How The April 19 University Movement Caused A Shift In The Nicaraguan Mindset

It was just over a month ago when Nicaraguans, most of them university students, began to protest social security reform in the country.

The protests escalated fast, with more self-organized groups standing up all over Nicaragua, regardless of socioeconomic status.

Within days, the capital city of Managua became dangerous as government forces killed protesters.

Despite the dangers, people continued to protest. It was bigger than the quickly annulled INSS reform that started it all. Now it was against the Sandinista government itself.

Government forces against the April 19 University Movement protesters

Government forces against the April 19 University Movement protesters / Alejandro Castillo

Soon enough, the goal of the April 19 University Movement became to remove Daniel Ortega from power.

As of right now, over 63 people are dead, murdered by the government. Most of them are protesters and students, and one journalist.

Nicaraguans were in the streets protesting almost every day this month.

They’ve been taking down Sandinista symbols (most notably, the chayo palos – Rosario Murillo’s metal trees she put up all over Managua) and conveying a message of peace, freedom, and unity.

The government has increased efforts to oppress us, not only with violence but also with fake news through their sanctioned media outlets.

In audio messages circulated by these outlets, vice-president and first lady Rosario Murillo claims “small-minded people” started the movement and the deaths are fake.

The church has played a significant role, with the bishops joining the call against violence, serving as reliable authority figures.

Last week the long-awaited national dialogue started, where students spoke their minds to the president, in a courageous confrontation style never seen before in Nicaragua. More sessions are coming, but the government’s attitude doesn’t promise much.

This situation is unlike anything Nicaragua has experienced before.

No one expected it to blow up the way it did. Long days of mourning have given Nicaraguans time to reflect.

The situation almost mirrors the one in 1979 when the Sandinistas took down the Somoza government. After that victory, Daniel Ortega took power for the first time.

Many Nicaraguans tired of Ortega’s government when they carried out “ethnic cleansings” in the Caribbean and prevented economic growth with Marxist reforms. They didn’t live up to their promises.

When the Soviet Union, their main source of support, collapsed, Violeta Barrios de Chamorro beat them in a transparent election.

April 19 University Movement: Violeta Barrios de Chamorro

Violeta Barrios de Chamorro / Nicaragua el la Historia Facebook page

Following her presidency came Arnoldo Alemán in 1996 and Enrique Bolaños in 2001. This period sowed the seeds for a dangerous ideology in Nicaraguan society: conformism.

Nicaraguans began to accommodate the status quo.    

Soon after doña Violeta came to power, a certain peace reigned over the country. People settled into a way of life very different from the war-torn 70s and early 80s.

This brought along some political nihilism and apathy. People were no longer scared for their lives but they were more susceptible to belittling government corruption. As it presented no immediate consequences to their daily lives, belittling was all they did.

For instance, when the Alemán corruption scandal came to light in 2003, there wasn’t the same reaction we see today.

You can say the same thing about Ortega’s presidency until now. One of the major anti-Ortega movements in recent years has been the anti-canal campaign and the peasantry coalition. Yet they couldn’t create the groundswell of popular support against him like we have today.

April 19 University Movement: Anti-Canal graffiti in Ometepe, Nicaragua

Anti-Canal graffiti in Ometepe, Nicaragua / ENICOK (Flickr) / Commercial use allowed

Most of us can agree we’ve been living in a bubble, shrugging away when someone asks our opinion on Nicaraguan politics.

For too long, most of Nicaragua has been submissive to power-hungry criminals and I’m glad to see it all end.

We are living in a revolution where the country now has the courage to speak out against all the wrongdoings of Daniel and Rosario.

In 1788, in Federalist Paper No. 51, James Madison wrote, “What is the government itself, but the greatest of all reflections of human nature.”

This applies to the clear cultural shift in the Nicaraguan mindset right now. As a society, we are not only becoming more conscious but also more generous, kind and benevolent.

Plenty of people have given time, money and skills to aid those most affected most by this situation, regardless of the consequences.

Peaceful demonstrations in support of the April 19 University Movement

Peaceful demonstrations in support of the April 19 University Movement / Nicaragua el la Historia Facebook page

The week before last, I saw a video of people returning stolen goods to a supermarket, and students picking up garbage left in the streets after the protests. I find it hard to believe this would have happened two months ago.

This change of mindset is significant and it will take Nicaraguan society far, I’m certain.

I’m also certain that with the new cultural metamorphosis generated by the April 19th University Movement, Nicaragua will witness positive, long-lasting change soon.


Alejandro Castillo lives in Managua, Nicaragua. He can be found talking about issues in his country on Twitter.