Nicaraguan students did not have a summer break filled with rest, internships and fun. Instead, they faced protests, arrests and government oppression.
There are seven Walton Scholarship students at John Brown University who call Nicaragua their home. Last April, protests and fighting plagued their country which resulted in many deaths and injuries at the hand of government-backed fighters.
The biggest protests started in early April when the Nicaraguan government refused international help in putting out a forest fire. Environmentalist groups, students and the general population protested the government’s lack of response.
On April 16, the Nicaraguan government announced a new law that reduced pension by five percent. According to a United Nations report, students from Managua and Leon led peaceful protests, but the government attacked the protestors. This attack led to a spring and summer of tension.
Patricia Morales Chang, a senior mathematics major and Nicaraguan citizen, said she saw videos of students protesting and walking with their hands up, but the police were shooting at them regardless of their surrendered posture.
“A day afterwards, Daniel Ortega [Nicaraguan president] made an announcement that said we’re taking away the reform,” Chang said. “It wasn’t about the reform anymore, it was about all the people that were killed.”
According to United Nations, police brutality against protesters caused over 300 murders and over 2,000 injuries since April.
Some of the human rights violations addressed in the United Nations report were: use of police force that resulted in extrajudicial killings, blocked access to medical care and forced disappearances of protestors.
Chang said she went home to Nicaragua for two weeks during the summer before her mom relocated them to the United States due to the forced disappearances of students.
“If they see you’re participating a lot with all the stuff, then they will track you home and take you out of your house,” Chang said. “If you’re a college student, then you were targeted as someone who is dangerous to the government.”
According to the report from the United Nations, the National Assembly adopted a new law against terrorist financing and terrorist classification. The report stated that this law “raised concerns that it will be used against individuals and organizations who have expressed dissenting views, including by controlling their finances.”
Ana Burgos Torres, junior international business major, witnessed some of the government oppression first hand. Her dad warned her to be careful of what she posted on Facebook because it could affect her family in Nicaragua.
“Police can check [your] phone and if they find something that is talking against the government, they can take you to prison,” Burgos said.
Prisoners have reported torture and beatings when held by the government. AP news reported that prison guards knew of a woman’s pregnancy, yet they beat her regardless and she lost her child.
“They torture them, take fingernails and teeth,” Burgos said. “They want to make you suffer.”
Burgos and Chang encourage students to stay updated on the changes happening in Nicaragua regarding the protests and the government’s response.
“[There is] superficial peace right now,” Burgos said. “The international press may think that things are getting better, but it’s not that way. Internally a lot of things are happening.”
President Ortega, a 72-year old ruler, has held his current position for 11 years. His re-elected occurred in 2016, during the United States’ presidential election. According to the Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, Nicaragua had a 63.54 percent turnout in the presidential election. However, the Broad Front for Democracy told the Guardian that they believe 70 percent of voters abstained from casting their ballots.Chang said that when her mother voted, the room seemed empty. “People didn’t even go to vote,” she said. “It was just lies all the time.”
“The most important thing right now is that [people] can be aware of the situation in my country,” Chang said. “That’s what is making the difference.”
“It’s very easy to just be comfortable with JBU, just being here, just existing here. Be aware of what’s happening around you. The true gospel is not just for ourselves, it’s for all the world,” Chang said.
This fight is affecting many students at JBU. Chang said she hopes everything is fine by the time she goes back after graduation, but she does not know if that ideal timeline will come to fruition.
“I had this plan in my mind … I was going to go back, start working at this English school funded by missionaries,” Chang said. “I had this plan super specified and now I have no idea what I’m going to be doing, which is terrifying.”