Nicaragua's diaspora activists bear a ‘double burden’

Photography shared by Voice of America on Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain.

Three months after numerous protests began taking place in Nicaragua over already revoked social security reforms, hundreds of people — mostly youth — have either been imprisoned, in hiding or attempting to leave the country.

Those who have managed to leave are leading their own brand of resistance from abroad, offering support to those back home in Nicaragua, where the number of victims varies broadly depending on the source. While the government maintains the death toll is at 198, human rights defenders suggest that over 448 have been murdered and several hundreds disappeared. Either way, one thing is certain: the count keeps increasing.

Organizations like Amnesty International have denounced the deployment of vigilante groups, as well as the attacks and constant threats against civilians, which cast doubt on whether the government intends to have a dialogue. The human rights situation is grave, and street protests demanding that Daniel Ortega's government leaves office are ongoing.

Meanwhile, more and more Nicaraguans are managing to flee to escape repression. Many of them go to neighboring Costa Rica; others cross the Atlantic, where they can access support networks that have been long established by Nicaraguans in countries such as Spain, France, and Germany.

These European-based communities have been active in recent months, organizing marches and events in solidarity with their compatriots, which are mostly coordinated through social networks.

The political and emotional challenges of diaspora activism are diverse and complex. The politics of most activists fall somewhere between the anti-Ortega right-wing groups that offer them support, and the European left, which gives them a lot of pushback, thanks to their belief that Western powers are setting up Ortega's government for failure. Interaction with the European left-wing can be a difficult space for dialogue, since, in many cases, political allegiances demand withholding support from citizens protesting in the Nicaraguan streets.

Ana Sierra (whose name we have changed for safety reasons), a doctorate student in comparative literature in Barcelona, understands these contradictions very well. She is part of the Self-Convened Feminists (Feministas Autoconvocadas) collective, and spoke with Global Voices about the violation of human rights and the abuse of power in Nicaragua, and also about the campaigns that support anti-government demonstrations from abroad.

Event in Barcelona organized in support of the protests and in commemoration of the victims. Public photograph shared on the Facebook group: “Nicas Catalunya”. Used with permission.

GV: Ana, you've told us that many people are arriving by plane from Nicaragua.

AS: Sí, desafortunadamente. Para muchos es una cuestión de vida o muerte. Todos pensamos que cuando se resuelva esto vamos a regresar, porque no es fácil migrar y menos de manera involuntaria.

AS: Yes, unfortunately. For many, it is a matter of life or death. We all think that when this is resolved, we will return, because it is not easy to migrate and it is even more difficult when it is done involuntarily.

GV: Do you organize any kind of emotional support for members of the Nicaraguan diaspora?

AS: Hay una madre en Bélgica, por ejemplo, que perdió a su hijo en las primeras manifestaciones. Lo primero que hice fue conseguirle ayuda psicológica desde Nicaragua, por Skype. Además, en el grupo de Feministas Autoconvocadas ha habido espacios para desahogarse. Desde la diáspora uno no termina de disfrutar y de estar tranquilo del todo. Somos conscientes de esta necesidad, pero claro, tampoco es la preocupación número uno.

AS: There is a mother in Belgium, for example, whose son died during the first set of demonstrations in Nicaragua. The first thing I did for her was to get psychological help via Skype. In addition, the group of Self-Convened Feminists created spaces where people can talk about their problems. People in the diaspora are not able to be completely relaxed. We are aware of this, but, of course, it is not the primary concern, either.

GV: What are the objectives that you consider most important at this time?

AS: Buscamos alcanzar la mayor difusión posible. Uno de nuestros objetivos es generar incidencia en los partidos políticos de izquierda. Lamentablemente piensan que criticar a Ortega es asumir un fracaso, pensar que la revolución [sandinista] fracasó y que el apoyo y la cooperación internacional no sirvieron para nada. Es un error. El hecho de que haya jóvenes manifestándose es porque crecieron con el relato de la revolución y con una conciencia política rigurosa, fuerte y clara.

AS: We seek to achieve the widest possible dissemination of our goals. One of our objectives is to have an impact on the left-wing political parties. Unfortunately, they think that to criticize Ortega is to buy into failure, to believe that the [Nicaraguan] Revolution amounted to nothing and that international support and cooperation did not help at all. It's a mistake. Young people are demonstrating because they grew up being aware of the Revolution and having a rigorous, strong and clear political conscience.

GV: Have you made progress in that regard?

AS: Es complicado. Creo que con el número de asesinados, desaparecidos y la represión en aumento es cada vez más difícil aceptar que haya personas que crean que todo esto es falso. Hemos recibido algunos mensajes de apoyo de personas de la CUP [partido de izquierdas, anticapitalista e independentista catalán]. Sin embargo, es muy triste que dentro de este partido, que personalmente he admirado muchas veces, haya gente que no sea capaz de ver lo que ocurre en Nicaragua. Tengo un amigo de la CUP y me dice que, según sus fuentes, la oposición está siendo financiada por la CIA. Yo le digo que yo soy de la oposición también y que a mí no me está financiando nadie. Mi madre ha tenido que huir de ataques con balas, mi hermano también. La gente salió a manifestarse a raíz de los asesinatos que ocurrieron en las protestas. Decir que son financiados es una ofensa.

AS: It's complicated. I believe that, as the number of those murdered or missing increases along with the repression, it is difficult to accept that there are people who believe this is a false crisis. We have received some messages of support from people from the Popular Unity Candidacy (Candidatura d'Unitat Popular) [CUP is a left-wing, anti-capitalist political party that supports the pro-Catalan independence movement]. However, it is very sad that within this party, which I have personally admired, there are people who are not able to see what is really happening in Nicaragua. I have a friend from the CUP and he tells me that, according to his sources, the opposition [in Nicaragua] is being funded by the CIA. I tell him that I, too, am part of the opposition, but that nobody is financing me. My mother and my brother had to flee from bullet attacks. People came out to demonstrate following the killings during the protests. To say that they are being paid is offensive.

GV: How do you interpret this gap, this contradiction, with those closest to you politically?

AS: Lo que más me molesta son estos movimientos que aparecen desde el “primer mundo” y se asumen de izquierda, sociales, comprometidos. Si a mi misma, que vivo aquí, me cuesta muchas veces comprender el sufrimiento de mi madre, que vive allá, no sé con qué valor o autoridad estas personas son capaces de decir que lo que está sucediendo no es real.

Yo recibo muchísima información directa desde Nicaragua. Recibir noticias de primera mano es también sentirlas de primera mano. Yo he recibido audios de mi madre con los morteros detrás.

AS: What bothers me most are these movements from the ‘First World’ which consider themselves left-wing, social, responsible. If I, who live here, find it difficult to fully comprehend the suffering of my mother, who lives there, I do not understand how these people have the audacity or authority to say that what is happening is not real.

I get a lot of direct information from Nicaragua. Receiving news firsthand also means feeling it firsthand. My mother sent me audio recordings in which I can hear the sound of the mortars.

GV: Have you had contact with other political parties?

AS: Es triste, pero hay muchos partidos de derecha que se quieren apropiar de [las protestas]. En el Parlament de Catalunya el partido político que quería realmente llevar la denuncia [contra el gobierno de Ortega] era Ciudadanos, [partido de tendencia derechista]. Desde el grupo de Feministas dijimos que no. El fin no justifica los medios.

AS: It's sad, but there are many right-wing parties that want to appropriate [the protests]. In the parliament of Catalunya, the political party that really wanted to denounce [the Ortega government] was Citizens [a centre-right party]. Our group, Feministas, did not agree with this. The end does not justify the means.

GV: Given the level of violence, how do you stay in contact with people in Nicaragua and manage your role from so far away?

AS: A nivel personal me afecta más de lo que puedo demostrar. Me cuesta mucho ver redes sociales o hablar con mi madre porque luego no duermo, se me quita el apetito. Creo que le ha pasado a muchas personas en la diáspora, este doble sentimiento de querer estar allá para poder hacer algo, pero al mismo tiempo ser consciente de que tienes una posición privilegiada porque desde aquí puedes tener otro tipo de incidencia. Es una responsabilidad, un doble peso.

AS: On a personal level, it affects me more than I can show. I find it hard to spend time on social networks or talk to my mother, because after that I cannot sleep, I lose my appetite. I think many people in the diaspora have this experience, this conflicting feeling of wanting to be there to do something, but, at the same time, being aware that you have a privileged position because, from here, you can have another type of impact. It is a responsibility, a double burden.

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