From late April through early July, thousands of Nicaraguans marched in the streets, barricaded roadways, and occupied universities. All the while, they chanted their movement’s ubiquitous slogan: “Ortega y Somoza son la misma cosa.” In English, and without the clever rhyme, it means: “Ortega and Somoza are the same thing.” It draws a parallel between Anastasio Somoza, the right-wing dictator who ruled from 1967 to 1979, and Daniel Ortega, the first and only president from the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), the revolutionary socialist party that overthrew Somoza nearly 40 years ago.
The phrase speaks to the core of the Nicaraguan people’s discontent with Ortega: He no longer represents the ideals of social welfare, educational access, and anti-imperialism on which the Sandinista party was founded. Ortega has moved so far to the right, according to Yanice Perez, a youth organizer and artist whose name has been altered for his safety, that the struggle against him “has historical Sandinista bents.”
Yet Guillermo Obando Corrales, a high-school Spanish teacher from Managua in his early 20s, emphasized how the present situation was different. “In the age of Somoza, they never reached 448 dead in demonstrations,” Corrales said, citing the death toll stated by the Nicaraguan Association for Human Rights (ANPDH) as of our video chat on August 2. To Corrales, the circumstances behind these casualties—which the government claims are less than half the ANPDH estimate—mark a key distinction between the current instability and the Sandinista revolution, which resulted in 10,000 deaths even before the US-supported Contra War killed thousands more. During the Sandinista revolution, resistors took up weapons and formed a guerrilla army. Now, Corrales said, “We are not in a war. We are in a massacre.”
The recent violent and legislative repression by the Ortega government has made Nicaragua too dangerous for resistors to rally publicly. Beyond the threat of being shot or kidnapped, protesters now face criminal prosecution: As of July 16, demonstrators can be charged and tried as terrorists; more than 200 have been detained under the new laws already. But, despite the killings and newly authoritarian laws, members of the opposition insist that their movement is far from over. Corrales said Ortega’s verbal attacks on “this peaceful revolution” are losing credibility, and when Ortega claims the protesters are the real aggressors, “no one believes him anymore.”
Across a diverse movement that includes university students and housewives, indigenous communities and the rural poor, feminists and queer people, exists one unifying demand: Ortega and Rosario Murillo, the first lady and vice president rolled into one, must agree to accelerate the electoral schedule that would otherwise keep them in office until at least 2021. If they do, they are almost guaranteed to be voted out of power.