Zayda Hernández and Víctor Cuadras are some of the Nicaraguan university students risking their lives in mass protests against Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo.
Their only weapons are their cellphones.
Before the protests started in April by people outraged by the government’s proposed changes to the Social Security system, they were just students at the National Engineering University. Today they are student leaders, visiting Miami to denounce the human rights abuses and social and political crises in their country.
“We are governed by a genocidal couple that has sunk the country under a wave of state terrorism. To join a peaceful protest for them is reason enough to order your death,” Hernández said Thursday at a news conference in Doral organized by SOS Nicaragua Global, a group of Nicaraguans living abroad who support the protesters.
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The body of one of his friends, Keller Pérez Duarte, 23, turned up in the Cuesta El Plomo, the same place where the Somoza dictatorship once dumped its execution victims. Pérez Duarte, a student at the National Agriculture University, had been strangled and tortured by Ortega’s forces.
Cuadras said 350 people have been killed, 169 disappeared and 3,000 have been wounded by police agents since April’s protests began. At least 20 people were killed on July 8, the Economist reported.
“The regime has not stopped its thirst for blood and vengeance,” Cuadras said. “Trying to cling to power, it hasn’t had the sense to think of the acts it’s carrying out against the Nicaraguan people.”
The 25-year-old student also alleged that Cuban and Venezuelan intelligence agents have been active in Nicaragua since Ortega assumed power in 2007.
“Castro copied his recipe for repression and harassment in Venezuela, and now they are doing it in Nicaragua,” Cuadras said. “There are many people who, while being tortured, heard the accents of Venezuela and Cuba in the clandestine prisons.”
Cuadras, whose family supported Ortega’s Sandinista National Liberation Front and whose grandfather was assassinated by the Somoza National Guard in 1978, said Nicaraguans identify with Venezuelans and Cubans.
“I believe Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua will manage to be free, so long as the people take to the streets,” said Cuadras, adding that he has received threats on social networks.
The student leaders also denounced the Ortega government’s strategies for lowering residents’ morale.
“They kill in cold blood during the protests so the people won’t be on the streets, and they scapegoat people who lend their support, delivering food or caring for the wounded, and put them on trial for murders committed by the government,” Cuadras said.
As an example, they said, two Afro-descendant youths have been formally charged in the death of Angel Gahona, a journalist killed while live streaming a protest on April 21 from his home in Bluefields, a town on the coast. But the accused were not in Bluefields on the day of the shooting, and the journalist’s wife has defended the youths, said Cuadras and Hernández, who allege police shot and killed Gahona.
“In Nicaragua, you can’t walk the streets freely because death is certain. We are living in sudden-death time,” said Hernández, 24, who has been identified publicly as one of the “causes of the chaos.”
The Nicaraguan economy, meanwhile, is suffering the effects of the social and political instability. Investments have stopped, many people have withdrawn their savings from banks, tourism has come to a stop and 95 percent of the restaurants are not running regularly.
There are also long lines at foreign consulates, especially the Costa Rican consulate, because of a kind of “collective hysteria” that the violence will continue.
Even though the ongoing dialogue between the government and opposition activists has been criticized, the two students see it as a way to achieve a country where the rule of law is respected.
“If we don’t do it, others will negotiate for us,” said Cuadras, who is one of the negotiators. The goal of the negotiations is to remove Ortega, install a transitional government and then hold free and transparent elections. “This is an opportunity to rebuild the country, to strengthen the new Nicaragua. We don’t want a country based on political ideologies but on a sense of nation,” Cuadras said.