The audience members roared when they saw Lesther Alemán step on stage, but soon quieted after he asked for a moment of silence to honor the more than 400 people who have died since April in Nicaragua.
“They’re our heroes,” said Alemán, one of the key leaders in the student-led opposition movement against Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega.
Ortega tried to reduce pensions earlier this summer for Nicaraguan workers, a move that led to nationwide revolts across the Central American country. The clash between the protesters and the government-backed paramilitary groups has resulted in one of the bloodiest conflicts Nicaragua since the 1980s.
On Monday, Alemán participated in a roundtable at Florida International University to discuss the causes and consequences of the crisis in his home country. Accompanying him were Luis Guillermo Solís Rivera, former Costa Rican president and an FIU visiting scholar; Richard Feinberg, a non-resident senior fellow at the FIU Brookings Institution; Jose Miguel Cruz, director of research at the FIU Kimberly Green Latin American and Caribbean Center; and Frank Mora, the LACC director.
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More than 150 people showed up. Some were decked in navy blue — wearing hats that read “Nica” and national soccer team jerseys —while others wrapped themselves in the Nicaraguan flag.
Problems began to surface in Nicaragua last year, when Venezuela’s oil-based assistance ceased and the country’s economy began to teeter.
Feinberg said he believed the Organization of American States and the United Nations put out some “dynamite” reports that condemned the actions of Ortega, who has disputed the death tolls and accused the protesters of terrorism.
“It’s very clear who’s doing the killing and who’s doing the dying,” Feinberg said.
Former Costa Rican President Solís said he believes the breaking point for the Nicaraguan crisis will be an economic collapse. Ortega, he added, “doesn’t seem to care about individuals and the respect of human life.”
Cruz said he believes the economic devastation, combined with the demonstrations, will eventually force Ortega and his wife, Rosario Murillo, whom Ortega recently named vice president, to give up control.
But, Feinberg noted, change in the country’s government will have to be led through the Nicaraguans. Anyone who’s waiting for the international community to jump in and forcefully solve the problem is deluding themselves.
“That’s not going to happen,” Feinberg said. “It’s simply not going to happen.”
Alemán said he believes the hardest part won’t be forcing the current leaders to leave the country.
Instead, he said, it’ll be reconstructing Nicaragua.