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Central American University - UCA  
  Number 444 | Julio 2018
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Nicaragua

“We’ll never be the same”

“Being out on the streets the first two months of this struggle has raised many questions for me about our history’s terrifying repetition of dictatorship, only a few of which I’m raising here.” This is only one of the testimonies from one of the thousands of students who aroused national consciousness in April and initiated a civic insurrection against the dictatorship.

Fiore Stella Bran Aragón

“ Just like Álvaro Conrado, I too have difficulty breathing now. Yesterday they killed one of ours. They found his body on the Cuesta del Plomo [a hill on the outskirts of Managua the Somoza dictatorship used to dump the bodies of its opponents]). He was a member of the medical brigade from the National Autonomous University (UNAN).”

This is what my friend Scarlett told me by phone on May 26. It made me remember the last words of Álvaro Conrado, the 15-year-old boy who died from a bullet in the neck in the first moments of the April protests. He was bleeding out and couldn’t breathe, but the public hospital closed its doors to him and he died soon after. He was one of the first victims of government repression. In one of the marches a few days later a young man carried a placard on which he had written: “Alvarito, today Nicaragua breathes for you.”

Another of us is killed


Keller Pérez, the young man my friend told me about, was 23 years old. He took part in the April civic insurrection as part of a group that took over tNAN-Managua. His body was found with signs of having been tortured on Saturday May 26 on the Cuesta del Plomo. Videos on the social networks showed policemen throwing a black bag where Keller was found hours later. Seeing the photo of his body reminded me of a photo taken by US photojournalist Susan Meiselas during the insurrection some 40 years ago on the same hill. Hers shows the bloated lower half of a decomposed body, with only the backbone protruding from the pants and other bones strewn nearby.

It hurts me to breathe too


As a postwar daughter, born in the 1990s, I never thought I’d witness a dictatorship as brutal as the one my parents and grandparents told me about.
Now it hurts me to breathe too, just like Álvaro Conrado, and like it surely hurt the two children, one two years old and the other only eight months old, burned to death with their parents when their house was torched in the Carlos Marx neighborhood of Managua, and also just like all those students and other young people viciously murdered. Now it hurts me to breathe because I am breathing struggle and death simultaneously. I have been on the streets and in the student processes organizing this stage. It hurts to know I have the privilege of participating in the strategizing, of thinking and writing, while others are being killed on the streets and in the universities.

We’ll never be the same


I’m a postwar daughter, another of the “millennials,” the children of the Sandinista Popular Revolution who are depicted as apathetic to social reality, apolitical, “social network activists” who don’t go out onto the streets and don’t know how to struggle.

For a little more than two months my generation has demonstrated the opposite. We went out to take over the streets to fight against the dictatorship with no other banners than those of the environment and justice, with almost no knowledge about how to organize a university student movement much less a political struggle, and without knowing how to defend ourselves from government-paid killers. We’ve had to learn all this in a very short time, trying to make up for our lack of experience with ideas and practices with uncertain results. It has been overwhelming and grueling. We’ll never be the same as we were before.

I listened to stories of a lost revolution...


My generation’s lack of knowledge and scant experience of political organizing is related to having grown up in the postwar context. Since we were children we heard stories of a lost revolution that took the life of so many young people and then later the stories of a civil war in which many other young people lost their life and the hope of building a new Nicaragua.

Depending on each family’s political affiliation, the interpretations of the revolution’s history varied in tone and nuance—some based on historical party affiliations, others on aversion to the opposing camp for having taken the life of some family member or friend—but always sharing one consensus: the revolution was Nicaragua’s last project taken on as a nation, a unique opportunity to achieve Utopia.

Most of what I know about the Sandinista Popular Revolution I learned in university classrooms, on the streets and in social organizations or self-organized training spaces where I participated as an activist. I remember that my elementary school and the public high school where I studied had very few books and only one history text, to which I had access thanks to a teacher. The situation was similar at home: an unwavering silence about the revolution and the war that followed. Silence also about the dead and those who had to migrate to escape the disaster. “It” wasn’t worth talking about because it meant touching an open wound, because it was over, because the Nicaragua of the 1990s and 2000s was different and because my parents didn’t want me to ever experience a brutal dictatorship such as the one they had survived and didn’t believe I ever would.

Our skins are marked
with very different histories


I was in the last year of elementary school when Daniel Ortega won the presidential elections in 2006. And I was in my last year of secondary school when he was reelected for the first time in 2011. I didn’t understand basic political concepts back then nor did I know that a dictatorship was in the making.

Today, as I’m about to graduate from university—and having experienced two months of civic resistance—I find it more necessary than ever to reflect on our histories, the micro-histories of our parents’ Nicaragua; the stories we don’t know and the ones every young person who has taken over the streets or universities since April 18 now carries marked on their skin.

Our skins are very different. That’s why the kind of “Tropical Spring” we’re living through has taken even us by surprise. Among the young people around me are children and grandchildren of Sandinistas who fought for the Free Nicaragua of 1979 and don’t agree with the current repression. There are also Ortega loyalists who discredit and play down our resistance. There are even children of those who went through the 1970s and 1980s without explicitly taking any side in that history. There are children of Contras who say they warned about the danger of the FSLN returning to presidential power and then there are some who, like me, are marked by war on two sides: My father is Salvadoran and my mother Nicaraguan.

We share very different learning


Nobody called us to this struggle. We chose it ourselves and each of us in this resistance contributes what we know. Some of us have been activists in different arenas and were already used to the intimidating presence of riot police at peaceful marches. For others it’s their first time taking over the streets and universities. Some of us have had more opportunities to discuss Nicaragua’s history and politics because we’ve studied the humanities or social sciences, but we’re the minority compared to the doctors, engineers, computer scientists, administrators, technicians and other kids from the barrios who, although they haven’t studied in the university, are also resisting and contributing from their knowledge of healing, building, writing, dancing, playing and, above all, of being in solidarity with all those who are in the struggle.

We want an inclusive Nicaragua


In the midst of the general demand for justice and democratization are demands for the inclusion of youth from the LGBTI community, Afro-descendants, feminists, religious minorities, atheists and other groups who are part of the Nicaragua that’s made invisible by the official history.

In ultra-conservative Nicaragua, daring to demand inclusion has always meant a sentence of silence, exile or death for those belonging to these groups. Today, we on the streets are all now demanding a different and inclusive nation, and on the social networks, exclusionary practices are being criticized and a place is being reclaimed by and for all in the national project that seems to be germinating.

All of us young people participating in this civic insurrection are learning different and perhaps even contradictory versions of the revolution’s “history,” versions we probably didn’t have time to share or question before the social explosion that began in Managua on April 18.

Young people and citizens who aren’t from Managua were already living a silent and silenced explosion, one felt especially by those on the Caribbean Coast and in the territories illegally ceded by the government to a Chinese businessman to construct an interoceanic canal. In many of these places governmental repression already far exceeded what we experienced in Managua and other cities in the Pacific prior to the massacre that started in April. In Managua, which is not Nicaragua, it’s hard for us to accept that this silencing has its roots in the racist colonial exclusion these peoples have always lived with.

How can you have an
insurrection without weapons?


Now, after two months of civic insurrection, I and maybe almost all my generation resisting this dictatorship have more questions than answers.
How long will we be able to resist so much brutality? How can we connect the reality of university resistance with those of the barrios, the peasants’ movement, the Caribbean Coast population and other, historically excluded Nicaraguans? How can we have an insurrection without weapons, or with makeshift weapons only for self-defense, when our national “history” has taught us that power is only gained at the barrel of a gun?

Is dialogue even possible with a genocidal government? How can an inclusive and non-strongman national project be thought out and realized when certain traditional political actors have rallied their forces in this insurrection and could constrict the leadership of students and other sectors, who are the ones being killed?

How are we to interpret the silence of almost all Central American governments regarding the genocide in Nicaragua? How should we understand Washington’s urgency to “support” Nicaragua’s democratization process? How should we read the silence or lack of forcefulness of certain activists and academics of the Latin American left?

We must break with
the culture of silence


My head is filled with these and other questions almost constantly and they are the subject of daily conversation between young friends, acquaintances and even strangers on the social networks or in certain “secure spaces.” The answers will come; some as a consequence of circumstances and others with the passage of time, as always happens with historical processes. All these questions and many more reinforce for me the need to break with the culture of silence, the need for dialogue about the diverse micro-histories of the Sandinista Popular Revolution and the different Nicaraguas. Perhaps that way we’ll be able to avoid history being written and imposed on us by the victors and be able to avoid yet another dictatorship in the future.


Fiore Stella Bran Aragón was best student from the 9th graduation of the School for Political and Citizenship Formation of the Social Apostolate Commission of the Society of Jesus in Nicaragua.

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