14ymedio, Julio Blanco C., Managua, 1 June 2018 — Wednesday, 18 April, seemed to be a normal day like any other … but it wasn’t. The previous day, all of Nicaragua had listened in a stupor to the new unilateral provisions of the Government to “save” the Nicaraguan Social Security Institute (INSS) from bankruptcy.
The measures were especially draconian, even worse than the recommendations the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has been suggesting for several years.
One, in particular, caused a stir and was the subject of conversations on Tuesday night. From that moment, all retirees who receive more than 5,000 cordobas, about 160 dollars, would have 5% of their pension deducted from their monthly payments.
It was not only the measures that were news, but the fact that they had not been taken in consultation with the private company, for the first time in a little more than 11 years of Daniel Ortega’s government.
The highest levels of the private sector had colluded with him from the first moment and chose to ignore all of his abuses and excesses as long as it allowed them to do business and enrich themselves.
Vice President Rosario Murillo, Ortega’s wife, called that arrangement between power and big capital – in reality a kind of tropical neofascism – “a model of dialogue and consensus”; and it was something like a black Mass, completely exclusive, in which everyone else had no voice or vote.
On Wednesday, while I was having lunch, I watched the midday news on an independent channel reporting how the mobs (paramilitary groups related to the government) beat a small group of elderly people and others who accompanied them during a peaceful protest in the city of León.
Although it was abhorrent and grotesque to savagely beat poor old people who only claimed their rights, the truth is that these types of abuses had occurred many times over these 11 years. We breathe deeply and swallow our anger, as on so many other occasions.
Later that same day, when leaving work, while driving home, I heard on the radio that here in Managua the mobs had beaten a group of young people who had been summoned through social networks to support the protest of the elderly.
There were also elderly people who were beaten. Several journalists, including international media, suffered beatings and the theft of their work equipment.
Nobody could imagine at that moment that this was the turning point. We went to sleep with our bodies filled with rage and at dawn on Thursday, 19 April, protests broke out all over the country. Never again would anything be the same.
The people, completely fed up and indignant at so much abuse and ignominy, went out into the streets and said: Enough is enough!
Never again would they intimidate us or subjugate us so that we would not freely express what we feel and want for our country.
At the cry of democracy and freedom, hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets armed only with their flags, virtually spontaneously. The magnitude of the protests took everyone by surprise, the protestors themselves and foreigners. Especially striking has been the prominence and leadership of young university students, who we thought were domesticated and gagged by pro-government propaganda.
Who could imagine that an authentic democratic revolution was brewing in the classrooms of our universities? Those boys and girls, who have lived a large part of their lives under a dictatorship, were pounding on the table, loud and clear.
With their courage and heroism the elderly were reminding us that we have always been an indomitable people and that, despite how much we have suffered and the blood we have shed, we have not allowed ourselves to be overwhelmed by the successive tyrants who have tried enslave us.
The response of the regime was a foregone conclusion, given its despotic and bloodthirsty nature. The police took to the streets like beasts in search of their prey, the order was clear: repress, torture and murder.
During that first week the situation became more and more complicated for the government. The maneuver of trying to sustain a dialogue with the opposition is in neutral, given that the regime has not stopped the killing.
It is known that there is confusion in the government and among its Cuban advisors because, according to their calculations, the storm should have subsided by now, and in fact the opposite has happened. Although the repression has only increased, the intensity and scope of the protests is increasing.
The strategy used so successfully in Cuba and in Venezuela is not working here. The 30 May march in solidarity with the mothers of the fallen, which ended in a new bloodbath, with a toll of 18 dead and more than 70 injured, has been the largest of those held in the last month and a half. Hundreds of thousands of people have taken to the streets all over the country to say, one more time: Here we are and we are not afraid.
The farmers who work in coordination with students have established more than 40 barriers or roadblocks across the country, which prevent the shock forces from moving from one place to another to suppress the protests.
That same day, in a disorganized counter-march, Ortega was defiant and warned that he has no intention of leaving. He was speaking mainly to high level business interests, which has begun to demand – still timidly– his exit.
The Catholic Church, which in principle seems to be on the population’s side, is not really a monolithic block, since some bishops – including Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes himself – are complacent and, to a certain extent, collaborators with the government.
Part of the arrogant attitude of Ortega and his wife is because they know they are not completely alone. The hard core of the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), which has historically been 30% of the population, remains intact. Many of these people say they are willing to die and face the ultimate consequences in order to defend the comandante and his compañera.
On the international level, although condemnation is raining down on the regime from the entire democratic world, incredibly the Secretary General of the Organization of American States Luis Almagro, who has been so harsh with the Venezuelan dictatorship, in the case of Nicaragua is doing everything he can to ensure that Ortega can finish his current presidential term which ends in 2021, and has gone so far as to attack the opposition, calling it violent and undemocratic.
Thus, although the beast is wounded, it still has an enormous amount of resources, weapons and mercenaries trained to kill.
Although there is optimism among the people, the case of Venezuela circles like a vulture over our heads. There the protests were perhaps even more intense and lasted much longer but, even so, Maduro is still clinging to power.
Regardless of what happens, the only sure thing is that from now on it will be very difficult to govern. That idyllic country that Rosario Murillo tried to sell us with her litany of love, peace and happiness, as if the people were not seeing reality every day and suffering the problems in their own flesh, no longer exists.
The mask has fallen and, although for more than a decade they managed to pass under the radar, now the world now knows the true repressive and criminal nature of this regime.
The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.