When President Daniel Ortega announced the changes to social security in Nicaragua, Lesther Alemán was one of the students protesting. He fled as police pelted them with rocks and threw tear gas directly at bodies in the crowd.
“We were walking with people in suits and ties and women wearing heels that were leaving work,” Alemán told the Daily Trojan in an interview in Spanish. “[It was] near 6 p.m. when we left running. In the meantime, my university was being attacked.”
Jeancarlo López said the way he viewed violence changed when he watched a friend die in a following protest.
“That changes your view completely, which is to fight in truth and justice, fight for separation of state powers where the weight and counterweight of the power is clear and isn’t corrupt by a system in which … the judicial power is not different from executive power,” López said in an interview in Spanish.
Now, seven months later, no one in Nicaragua can bear the country’s flag without being a considered a terrorist, Alemán told the crowd of nearly 70 students and community members gathered in Taper Hall Monday.
Police see white and blue balloons or red lipstick as a threat, López said.
Alemán and López, both student activists from Nicaragua, spoke at the Nicaragüense Student Panel put together by USC’s Latinx Student Association and Central American Network, Nicas por La Democracia, Nicaragua Libre Los Angeles and two Nicaraguan university activism organizations to discuss the crisis the country has been undergoing.
Nicaragua broke out in turmoil in April as police responded violently to student protests regarding the simultaneous cut in social security benefits and hike in social security taxes by Ortega.
By the end of April, 30 students were killed according to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. Since then, the government and much of Nicaragua’s public has clashed, causing the public to denounce Ortega’s decisions as a violation of human rights and called for him to step down.
“We don’t believe in war, we want peace for Nicaragua, we want space for democracy where there is liberty,” Alemán said. “[Ortega] says he is doing what is right, that he can continue to do the right thing, but it’s not like that. I know that’s why we have asked for a change in government and a change in the system.”
In May, Alemán interrupted a discussion at a national dialogue round table to denounce Ortega for causing the violence in Nicaragua and to assert that they were not there for dialogue, but to negotiate his step down from presidency.
Since then, he and López have had to be more wary of their safety, as have many young people in the country.
“If we arrived tomorrow at our university, immediately the police would be deployed to capture us and, if they didn’t capture us, they would kill us,” Alemán said in the interview.
López said that though the short-term goal is for Ortega to step down from presidency, Nicaragua needs to ensure that they prevent future dictatorship and do not allow the cycle to repeat.
“[It’s important] to not forget, to not let the memory of the Nicaraguans stay only in that time,” López said. “We always have to remember what happened. For those people who died looking for that freedom, we have to keep looking.”
Both of the students agreed that the crisis was bigger than many realized and said it was important to actively bring visibility to the issue because the country is small in comparison to others like Venezuela and Syria undergoing conflict.
“What we want students to know is the dimension of the crisis in Nicaragua,” Alemán said in an interview. “If Nicaragua is not well off then the continent will not be well off … because there is no question that this is affecting all the countries”
Anaís Gonzalez, a Nicaraguan activist in Los Angeles who helped arrange the event, said that she became involved with the intention of creating more conversation around the crisis.
“Number one thing that we want to push for is to create that visibility,” she said. “[Nicaragua] was one of the safest countries, was one of the countries that was able to throw over a dictatorship in 1979. We’re trying to do it again.”
In regard to the crisis and the event, CAN said it supports such visibility.
“The Central American Network is committed to providing spaces to encourage dialogues on issues regarding central American social realities,” the organization said in a statement to the Daily Trojan.