Nicaragua: Five Years On: “We’re Still in the Ring”

Ortega supporters attacked the citizens who were protesting in León. Photo: La Prensa

For many dissenters, each new anniversary of the 2018 uprising marks one year less that Daniel Ortega’s dictatorship will remain in power.

By La Prensa

HAVANA TIMES – On April 18, 2018, students, workers, and retired pensioners all went out to protest in different cities of Nicaragua. Their demonstrations were sparked by a change to the Social Security law, establishing an increase in the mandatory quota for workers and employers, at the same time that it diminished future pensions and reactivated a 5% deduction on current retirement pensions.

The Ortega regime responded to this demand by sending out its sympathizers to beat and rob those demonstrating. The police who were present at the site of the protests did nothing to stop them. This first clash would prove only the beginning of a tumultuous year, that ended with over 300 deaths, according to the report of the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights, which was present in the country in 2018.

That first assault on the protesters triggered stronger civic protests over the following days. However, the repression escalated as well – into armed attacks, police abductions, general persecution of opposition leaders, imprisonment, aggression, and assassinations.

Students at Managua’s Central American University campus demonstrating on April 18, 2018, against the announced changes to Social Security. Archived photo / La Prensa

Five years later, no one in the country is allowed to raise the national flag in public, nor to yell out: “Long live Nicaragua!” Hundreds of people, including priests, students, former diplomats, farmers, business owners, and journalists, have done jail time for expressing discontent with the Ortega dictatorship. Thousands have had to flee the country for being members of the opposition; over 200 were banished, following months or years in prison; and over 300 have been stripped of their Nicaraguan citizenship and prohibited from returning to their country.

“We haven’t lost the fight”

Jose Antonio Peraza, political analyst, and former political prisoner, now banished from the country, reflects that five years ago everyone thought it would be an easy matter to get Ortega out of power.

“We made a mistake. What we thought we could accomplish with demonstrations, as in the civilized countries, wasn’t possible for us. We weren’t ready. But we haven’t lost the fight – we’re still in the ring. What’s clear is that the transformation of the country is going to be slower, it’s going to take place by means of a ferocious battle among ourselves. But that’s how we are, that’s how we struggle – by disparaging each other, with people who [think they] have the answer to everything, but who really have no solutions,” Peraza stated.

Peraza explained that the differences among the opposition are what’s going to make the road to change longer. Because of that, he also projects that a true social and political transformation in the country won’t be possible until at least 2050.

“There are no magic transformations. Nicaragua isn’t going to be transformed from one day to the next. History has already demonstrated to me that it’s not possible. You hear people talking, the ones that are around us, and note that self-interest, passion, the desire for control, for hegemony, is in the heart of Nicaraguans – and that won’t change from one day to the next,” the political analyst added.

In these five years, the pressures of the international community are the only things that have forced Ortega to cede ground and liberate [some of] the political prisoners. But nothing has been able to stop the repression and the persecution against dissenters and critics.

One year more is one year less

For some members of the opposition, one more year also means one year less for the Ortega dictatorship to remain in power.

Juan Sebastian Chamorro, former political prisoner. Photo: La Prensa / AFP

Opposition leader and former political prisoner Juan Sebastian Chamorro participated in the two failed attempts to hold a national dialogue with Ortega. “These five years have been difficult,” he summarized, but he feels sure “the dictatorship is moving ever closer to its end.”

“I believe that all the actions the dictatorship has taken serve to assure its end. Everything they do condemns them further: they throw us in prison, and the international community response with more force; they banish us, and they’re accused internationally of committing crimes against humanity. With these examples, I’m telling you that the more radical their actions become, the more desperate they appear to be. According to the experiences of history, the more radical a dictatorship is, the closer is its end,” stated the opposition leader.

Juan Sebastian Chamorro is one of the 222 political prisoners who were released on February 9 and sent on an airplane to the United States, prohibited from returning. That was one of the dictatorship’s most recent actions to get those who oppose it out of the country.

In Chamorro’s view, everything [the opposition] has had to confront in their struggle against Ortega are challenges that have succeeded in uniting them and led them to focus on their common objectives.

“We must have trust in the course of history, which has always demonstrated that dictatorships come to an end. That time is going to come, although it’s hard to say when – it could be tomorrow, it could be later. The important thing is that we, as opposition leaders, demonstrate to the Nicaraguan people that there are options and there’s a better future after this dictatorship that’s been repressing us for so long,” declared Chamorro.

April marked the beginning

The social uprising of April 2018 remains tattooed on the collective memory of all Nicaraguans, especially those who still long for a change of government in the country.

“April marks a before and an after in the history of the Nicaraguan people. It’s a month that reminds us of the greatest civic insurrection against the oppressive tyranny of the Ortega-Murillo family, but it also brings the painful memory of those who were assassinated by the regime. For that reason we insist that April will never be forgotten. For us, it’s become a permanent call to seek justice, democracy, freedom and an end to impunity,” expressed Felix Maradiaga, also an opposition leader and banished former political prisoner.

Opposition leader Felix Maradiaga after being liberated by the dictatorship on February 9, 2023. Photo: La Prensa

Maradiaga recognized that one of the obstacles to overcome in the struggle against the dictatorship is the division among the opposition members themselves.

“The opposition continues its resistance, but we must recognize that there are still challenges and barriers to overcome. The first barrier is to accept the richness represented by our very diversity as a Nicaraguan nation. That plurality of our communities must serve to make us stronger. The second is to avoid having the voices of division and hatred deflect us from our sole essential mission, which is to end the dictatorship and reestablish a Nicaragua with justice, democracy, liberty and well-being for all, without exclusions,” Maradiaga stated.

The beginning of a social transformation

In the view of Alejandro Hernandez, a young member of the opposition and a banished political prisoner, 2018 was the beginning of a social transformation that’s still in progress.

“These five years that we’re commemorating have signified for Nicaragua the beginning of the transformation we’ve always wanted to see in the country. A country in democracy, a country of equality, with justice, a country with tolerance towards different ideas and towards the diversity that such ideas represent for us; a country we all feel we’re members of, with no distinctions, where no one is worth more than the other,” said the young member of the opposition.

Alejandro Hernandez. Photo: La Prensa / taken from the internet

Hernandez coincided with Juan Sebastian Chamorro that today Nicaragua’s dictators are more dangerous because they’re more vulnerable – isolated internationally and fearful of losing power.

“That growing fear they have of losing power forces them to act in a demented way, doing the crazy things and arbitrary actions that occur to them every day. Every one of the latest actions only proves their state of panic over losing power. They have power because they have arms, because they have the capacity to repress. But the only thing left them is simply fear, the fear that has enveloped the population, and even among themselves. Their grassroots followers are fearful amongst themselves,” Alex Hernandez concluded.

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