Even When Fear Bites, We Don’t Give Up

By Pinita Gurdian*

Pinita Gurdian. Foto: Luis Gutierrez / La Prensa

HAVANA TIMES – I received a newsletter from Madrid. The space they dedicated to the situation in Nicaragua is a copy of the discourse repeated all over by the spokespeople of this dictatorship. The same discourse which, against all evidence, the so-called “international left” feels the need to believe as it resists accepting that the Sandinista Popular Revolution that triumphed in 1979 ended completely in 1990, betrayed by many of the leaders who brought it to power.

I know that everyone is free to express what they think and what they dream, even if those dreams have no real basis. The Cold War ended more than twenty years ago. The world that we live in today is no longer divided between left and right as a dogma, North and South. Ideologies have hurt a lot of people in many places. They do not help us understand the world we live in. What is at stake in today’s world is respect for human rights, justice, ethics, freedom, democracy, which is also the right to think differently, to choose freely. What is at stake is, as the Zapatistas said, “a world in which all worlds fit”.

For me, to be on the left means to have an open mind to ever-changing reality. It does not need a “vanguard” or leaders to explain reality and tell everyone which path to follow. Human beings are thinking beings, we change, and we move forward, attentive to the signs of the times. That means not anchoring ourselves in a non-existent past that had a lot of value back in a time when we believed that we could “touch the sky”.

In Nicaragua, with the overthrow of Somoza, we believed that making a new society of freedom and justice was a real possibility. Many good people around the world believed in that utopia. It cost us blood and a whole generation of young people. There was a war of aggression which was also a civil war, a war of families fighting against each other.

A war of aggression because it was promoted and financed by the enormous power of the United States, but also a civil war caused by multiple mistaken policies by the Sandinista leadership. These errors caused a very large number of farmers and peasants to rebel, to unite, and to rise up against the same social project they had initially supported because it was designed to respond to their just demands.

Unfortunately, as human beings, we are susceptible to corruption, to adulation, to feeling important and indispensable. Just as our body is corrupted when we die, so are ideals easily corrupted. Our fragility forces us to always be alert to the path we take and the decisions we make. It requires us to be responsible with the power we have, no matter how small.

In Nicaragua there is no longer any revolution, but Ortega and some leaders did not accept the popular will that was manifested through the ballot box in the 1990 elections. Instead, they decided to coin the slogan of “governing from below”, promoting popular revolts. They never lost power. They kept it even after 1990, because Ortega and his subordinates controlled a good part of the armed forces, the Army and the Police.

What happened between 1990 and 2007, when Ortega retook the government, is often ignored internationally. And in those years many things happened that we are aware of and have experienced. In 1998, Ortega made a pact with then-President Alemán to divide the highest positions in the State between the PLC and the FSLN. The pact also included a fundamental constitutional change: the Presidency could be won with 35% of the votes.

Ortega returned to the Presidency as a result of that change in the Constitution. Once he took over the government, he started controlling all the institutions through bribery, exacting loyalty, and always relying on the armed forces. In the municipal elections of 2008 he orchestrated the first great electoral fraud, stealing the local elections in the main municipalities of the country. There is more than enough evidence of this. Since then there have been no fair elections in the country.

Ortega was able to make some advances in social programs thanks to Venezuelan oil aid. But he also privatized that aid and enriched his family, Army officials, and “Sandinista” businesspeople disproportionately. He made a pact with the main Nicaraguan business interests. The economic model that he promoted was always totally neoliberal, endorsed by the IMF.

The production system did not change. The export of wood and gold mining is destroying our very rich natural resources. And the most serious and incredible thing he did was to violate our national sovereignty by mortgaging the country to a Chinese businessman named Wang Jing from the HKND company. Wang Jing was set to build and manage a fifty-billion-dollar interoceanic canal for a hundred years, under the pretext that this would provide jobs and income for the country.

Thank God this project was a pure fantasy, because it would have destroyed the Great Lake of Nicaragua, the largest reserve of drinking water in Central America, and would have given the government and foreign investors the ability to expropriate or compel the sale of the surrounding land for tourism purposes.

From the beginning, the peasants, who were owners of these ancestral lands, organized and protested, and founded the Campesino Movement. Its top leaders were later imprisoned after rigged trials blaming them for crimes they did not commit. They were released after a year in jail. Many others had to go into exile and recently two of them were illegally imprisoned again. They are included among the most recent group of 29 political prisoners.

In April 2018 there was a citizen rebellion, initially led by dissatisfied young people, and then followed by most of the population that was tired of fraud, social control, lack of transparency, sectarianism, and corruption. Ortega and Murillo never expected that level of popular uprising. Their response was a brutal crackdown in which they employed weapons of war.

The repression caused more than three hundred deaths, around 100,000 exiles, thousands of wounded, many of them disabled for life, and hundreds of political prisoners. Many died from lack of medical care. Doctors who dared to disobey orders from above not to treat wounded protesters were fired from public hospitals. Ortega and Murillo put down the uprising by use of force, claiming they were defending the “revolution.”

But in April 2018 their masks fell off. Since then, we have lived under an unscrupulous and unbridled dictatorship. Ortega and Murillo continue to use the same discourse they used in the past as if it were relevant to the present. The people that rebelled in April 2018 have paid dearly for it. They resist. And today people are afraid to speak. We cannot protest in the streets without risking going to jail.

On November 7 of this year there will be national elections of the President and representatives in the National Assembly. Ortega is terrified of competing fairly and is preparing elections tailored to assure his victory.

He was terrified by the candidacy of journalist Cristiana Chamorro, the daughter of Violeta Barrios who defeated him at the polls in February 1990. To prevent her candidacy, he accused the foundation she had directed, which promotes professional journalism, of money laundering. That wasn’t sufficient, so on June 2nd he ordered her house to be raided and that she be placed incommunicado under house arrest.

From that moment, and throughout the months of June and July, he went on a rampage against the other presidential hopefuls and opposition leaders until he imprisoned 29 of them, abducting them and keeping them imprisoned without any possibility of contact with family members or legal counsel. At that time there were already more than 130 other political prisoners being held based on rigged trials or no trials at all.

The houses of those illegally detained were raided, and officials stole anything and everything they thought might be of value or interest to them. This recent wave of repression has led dozens of journalists and hundreds of people from all walks of life to flee the country. There is a growing generalized sense of fear, despair, and the feeling that Nicaragua with Ortega and Murillo is a country without a future.

Pinita Gurdian with her daughter Ana Margarita Vijil.

Among those illegally arrested and detained in June are one of my daughters, the youngest, Ana Margarita Vijil, and one of my granddaughters, Tamara Davila. They are two women committed to their country, brave and faithful to their ideals of social justice and freedom.

Both have dedicated a large part of their lives to this struggle. They are young women aware of the responsibility of putting the excellent education they received at the service of Nicaragua and its people. They are aware that God gave us speech and the ability to denounce, the intelligence to think and decide, the freedom to choose and the heart to love justice and seek the good of the society in which we live. They chose to fight in a civic and peaceful way, denouncing what is not fair. They showed their faces, they did not hide, even knowing that what happened to them was a real possibility.

Since Ana Margarita and Tamara were violently abducted from their homes on June 12 and 13, respectively, neither family members nor their lawyers have been allowed to see them. We don’t know their health situations. They are not vaccinated against Covid because there is still no access to vaccinations for those ages in Nicaragua. We don’t know what they’re eating. They do not allow us to bring them more than water and occasionally a bottle of hydrating serum or a bottle of Ensure, personal hygiene products and a mask. They are in isolation. The place where they claim to have them is an infamous “investigation” center that we all fear.

Pinita Gurdian with her granddaughter Tamara Davila.

Those of us who are family members of this last group of detainees are treated with contempt when we arrive. They speak to us with the voice of military command. Not all the relatives of the abductees dare to protest. They are afraid that they will retaliate against their family member inside. For some family members, it is quite difficult to even get to that place known as El Nuevo Chipote. There is no public transportation that goes there, and many family members can’t take time off from work.

The injustice that we are experiencing has filled me with an internal strength that does away with the fear of whatever reprisals they might carry out against me. And I protest. I cannot and must not be silent in the face of injustices. I am my own owner, and I am free. I will not submit to any tyrant. I submit only to the dictates of God who speaks to me in my conscience. But I do not hide the fact that I often break down and have a hard time sleeping and eating. I often feel in myself what Alvarito Conrado, the child martyr of the April insurrection, expressed, mortally wounded, in his last words: “It hurts to breathe.”

The Nicaraguan revolution, that project that aroused the interest of so many people around the world, a project for which my family and I gave everything, no longer exists. It evaporated due to a lust for power and greed for money, and it is now stained with the blood of innocents.

Today, every day, every hour, in my mind the words of a poem by Mario Benedetti speak to me, inspire me, and give me strength:

Don’t give up, please don’t give in,

Even when the cold burns, even when fear bites,

Even when the sun hides and the wind is quiet,

there is still fire in your soul, there is still life in your dreams.

July 2021

*Josefina Gurdian, known as Pinita, is a 77-year old Nicaraguan mother of six. A well known entrepreneur  and founder of a food business run by women. She created and was host for more than 10 years of a TV cooking show. She is a Christian, committed to the movements linked to liberation theology since the 1960s. 

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