A Grassroots Report on the Current Protests in Nicaragua

New Orleans   Several years ago the Organizers Forum visited Managua and several other cities in Nicaragua to assess the status of the country and its civil society in the years since the revolution.  Now the government is undergoing fierce street protests led by students.  We received this report forwarded from friends to friends offering a street level view of the protests from the ground up, and I thought it was worth sharing.

Our companero began his email saying, “…the situation [is] changing on a daily basis, and with more time spent in meetings and in the streets and roads than in front of a computer, am just now getting around to send this . . . Since writing on [April] 24th, the death toll (assassinations by the police and paramilitary forces) has risen to more than 60 . . . and rising (lots of “disappeared”) . . . two massive opposition mobilizations (23rd and 28th April), preparations for a national dialogue . . . with the government continuing to put on a public face of “everything is normal” . . . Very similar to the behavior of Somoza in 1978-1979, shortly before he fled the country,. For obvious reasons, I´ve left out many “details” of the uprising.  Just trying to give a general picture of the situation here.

His report followed as an attachment:

For more than a decade Nicaragua has been living in an “Ortega-Murillo Family” dictatorship that centralized all power (and wealth) in the very limited circle that surrounded the presidential couple….Every effort was made to win over youth by downplaying the importance of a good education and offering a steady diet of “bread and circus”.

 

For more than a decade, Nicaraguan youth, in the absence of credible institutional support, have been left, for the most part, to their own resources to grow, mature, and try to take responsibility for their lives.  Many have done this through “social media”, forming circles of friends with whom they can communicate, and become more aware of what is happening.  These “cybernetic relationships” have helped in some way to deal with the alienation, frustration, and isolation they have experienced in a society in which everything is concentrated “above”, with little, if any, space for them.

 

This all changed the night of April 17th of this year.  The previous weekend the presidential couple, with no consultation, announced a series of “reforms” to the Social Security System—a system that has been decimated over the years by governments using the system as a source of petty cash, lending millions to political friends, a bank of “phantom” employees—political party members—who did no work but received a monthly salary (in fact, 14 monthly salaries a year!), and not contributing their share to the ongoing needs of the system.  The imposed reforms raised the monthly quota that workers and employers would have to pay in to the system on a monthly basis, and cut the retirement benefits by 5%.  The reforms basically were an economic blow for just about everybody:  minimum-wage workers, sweatshop workers, teachers, health workers, construction workers, small businesses . . . up to the “big guys”.

 

For 48 hours there were VERBAL protests by business leaders, representatives of retired workers, a few independent unions, and some business representatives.  The night of Tuesday, April 17th, a group of college students gathered in front of the Jesuit university in Managua to protest against the reforms.  Pro-government groups passed by, trying to intimidate the students, but no violence resulted.  The following night, again in front of the Jesuit university, students gathered for another protest.  This time, under cover of darkness, pro-government forces began to attack the students with stones and rocks; result: a few minor injuries and all the glass portion of the entrance to the university destroyed.  Police present did nothing.

 

The following night (Thursday), the student protest moved to the Polytechnic University (UPOLI).  The police attacked the students . . . resulting in three student deaths.  Friday night, there were student mobilizations, marches, and demonstrations around the country.  Police reaction resulted in seven more deaths.  During the weekend, mobilizations increased and became massive.  Police violence also increased.  The death toll rose to 31; that is, in four days, 31 deaths.

 

Monday, April 23, there was an extraordinary mobilization in Managua, in which the business community joined students marching from the center of the city to the gates of Polytechnic University where the police have hundreds of students surrounded within the university.  The estimated number of participants in the mobilization is 500,000 . . . in the history of Nicaragua, only less than the number of participants in the pre-electoral march of February 21, 1990.

 

As a result of the student mobilizations (and the support received by the students from the Catholic hierarchy and business community), Ortega announced Sunday that he was “cancelling” the reforms, and was willing to “dialogue” with the business community.  Instead of offering condolences to the families of the more than thirty students killed, he referred to them as violent law-breakers and students who don’t understand the history of Nicaragua(?) . . . The students, Catholic hierarchy, and business leaders all insist that, in the face of continuing government violence, it is no time for dialogue, and that if there is to be dialogue, it has to be with ALL SECTORS of Nicaragua society, most importantly the students.

 

While this is going on in the cities, Francisca Ramirez, leader of the campesino community organizing against the plans of Ortega to build a canal through the country, is organizing a regional strike throughout the campesino community, in support of the students.

This is one perspective obviously, but what is happening in Nicaragua is worth our attention.  It may be a small country, but it matters.

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Criminalizing Immigration in Modern Society

americasvoiceonline-dc-protest600x350pxNew Orleans      Meeting with Suyapa Amador and Erlyn Perez, ACORN International’s key organizers in Honduras in San Pedro Sula and Tegucigalpa recently in Nicaragua, it became clear that we were making progress in winning more security for our neighborhoods, including several important commitment from the First Lady focusing on jobs as well as protection, but we were still putting our fingers in the dike. In Managua they could not stop talking about how much safer it felt everywhere compared to Honduras. For better or worse, the government felt like it worked in Nicaragua, rather than being either ineffective or oppositional in Honduras. We heard amazing stories of what it took for families to raise the $4000 to $6000 to try to allow family members, including children, to escape the violence and, quite frankly, to find jobs.

Bobby Jindal, the ultra-conservative Republican governor of Louisiana and wannabe presidential contender, on this side of the fence wants to know more than he should about the more than 1000 children from Honduras and other Central American countries being held with family in Louisiana. The Jefferson Parish public schools wants to know where they can come up with $4 million to provide the additional support services for these children coming into their system. Another Republican wannabe, Texas governor Rick Perry, has tried to broad-brush these children and others as potential terrorists. Headlines everywhere ask for support for refugees fleeing violence, bombing, and religious persecution in the Middle East, where millions are running for their lives. Departing Attorney General Eric Holder announced support for legal representation for the Central American’s coming over the border. How is it that Republicans and many Americans can pretend to understand refugees in the Middle East, but are confused about our Central American neighbors being human rights and economic refugees in almost precisely the same way?

I listened to a brief presentation and interview recently organized by the New Orleans on-line news service, the Lens with lawyers, organizers, and beleaguered immigrants connected to the Congress of Day Laborers and the New Orleans Worker Center for Racial Justice.    An unfortunately slim audience listened to a back and forth about whether or not the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) program in New Orleans was a pilot or not, and whether or not it was joining with the New Orleans Police Department to target, profile, and raid minority, immigrant communities in the city. New Orleans is part of the Secure Communities program which has been dropped by many other major urban areas. They reported meetings with Mayor Mitch Landrieu that had failed to win commitments to break away from their agreement though won some concessions around study, follow-up, and resources. The voices of the immigrants were powerful, though their stories probably confused many of the listeners, because despite being on message, the main takeaway was less about the police than about the precariousness of their situations, dropping them into the abyss of our broken immigration system.

There were two inescapable points made, one for New Orleans, and the other for everywhere. The Justice Department consent decree for the NOPD forbids it from targeting immigrant communities, but the city’s agreement with ICE on Secure Communities, makes them a handmaiden of the ICE officers in their work. But, the precariousness of circumstance that the two immigrants related settles on the ICE and Obama Administration claim to be rounding up “criminal” aliens, and continuing to allow the criminality to be defined and confused in the public’s mind. For most of these roundups the “criminal” behavior is having broken the law by coming over the border illegally. In the main this is not about robbers, rapists, murders, and drug traffic or terror, but about refugees guilty of seeking America for a better life.

The criminal behavior we heard early in the morning was a trip to the store for a baby and a domestic spat with a husband, both of which have now snared people in deportation proceedings, split their families, and exacerbated the criminality of their immigration. Looking north from Central America, all ACORN can see is a human rights crisis in countless communities, but here we are opening our jails faster than either our hearts or minds.

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