Speaking Truth to Power … Walking a Pilgrimage of Pain
By Kitty Madden
“Kitty, could you just send us something simple (about the situation in Nicaragua), a personal perspective of the impact on you and your friends?” That was the request from my friend Debbie as she asked that I “help people, like my mother Alice, see beyond the headlines and the political divisions.”
Yet, Debbie, nothing here has been simple since the Ortega government ordered police to fire real bullets to quell the student uprisings this past April 18-19. The students had gathered in support of pensioners protesting changes in social security benefits. Almost simultaneous with the first of more than 350 assassinations to date, an amazing thing happened. As one man expressed, “People have lost their fear of speaking out. And … Daniel (Ortega) has lost the people.”
Having lived in Nicaragua for more than 32 years, I experienced life under the revolutionary Sandinista government of the ‘80s. It was the FSLN that had brought about the downfall of the dictator Anastasio Somoza through a war of insurrection that left 50,000 dead. I anguished over the effects of the United States-supported Contra War that ended in 1990, having taken 30,000 more lives and maiming thousands. I have lived through three neo-liberal presidencies and, for the past 12 years, and have observed with great sadness the development of yet another dictatorship and family dynasty. Most significant has been to see the way people began carefully monitoring their words or not speaking at all for fear of reprisals.
Since his election in 2006, Daniel Ortega has moved to consolidate power, control and wealth for both his family and for the FSLN party. And, yes, there have been many “gifts” given to the people such as food and housing and scholarship programs. But these gifts were given at a price: silence, gratitude and loyalty. Any other entity desiring to serve the people, such as the Casa Materna Mary Ann Jackman where I worked for 27 years, was treated as a possible dangerous rival. When the university students decided on April 18 that they wanted not gifts but freedom of expression, the government responded with unexpected, unbridled ferocity.
In the words of Roberto Cajina, civilian consultant on security, defense and democratic governance, “Ortega and Murillo have transformed Nicaragua into a battlefield where two forces are facing off in a conflict defined by total asymmetry. On one side anti-riot police, snipers and paramilitary forces, all armed to the teeth. On the other, a populace armed, if at all, with rocks, slingshots and homemade mortars.” Envio, Volume 37, Number 444, July 2018.
By the time of Mothers’ Day, May 30 here, more than 100 had been killed. Most were young people, and many had been shot with one strategically directed bullet to the head, the eyes, the throat or heart. More than 600,000 people gathered in Managua to march with the mothers who had lost their children as a way of sharing their unspeakable grief. Who could have imagined that, on this most sacred of days, the police and snipers would attack the grieving marchers? Twenty were killed and close to 100 wounded. Almost daily people say, “Mother’s Day will never be the same. Nicaragua will never be the same.”
Each day death counts continue to rise. As I write in early August there are more than 350 dead; 3,000-plus wounded and many with wounds they will carry all their lives; 1,200 people have been picked up and imprisoned without legal rights; many being tortured; hundreds have “disappeared,” perhaps hiding out if not already dead; and thousands are leaving the country every day.
City streets that in early April were filled with people visiting from other countries, tourists or those helping with humanitarian aid projects, are now empty. It is not uncommon to see police-driven vehicles filled with hooded and masked paramilitaries armed with high-caliber weapons. Airlines that brought passengers twice a day now have flights only three times a week. Many hotels and restaurants have been closed and, of course, thousands have lost their jobs.
Thus, Debbie, please share with Alice and others that something very vital and courageous is happening here today in Nicaragua. People have regained their voices and are, indeed, speaking truth to power with a strong commitment to walking a nonviolent path … however, it is a pilgrimage of great pain!
For a more in-depth reflection and photos, see https://pulsemedia.org/2018/08/03/a-massacre-not-a-coup-of-response-to-misinformation-on-nicaragua/.