By Marina Fleites, GNN Contributor
Nicaragua is a small Central American nation that probably holds little importance for the majority of Americans, but at this very moment, their supposedly revolutionary government is turning on its people, arresting, beating and shooting journalists and students who protest and attempt to spread awareness beyond their borders. As Gettysburg students, this is far more relevant to us than we think. Since 1986, the borough of Gettysburg has been linked to Nicaragua through a sister city non-profit organization. The man who started this organization, Karl Mattson, was chaplain at the college, and also founded the Center for Public Service. Growing from solidarity during the Sandinista revolution that overthrew the military dictatorship characterized by disappearance, torture and loss, Project Gettysburg Leon has an office, a director, volunteers and long standing friendships in Leon, the main university city in Nicaragua. Every summer, college students live with families and work with schools there for two months and every winter and spring break immersion projects visit and get to know the amazing community.
So far, at least 26 people have died in the protests, with many injured and several having disappeared. According to a local from Leon, the saddest part is that the majority of these dead are university students, and one journalist. This violence is eerily reminiscent of the Somoza dynasty that ruled Nicaragua through fear and repression between 1937 and 1979, until it was overthrown by the Sandinistas, one of whose leaders was the current Nicaraguan president, Ortega. Ortega has been filmed condemning the very atrocities that he himself is now allowing. These student protests are the same kind that started the revolution that triumphed in ’79, and the university students that die now will join the ranks of martyrs that were shot dead in Leon’s streets during the dictatorship.
Right now, Leon is on fire, people’s stores are being looted and schools are closed until further notice. The same Sandinistas that were supposed to be revolutionary have had a party shift in recent years, and the Sandinista Youth were the ones to start the violence when peaceful protests broke out against a social security reform on April 18. The reform has since been lifted, but after deploying the army and national police and not protecting the right to demonstrate, the people are calling for president Daniel Ortega as well as his wife and vice president, Rosario Murillo, to step down.
Journalists arriving to Managua are having their camera and film equipment confiscated, and the US Embassy in Nicaragua is vacating: all family members have been ordered to leave, and government officials have been given the all clear to leave should they choose. Human rights organizations such as Amnesty International are condemning the violence and asking the government to protect the people’s right to protest instead of firing both rubber bullets and live ammunition at them.
Why it Matters to You
Many Gettysburg students have been taken into these people’s homes, and have made lasting friendships with many Nicaraguans. So many have climbed to the roof of the beautiful Cathedral in the colonial center of the city, a UNESCO World Heritage site where protesters are now hiding and being fired upon from neighboring buildings. No, we can’t all go and fight the government in Nicaragua, but we can spread more awareness internationally. Being informed about what is going on, talking about it, and making it a relevant topic in the United States and beyond will hopefully increase international pressure and maybe even result in aid for those the government is turning on.
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