With April Ending, What Now for the Nicaraguan Opposition?

Opposition leaders and former political prisoners Juan Sebastian Chamorro, Felix Maradiaga and Miguel Mendoza, meeting in exile. Photo from Twitter.

Unity remains the most urgent task that is pending for the opposition. Different leaders coincide in saying they’re still in the process of an internal dialogue.

By La Prensa

HAVANA TIMES – The release and banishment of 222 political prisoners last February 9 changed the panorama for Nicaragua. For the opposition leaders who were in prison, it’s meant beginning all over again. The majority have now adapted to the idea that they must continue the struggle against Daniel Ortega’s dictatorship from outside the country. However, one of the greatest obstacles continues to be that of resolving the differences among the opposition leaders themselves. In doing this, they find themselves once again at the same point where they left off when they were imprisoned.

Yubrank Suazo, an opposition leader from Masaya who was imprisoned twice, stated that the opposition must demonstrate “it’s capable of facing the errors and vacuums of the past with maturity, pragmatism and clarity,” in reference to 2018. Amid the armed repression against the massive civic protests of 2018, opposition leaders attempted to establish a dialogue with Ortega. However, the initiative yielded no results and no solutions. In the eyes of critics, Ortega merely used it to gain time to arm his sympathizers and squash the street protests.

First internal dialogue

Yubrank Suazo. Courtesy photo

Suazo believes that right now the most essential thing is to reestablish an internal dialogue among all the opposition organizations. In doing so, they propose to “seek unity via concrete actions and defined objectives,” “without ideological or sectarian impositions that serve to fragment the joint work, as had been planned in 2021.”

In 2021, the year of Nicaragua’s presidential elections, the opposition sought to define one sole candidate to run against Ortega. Nonetheless, this effort ended up split into two large opposition blocs whose positions proved nearly impossible to reconcile. In public, the apple of discord was their positions regarding the Sandinista Renewal Movement, a dissident party that had much split off from the FSLN in the 1990s.

In the end, neither of the two opposition platforms had any opportunity to participate in the elections. The dictatorship imprisoned all seven of the potential presidential candidates, in addition to other outstanding opposition figures, including university students, farmers, business leaders, former diplomats, journalists, owners of media outlets, and even priests.

Opposition leader and former political prisoner Juan Sebastian Chamorro, now banished from Nicaragua, was one of the seven presidential hopefuls of 2021, on the part of the opposition Civic Alliance, a group born out of the 2018 attempt at dialogue.

Nicaraguan opposition leader Juan Sebastian Chamorro after being banished to the United States on February 9, 2023. Photo: La Prensa / AFP

Chamorro declared that since being released from prison he’s been in permanent communication with the other leaders. They all agree, he affirmed, that the priority is to forge a united front against the dictatorship. However, they’re still sketching out their strategies for achieving that goal.

“We’ve had in-person and virtual meetings to define strategies, and we’re in the process of working out a political strategy for the coming months. Obviously, the organizations and their representatives are all participating in this, both those in exile and those inside the country, with the principal objective of forming such a union of the opposition, to confront the dictatorship,” Chamorro expressed.

Opposition member Juan Diego Barbarena, spokesman for the National Blue and White Unity (UNAB), explained that his organization is engaged in a process of internal reflection, meeting with the leaders who were released from prison in February. More than 30 members of the UNAB were imprisoned, among them former presidential hopeful Felix Maradiaga.

“We have also been setting out our next steps, after the activities commemorating the April events: to work to identify points of connection and to hold dialogues among the different political leaders, but above all to regroup internally with our members who’ve been released from prison, so as to intensify the leadership activity of the Blue and White Unity. With an eye towards the outside, we’re also looking at next steps that would allow us to be part of common blocs and political consensuses to confront the dictatorship,” Barbarena stated.

The UNAB is one of the opposition organizations that arose from the furor of the 2018 civic protests. In 2021, they participated in the process aimed at selecting one unique candidate, through the platform called the National Coalition, which sought to integrate a heterogeneous group of those opposing Ortega, despite differences in ideologies.

Bringing in the exiled youth

Lesther Aleman is another former political prisoner. As a student leader, he was a founder the Nicaraguan University Students’ Alliance (AUN) and was one of the most visible faces of this group. Now in exile, he says this organization remains active, some from exile and others clandestinely in Nicaragua.

Aleman declared that at this time the work of AUN from exile is centered on channeling the energies of other young Nicaraguans who are out of the country for different reasons.

“Those of us who are outside today have assumed a struggle like that of five years ago, with the same interests, but with greater force. We especially want to add the strength of the young people who are outside of Nicaragua for different reasons including economic, family, and political, – to absorb these youth with interest in participating in this process of constructing a country, that has cost us so much over the last five years. These young people can become involved in this organization, where they can find a family,” Aleman asserted.

In 2018, Aleman became one of the protagonists in the first failed national dialogue, when he stood up before Daniel Ortega and told him to his face that he should leave power.

Lesther Aleman in exile. Courtesy photo

The student leader recalled that from the beginning the interest of this organization has been to contribute to a national change from the youth perspective, remaining clear that this is just a phase.

“Being young and a university student is just an apprenticeship in life. In this present moment, we’re young Nicaraguans who are placing our bets and working to construct an alternative that can overcome the crisis. We’re going to wear out our youthful years by sparing no efforts, so that we young people can be active subjects of that change, and not allow decisions to be made by a few people, disconnected from our realities,” the young man of 25 assured.

Lesther Aleman added that the AUN doesn’t want to be the youth wing of some adult group, but to be on the frontlines of change, putting forth their proposals and concerns.

Both Lesther Aleman and Max Jerez, also a founder of AUN, were imprisoned for nearly two years as a result of their opposition to Ortega. They were held in the jail cells of the infamous El Chipote prison in Managua.

All 222 opposition members who were released and dispatched to the United States were then stripped of their Nicaraguan nationality and left stateless. Spain, Mexico, Argentina, Chile and other countries of Latin America have offered them the option of assuming their nationality, so as to maintain legal status. From these countries, many have promised to continue working to see Daniel Ortega and his wife Rosario Murillo gone from power.

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