Subversive Laughter as a Form of Protest

Foto: Carlos Herrera / Confidencial-Niu


“Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo have used reprehensible tactics to stop us from marching in the streets “.


By María Gutierrez(Confidencial)

HAVANA TIMES – If you have ever traveled by plane, you know the advice they offer before taking off  — in case of an emergency, put your oxygen mask on first and then help someone else. That is what we must do in today’s Nicaragua, which six months ago began the task of overthrowing Daniel Ortega.   

In the process, we have left behind the pieces of the life we knew up to April 18th, after which so many citizens were plunged into chaos, mourning, family separation and unemployment. However, although this is a desolate scenario, I celebrate it because it has given us a reconnection with the most beautiful of feelings: love for our neighbor, which is possible only if we are capable of feeling compassion and joy.

“Maintaining optimism and joy as the highest act of citizen emancipation and love for one’s neighbor”We have achieved that because in the midst of all the deaths, the disappeared and those who have been imprisoned – all of which is so very painful – we have also experienced hope, joy and inspiration and that is precisely how we have made the dictatorship tremble. This is why they are so bent on demoralizing us, at any cost. They want to completely weaken us and paralyze us by instilling a lethal fear.  So, we have the personal responsibility of maintaining our optimism and joy, as the very highest expression of citizen emancipation, of revolution, and of love for one’s neighbor.

We think about the way we have been taught to embrace pain — the mourning black that widows used for years is still part of how we were raised, part of a culture of submission to both religion and governmental authority.  A sad population is a population that can be dominated.  To this end, Ortega and Murillo have used reprehensible tactics to stop us from marching in the streets.  They don’t want us to come together, because it is there, in that mass of humanity, where the poor, middle class and rich people come together to march in harmony under a blistering sun, that we become strong, happy and bigger.

Blue and white balloons for freedom

Nevertheless, the dictatorship is incapable of smothering the spark of April, because the belief in the national flag is rooted in the heart, and nobody can uproot that.  At the same time, people’s creativity has brought us together through laughter and humor as the fuel of our optimism since the beginning.

Less than two months ago, the blue and white balloons began to appear.  They have an insurrectionary meaning now and have been used as an excuse to send people to prison – for the simple act of releasing them on the streets, in their neighborhoods, sometimes with handwritten messages of freedom.  They have been used in marches and have now become a symbol of struggle.  One day the city of Rivas awoke to a sea of scarecrows dressed in blue and white, along with blue and white shoes hanging from the electrical wires.

But nothing is like the inspiration sparked by those political prisoners who have written letters from behind prison walls, asking us not to give up.  We see them, in prison uniforms, at trials where they are sentenced to 25 years or more for crimes they did not commit and in response to that injustice, they give us wide smiles, or raise their arms in a signal of struggle. They sing, they pray and Edwin Carcache sends us all a message of strength in sign language.


The most recent ‘hit’ of this ongoing civic struggle was the hash tag #SoyPicoRojo (#IAmRedLips), which emerged after Marlen Chow and nearly 40 others were violently arrested and imprisoned after a sit-in.  In custody, Marlen shared her lipstick with her cellmates in an act of rebellion, transforming tragedy into resistance, and in a matter of hours the social networks were on fire, with both women and men posting photos of themselves with lips painted bright read.  It went viral, garnering attention in places like France, Belgium and Barcelona.

According to the writer Nadine Lacayo, this spontaneous playful action has broken taboos and is an affirmation of life in the face of a dictatorship that never laughs and only knows how to send out violent and threatening messages. Along with these actions, the civic rebellion has been peppered with national symbols, such as Monimbó’s iconic masks, the rebellious characters Little Red Riding Hood and Comandante Macha, the altars to the Virgin, colorful flowers, paper boats with messages, Doña Flor who always wears folkloric dress to the marches, Don Alex who runs throughout the city demanding Ortega’s departure, Doña Coquito, a street vendor who supports the struggle by giving away water bag, – these three have been imprisoned, and even the dog Firulais, an imaginary character embodied in the stray dogs that roamed the barricades.

For me to be able to help my country, I need to be emotionally well, I must practice a positive attitude until it becomes a natural part of my personality — and that requires good humor and lots of laughing.  Remember, put your oxygen mask on first, so that you can help others later.

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