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The Challenges Before and After Ortega is Gone

How do we create spaces where people who took to the streets to protest also make decisions and participate?

On April 10, 2018, we poured into the streets in a sea of humanity. I remember walking with my friend towards the main entrance of the University of Central America (UCA), where she and other young people had anonymously organized a vigil. They expressed their anger and outrage over government negligence in the Indio Maíz bio-reserve, where a wildfire burned out of control.

It was nighttime and the headlights of buses and cars passing on the highway illuminated our faces at the entrance to the university. Every other step I ran into someone I knew. We were all carrying handmade signs or our phones, and we blocked traffic for a few minutes while chanting. We yelled for people to get involved, practically begging them to pay attention. We beseeched them: They’re letting Indio Maíz burn right in front of us. We demand that the government take action and explain what is going on!

Protests because of the delays in fighting wildfires in the Indio Maiz bioreserve. Carlos Herrera | Confidencial

Many took courage from this rallying cry: This is not political, we are not from any political party, neither the left nor the right.

Even so, the way that people made this public space their own, without fear, was unprecedented in recent times. We made it ours. Maybe it was difficult for us to call what we did (and are still doing), “politics,” because we only recognize politics as coming from political parties and rotting state institutions. But no, that day, in the streets, we began doing politics, and from that moment on, the future of the country has been ours.

A year has passed since the first protests about Indio Maíz, followed by protests against the social security cuts. It has been a year in which citizens have become so outraged that we finally could put a name on it: dictatorship. A year in which the institutionalized, cozy relationship between the private sector and government went off the rails.

Sandinista Harassment

Over 300 people have been murdered by the presidential family, that is a party, the government and the state. They shot to kill: the police escorted the mobs and paramilitary forces. Public hospitals shut their doors or they opened them to put to death the wounded protesters.

Authorities from the public universities, the Attorney General’s office, the Human Rights Ombudsman and the Institute of Legal Medicine were all silent accomplices. Various non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that receive foreign aid to bring development to the third world maintained a cautious and careful silence, as well as groups on the Latin American left, whom we implored directly, hoping for something more than just demagogy and empty speeches.

Thousands of Nicaraguans continue protesting against the government of Daniel Ortega. Jorge Torres | EFE | Confidencial

The murders were followed by arrests, trials, exile, forced displacement, expulsion from the country, arbitrary firing from jobs, and the harassment, censorship and annihilation of independent media. Then Nicaraguans had to go begging to Costa Rica, or to Europe to be discriminated against and exploited while they sought asylum and worked at any job just to survive.

How are we living through and surviving this crisis and how will we build the country’s future through a movement that respects human rights and encourages diversity? How can we create spaces so that the people who took to the streets, also help to build, decide, and participate, beyond just voting? How do we build a country that doesn’t fall apart in another 40 years, in what many insist in calling “cycles,” an exaggerated expression of institutionalized violence in our Central American and Latin American countries?

Can We Bet on Building A People’s Citizenship?

Did we really exercise our citizenship before April? Who were the citizens back then? Were they the small farmers, indigenous Nicaraguans, Afro-Nicaraguans, women, the sexual dissidents? Were the citizens the so-called “popular” or “grassroots” sectors?

The centralization of the state and the omnipresence of the government party shut down channels for citizen participation. The FSLN coopted labor and neighborhood-based movements and organizations. The movements left in the streets were feisty groups that not only demanded their rights as citizens but called for a new framework of governance and a new definition of development, one not based on the pillage of their lands, territories or bodies.

“They must go”.  A protester in Managua commemorating the anniversary of the protests in Nicaragua.  Photo: Jorge Torres, EFE / Confidencial

Before the April uprising, we were all acting individually. But then we took to the streets spontaneously, convoking ourselves through social networks and support groups. We discovered that we want to and that we should be active in the rebuilding of our country. We have been actively participating [ever since] and our agency* has helped shape the rising of a great movement to oppose Ortega, but we realize that the change we seek only begins with his exit.

We are clear about the challenge of this moment: to seek absolute freedom for all political prisoners, the restoration of citizen’s rights, the return of exiles and an early and transparent electoral process that allows us to begin a transition. However, the work we need to do is going to take more time.

At both the community and local level, we need to take ownership of this way of exercising our citizenship and of doing politics from the streets. We need to build communities with clear goals, trusting in our ability to create our own spaces for participation, which much of the time will be confronting and responding to state power.

Citizen participation and solid community networks can provide the foundation for a real democracy, as well as legal processes based on justice and government oversight of public resources. We must avoid the repetitive cycle of corruption and violence that brought us to this point.

It is our participation, the assertion of our political agency** as a community and citizenry, that will fuel the struggle for more just development proposals (education, health, inter-culturalism, the right to choose what to do with our bodies, economic growth that does not hurt our well-being), as well as guaranteeing the inclusion of historically marginalized groups.

We have a lot of work ahead. Our challenge is to take back the streets, participate, and rebuild our local ties, not just now but also in the future.
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**To understand the definition of political agency and how this relates to the concept of citizenry and democracy, I find the ideas of Facundo García Valverde very useful, as summarized in his article “Political Agency and Legitimacy in Deliberative Democracy.” He understands agency as our capacity to be the originators of the decisions we need to make and the projects we need as a community and country.

*A student of sociology, feminist activist and member of the support network of the Committee to Free Political Prisoners.

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