The crisis of April 2018 was led by students, but the frequency of their appearance in the media do not reflect their importance. This interview provides an analysis of the process since 2018 from the perspective of one of those leaders., a perspective generally not easily available.
Zayda Hernández: “If they do not hold a national strike the easy way, it will be done the hard way”
By Abixael Mogollón in La Prensa, December 21, 2019
In this interview she talks about the differences within the opposition, accusations of being anti-feminist, a national strike, sanctions against the regime, and the possibility of a large national coalition against Daniel Ortega.
Before the protests exploded, she was living a life completely removed from politics. She passed through university movements, the Civic Alliance and now at times we see her embarking on a protest alone in the streets, like a “kamikaze”.
In this interview she talks about the differences within the opposition, the accusations against her of being anti-feminist, and how she went from being in the streets protesting with other youth, to being part of the start of the national dialogue on May 16, 2018.
How did you get involved in this activism?
I don´t even believe it myself. Prior to this I had a super calm life. I think that the large majority of the youth population of Nicaragua was apathetic, and very comfortable with everything that was going on. I thought that political issues didn´t suit me. Nevertheless, I was disturbed about the Indio Maíz issue, but had not been able to protest because I was outside of Managua. I returned precisely on April 19th. My entire life I have detested the Sandinista Youth (SY), I have always been clear about that. Because of what they represent, they are not anything positive neither for the country nor for the youth. I saw the SY in pickup trucks and masked in the UNI, and I went at noon to take a look, and the police showed up shooting. It was the only day that they shot at us with blanks.
Later you were in the national dialogue. How did you end up being part of that?
That has a lot to do with my personality. The first days of the protests I was a super active person and I took on responsibility. At that moment I did not know what I was getting myself into. Public denouncements began to be made, I did not want to appear before the media, but I was always calling people from the media. We spent the days throwing stones, going to leave food in the UPOLI, to seeing myself on the famous third floor establishing a university movement. The April 19th Movement started, and it was to give shape to the demands. Then a group of youth sent by the Episcopal Conference came to organize us, and the University Coalition was formed. They told us that there would be a dialogue, and that “the private sector was ready”, obviously the government was ready and civil society was, and we were missing. In that way I became part of the first dialogue.
They criticized you a lot for some gestures that you made during that first encounter.
That is super fun (she laughs), because I do not know how they created that story that I am a leader of the MRS, when I do not even know their founders. I am always used to the fact that if something happens, I am going to look for a way to tackle it. That day we all agreed that the order that Daniel Ortega brings to meetings had to be broken up. We said that someone had to take the floor from him, and we decided that, because of his stature and his voice, that it had to be Lesther Alemán, but at that moment they could not handle the pressure of the emotions that were there, not even Daniel, Rosario and company. It was a high, and they turned off our microphones. Now the moderator was going to sing the national anthem and we were going to be left censored. I was behind the priests and I was the only student who was standing, and I was signaling Medardo Mairena to get him to speak. So I started to say that if they did not turn on our microphones, we would shout, but that was the reason, because I did not believe that a sector as important as the peasantry should be left without speaking.
Later a lot of people left the Alliance. What happened in your case?
It was not something that I myself wanted. But one suffers mistreatment and there are things that have not been said because of the circumstances and prudence. The biggest problem for the business sector of the Alliance was the trip that I made in June 2018 with two other students to lobby in the United States in favor of the Nica Act and the Magnitsky sanctions. At the same time there was a commission of business people, and another one from civil society that were there. That trip was our own proposal with a US NGO that helped us with everything that had to do with the trip and the schedule. The business sector was upset because they were not part of the schedule, and the congress people and senators did not want to receive them. They told us that “they only want to deal with direct victims, like students and peasants.” In those meetings we were able to get them to revoke the visas of many of the Sandinista Youth, Police, children of elites, and afterwards the Nica-Act was approved, because we talked with Republicans and Democrats, and later the Magnitsky sanctions were approved.
What happened when you returned to Nicaragua?
The president of COSEP (José Adán Aguerri) and the president of AMCHAM (María Nelly Rivas), while presenting the results of the work that we had done, told us that we were crazy and “that it was insanity to be asking for sanctions”. In the trip that was in June 2018 I could see people from big capital who were there the same time we were. While we were lobbying in favor of the Nica-Act, they were lobbying against the Nica-Act.
And who sent those people?
The bankers, and with that I am telling you all you need to know. They were the same ones who later promoted dialogue 2.0. Then they published some articles about that fact that we had met with the ultra-right in the United States, and that was when I pulled out of the Alliance. In addition, we always asked for a national strike, but we were never listened to, and they told us that we were banned for talking in the name of the Alliance. But here I am and I am going to continue being the uncomfortable voice for many, and I believe that I have always spoken the truth.
So different messages are being sent from the opposition?
As long as some speak one message in Washington, and others take a different one, we are going to be screwed. We blamed Luís Almagro, but we did not understand that 10 different commissions showed up to talk about 10 different versions of gibberish. Then they said that the international community was not doing anything, but If we ourselves are not doing anything, much less will they. We went and said that the repressive arm had to be sanctioned by name, and then the private sector showed up and said, “no, no sanctions now because they affect all Nicaraguans”. Then another commission arrived and said that the democratic charter had to be applied, and then another arrived who said the opposite. This is what is happening.
You are saying that the regime is allied with big capital?
Of course. Even Daniel himself says that they bit the hand that helped them rise up, and that he has evidence of the business that they did with the Venezuelan money. Those who have been able to sustain this dictatorship in these years have been the businesspeople. Not all of them.
But Ortega attacks the business sector and has publicly threatened them, for example he sent people to take over some properties.
It cannot be generalized to the private sector, nor to big capital. Although most of the private sector wants a democratic change, there are some who do not want to, and refuse to modify the system of privileges. Sandinism does not forgive betrayal, and that is what happened with many of those who have taken advantage of and enriched themselves with Sandinism. In general, the fiscal reforms and the crisis obviously affects everyone equally, but many are still betting on a Sandinism without Daniel.
Before you left the Alliance, who was pressuring for a national strike?
At that time the youth sector and the peasant sector. We were saying to them that if the country was already deadlocked, if the boys were in trenches, what was the reason for the lack of motivation for the business sector to hold a strike? It was absurd. In June 2018 the country was partially paralyzed. But they have always been interested in maintaining their macroeconomy, their businesses and their interests.
What were they saying to you?
They came to us saying “What the heck, they are not letting my trucks through” and that was a typical discussion. If they were already fighting for a truck to get through, now imagine how they are going to evaluate a proposal for a strike. It was absurd.
Do you think there will ever be an indefinite strike?
If they do not do it the easy way, at some moment they are going to have to do it the hard way. I am talking about an economy that is going under more every day. It is ironic and uncomfortable that for more the dictator says explicitly that he is afraid of a strike, and the business sector continues saying that it is an activity that they are going to evaluate and that is on the table. As long as this dictator is here, Nicaragua is going to continue suffering extreme poverty, chaos, destruction, there will be no national investment and much less foreign investment, either they close the easy way, or they close the hard way. In the face of a strike the regime says that it has legal tools, but that is a lie, what it has are weapons.
Let us suppose that this “strike the hard way” is done. What other actions need to be taken?
We have been talking about this with several people. If there is an indefinite strike, for the first days we would have to be off the streets, but the second option is to retake the streets again until they leave.
Ortega would order them to shoot again?
I am completely certain. He is a murderer. We can never forget that Daniel Ortega and all his leadership are an organized band of criminals, willing to kill to stay in power.
Would a second bloodbath be worth it?
I insist that the point is that the bloodbath is always there. Every day there is a death, every day there is a person tortured. Yesterday it was a boy, tomorrow it could be me, and we are going to die in an absurd manner, hiding ourselves when we could be confronting this murderer who is afraid. We ourselves are scared in large measure, of course, but he is more afraid because we are the majority.
Where do these accusations come from that you are anti-feminist?
It comes from 2018 when they invited me to a feminist forum. For me it was a pretty uncomfortable situation to begin to hear that “the revolution will be feminist or it will not happen”. Another person said that we women were taught to protect our lives and I said “but the lives of men also count and also have value”. They were talking about statistics and percentages, and I asked why don´t we study and evaluate the percentage of deaths and prisoners to see what gender they were. To conclude, I said that the revolution was going to be of everyone or it was not going to happen. That is why they say I am anti-feminist, because I believe that right now is not the moment to be sectorizing ourselves more than we already are. We are super polarized. I think that they are important issues of course, but now it not the moment. Right now we are in something macro which is the departure of that man, the liberation of the political prisoners who are men and women. This belongs to everyone. It is not peasants, students, feminists, it is not LGTB, nor business. This belongs to Nicaraguans and this is how we have to continue seeing it.
What do you think about those accusations?
I do not think that you have to abolish the system as many radical feminists think. I am not anti-feminist, I have read a lot about feminism and I am very thankful to the suffragists because I can vote because of them. Nevertheless, I am against radicalism. I do believe in liberal feminism in the current that started in the 60s, and I am a promoter of equity. What I believe in is equality before the law. I am not interested in whether you believe you are a plant, and I am Queen Elizabeth, if both of us are equal before the law, I have nothing to discuss.
I have seen you in the street nearly alone protesting in front of the police. Are you a Kamikazi?
There is a mixture of things behind all that (laughs). What motivates me is sending a message, and the message is that they cannot control everything. We are all over. We are millions of Nicaraguans against them. One day we can be inside El Carmen and they are not going to realize it. That is the true message. It is not that I want to be provocative, but that they realize, and it works as a slap in the face, that in five minutes you can throw out that damn Chávez.
Are you already taking action to create a large national coalition?
That is not a message that they have wanted to transmit. It is a compelled message.
By the United States. They clearly said that if we did not find a way to form this large coalition there was not going to be more access to financing for the civic struggle. Nevertheless, I do not see it as bad, I think that all the efforts for unity that are not repetitive and exhausting for the population are necessary. All of us sectors should pass through a process of union.
On what basis do you say this about the United States?
With the pressure from the United States, it is only managed by sources, because they are topics that are talked about solely in meetings where nothing is written down.
Will this large coalition be achieved?
Currently, and in this scenario, I see it as complicated. I see it as difficult because later another unity emerges, then a multisectoral group, and tomorrow another one, and the day after tomorrow another yet. I think that until we get close to an electoral process where there is no other way out, we are going to be forced to form that large coalition. As long as one person wants to take power for being in the media and another for having money, and others because they believe that they deserve it, we are not going to be able to converge. Until all of us leave behind our personal interests and put together a country agenda and not a sector agenda, until then we are not going to see the sun shine.
 Refers to forest fires in the Indio Maíz reserve area in early April 2018 where students protested for lack of government response.