Yerling Aguilera, Jessica Cisneros and Madelaine Caracas have been traveling across Europe for over two months, denouncing the government of Daniel Ortega, whose repression has left a toll of at least 300 dead in Nicaragua according to human rights organizations. The three young women want to “inform” fellow Nicaraguans living abroad and are also holding meetings with leftist politicians. They tell us that this is a necessary battleground for “fighting the Ortega regime.”
The International Caravan of Solidarity with Nicaragua has been received by the mayor of Barcelona, Spain, Ada Colau, and other members of parliament in the European Union. They’ve also conversed with groups like Podemos, a progressive leftist movement in Spain, that’s condemned the repressive acts of Ortega’s government. Now that the attacks and persecution against the demonstrators has ratcheted upwards, many Nicaraguans see international pressure as one route out of the crisis that the country is experiencing.
In this interview, Yerling Aguilera, a sociologist who is taking part in the caravan, (also known as the “information caravan”), talks about how the initiative was born, what the principal challenges have been, how it’s sustained economically and why it’s prioritizing the European leftist groups above others.
How was the Caravan born?
The caravan has the same nature as the mobilizations in Nicaragua: it’s self-organized and self-directed. We felt that there was very little information flowing at an international level regarding the situation in Nicaragua, and that the little information that existed was polarized and very slanted towards that theory of a political conspiracy and an attempt at a Coup d’etat in Nicaragua.
We also believe that this is a forum from which to do battle with the Ortega forces – that is to work with the left, to rebut Ortega’s discourse from a leftist perspective.
We began by writing to people from the committees that had organized autonomously in some of the cities in Europe. We managed to connect with three cities where people committed to help us get around, to put us up in their homes, and we also managed to obtain the plane tickets.
How was it that you, Madelaine and Jessica all agreed to join in on the caravan? Was there a selection process?
The dynamic for choosing the participants was not to have us represent any particular institution, given the sense of urgency and the spirit of self-organization and self-direction of the movement. The selection was fairly practical: someone who could represent the student voice, in this case Madelaine; a person with ties working with young people, Jessica; and later someone who had a position a bit more from the critical left, and so they invited me. The invitation was direct. They told us that the process for raising money was still ongoing, and that the capacity for mobilization and support would depend on this. It was a very spontaneous process.
When you mention that you received an invitation, did this come from an organization.. where?
No. I’m referring to activists of the Network of Social Movements (Articulacion de movimientos sociales de Nicaragua) that more than anything had established the contacts in Europe. We as such didn’t have ties with any institution, and weren’t subject to any institutional guidelines.
How has your schedule in Europe operated? You’ve visited left-wing politicians, you’ve held conferences in universities…
The agenda has been set up by the committees organized in each city, and also by the team of university students in Nicaragua, who were the ones that made the initial contacts for us. There are different dynamics in each city, according to the capacity of each self-organized group. There are cities where the schedule is centered around the media, because the self-organized groups have more ties with them. There are cities where the emphasis falls more on informational sessions, public events, because they’re broader-based groups. And others where they’re more focused on human rights organizations, parliament, or political groups.
How has the caravan supported itself during these months?
We’re generally taken in by families in the cities we go to. That’s really nice for us, because we can also observe the work of those from the Nicaraguan diaspora. Some of the people that take us in live in fairly sparse conditions. We put great value on this accompaniment from the self-organized Nicaraguan communities here in Europe. There’s been some political violence against these people (Nicaraguans living abroad) as they see the possibility of returning to their country dimished because it’s destroyed.
But in economic terms, how have you supported yourselves?
The caravan has been supported in different ways. Many times, the communities of the self-organized hold activities like selling food, or they organize cultural events to raise money, and that pays for our internal mobilization, train fare, taxis. There’ve been people from the European solidarity movement who have taken us in and have paid for our food and put us up in their homes.
In other words, through aid from people.
Yes. A lot of times when we stay in someone’s home they give us food and accompany us to the metro, or we walk. That’s how the Caravan has been sustained.
How has your reception been in Europe, and especially from the leftist movements you’ve visited?
There’ve been different reactions. The traditional parties that there are in Europe like the Communist Parties, back that theory of political conspiracy and that in Nicaragua the mobilizations are motivated by an outside agenda. But there’s another part of the people who’ve had ties with Nicaragua since the 70s, who are very clearly distanced from Ortega, from his sharp turn into dictatorship and for years now they’ve seen that Ortega and his allies don’t represent the Sandinista values. Many of these people lived in Nicaragua but came back because they felt that they weren’t helping to construct a progressive and critical project.
There are ever less postures that support Daniel Ortega from the left, because information is being more broadly disseminated. Proof of this is that parties of a more progressive stripe have adopted a posture of condemnation of Daniel Ortega’s government, such as Podemos in Spain, with whom we’ve met. The people that support Daniel Ortega are people that in general know little about all of the mutations that the FSLN has had. In terms of information they don’t know that whole dynamic very well.
We’ve perceived a loss of sympathy for Ortega from the left. There’s ever more questioning and that’s been thanks to the broadening of available information.
Why reach or try to reach the European left movements?
“I have received a delegation of courageous feminist women denouncing the very serious situation of human rights violations taking place in Nicaragua, with the killing of hundreds of people. From Barcelona I offer my total condemnation of that situation and my support of the movements in defense of human rights. -Ada Colau (Mayor of Barcelona)
In the first place we know the historic ties that there are between the left movements of several cities in Europe with the government of Nicaragua, motivated by this historic precedent that was the [Sandinista] revolution, and also by aid projects and sister city ties that are still active in Nicaragua.
Secondly, because we feel it’s a moral question – the fact that the left mustn’t abandon their values of justice, but also that they’ve placed themselves in historic terms on the side of the groups that have been excluded – that they shouldn’t be giving this backing to a government that doesn’t respond to these values.
Daniel Ortega’s projection towards the outside is that of a leftist government and that’s debatable beginning with those ideological deviations that he’s had. We felt it was necessary to reach there, to those voices and those groups that have had ties with Nicaragua.
In Daniel Ortega’s official discourse, he smears you as Coup plotters. Have you run into this same posture internationally?
Yes. That rhetoric of categorizing our agenda as a Coup plot or a response to external financing from the United States has been the main disqualifying measures of the groups that support Daniel Ortega to try and delegitimize us. People have no arguments to contradict what’s happening in Nicaragua, so given the lack of arguments they tend to disqualify the people, but not the ideas, because in the area of ideas we’re more advanced because we know how the Ortega government is working and we know how it has mutated. When you can’t win with ideas, you try to discredit the individuals.
What these people do is a rehashing of the governmental discourse, a discourse that’s totally empty. We’ve been very clear with that and there are certain scenarios where there are people who have even begged our pardon, because they don’t see in us any ties with the United States agenda. We’ve stated emphatically that we’re not part of the agenda of private enterprise or any external agenda to destabilize the country.
In all these weeks that you’ve been in Europe, what are the greatest challenges you’ve faced?
I think that, as a group, because we’re women and because we’re young, the greatest challenge is the paternalism and colonialism that’s often shows up in some people who feel that they’re the ones who have to tell us wat to do, what ideas should be taken to Nicaragua, how the construction of the country should be directed. It’s a little complicated trying to hold a dialogue with such postures because I feel that they perceive us a incapable of carrying out a political process.
The other challenge is that the are schematic positions where they ask you for a program for transition in all areas, something that’s impossible given the dynamic of the mobilization and the urgency that exists, how for now, people are prioritizing the safeguarding of their lives.
Nicaraguans have expressed the possibility of exhausting the route of international pressure now that the repression in the streets has increased. How could that be done?
There’s a perception that people feel abandoned since many of the international processes are via diplomatic channels and take a long time. We’re aware of that and also that such work is necessary. Perhaps we’ll see many of the results little by little.
When we speak about international pressure, we’re not only talking about the groups on a parliamentary level. We’re also betting on creating a network aimed at the reconstruction of Nicaragua when Daniel leaves. From here we’ve promoted the formation of a humanitarian channel that could offer support and strength not only in a moral sense, but materially, to the Nicaraguan struggle. For that reason, all of these networks of communication and consultation on the level of human rights.
When we speak of international solidarity, there’s always the image of institutions like the UN or the OAS, but we’re placing our bets on a networking that could form the base for humanitarian aid in the reconstruction of Nicaragua.
There’s also a debate around demanding of certain figures concrete actions and not just pronouncements.
Yes, we’ve also had that perception that more forcefulness is needed on the part of some institutions in the sense of more energetic condemnations. Perhaps for us and for those who are in the day to day struggle with our bodies on the line, often a pronouncement isn’t going to save your life. However, these are part of the stages in which you can bring about combined internal and external pressure.
International pressure by itself isn’t going to accomplish a lot, we’re very clear about that. We believe that different battle fronts should be opened, especially in the question of the international community. We’re not experts in the diplomatic route, but starting with a recognition of these weaknesses, we’ve been strengthening these areas of support for the Nicaraguan people’s mobilization.
What have been your greatest achievements over these three months?
One of the most palpable has been the dissemination of information, assaulting the communications media. When we came to Europe there was little information and we felt that a broader and more thoughtful channel for debate has been opened through our contact with some social movements such as the feminist movement, the ecological movement and that of the left. It’s an achievement that more information begins to be passed around regarding what’s happening in Nicaragua.
The second thing is the fact of directing this humanitarian aid with some groups who have historically had ties of solidarity to Nicaragua and weren’t very clear about what was happening in the country. The third achievement is that political channels have been opened on a parliamentary level that have presented their positions with respect to Nicaragua.
A law was approved and passed by Nicaragua’s National Assembly that they have termed anti-terrorist. Different human rights organizations believe that protest could be criminalized with this kind of laws. Given that panorama, how do you see your return to Nicaragua?
Wee, we see it as a threat to our own freedoms and our own rights because we’ve already been the victims of a campaign of criminalization by different media outlets tied to the government that have already accused us of being terrorists, of belonging to criminal groups.
We know that in Nicaragua the government is free to act at their whim to punish dissent; we’re aware that we could be detained or accused of such a crime. Given the situation in Nicaragua, we believe that we’re an easy target.