Op-Ed: As the Government Pushes Young Nicaraguans Out, It’s Losing a Talented Generation

Nicaraguan president Daniel Ortega addresses the 62nd United Nations General Assembly at the United Nations headquarters September 25, 2007 in New York City. Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

In Nicaragua, being young and thinking differently can lead to repression, exile, imprisonment, and death. Some may say this is hyperbole or a straight-up lie – the state, for example, chalks up our protests to a failed coup attempt against Daniel Ortega’s government – but all this and more is the price we, young Nicaraguans, have paid and continue to pay since the beginning of the unarmed civic insurrection in April 2018. I say this as someone who has suffered the consequences because of my activism. In September 2018, I – a 21-year-old student – was forced to flee to Honduras. I’m just one of many young talented people who have had to do this in the last year.

April 2018 marks the beginning of the Nicaraguan protests. That month, students and other members of civil society held peaceful demonstrations after the government acted indifferently to parts of Reserva Biológica Indio Maíz going up in flames. That was quickly followed up by an official communiqué published in La Gaceta, which announced social security reforms that would decrease retirees’ future pensions. This fueled the anger of Nicaraguans and led to nationwide strikes, and while Nicaraguans of all ages and backgrounds participated, young people – particularly students – led the way.

The youth used their social media savvy and their talents to bring a spotlight to the country.

The youth used their social media savvy and their talents to bring a spotlight to the country. They filmed police and paramilitary groups using excessive force on unarmed students. They published creative and satirical content to make a statement and inform others with their critical and quality journalism from the streets. Their stories provided accounts that differed from the government’s. They put their bodies on the line so that they could protect the most defenseless.

The first victims of the insurrection were young people – 29-year-old Darwin Manuel Urbina and 17-year-old Richard Eduardo Pavón. Then, came the death of Álvaro Manuel Conrado Dávila, a 15-year-old who was just trying to show solidarity by delivering water to students. His words – “me duele respirar” – angered and energized Nicaraguans. Some, like 24-year-old Belgian-Nicaraguan medical student Amaya Coppens Zamora, are imprisoned for speaking up.

Those looking to avoid ending up imprisoned or dead have had no choice but to move. I’m among them.

Leaving Nicaragua is the most difficult decision I have made, but I knew I had to flee because being young and critical is a threat to the government. As a student activist, I connected to student movements across Latin America. I wrote about the importance of young people’s participation in the sociopolitical processes of their countries. I spoke out about the need for autonomy for universities. I was an active participant within the civic uprising; my family thought I had left the country in May 2018, but I hadn’t. Eventually, I decided to leave because I knew my activism would make everyone around me a target.

Nicaragua has lost many sons and daughters who just wanted to generate change.

Even though I speak Spanish and our customs are similar, settling in Honduras – a new country – has been difficult. I’ve had to adopt a new culture and lifestyle. I’ve had to leave my family and friends behind. Some of them have also left to places like Costa Rica, Spain, and Brazil. I also have friends who didn’t leave the country, and they’re either in jail or they’ve hidden because they know what would happen if the government found them.

In this time period, Nicaragua has lost many sons and daughters who just wanted to generate change, who hoped to see the end of the destructive cycle of dictatorship and armed resurrection that has defined our country for generations. Just as in the 1990s – after the triumph of the Sandinista revolution – when many young people fled the country in order to avoid being killed or arrested for refusing to participate in military service, many are leaving now because they feel they have no choice. They’re leaving behind their own children, their families, their careers.

And with their absence, it’s the country that will end up suffering the most. Our country has lost young people who belong to different industries – visual artists, journalists, doctors, architects, teachers, and much, much more. As the Ortega regime continues to clutch on to power, it’s saying goodbye to a generation that has demonstrated talent, critical thinking, true ideology, a spirit of goodness, and a deep love of Nicaragua.