Sophie is a high school junior in the STEM Academy at Madison College. Stepping out…
Nathan is in his third year pursuing a degree in History (European Studies), with a minor in Educational Policy Studies.
Daniel Ortega has been the president for 17 straight years, winning all four presidential elections since 2006. Devoid of context, he would appear a popular leader who has uplifted the voice of his people for nearly two decades. But after visiting Nicaragua for just a week, I have found that the people tell a different story.
The US government, alongside various institutions, including the Catholic Church, had repudiated claims of legitimate democratic practices. Polls conducted by independent Western outlets, such as CID Gallup found approval for Ortega hovering anywhere from 20 to 40% approval, a significant break from the Nicaraguan government’s data that consistently suggests approval in the 70s and 80s. This immense disparity raised significant alarms, and I entered Nicaragua unsure of the truth. One evening during our trip to Nicaragua gave us a glimpse into this reality when we attended Catholic mass in Leon.
As we approached our destination, I began to hear music coming from the town square, where, in the distance, we noticed rows of plastic chairs seating what seemed to be around 100 people. They were seated facing a temporary stage, presently uninhabited. Draped above the front of the stage sat a banner with the face of Daniel Ortega, accompanied by Spanish text saying “The Future For All”. Unbeknownst to us, a pro-Sandinista rally was beginning soon in Leon that evening. The event seemingly hadn’t begun, but by the time we had left church, the celebration was in full swing.
We exited the church to an impassioned voice projecting from the speakers. On stage, a woman spoke, seemingly representative of the ruling Sandinista party, who proclaimed the victories of the Sandinista Revolution, and the benevolent rule of Daniel Ortega. Following the speech, various sets of traditional Spanish dancers performed with bright-colored dresses, choreographed to popular songs from the revolution. Flags inscribed with the Sandinista ‘FSLN’ waved amongst the crowd. By sunset, the area had filled with more people, who lined the sea of chairs in a communal celebration. One thing was off, however.
After each of the performances, the applause was minimal, only garnering momentum following the final remark from the speaker, otherwise, it was silent. I initially chalked this up to some cultural difference, but the following conversation with our fellow Nicaraguans proved otherwise. At dinner following the Ortega rally, they told us their perception of the event, that a majority of the attendees at the rally were coerced to attend, threatened by the prospect of losing their jobs upon failing to show. It was clear that the support for Ortega was not genuine.
Throughout our time in Nicaragua, we had the blessing of being able to listen to other Nicaraguans speak of their nation, unfiltered by government censorship. Another time, we heard a story from a local Nicaraguan recalling 2018, when, during anti-Ortega protests, police shot his unarmed neighbor on the street in front of him. Despite his experiences, he holds faith that change will come, a seemingly shared focus of the Nicaraguans we met. In these moments, I could sense their immense suffering, but also an awareness of one’s oppression, and an enduring hope amidst the cloudy present. Even in oppressive conditions, Nicaraguans continue to live their lives hoping for a brighter future, all while keeping the liberatory flame alive through personal dialogue and organized protest resistance. Dictators can shape the narrative, rig the elections, and falsify the data, but the truth expressed in lived experiences shines through.
As Christians, let us use our platforms to amplify the voices of those whose stories are often silenced or manipulated. Let us be advocates for truth, justice, and human dignity, recognizing that genuine change begins with acknowledging the lived experiences of the marginalized. May we be inspired by the resilience and hope of the Nicaraguan people to stand in solidarity with all who seek liberation.
Read the rest of the BWAP Nicaragua 2024 reflections:
Rev. Mark Elsdon ~ Why Nicaragua?
Jack Wilharm ~ The Power of Microfinancing
Mei Hippe ~ Perfect Solutions?
Aurora Kuelbs ~ Opportunity
Allyson Mills ~ Grace and Power Under Dictatorship
Kyle Digman ~ Murals in Nicaragua
Will Clancy ~ Politics of Faith
Sophie Elsdon ~ Nicaraguan Pride