MANAGUA – As a lifelong Sandinista who has been involved in the revolutionary movement since he was a teenager, journalist Mario Sánchez feels doubly pained after receiving a vicious beating last week from a group of thugs identified as members of the Sandinista Youth movement.
The repeated punches and kicks Sánchez took to his head and torso not only stung his 50-year-old body, but crushed his revolutionary heart. His body will heal, he says, but his prognosis isn’t so good for the party he has worked for and defended for years.
“It makes me very sad,” said Sánchez, a former news director for the Sandinistas’ media arm Radio Ya. “They were chanting the slogans that, until recently, were mine, too.”
Sánchez and several other people were attacked in front of Managua’s Cathedral on Aug. 8 as they attempted to march in a peaceful demonstration by civil society. Sánchez, who now works as the media representative for the Civil Coordinator, an umbrella organization of non-governmental organizations, says he was labeled an enemy of the government simply by association.
The journalist said some of the assailants who attacked him were later identified by others present as gang members from nearby neighborhoods, while several of the aggressors are part of the Sandinista ecological brigade. But he says they were all yelling Sandinista Youth slogans and had red and black flags – the same Sandinista colors he has defended for more than 30 years.
“These people are identified totally with the Sandinista Front,” he told The Nica Times in an interview last week. “There is no confusion about it.”
Sánchez said his assailants accused him of being an “oligarch” – one of President Daniel Ortega’s favorite buzzwords. Ortega has also labeled members of the press as enemies of the revolution.
The violent attack by the Sandinistas, the latest in what has become a pattern of intolerance that started last year, has been energetically condemned by civil-rights groups, business chambers, and religious leaders.
The Catholic Church of Nicaragua released a strongly worded statement expressing its “profound worry and sadness.”
“This is not an isolated event, rather an expression of a policy of intolerance and total disrespect for the liberties of free-expression and movement,” the church said.
President Ortega, in defense of his minions, said the Sandinista youths were simply celebrating Indigenous People of the Americas’ Day, when “unfortunately, groups showed up that wish the government ill.”
Ortega further justified the attack by saying the demonstrators were “yelling in favor of the coup” in Honduras.
The National Police, who stood by watching the attack and failed to intervene, have again come under intense scrutiny and criticism.
The Nicaraguan-American Chamber of Commerce (AMCHAM) expressed its “disappointment with the lamentable role of the National Police who witnessed the violation of citizens’ rights” and did nothing to stop it.
The NicaraguanCenter for Human Rights took its indignation a step further by accusing the police of acting as accomplices to the repressive acts. The rights organization has vowed to bring the case to international attention.
The National Police have promised to investigate the incident.
The Youth of Today
Sánchez laments that the Sandinista Youth – and the Sandinista Front in general – has completely lost its way under the second coming of Daniel Ortega.
“Where ever there are poor, or humble, or there is a lack of justice, that’s where the Sandinistas have to be,” Sánchez said. “And young Sandinistas have to be leaders as students and in their communities. They have to be the best citizens. They need to be defending people, carrying their heads high, and never injure others. This situation pains me a lot.”
Sánchez said there has been a radical “transformation” of what it means to be a young Sandinista since his days as a teen. “Now they are not teaching people how to care for others and fight for their rights; now they are teaching the youth that they have to crush anyone who thinks differently from them, intimidate them and eliminate them,” he lamented.
Gonzalo Carrión, a founder of the original Sandinista Youth movement in 1979, agrees the organization of today is not even a skeleton of its former self.
He said the Sandinista Youth movement was born of a spirit of community service and volunteerism, with the noble and daunting task of organizing the National Literacy Crusade. With a revolutionary spirit of sacrifice and solidarity, Carrión and tens of thousands of other Sandinista Youth went to work teaching people to read and write. They also volunteered in the fields bringing in the coffee, cane and cotton harvests.
What Carrión calls the “tragedy” of today’s Sandinista Youth movement is that they have been reduced to the role of a “paramilitary group” that represses others.
“They talk about changing the model of the country, but the model they are imposing is one of terror and intimidation,” he said. “The slogans and chants of the Sandinista Youth are the same today (as in the 1980s), but they have lost their historical and political purposes,” Carrión told The Nica Times. He said the Sandinista Youth of today has become a tool used by “hypocritical” party leaders to “defend a revolution that doesn’t exist.”
“There is no connection to the past,” he said. “Only the slogans, empty of all meaning.” First Lady Rosario Murillo disagrees. Murillo says the Sandinista Youth movement of today is “reflourishing” after “16 years of neoliberal dictatorship.”
“The youth, the boys and girls, feel the values of solidarity, respect, the values of understanding and tolerance, and above all, the value of unity as Nicaraguans and Latin Americans and inhabitants of this planet, which is fundamental to construct the new world that we need, a new country, and a new community,” Murillo told the Sandinista Nuevo Radio Ya.
The Nica Times’ attempts to contact leaders of the Sandinista Youth were unsuccessful, but other government employees who work with the partisan youth movement echoed the party line set by the first lady.
Lucy Vargas, the Managua delegate for the Nicaraguan Institute of Youth (INJUVE), which works closely with the Sandinista Youth movement, told The Nica Times that young people in the neighborhoods and rural communities are motivated to organize and participate, especially on the issue of environmental protection.
But regarding the accusation of the Sandinista Youth acting as paramilitary groups to oppress others, Vargas didn’t have much to offer.
“I have no comment because I haven’t seen the news,” she said.
Those who are paying closer attention to current events are concerned. “We are one step away from killing ourselves,” Sánchez said. “The aggression is against the people and the poor of Nicaragua; and it’s against democracy and liberty.”