After three neo-liberal presidencies—1990 to 2006—another dictatorship developed, headed by Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo and their FSLN party. People began to carefully monitor their words or remain silent for fear of reprisals. Since his election in 2006, Daniel Ortega has moved to consolidate power, control, and wealth. And, yes, there have been “gifts” given, such as food, housing, scholarship programs, and perks for business leaders. The price? Silence, gratitude, loyalty. Any other entity serving the people, such as the Casa Materna Mary Ann Jackman clinic, was treated as a potential rival and a threat.
When university students launched a national protest on April 18 to demand not gifts but freedom of expression, the government responded with unexpected, unbridled ferocity. The Ortega government ordered police to fire real bullets to quell the student uprising on April 18-19. The students had gathered in support of pensioners, to protest changes in social security benefits. Previous protests against government policies had been quelled by police shooting rubber bullets or Sandinista youth gangs shoving and beating demonstrators.
Twenty-five people were killed in five days, and dozens more were seriously wounded. As people found their voices, the “volcano of submerged feelings” began to erupt with unbridled energy. As one man expressed it: “People have lost their fear of speaking out. And Daniel has lost the people.”
By May 30th—Mothers’ Day in Nicaragua, over 100 people had been killed. Most were young and many had been shot with one bullet to the head or heart. Over 600,000 people gathered in Managua that day to march with the grief-stricken mothers, Again, the police and snipers attacked; twenty were killed and close to a hundred wounded. The people now lament, “Mother’s Day will never be the same. Nicaragua will never be the same.”
Each day, the count rises. By early August, over 350 were dead, 3,000-plus wounded, 1,200 imprisoned without legal rights, many tortured, and hundreds “disappeared”—perhaps hiding out if not already dead, and thousands were leaving the country every day. Recently, 200 medical personnel who had aided the wounded or dying have lost their jobs in public hospitals or universities. City streets are traveled not by tourists but by hooded and masked “paramilitaries” armed with high caliber weapons. Airlines that arrived twice a day now have flights only three times a week and numerous hotels and restaurants have been closed; of course, thousands have lost their jobs.
Yet, something vital and courageous is happening. People are regaining their voices and speaking truth to power. They do so at great cost and risk of death, but the civic alliance that has been formed is strongly committed to walking a nonviolent path. Theirs is a pilgrimage of great pain and unspeakable grief. Please join in the Nicaraguans’ journey of solidarity through the support of your prayers.