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The April Rebellion today: “The people remain awake and are demanding change”

Nicaragua “woke up” against the tyranny of Ortega, but only with democracy and justice will it succeed in transforming itself into a new republic

Nicaragua “woke up” against the tyranny

Redacción Confidencial

12 de abril 2022


As she led the funeral procession of her son who was killed by paramilitaries in the early morning hours of July 14, 2018, Suzana López shouted his name, “Gerald Vázquez!” with all her strength. During the more than five-kilometer route from the La Morita neighborhood to the cemetery of Las Sierritas, in Managua, the students who accompanied the funeral march responded to her shouts with “Present!”. 

The mother did not cry and her strength was surprising. Her voice and her eyes were full of courage and pain. “El Chino, present! He was a student, not a delinquent!” she repeated.

Gerald’s life was ended by a bullet to the head. The shot was fired by one of the paramilitaries who executed the so-called “Operation Cleanup”, ordered by the regime of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo against neighborhoods and cities, and the students barricaded in the National Autonomous University of Nicaragua (UNAN-Managua). 

Those were 17 continuous hours of a violent attack against the young people who left the university to take shelter in the Divina Misericordia parish, where they were besieged and attacked on the night of July 13, 2018.

Since then, grief has invaded Susana, and her mourning has been followed by unemployment, harassment, siege, exile, hunger, and rage that she still has not found justice for Gerald's murder. She also had to separate from her other four children, over which she has received criticism. But she assures that she does not regret demanding justice for a second, and maintains that she has not given up hope. 

Susana stands out at the Mothers of April Association (Asociación Madres de Abril, AMA), which brings the relatives of those killed in the Ortega massacre, for being one of the most visible faces in the struggle in search of justice. 

“It’s not about ending up in the presidency”

On April 18, 2018, Nicaragua's course changed forever. The brutal repression and massacre that the Ortega - Murillo regime ordered against the population that was protesting against the Social Security reforms at first, and then began to demand justice, freedom, and democracy - provoked death, pain, unemployment, imprisonment, separation of families, and impotence. But it also provoked a need for justice, memory, and real change in Nicaragua. 

“They wanted to bribe me at the time, by giving me a house. My son was not a delinquent, he was a student, and I never kept quiet, because what I need is justice. That is what the Mothers of April demand”, Susana says. Face with constant siege and harassment, the mother decided to go into exile in Costa Rica. 

“They thought that they could break us and forget about us this way, but they were wrong,” she declares firmly. 

Despite the police state, and the imprisonment of human rights defenders, students, businessmen, peasants, and political and social leaders, Susana believes that the Nicaraguan people have “opened their eyes”. 

“Our struggle did not begin in order to end up in the presidency, it goes beyond that. It is a demand for justice for our children and a radical change for the future of Nicaragua,” she says. 

Susana considers it unfair to have to “run away” without having done anything. “They are the ones who did irreparable harm to me because they won’t give me back my son, who would have been 24 this year,” she insists.

“We managed to unmask a criminal regime”

Former political prisoner Edwin Carache affirms that the price paid by the youth after leading the civic protests that began in April 2018, is immense. Many are still in hiding, others are in prison, and others - like him - have had to go into exile. 

In his case, he is still suffering from the after-effects of the torture he endured during the nine months he was imprisoned by the dictatorship. However, he says that he would do it all over again. “I don’t regret anything, because we unmasked an abusive regime, businessmen who collaborate with them, and corrupt officials, as I said to them in each one of the interrogations I went through,” he says. 

Although the regime has imprisoned the political and social leaders, Carache believes that “it would have to lock up the whole country in order to extinguish the spirit of the April Rebellion.” 

“We did things right. We did not opt for the violent path they preferred. We chose to practice peace, to seek dialogue when they only offered violence. We have been an example to the world of civic rebellion against tyranny of terror,” he says. 

To achieve real change and heal wounds, Carcache believes there must be a process of justice. “There cannot be a clean slate,” he insists. 

“Nothing can go on the same in Nicaragua”

Former prisoner of conscience and student leader, Yaritza Mairena, currently forms part of

the Union of Political Prisoners of Nicaragua (UPPN) which works to systematize the multiple violations committed by the regime in arbitrary imprisonments. 

Yaritza was expelled from UNAN-Managua and was unable to finish her degree in Political Science. She was only five classes short of graduating, but in these four years, she learned more than what she had learned in the classroom. 

“I have been able to learn about experiences, ... and the reality of my country”, she reflects.

Mairena explains that one of the great lessons of the April Rebellion is that Nicaraguan society “realized that we cannot continue with the corrupt system we have.” 

“It's not just a dictatorship, but institutionalized corruption and the lack of democracy in the country,” she says, but admits that the political culture “has been an impediment to achieving a real coalition that allows a united front against the dictatorship”. 

“We are used to authoritarian leadership and a lot of distrust surrounding the interests of other people, but at the same time, steps have begun to be taken in the search for justice, which is so necessary,” says Yaritza, who is also in exile. 

It was a “wake-up call” but “the future is worrisome”

Over the course of four years, the situation in Nicaragua has deteriorated and “got out of hand towards a very dangerous authoritarian course,” says academic and former university rector, Ernesto Medina, who participated in the failed National Dialogue attempts with the Ortega - Murillo regime in 2018 and 2019.

“The future is uncertain, and that is the most worrisome thing,” he considers. For Medina, the April Rebellion was never a political struggle to remove anyone from power. “It was an awakening provoked by the mistakes of the regime, because they believed they had everything under control and the people were seeing that we were far from being a perfect country,” he points out. 

But Medina considers that the April Rebellion was only "the wake-up call", because "the true awakening of the people is yet to come".

“The citizenry told the regime that it cannot continue doing whatever it wants, but it also said it to itself. What is to come must open the doors for a real democracy”, he reflects. Medina also adds that “the opposition must recognize the mistakes it has made due to the political culture of repeating the ways of the past, the caudillismo, the desire to be the political boss. We have not overcome it and hopefully we can change that soon”.

In order to be able to take “serious steps, to find working mechanisms and define actions that give hope to the people of Nicaragua” all sectors, including businessmen, “must assume a more dignified position”, he points out. Medina insists that to a large extent, the April Rebellion failed to remove Ortega and Murillo from power because they ordered to repress and kill under the order “let’s go all out”, but also because the citizen protest arose spontaneously without any leadership and without political intent. 

“Proof of that is that the marches were on another route and none went to El Carmen (the residence of the ruling couple)”,  he argues. The academic considers that citizens “romantically thought that through protests, Ortega would leave power, but nothing happened after the marches, everyone went home aftwerwards”. However, he believes that Ortega “was condenmed to hold on to power through bayonets and bullets”. 

 "Many freedoms have been lost"

Journalist Martha Irene Sanchez, from Matagalpa, has experienced exile twice in four years. “It may seem a short time, but too many things have happened that involve us in mourning, sadness and despair. We have lost a lot in terms of public freedoms, in addition to the loss of lives of many Nicaraguans,” she says. 

Martha Irene was forced to leave for safety and to look for a better chance to continue reporting. That is why she founded, together with other colleagues, the digital portal República 18. 

She recalls seeing people in the marches in Matagalpa who had never been involved in anything before. “Today, I see a more active citizenry, with a stronger sense of solidarity,” she says. Sanchez believes that although the regime has made it “impossible to bring about immediate change” through the use of repression, “there are visible expressions of people resisting”. 

“There have been some lessons, for example, women protesting in Bluefields, the uprising of he people of the North due to the cancellation of organizations close to them”, she recalls. 

“One of the cruelest dictatorships in the world”

The defender of the Human Rights Collective Nicaragua Nunca+, Juan Carlos Arce, has “mixed feelings” when talking about the April Rebellion. On the one hand, he sees an enormous setback in the country because “the population lives under a terrible police state and has lived through four years of cruelty, of torture practices as a terrorist State policy”, but he also feels “pride” that “they have not been able to silence the voices and that we Nicaraguans are moving towards building the country we deserve”. 

“Throughout our history there have been around 52 amnesties to promote a clean slate, but this time the people know that they want justice, memory and non-repetition”, he insists. 

Arce points out that the population has documented all the violations of “one of the cruelest dictatorships in the world”, that has failed to “annihilate any sentiment of protest”. 

A sociologist, who for security reasons asked not to be named, assures that Nicaragua is going through “a phase of progressive deterioration” which has provoked a massive exodus of citizens. 

“Many violations were already being committed before 2018, but many turned a blind eye, other’s were bribed, and other’s participated in it, but almost all were silent. The April Rebellion tore off the mask of the philanthropic ogre who was distributing zinc sheets, building a park, putting free wifi, while dismantling the institutionality”, he specifies. 

He also believes that Ortega and Murillo could not be removed from power because they showed “that they had decidd to crush the rebellion with blood, regardless of the fact that instead of 355, there would have been 700 or more people killled”. “The proof of this is that they shot to kill, to provoke deep panic. There were no bullets wasted, they knew what they were doing,” he explains. 

“Nicaragua will never be the same”

Haydée Castillo, human rights defender and president of the Nicaraguans in the World Movement founded in exile, has a feeling of frustration because she perceives that “we are facing a regime that is clinging to power and has been sinking the country in the past four years, making it more and more unviable”. However, she believes that the April Rebellion will mark the history of Nicaragua because “it is the first time that the people unite without distinction of anything, in a civic and peaceful rebellion around the blue and white flag”. 

“Nicaragua will never be the same again and the time has come to make a leap in the political culture of the country, in the sense that the economic and political elites will give us a bankrupt country, but the people do not want to live these situations ever again”, Castillo notes. 

Although she admits that there is a lot of despair, she considers that the people “are still awake” and cites “the silent gesture of November 7, 2021, when the people stayed at home without going out to vote in a fraudulent election”. 

“Nicaragua became aware  that without justice, there is no democracy, freedom, nor sustained peace possible,” she assures.  However, she knows that the corrupt political culture “also exists in the blue and white ranks”. “It is difficult and it is not easy to leave that burden, of competing instead of cooperating. To recognize that we all have a place, to leave the protagonism, the caudillismo, but we are overcoming it,” she reflects. “The Ortega - Murillo political system is no longer viable, it is dead. It is a monster that is on its last legs, that refuses to die, that continues to do damage, but that cannot defeat a brave people”, says Castillo.

This article was published in Spanish in Confidencial and translated by Havana Times



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Redacción Confidencial

Redacción Confidencial

Confidencial es un diario digital nicaragüense, de formato multimedia, fundado por Carlos F. Chamorro en junio de 1996. Inició como un semanario impreso y hoy es un medio de referencia regional con información, análisis, entrevistas, perfiles, reportajes e investigaciones sobre Nicaragua, informando desde el exilio por la persecución política de la dictadura de Daniel Ortega y Rosario Murillo.