When I first went to Nicaragua in 1986 I witnessed first-hand the atrocities of the US backed Contra forces that tortured and assassinated civilians, including children. When the war ended in 1990, I never in my wildest nightmares imagined I would see the same happen again. How wrong I was.
In the last three months, riot police and irregular paramilitary forces armed by the Nicaraguan government have assassinated nearly 300 unarmed protesters and injured an estimated 2,500. Dozens more have been illegally detained, tortured or disappeared.
The level of cruelty unleashed by the Nicaraguan authorities against its own people is inhuman. At the end of May, during the Mothers’ Day march, 15 people were brutally gunned down and killed, with dozens more wounded. An arson attack left a 6-month-old baby and a 3-year-old girl among the dead.
The anti-government protests in Nicaragua began in April this year in response to social security reforms. Within a short time, however, a broad-based civil alliance, spearheaded by students, had emerged, bringing together diverse social movements and civil society organisations who accuse Ortega of being a dictator and an assassin.
After eleven years of increasingly authoritarian rule that has dismantled Nicaragua’s constitutional democracy and eroded Nicaraguans’ political, social and economic rights, their demands are clear: Ortega’s demission from power, the immediate disarming of all paramilitary forces, free and fair elections and justice and reparation for those who have been assassinated or injured.
The Nicaraguan Catholic Conference of Bishops has prophetically sided with their people’s clamour for justice and democracy. As well as convening a National Dialogue, many bishops and parish priests have opened their cathedrals and churches to offer refuge and emergency medical care for protesters attacked by paramilitary forces. Others have courageously led processions calling for an end to the violence and have successfully negotiated the release of students detained and tortured by the riot police. In June, Pope Francis expressed his support for the Nicaraguan Bishops: “I join my brother bishops of Nicaragua in expressing sorrow for the serious violence, with dead and wounded, carried out by armed groups to repress social protests.”
On June 30, tens of thousands of Nicaraguans took to the streets in simultaneous “Marches of the Flowers" to honour the 20 children and adolescents slain in unforgiveable acts of violence. In Managua, the march to lay flowers at a makeshift memorial to the dead children was fired at by the paramilitary, killing a young street vender and wounding 10 others, including an 8-year-old girl.
While the “Marches of the Flowers” were taking place inside Nicaragua, vigils of support were held in more than 80 cities all over the world, as international solidarity gathers momentum. Both SCIAF and the Scottish Government have joined their voices to those of the United Nations, the Organisation of American States, the European Parliament, the Inter American Commission for Human Rights and Amnesty international in unequivocally condemning all state sponsored violence by the Ortega regime and calling for the immediate cessation of the repression.
Nicaraguans are a courageous and resilient people. They brought down the Somoza dictatorship in 1979 through an armed revolution. And I know that sooner rather than later, they will bring down the Ortega dictatorship through the united, nonviolent, civil insurrection they have undertaken.
As I write, the words of a popular Nicaraguan song Dale una Luz resound in my head: “Shine a light for those who have pursued their freedom, struggling against the sky and against humans; shine a light for those who are so in love with living - in Nicaragua”.
The Nicaragua people deserve our utmost respect and unwavering solidarity.
:- the picture depicts a young woman in traditional Nicaraguan dress looking at a banner with the names of those who have been assassinated.