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….