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Friday, 28 December 2018 04:08

Nicaragua: Speaking Truth to Power

Written by Kitty Madden
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Kitty Madden – Nicaragua Affiliate

Catherine “Kitty” Madden has lived and worked in Nicaragua since 1986, first as a Maryknoll Lay Missioner, then as a Maryknoll Affiliate. Read her unabridged article at https://maryknollogc.org/article/nicaragua-speaking-truth-power.

In August, we gathered to mourn the death of our neighbor, “Juan,” killed by a sniper who fired on a peaceful protest, and to share our sympathies with his mother, wife, and children.

Protest in Managua, Nicaragua on April 24, 2018, photo by Voices of America/Public Domain.

Just last April, Nicaragua was still hailed as “the most peaceful country in Central America.” Many people entered the country each day, to provide humanitarian aid, to enjoy its beauty and the people’s warm hospitality or to invest in its thriving economy. On the surface, things seemed quite perfect! However, just as with its volcanoes, something very charged was growing beneath the surface. No one could have imagined the catastrophic changes about to emerge.

In 32 years, I lived under the revolutionary Sandinista government in the 1980s. The FSLN (Sandinista national liberation front) had toppled the dictator Anastasio Somoza and his family dynasty in an insurrection that claimed 50,000 lives. In the 1980s, I anguished at the US backing (if not instigation) of the Contra War that ended in 1990, after taking another 30,000 lives and maiming thousands of others.

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.


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