“I want this nightmare to be over”
We offer our readers the first part of Chapter 11 of the report
by the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts (GIEI),
a moving chapter titled, “I want this nightmare to be over,”
written after devoting time to listening to the many victims
and their family members to learn their “nightmares.”
Many pages of this voluminous report tell of great pain,
while others recall memories of the Somoza dictatorship,
and still others offer views of what caused the rebellion.
All of them tell of fear and terror, mistrust and threats,
of divisions in families, communities and society as a whole.
They reflect griefs and traumas that are like open wounds
that will need lifelong tending and may never fully heal.
The also tell of so many and young people’s futures
cut short by death or put on hold by jail or exile.
Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts (GIEI)
In our work as the GIEI, we considered it important to reflect the psycho-social impact of the human rights violations endured by victims and their families starting on April 18. Contact with these victims and families took place in a context of severe repression, while serious human rights violations continued to occur in Nicaragua.
“We forged links based on trust”
From the start of its work in Nicaragua and in fulfillment of its role, the GIEI organized a series of meetings with civil society, including groups of victims, their family members and human rights organizations. These gatherings and meetings enabled the construction of connections based on trust that were indispensable to those invited to be able to put into words the experiences, feelings and actions they had taken in their search for truth and justice.
The GIEI also interviewed victims and their relatives, collecting valuable information about the consequences of the events that went beyond material relating to the field of investigation. These individual or family group meetings helped the assessment go deeper into the personal and social impact of the human rights violations. Finally, the GIEI conducted 23 workshops and informational meetings about the right to reparations, in which 410 affected people shared the measures they believe to be fundamental to a reparation process.
Thanks to long an’d productive joint working sessions, the theoretical framework has been presented, contributions have been gathhered and tools have been provided for addressing the State’s duty to develop the programs and public policies necessary to redress the harm to the victims. These workshops consisted of jointly constructing the plan we present in our report.
It should be noted that the GIEI invited various Nicaraguan state entities to an informational meeting to present to them contents that would be incorporated into the consultation process with victims and their families, as well as with civil society organizations. The State did not reply to the invitation or participate in the meeting.
They spoke “under fear of being
arrested, tortured or killed”
Nicaragua’s relatively recent history has been marked by particularly bloody armed conflicts. These conflicts left their imprint on the lives of many people and were not addressed, much less resolved, by society.
The effects of these conflicts remain buried in the memories of the people who lived through them, and they have now reappeared, summoned by the violence the country is experiencing again now, multiplying the suffering of people, families and society as a whole. They are even being passed down to new generations.
We thus seek in this chapter to reflect the psycho-social impact of the human rights violations suffered by victims and their families since April 18, as told in their own voices. It is important to mention that our contact with victims and/or their families took place while serious human rights violations were still occurring in an ongoing context of severe repression.
All meetings with victims, their family members and organizations were thus held amid fear of suffering persecution or being arrested, tortured or killed.
Beyond leading to countless difficulties in the development of our task, the continuing violations implied a constant re-victimization process: the severe and onoing nature of the events over the months has spread the harm more widely over time. This fact speaks not only of the dimension of violations in Nicaragua, but also of the strength of resistance among Nicaraguans.
“I never thought I’d live through it again”
“I had the same feeling as when I was a teenager, and I never thought I’d live through it again. I was paralyzed.” The experiences of human rights violations in the current context reactivate the pain and unresolved grief from other moments in Nicaraguan history.
Furthermore, for some people, the fact that the crimes of other periods have been subject to amnesties means that history is now repeating itself. For example, here is how one person who participated in one of the GIEI-organized activities put it: “It really affected me personally because my father was killed in the 1980s and the crime went unpunished, although we know who killed him. So helping people now is my way of dealing with that pain.”
The feelings expressed mention something that was dormant but was reawakened in the blink of an eye, overwhelming people with all the unresolved conflicts of the past. It is as if in a single moment all the weight of Nicaragua’s history fell on their shoulders again, causing memories and experiences to well up that they thought had been surmounted: “An unexpected emotional impact. I never thought I would ever again experience what I lived through under Somoza’s dictatorship.”
The comparison with the Somoza dictatorship is common and eloquently expressed with regard to the repressive force of Daniel Ortega’s government. One example of the association between the two authorities is the oft-repeated phrase widely heard in the streets: “Ortega and Somoza are the same thing.” This similarity with the Somoza epoch is also recalled in relation to the group most affected by the repression—young people: “In Nicaragua it’s forbidden to be young, just like before 1979 with the National Guard.”
“Not even one generation free of war”
The GIEI has heard it said that the expressions of repression waged by the current government are even crueler than those under the dictatorship defeated by the people in 1979: “Somoza is a pipsqueak compared to this government’s level of cruelty.”
Some people noted specifically that the current epoch’s control and terror strategies are more sophisticated than those from the decades of the Somoza dictatorship. “No one was taken to prison for listening to Radio Sandino during the Somoza period. There are things happening today that didn’t happen during the Somoza years.”
Moreover, the repression and conflicts in the current context have awakened something mentioned as a Nicaraguan trait by some victims: turning to weapons to resolve political conflicts: “Nicaragua has had centuries of armed conflict. Not even one generation has gone by without this kind of conflict. We are a generation that still hears about our parents’ and grandparents’ war wounds. We didn’t imagine we’d repeat them. They said they did what they did so we wouldn’t live through this. And now I’m saying the same to my son.”
The context roused the interest of children and young people about the country’s past. Children at the roadblocks asked their parents what their experience of war was like, bringing back memories and experiences—including resistance tactics—that they had believed were dormant. The use of traditional masks by people in Masaya during their conflicts with the forces of repression was an example of how confrontation strategies were resurrected from other periods.
“More destructive than a huge earthquake”
“What’s happening is like a huge earthquake, but even more destructive,” one person described. Just as today’s context brings to mind other elements from Nicaragua’s history, the links and close relationship between the Nicaraguan people and Nature are a constant reference point for expressing both the impact of the current political events and people’s resourceful resistance. With its giant lakes, volcanoes and a history marked by hurricanes and earthquakes that left enormous human and material losses, the Nicaraguan people are strongly connected to Nature as a familiar point of reference for daily life.
The comparison between “natural disasters” and “political disasters” was made clear throughout the GIEI’s work: “When Hurricane Mitch hit, we received a lot of donations. But now, there’s nothing... The families are alone.”
According to the stories told by people in interviews, however, that same destructive force can be turned into power for fighting and resistance in the face of state repression. Such is the case with the name given one of the marches, “Together we’re a volcano,” which expresses the potential of the Nicaraguan population.
According to what people shared, unexpected things always happen in Nicaragua, things that stir even the deepest waters, changing the scene and bringing about serious consequences in people’s lives and in the political-social realm.
Why the people rose up
The discontent with the government felt by a segment of the Nicaraguan people combined with indignation over the public authorities’ delay in responding to the wildfire in the Indio-Maíz Reserve. Then the social security reform was announced. Since grandparents are very important in Nicaragua, the possibility that the reform would harm them angered many people: “He always cared for the elderly,” shares the mother of one victim. This young man saw it as a mission of young people to support the elderly in defending their rights. Indignation at the images of elderly people wounded in the first days of the protests added fuel to the fire.
“Why doesn’t the population rise up? The government is stealing from old people, killing people,” one of the slain youths said to his mother as his explanation for why he was participating in the protests, his indignation led many people just like him to the streets in the first days of protests. For others, in addition to concern for the elderly, the proposed reform also represented a threat to their own future.
Afterwards, when the severe repression began, others joined in support of the young protesters barricaded in universities and others in the streets. One family member of another deceased victim told how her husband decided to support the students when he saw they were fighting for a just cause and, at the same time, being repressed: “The students had no protection; they didn’t know if the people would support them.” That’s why he joined them.
Indignation at the onslaught of repression as well as solidarity with the mothers who lost their children amid the protests led many people to participate in the Mothers’ March in honor of the victims. “Today is Mother’s Day, they lost their children, I’m going to give them a hug,” said one young man to his mother before leaving the house to participate in the march. Later he would receive a fatal shot.
For the people the GIEI listened to, solidarity with older people, with other protesters and also with victims’ relatives was what drew their loved ones to participate in the marches that took place around the country. This fact, so important for remembering the victims, also reflects the feeling of justice that arose in other moments in the country’s history and was reborn with vigor in the period beginning April 18.
“Seeing them again terrifies me”
“When I see police and paramilitary personnel, I’m filled with terror. Worse when I see the masked men. There is enormous insecurity in the streets. You can see masked paramilitary forces around the city. Seeing them again terrifies me. It’s not normal to go around with your face covered. What are they hiding? I don’t know.”
The repressive practices set in motion since April 18 have created a climate of fear and terror that even today affects all of Nicaraguan society. It’s an element present in each and every one of the stories collected, affecting people’s lives, families, neighborhoods and communities.
People are in a permanent state of alert. There are many stories pointing to the presence of people who work in the neighborhood Councils of Citizens’ Power (CPC), keeping an eye on their neighbors’ political involvement. They note that “you can’t leave your house in peace because day and night there are people from the government in the neighborhood.” Mention was made of lists of people who protested or demanded justice for the death of a family member, and since then have been monitored and threatened by people connected to the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN).
Fear of going out on the street is even greater for men, the group most affected by killings and arrests. According to the stories, the presence of neighborhood monitors generates fear of routine activities, like going to the market, to church or running other basic errands. “The whole family is afraid to go out, especially the men. They can’t even go to Palí [a supermarket chain]. The boys are prisoners in their area.”
The presence of “danielistas” as they are known [people who support Daniel Ortega], often keeps people from meeting their basic needs and seeking help outside the family. They stay cooped up with family, unable to share their pain, sadness and fears. Seeking support and organizing politically is out of the question, leading to privatized pain and harm, and isolating them.
“I can’t go out, or have a social life”
Due to the widespread nature of the repression—which even involved public health services—there are cases where people have decided not to go to a doctor’s appointment or follow up with treatment “because she’s the mother of a son killed and won’t accept psychological help from the Health Ministry.” She is also afraid she could suffer retaliation from health care workers.
Indeed, as was noted in Chapter 7 of this report, the denial of health care was a central factor in the repressive events, causing death and other grave consequences, which explains the mistrust people have of public services.
Although the protests continued to take place during the months of the GIEI’s work, the fear of being arrested, wounded or killed led to a decrease in people’s participation in the marches. Nonetheless, many people continued to march, despite being threatened by defenders of the government: “All of us who march are called coup-mongers, terrorists.”
The repression of the march on Mother’s Day (May 30)—known as “The Mother of all Marches,” in honor of the people killed in the context of the protests and in support of their mothers who sought justice—was especially significant for those interviewed: “People didn’t think they would attack this march. I never would have expected it. I never thought that starting that day, I would lose a son too.”
The sensation that the cruelty and repression had no limits was a factor generating overwhelming fear and insecurity for people. This greatly affected daily activities, especially among young people: “All this caused a kind of anguish. I can’t go out, have a social life, chat with friends.”
“No part of this society
has been left untouched”
Nicaragua has a tradition of extended families, made up of grandparents, parents, children, cousins, aunts and uncles. The family unit often lives on the same plot of land or in neighboring houses. Moreover, children are often raised by their aunts or grandparents. Due to this characteristic of Nicaraguan families, the extent of harm caused by the deaths, serious injuries and other human rights violations is very high. “Just like I’m missing him, the whole family also misses him.”
In interviews and workshops facilitated by the GIEI, it was common to hear that nieces, nephews, cousins, aunts and uncles suffer the loss of the victim in addition to the parents or siblings, or that a grandmother fell ill after her grandson’s death: “Grandma was also affected, because they were raised from birth in her house. She cries a lot for her grandson. He would often visit his grandmother because he loved her a lot. It was unimaginable that they could kill her little boy. She is 98 years old and lives alone. He helped her out buying tortillas, cleaning the house. He was very close to his grandma.”
Considering the extension of the Nicaraguan population, in which it’s not uncommon for all the people in a town or neighborhood to know each another, the absence of deceased, detained or displaced persons is also felt at a community level by neighbors and other nearby people, which magnifies the impact of repressive acts.
The events were not limited to one specific social group; they affected the entire country’s daily activities, commerce, public services, etc. “No part of society was left untouched.” Schools cancelled classes, stores were closed and the streets were empty due to people’s fear of leaving their homes.
There are cases of families that still do not know the whereabouts of their children, who may have fled for their lives or may be held unreported by the authorities, or may perhaps have been killed, their bodies left undiscovered. These families live with uncertainty, the desperation of an unanswered absence and worried about the suffering their child may be experiencing. All of life is paralyzed as long as the family has no answer to what happened.
The forced displacement of Nicaraguans, often motivated by terror and insecurity, produced dispersion in many families. The dismemberment of families caused by flight means the loss of emotional ties with members of the same family, friends and other people in the community.
It can thus be said that the violence had a destructive impact on both families and communities, since by cutting short the life of one or more members, it produced irreparable losses. In many cases the family was split up and dispersed around Nicaragua and in other countries.
“You’re tagged as a rabble-rouser”
The identification with the FSLN by one part of society together with the indignation that drew people into the struggle against the government has caused a divided society, which is also reflected in both family and community spheres.
In the GIEI’s diverse activities it was possible to witness situations of conflict among neighbors who identified with opposing sides. “The roadblock-supporters live over there,” said a neighbor, referring to a family that, despite having been part of the FSLN in the past, now does not agree with the repressive policies set in motion by the government.
The tension can be felt in the streets and is visible on houses tagged with words like golpistas [coup-mongers], vandálicos [vandals], terroristas, or levanta masas [rabble-rousers]. This polarization is related to the collapse in trust among people and the breakdown in family and social bonds. “How can the social fabric be repaired when my neighbor was the one who tortured my son or my other neighbor?” asked one professional who works with victims.
“Sandinista Youth leaders came to question me because I had called their comandante [President Ortega] a murderer, and they told me my brother was killed because he was shit.” In another case, a woman from the barrio’s CPC said to the family member of a victim killed due to his political mobilization: “You’re tagged as a rabble-rouser.” These cases show how present threats are in neighborhoods and community life, emanating from public entities and services that are supposed to support the population. This threatening presence caused divisions and conflicts among neighbors and people who co-exist day-to-day.
Human rights violations have also affected family ties, above all in the case of families themselves split between those who support and those who oppose the government. The chasm between people is so deep that even the death of a family member is unable to bring opposing groups together within a single family.
“We don’t care if
you’re part of the family”
In the GIEI’s range of activities it was possible to see this distancing and breakdown in trust between family members who defend the government and those opposed: “I lost family, because unfortunately I have family members who side with the government.”
There are more extreme cases of people who had to flee Nicaragua to protect their lives from family members with ties to the government, who even threatened them: “My family arrived, they came to find me, and they told me that if I kept mobilizing, I’d end up dead. They told me they didn’t care if I was their family member, that if they saw me any place where there was fighting, they wouldn’t hesitate to act.”
Finally, there are cases of family members indirectly involved in the death of a relative due to participating in groups that acted during the repression, which exacerbates ruptures that had begun emerging for some time in the family unit.
This polarization is largely backed by the official rhetoric that has consumed official media outlets since the beginning of the protests. This narrative attacks the exercise of freedom of expression, disqualifying all those who stand against it: they are called “terrorists,” “coup-mongers,” “Somocistas,” “rightwingers.”
Daniel Ortega’s message on April 21, 2018, is an example of speech that criminalizes the opposition, and promotes social polarization: “There will always be a minority that doesn’t agree with the consensus, but if we are democratic we have to respect and support the consensus. Otherwise it becomes the minority seeking to impose their point of view by force when they start with lines of questioning and confrontations or destructive attitudes. So opposition is not healthy anymore, it becomes a destabilizing factor. They are within their rights to criticize, we cannot force them to think differently. But they don’t have the right to conspire to destroy, or worse, look to the United States and the empire’s most extreme political groups, which above all are racist exterminators. They take the line of extermination. They seek them out. Why? To lodge complaints and thus gain financing. Because the complaints are accompanied by destabilization plans and they give the money.”
The official rhetoric conjured
up an “other” for an enemy
Official rhetoric thus sets up an “other” as the enemy who must be discarded—erased, as Vice-President Rosario Murillo put it: “There are 197 (deceased persons), let’s not forget! They killed them... They must pay for their crimes! They, who gamble on Nicaragua’s destruction; they, who for a time destroyed Nicaragua’s peace; they, who sowed hatred! It’s unforgivable! A capital sin, to sow hatred in Nicaragua! We don’t forget, and we will not forget it! Justice... They must pay for their crimes!” (sic)
Considering that this is a speech coming from the highest echelons of power, produced within the presidency and vice-presidency, it has a powerful dividing effect in all realms of society. [Moreover, the 197 is the only number of dead the government recognizes, and claims all are police or other government supporters killed by the opposition.]
At a rhetorical level, another effect of polarization is what the people the GIEI spoke to called the government’s “kidnapping” of patriotic symbols and Nicaraguan history. In the same sense, some people talked about the need to reclaim the FSLN flag, for its significance in fighting and resisting Yankee oppression and the Somoza dictatorship.
Others noted that the historical meaning of words such as “compañero/a,” “organization” and “peace,” for example, is being twisted by official rhetoric, with meanings that are inappropriate and undermine the words’ political strength and power.
Only some people have rights
while the others are punished
The division of society is a product of the stigmatizing of those participating in the social protests or fighting for their family members’ rights. By assigning them the stigma of “coup-monger” or “terrorist,” for example, official rhetoric seeks to create a reaction in society and consolidate in public opinion the rejection of both social protests and democratic demands.
The whole context strains trust among community members and sows doubt among people: Who gave the information? What information? What did they do to get killed? This is expressed in statements that seek to justify the repressive actions, such as: “It must be for something” or “They must have done something to deserve what happened to them.” These are the effects violence seeks to achieve: fear, silence, paralysis and denial of violence, reinforcing previously-existing prejudices or those created as a product of the context.
Stigmatizing and social divisions even get into children’s consciousness, showing up in their games: “The country is divided... This has affected children because now they talk about ‘you’re red and black [Sandinista] and I’m blue and white [opposition].’ Or ‘you’re bad and I’m good.’ We never played like that... I think the situation we’re experiencing has leached into the children.”
Likewise, media statements reinforce identities that are becoming divided, such as “The People” or the “Nicaraguan Family,” which means that some people are seen as worthy of enjoying rights and others, “them,” must be pointed out, excluded and punished.
“Each death feels like
I’m right there with mine”
“A trauma has engulfed us that I don’t want anything to do with. I don’t want to watch the news. Seeing so many dead has really affected me deeply. When I watched the mothers, I would think that I couldn’t take so much pain, never imagining that I would have the same experience. When you’re close to that pain, it hurts and hurts. I never imagined I would live through it. I know that one day God will send us some measure of justice.”
Grief is central to human existence, an experience of pain and suffering for the loss of someone or something important that needs to be developed.
The context of violence experienced in the country since April 18 has deeply affected the grieving processes of family members and people close to those who have died, not only because of the death itself, but also due to the circumstances in which those deaths occurred. This makes the development of grief more difficult.
Family members live in an environment of threats in the neighborhood, with the never-ending presence of violent pro-government groups in the streets and the existence of lists of people targeted just for demanding justice for the deaths or taking part in protests.
It’s important to remember that the killings were also intended to strike fear in the population and discourage people from taking to the streets in protest. In this way, the fight to clarify the killings and the grief they caused were profoundly affected.
Deaths continued to occur over several months, resurrecting and prolonging pain: “Each death feels like I’m right there with mine.” Every news report of a death in the context of the protests means more difficulties for appropriately processing the grief: “I haven’t just cried for my son, I’m also crying for all the kids, for their families.”
Children, too, were deeply affected by the deaths that occurred. Many of them are quieter; they cry and miss the deceased person. Moreover, these violent acts are committed by an entity that is supposed to be responsible for ensuring respect for the right to life: the State.
Extreme suffering for the loss of a loved one is joined by desperation and deep confusion at the fact that the death has been caused or justified by state entities or representatives of public authorities. The meaninglessness that always characterizes death is thus magnified in the face of this unexpected cruelty.
Likewise, in confronting the pain of a loved one’s death, family members face indifference or the stigma of being called “terrorists” and “coup-mongers,” which hampers the recovery of the disappeared or murdered family members’ public image and also affects grief.
“This is what hurts most:
they say the deaths are made up”
“What hurts most, what makes my blood boil is that the President and the VP say they’re made-up deaths. How can they say that, when we lived through it?”
The mother of a murdered person testified that the indignation shared by many mothers and wives regarding the way their family members were killed is intensified by official denial of the existence of the events experienced y those killed and contempt expressed for the lives of their loved ones.
This is clearly seen, for example, in an interview for CNN en Español on July 30, when President Daniel Ortega stated: “Human rights organizations in Nicaragua are politicized... They have a systematic policy against the government and mobilize people to file complaints. They just make things up.”
Members of public institutions and state agents deny the existence of the violent acts and their victims. This, together with the unjust nature of the deaths, the violent context and the circumstances of the death, deeply affects grieving processes and increases family members’ pain, generating feelings of indignation, rage and anger.
These feelings appear, for example, when faced with symbols of the government and the FSLN party. In this regard, a family member said in an interview: “These two people have no feelings, they are evil... When I see them on TV, I get really angry. When I see the red and black flag and the police, I also feel angry.”
“I can’t sleep, I see t
he man who was shot”
“I can’t sleep, I wake up and see the face of the man who was shot, I saw how he was bleeding, they carried him and brought him to a pick-up truck.”
The brutality of the deaths and the absence or failure of the public institutions in charge—such as the Institute of Forensic Medicine and some hospitals—meant, for many family members, having to directly deal with the wounded person or the corpse.
The precision of the shots, the weapons used in the repression, and the absent or deficient emergency medical care caused very serious bodily damage to the victims, which meant that colleagues and family members—adults and children—not only witnessed the violence, but also had to see open wounds, carry bodies and take them to the hospital. “The bullet entered my dad from here to here. There was a lot of blood. My mom wanted to help him, but she couldn’t. The whole floor was stained.”
The pain of refusal of care
In the midst of the repression against protests, volunteers, acquaintances or family members brought the wounded to hospitals that shut their doors or some officials created human chains to keep the wounded person and his or her companions from entering. So they had to wait with the bleeding body to receive care or go to another health center that would serve them. The denial of health care generated intense desperation in the people taking care of the wounded, and they have painful memories of those moments.
Even more serious are the imprints that such events left on the family members of people who died due to the denial of care. This is also the case with people who were discharged to the care of family members at home and died days later. These people have to deal with not only the pain of loss, but also anger at the participation of hospital staff in deaths that could have been avoided. Denying health care is so unthinkable that it creates overwhelmingly painful feelings in family members.
In many cases, people had to wait excessive amounts of time in the hospital for an autopsy to be done and to be able to retrieve the body from the hospital for burial. In innumerable cases the family members sat wake for long hours, until sieges by police and violent pro-government groups outside their home ended and they could finally bury their loved one.
Due to the widespread use of cell phones during the protests, there are countless recordings of the events and of wounded or dead people. The images and videos were shared on social media, in message groups and stored on family members’ personal phones. In this way contact with the images of pain lingered a good while after burial; it persists even now and is intensely present in daily family and community routines.
For people who have lost loved ones to the violence, developing grieving processes becomes more difficult because in addition to facing the pain of loss, they had to face death in a very direct and raw way that included the participation or failures of the institutions and public agents responsible.
“You can’t even hold
a wake for your dead”
Funeral rites, so important in the grieving process for family members and the community, were also a target for acts of terror and threats; it was impossible to conduct them in peace. In many cases the family had to hold the wake for the deceased person in their home behind closed doors, under siege from violent pro-government groups who were shooting. There were cases where the police entered the locale where the wake was taking place, threatening those present.
In some burials, there was little participation from family members and friends because people were afraid of going and being attacked. It restricted or even blocked the family’s access and the support they needed from their networks to process their grief.
After the burial there are stories of desecrated graves, which led many family members to frequently visit the cemeteries to verify if the grave was damaged: “I go to the cemetery all the time because I’m afraid they’ll take my nephew’s body.” Posthumous tributes are also under surveillance: family members stop putting plaques and the Nicaraguan flag on the graves for fear they will later be removed.
It’s important to mention that many families chose to bury their relative without an autopsy, because they didn’t trust the Institute of Forensic Medicine. This means they not only buried the person without knowing what happened to him/her, but also thinking that one day the body will need to be exhumed to do a credible autopsy. As a result, the grieving process is suspended, riven by the absence of response regarding the events and with the expectation of an exhumation that will surely cause new suffering in the family.
On many occasions the affected families did not have money for the coffin or the grave site at the cemetery. They had to get support from neighbors, friends, movements and social organizations to cover the costs of the wake and burial. “Even dying is expensive. But people came through in solidarity with economic support. I had to buy a little plot in the cemetery. Thanks be to God I received that support. We had to buy the coffin, too,” said one mother. For the indigenous population, the impossibility of conducting their traditional funeral rites due to the presence of police and violent pro-government groups laying siege to the population meant it is impossible for the deceased to rest in peace: “We could not conduct the rites for our dead as in our way.”
Conducting funeral rites is fundamental for people close to the deceased to process grief: the dead person must rest in a sacred place where they can receive prayers, flowers, candles and music. And farewell rituals must be respected, including the presence of family members, friends and neighbors.
“There’s no moment in the day
when I’m not thinking of my son”
The circumstances in which the deaths occurred have produced extremely painful experiences in people, causing much sadness to appear during their daily activities. One person, for example, shared that thoughts about the deceased as well as pain are daily companions: “It hurts, it hurts that they have taken my son. This sadness never leaves. There is no moment in the day when I’m not thinking about my son.”
Moreover, the brutal way people were killed produces a feeling of unreality in family members, as if it were impossible to assimilate what happened, as if it were a product of one’s imagination or a movie: “Sometimes I can’t take it in.” Family members of murdered people say: “When you’re dealing with a sick person you can start to prepare, but like this it’s not going to be easy to digest.”
In addition to the feeling of unreality there is a strange sensation, as if the deceased person was still there: “Time stays locked in that moment. I wait for him to arrive at night, but he’ll never arrive again.” People share that they live as if their loved one could come home at any time: “I feel like he’s here, like he’s going to come.” “It seems like he’s going to arrive, that he’s going to open the gate.”
One woman whose son had gone to the Mothers’ March in solidarity and ended up murdered— turning her into yet another mother who had lost her son—put it this way in her interview: “The mothers were not celebrating Mother’s Day, they were at the march out of the pain they felt for the death of their children. That day they killed my son, too. For me there will never be another Mother’s Day. Now it is a day of death for me.”
The continuation of the violations, as well as the failure to clarify what happened, the threats, the accusations and the stigmatization they are subject to, mean that people stay tethered to their experience, with no possibility for processing, understanding and taking it in.
“When I cry it’s at night”
Moments of loneliness, especially at night, are when the pain comes out more intensely. We collected several stories from people who start to cry when they’re falling asleep or wake up crying at dawn.
The people considered strongest start to cry when they’re alone or at night. For them, this is the time when they express their pain: “Sometimes I cry when I’m falling asleep, that’s when I let it all out.”
The people who were interviewed or participated in GIEI workshops mentioned that they have trouble falling asleep; they have nightmares or sleep too much, feeling very tired all the time. Sleep is also interrupted by crying and by memories of the dead son or daughter: “I get up, I look at his bed and I cry at night, because I know I won’t see him again.”
Family members of the deceased also exhibit recurrent physical problems, such as loss of appetite and weight loss: “His grandmother, who is 95, has fainted, has stomach problems and cries a lot. She is very depressed.”
Other related physical effects include headaches, elevated glucose levels and high blood pressure, as well as a worsening of pre-existing illnesses. There are also stories of people who have fallen back into alcohol addiction.
“Nicaragua’s future is in prison”
The consequences of the events taking place since April 18 also mean losses for Nicaragua’s future, since many of the victims were young students and workers who had a whole life ahead of them and now feel it’s gone.
University students were on the front lines of the protests and the clashes against the repressive forces. They were also the main group affected by killings and arrests, as well as having to flee the country to protect their lives. The young age of the victims is another factor that affects the deceased’s family members, since a loss in this stage of life is unexpected: “I never thought I would bury my brother so young.”
Regarding people who have been arrested, also largely young people, one person stated: “Nicaragua’s future is in prison.” Indeed, detention deeply affects people by interrupting their studies and professional plans. The lack of definition regarding the detention period and the length of the trial increase the uncertainty about the future. Sentences can also mean restrictions on future professional practice, greatly affecting the lives of these young people.
With respect to displaced young people, many are going to lose their careers due to “desertion,” because they are not attending classes. Others would like to continue studying in another country, but can’t because they would need documents that stayed behind in Nicaragua, and can’t return to request them. Thus, displaced students are also living the experience of having their plans interrupted, with no prospect of practicing their chosen profession.
“I don’t know what will
become of my life”
The GIEI has also received testimonies stating that student records were erased from the data systems of some universities, as if they had never studied in those academic institutions. This causes feelings of deep rage and impotence in people faced with the injustice of losing years of dedicated studies, and even worse, of facing limited prospects for the future.
Threats and persecution of young people were so intense during the GIEI’s period of work in Nicaragua that many had to seek refuge in safe houses for months to protect their lives. They had to abandon their studies without even leaving the country or being jailed. One young woman who took shelter in a safe house declared: “I don’t know what will become of my life. I don’t have a career anymore.” Children of the deceased also had their education affected or interrupted by financial difficulties in the families either because they had to take over the family’s survival or because the family could no longer afford to continue the studies. In this way the damage to professional qualifications reaches an even greater number of young people.
Many teens who are finishing their high school degree indicated that they prefer to go to university abroad next year, instead of staying in the current uncertainty of what will happen in Nicaragua. Thus, in addition to attempting to demobilize university students and hamper their careers, the consequences of the repressive actions set in motion have affected a whole generation of students and young professionals in the country.
“When I see how he was
before and how he is today”
The intensity of the repression as well as the precision of the shots by the repressive forces produced a large number of wounded during the protests, in addition to the high number of people killed. There are not just a lot of wounded people in terms of quantity. The wounds are also particularly serious, leaving scars that will accompany survivors their whole lives.
At first the wounded and their family members went through uncountable difficulties regarding their right to health care and the possibility of accompanying the wounded person during his/her hospitalization period. Afterwards came all the aftermath of rehabilitation and life changes.
Many family members had to stay outside hospital facilities for the entire length of the hospitalization: “If it hadn’t been for some people who helped not just us, but all the families who were there supporting one another... We slept on the floor, exposed to the weather; we got rained on because we were sleeping outside.”
Among the ramifications, many people lost mobility in their limbs, requiring a wheelchair or a cane to move about. Others had wounds that affected one or both eyes, leading to partial or total blindness.
These people need constant help from their family members, friends and acquaintances, since they cannot do basic daily tasks on their own such as showering, eating, cooking, going to the bathroom, brushing their teeth or even drinking water. Someone always has to be ready to take care of the person who received such a discapacitating wound.
For the families and the wounded person, the changes occasioned by the aftermath cause a lot of suffering, because they mean radical shifts in their daily activities and also in the person him/herself: “When I see him... The difference between how he was before and how he is now is very painful to me.”
“Our lives have been changed”
Since many of the wounded victims were young people, the aftermath or treatment they must follow has meant they had to stop going out with their friends and companions to chat, have a drink and have fun. Life has become much more restricted, waiting for a recovery that is not guaranteed: “We don’t know if he’ll be able to keep studying, be able to work. His future is uncertain.”
For their part, family members have had to adjust their routines and schedules to be sure there was someone taking care of the wounded person. This care also means significant costs, whether for medical care—appointments, medication, etc.—or for getting around in private transportation. “Our lives have been changed.”
In addition to caring for the physical aftermath and procuring rehabilitation for the wounded, their families have to deal with the fear that arises: as survivors of violent events and many times witnesses of what happened, the family is afraid something else might happen to them. Some people talk about their desire to go to the protests, to march, but they’re really afraid and stay confined to their home. Often, in fact, the family has received threats, such as the presence of people in pick-up trucks asking for the wounded person.
The seriousness of the aftermath and all the suffering caused by the wounds generates feelings of pain and anger in the person affected and in family members. Several months after the first violent events, the wounded and their family members still live as if it all happened recently: “It’s not easy to forget, because these are wounds that will take us many years to be able to heal... The truth is that we feel like it all happened just a week ago.”
(To be continued...)
From Chapter 11 of the GIEI Report presented to the OAS in Washington, DC, on December 21, 2018, with explanatory excerpts from other chapters. Translated by envío, with subheadings and light editing added.