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(en) black rosefed: A DOOR HAS BEEN OPENED: NICARAGUA'S APRIL 19 UPRISING
Wed, 16 May 2018 06:55:59 +0300
Complementing our recent articles on the April 2018 protest movement that broke out
against proposed neoliberal reforms in Nicaragua, we are excited republish a more in-depth
piece with an inside view into the protests. The piece begins with a day-by-day account of
the protests and then dives into the deeper context of underlying issues, the broad and
pervasive populism of the movement, pro-government forces and right-wing involvement in
the protests, and the methods the students used to organize themselves. ---- A key context
to these protests is the back drop of decline in the "pink tide" of left wing parties and
leaders that took power throughout Latin America in the 2000's. Nicaraguan President
Daniel Ortega first rose to prominence as a guerilla leader of a faction within the FSLN
or Sandinista movement and was eventually elected to power after the overthrow of the
Somoza regime and a period of bloody civil war between the Sandinistas and the US backed
Contras. Worth noting is that Sandinistas were hailed by the international left for their
early efforts land reforms and literacy campaigns. Elected for a second term in 2007
Ortega consolidated his power within the FSLN and within the state as he moved from once
Marxist guerilla to a proclaimed democratic socialist with pro-business policies. Under
the slogan "socialism, Christianity, and solidarity" Ortega aligned with the Catholic
Church and outlawed abortion, opened free trade zones, and even pushed for a much
protested Nicaraguan canal to rival that of Panama and which was backed by Chinese
Author Miranda de las Calles is a participant in the student organizing along with a
majority queer affinity group of six that has been working together since 2015. My mother
is a feminist and my father is an ex-military poet. You can listen to their Sound Cloud
audio accounts here and view a google drive of related materials here. This piece
originally appeared on Crimthinc.
One can find additional postings and images by searching Twitter and Facebook for the
hashtags #OcupaINSS, #SOSINSS, #SOSIndioMaiz, and #SOSNicaragua.
We also recommend viewing our previous pieces "One Million Hands Flourishing" by Tanya
H.F. and "It's No Longer About Social Security: Inside the Nicaraguan Student Protests"
also by Miranda de las Calles.
A Door Has Been Opened: Nicaragua's April 19 Uprising
By Miranda de las Calles
Timeline of the Uprising
The first protest was a demonstration demanding immediate action from the authorities to
extinguish a large-scale fire in the most important nature reserve in the country, Reserva
The government did not listen to the protester's call to action, which was basically a
demand to recognize the damage done by illegal cattle farms in indigenous territory. The
fire lasted ten days; it was finally extinguished with the assistance of the military,
indigenous volunteers, and international solidarity (e.g., a helicopter sent by Mexico).
This environmental disaster ignited environmental and social activism, shedding light on
the government's colonial practices and on its resource-intensive neoliberal interventions
in indigenous territories, such as promoting cattle grazing and monocrops like palm for
palm oil. This movement was called #SOSIndioMaiz. It successfully organized three protests
in the capital city, Managua. I participated in this organizational committee; it has now
been dissolved, with several members creating other groups.
To add to this social discontent, the Ortega Regime announced reforms to social security
including an increase in contributions for employees and employers, a decrease in future
pensions, and a fee from every retiree's pension. The controversial reform was intended to
save the social security institute from a deficit crisis. The INSS has repeatedly been
accused of approving millions of dollars in private loans to government officials.
Essentially, workers and retirees were to be forced to pay for the corruption and
mismanagement of the social security funds (INSS).
A previous social justice movement had emerged in 2013 under the name of #OcupaINSS. In
response to the proposed social security reforms, this group of young organizers joined a
group of elderly social security recipients who had started protesting because they were
the ones who were going to suffer the most.
The #OcupaINSS movement joined together with the #SOSIndioMaiz movement. Protests took
place in two locations, in front of the Universidad Centroamericana and in Camino de
Oriente (a plaza beside one of the busiest roads in Managua) on Wednesday, April 18. The
government brutally attacked both of these protests, sending the police and its
paramilitary forces (Motorizadosand Sandinista Youth-see below) to attack the
demonstrators. At 5 pm, anti-riot police (Anti-Motines) surrounded and dispersed
protesters in Camino de Oriente. The protest in front of UCA escalated inside and around
the University perimeters. More than 20 people were severely injured.
The entire country mobilized in protest in response to the news of the previous night's
repression of #OcupaINSS in UCA (Universidad CentroAmericana) and in Camino de Oriente.
The government began censoring independent news channels on national television. They also
ordered some hospitals not to aid wounded demonstrators. After the stations were removed
from the airwaves, people followed them on social media. Pro-government mobs attacked
students inside several university campuses.
The following universities were closed and occupied by students. Nicaraguan police and
members from the Sandinista Youth clashed with protestors inside and outside these facilities.
Universidad Agraria (UNA) - A public university focused on agroindustry. They started in
the morning, taking over the North Highway near the airport.
Universidad CentroAmericana (UCA) - A semi-private university serving middle-class and
upper middle-class student, recently criticized for restructuring their research and
Universidad de Ingenieria (UNI) - A public university for engineering. UCA and UNI saw the
most intense clashes at the beginning, after which the confrontations chiefly occurred
Universidad Politecnica de Nicaragua (UPOLI) - A public university.
Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Nicaragua (UNAN) - The largest public university, with
about 50,000 students; controlled by UNEN (Unión Nacional de Estudiantes de Nicaragua),
the pro-government student "union." UNAN has been a stronghold for UNEN.
Protests were reported all over the country. It was especially significant that protests
took place in Monimbo, Masaya, Leon, Matagalpa, and Estelí, because they have been
traditionally pro-government sites. The fact that resistance erupted there was a blow to
the state and the power of UNEN. Granada and Leon are the most important tourist
destinations in the country.
The government had made several statements advocating for peace and dialogue as the police
and Sandinista Youth violently attacked peaceful protestors. They would also set up PA
systems to blast revolutionary songs and sing them together, protected by the police.
This was the first time that a nationwide strike had occurred at this magnitude since the
"6%" student protests in the late 1990s described below.
Protests continued throughout the country as anti-riot police intensified their attacks.
They raided locations where civilians were organizing medicine and food donations for
protesters and stole them.
At approximately 3 pm, the largest demonstration yet gathered in Carretera Masaya, one of
the main roads in Managua. Paramilitary forces attacked using tear gas and rubber bullets.
Later that night, in Managua, Sandinista Youth and police surrounded students and
activists inside the cathedral, UNI (the national engineering university), and UPOLI (the
polytechnic university). Police attacked Leon, where several buildings caught fire,
including civilian households, a radio station, restaurants, and CUUN (the national
university council of UNAN Leon). Masaya and Esteli were also attacked and occupied by
paramilitary forces. In Granada, the city hall was burned down. Several people were killed
and dozens reported missing.
Confrontations continued throughout Nicaragua. There were demonstrations at several
Nicaraguan embassies abroad. The government agreed to discuss social security reforms with
COSEP (Consejo Superior de la Empresa Privada en Nicaragua), the private enterprise
council. Many rejected the proposal, demanding that representatives from other
organizations and movements be invited to the negotiations as well. At 12:30 pm, in his
first address to the nation since protests began, Daniel Ortega called the demonstrators a
"group of criminals and thugs that promote a culture of violence." He did not mention the
murders of activists and students, nor the censorship of television channels.
Confrontations continued after Ortega's address. Protests turned violent in several cities
including Leon, Diriamba, Jinotepe, Matagalpa, and Chinandega. Students at UPOLI, the
polytechnic university, continued protesting against police repression. The Nicaraguan
army released a statement backing the government's request for dialogue with COSEP, the
private enterprise council, and demanding an end to police repression, the release of the
detained students and activists, and the guarantee of free press without censorship. At 4
pm, the self-assembled movement, Movimiento Autoconvocado Nicaragua, released a statement
demanding public negotiations including a variety of Nicaraguan sectors, labeling a
dialogue between COSEP and the government a "pact." As of 5 pm, the death toll was
reported to be between 25 and 30, with 64 injured, 43 missing, and over 20 detained.
As protests continued, looting took place around several cities. President Daniel Ortega
addressed the nation for the second time, revoking the social security reforms in a
televised announcement. He was accompanied by several top-ranking representatives from
free trade zones in Nicaragua. Ortega briefly mourned the deaths of civilians, police, and
journalists, without mentioning the violence of the Sandinista Youth and police. The
president continued to describe protesters defending themselves as "thugs and gang
members," comparing them to looters. After his statement, another protest was called for;
popular outrage had gone beyond the social security reforms to extend to violent
repression and government corruption.
Video - An April 22 televised address by Orega announcing that he is withdrawing the
proposed social security reforms and entering into dialogue with the Episcopal Conference.
At about 11:00 an American representative of companies involved in the free trade zone
attests that he has "investment millions of dollars" and that "I love what you've done for
the this country" and appeals for an end to the "violence." Also seated are presumably
representatives of Chinese manufacturers and business interests.
After Ortega's address, people took the streets again demanding justice and mourning those
who had been killed by the national police. COSEP demanded that the government take into
consideration their proposed terms and conditions for a dialogue and negotiations to take
place, and confirmed the march they had announced for the next day, Monday, April 23. At
approximately 9 pm, students at the polytechnic university, UPOLI, reported being brutally
attacked by the police while they were paying their respects to the fallen victims.
Francisco Diaz, second in command of the national police, claimed that police forces were
nowhere near UPOLI, despite accusations from students in the area. According to la Prensa,
at least one student was killed and five injured by gunshots.
Students at UPOLI confirmed the death of two students and about eleven injured from the
previous night's police attack. They also announced they would not be attending the march
announced by COSEP, as they would not be leaving the university grounds. The
"self-assembled movement," Movimiento Autoconvocado Nicaragua, called for another march at
the same time but with a different route than COSEP's, stating that COSEP did not
represent them. Vice President Rosario Murillo announced that the decree read by Ortega on
Sunday revoking the social security reforms had been published by the government's
gazette, making it official. Approximately 70,000 to 80,000 people marched together to
UPOLI, carrying Nicaraguan flags, chanting for the end of repression, and calling for
justice for the deceased, detained, and missing. Students at UPOLI welcomed the
demonstrators and demanded the resignation of several government officials including
Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo. They announced a march from UPOLI to the police station
in District 6 on Tuesday, April 24, to demand the liberation of the illegally detained
students and civilians. Since Friday, families of the detained had been protesting outside
El Chipote, the judicial assistance department.
The massive march culminated with the removal of another "Chayopalo"[one of the big pieces
of public art introduced by the Ortega family]in Managua. Students at UPOLI reported
attacks by policemen dressed as civilians around 3 am. In the morning, detainees were
released from "la modelo," Managua's penitentiary in Tipitapa, in groups of 15 or less
along a remote road with shaved heads, barefoot, with 20 c$ (0.64 usd) in their hands.
They described being tortured by policemen but aided by prisoners, who were consequently
tortured as well. A journalist was also released in Leon.
After trying to reach Managua for two days, participants in the peasant movement in Nueva
Guinea, Rio San Juan, and Ometepe resorted to road blockades to support the protests. This
movement joined calls for a national strike. The bodies of two missing youths suddenly
appeared at the Institute of Medical Forensics (IML) in Managua after their families had
searched for them at different hospitals. Ortega's government began removing
state-sponsored wifi from public parks. Sectors of the formal labor market resumed
operations and city halls began cleaning up damaged roads. Around 6 pm, the Episcopal
Conference of Nicaragua announced that they would mediate the dialogue between Ortega, the
private sector, and other civic groups. At 7 pm, Ortega interrupted national television to
accept the Episcopal Conference's announcement.
A week after the protests erupted, a sense of eerie calm arose in response to the promise
of dialogue. Confrontations ceased; however, the death toll continued to rise as the
bodies of students reported missing were identified. Bishop Baez, a key figure of support
for protestors who was included in the mediation commission, stated that optimal
conditions for dialogue should include prosecuting those responsible for the murders and
other acts of violent repression. In a statement from students at UPOLI, the
self-proclaimed "Movimiento estudiantil 19 de abril," they accepted the invitation to
participate in the dialogue as long as their safety was guaranteed during and after the
meeting. Several retired and active political figures jockeyed to participate in the
dialogue, including former military chief Humberto Ortega Saavedra, the Liberal Party
(PLC), and Telemaco Talavera, president of both the National University Council (CNU) and
UNA (National Agrarian University). A statement denying support for the participation of
Talavera in the dialogue was signed by 160 faculty members at UNA, arguing that he
represented conflicting entities. In the afternoon, demonstrators held a march to
accompany the families of those still detained at "El chipote." Several vigils to honor
the victims of police repression took place nationwide.
Anonymous, the world-famous hacktivist group, announced that they hacked several
government websites in response to the repression against the Nicaraguan people. The
website for congress was one of the hacked pages and stayed offline for a couple of hours.
These interventions were widely celebrated on social media. Nevertheless, several of us
were wary of the fact that Anonymous further legitimized the Orteguistas' claim that
foreign powers-i.e., the USA-are intervening in Nicaraguan affairs.
The public prosecutor's office announced that they will be investigating all thefts,
injuries, and deaths that resulted from the demonstrations. Earlier that day, the
Nicaraguan human rights association, ANPDH, publicly denounced President Daniel Ortega and
Vice President Rosario Murillo before the prosecutors office for the crimes and
perpetuation of violence against demonstrators. Later in the night, the Movimiento 19 de
Abril announced that they had left UPOLI's premises as they found several government
infiltrators within their organization. In addition, they stated that they did not trust
the investigation carried out by the public prosecutors office.
How was the uprising organized?
Affinity actions were spontaneously created through social media platforms like Signal,
Telegram, and WhatsApp. All of these originally started on Facebook, with groups of up to
100 people, which decentralized to several hundred smaller groups. These "groups" formed
as a way to care for and protect the student protesters who were on the streets. Some of
the roles they filled include:
Establishing safe houses
Distributing medical supplies
Social media advocacy
Creating maps of safe routes and tracking police presence
Offering medical support
Creating shields to protect protesters from rocks and rubber bullets
Sending credits to cell phone numbers
Creating emotional support groups
Creating lists of participants on the ground in case some went missing
Buying food supplies
What were the causes of the uprising?
There was no indication that this was going to happen, just growing silent discontent. The
fire was ignited when the Sandinista Youth and motorcycle gangs attacked protesters and
this confrontation was broadcast publicly.
The conditions that were boiling before the Abril 19th Student Uprising include:
The INSS Protests in 2013. Activists established an occupation in front of the Institute
for Social Security; police violently evicted them in the middle of the night.
Corruption at all levels of government. Corruption through pacts between government
officials and the upper-class investors. Corruption to support the Ortega-Murillo family's
concentration of power and wealth.
The concentration of power and wealth, what we call authoritarianism, by controlling the
General Assembly and the Electoral Supreme Council. Opening up little possibility for any
parties (including left-wing parties) to run for elections.
Undemocratic elections: no foreign supervision of local elections at the national and
municipal levels. The elections are basically supervised by the Sandinista Party. There is
evidence of people voting twice and dead people also voting.
Lack of transparency on government investments and foreign aid (for example, Venezuelan
oil money). There is little transparency or accountability in how government funds are
used. Much goes to social programs, but other parts are assumed to go directly to the party.
Increasing gas prices compared to Central America, despite our relationship with Venezuela.
Poor investment in education. Only 5% of applicants passed the math admission test to
apply to UNAN, the largest public university in the country.
A political model based on dependency between poor communities and the state instead of
critical participation and dialogue. This is called clientelism.
Cooptation of Media. The government owns eight different television and radio stations
and, as they recently showed, are known to censor and attack other independent media
outlets, including 100% Noticias and Confidencial.
Overall hatred towards the police on account of corruption, bribery, and police murders
such as the Las Jaguitas case. Bribing traffic police is a local custom.
The Grand Canal project, which gave a lot of power to a Chinese company; it was
potentially going to displace indigenous communities in the Caribbean/Atlantic side of the
country. This $50 billion project started with the legal infrastructure but was never
No private sector accountability over the environment. Environmental laws have been
relaxed in order to incentivize private investment.
Harassment from Juventud Sandinista and motorcycle gangs (which were first implemented by
Venezuela) towards protesters.
The aesthetic hijacking of Nicaragua-for example, the "Trees of Life" and the new Party
aesthetic color pallet.
The Church and the State are not separate. The slogan of the government is "Socialism,
Christianity, and Solidarity."
Institutions that should be neutral-such as the military, the ministry of education, the
ministry of health, and the police-are pro-government.
Femicide rates are high for rural women.
The closing of women's centers (comisarias de la mujer).
Abortion has been illegal since 2006.
Ortega has been accused of sexual abuse against his step-daughter, Zoilamerica.
Despite all this, things were not so bad for the middle and upper class. Those sectors
were pacified. The situation could be a lot worse. People could work in the private sector
and draw benefits from the public sector. We have free education and free healthcare. They
are not the best quality, but they are free and accessible to most.
But the government completely underestimated the level of national discontent towards the
FLSN. This insurrection united all these sectors around one feeling: we don't like the
government and things could be better.
The trigger for all of this was not a right-wing conspiracy or right-wing funding. The
student protests erupted simultaneously at UNA, UCA, UNI, and UPOLI on Thursday and by
Friday these protests had grown to cities all over Nicaragua. The right wing only started
to organize after they saw an opening in the dialogue that was going to occur between the
students, the private sector, and the government.
There is plenty of evidence of United States involvement in Nicaragua, through the "Nica
Act" and the National Endowment for Democracy funding organizations in Nicaragua. But
there is no evidence connecting that to the emergence of this protest movement.
Who Are the Sandinista Youth?
The Sandinista Youth is the youth wing of the FSLN/Government. They are known for wearing
the very colorful white shirts with colorful slogans. They are the first responders to
natural disasters, they are the ones who go to government events, and they are the ones
who respond to any public protest.
My father (a Sandinista Guerillero and then a major in the military) tells me that in the
1970s and 1980's, the student movement were the ones debating theory and action: Trostky
vs. Lenin vs. Mao vs. Castro vs. Gramsci vs. Carlos Fonseca vs. Sandino. If you were a
student organizer at that time, you would be well-versed in theory and practice; you would
also aspire to be a good student and an example of the hombre nuevo ("new man"), modeled
after Che Guevara.
During the revolutionary process between 1979 and 1990, the Sandinista Youth played a key
role in the intellectual and organizational aspect of the Revolution. They were the youth
wing of the government; they gave the Sandinistas a relationship with young people; they
organized the Literacy Crusade. They were also in the military, since there was a draft.
Today, it is a different story.
Since Daniel Ortega's democratic victory in 2006, the Sandinista Youth have been the most
visible sector that supports the Ortegas. They are the youth face of the government; they
are organized very hierarchically; they no longer have the intellectual weight that the
historical Sandinista Youth had. The government recognized that 60-70% of Nicaragua is
between the ages of 18-35-this is an important demographic.
The Sandinista Youth are convinced that anyone that opposed Daniel Ortega must be a
right-wing neo-liberal who wants to overthrow the government. It was right to react
against the neoliberal parties in the 1990s and early 2000s-but today, those parties have
lost leadership and power, mainly as a consequence of divisions in the right wing and
co-optation by the Orteguista party.
After the events of April 19, the image of the Sandinista Youth is completely tainted.
There are clear pictures of them attacking peaceful protestors, mostly students (not to
mention 10 years of evidence of this occurring before). There are plenty of videos,
photographs, and testimonies describing how Sandinista Youth attacked journalists,
students, and peaceful demonstrators. I personally witnessed this myself in several
protests on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday.
I believe that the Sandinista Youth are facing an existential crisis. They thought they
were the largest youth movement in the country, but this is no longer true. They are
meeting students and other young people who think very differently and are empowered in a
completely unique way that is not related to party politics.
The Sandinista Youth is hierarchical, and far from autonomous, by contrast with the
student and autoconvocados ("self-assembled") movements. The Sandinista Youth already
failed to form an alliance with powerful anti-canal Campesino Movement, which was formed
against building the Canal around 2013. Under the leadership of Francisca Ramirez, the
Campesino movement entered Managua on April 28 in support of peace and dialogue and in
solidarity with the student uprising.
I have never been involved with the Sandinista Youth. They have tried several times to
recruit me, but I rejected their cult following of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo and
their strictly vertical approach to power. They do have a very militant organization and
language. Several friends of mine are a part of the Sandinista Youth, however, through
their families' historical involvement in the Sandinistas or through their government jobs.
What is the relationship of the UNEN and the Sandinista Youth to the Student Movement?
UNEN is the pro-government student union, which has chapters in each major university,
mostly concentrated in UNAN Managua, the largest public university in the country.
UNEN get their "street cred" from the student protests in the late 1990s, when they were
protesting the neoliberal government of Arnoldo Aleman and Bolaños, who wanted to cut
education funding. The demonstrators demanded that 6% of the National Budget go to education.
Video on the the 6% protests, so named after their demand of 6% of the national budget
But the participants in the 6% protests are no longer young. The current UNEN students
have no experience in protests; they only have experience following orders and supporting
the Sandinista Government. If you are a part of UNEN, you will receive benefits and
scholarships-but those should be accessible to all, not just UNEN.
It is well documented that whenever there is a pro-government event or demonstration, all
the public institutions of the government must attend these events, including workers'
unions. They have lists; you are required to go, or you will lose you job or your
scholarship. This is how they get hundreds of people to attend pro-government rallies. It
is the same with voting: If you are a state employee or part of UNEN or of the Sandinista
Youth, you must prove that you voted.
The psychology of the Sandinista Youth and UNEN is "us vs. them." If you are a young
organizer but you are not UNEN or Sandinista Youth, you are automatically assumed to be a
right-wing, CIA-funded traitor who wants to destabilize all the wonderful things that the
government has created.
This is one of the main flaws of the Sandinista model: their relationship with the people
has been economic and political, instead of social and sustainable. They have created
dependency instead of autonomy: clientelism.
What made the Ortega government popular?
The government keeps contrasting the current situation to the 1990s, which were a complete
disaster for the poor and working-class. Neoliberal governments created new political and
economic elites, ruling from the 1990s to 2006. In the 1990s, we had power outages, water
outages, extreme poverty, and crime and drugs. The World Bank and the IMF created free
trade zones, with maquilas (sweatshops), that were designed to modernize Nicaragua. After
the revolutionary process of the 1980s, we also saw the introduction of casinos, fast food
chains, call centers, malls, private resorts, cell phones... basically violent globalization.
Since 2006, the government has created a stable economy via authoritarianism and political
and economic pacts. Costa Rica is too boring and expensive, so nowadays most tourists are
coming to Nicaragua. Now the government is afraid that tourism will decline, affecting
thousands of jobs.
Nicaragua experiences relative peace compared to the most dangerous zones in Central
America (El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala). We enjoy this safety not simply because of
our large police force, but because Nicaraguans migrate to Costa Rica rather than the
United States, so we don't fully participate in the dynamics around migration to the US
involving the cartels. There are also very harsh border laws between Nicaragua and Costa
Rica. Right now, a camp of Afro-Caribbean and Cuban immigrants want to enter Nicaragua so
that they can make their way to the USA, but they are not allowed in the country, not even
just for transit.
The most celebrated act of the government has been constructing parks with wifi and
rejuvenating the old downtown. These parks are painted with the multicolor government
aesthetic, but they are spaces that can be enjoyed by all. Every weekend, you see
thousands of people enjoying public spaces, which was unconceivable in the 1990s.
How does this relate to the historical legacy of the Sandinistas?
The error of the Sandinista Party is that they have created a dependency between the poor
class and the government. You can only buy loyalty for so long; they needed to build
social infrastructure but never did. The Sandinista Youth was supposed to do that, but
they failed. The government supported poor communities by giving away free food and
Their approach has always been hierarchical, vertical, and authoritarian. This is a big
problem for new youths who don't like being told what to do. There is no debate inside of
the Sandinista Party.
Sandino is a national hero from the 1920s and 1930s. His original platform was
anti-imperialism, cooperativism, citizenship, and nationalism. Sandino was radicalized in
Mexico, where he experienced the labor movement after the Mexican Revolution. He brought
the Sandinista red and black flag to Nicaragua from Mexico after he met with Spanish
In the 1960s and 1970s, Carlos Fonseca introduced Sandinismo as an ideology and movement
based around a revolutionary strategy that did not include an industrial class-as
Nicaragua had few industrial workers. In the 1980s, the FSLN held power; they introduced
agrarian reform, the National Literacy Crusade, and a socialist model with a strong
central government and a small private sector. Cuba and the Soviet Union were their chief
At the time, the Contra War impacted the revolution. The Contras were supported by the
USA, but they also included farmers who didn't want to work in cooperatives and thought
that the FSLN was hierarchical.
In any case, the 2006 Sandinista Government is nothing like the Nicaraguan government of
the 1980s. In 2006, the Sandinistas originally spoke of continuing the revolution where
they left off in the 1980s. But the current Orteguismo sold out to corruption in order to
hold on to power. They've been in power since 2006 because:
They own the electoral assembly;
There is no political opposition (the second biggest party received 12% of the votes in 2016);
They make deals with the private sector and upper class;
They control the police;
People hate voting because the elections are not transparent-the abstention rate in voting
is around 50%, and young people don't vote because we all know who is going to win and
there is no coherent opposition that is even mildly left-wing;
Youth are tired of party politics;
The FLSN have changed the constitution; they have spent the last 10 years building their
own infrastructure in order to hold on to control.
These insurrections are a wake-up call to the government and to the Sandinista Youth. They
no longer have control of the discourse and of the image of Nicaragua.
The UNEN and the government have pointed at the right wing and at the MRS (Movimiento
Renovador Sandinista, "Movement to renovate Sandinismo"), claiming that the MRS has
infiltrated student groups and funded the protests. The MRS is a dissident Sandinista
group formed in the 1990s. They have been running in elections without winning; their
support is around 10%. In reality, the MRS only wish they had the kind of money it would
take to fund the protests. I have several friends in the MRS; they are good people, and
smart, but they still play party politics.
The more existential questions are: What does Sandinismo mean today? Who speaks for
Sandinismo? What still works about Sandinismo? Who owns Sandinismo? The FSLN? The war
We have seen people trying to re-signify the co-opted image of Sandino. There has been a
nationwide effort to paint blue and white all the Sandinista monuments that were
originally painted in red and black. People are putting the Nicaraguan flag behind
Sandino, but they are still respecting his image. This suggests that a lot of people want
a National Sandinismo instead of an Orteguista Sandinismo. But this is just aesthetic,
nothing political has emerged.
We lack leftist critiques of Orteguismo. What does a left-wing anti-Orteguismo look like?
How has the private sector responded to the situation?
We've heard rumors about how Roberto Pellas, Nicaragua's first billionaire and head of
Casa Pellas, the company that owns the upper class private Hospital, the car dealerships,
the insurance and the banks, is positioning himself strategically in light of future
negotiations. This is odd, since the Pellas families have benefited from the Ortega family
being in power. But to say the least, the Pellas industry supports capitalism and further
economic growth at all costs.
I only see the upper class supporting stronger IMF influence. Nicaragua already survived
15 years of IMF and World Bank control through neoliberal governments. Everybody hated it.
That's the main reason Ortega won in 2006-people wanted change. I don't see working class
people demanding a return to neoliberal politics.
The student movement has said several times that although the private sector is affected
by the INSS reform, they do not represent the student movement. Right now, the majority of
the people who have been murdered have been student protestors. No upper-class or private
sector person has died as a result of confrontations with the Police.
The bravery of the student protestors places them at the center of the dialogue. The
government is including several other sectors in the dialogue (workers, private sector,
representatives of free trade zones) in order to suppress the students' demands.
One of the chief things that I celebrate form these last 10 days has been how fast youth
have been radicalized into taking a political position and forming political
organizations. University students have organized themselves in assemblies and
collectives. People have placed pressure not just on politicians but on artists and
cultural producers. We are experiencing a new culture war. People are thinking beyond
individual action, in terms of institutions and collective solutions. But again,
horizontal methods don't relate to progressive leftist politics-or do they?
There are efforts now to create a radical leftist consciousness and organization. Several
organizations and groups are promoting this.
But efforts have not been targeted towards full infrastructure change. Right now, people
want justice for the people who were murdered, hence the dialogue with the government. The
main rhetoric of the movement has been "We must stay in the streets so that we don't
forget all the ones who have died." Whatever comes out of this dialogue will not be
enough, because the government will never give you the tools to overthrow it.
Have right-wing groups attempted to co-opt the movement?
Right now, the only right-wing group we are keeping our eye on is the PLC political Party,
but they keep being booed out of marches and protests. No political party has attempted to
take their own party flags to the demonstrations yet. The real right-wingers are the
people from the private sector. The right wing in Nicaragua will not come from a
nationalist ethno-centric movement but from private interests.
I was shocked when I saw how many upper-class wealthy families were attending the marches.
Of course those marches were not disrupted by the police; of course they did not encounter
any violence; of course they were safe and offered a cathartic feeling of belonging to a
national movement. I saw Piero Cohen, a Nicaraguan millionaire, shouting on live
television about how Ortega had to be overthrown.
Here is where we can see how opportunistic everyone has been. "Opposition" is such a
plural and changing concept; the only thing all the opposition shares is opposition to the
Ortegas. Nicaragua is an extremely Catholic Country, and somewhat conservative when it
comes to LGBTQIA and feminist issues. The arguments and positions of the "opposition" have
taken on a very nationalistic tone with a Christian inflection. Right now, we are seeing a
nationalistic push against the Ortegas, but inside of this nationalism there are many
different ideals that contradict each other.
People are extremely suspicious of attempts to support and speak on behalf of the
students. Everybody is attempting to co-opt these movements. Everyone wants a piece of the
pie. People from every sector are organizing themselves and want to promote a dialogue
that includes them. Everybody is sharing their disapproval of the government. The
conditions have been created under which new leaders will emerge and try to represent
movements. Not necessarily from the right wing, but whoever wants power. It is the task of
the students and the self-assembled to not fall into this trap and to do a good job at
having delegates and representatives that can speak on behalf of the organized majority.
Who has the right to speak on behalf of the murdered students, who mostly came from
working class backgrounds?
To be honest, our right wing is not as organized in Nicaragua as in the United States or
Venezuela or Brazil. They don't attract young people. I think people are tired of party
politics; we have seen the same talking heads over and over again for the last 10 years.
People are excited for a new kind of leadership. But what also needs to be proposed is a
new kind of method.
The right wing was in power through the 1990s with Arnoldo Aleman and Enrique Bolaños.
They set the ground for vicious neoliberal policies and created a new political and
economic elite at the expense of the working class. Right now, Arnoldo Aleman's wife is
trying to take advantage of this situation to get more votes on her party. But nobody
wants to talk about political parties at this point. I think populism is over here.
The strongest actor that wants to co-opt the movements is still the state and the
Sandinistas. They have already started to dress as civilians (without the colorful Ortega
Shirts) and to wave Nicaraguan Flags instead of FLSN flags. The government has said in
almost every communiqué and television that the entire uprising is a plan from the right
to destabilize the country. This message is being multiplied at all levels of society.
Consequently, the movements are doing their best at critiquing any "right wing" conspiracy.
The interest of the United States through the Nicaraguan Investment Conditionality Act
(NICA) has also been a concern. But people are not talking about it very much on the ground.
A door has been opened, but we don't know what's going to come out of the other side-it
could be a right-wing neoliberal subject or a radical leftist subject. But the Sandinistas
and the MRS have co-opted all the leftists' language. What does it mean to be a Nicaraguan
leftist and not support the Ortegas? Or should the strategy be to support the Ortegas as a
vehicle to get into more radical politics? There are still debates about this.
What are the sources of the horizontal values and structures within the movement?
The main source has been the realization that we don't want to replicate the authoritarian
and vertical model represented by the government. As young people, we don't want to be
told what to do by people who claim to be smarter than us. Therefore, it was necessary to
experiment with other models. Some sectors only spoke briefly of these models, but it was
the right time to implement them and they were beautiful to see. These models are now part
of our collective vocabulary. For the first time, thousands of people are listening to
groups speak, how they talk, learning how the pass around the microphone, how to speak as
This all started with UPOLI, because there was no leadership in the protests; this all
started when hundreds of people created Signal and Telegram groups to talk and find ways
to help the protests without need of authority. And all of this works because this
experience of politics is very different. It is more empowering, but it also takes more
work. It has led to confusion and disorganization in some sectors. It does involve a lot
We have no idea where all of these anarchist ideals came from: mutual aid, affinity
groups, horizontalism, communes, occupations, consensus. It was as if they had been part
of our collective unconscious but we had never had an opportunity to practice them.
Practice came first, then theory. It's not that people are openly reading anarchist
literature, as much as I have tried. People just organized this way, and maintained this
way of organizing through the whole week of struggles.
No populist leader has emerged, only delegates and spokespersons. We have ideas of
movements, and of secret meetings, but no authority or verticality. Still, our parents
tell us that there is a cultural need for leadership. So we have conflicting models
fighting each other.
We have still been learning; there have been conflicts. For example, a group of activists
leaked naked pictures of one of the UNEN organizers. This provoked the feminist movement
to call out misogyny and machismo, and also the role of the church and authority inside
student movements. The most stressful thing has been infiltration. Movements have been
infiltrated by UNEN, the pro-government student union, who have slowly infiltrated
universities like UPOLI and fomented disagreements within the students.
But everything that we have learned over the past days is now part of our political
imagination, our skillset, our language. These events created the conditions for us to
experiment and practice these skills, and every day we are learning new skills.
How do the events in Nicaragua relate to other struggles in Central America?
Central American has been through a lot. Look at the "Fuera JOH" movement ("Out
with[Honduran President]Juan Orlando Hernandez," which I also briefly experienced) in
Honduras and the backlash against the "ultra-conservative" movements in Costa Rica right
before their elections. But no elements have connected these. We were keeping a close eye
on Costa Rica because we were afraid that the "ultra-conservatives" would influence and
inspire Evangelicals here in Nicaragua. So far they have not. Honduras, Nicaragua, and
Costa Rica are three very different countries.
Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala have more in common; Nicaragua is its own bubble. In
terms of anarchist presence, Costa Rica, El Salvador and Puerto Rico have by far the
largest concentrations of anarchists. But in my experience, we experience very little
solidarity and political exchange with these countries. There is more cultural and
academic dialogue than political communication.
In 2006, Sandinismo came to power as part of the "Pink Tide," a wave of electoral
victories for leftist parties throughout Latin America. Yet surprisingly, we have very
little communication with the rest of Latin America. There is a cultural frontier between
Panama and Colombia. We sometimes hear something about the student movements in Argentina
and Chile or indigenous resistance in the Amazon. But in terms of organizers getting
together and exchanging strategies broadly between Central American or Latin American
countries, it is very rare. We might have more affinity to Mexico than to some of the
previously mentioned countries, but still, it doesn't come through as much, and of course
the more upper-class sectors of the population have their eyes and ears and hearts aimed
at the United States.
Many people draw parallels with Venezuela and Nicaragua. A lot of people in Nicaragua have
a strange relationship to Venezuela. We do owe our "sustainability" to Venezuelan aid, in
return for which we send meat back to Venezuela. Ortega and Maduro have been compared a
lot, even Ortega and Chavez. But again, the context is very different.
Unfortunately, we still need to develop an intersectional analysis inside of Nicaragua and
outside of Nicaragua. We have been too busy figuring things out on the ground, we have not
had a chance to reflect on our situation in an international context.
What can people elsewhere around the world learn from this movement?
This insurrection occurred so fast. It was literally overnight. The images of the police
and the Sandinista Youth beating up peaceful protesters resonated across the entire
country. It was the straw that broke the camel's back.
Never underestimate the solidarity that can come through students. Never underestimate the
level of spontaneous organization that can emerge between friends, family, and strangers.
I am amazed at how quickly people organized themselves into affinity groups and cells. I
am amazed at how horizontal all these efforts and movements have been.
Understand the local conditions in which you live; always consider culture as a factor in
your organizing. What happens will follow cultural patterns, but it will also redefine
them. Take these moments of crisis to learn new skills and make new friends. Take chances.
Anarchists and active organizers and environmentalist academics who read about class
struggle were definitely more prepared than others that were just started to get involved.
But this did not manifest itself in an authoritarian way; they just offered suggestions
and questions and ideas and experiments. So start getting prepared, think of your
immediate community needs. To quote someone, somewhere: "sometimes there are decades in
which nothing occurs, and then there are weeks worth decades."
Address your struggle to your own local conditions. Doing so will help you see into the
future and understand the present. In Nicaragua, since Ortega, people have claimed that
things could be worse compared to our history, but you must be able to also show how
things can be better. In the case of Nicaragua, it seems that the past (the revolution
from the 1980s) has hijacked the present. So it's the task of new movements to analyze the
1980s and 1990s, in part by talking with the generations that experienced them.
The question of "the people" as singular has also been contested. The people as plural is
richer but at the same time more complex. We need to attack the center from different
places, at different intensities, and at different levels. There is no one strategy; the
decentralization of groups and efforts into smaller factions concentrates energy in very
different places. We need to study the countryside and see how it operates-and the
universities, the Sandinista youth, the private schools, the popular markets, the
neighborhood, the workplaces. You can't be involved in all of those spaces at the same
time, so decentralizing attacks and conversations and critical reflections helps everyone.
We must expose all the shortcomings of the right. Their political platform, their
ideology, their organization, their power structures-and connect them to race, class,
gender, history, geography.
We are still figuring this out. Right now, we are trying things and responding to the
reactions. Things need to happen in order for people to take positions. We are reacting to
the government, but we are also providing material for the government to react to. We need
to map the right, center, and left players-to critique them, to expose them. The same goes
for the supposed neutrality of institutions.
No matter what happens in the future, what the government does, how the private sector
reacts, how the students movements unfold-over the last week, all the students and
organizers have grown tremendously. We have learned so much, failed so much, but also won
incredible battles. All these things we cannot unlearn and we cannot unsee. We will never
unsee how hard the government tried to cover up its failure. We cannot unsee.
1. The situation in Indio Maiz is more complex than just government ineptitude. As an
organizer inside of the #SOSIndioMaiz, I met with Rama and Criol indigenous leaders and
with Park Rangers that protect Indio Maiz; they tell a story of racism, illegal cattle
ranches, government and private interests, concentration of power and territory via the
military, and more. The government department that is designated to protect its natural
resources has not replied to any of the lawsuits that have been sent for the last five
years. Indio Maiz was not just about the fire. It was about the fact that the government
benefits from illegal wood extraction, illegal cattle ranches, and private sector
monocrops in indigenous territory. Indio Maiz was about the racist dynamic between the
state and local indigenous governments. Indio Maiz was about the fact that it is very
difficult to study ecology or environmental resources management in Nicaragua. Indio Maiz
was about the Grand Canal. Indio Maiz was about the relaxed environmental policy regarding
private investments and construction.
2. Motorizados, motorcycle gangs. Protesters were repeatedly attacked by these older men
wearing helmets and utilizing baseball bats, metal bats, rocks, and other weapons.
This piece originally appeared at Crimethinc under the title "The April 19 Uprising; An
Interview, Overview of Events and Analysis."
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