My Beloved Nicaragua
Even though the community where I live is nearly 3 hours from Managua, the surrounding farmland and coastline are still thick with tension erupting from the capital. As an expat who has made Nicaragua her home, I feel compelled to speak up about the latest political events in Nicaragua.
For 4 years, I have lived and worked in Nicaragua. I bring my students and my clients through this country to experience the charm of the local communities nestled between sweeping volcanos and stunning beaches. We work in villages and teach, we provide education, and take part in environmental initiatives. But as much as we have taught, we have learned incredibly impactful life lessons from the time we spent living with Nicaraguan people.
As a teacher, professor, and owner of a business that facilitates learning in a hands-on, pro-active approach, the events of the last month have stirred the educator in me to pay sharp attention to the unrest that is currently making headlines in Nicaragua, and the unknown direction the country is headed.
What is Happening in Nicaragua Right Now
Civil protests. University students, who are tired of government corruption and who have a strong desire for change, for their country and their future, spoke up. It was the students who took to the streets to protest against vices of their government with their voices and peaceful marches. They marched with support by the Catholic Church, by campesinos, Nicaraguan people, and by the international community living amongst them.
This is not a war between political parties or about religious affiliation. This is a brave demonstration of the power of a people who have reached their limit.
On April 19th, the government reacted to the students’ protests with live ammunition, kidnapping, and violence that has since left over 65 people dead, most of whom were young students. This violence was ordered against them by their own President, Daniel Ortega.
The government’s violent responses to the peaceful student protests have resulted in so many young deaths – and this is what has caused national outrage and more blazing protests from the public.
The people of Nicaragua should be heralded for their bravery. The young students took the initiative, and the nation followed their lead. They took to the streets and are calling for change, armed only with blue and white flags, their voices, and their cell phones. The government is armed with AK-47’s.
As a result of the nation’s bravery, National Dialogues have been set up between the government, and the people for conflict resolution and political transformation. The National Dialogues are addressing 3 very important issues:
- To stop the repression and use of violence from the police and paramilitary commanded by the government.
- Justice for the 65 (and counting) Nicaraguan deaths
- A non-violent transition to democracy in Nicaragua
This transition will move slowly because so far, the Daniel Ortega regime has denied all of the above. Tensions remain in the nation; but for Nicaraguans, there is no going back.
Ongoing protests exist in the form of barricades set up along routes between major cities. These are set up by unarmed people who intend no harm towards each other, expat residents or to travelers. The protestors are halting commerce in their city as a strategy for protesting the government’s actions. Anyone who wishes to pass is ultimately able to do so, sometimes with the help of a few córdobas or dollars, or with donations of water, food, or supplies.
Why is this Happening In Nicaragua Right Now
Essentially, the shit hit the fan. For over a decade, the current President, Daniel Ortega and his wife, Vice President, Rosario Murillo Ortega, have engaged in corrupt politics that harm the growth and health of Nicaragua. During a reign of repression, Ortega has silently altered the structure of the government to slide himself into a dictatorship with absolute power.
Since 2007, he has sat as President of the Republic of Nicaragua. Over the last decade, the economy has grown at a steady pace, and Nicaragua has remained far safer than Central America’s other impoverished nations.
However, Ortega is not a president loved by his people. He has manipulated laws and fabricated elections to gain power. He violated the constitution to place his wife as Vice President, who appears as equally disconnected from the Nicaraguan people as Ortega himself. The presidential family owns the majority of the Nicaraguan media stations, controls the police, and has control of every branch of government in Nicaragua. The man who may have once been a proclaimed hero of the Sandinista party 50 years ago, has now become a despised dictator himself.
Things began to heat up during the 2016 elections, which were considered fraudulent and rigged by the Ortega administration.
Following that, the controversial development of the Canal in Nicaragua began, that would have displaced tens of thousands of Nicaraguan families and destroyed fragile environmental eco-systems.
Then, there was the devastating mishandling of forest fires on the Caribbean coast earlier this year.
The straw that broke the camel’s back was when Ortega’s solution to the Social Security debt was to increase public payment into their pensions and reduce payments to pensioners who had already fulfilled their legal obligation. The change would have affected the entire country because it required workers to pay more, employers to pay more and reduce payments to current pensioners. Everyone of working or retiring age would have been immediately affected.
The Power and Bravery of the Nicaraguan People
This is a country that has spent decades rebuilding itself into a peaceful country; hosting adventurous tourism, boasting top surf destinations, ecological beauty, and nature reserves. It is a nation struggling to create access to better education, healthcare, public safety and a thriving economy. It takes a lot of effort and time for a nation to create this identity for itself. The damage done to the collective calm is not the doing of the peaceful Nicaraguans. The damage has been done by their President.
The problem now is that Ortega is not negotiating. He is denying responsibility for the student murders during the protests. This is infuriating for the public, but the Nicaraguans are also fuelled more than ever to seek justice. They seek peace, but will not sit passively while their educated youth are shot in the streets, while their elders are robbed of their pensions, or while their forests burn.
Following the protests, National Dialogues have been organized, and a self-assembled organization of students is heroically standing up to the President.
Watch this young man’s speech. He is a university student named Lésther Alemán who partook in the National Dialogue on Wed, May 15th. He confronted (and interrupted) the President and delivered a powerful plea that was compelling, intelligent, emotional, honest, and unafraid. Listen to it. He speaks with a cadence that is fuelled with passion and strength. He is calling for the President to leave office.
Why This Speaks to Me as a Teacher
The STUDENTS spoke out. The young, educated, informed, brave, students galvanized themselves against their repressive government. A government that shoots down unarmed students with live ammunition for speaking up against this.
These are young voices. These are the future. They will move into powerful influential and proactive roles in Nicaraguan society, and their children will follow – IF there is a change in national leadership.
As a university educator, this strikes a chord with me. These university students represent the teenage kids my own previous Venture Within groups worked with together in local schoolyards just 2 summers ago. They represent any young student brave enough to speak out and demand a positive change in the world they live in.
What You Need to Understand as a Visitor in Nicaragua
Nicaragua is not at war. The vast majority of Nicaraguans do not have weapons. Most of the weapons in the country were purchased during a peace campaign by President Chamorro in the 90’s and then destroyed. Today, only the police controlled by the government have guns.
Most visitors come for the surf and the beach, where the area is unaffected and things are still business as usual. There are ways to safely move through the country from the airport in Managua to one of the coastal destinations, either by shuttle or private car or by flying into Costa Esmeralda airport. The surf is still pumping and the beaches are still beautiful. It’s the start of what promises to be an epic surf season in a country that depends on tourism. Communities still rely on vacationers and philanthropic tourists.
We do recommend exercising caution when considering a visit to bigger cities, such as Masaya or Granada, as this is where most of the action is and it’s best to avoid it if possible.
What’s Next for Nicaragua
Dialogue leads to Change.
“The worst thing about any crisis is when it stays hidden”. Nicaraguan students are shining a light on their national crisis in order to eradicate the corruption.
International attention will help as Nicaragua clamors for justice. The UN has stepped in, the CIHD (Commission for Human Rights) has stepped in. The people have no trust in their government, their police, nor can they trust national news sources. International attention is needed here to hold the “powers that be” accountable.
How Can Expats and Visitors Help
This time of year, headlines in Nicaragua usually boast incoming swells that attract surfers from around the world. Travelers and tourists flock to stunning beaches, climb the epic volcanoes, or explore the colorful Nicaraguan towns. Warm sun, cold Toñas, and a positive, peaceful and easy vibe permeate the air in this beautiful country.
This summer the headlines are heated, but with passion, pride, bravery and a collective voice from the people demanding peaceful change. It’s more important now than ever to pay attention to Nicaragua and to offer support in what ways we can if it’s going to continue to be one of the safest and fastest growing economies in Latin America.
Expats and visitors understand how special Nicaragua is as a peacefully developing country. It is still growing, and by being here, we are a part of that growth. Being here is a privilege, but also comes with a responsibility to pay attention and be supportive.
It’s important that those with a desire to visit Nicaragua STILL COME. Tourism brings employment to many Nicaraguans and fuels the economy in a positive direction.
We can offer bottles of water or lunch to the protestors letting us through the barriers as we head south from Managua. We can be conscious and appreciate the locals and farmers we pass if we head north from the Costa Rican border. With my company Venture Within, we teach positive change. In Nicaragua, we are living it.
There are still swells coming in and crashing onto the beaches. The landscape is turning its trademark emerald green as the rainy season settles in. The Toñas are still cold 🙂
We don’t know what will happen tomorrow, but this change is a long time coming for the people of Nicaragua. It’s a good change. A necessary change, and one that I hope the international communities (both overseas, and us “gringos” camped along the beaches) recognize and support. I’m encouraged by the Nicaraguans’ bravery and their outrage at injustice. And I’m hopeful their insistent pursuit for a non-violent revolution will reap the positive change they deserve.