While her homeland descends into turmoil, Carmen Sandigo, a first-year student at St. Thomas University, worries about her country and tries not to feel guilty.
Sandigo is from Granada, Nicaragua. While still in high school, she remembers sitting in a communications class when one of her peers started hyperventilating, shocked about how police shot a student in the eye in the middle of a peaceful protest in Managua, the capital of Nicaragua. Two minutes later, an announcement from the principal came on, saying that classes were suspended for the day and that the students needed to be careful.
“I felt confused and terrified of what may happen next since this is the first time I ever witnessed something as awful and chaotic as this,” she said.
The 18-year-old had never been part of a protest until Nicaragua’s citizens decided in April it was time to end decades of corruption. The situation has now escalated to the point that many fear Nicaragua is becoming the new Venezuela.
Six months ago, Sandigo’s worries involved balancing school work, sleep, college applications and parties. Now she worries about her family’s safety in Granada.
“Sometimes I feel guilty for being here in Canada where I have all the freedom in the world, while my family and friends back home are in danger,” she said.
“I am reminded every single day of the fact that I’m at the university while people die every single day in my country.”
Powder keg of dissent
In 1990, Daniel Ortega’s Sandinista party took power in Nicaragua after a Marxist revolution that overthrew the Somoza family, who had ruled Nicaragua with an iron fist. Since Ortega regained power in an election in 2007, he’s consolidated power with changes to the constitution that allows him to run for unlimited terms and control the media.
Sandigo said throughout the 11 years Ortega has been in charge, he has stolen millions of dollars from Nicaraguans, taken over most branches of government and has ruled the country as a dictator.
“Daniel Ortega has managed to take control slowly of every single part of the lives of Nicaraguans, and the worst thing is that we were aware of it and did nothing,” Sandigo said.
“He has killed, manipulated, bribed and stole whatever and whoever he wanted, in order to gain more power.”
The powder keg of dissent finally exploded this year when the government announced a social security reform that would benefit workers at the expense of seniors and students.
In April, a peaceful protest ended with more than 30 people dead in the first five days. There are more than 300 prisoners and more than 1,000 innocent people either kidnapped or missing. Sandigo said the protest was no longer about the reform, it was about every injustice the government had gotten away with. To date, at least 512 Nicaraguans have died, more than 30 of whom are children under the age of 15.
Sandigo was a senior at Lincoln International Academy in Managua, when college students rejected the new pension reform plan and started protesting in April.
“When it all began, I thought it was going to be the same as usual where people would protest, police would come and shut it down and then it would return to peaceful life we were living in,” she said.
“I never imagined that Nicaraguans had the power to see over Ortega’s smoke screen of a good economy and realize the eternal social crisis that he created.”
Major businesses closed or downsized, resulting in thousands being unemployed or migrating to Costa Rica or the U.S. to look for employment. The government has forced its employees to participate in pro-government rallies at the threat of losing their jobs or even their lives. It’s been hard on Sandigo’s family.
“My parents had to close some of their bookstores since it was located in one of the cities that were under attack,” she said.
“My mother had to leave to the States to work as a manager while my dad and younger sister stayed in Nicaragua.”
Granada, where her family lives, is one of the main cities affected. Sandigo participated in some of the protests in Granada, walking alongside citizens, even though the streets were dangerous. She also organized a blood drive at her school, which was cancelled because they “didn’t want to appear that they were taking sides.”
Hopes Nicaragua will rise again
Sandigo worries every day about Nicaragua. It has caused her anxiety and stress that makes it difficult for her to sleep.
“Even though I talk to my family every day, the worry doesn’t lessen. Sometimes I’m able to forget my worries when I’m with my friends here at STU, but in the back of my mind the worry is still present.”
There’s a chance she will go home for the holidays, but she hasn’t decided yet.
“I do have hope that Nicaragua will rise again, back and better than ever with a good government that is not as corrupted as the one right now.”