MANAGUA— It took Nicaragua a while to muster up the strength, but she’s finally decided to rise up and push back against the authoritarian regime of Daniel Ortega. Following a brutal week of police repression that has left at least 30 dead and dozens more missing and injured, Nicaraguans finally said “¡Basta ya, trompudo!”
Now Nicaragua is on her feet and ready to dance.
“When the people rise up, nothing can stop them,” a masked Nicaraguan student told me Monday morning.
That certainly appeared to be the case several hours later, when hundreds of thousands of Nicaraguans took to the streets of Managua to demand Ortega’s ouster and an end to government violence. It was easily the largest march I have ever seen in Central America—and I’ve been covering these things for almost 20 years.
But more importantly, it shows that Nicaragua has lost its fear of authoritarianism. Moments like this don’t happen too often in a country’s history, and I’m glad I was here for this one. Though nobody can predict how this adventure will end—it could potentially lead to worsening violence in the coming days—it’s still a beautiful thing to witness.
It’s not every day that a country puts its foot down against a tyrant. Others should be envious of Nicaragua’s courage right now; they should be taking notes.
It’s remarkable how fast everything happened. I’m still not entirely clear what day it is. I mean it’s been one of the longest weeks of my life (I think I’ve slept only 10-11 hours since last Wednesday), but it’s still just one week in a year. It takes up the same amount of space on the wall calendar as any other week.
Not all weeks are created equal. And this is one that changed Nicaragua. Maybe forever. It was the week that Nicaraguans reclaimed the streets and the narrative about their national reality. It was the week that Nicaraguans raised a hand to the face of the government’s blatherous fake news and hysterical alternative facts. It was a week that most Nicaraguans returned to common sense.
But, Nicaragua hasn’t fixed the problem yet. Ortega is still in power. And authoritarians have an ugly way of reacting to a national awakening. The mask falls quickly. Their worst instincts surface.
I saw that happen this week in Managua. By day, the capital city was like a post-apocalyptic wasteland with no rule of law. The streets looked like the set from “Escape from New York”, complete with bands of masked motorcycle gangs, people looting stores, burning tires, street paver barricades, and few indications of a functioning state.
Protesters tore down billboards in broad daylight and spent hours sawing down the first lady’s metal trees— all without the police showing up to stop them (if you don’t know about the metal trees, it’s a long story, but read this.)
Nightfall, however, was a different story. The night still belongs to government violence. That’s when the police come out of their caves in search of blood. That may sound dramatic, but Nicaragua is dramatic— it’s a country where the power dynamic flip-flops from opposition to government as often as day turns to night.
But no night lasts forever. The sun always rises.