The Ortega–Murillo partnership’s perverse repression and betrayal
This is a prologue by Elena Poniatowska,
the award-winning Mexican author,
for a new book by José Luis Rocha,
our long-time companion here at envío,
titled Self-organized and Plugged in –
University Students in Nicaragua’s April Rebellion and
published by Managua’s Central American University (UCA).
She recalls her first relationships with some Nicaraguans,
and, in the light of our country’s tragic reality,
severely condemns “Ortega’s perverse government.”
Nicaragua’s history is piled high with battles in defense of its identity. Like the rest of Latin America, the country fought for its political, cultural and economic independence, which it won on April 30, 1838. Afterwards, the battle turned inward, as Nicaragua had to define which path to follow.
AIn the 1930s
I remember I was writing Tinisima when I discovered that Tina Modotti and Julio Antonio Mella had been drawn to go to Nicaragua in the 1930s, lured by the looming figure of Sandino, a hero to us as well in Mexico. At that time, the Sacasa, Debayle, Chamorro and Somoza families held control of power. The sons of those families went to be educated at West Point, and their daughters entered Sacred Heart convents in the United States.
At Eden Hall, Torresdale, Philadelphia, I was a classmate of Liana Debayle, a very intelligent, precocious, beautiful girl, one of the first in our class. We envied her because she was also the only girl with a hairdryer.
We were privileged girls. I remember that many sons and daughters of Caribbean and Central American dictators were educated in the United States, returning to their homelands not only speaking English but also highly addicted to the “American Way of Life.” Meanwhile, the Nicaraguan people were giving the great example of their perseverance and resistance.
April 2018: Blood all over again
The 1979 revolution marked another beginning for Nicaragua, saved from itself in spite of the obstacles. The country seemed to be on a stable path until April 18, 2018, alerted us to the painful, barbarous news that, once again, this beloved Central American country was drenched in blood.
The repression unleashed by the government headed by Daniel Ortega, now 12 years in power, and his Vice President and wife, Rosario Murillo, deeply wounded both citizens and political and social observers of Central America, as well as many residents of Latin America who had previously been indifferent to Central American politics.
José Luis Rocha tells us in his book that “The youth first took to the streets because the elderly were being repressed. Then they themselves faced repression in León, at Camino de Oriente [in Managua] and at the UCA…. And on April 19, when the first kid was killed, then the second, the pressure cooker exploded.”
A new political and economic event emerged in Central America on April 18, 2018, because the Ortega government was imposing social security reforms that would severely affect retired people. These reforms spurred unrest among both men and women, who had no qualms about taking to the streets as a sign of visible rejection.
A cruel scenario
José Luis Rocha, author of Autoconvocados y conectados – Los universitarios en la revuelta de abril en Nicaragua (Self-organized and Plugged in - University Students in Nicara¬gua’s April Rebellion), moves his readers with the emotional testimonies he gathered from the most violent days he witnessed. He also offers a clear analysis of the history of social struggle in Nicaragua, this marvelous Central American nation—and the most poetic—which is striving to be more just despite 325 dead and over 700 political prisoners, who have remained true to their fight in the face of perverse repression.
“Perverse” because the repression comes from a new type of betrayal, that of the Ortega–Murillo duo, who forgot their own life mission and turned their backs on the ideals of their youth. They now occupy a bloody, devious, Shakespearian stage steeped in the cruelty of those who will never be able to wash from their hands the blood of the young Nicaraguans they have killed.
“The question of national sovereignty was an appeal the people ignored. But if they’re killing a kid, a university student, if they’re repressing them, the message is much more powerful and people get it.”
This spring’s generation
As usual, faced with this infamy, young people were the first to respond, the first to act and the first to pay the consequences. They are the ones who most risk their lives, those beautiful lives they have yet to live. They are those whom Rubén Darío, in his day, recognized as courageous, and who now guide this generation of the Nicaraguan spring.
...The sun on these new victories plays,
The hero at the head of his own fiery band
And for all that leave their homeward fold.
The one who has defied, as to his armour wed,
The summer suns of red.
The wind and freezing cold,
The night and frost,
The hatred and death that for his country’s sake
All saluted with bronze voices in the triumphal trumpet march they make.
How many more Álvaro Conrados?
April 20 is seared into Nicaragua’s memory. Near the National Engineering University (UNI), Álvaro Conrado, a 15-year-old boy, died from a bullet that pierced his throat while he was bringing water to the young people who were safeguarding the university. How many more young people will pay with their lives for the right to justice?
“They come from the street. They started off at the roadblocks supporting, doing, taking turns, giving all they could humanly give, along with what other people gave for supplies.”
These days when information flows with vertiginous speed and in the light of testimonies and videos circulating on social networks, it’s hard to believe the repression is a fight against “criminals,” as Ortega’s perverse government has claimed.
Against the media
In 2018 alone attacks against journalists skyrocketed. Suffice it to remember that during the early days of the protests, they murdered Ángel Gahona, a journalist who on April 21, 2018, was transmitting live for the El Meridiano news program.
The Violeta Barrios de Chamorro Foundation’s report, “Un año de crisis socio-política. Tiempo de hostilidad y represión contra la prensa independiente” (A year of social-political crisis. Times of hostility and repression against the independent press), registers an increase in violations of freedom of the press from 84 to 1,020 in 12 months. In the midst of intimidations, theft of equipment and censorship, Nicaraguan journalists struggle to inform not just their country, but the rest of the world as well.
How can it be?
How can it be that the nation that gave us Rubén Darío, Father Ernesto Cardenal, Claribel Alegría, Vidaluz Meneses, Daisy Zamora, Gioconda Belli and Sergio Ramírez is now so rife with corruption?
I fondly remember how in Mexico I met the scholarly Ernesto Mejía Sánchez, a member of the Colegio de México then headed by Alfonso Reyes. I also remember Claribel Alegría, whom I encountered at various literary gatherings. What would they say now, seeing their country betrayed by two of its children?
Gioconda Belli was an opponent of the Somoza Debayle dictatorship. She didn’t stay behind a desk; she took to the streets with her lion-like mane to protest the injustices.
With each curl crowning her head, Gioconda carried letters that could have cost her life; she marched alongside other young people in 1970 and she protested in both Latin America and the United States in 2018 against the injustice being committed against her homeland.
Today, an identical longing for peace has gripped Nicara¬gua’s youth, young men and women who have been oppressed by the Ortega–Murillo regime.
Perhaps, in a few weeks Nicaraguans will flood the streets with their voices, proclaiming:
There is no more darkness, nor barricades,
neither do I obsessively check the rear view mirror
to see if I’m being followed…
The stench of burning is gone,
and death is no longer the familiar presence
that waits around every corner.
Elena Poniatowska is a journalist, activist and author of both testimonial works and novels. Subtitles by envío.