The Nicaraguan students have a single representative, sitting at the negotiating table to continue the National Dialogue between the Government of Daniel Ortega and the Civic Alliance for Justice and Democracy. However, they have very clear demands before the dictatorship: the release of political prisoners, democratization and justice, as they stated during the protests that began in April, and that persist even today in exile or in hiding.
Max Jerez, a student delegate of the Nicaraguan University Alliance, is one of the six members of the Civic Alliance at the negotiation table. Alejandra Centeno, a representative of the University Coordinator for Democracy and Justice (CUDJ) is one of the Alliance advisors, and Angel Rocha, a member of the April 19th Student Movement, is also an advisor. They are three of the students on the Civic Alliance that will be present at the negotiation.
We spoke with them to learn their proposals. Despite the criticism and distrust that some Nicaraguans have expressed against the talks, the students affirm that there will be nothing “under the table”.
“Ortega is going to receive a bill for everything he has done. We are not willing to negotiate if his plan is to make an apparent negotiation, which was what he did in the last dialogue. We are clear to what we are getting ourselves into,” Angel Rocha firmly says.
The objectives of the university sector of the protest movement are the same as those proposed by the Civic Alliance in its previous statements. They call it “the nation’s agenda.” And although not all the points have been made public, they maintain that this agenda extends from the release of the political prisoners and to the return of the exiles back to the country, whose number ascends to sixty thousand people.
“The compatriots who left the country have full confidence that their return will be on the agenda and all these guarantees will be addressed in these negotiations,” adds Jerez. However, sectoral demands will “rise” in the future, when the country follows the path of democracy, they say.
The demands of the university organizations
The protests in April were marked by the discontent in the university sector that had been quietly incubating for a couple of years. The National Union of Students of Nicaragua (UNEN), considered as the support arm of the regime within state universities, was convened in April by hundreds of young people demanding fair elections within their precincts and respect for the University Autonomy Law (Law 89). The president of UNEN, Luis Andino, is also a delegate at the negotiating table, but on behalf of the dictatorship of Ortega and his wife and vice president Rosario Murillo.
But these demands will not be part, for now, of the agenda of the negotiators:
“We do not carry sectoral demands, more than the national agenda that we have mentioned. There can be no respect for autonomy if there are no democratic conditions. A regime or a government that has no respect for the right to life will not have respect for a Law of Autonomy. We believe that the first thing is to lead the country to democracy and that is when the students will demand that all the laws and institutions be complied with,” says Jerez.
Alejandra Centeno believes that the demands of the university community can be worked “in parallel” to the democracy and justice agenda. “There is no sectoral plan, the main focal points of justice and freedom also include the students,” reiterates the advisor.
“Suspicions” of the negotiation
Since the disclosure of a meeting between the Nicaraguan “big capital” and the regime, several civic movements expressed their misgivings about the resumption of a negotiating table. Shortly after, the Episcopal Conference and the Civic Alliance announced that “the exchange” between the Civic Alliance and the Government would begin on February 27, but among some Nicaraguans there is still suspicion.
Also, the Committee for the Release of Political Prisoners and the Mothers of April Association, demanded to be taken into account in these negotiations, since they are direct relatives of victims of the repression. Their demands are focused on three aspects: the release of political prisoners, the cessation of repression and a way out of the crisis.
“There are many sectors that have obvious doubts in this process, especially in Ortega’s ability to comply with negotiation agreements, but we trust that we must first define the role of the facilitators and the appropriate guarantors to efficiently perform this role and that they guarantee that pertinent agreements will be reached that achieve a peaceful exit,” says the head of the Committee for the Release of Political Prisoners.
And if this does not happen, as the population expects, Alejandra Centeno affirms that she and the her student organization, the CUDJ, would leave the table.
“If there is no true political will or conditions at the level of the historical process that we are experiencing, we are ready to abandon the negotiation table. This is the position of the CUDJ,” adds Centeno.
The students recognize that they are scrutinized by a society with demands, but they ask for a “vote of confidence”. “There is no attempt to reach an agreement under the table. We have been clear on the agenda and that includes the freedom of the prisoners, democratization and justice,” said Centeno.
Criticism of student delegates does not end there. They have also been branded as “tools of the business class.” But they emphasize that they are “autonomous” and can express their points freely. “It’s an obsession of Nicaraguan culture. When they see us with business people, they tell us that we sold out, that we made a pact… We should remove that concept,” says Angel Rocha.
Preconditions in the negotiation?
Other demands of civil society outside the Civic Alliance are the “preconditions” that “should be established before any negotiating table.” For various voices, there has never been a suitable scenario – or political will – to dialogue with the regime. This has been recognized by the Civic Alliance itself.
“Due to the deaths and the prisoners we cannot put preconditions that delay the process. We must sit down as soon as possible to agree on the framework of our negotiation. Here our precondition is Nicaragua and our commitment is with the prisoners, for justice and for freedom, “says Centeno.
But the expectation has surpassed progress. While the Civic Alliance announced its position and has asked for confidence in the process, Daniel Ortega’s regime silences and keeps a large police force deployed on the streets, waiting to attack any demonstration of rebelliousness by the opposition protestors.
Vice president Rosario Murillo mentioned in her daily speech at noon that “it will be a momentous week”, since she awaits a meeting with “businessmen”, always emphasizing the economic crisis and not the acute political scenario that Nicaragua is experiencing since last April.
The students also have a position on the matter: “What’s happening in the country is not an economic problem, there is a serious sociopolitical crisis. As young people, we are looking for an urgent peaceful way to out of this crisis,” Rocha states.
On Friday, March 1, the Civic Alliance held a third meeting with the Government delegates. One of the demands of the population towards the negotiators is that the twelve points raised by the parties be revealed. So far, the regime accepted nine of them and it is not known what they are.
Max, Alejandra and Angel are convinced that they are on the right track, despite the pressure they also carry. Eleven months ago they were studying university careers and now they are immersed in marathon meetings with experts in negotiation issues. Nor do they consider that the past dialogue was a mistake, but they do admit that they have learned many lessons.
“Behind our backs is an enraged people that demands justice and freedom, and this commitment is very important for young people,” they reaffirm.