We didn’t know their names. We hadn’t seen their faces. We really didn’t know much of anything about them, except that there were twelve soccer players altogether, accompanied by their coach. They had crawled up into the inner reaches of a cave, exploring with the excitement and energy that 12-year old boys seem to have, when outside rains created rising waters inside the cave, submerging the very passages that the boys had used hours before. They became trapped.
We all know the story by now, as it became a topic of international attention. News sources from around the world featured daily updates about the fate of the boys; indeed, nine days elapsed before rescuers even discovered the boys still alive, but each and every day we received updates about rescuers’ progress. It was no less than a miracle that the team survived so long underground. And then we waited and watched as rescue teams- made up of Thai, U.S. and other international support- completed the meticulous planning and execution of the rescue itself. In the end, there was a universal sigh of relief from all corners of the globe that these young lives had been saved. Maybe the world needed a unified success in something, anything, at this time of extreme nationalism and name-calling.
The international interest and support puzzles me. I readily understand the empathy and emotional attachment that we feel: imagining one’s own children in such dire circumstances is a nightmare that most parents have, and to which even non-parents can relate. The anguish and outrage expressed in the U.S. on behalf of children separated from their parents at the border with Mexico demonstrated our ability to activate on behalf of kids. But the capture of the entire international conscience over the fate of 12 boys astounds me. There have been and continue to be almost daily events which threaten the lives of children, in many cases far more than a dozen young lives, and for which we show almost casual interest at best. Sometimes the young lives are lost, and the world takes little note. Middle East violence has destroyed young lives as a matter of policy. Syrian war has made no distinctions between use of nerve gas on adults or children. In Nicaragua, young people are being killed or “disappeared” each day during the current political turmoil, and the world barely knows of it. What made the Thai soccer team so different for us?
Was it the uniforms? Was there something about the context of a boys’ athletic team? Perhaps the difference was due to the nature of the threat: not imposed by politics or other man-made conventions, but rather from Nature herself. Maybe it’s easier to root for people confronting the forces of natural calamity than to be forced to choose sides in a conflict. Someone suggested to me that we have a limited capacity for empathy in crises, and that we are more capable of emotion for smaller numbers of victims: we can handle our fears and grief for 12, but it’s much more difficult for, say, 1,000. For whatever the reason, we seem to pick and choose the victims who we will care about. It baffles me. And I feel badly for those other victims who wait for the caress of human accompaniment, prayers and support, even when it never comes.
My reflections over this brought to mind a scene from the movie, “Schindler’s List,” where Schindler is in despair over Jews he could not ultimately help away from Nazi danger, despite his urgent desire to save them:
“I could have got more out. I could have got more. I don’t know. If I’d just… I could have got more…. If I’d made more money. I threw away so much money. You have no idea. If I’d just….
“I didn’t do enough! This car. Someone would have bought this car. Why did I keep the car? Ten people right there. Ten people. Ten more people. This pin. Two people. This is gold. Two more people. He would have given me two for it, at least one. One more person. I could have gotten one more person… and I didn’t. And I… didn’t.”
Sometimes conscience is too slow, or too selective, and becomes numbed by the happy drama of boys being boys….
Periodically, I have written letters from Nicaragua to the U.S. through two made-up pen pals. The correspondence is intended to reflect the views that a Nicaraguan might have about his/her own country, as well as the U.S.. What follows is the latest of these.
Greetings from Nicaragua! I hope that this letter finds you in good health and happiness; may God bless you with His enduring love. I have not seen you now for many months so I will be pleased to receive any word you might send in response to this letter. My family is in good health and our farm is producing well, though the heavy rains and recent violence have given us worry.
Of greatest worry is the state of our country. You may be reading about the protests and demonstrations which have happened, and the government’s reaction. The violence which has happened seems to be every night and reports of more deaths reach us in the countryside each day. These are happening mostly in the cities, but we have had some troubles here with young people in cars yelling bad things. We don’t know if the violence will spread but it makes us worry.
It is hard to know what is happening for real. Some outside people have come here and said that our president has told lies. Many people within Nicaragua have said so, too. But the president and his people say that it is the protesters who have lied and that the violence comes from them. Sometimes it is very confusing, these different statements that are made. My son gave to me a report from a group called Amnesty International; maybe you have heard of them. They were not supportive of our president. They said that he has told lies. But he is our president and it is hard to believe that a leader would openly do that.
I think in your country you have had some problems like this with your president, no? We read here about some of the untrue things he says (like when he was elected and said that the number of people to watch him was the biggest ever) and I wonder how you react to them. Is it OK for North Americans speak out about these? Is it your duty? I am very uncertain here.
What I do know is that there are families that have been torn apart by the government’s policies. In some cases there have been arrests and even kidnappings and no answers about what has happened to the people taken. There have been more than 200 killed so far, mostly young people from the universities. There are many mothers and fathers who are deep in grief. I don’t know if I believe that university students have shot and killed one another, as the government claims. But if they did not, then who did?
My brotherAlfredo has a nearby farm. He says that what is happening in Managua and other large cities is nothing to do with us, that it is the university students and Daniel, and that we should not get involved. He says this will all go away in time and things will go back to normal. He does not want to get involved because maybe the party would do something to get even. He thinks there is not much happening in our part of the country. But twice we have had a hard time to get our harvests into the city to sell, with the roads being barricaded. I have a small loan through the cooperative and I must be able to pay it back in order to receive a new one. So these events are creating some problems.
The protestors are saying that the government has violated their rights and that is why they continue to protest. I would like to ask you about human rights in your country. I have read that the U.S. stopped being a member of a human rights organization that is world-wide. Is that true? Does this mean that the U.S. is no longer interested in what other countries do? And does it no longer care what other countries think about its eagerness to support things like what are happening here? I think this must be disappointing to the people here who have taken to the streets.
My hope is that there will not be another war. Our country still feels the wounds of the revolution and the Contra War. Maybe we are still a very poor country but at least we have been at peace. But maybe there has been a price for that which now is being paid. I know that you have planned to travel here once again and I would be happy with your visit. But I know that this might be difficult at this time. Do not forget that Nicaragua is not just the ones in authority, but mostly made up of good, peaceful people.
Meanwhile, I will send to you wishes for your health and that of your family!
A number of people have asked me about the sequence and timing of events since April that have led Nicaragua to this moment in time. With that question in mind, please click on this link for a pretty good timeline synopsis of events to the present. It may not transport you into the thick of the confrontations, but close enough to smell gunpowder. It also presents some good resources for reading more about any of the daily events. The timeline leaves us asking, “Where does it end? How? And when?”
The confrontations continue, and with them the growing uncertainty of where it all will end. Comparisons with the Sandinista Revolution of the 70’s are inevitable, even with the figure of Daniel Ortega front and center as he was all those years ago. But this time, he finds himself on the other side of the fence, being characterized as this generation’s Somoza.
Is it the same? North Americans may struggle to understand the basis for the demonstrations and protests, given the relative lack of media coverage in the U.S. So I include here an interview by La Prensa newspaper with Enrieth Martinez, a member of the University Coalition who was present at the National Dialogue. Her perspective provides a more detailed look into what is driving the protest movement in Nicaragua and what might be expected from this period of confrontation and mutually exclusive demands by both sides.
Enrieth Martínez, University Coalition: “This is a Revolution”.
Enrieth Martínez, member of the University Coalition present in the National Dialogue. LA PRENSA / Manuel Esquivel.
She was at the table of the National Dialogue the only day that Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo were present, but before this, she was active at the civil protest on behalf of the Indio Maiz Natural Reserve and against the reforms made to social security. Her name is Enrieth Martínez, she is currently in her 5th year of Sociology, and despite the continuous massacre that has already taken the lives of a hundred people in Nicaragua, the young girl has hope.
“It is a conviction more than it is a certainty”, says Martinez. “There is hope for Nicaragua this year, because I feel we are working for it”
Martinez is co-founder of the University Coordinator for Democracy and Justice, and member of the University Coalition that has been present in the National Dialogue, she analyzes with Revista Domingo the demonstration of 2018, which she calls as a “revolution” with no absolute doubts.
What was the beginning of this so called “Nicaraguan Spring”, was it the fire at Indio Maiz, the beating of the elderly in Leon or the brutal repression that took place at Camino de Oriente?
I believe it was the explosion of social media. For example, I was not in Leon at the moment of the repression, but I felt indignation as I saw the way they attacked the young people that were protesting, the way they attacked the elderly, the way they attacked the feminists who were the ones that led the protests to the reforms to the social security system there. It was all of that together. It was the feeling of impotency. I believe that besides all these events as such, which were immensely violent, it is about the feeling of being attacked, of feeling vulnerable, powerless and at the same time feel the anger, the rage on a system that has always done this. But now there were too many things happening at the same time. And then you realize the spine-chilling reality that this Government does not care if it kills you. These were young people protesting and you knew they were doing it for a just cause, you cannot reform a law that affects all the country in a unilateral way without consulting. There was nothing wrong in what we were doing. But suddenly, they start attacking you, shooting you with rubber bullets, then with real bullets. They start killing you. Then you start seeing the images of murdered young people (chavalos). It was unbelievable, almost.
May ended with a massacre on Mother’s Day… Is this a Revolution?
Can we use the word, revolution?
You should not be afraid to use these types of words. They were captured, kidnapped by this Sandinista Front for 10 years. I believe that these protests cry out for justice and democracy but are also reclaiming our history. We need to take it away from their hands and tell them that this history is not owned by the FSLN, it was the people that constructed it. This is a revolution in all senses. It is a revolution that intends to be civic. That tries to recover lost spaces, that tries to recover the historic memory, that tries to recover symbols. It is a revolution.
Is this revolution comparable with the one the overthrew Somoza´s dictatorship?
It is comparable in the way that both look for a process to democratize institutions, to return to a democracy with strong institutions, with zero “caudillismo”. This means it is trying, recovering many of the past slogans, because many of the demands and feelings are still here. These are demands that have never been accomplished.
Although the revolution from the seventies pursued the things you are saying, what came after 1979 did not necessarily guarantee strong institutions, nor a separation of powers, or ended the caudillismo, because in the 80s is when the figure of Daniel Ortega is born…
I cannot give such a direct answer. I believe that the Sandinista Revolution was a daughter of her own era. It was not a perfect revolution. I would never be willing to romanticize a historic and military process that was so tragic for the country. It had significant changes. The idea of the people. How that idea was positioned, the demand of the people, what they were asking for was accomplished through that revolution, and that is something that has had a profound impact in Nicaraguans. The idea of the People, that it is the people that must rule, this is something very important and we are trying to recover it, many of us are defending this, even with our own lives.
Do you not believe that there was a dictatorship during the 80s?
I believe that it was a very complex process. I am not willing to categorize it as a thing only of a dictatorship. It was a different context. It was a cold war, it was economic crisis, it was the attacks from United States through the beginning of the Counter-Revolution, it was a geopolitical game. I am not saying there isn´t a geopolitical game today, but in the past it was very paralyzed. It was a period with authoritarian accents, popular accents, with an amalgam of things…The Sandinista Revolution was a daughter of her own history. And this one is ours, it has been catalogued as a civic revolution, and it is a daughter of its own history.
Do you think it will still be a civic revolution after the hundred deaths?
I think everyone fears this: that it stops being so. They, themselves fear this. The Government fears it. The day before May 29th, we were driving around in the car and we saw how they moved concrete blocks around the perimeter of El Carmen, they were building barricades.
I think it is not only because they fear the people or my generation that is a daughter of a revolution that due to internal and external reasons was not able to function. But it is also a fear of themselves. It is important to recognize that the people that are here today, have tried everything. We have even taken the risk to be in the National Dialogue where it is evident that the Government does not have the political will to dialogue. It is more than evident, that during the mixed commission of three and three, while dialoguing at the Episcopal Conference, at the same time they were attacking young people at the UNI (National University of Engineering). It is important to recognize that Civil Society as such, until today, has done all in their power to maintain this as a civic struggle. And I hope that, as I said, we are the children of the revolution, grandchildren as well. We do not want to repeat it because of the human cost. Because of the immense losses. However, I have talked with young people and I know that many of them feel that the pacific revolution, the revolution of protests, sometimes does not satisfy immediate demands. Sometimes it does not provide a response to the massacre that is happening on the part of the Government.
The wealthiest men in Nicaragua ask for anticipated elections, the Civic alliance that is present in the dialogue is also asking for a democratic exit, the Interamerican Court of Human Rights, has made it clear that we have suffered extrajudicial assassinations commanded by the State….Why doesn´t Daniel Ortega leave if everything is against him?
I think they feel that they have an “apparatus” that supports them. For 10 years, they have dynamited the Government apparatus, the State apparatus, in such a way that what is in power today is not an elected president, but a political party led by Daniel Ortega, Rosario Murillo and their family. This means that, during these 10 years he has destroyed all the Institutional apparatus and has imposed in its place a system that supports him as a person, and not as a figure of leadership, as a post, a role, but specifically, him as a person, as a member of a family. This figure that is Daniel Ortega, Rosario Murillo and their family, probably gives them the security that despite the killings, they have an apparatus that they feel supports them.
But who is part of this apparatus, its close officials participating in the Dialogue, the Police, the Mobs, the one and a half block of people that they can convoke to their events? Are they willing to rule just a few?
I think I can just speculate on this. It is hard to understand why these people prefer so many killings, but we can´t just see everything in black or white. If this process has done anything it has shown us how fragmented we were and how much we need to consolidate ourselves. They have been very good in all this time of managing crisises. That is why they have lasted so long. But I also feel this will also be unsustainable. The polarized discourse that they used to use for great gatherings is being diluted. They are making their own bases turn against them by the fact that they are using their own sons as cannon fodder to kill other young people. The people from the neighborhoods are the first affected, because neighborhoods are the most vulnerable areas and it is the barrios who they always aim at, thinking that with their miserable programs of social help and assistance they were buying the loyalty of the people. I think that to the extent that we can break that polarized discourse…Who is the people and who is not the people, who is with the Government and who isn’t with the Government, their system of exercising control will lose effect. And as this system of power, control and manipulation decreases, this can have a chance. The reason this has lasted so long is not because of their ability to convoke people, it is precisely the issue that there is control, manipulation of the National Police, the electoral and judicial system. It is an entire apparatus that, being independent, would ensure you that he could leave immediately, but because of their dependency on the executive they are the ones that make him stay.
How do you interpret the massacre of Mother’s Day? What was Ortega looking for with this?
To instill fear, absolutely. We saw this from the first protests, since the 19th. The police firing their shotguns against young people (chavalos). It is a process aiming to install a state of terror. It is through fear that you are able to reach another type of control over the people you can no longer manipulate. Transgress everything that is attempted to be built as a moral statue, any symbol that would represent hope.
Do you think people will be afraid to go out in a massive way again?
No. Would you be afraid of going out on a demonstration that is that massive?
Some people complain that the big demonstrations often repeat the same locations: The Jean Paul Genie circle, Metrocentro, the UCA. What would you tell people who maybe have doubts about always going to the same places?
That they have the right to not have doubts. This is a process that is building itself along the way. These spaces are also symbolic, because of the crosses, because of all that has been put into it. But I would tell them to not be afraid of calling their own gatherings. Right now, it is so easy to do it , you just organize with other people, make an announcement, and you are ready. I am betting on this, on people taking the initiative to take new spaces and not always stay with the same ones.
On social media, Lesther Aleman’s interview to the New York Times has generated a debate on whether he is bringing back to life that “caudillismo” that sometime seems as if its tattooed in Nicaragua’s history…
It is very naive to think that living in a country with a vertical political culture, that is so machista, so racist, these kinds of things don’t decrease. We are people who have been socialized in these systems and through these processes. I saw a publication saying that this was a young man of only 20 years of age, that he is learning. And that is the truth. We are all learning. I believe that the most important aspect of the interview is to realize that those of us who are present here today are young people, we make mistakes, we have many hopes, we have many dreams. I believe that is something that is reflected in Lesther in that interview, the thing about feeling you are an empowered young man, of feeling you are a young man that can confront the world. And that is ok. And sometimes it is not so good because of an issue of vulnerability, for facing a Government that is willing to kill you. I think we would do ourselves a favor if we realized that there are no definite answers here. Nobody here is a figure built for this historical moment. This is a process of construction and reconstruction of ourselves, of what we want, of what we think. And this will be reflected in every triumph, but also in every mistake we make.
It has also been said that men are the ones who appear in public representing the university students. The image of Madelaine Caracas throwing out the names of the murdered student in Ortega’s face is unforgettable, but at least in what is visible it is the only moment you remember of a woman. Do women not have the leadership they deserve in this struggle?
I cannot speak out for others, because each one of them went through an internal process to elect their spokespersons. In the case of the University Coordinator we had a internal process that was democratic, and our spokesperson is Francisco. First, he knows himself to be a spokesperson not a representative. He knows his work is to verbalize our demands in the dialogue, which have been previously agreed in the Coordinator. And that is fine. We try to avoid verticality as much as possible. But it is important to recognize that we are all affected by the machista, sexists and racist issues. That is evident. I think it is important to try and not see things just as white and black. Or to jump and exclaim: “On my God, look, there is machismo!” I mean, obviously there is machismo everywhere. This State, this Government has been built upon that. Our society functions because it is machista, because it is racist and because it is capitalist. And it is class biased too. Micro-machista expressions and machista expressions are things you will see all the time. The important thing now is to be willing to reconstruct ourselves in this process. There are young women that are not showing their faces in the dialogue, but they are in their work groups making substantial contributions to the decision making, that are not the decisions of Victor Cuadras, they are not the decisions of Francisco Martinez; they are the decisions of a collective.
Enrieth Martinez Palacios, 24 years of age, from Leon. She studies Sociology at the Central American University -UCA and won a research scholarship to which she dedicates time daily. She joined student protests since the Indio Maiz fire and the Social Security Reforms. “With April’s protests, more than being at the protests I got involved in a support network that worked on how to move food supplies. I was in the church of Santa Martha, I was in the Cathedral, delivering supplies to UPOLI”, she says.
A movie, she says she loves is “Moonrise Kingdom” (Wes Anderson, 2012) Her favorite book is “Never forget I love you” (2008) form French writer Delphine Bertholon.
People that support the Government made a video with a picture of Enrieth Martinez and audio where she supposedly denounces that the University students of the Coalition who are in the National Dialogue have a pact with the MRS to allow civil unions among same sex couples.
“It makes me laugh, that is not me, obviously. I am also not financed by the CIA or the MRS”, Martinez states. “It is campaign to discredit any kind of symbols that represent an alternative for organizing, and an alternative to this Government.”
A song she listens to in these times, because of the reality that Nicaragua is experiencing, is “La Maza” of Silvio Rodriguez.
She speaks Spanish and English.
These comments are not the ramblings of an anarchist or terrorist. They are the deliberate reflections of a young woman convinced of the rightness of her beliefs and representative of those who have come to believe that the government must undergo systemic change, in the same way that a young Sandinista leader named Daniel Ortega felt and spoke decades ago….
With the ongoing demonstrations and attacks occurring in Nicaragua, and our periodic attempts to summarize some of the most important events, we have initiated this extra blog column. Nica Update won’t take the place of daily news, but it will provide some information from sources which might not be readily available elsewhere. This column will not carry opinion or speculation, unless it is clearly labeled as such.
How long we will make entries here is unknown, of course, as it will depend entirely on the shape of things to come in Nicaragua. So we hope that the need for the reports is short-lived….
In the game of chess that is being lived out within Nicaragua right now, the Bishops Conference of the Catholic Church has been visible and active as a mediator between the demonstrators and President Daniel Ortega. That role has persisted this week, even as the violence continues and, with time, both sides seem to have become even more intractable.
The country at large has become less navigable as increasing numbers of roadblocks have cut off nearly all travel, even through the most roundabout means. (You can see the map of blockades as of June 7 here.) Aside from the inconvenience created within a country where travel between points A and B is already a challenge, the roadblocks hinder the delivery of harvests to markets. That’s a significant economic threat to rural producers and to commerce in general. Of course, if the harvests cannot be sold at market, borrowers will face defaults on loans they may have taken to plant and grow the crop. Default with an organization like WPF may result in a renovation of terms; default with a commercial lender may result in the loss of property or other pledged assets, the country-in-crisis notwithstanding. So any thoughts about the demonstrations and disruptions being limited in impact to Managua or the universities are simply incorrect: this is a dangerous national matter.
The Bishops have sought to be intermediaries, to neutralize the rhetoric and to seek common ground as a starting point for discussion and resolution. But that has proven to be far more difficult than simply occupying a referee’s chair. The initial national dialogue which has sought traction under their guidance featured an angry interruption of Daniel Ortega’s opening comments by student leaders. Mr. Ortega himself has been absent from subsequent efforts at dialogue. The violence around the country has continued and grieving is once again a national pastime.
Most recently, the Bishops have sought to meet with President Ortega to formally make request on the most pressing matters fueling the demonstrations, as follows:
We the Bishops of the Episcopal Conference of Nicaragua, as mediators and witnesses to the National Dialogue, inform the Nicaraguan people that after listening to several sectors of national and international society, we are asking the President of the Republic of Nicaragua, Daniel Ortega Savaadrea, for a meeting to deal with the issues so indispensable and essential for our country, concerning justice and democracy, on which peace always depends, with the purpose of assessing in the plenary session of the Dialogue the helpfulness of carrying it forward.
This meeting has been accepted by the President, it will be tomorrow Thursday June 7 at 3:00pm in la Casa de los Pueblos.
After that meeting, we will be reporting to the national and international community about the dialogue. For that reason we are inviting the press to a conference at 7:00pm on that same day in the Our Lady of Fatima seminary.
We ask our faithful to intensify their prayers for the success of that conversation.
In our office, Wednesday June 6, 2018, Year of the Lord.
THE BISHOPS CONFERENCE OF NICARAGUA
The meeting was held, and a second communique from the Bishops was issued yesterday:
We the Bishops of the Bishop´s Conference of Nicaragua communicate to the Nicaraguan people, that we have finished our conversation with the President of the Republic.
We have done it as pastors of the people of God who have entrusted this to us seeking new horizons for our Country.
The dialogue with the President happened in an environment of serenity, frankness and sincerity, where we set out to the President the pain and anguish of the people in the face of the violence suffered in recent weeks, and the agenda agreed upon in the Plenary of the National Dialogue on the democratization of the country.
We have handed him the proposal that brings together the sentiments of many sectors of Nicaraguan society, and expresses the longing of the immense majority of the population. We are awaiting his response in writing as soon as possible.
Once the President of the Republic has responded to us formally, we will call for a meeting of the Plenary of the National Dialogue to assess that response and therefore the feasibility of continuing the National Dialogue.
In the Seminary of Our Lady of Fatima, on the 7th day of June of 2018, Year of the Lord.
[Bishops signatures follow]
What the Bishops have succeeded in doing is to have tried again to formally focus the issues requiring address. Amidst the chaos and the shouting and the allegations and realties of the past weeks, at some point the process of address must begin. The Bishops have presented the President with the issues and an opportunity. The chessboard presents a lot of moves by both sides. The Bishops hope not to be used as mere pawns….
Conditions in the country we serve, Nicaragua, continue to hearken back to a generation ago, when the administration in power faced enormous protests and demands for a new government. The confrontations continue today, just as they did all those years ago, leading to violence and deaths, denials, accusations, reprisals and lots of pain. It’s tough to watch in a country of such charm and character.
Two recent documents, written by The University of Central America and the Episcopal Church, provide both a news update as well as perspectives about how at least part of the population places its support. The following is a statement provided by the UCA following a Wednesday night demonstration:
“The University of Central America (UCA) reports that this Wednesday, May 30, at around 4:30 PM, there was an attack by the “shock troops” against the defenseless population participating in a civic march that had the UCA as its final destination.
The attacks took place in the vicinity of the gate closest to the National University of Engineering (UNI). In support of the people, the UCA security guards opened the gates so that the protesters could take refuge in the campus. Fleeing the attacks, more than 5,000 people managed to enter, while many fled in other directions. Countless injured people were treated by volunteers immediately on campus and ambulances took all of the injured to medical centers.
After 8:30 PM, volunteers and drivers from the UCA had managed to evacuate the majority of the refugees to different parts of the capital and, at the time of publication of this message, continue in this process. Despite the shooting, the refugees did not want to stay on campus because of threats received about attacks on the university.
The UCA, which stands on the side of the people in their struggle for justice, denounces this new criminal attack and demands from the authorities the immediate cessation of the repression that uses shock troops to assassinate with impunity, protected by the current misrule.
We urge human rights organizations, national and foreign, to take note of this situation that seriously affects the lives of citizens and to use mechanisms for the protection of human rights such as the Inter-American Human Rights System and the United Nations.
We urge the international community to stand in solidarity with the people of Nicaragua and to apply mechanisms which can help resolve this crisis, which has reached the level of a massacre against a defenseless population.”
The document quoted below was generated by the Bishops Conference of the Episcopal Church in Nicaragua:
To the People of God and men and women of good will:
We the Bishops of the Episcopal Conference of Nicaragua have experienced with profound pain the violent events carried out last night by armed groups allied with the government against the civilian population. We energetically condemn all these violent acts against the exercise of peaceful free demonstrations and we absolutely reject this organized and systemic aggression against the people, which has left dozens of wounded and some people dead.
We cannot continue allowig this inhumane violence “that destroys the lives of the innocent, that teaches to kill and equally disrupts the lives of those who kill, that leaves behind a trail of resentment and hate, and makes more difficult the just solution of the very problems that caused it” (Centesimus Annus, 52).
We the Bishops of the Episcopal Conference condemn these acts of repression on the part of groups close to the government, and we want to leave clear that the National Dialogue cannot be renewed as long as the people of Nicaragua continue being denied the right to freely demonstrate and continue being repressed and murdered.
At this moment in which the history of our country continues being stained with blood, we cry out to Jesus Crucified, who on resurrecting from the dead conquered evil and death with the strength of his infinite love. “Oh, Cross of Christ, we teach that the dawn of the sun is stronger than the darkness of night. Oh Cross of Christ, we teach that the apparent victory of evil fades in the face of the empty tomb and in the face of the certainty of the Resurrection and the love of God, which nothing can defeat or darken or weaken” (Pope Francis, Holy Friday 2016). That Mary, the grieving Virgin, whose heart was pierced by a sword in the face of the pain of her Son on the Cross (Lk 2:35), consoles so many Nicaraguan mothers who suffer over the murder of their sons and watch over all our people with maternal love.
Issued in the city of Managua on the thirty first day of the month of May of the the two thousand eighteenth year of the Lord.
Episcopal Conference of Nicaragua
This communique was signed by the ten bishops of the conference.
(For those interested in tracking developments in Nicaragua, one source is La Prensa. The daily newspaper provides very current coverage of events in Nicaragua, as well as perspective on events elsewhere in the world.)
For those who know and love Nicaragua and the people there, this is a painful and sad time. It’s made even more so by how little the U.S. news media writes about it. Their lack of attention does not diminish the anguish and tragedy of what is occurring in the land of our neighbor to the south….
Hav you ever had a moment when you were reading about something historical and wondered to yourself, “I wonder what it was like to have been there?” In the years that I have worked for Winds of Peace, I have often asked myself that question about the period of the revolution. When we visit partners to the north, Mark will occasionally comment about the intensity of the war in that location, as a footnote to Nicaragua history. Invariably, I’ll look around at the lush beauty of the countryside and wonder how this rain-forested land could ever have served as a battleground.
That same phenomenon is happening with the protest movement taking place in Nica over the past month. It is an historic moment of importance, when a significant representation of the population stood up to its authoritarian leaders and said, “Enough!” And they have done so with complete directness- not just through media quotes or a coward’s tweets- but in the faces of the president, the vice president and all the authority that they command within the country. And though I’m not in the country at present, I feel as though I’m in the moment, as I receive updates and articles from my colleague Mark, who is in the middle of history there once more.
Today, I have received a link to the opening of the national dialogue between the protesters and the government. The video is in Spanish, but it doesn’t matter; Mark has provided some translation and context. But more importantly, even without understanding the language, we hear the passion, the outrage and a soulful outpouring of emotion from one of the protest leaders, Lesther Aleman, who actually interrupted the president’s opening comments of the dialogue. What follows is a link to the video and translation of what was said, including the words of a fellow protester.
WORDS OF LESTHER ALEMAN,REPRESENTATIVE OF THE 19TH OF APRIL UNIVERSITY MOVEMENT, UCA STUDENT, INTERRUPTING DANIEL ORTEGA´S FIRST WORDS AT DIALOGUE
The speech can be seen here: https://youtu.be/g_wixJb2Elg It is worth watching to see the emotion and the context. The Bishops have just given permission to President Ortega to give some opening remarks – the first one to speak – and he is shouted down by the students as Lesther takes the floor. Here is what Lesther says in English, so you can understand the video:
“We are not here to listen to a speech that we have heard for 12 years, President, we know the history, we don´t want to repeat it, you know what the people are, where power is based? In the people.
We are here and we have accepted being at this table, with all due respect for you, to demand that you right now order the immediate end to the attacks that are being committed in our country. Now if there were a Ministry of the Interior, we would denounce this to that minister. But you are the Supreme Chief of the National Police and the Army of Nicaragua. That is why we ask you right now to order the end of these attacks, repression and murder of the paramilitary forces, of your troops, of the mobs of government followers.
You know very well the pain that we have experienced for 28 days, can you all sleep peacefully? We have not slept peacefully, we are being persecuted, we are students.
And why am I talking now and why did I take the floor away from you? Because the deaths have been on our side, the disappeared, those who have been kidnapped are from our side; we are the ones affected.
Today we are asking you. This is not a table for dialogue, it is a table to negotiate your departure, and you know this very well, because it is the people who have requested it.
All this sector is here demanding that you as the supreme leader of the police order an immediate cease fire, immediate.
Bishop Alvarez experienced it and many priests continue experiencing it.
Who can we ask? Is there another person I can ask to order this to end? Because if it were in my hands, I tell you that since the 18th I would not have permitted it.
A month! You have ruined the country, it took Somoza many years, and you know this very well, we know history, but you in less than a month have done things that we never imagined and that many people have been disillusioned by this, by these ideals that have not been followed, those four words that you swore to this country to be free and today we continue with the problem, today we continue subjugated, today we continue marginalized, today we are being mistreated. How many mothers are crying over their children, sir?
Vice President, you are a mother and you know grief very well. Because talking at us at noon every day, you are not going to extinguish that grief.
The people are in the streets, we are at this table demanding the end to the repression.
Know this; Surrender to all these people! You can laugh [refering to Edwin Castro, who had what looked like a smirk on his face], you can make whatever face you want, but we ask you that you order the ceasefire right now, the liberation of our political prisoners.
We are not going to negotiate with a murderer, because what you have committed in this country is a genocide and that is how it has been described”.
The speech ended with students yelling, “they were students, they were not criminals”, in reference to what the Vice President and First Lady called the students in one of her noon broadcasts.
Later on, when called on, another student leader, Victor Cuadras, spoke these words:
“Even though Mr. President denies the suffering of the people, in Nicaragua there are more than 68 mothers who are crying for the suffering of their children. There was a mother who in 1972 wrote a poem that is called, “Christmas Song”, that mother had lost one of her children and this is the same feeling of all the mothers who today are suffering on seeing their children murdered.”
The poem was written by Rosario Murillo when she lost her firstborn in the earthquake.
Victor used their time then to read the poem:
CANCIÓN DE NAVIDAD Yo camino hoy con el dolor del parto en cada paso con el vientre rompiéndose y los pedazos de madre volando sobre espacios vacíos yo camino gimiendo apretando en mis manos los barrotes apretando los dientes mordiéndome la lengua Voy vestida de barro voy cubierta de piedras y de tiempo tengo cara de asombros y cabellos de fuego llevo el dolor del parto en cada paso siento al hijo que brota de la sangre siento la piel colgando tengo las venas en un solo nudo hay un hijo derramado en la noche.
In the end, Lesther took the floor again and said these words:
“President Ortega, with respect, we go back to the same, do not leave here, nor anyone move from this table, until you, as a man with the level of comandante, order again a cease fire, what you said was not convincing to us and is not going to convince the police. Do you know how long it is going to take us to respect someone in a uniform again? It is going to take us a long time, because they are murderers, because they have killed us and they continue killing us, that is why we ask that you be presentable as a full comandante, that you get up and give with your voice the military order for a cease fire, for the nights when the mobs attack, the civilian police we now know about, the future is uncertain, the Sandinista Youth has weapons, we are not inventing the dead, you do not leave here until you do this, this table was for this”
They also read out loud a list of all the people killed in the protests, with the students yelling “Presente” after each one. This was in response to part of Ortega´s intervention where he asked for a list of those students alleged to have been killed or arrested by the government.
It’s an important time in this small country where WPF has worked for more than 30 years. It’s one of those moments in history that may well be played back over and over, as a significant moment of change in that country’s journey. It’s worth noting, even if it doesn’t appear in the evening news.
Hear it. Experience it. The dialogue resumes tomorrow. This is what it was like to have been there….