The Pain for the Massacred Children

Family members of Matt Andres Romero at his burial. Photo: Wilfredo Miranda / Confidencial


The official “normality” does not allow grief in public schools, nor to pay homage to students.

Of the 29 children killed during the more than five months of civic protests, 25 were between 13 and 17 years old.


By Juan Carlos Bow  (Confidencial)

HAVANA TIMES – Matt Andres Romero, 16 years old, and Alvaro Conrado, 15 years old, were in the same grade but in different schools of Managua: tenth grade of high school. Both were joined by the Ortega regime in a list of 29 children and teenagers killed until now, in more than five months of civic protests. However, the same government has taken charge of separating them: Conrado was honored by his classmates from the private Loyola Institute. In the case of Romero, the Principal of the public Ruben Dario Institute, Gloria Segura, forbade the homage.

Of the 29 minors killed, about 25 were between 13 and 17 years old, which for the Director of the Coordinator for Children and Adolescents (Codeni) Adilia Amaya, would mean that at least 25 schools are living a collective mourning. However, the tacit order from the government to public schools has been to act as “if everything is normal.”

Teachers consulted by Confidencial point out that no guideline exists from the Education Ministry (MINED) regarding the students murdered. “They always tell us that we should not talk about the issue, that everything is normal, that we have to act neutral with the kids,” commented the teacher from a public school, who asked to omit her name to avoid dismissal.

During the months of crisis, only in August was the death of a minor not reported. Five died in April, four in May and June was the month with most killed: sixteen. In July, three were registered and one in September, according to figures of Codeni.

Ignoring the grief

The psychologist Nora Habed Lobos assures that to ignore the process of grief in schools will bring future trauma in young people. “It creates very strong emotional wounds that if they do not receive the appropriate attention creates people who start to have nightmares, suffer from insomnia, eating disorders and lack concentration,” she explains.

She warns that high school students should have the possibility to express all “their conflictive emotions and feelings of pain,” because otherwise they can have depressions in the future.

Habed indicates that if the teenager is silent “we are doing a lot of damage to him or her.” “It is called complicated grief because it cannot be resolved in a normal period of time, and then it gets more complicated and creates states where people could become aggressive.”

In the classic process of mourning, we usually go through denial, anger, resignation until we reach acceptance, according to the psychologist, who said that in Nicaragua young people have not been given enough time for these processes.

Anger was precisely one of the emotions expressed by some peers of Conrado, killed by a shot in the neck on April 20th, near the University of Engineering (UNI). They expressed it during one of the activities carried out by the Loyola’s teachers to talk about the adolescent’s death.

At the Loyola School

A poster in honor of high school student Alvaro Conrado, 15 years old, killed during the April repression. Carlos Herrera / Confidencial

“With the tenth-grade students we went to the countryside to write and read a message about what they would have said to Alvarito for the last time. Some were very upset because he had gone to the protests and others were asking him not to go. It was some of the burden they needed to release. Afterwards, the messages were burned,” said Marisol Chavez, psychologist at Loyola.

Also in the Christian education class they have worked the grieving process, both at primary and secondary levels.

The decision of the Loyola was internal, since the MINED did not pass any directive on how to deal with the grief of youngsters. “We did it, because we consider it necessary,” explained Yalina Orozco, High School principal at Loyola.

The teacher says that the only visit by the Government was when they restarted classes, to search for information on Conrado and his family. “They came from the Public Prosecutor’s Office to find out if he really was our student, and we proved it with list in hand. They also asked us for information about his parents, but we told them that we keep such information private,” she explained.

Confidencial tried, without success, to find out what some public schools have done on the subject of the young people who died. In all cases, the teachers and principals referred us to the department of public relations of the MINED or to the district’s delegate, with whom it was impossible to get to know their position.

They prohibited a tribute

The closed governmental position is consistent with an endemic illness in Nicaragua: “We are a country unable to process grief. In other words, we go from generation to generation with griefs. From the war against the dictatorship, we passed to the war in the 80’s and now to the dead in the protests,” considers Habed. In total, 325 citizens have died during the civic demonstrations against the regime of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo, according to human rights organizations. Matt Andres Romero, for whom the Principal of the Ruben Dario public institute denied the tribute by his peers, was the 325th killed.

Romero’s classmates have sought to channel their pain. They tried to make a mural, but they did not let them at the school. Then, they painted on a wall: “Matt, present.” And, since that day they check their backpacks before entering. Afterwards, they wanted to have a march from the school to the house of their fallen friend, but on the chosen day several police officers were stationed near the school. The order from the school is “nothing has happened.”

The danger of normalization

The government’s response to the protests and deaths has been more police and paramilitary repression, and an incessant campaign in its media and social networks about “normality.”

For Amaya, Director of Codeni, “the reality of the country is that we must know how to observe the school environment. We cannot say that nothing happened. A lot happened and continues to happen every day, and the youth will continue talking. Normalization from one day to another, is not real.”

The teacher who asked to omit her name, says that although she cannot speak directly to her students about the protests and the dead, “they are always commenting among themselves. They’re not stupid.”

Romero’s peers told Confidencial that they talk about what happened and that they have decided not to participate in the marches. Furthermore, to show their mourning they carry a small black ribbon on the left side of their uniform shirt. So far, they have not forbidden its use.

The Director of Codeni recommends that schools should be focused on the growth of their students and that can only be achieved, in the national context, by understanding the grief they live. “These young kids who have died have a history in their schools, their death means a lot in the life of their schools,” she added.

Tania Romero, mother of Matt, relates that her son’s classmates gave her a photograph of the teenager as a gift, in which the message reads: “the one that leaves does not dies, only those that are forgotten die.”

They also did a painting; in which you see a “Macho Raton” (a satirical character from colonial times) that is shooting a “mortero” (homemade mortar) in the form of a “guardabarranco” (the national bird) that carries a Nicaraguan flag in its beak. In the mortar tube, which is blue and white, the name Matt is written. “They told me that it was the last group work that they were doing, it was for the national holidays,” mentions the mother.

Do not politicize

“We cannot normalize the deaths, as if nothing has happened. You have to talk about those dead, in every sense,” advises Habed, who points out that the topic should not be “politicized,” so it has to be talked about from the human and mental health point of view, “beyond a political party.”

In that sense, Amaya questions: “if we politicize the school: to this burial we will go, but not to the other. What message are we giving? We would not be focused on the student’s recovery.”

Data from MINED indicate that in 2018, 1.7 million students enrolled in the different educational modalities, from pre-school to high school, including night school and distance education.

Despite the official position of tight secrecy or the attempt to “normalize” the situation, Amaya recommends schools train themselves in “understanding the emotional problem” that many students go through. “The students are experiencing emotions in different ways, the adolescent can experience it with a lot of anger, with a lot of denial, with a lot of feeling for not knowing how to react, or by blaming others. That is not going to stop the grief,” she stated.

In the Loyola, Conrado’s classmates keep his chair empty and a portrait of the murdered youth hangs on the door of his classroom. In the case of Romero, his classmates had to escape to go to his burial and they paid a mass to honor him. Two different realities. Two names that will be found again in this year’s promotion of the Colegio Centroamerica, which will be dedicated to all the high school martyrs, whether from private or public schools.