Honduras – The Jesuits defend their Option for the Poor

 

The letter below comes from Father Ismael Moreno, a key Jesuit leader in Honduras. In all the years I have worked with Central American community groups the Catholic Church, and especially Jesuit priests, have been critical allies of the popular organisations. Thirty years ago for example, as a young activist, I protested against the murder of six Jesuit priests and their two domestic workers in San Salvador, killed by the Salvadorean army for their support for social justice.

The Jesuits continue to work today in defense of human rights, women’s struggles and freedom of expression. This is particularly so in Honduras, where the illegitimate government is responsible for the repression of organizations working for justice.  Father Moreno is director of Radio Progreso and Fundacion ERIC,  and would normally rely on support from international allies, for example from Canada.

But at present, not only does Father Moreno have to deal with threats from the Honduran government – he has also been criticized by right-wing sectors of the catholic church.   Recently he has received accusations from some sectors of the Canadian Catholic church that the work of Fundacion ERIC and Radio Progreso go against Catholic teachings.  This letter by Father Moreno responds to these accusations. In my opinion, the courageous work of the Jesuits to further social justice in Honduras deserves our support.

The generic photos that accompany the article are by Steve Lewis, and celebrate the resilience of the grassroots church in Honduras and across Central America.

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LETTER FROM FATHER ISMAEL MORENO, SOCIETY OF JESUITS 

El Progreso, Yoro, Honduras, 23 July 2019

Respected Sir and Madam,

Many thanks for your email, which, as is often the case in life in my country, does not really represent the joy of good news, and only adds to our state of uncertainty, fear, threats and lack of security.  I thank you especially for the ardour that shines through your letter for orthodox catholic doctrine, although this implies – as is often the case – an austerity and indifference to the social apostolate that we carry out in defence of human rights and the groups of most vulnerable people in our society.

  • Above all, I am worried by the finality of the warnings in your letter. I do not know exactly if this is about defending traditional fidelity to doctrine on our part, or if you are seeking to guarantee that your funds are not used for ends different to the mission of the Church.  What is very clear is that this is not a letter of solidarity with our work, nor of mercy in the face of the constant and diverse threats, including death threats, to members of our team for their defence of human rights and in particular, environmental rights cruelly threatened by transnational mining companies from Canada.

 

  • If you have read or followed our editorial line and everything related to the materials we produce, there is no coverage nor systematic monitoring of subjects related to sexual morality. You yourselves can observe this in the texts that you cite as examples, these are isolated and do not represent a specific line on these topics on the part of our team.  Your informants in our country will doubtless confirm this affirmation, if indeed they are motivated by good will because of their fidelity to the vigorous doctrine and the good of the Church, rather than by prejudices.
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Jesuit priests have been murdered for their work in Central America. In El Salvador six Jesuits were murdered by the army in 1990. Photo Steve Lewis

  • If you make an objective and unbiased reading of the texts, you yourselves can verify that some of the examples used are writings in which the topic of abortion is not covered in itself, but in relation to the political circumstances we live in in Honduras. There is no exclusive value judgment of the articles that we may publish.  We simply use them to relate to the complex political situation that we have lived in and continue to live in.  One of these, my own text, refers to abortion not as an issue in itself, but the use of the subject of abortion by political groups who are experts in using topics at opportune moments as a screen to camouflage other burning issues.  Acting on specific information that I obtained from powerful sectors, I wrote that at a point in the Honduran political situation, the topic of abortion was used to distract people from other issues and generate a barren and pointless debate.  In an editorial by our Radio, we made the same point.  Our editorial line has not directly tackled the subject of abortion nor other subjects related to sexual morality that go against the official doctrine of our Catholic Church.  Nor is this subject on our agenda.

 

  • I accept that the other articles are contrary to official Church Doctrine. This is not an official editorial line of our Radio nor of the ERIC Foundation, and I accept that our tolerance of  articles along these lines can at the very least confuse some of our readers, and I accept responsibility for this tolerance without having previously set limits, and I agree with the principle of working to redefine criteria in order to avoid restricting ourselves to tolerance of ideas  that may lead to confusion or appear to be part of our editorial line.

 

  • Having said this, I must point out that we are defenders of freedom of expression in a country in which the latter is under siege because of state meddling in the media and stigmatization of those of us who oppose public policies that are contrary to the common good and respect of human rights.
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The grassroots Catholic Church is alive and vibrant in the villages and urban slums of Central America. Photo Credit Steve Lewis

  • And I know it is bold of me to say this, in the face of your prudence in regards to life and your wish to avoid risking mistakes, but I have to say that it is not in the interests of the Church, in this day and age, for the media to restrict the circulation of ideas. I believe that the clearer we are about what we believe in, the more flexibility and tolerance will we have in the face of the different subjects that arise in a society that is increasingly diverse.  A failure to listen to others who are different to us, to abstain from debate with those who think differently, distances us from society, and we run the risk of isolation and inability to fulfil our gospel given mission of being a critical conscience of society.

 

  • Our editorial line is based on defence of life in any situation or state it may be in. We believe in the defence of life from the moment of conception, a dimension that you responsibly stress,  we complement this position  with defence of life of our youth, of the thousands of sick people without medical attention in our hospitals, their lives threatened  because a significant number of high ranking civil servants and politicians have stolen medical equipment and drugs.  We defend the lives of the communities threatened by extractive projects, in particular mining, several of which are controlled by Canadian companies.  If we are to defend the women abused by men, victims of the abuse of power, or even those who are used as cannon fodder by drugs traffickers, and who are often forced to have abortions, then we must do this firmly.   And if we were to defend the rights of women who are accused and criminally charged for having abortions, while the men who made them pregnant and exposed them to extreme vulnerability go free, we would also do this firmly.  We defend life in all its dimensions, of course, from the moment life begins in the mother’s womb.  And not only in the mother’s womb, but also, and even more firmly, once that life has emerged from the mother’s womb.

 

  • Defence of the right to life of those who have emerged from the womb often brings risks and consequences to life, situations that we members of ERIC and Radio Progreso have already experienced. Because of our defence of the life of all persons in all circumstances, we have received multiple death threats and we have relied on the solidarity of many,  including my Jesuit community in Canada, and many other social sectors.  And it is with much joy that we can testify we have received an unambiguous and generous solidarity from Development and Peace.  When I saw who your email came from, I was heartened by what I thought was an expression of solidarity of the Canadian Bishops’ Conference, just at a very difficult time, precisely because we have put our means of communications and our human resources at the service of the defence of life, threated by a regime that is increasingly authoritarian and increasingly harsh against those who think differently to it.  Because of our defence of the lives of our emigrant compatriots, terribly threatened on their journey to the United States, they have accused us of encouraging massive caravans of asylum seekers and of working with other groups that promote emigration.
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The teachings of radical priests and sisters have inspired the development of women across Honduras and El Salvador. Photo Credit Steve Lewis

  • Things are this way because we work increasingly in networks with other Jesuit and church apostolic works and with civil society. And things are this way because it is our opinion that the data shows that mass migration is a phenomenon that has intensified in the last decade, as a consequence of the deterioration of human, social and economic conditions, and because of the corruption of state sectors.  For this reason, our lives are threatened, because we work not only to help the refugees and other Honduran sectors whose lives are threatened, but because we try to look for the root causes and analyse who is responsible for the situations that put our most vulnerable people at risk.  And if all we did were help the people who suffer these injustices, we would doubtless receive cordial treatment from the corrupt politicians and civil servants.  But as we defend the rights of the people whose rights are threatened, and we denounce with statistics and data those who bear the greatest degree of responsibility for these threats, our own lives have been thrown into the same situation of threat of those thousands of lives that we try to protect and defend.

 

  • We members of the work team of ERIC and Radio Progreso are frail people, all of us, without exception, come from families of Christian believers, and we earn an honest wage that will never make us rich, but we are honoured to work putting our faith into action, in the promotion of justice, human rights and peace. Because we work in communications and in harmony with the apostolic mission of the Company of Jesus, we are right in the thick of the clamouring realities of society, and we are vulnerable to making mistakes.  And we make them.  And as frail human beings, although we don’t like to admit our frailty, we confess we are sinners and we need daily conversion.

 

  • We are conscious that frailty is part of our reality and for that reason, we not only recognize that we err and that as men and women who are sinners, we ask forgiveness for our mistakes, our lack of generosity, our half-heartedness and mediocrity in giving ourselves up to our suffering people, and for our cowardice in speaking out forcefully enough, with disregard for the power and prestige of those we have to address, in the name of the poor.  We fear we may be misunderstood on our errors and frailties, because we understand that we write to you, who are frequently infallible in error and wholly satisfactory in your human, ethical and Christian practice.  However, I ask you in the name of my work team, to not limit yourselves to condemning our practices, however mistaken we may be, but we would also hope  you would indulge us with some mercy and solidarity with who we are and what we wish to do, and continue to do in defense of the poor.
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During the civil wars of the 1980’s the Church had to take sides in the conflict. To their discredit, some of the conservative church sided with oppressive armies. Photo Credit Steve Lewis

  • On consulting with my work team, we all wondered why the confidentiality you request is necessary, given that we are dealing with subjects of public debate. We prefer and demand that this debate be made public, and that others’ opinions should be heard.  Keeping confidential topics and dealings that are obviously of a public nature can lead to arbitrary decisions that go against people’s dignity.  Nothing should be secret, express in public and before society what you believe and how you evaluate us and our work.  And we will do the same, as missionaries of the Company of Jesus in the service of the Church, we  will inform all our volunteers and friends in solidarity of your suspicions about who we are and how we act and think.

 

  • If you got this far in your reading of this missive, we would like to know what moves your letter and what it is you expect from us. I say this, because although we need funds to survive in our apostolic mission, we would hope that the chill of the eternal Canadian winter that pervades your letter is not induced by a review on whether to continue or suspend funding to us.  We are a humble team and we live on solidarity, mainly from international organizations.  But we cannot allow money to decide what we do or stop doing, this must be determined by faith and conviction in our apostolic mission that we receive from the Church, through the Company of Jesus, a mission that is incarnate in the cries of the poor of our Honduran society.  If you decide to put an end to the funding that you have been providing for some years now, we are not going to rant and rave, but we will inform all our Honduran and international friends.  It will be a great pity because we need the solidarity funds, but, blessed be God, we will not fight, nor will we allow ourselves to be humiliated.  We may end up without funds to carry out our work, maybe some of us will have no pay.     But if the funds are conditional, it would be better for us to carry on weaving hope even if we stop working, but whatever we do, we want to continue doing it with faith, love and dignity.

 

  • Finally, from the North comes the solidarity of peoples, always with so much generosity and simplicity, and over these years, this has been the way with Development and Peace. But the North has also sent interference, conditionality and prejudices, and a muzzle that seeks to silence us.  We would hope to receive from you a generous presence of solidarity, which we are sure will never be like the experience of the mining companies who come with their truth of extractivism, taking away our mineral wealth and leaving us the consequences of misery and death.   There is no doubt that we will continue to hope for you to be a gentle presence of solidarity in our lives, and by extension, those of the suffering people we work with.  And we will remain grateful for your suggestions and your concerns, that not only do we accept, but we commit to address.

With my embrace and prayers,

Father Ismael Moreno, SJ  (Padre Melo.)

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The international community need to stand in solidarity with human rights defenders on the ground, as these Salvadoran women stand in solidarity with their murdered priests and lay activists.   Photo Credit Steve Lewis

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After ‘Operation Clean-up’ my Nicaraguan suburb mourns

St Pedro Church, Sutiaba, June 2018 surrounded by barricades. Credit Steve Lewis

St.Pedro Church, in June, surrounded by barricades.

Father Victor Morales was woken at 5 a.m. by the young men on the barricade outside his church. “They’re coming Father, they’re here”. What the community had been afraid of was happening now. When Fr. Morales cautiously looked into the street he saw scores of armed, hooded men flooding into the suburb.

On that day, 5th July, the Nicaraguan police, with masked and armed para-military support, attacked the suburb of Sutiaba in Leon, the ‘barrio‘ where I’ve been living for the last year.

‘Operation Clean-Up’, as the government called it, resulted in three dead among the parishioners of Fr. Morales’ San Pedro church. Since then the community has been living in fear – and nationally the pressure on the Catholic church has also increased.

Roadblock in Leon, built from paving stones, 10 June 18, credit Steve Lewis

Roadblock in Leon, early July, before the paramilitaries came. The lad is armed with a catapalt.

 

Now, a few weeks after the three deaths, local people are still cautious to tell their story. “I was frightened that day, yes of course, but not surprised”, said Fr. Morales. “Other priests and I had tried to negotiate with the authorities in the preceding days. But they didn’t listen.”

In June local people had put up barricades all over Leon, built from paving stones, as a protest against the FSLN government for the violence they have used since demonstrations begun suddenly in April. The barricades were also a self-defense mechanism, to prevent paramilitaries driving into the suburbs in pick-ups and shooting. But after a month of stalemate the state was forcibly going town by town and taking the barricades down.

“It was very violent that day” said F. Morales. “They had riot-police and paramilitaries in at least 20 pick-ups, and bulldozers. I couldn’t leave the house for a couple of hours, I felt impotent, furious and sad. But later I could walk to the health post and I learnt about the deaths.

Father Victor Morales, parish priest of San Pedro, Leon. 2 Aug 18, Credit Steve Lewis

Father Victor Morales, outside his church

“Sadly, the youngsters didn’t realize that they couldn’t win”, said Fr. Morales.” You can’t hold off heavily armed men with fireworks and catapults”.

Four blocks South of San Pedro church the remains of the barricades litter the streets, and two sad crosses mark the spot when Junior Rojas and his friend Alex Machado were killed. Down a dusty alley-way, and past a large rabbit-hutch, the family of Junior sit outside their two-room house, still seemingly in a state of shock.

“They killed my boy with a single-shot to the head”, said his mother, Aura Rojas. “He was behind the barricade, but the police had flooded the suburb. They were to the North and West – they shot him from a block away.”

Junior, 21, was a builder’s assistant, and studied at night school, in first grade of high school. “He was my support, he looked after us”, said his mother, “I have glaucoma and can’t work, so he supported me and his nine-year old neice. The government have said all sorts of lies about the men on the barricades, that they were delinquents, they sold marijuana, but its not true. Junior was a good lad, he attended mass, he studied, and played football at weekends.”

“They took his corpse and dumped it in the morgue” said Junior’s sister, Cruz Hernandez. “We went to get his body later that day. They would barely speak to us. There was no autopsy, no investigation, they gave us no paperwork. Only one doctor dared look at him that day. They warned us – go home to your family now, or something worse might happen there.”

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The family of Junior Rojas, shocked, outside their house.

Junior was killed just yards from a close friend of his, Alex Machado Vazquez (24). Three blocks to the West another young man was killed under the shade of a large Tamarindo tree. Danny Ezekiel Lopez (21) was apparently shot while on a bicycle, passing a barricade. “They shot him 8 times”, said a local barber on the corner, who didn’t want to be named, “they wanted to send a message. And that worked – after that most of the other neighbors around here took down their own barricades.

The governments ‘operation clean-up’ moved on from Leon to other towns during July, with a steady succession of unarmed young men killed by hooded paramilitaries with high-caliber weapons. Since the protests began in April at least 317 people have been killed according to the International Human Rights Commission (IHRC). Thousands of others have been injured, or imprisoned. “Around 90% of those killed have been anti-government protestors” according to the IHRC. In June and July most of these have been killed by para-militaries, who President Ortega has described as ‘voluntary police’.

Aura Marina Rojas, mother of murdered student Junior, shows his photo. Leon, 2 Aug18. Cred Steve Lewis

Aura Rojas, with a photo of son Junior. July 2018

As in Sutiaba, local priests have been called on to mediate in many of the besieged barricades. In the small town of Diriamba on 9 July, Bishop Silvio Baez and other senior clergy were attacked and lightly injured by a mob of FSLN supporters, as they tried to mediate the release of local people. In Managua on 13th July Father Raul Zamora had to take care of dozens of students who took refuge in the Church of Divine Mercy after being attacked at the UNAN University.

Nationally the Catholic Church is trying to keep alive the dialogue between government and opposition, in spite of accusations from President Ortega that the church is part of the opposition. Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes has said in weekly mass that the Church “is persecuted” but won’t give up their mediation role. Visiting Leon for the first time on 2nd August, the Papal representative in Nicaragua, Waldemar Sommertag, emphasized that “the National Dialogue is the only route to peace”.  But at the time of writing, president Ortega shows no sign of returning to the dialogue. He doesn’t need to, he is buying his own  version of peace in a different way – through the barrel of a gun, fired by a man in a mask.

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Laying flowers at the makeshift cross that marks where Junior was killed.

All photos Steve Lewis

More Nicaragua photos, follow instagram @owstonlewis

Content originally published by Catholic News Service, reproduced here with permission

Keep Calm & Carry On, as Nicaragua closes down

After 50 days of protests against President Ortega, the death toll in Nicaragua has reached 140 dead and over 2000 injured. The country is being steadily closed down by roadblocks on main roads and side-streets all over the country. In spite of the difficulties, some Non-Government Organisations & non-profits are trying to keep working, and community workers are going to enormous lengths to keep services running for their people.

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Barricade on the outskirts of Leon

When student protests began on April 18th the peaceful protestors were attacked by police and pro-government gangs, with a death toll of 46 young people in the first week of protests. The month of May was filled by marches and counter-marches from pro and anti-government supporters, with increasing attacks from para-military forces. The period of ‘normal’ protests ended abruptly on May 30th when government forces fired on a mass peaceful Mother’s Day march. Since then protestors have resorted to a new and defensive tactic, setting up roadblocks to impede the arrival of the police and their allies in civilian clothes.

As more and more of these roadblocks are built, it is becoming increasing difficult for daily life to continue. Some cities are experiencing shortages of foodstuffs, whilst others have run out of gasoline. Reliable information is hard to come by and rumours abound. While some cities are close to chaos  others are surprisingly calm. Speaking from the comparatively peaceful city of Leon, one NGO director (who preferred not to be named) described the city as ‘Alice in Wonderland’…. ‘We wake up in the morning to read of deaths in Masaya, and street-fighting in Jinotega – but Leon is still calm, except for the strangeness of being cut off from the world by barricades’.

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Student roadblock prevents buses taking a side-road past the main barricade

In many cases however, Nicaraguans are making huge efforts to ‘keep calm and carry on’. This weekend I attended a long-planned training session in Leon, run by Doctors James Saunders and Karen Mojica from Mayflower Medical Outreach (MMO) for three nursing students from Jinotega. Kath Owston, PGL Associate, is a board member of MMO and helped set up the training. ‘We weren’t sure the three young people would be able to arrive’, she said, ‘but they got up at 5a.m. and came down on three buses, a lift and a taxi’.  Jinotega and Leon are about 100 miles apart, and there were three roadblocks in between. At each stoppage the passengers had to get off one bus with their possessions, walk through the roadblock, and then take a lift or another bus on the other side. (the roadblocks stop vehicles at present but allow foot-traffic). The journey which normally takes four hours on the bus took them eight hours.

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Dr Saunders & Dr Mojica (centre) show students how to take photos of the ear drum

The training in hearing test technology, which precedes a pilot program to screen 4000 school children in the department of Jinotega, was a great success. However today, Monday, the 3 students were meant to return to Jinotega, but they have not been able to leave Leon as the barricades have become tighter. They will try again tomorrow. Poor Fabiola left her house in Pantasma on Thursday evening, to travel down on Friday, and won’t get back to her house till Tuesday night at best.

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Marlene practices the tympanometer on a willing victim.

In a second case last week, staff from sister-city Project Gettysburg-Leon (PGL) also had an odyssey of a journey to carry out a long-delayed technical visit to the isolated village of Talolinga. Normally the journey is a pleasant drive, on a tarmac road, until the last 5 miles which is unpaved, steep and bumpy. PGL Programme Co-ordinator Francisco Diaz drove up last week with two water engineers from another NGO, Nuevas Esperanzas  They had to take tiny back-roads to get around the roadblocks. ‘It was a labyrinth’, said Francisco, and at one point it started raining as well. ‘We had to ford a river and drive on dirt tracks for miles alongside Telica Volcano. After spending the day doing a GPS mapping of the community, so that we can plan a piping service from a new well, we faced the long drive back. Coming home to Leon we had to go a different way again and at one point had to be guided by farmers behind an ox cart! We arrived exhausted’.

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Javier & Marvin from Talolinga try to open the capped well-head with Leo, the engineer from Nuevas Esperanzas.                                                                                              (credit Francisco Diaz)

What the future will bring for Nicaragua is unclear. Will the protestors put up more barricades and close down all traffic totally, including food and fuel? Or will the discredited President, Daniel Ortega, continue to sit back and wait? So far, he seems in no hurry to break the barricades, and has not called in the army. In Leon we are looking fearfully at cities like Masaya, which have experienced huge violence, and hoping it will not come here. Tomorrow is apparently a strike-day. In a fog of untruths and false information, it is difficult to know which way the current is flowing in Nicaragua. But we are proud of the efforts that organisations are making, despite the fear and difficulties, to keep serving their communities.

 

All photos by the author unless stated. For more, follow @owstonlewis on instagram

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Violence in Nicaragua – What does ‘solidarity’ mean now?

I was recently asked to write a short article about the word ‘solidarity’. Writing about solidarity with Nicaragua would have been easy until April this year. The narrative in brief would have been – ‘we foreigners came in the 80’s and supported the revolution, we picked coffee or planted trees, we loved the Nicaraguan people…. since then Daniel Ortega and the FSLN have generally done good work, reduced poverty, resisted the USA. We’re proud of our involvement…job done… Que viva el frente!

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But now, writing in May 2018 nothing is as clear. For the last two years, whilst I have lived in Nicaragua,  this has been a calm and peaceful country. Now no longer. Protests against economic reforms to pensions on April 18, by pensioners and students, became violent. The police turned inexplicably to live ammunition, and protesters were attacked by ‘mobs’ known as the Sandinista Youth. Across the country between April 18 and 22nd at least 45 demonstrators were killed, including students, workers, journalists and onlookers. At least one policeman was also killed. In Leon the office of the student union  and an opposition radio station were burnt down. The violence ended, for now at least, when Ortega revoked the economic reforms, and both sides called for a National Dialogue, to be moderated by the Catholic Church.

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One student died in Leon on April 19th when the student union was set on fire

Since then there has been a tense calm. By the time you read this blog that may well have changed. The National Dialogue has not begun and we are seeing marches and counter-marches on the streets every day. It seems like a tinder-box that may again explode. Some people are saying the protestors have been trained, that there is covert support from the USA, that there is more to this than meets the eye. Sitting in my very hot house, in an average street, I don’t know the truth of this. I do know that most of my neighbours don’t like Ortega. But I also know that there is no credible opposition, there is no figure who could take over from Ortega, and if he goes, the gains of the revolution for the poor will be lost. So, protestors – be careful what you wish for.

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Marches and countermarches in the daytime are peaceful, both say No to Violence. But at night-time one faction or the other are burning busses and attacking the other side.

Solidarity groups, the expat community living in Nicaragua, and of course Nicaraguans themselves are now divided, angry, or disillusioned. Information is unclear, but it seems that the Ortega regime has made a major error that they may not survive. Shooting on unarmed protestors, coupled with years of low-lying criticisms (‘undemocratic, corruption, cronyism, rumored sexual abuse, creating a family dynasty, nepotism’) means Ortega’s regime may now be fatally holed, in spite of years of good progress in reducing poverty in Nicaragua.

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Prior to April it was a VERY rare sight in Nicaragua to see any criticism of the government

So what does the word ‘solidarity’ mean now, in the midst of this fast-changing situation? I came to Nicaragua in the 1980’s as part of the solidarity movement. Like thousands of others I was motivated by anti-USA, anti-Imperialism, and support for a small proud country trying to make its own, fairer, way in the world.  (see  Brigadista: An Analysis of British & US volunteers during the contra war in Nicaragua ) We were  impressed by the ideals of the revolution and the progress made by the campaign against illiteracy. We  picked coffee in support of the revolution and helped organize other support and campaigns. After a few decades ‘off’ I came to live in Nicaragua in January 2016. Until this month it has been politically a sleepy country.

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The FSLN are very well organised and effective at getting their supporters to the marches

Solidarity to me means:

  • ‘Accompaniment’- living with the poor and being a friend from another country.
  • Material support – working with NGOs to improve education or health or other services.
  • Being a voice – Using photography, blogs, speaker tours, delegations etc to raise a voice when locally that voice is unable to be heard. For example raising the voice of deaf children in Nicaragua who have virtually no access to education.
  • Advocacy in the centres of power. From campaigning against Thatcher & Reagan in the 1980’s, to today advocating against the NICA Act which is now more likely to be passed in the US senate.

Nicaragua has made vast progress since the early 1980’s. The country then had poor roads, long electricity cuts, terrible transport, limited food, inadequate schools and so on. Until last month we boasted of all the progress Nicaragua has made, under the leadership of the FSLN. By 2017 the country had excellent economic growth, a reduction in poverty, good roads, reliable electricity, improving access to public services and a burgeoning tourist industry.

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Students are painting lamp-posts in the national colours, painting over the red & black of FSLN

But, clearly the country has failed on democracy. For years we, the solidarity movement, were satisfied with economic growth and the reduction of poverty. Why did it matter if elections were  a bit dodgy’ if poverty had been halved from 48% to 24%? We did not ask enough questions, we did not join demands for better electoral systems, we lost interest in the complex machinations where Ortega undermined the other political parties. It is now clear that the weakness of the opposition is a hindrance to the country, not a success. Governments need checks and balances, but the FSLN has not had them. And thus after many years of silence the population are now in the streets, and the country is on the brink of a worsening explosion.

The solidarity movement can be proud of supporting a poor country which has stood up to the might of the USA. But we failed to get the balance right as a ‘critical friend’. We have been a good friend to Nicaragua, but we failed to be sufficiently critical of the undemocratic Ortega regime.

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Decayed buildings & internal divisions have characterised the opposition for many years

All pictures by the author. For more photos of Nicaragua follow @owstonlewis on instagram

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