIALOGUE ROUNDTABLES
The national dialogue roundtable began a month after the start of the street protests, an effort guided by the Episcopal Conference, civil society and the business people to calm the crisis. On May 16th it was able to get the government, students and business people to sit down to talk, and they set a term of one month to present agreements that would put an end to the crisis. Daniel Ortega, in a meeting transmitted throughout the country, disowned the victims.
The dialogue was suspended on May 23 for lack of consensus to arrive at a peaceful agreement. Some days later, May 30, Mothers day in Nicaragua, a demonstration was held that achieved the largest participation, but also the bloodiest repression: the final result of the day was 11 dead and 79 wounded.
After a one day strike, called by the private sector and broadly supported throughout the country, on the afternoon of Friday June 15 a new dialogue roundtable was opened without the presence of Daniel Ortega. After hours of meeting behind closed doors, the government accepted inviting the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UN) and the Interamerican Commission for Human Rights (IACHR) to investigate the more than 200 deaths by the violence unleashed since April 18th. Nevertheless, barely two days later, the dialogue roundtable again was suspended due to the lack of action on the part of the government to invite these international organizations.
Cisneros as well as Aguilera show a complete lack of confidence that the Government would respond to any type of dialogue. “The dialogue is basically blocked because the government of Ortega refuses to accept our highest condition: the end to the repression and justice for the crimes committed,” added Aguilera. “The government has completely blocked the peaceful path that we have offered from the people. It has always been this way, Ortega has been annulling al the channels that would allow dialogue and the participation of the people.”
THE “HIJACKING” OF SANDINISM
Daniel Ortega has been the president of Nicaragua since 2007. After three defeats at the polls, Ortega and Sandinism that he represents thus returned to the government 16 years after having lost power on Feb 25, 1990.
“I am a woman of the left, I come from a popular class, from a single mother, from a rural zone, I had to migrate to Managua to be able to have a career,” explained Aguilera. “I am part of that group of people who also have been disappointed by this entire dictatorial and fascist turn that the Ortega government has had, above all because at some point we believed that under the Sandinista Front flag that was hijacked by the government, we could build a more just Nicaraguan society. The Sandinism of the government of Ortega is dead, because they themselves have killed it, and that is also why the demonstrations presume a reappropriation on the part of the people of the symbols of the sandinista revolution.”
Both activists insist, likewise, on not linking what is happening in their country to what is happening in other countries of Latin America. “I do not understand why people insist on comparing Nicaragua and Venezuela, because they are very different processes, the rise of Chavez was not the same as the rise of Ortega who, among many other things, negotiated quotas of power with the right wing parties. But in addition the dynamic itself with which people have mobilized in the streets is absolutely different,” explained Aguilera.
“This government always presumed that it was a grassroots party, a popular organization, my question is, at this moment, where are those grassroots, where is that popular organization? People have mobilized precisely out of the weariness accumulated over 11 years of feeling excluded from all channels for participation, the absolute distancing of the government from the working class. The peasants have been mobilizing for years over their opposition to Law 840 that granted complete property rights for 100 years to Chinese capital enterprises to build and exploit an interoceanic canal.”
“It is important to show the disinterest on the part of the government to deal with the crisis that Nicaragua is experiencing, “ Cisneros pointed out. “They insist on announcing the growth of the GDP, but they do not explain that 80% of employment is informal: how is it possible that there is development if the people have to migrate to seek a better life for themselves? These same Nicaraguans who are all over world are the ones who really are supporting the economy through their family remittances.”
NICARAGUA BEYOND ORTEGA AND MURILLO
No one knows what would happen should Ortega accept abandoning power, a still complicated scenario. Nevertheless, the mere fact that the mobilization has been maintained over two months is a clear sign that the people of Nicaragua are looking for a change. “It has been left demonstrated that the people are united against Ortega and the people will save the people,” pointed out Cisneros. In the city of Masaya, historic bastion of Sandinism, last Monday was proclaimed “liberated from dictators” and they began to organize a self government, the reason for which the next day they suffered a hard blow from the paramilitary forces, which was paid for with various deaths.
“It is a scenario where what predominates is the effort for daily survival in the face of the repression, the process of the construction of a transition agenda is obviously more complicated, “ explained Aguilera. “I do not represent all the sectors that are mobilizing, and each sector has demands and particular conditions, but in terms of immediacy, in the face of a not very probable but possible scenario that Daniel Ortega would abandon power, I would start by empowering a process that would be a Transition Commission through which an outlet could be found to the demad for democratization of the Nicaraguan people, which would imply also a complete purification of all that corruption that has marked all the state institutions.”
“All this implies a process of construction because right now there is no political party that is leading it, and we should also develop the possibility that the people can participate in some way without the need to be part of any political party, an issue debated even before the mobilizations. Before creating any type of coalition it is important to maintain and strengthen the work from the grassroots, from below, that already has been organized for some time. Obviously this sounds very nice in discourse, and we all know that in reality other processes intervene, but it is true that we have to do everything possible to rebuild the system and keep opportunistic forces and political parties from being able to take advantage of all this context.”
“This is also a process to rethink how the situation of women has been treated and addressed, beyond the role offered by the government, and which is practically decorative, just to meet a quota but always separated from the decision making.”