What It’s Like to Be a Young Person Fighting for Change in Nicaragua

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What first got us on the streets protesting was the anger we felt over President Daniel Ortega’s reforms to decrease the pensions of retirees by 5 percent. But soon, our demonstrations became full-blown dissent of the Nicaraguan government. It’s persisted for months with no signs of slowing down. As an organizer within the student movement, I’ve seen firsthand the way the country has changed since April. And when I say that we would have never imaged what is now happening in our country, it’s not an overstatement. Two months ago, going to the streets and organizing a demonstration of 300 people was an achievement. Now, we observe something never seen before: Thousands of people fed up with an authoritarian government have come out to say “No more.”

April 18 was the drop that made the 11-year-old cup run over. We were fed up with an authoritarian regime led by a man who has ruled by ending any kind of autonomy within state institutions, including public universities. That fateful day, a group of young people with banners protested because of the Instituto Nicaragüense de Seguridad Social changes. As soon as the sit-in began at the Camino de Oriente (a shopping center in Managua), shock troops – identified through their government T-shirts and armed with sticks and pipes – attacked the demonstrators. The videos of that day flooded social networks, and anyone watching from any part of the world could witness how police watched the beating without intervening.

Hours later, the same troops attacked us, a group of students protesting in front of the Universidad Centroamericana, with sticks and stones. The terror continued when the government tried to force students from public universities to march the following day in support of this reform. Fed up with so much humiliation, the students revealed their faces. At that point, the National Police’s sticks and stones became the bullets fired against an unarmed youth.

“Contrary to what the regime expected, the bullets used to suppress us did nothing but enrage the population.”

The wave of indignation was growing and contrary to what the regime expected, the bullets used to suppress us did nothing but enrage the population – especially us young people who saw them massacre our comrades. The occupying of the universities began as strongholds of resistance, and these institutions became the symbols of fight. With each school that we took over, our information network strengthened. We used this to organize and protect ourselves. It spread to the neighborhoods surrounding the universities. Because it was no longer just a fight for those of us university students, but of a whole country in search of freedom. We used social media – where we could maintain our anonymity – to send supplies – water, food, cleaning products, medical supplies, clothing, even helmets, shields, and molotovs that could help us defend ourselves against the constant attacks from police. Even so, we saw many die and others disappear – we finally learned they had been arrested and many of them tortured in “El Chipote,” an old Somoza prison that the police now uses as an interrogation and torture center.

Most young people in Nicaragua aren’t doing what we’re supposed to be doing at our age – we’re not going to school or parties, and we’re not talking about anything other than the future because we know that if Ortega stays, there is no possible future for us.

It seems everywhere you turn, everyone has a made a difficult decision for their safety and that of their loved ones. Many haven’t seen their families or returned to their homes because they’re being threatened. They’re afraid to return, and as they sleep on campus at the universities or in safe houses, they have also made new ties, which are the bonds of struggle. Through these new connections, we’ve learned to understand why it’s worth enduring this fight.

“Many young people have had to grow apart from their families.”

Still others have left the country. Several have lost their newly acquired jobs. And some have distanced themselves from their parents who are still in communion with the Ortega government. A friend told me that the hardest thing has been seeing the Ortega regime take away her own family. Just as it happened during the Somoza dictatorship, many young people have had to grow apart from their families. We all feel the fear of going out to the streets and not returning. Mothers cry outside of El Chipote, begging for their children. None of us wish that the mother standing outside, in front of the police, is ours.

As I write this, it’s likely that someone is dying or about to die at the hands of the national police or the paramilitary forces of the dictatorship. At night from my room, I can hear the explosions of gunpowder that come from the handcrafted weapons of young people behind the barricades, and I can also hear the rumble of rifles and shotguns. Despite what this government believes, we are increasingly convinced of the importance of la lucha.