Gerald Vazquez Lopez’ shroud reflected on the one hand his passion for Nicaraguan folklore, and on the other his involvement in the university students’ struggle against Daniel Ortega’s government. The 23-year old was arrayed for his funeral in a traditional folkdance guayabera and a Panama hat. Under his chest he was wrapped in a Nicaraguan flag stained with blood.
His mother, Susana Lopez, didn’t cry during his funeral service, held this Monday in Managua. Instead, the mother took it upon herself to emphasize insistently that her son was “a student, he was no criminal,” and that the traditional popular song “El Solar de Monimbo” was his favorite piece to dance to.
Susana moved from one group to another during the wake, telling stories about her son. She didn’t pause for a moment. She would sigh deeply, then go on revealing details about Gerald: the playful brother who left two younger sisters devastated by his death; Gerald with the urge to graduate from the university; or about Gerald who spent a month immersed in the resistance movement of the National Engineering University without giving his parents any sign of life.
In contrast to her daughters and family members drowned in tears, Susana remained stoic beside her son’s coffin. She even smiled at times, when she was highlighting Gerald’s combative spirit in the Nicaraguan National Autonomous University (UNAN) campus building that the students occupied for two months and five days. Last Friday, July 13, this building was ferociously attacked by paramilitaries from Daniel Ortega’s government.
Gerald Lopez was among the students who fled to the Church of the Divine Mercy on that Friday night, July 13, and took refuge there after the paramilitaries’ firepower forced them to retreat. Although the university students had reiterated their willingness to leave the University peacefully in exchange for guarantees of their safety, the government ignored the student proposal. They attacked the students for over fifteen hours, in an assault that extended to the early hours of Saturday despite the efforts primarily of the Catholic Church, but also of the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights to achieve a cease fire.
Gerald Lopez visited the improvised medical post set up in the church twice in the early hours of Saturday. First, a bomb exploded near his face and he was stunned. He opted to return to the trench where his companions were confronting the paramilitaries, in order to keep them from entering the Divine Mercy Church. Reporter Ismael Lopez was there and witnessed the confrontation that morning. He stated that at 4 am Lopez returned to the medical post, shot in the head. The bullet traversed his skull from side to side. He died surrounded by the other young people who begged “El Chino”, as he was known at the university, not to die. But he succumbed.
“When they told me that he had died, it was like a bombshell,” recalled Susana, Gerald’s mother. “With the rod we use to measure, we shall be measured,” the woman stated, in pointed reference to the government of Daniel Ortega, but she didn’t want to go into more detail. She was anxious to give voice to more thoughts about her son.
“He’s in heaven now, dancing the traditional folkloric dances,” she intoned. Susana approached Gerald’s companions from the trenches and gave out with the yell that would be repeated during the entire funeral procession. The funeral cortege marched from the La Morita neighborhood to the cemetery in Las Sierritas, a distance of over 5 kilometers (3.1 miles), and the same route used to transport the image of Santo Domingo de Guzman, Managua’s patron saint, every August 1st.
The procession of Gerald’s coffin paralyzed the Masaya highway. No driver dared to honk or to ask permission to pass. The mother’s yells made a deep impression on all those that saw her, for her determination and her eyes full of courage.
Susana directed the coffin during the burial, and her voice echoed. “Gerald Vazquez!” she shouted. “Presente!” the students answered her. [“Present among us” – traditional invocation for those killed in struggle.] “El Chino, presente! He was a student, not a criminal,” his mother continued, alternating such slogans with the singing of the national anthem.
Not even the sight of the inconsolable sobbing of her two daughters deterred the mother in her zeal to underscore Gerald’s rebellion. “Long live the UNAN Managua!” she screamed, as the mortars boomed in honor of the fallen youth.
Much quieter than Susana, Yader Vazquez distributed bottles of water at his son’s burial. The sun and the humidity were suffocating, causing thirst, but his wife didn’t sip water from the bottle – she used it to stab the air after every cry of “Long live Gerald!”
Yader had a premonition on Saturday that the paramilitaries would kill his son. He told Susana that he wanted to ask permission to leave work and go find him at the University. He was engaged in this when his sister informed him that someone with the name of Gerald Vazquez had died in the university. He didn’t believe that it was his son, but he later confirmed the fatal news.
The father left immediately for the university campus to take vengeance “with my own hands.” To come face to face with those who had ended the life of his eldest son. But someone – he doesn’t remember who – dissuaded him from that impulse… he wasn’t going to be able to do anything by himself, alone against the paramilitaries armed with rifles of war.
“Up until before they killed Gerald, I was a committed Sandinista like all my father’s family. If the paramilitaries were there, it’s because the government gave them the order. Knowing that the kids had left the university, that they were holed up in the church, they had no respect and began to attack. From that moment, they ripped off my red and black… Now I wear the blue and white,” Yader Vazquez said with sorrow.
The family of the youth repudiated the claims of the National Police that he was present there as a criminal. That same Saturday morning, Francisco Jose Flores, 21, was also assassinated, and the communique from the institution stated: “These two delinquents, together with the entire terrorist group that were holding the university hostage, were dedicated to criminal activities such as assassination, armed robberies and other violent acts, every day.”
Instead, in his neighborhood of La Morita, near the Managua sector known as Centroamerica, Gerald was well-known as a dancer of folklore. Steven Mendez carried a bouquet of flowers during the burial. He was a dancer in Gerald’s group and pointed out that his friend was one of the best students of the deceased dance teacher Bayardo Ortiz Perez. Mendez assured that Gerald participated on a number of occasions in cultural acts for Daniel Ortega’s government, the government that now calls him a criminal for having participated in the rebellion at Managua’s National Autonomous University.
Dozens of his fellow dancers held a memorial act prior to the departure of the funeral procession. The girls fitted the skirts of their traditional dresses over their black clothing, representing mourning. While they danced, their faces were solemn. The marimba sounded while the majority wept, and Susana, the mother screamed “Long live” her son, and showed around his photos.
“It wasn’t right for them to kill my son in that way,” the mother accused. Susana grabbed a shovel from the gravediggers and threw the first fistful of orange earth onto the coffin of her son. At the cemetery at Las Sierritas, a solitary saxophone intoned the tune “Ay Nicaragua, Nicaraguita!”, and Susana continued yelling above the melody, “Gerald Vazquez! El Chino, presente!” The grieving crown responded, “They must go, they must go!”