Lesther Alemán, a 20-year-old student opposition leader in Nicaragua, recently visited FIU and joined a panel of faculty experts for a conversation about the crisis raging in his country.
Since April 2018, Nicaragua has been engulfed in political instability as a result of the government’s violent response to protesters’ demands for change. Hundreds of people have been killed, economic activity has slowed, the government has used paramilitary groups to repress its citizens and many Nicaraguans are fleeing to neighboring countries.
Earlier this year Alemán, a member of the Nicaraguan University Alliance and the Civic Alliance for Justice and Democracy, made headlines in his home country when he called upon Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega to “surrender” during a nationally televised event.
At FIU’s panel, Alemán received a standing ovation and drew fervent support from a standing-room only audience, many of whom sported hats and shirts emblazoned with Nicaraguan flags and symbols.
The discussion was hosted by the Kimberly Green Latin American and Caribbean Center (LACC) – housed under the Steven J. Green School of International and Public Affairs. Alongside Alemán, the panel featured Luis Guillermo Solís Rivera, former Costa Rican president and distinguished visiting scholar at LACC; Richard Feinberg, a non-resident senior fellow at Brookings Institution and professor at the University of California, San Diego; and Jose Miguel Cruz, the director of research at LACC. The conversation was moderated by LACC Director Frank Mora.
To set the stage for the discussion, Cruz presented an overview of Nicaragua’s political context prior to the crisis and shared findings from a 2017 LACC research project, for which he was the principal investigator.
In the project, researchers explored and analyzed Nicaraguans’ attitudes to political participation, voter turnout and public trust in Nicaragua. It was conducted by LACC and the Jack D. Gordon Institute for Public Policy and was funded by the Nicaraguan-based Grupo Civico Etica y Transparencia.
One of the major findings Cruz discussed: even before the crisis, many Nicaraguans had lost faith in their government and in their own ability to effect change through their votes.
Before sharing his insights, Alemán, a student at the University of Central America in Managua, asked for a moment of silence to honor the Nicaraguan heroes who recently lost their lives or were imprisoned “simply because they dreamed of a free Nicaragua.”
Alemán said he was grateful for the opportunity to speak in discussions like this one, outside of Nicaragua, that help raise awareness about what’s going on in his country – a call to action he believes is his duty and that of others working toward a free Nicaragua.
“It’s up to us to write this story,” Alemán said. “It’s not easy to get here, it’s not easy to be there [in Nicaragua]. Nicaragua is in a state of crisis. Besides the political, human rights and economic crises, there is also a crisis in regards to population. There is almost no youth population. We are fleeing. Some are imprisoned. Others are dead. Others are in the exodus.”
But what is the solution? How can change occur?
“The destruction of the Nicaraguan economy, the negative effects upon the rest of Central America and, most importantly, the violation of human rights are going to be impossible to solve with [Ortega] in power,” Solís said. “Lesther is right, he has to go. We have to find a democratic way to do this. We have had enough war in Nicaragua.”
Solís said that while an entire ecosystem of factors will help bring an end to Ortega’s regime – including Nicaraguan opposition groups coming together and the solidarity of international groups – he believes the impending economic collapse of the country will be the greatest breaking point.
“We’ve been saying that a new Nicaragua is about to be born,” Alemán said. “It has hurt much and it has cost much, but when this new Nicaragua is born and can develop, we don’t want to repeat this cycle, in which every 40 years we have to bear with a dictator whose people have already said, ‘enough already’… Viva Nicaragua libre!”