Interview. We spoke with a 24-year-old organizer working to bring down the Ortega regime in Nicaragua. ‘He is using a military tactic of terror, of total siege. But people are no longer afraid to organize and take to the streets because it has become a necessity.’

The students: Ortega is a traitor

Enrieth Martinez Palacios is 24 years old, she studies sociology thanks to a research grant and is one of the leaders of the Nicaraguan university movement following the revolts of April. She has participated in the national dialogue between the government chaired by Daniel Ortega and the Civic Alliance for Democracy and Justice. However, the mediation between the parties has not resolved the crisis, due to the violent repression of demonstrators who have been demanding the resignation of the president for almost two months. I met her in a secluded bar and we talked for an hour about the situation. She was looking around. The threats students receive are more than visible. You do not need explanations to notice it. She has been living for some time following a strict security protocol, but she is still full of hope.

How is the University Coalition organized? How do you share responsibilities and functions?

The University Coalition is the delegation of the university students who participated in the National Dialogue and is composed of five organized groups. We are students or young people who have been involved in protests, who want to build democracy and justice together. I am the temporary spokesperson for the Central American University and my task is not only to participate in the Dialogue but also to prepare the reflection and to coordinate the students of my university.

Before April 18, many of you did not know each other. Have you been organizing now?

Yes, some sustain that Ortega is strengthening his power these days. However, I believe that in this moment social movements are growing.

The government accuses you of receiving funds from the Nicaraguan right and the United States.

These are accusations, nothing more. When the protests began, on the most dramatic days, networks of solidarity were activated, networks without names because they were simply self-organized by people. For example, I had some money from my scholarship and my mother, who was abroad at the time and she sent me money for emergencies and for food. I had the contact of a person, not a friend, but I knew he was helping people who had suffered attacks from the police and the Ortega squadrons by offering transport. I had money and she had a car, so we started to transport people. That’s how I started. There have also been many NGOs that managed to get aid for food, medicines, security houses and emergency protocols. They are not funding. These are self-created networks of people who work with civil society and will really save your life.

So nothing to do with manipulation by political parties inside or outside the country?

It is difficult to talk about manipulation. You have already admitted it: all this is new, there is not only the student movement at stake. There are a lot of cells that are organizing. Just as the government cannot cut a head trying to dismantle the whole movement, you cannot claim there is a “right” that can manipulate the entire movement. It’s like a body that’s forming, and it’s fascinating and chaotic.

You have always said that you do not consider yourselves either left or right, but you say that Ortega has betrayed Nicaragua.

I cannot speak for all the young people who are within the Movement, but I can say that we believe in a project for a country that can become a political proposal of the left, which starts from social justice, from the bottom, from the bases. This process aims at peace-building without party interference. The great fear of falling into left or right binaries derives from the fact that this dichotomy was the marrow of Ortega’s language. We are making a great effort to distance ourselves from the “symbolic,” the language that this man and his party have established. There are many taboos, but there is also a process of re-appropriation. I feel that people recognize themselves with the idea of social justice, democracy and freedom and that they are more inclined to use this terminology than the words right and left because these ideals have been misused over the last 11 years.

What do you think about the Sandinista People’s Revolution and how it ended?

I do not believe that this is the culmination of the revolution because the revolutionary process developed from the 1960s until 1990. Since Ortega became president, he has created a party willing to burn the autonomy of the powers of the state, the autonomous regions and the communities themselves in order to establish a hierarchical system of domination, a vertical system. For me this is not the popular Sandinista revolution and it has never been.

How do you imagine that this process could develop in the future?

The image of the future is very much linked to the present. Every day they kill our companions. I feel that we need grassroots organizations to stop this treason that killed the country. This is my hope for the future: not only democratization and justice but also the mobilization of the bases, the feeling that people in the streets, in the barrio, in the autonomous communities can live in peace.

The bishops continue to push for dialogue, and recently they met behind closed doors with Ortega to present him a proposal. How do you position yourself at this time with regard to the dialogue?

We have confidence in the Church and in the bishops and we recognize their work of mediation, but the meeting behind closed doors that they had with Ortega disappointed us. At the moment we are not ready to participate in dialogue without a real dialogue, which is what has happened in the four sessions already carried out. It was a tactic to try to demobilize people, to attack them, and we do not accept that. We will not accept an agenda that does not include democratization and justice: crimes have been committed against human rights, against the whole population. Someone will have to respond and not only by exile: there must be a fair trial. We will not accept any alternatives.

Are you saying that there must be an exit of the Ortega-Murillo family and all the allies of the Sandinista Front?

Yes, that is right.

Feminist and environmental movements have long since called Ortega a dictator. Why?

I experienced it more as an authoritarian government. I’m not sure that before the events of April it could have been called a dictatorship even if it was heading toward one. I believe that the signals of the feminist and environmental movement have always been radical and we needed them to denounce crimes and to warn us that the government was stealing autonomy and governability from us little by little.   

On May 30, during the Mothers’ March, there was a massacre. Why did Ortega act that way and why did he not give up?

It is difficult to answer because I feel that it is not just a question of political play, of what move to make to the chessboard. Ortega has the means to remain in power even though he has broken all his alliances internally: the faithful and the fanatical remain. May 30 was a symbolic massacre: it was a caravan of mourning, asking for justice, asking for a moment to feel the pain of the dead. He is using a military tactic of terror, of total siege. But people are no longer afraid to organize and take to the streets because it has become a necessity.

We are talking about an ethical, moral and civic revolution. How can a revolution without weapons be won?

This revolution did not choose weapons because our past is extremely present: the memory of violence and civil war is strong. Now we have reached a crucial point: it is clear that the entire apparatus of government is fragile and in order to succeed in avoiding a new armed conflict we need the conviction of the people and international pressure so that the Ortega-Murillo government and their allies leave power and a rapid process of re-institutionalization of democracy can begin.

Why is this a revolution?

I was 11 when Ortega was elected and 12 when he took power. The subversion of everything that until now had been identified with Sandinism, the redemption of our history, is revolutionary. A party had seized our historical memory and the people suddenly said, “Enough. This memory does not belong to you. Our resistance does not belong to you, Daniel Ortega. It is Nicaraguans’.” The fact that arms were not taken is also revolutionary because we are used to armed conflict in our country. It is revolutionary that this process is thought of as a project to re-establish democracy and people’s autonomy. If by revolutionary we mean restructuring at the root of what destroyed our country, then all this is revolutionary.

Sergio Ramirez called you the grandchildren of the revolution. Do you feel the heirs of the revolution?

Yes, totally. I feel like the heir of the sense of justice, the importance of popular work. And we are also heirs to that fear or recognition of the danger of armed uprisings that have never turned into trials that have really helped people. We do not want weapons. We are heirs to a responsibility for promises not maintained in the ‘80s.

Are you receiving threats?

Yes. I know that I am in a highly vulnerable situation, but I have taken security measures. There are people in my group who have exposed themselves more than I have and who are in greater danger. I think it is good to say that you have to be afraid because it is not a sign of weakness. It makes you aware that you are facing a murderer, a corrupt government. We are not only afraid for ourselves, but also of the threats to our families, of the young people who are forced to leave their communities because they are easily recognizable.

And they go underground?

Yes, exactly. We live in security houses. But fear is there to alert you, not to detain you. You have to be afraid to go on, not to paralyze yourself on the way.

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