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.