He always wore a jacket and tie, even at the students demonstrations. His diplomatic pose made him be called “the foreign minister.”
By Franklin Villavicencio (Confidencial)
HAVANA TIMES – Levis Artola, 21, only one and a half meters tall, law student and the “foreign minister” of the occupation at the UNAN Managua university, took the microphone firmly and spoke without hesitation to the excited mass of students in front of the Central American University.
“We send a message to the Government and all those satraps, that they will not stop us! We will struggle to the end. We are going to see the fall of this dictatorship!” he shouted. The university students carried banners demanding respect for autonomy and cheered for the six percent of the national budget constitutional mandated for universities.
It was weird to see him without a jacket, hat and tie. That day, he decided to speak to those students dressed in jeans, tennis shoes and a shirt from “CUDJ”, the student movement to which he belonged. Even within the university where he and hundreds of students remained entrenched in order to demand fair elections and the removal of the government’s student organization UNEN, the gala jacket was part of the personality of Levis. Months before he had bought it in a thrift store at the “Mercado Oriental” (Oriental Market).
“They are going to say that the CIA donated your jacket,” said “Quimica” (Chemistry), also a student at UNAN and one of his best friends. They both met in the middle of barricades and behind the trenches.
“What do I care,” replied Levis.
His diplomatic panache left him with a nickname: They called him “the foreign minister,” and not only for his dress, but also for his fluency in speaking and his role as “liaison” between human rights organizations and the students. This work would lead him to run into personalities such as Paulo Abrao, Executive Secretary of the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (IACHR), and Bianca Jagger, an important activist of Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.
After the takeover of the UNAN Managua, on May 7, he decided to stay. The attacks against the occupation began to be constant. Every night, the barricades of cobblestone, wood, tires and everything the students found to prevent access to the campus, became witnesses of the hatred that the regime of Daniel Ortega unleashed against those entrenched university students. Meanwhile, the public faces of the resistance, such as Levis, helped collect food and denounced the aggression abroad.
“He sought alliances in the regional campuses. His role was also to find logistical support and we moved to each of those campuses. There we met other university leaders of the departments and created networks,” adds “Quimica” via telephone, since she had to go in exile due to the political persecution of the regime against the college students.
The objectives for Levis Artola were clear. According to him, if the base of the pyramid faltered, gravity will make it shake at the top. One of the pillars that the students pretended to tumble was UNEN, the political arm of the FSLN within state universities and that in recent years has been harshly pointed out for its lack of transparency and corruption in its leadership.
Levis worked on strategies to rebuild a university autonomy broken by the use of FSLN Party operatives within the campuses. Allegations abounded of corruption in the management of scholarship funds and blackmail of professors and students.
“Each week we wrote down on a piece of cardboard the objectives that we fulfilled. He spoke of university resistance as something magnificent, first because the dictatorship was going to fall and then we would recover university autonomy and reform the student movements with a focus on human rights and ideological diversity. Those were his plans,” says Quimica.
From sculptor to student leader
More than a hundred kilometers from the capital, in the municipality of San Dionisio, Matagalpa, Nicolas Artola listened on his radio to the pronouncements his son read in some meetings with human rights defenders. “When he called us on the phone, he used to tell us that the struggle had to be like that…that you had to get completely involved,” he told us. Nicolas was worried and more than once tried to persuade his son to abandon the movement.
Levis lived his whole life in this municipality, situated three hours from Managua and whose economy is based on agriculture and livestock, until he obtained a law scholarship at the UNAN Managua. But before leaving, he left his own legacy: at the high school where he studied he produced a series of stone sculptures, where his signature still remains.
“When he about to leave the fifth year, he wanted to leave something to be remembered. He had been asked to do a mural, but he came out with a huge two-meter rock that I do not know how he carried it, and he carved on it the emblem and the map of Nicaragua,” says Amy Artola, Levis’ sister.
He was self-taught, after seeing at age 12 the handicrafts made in Catarina, in the department of Masaya. In the absence of clay, he took the porous stones from his grandfather’s farm and with a chisel he molded the material until he mastered the technique.
Thus is how his days go by in the countryside, in the middle of studies, the sculpture and his bible, the same that he has today within the cells of the National Penitentiary System, where he remains awaiting his trial, on January 14. The same he has used to hold worships within the prison, together with other political prisoners of the Daniel Ortega regime.
But now, Levis cannot see anyone, nor can he pray according to his Christian religion. In recent months he remains confined to a punishment cell, without light. Every so often the guards hit the metal sheets that cover the cracks, as a form of torture. All that for having sung the national anthem.
From student leader to political prisoner
On August 25, tires were burned again in Leon. In front of the city’s police station, a group of citizens requested the release of the students’ spokespeople captured that afternoon when they were leading a civic demonstration: Byron Corea, Yartiza Mairena, Victoria Obando, Christopher Nahiroby Olivas, Luis Quiroz and Levis Artola were some of the kidnapped. But that night, the repudiation by people of Leon was stifled by the sympathizers of the regime. The group of students was transferred hours later to the interrogation prison known as El Chipote, in Managua.
Nicolas Artola left his village the next day. He arrived at “El Chipote” where he asked if his son was there. “What I thought was that they were going to kill him, because that is what they do here,” he adds.
Five days later, Levis was presented by the National Police along with the other six students who were with him. “This group will be prosecuted for the crimes of terrorism, homicide, fire, kidnapping, robbery with intimidation and death threats,” said the officials. According to the commissioner Farle Roa Trana, they are the ones “responsible for burning” the University Center in Leon where the student Cristian Emilio Cadena died. But, none of these court proceedings have complied with legal principles, affirm human rights defenders.
The last thing that the relatives of Levis Artola have known is that he remains in a punishment cell for having sung the Nicaraguan anthem.
His sister says that he leaves the punishment cell three times a week to be taken to “interrogations,” they provide him with rotten and inedible food. However, the people that know him, as his best friend Quimica, state that his integrity is unbreakable.
“I know that he has not lost hope, because we know how we are and we are not going to let ourselves be intimidated by the Government. There is a phrase he had come up with and that we used on Student’s Day, which states: ‘with books and autonomy, we will gain courage,” says Quimica, still with hope.
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