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Victims of Operation Cleanup: "Without justice the people will not have peace"

At the recent July 19th celebration, the dictatorship applauded the massacre that took place in 2018, to squelch the massive protests

At the recent July 19th celebration

Elmer Rivas

23 de julio 2022


Between June and July of 2018, the regime of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo dispatched an irregular army, in order to squash with all ferocity the civil insurrection that had almost managed to checkmate the dictatorship. The citizen demonstrations, occupations and blockades had lasted nearly three months.

The so-called “Operation Clean-Up” was carried out by police and paramilitary at Managua’s National Autonomous University (UNAN), in Monimbo, and in the towns around Masaya, Carazo and the rest of the country. It left hundreds dead and wounded and forced thousands into exile.

Four years after the bloody operation against the unarmed civil population, the dictatorship is celebrating the massacre, alleging that the social uprising in demand of democratic change was an attempted coup d’etat. Meanwhile, the victims of the repression join the mothers of those killed in demanding justice and an end to impunity.

Four victims of the repression spoke with Confidencial from exile, on the occasion of the fourth anniversary of the brutal attack, recalling their experiences during those days.

“They were shooting at us to kill”

“Templo Divina Misericordia” [Church of the Divine Mercy] in Managua. On July 13 and 14, 2018, the site was attacked by paramilitary troops, desperate to dislodge the students who had taken shelter there. Photo: Confidencial archives

“On July 13, there were few people left of those who had remained occupying the university up until then. The panorama was a sad one. The atmosphere felt kind of dead, but even so, we didn’t imagine the real impact until at noon, when we began to hear the shots… ‘Paramilitary! Paramilitary!!’ And just then, the bombardment began – Boom, boom, boom, boom!

“There were many moments when we were convinced they were going to kill us. It was a feeling of great anxiety every minute. Later, we managed to take shelter at the nearby Divine Mercy Church. They cut off the water. They cut off the electricity. Among those of us who were there, the talk was: ‘Where do you think they’ll storm in from? Do you think they’ll come in through this door or the other? If and when they enter, what do we do? Should we hold hands?  Should we hug, or run – What do we do?’

“My family, my friends, imagined me in a casket, they even thought about how my arrival in Bluefields in a coffin would be.

“We need justice. An entire country has been affected by each one of these assassinations during the clean-up operation.”

“We endured 13 hours under fire”

According to the Nicaraguan Human Rights Center, 38 people died in Carazo on July 8, among them several police and paramilitary. Photo: Confidencial archives.

“That was an unforgettable moment for me. When I woke up, at 5:30 am on July 8, 2018, they were calling me to tell me to get out of my house, because there was going to be an operation of the Nicaraguan army and police in the municipalities the people had taken over and where there’d been the most resistance. We went to seek shelter at the Santiago the Apostol parish at 6 am. At 6:30, they were massacring the kids who were at the roadblocks.

“That was horrible, horrifying. It was an unequal war of young people with homemade rocket launchers against a well-armed army… and then we began to receive the news of the dead.

“We endured 13 hours under fire. We resisted. The people went out on the streets to defend the kids. Who says they were armed?? No sir, the people in Jinotepe have been a righteous, a brave people.

“The feeling that gives you four years later. I feel like I haven’t been able to end my mourning. While there’s no justice for everything they did to us, for all those mothers whose childrens’ lives they ripped away, there can’t be an end to our mourning. That’s gong to exist, going to be there, for our whole lives.”

“If there’s no justice, the people won’t have peace”

“Operation Clean-up” in Masaya left more than 34 dead between June and July of 2018, according to human rights organizations. Photo: Confidencial archives.

“I was clear from the experience I have as a historic combatant – because I came from the struggle against Somoza – that “operation clean-up” was going to leave nothing behind, no evidence, because they had to wipe everything away.

“I was always there, at the roadblock by the Olinto Valle market. We were prepared for whatever might come. We put up resistance with the little we had, like rocket launchers, homemade grenades. Four years later, that struggle wasn’t in vain, because the people were rocked by all that injustice, just like what‘s being committed now as well.

“In 2018, the people exploded, as they had exploded against Somoza. Unfortunately, we fell into another dictatorship, one worse than that of Somoza, because I lived through that too. The people proved that the people have the power… they did so spectacularly. Those marches, that they call “little scraps” of people – no, the people were there, demanding their rights, which had been getting cut back for a long time.

“It wasn’t an organized movement, like the government claims, saying it was a coup d’etat. The coup d’etat was what Ortega carried out a while ago.

“If there’s no justice, the people aren’t going to have peace.”

“We’re going to continue our struggle for justice”

Susana López, demands justice in front of the funeral of her son Gerald Vásquez, killed during the paramilitary attack against UNAN-Managua and the Divina Misericordia parish, in mid-July 2018. Carlos Herrera | Confidencial

“To me, the “Clean-up Operation” was the worst thing I ever lived through. I never expected to become a victim of repression, a victim of the Nicaraguan government. What my son wanted was freedom for Nicaragua.

“Every July 13, and even the 13th of every month, are very sad days for me… I wish I could just wipe away the 13th of every month, make the date disappear. ‘Mama, you know I love you a lot, but my friends are going to need me. I’m going to be here because it’s a just struggle we university students are waging.’ I remember that he gave me a big hug, and he said: ‘I love you, you’ll see that I’ll soon be back.’

“He left me a letter telling me to take care of his sisters, to give them my support, that we’d be able to reestablish our fruit drink business, that he wanted freedom for Nicaragua, and that he’d be back.

“As Gerald Vazquez’ mother, I’m going to stand firm always. We’re going to continue our struggle. We know that the Nicaraguan government has many ways they want to destroy us, but we, as mothers, are going to remain firm.”

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


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Elmer Rivas

Elmer Rivas

Periodista y productor general de los programas Esta Semana, Esta Noche y Confidencial Radio, dirigidos por Carlos F. Chamorro. Exiliado en Costa Rica desde junio de 2021.