The release of political prisoners, in June 2019 and again in February 2023, are examples of small but large wins.
“…But on my map, in the subsoil layer / voices and hands, daily / dig tunnels, hidden from the cruelty. / A troop of tiny insects / headstrong termites / diligently bite and destroy / the lies that rise up,” Gioconda Belli
HAVANA TIMES – The false impression that the massive demonstrations of 2018 were useless, since they didn’t manage to overthrow the Ortega dictatorship, leads inevitably to defeatism. Similarly, it can lead to undervaluing the small acts of resistance that thousands of Nicaraguans carry out each day against an oppression seeking to instill fear right to the marrow of our bones, in order to transform us into a submissive people. In contrast, within and outside the country, small victories are achieved that maintain the flame of hope in political change alive.
There’s no long-term struggle that isn’t waged in small battles, daily acts, habitual gestures, but also in acts of extraordinary courage, like those of someone who demonstrates publicly their repudiation of the tyranny, or who colludes with others to implement the “subversive” plan of helping other people.
It can be conclusively affirmed that the release of the political prisoners in June 2019 and February 2023 were examples of the small large wins that have been logged in this long struggle. Both were the result of combined pressures: in 2019, from the dialogues and the streets; and in 2022 on all fronts, until a national and international clamor was generated to rip the prisoners out of their claws. There wasn’t a day or a place where setting them free wasn’t demanded, through all types of actions. There weren’t enough words in the dictionary for the demands; the maps were filled with the colors of the protest signs denouncing the inhumane captivity; and with pins indicating the countries where petitions were sent to the governments. In both cases, the result was a slap in the face to the regime. The immediate reactions of the higher-ups and their spokespeople revealed how much these reverses pained them.
As in any long-term struggle, this one too is waged in the terrain of memory, a field no less important. Memory in its double sense: as a symbolic sphere of the why and how the events occurred; and as a meticulous registry, with the goal of eventually providing documentary evidence for criminal trials, when one day the atrocities committed by the criminals are judged. If the former aims to counteract the lies of the perpetrators, the latter moves in the opposite direction from forgetting. In both areas, the population has been active since the very day the social explosion broke out and haven’t stopped doing so despite the threats. The most recent contribution to the collective memory of how these events played out has been Gabriela Selsers’s book, entitled, through no coincidence: “Chronicles of April. The truth about the 2018 rebellion in Nicaragua.” In this book, the author uses the journalistic genre to narrate what she experienced directly, but also uses her personal testimony to transmit the experiences of others who felt threatened.
It’s impossible not to add the contributions literature has made to the work of preserving collective memory, from Sergio Ramirez’ Tongolele no Sabia Bailar, to Arquimedes Gonzalez’ Como esperando Abril. Historia de la massacre of 2018 in Nicaragua, and including the young poet William Gonzalez: Collected poems: Me duele respirar. There are also innumerable essays written since 2018 by Nicaraguan and other authors. But we must also include the stories and testimonies published by thousands of anonymous Nicaraguans every day in all types of electronic and print media. In the words of [Nicaraguan poet and author] Gioconda [Belli], they’re the “colonies of ants with their tenacious wills (…) armies of butterflies, dragonflies and lightening bugs that wander the world displaying the wounds.” Each story, each photo, each video, is a victory over lies.
In the other sphere – that of memory as a registry of the barbaric acts committed by the dictatorship – there’s the tireless work of the organizations that defend human rights. Together with the population, these have continued documenting the repression, identifying the intellectual and material authors, the chains of command and the patterns of action. They haven’t taken their feet off the gas pedals in this work for the last five years, not even when they themselves were the direct victims of reprisals for the work they do.
In this sector are also personal names of those who have paid with prison, the confiscation of their assets and exile, for the audacity of placing themselves on the side of the oppressed without calculating the risks or looking for quotas of power. In the mission of documenting and denouncing human rights violations, the opportune and timely denunciations of the population have also been key when someone in their neighborhoods has been taken prisoner, or when they’ve reported the regime’s police operations to block a religious procession or a peaceful meeting. Each periodic report from the organizations, as well as the citizens’ denunciations, each testimony offered, are small victories over forgetting, and, as such, small wins over impunity.
The same goes for the personal and collective victories that are obtained when actions arise in the heart of the people and become generalized, for example empathy with those threatened, instead of falling into the complex of “it’s not my problem” that the dictatorship encourages. In this area of civic ethics, we also encounter the individual decisions to “not be like them;” that is, to differentiate themselves from the regime’s agents and their forms of behavior – from the hate and accusations of those who dwell in a cavern where venom is the daily meal. Every day that a person decides not to commune with the ration of hate the regime offers is also a victory against cruelty.
Although there are many existing reasons to be filled with fear, there are many more reasons to continue struggling. A form of domination capable of totally annulling all the yearnings of freedom of an entire people has not yet been invented. For that reason, dictatorships are always living on the edge of collapse, because no one definitively resigns themselves to live in submission. In Nicaragua, there’s a rebellious hope that won’t wait with folded arms, but that feeds off the small victories won by the multiple resistances of every day. As Gioconda predicts: “However long the patient work of the termites may take, the edifice of power will fall.”