Nicaraguan students enraged at repression turn on government electricity hero names

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"It makes you ashamed to say you defended the revolution," said the high school math teacher who supported Ortega when he lost re-election in 1990 and when he won the presidency again in 2006. "For what? … So that they could come and kill our children?"

Ortega has long been able to count on students, organized by Sandinista Front leaders in campus governments, as some of the most reliable backers of his leftist administration. But now many students are turning on him, organizing independently to oppose his government, enraged by a deadly crackdown on street protests last month by police and Sandinista Youth gangs. Students form the backbone of a protest movement that has left his administration shaken.

How Nicaragua emerges from its political crisis will likely depend on the willingness of students like the younger Gomez to continue confronting Ortega’s government. The new generation does not know war, though their parents and grandparents struggle to reconcile their memories and loyalty to the revolution with anger over what has been harsh repression against their children.

Gomez said his son, like other students, was angered by seeing Sandinista Youth taunt and attack a small group of pensioners who tried to march in opposition to social security cuts April 19 in Masaya. Police quickly blocked the march and support grew for the students.

The violence brought back bad memories for the elder Gomez, who is now fitted with a prosthetic leg. He recalls being 8 years old in 1979 and seeing the bodies of those killed by strongman Anastasio Somoza’s National Guard lying in the streets of Masaya’s Monimbo neighborhood not far from where his son was shot in the chest April 21.

All public universities have student governments that form the Nicaragua National Student Union — UNEN for its Spanish initials — but the protesting students say those bodies are made up of Sandinista Front loyalists and no longer represent them.

Luis Andino, president of the student union at UNAN-Managua, told local radio that at first the UNEN supported the demonstrations. But, he said, they "moved from a just demand to reverse the social security thing, which was achieved, to an attempt to throw out the government and that we don’t agree with."

Two weeks after the worst bloodshed, students holed up inside the Nicaragua Polytechnic University in Managua regrouped after an overnight clash with Sandinista Youth and police. They said there were six wounded students, some of whom had been evacuated to medical facilities.

Protest leaders were exhausted from trying to wrangle the diverse viewpoints of students from multiple universities into one coherent voice. The weariness showed on the faces of the spokespeople for the April 19th Student Movement — not to be confused with the splinter April 19th University (Student) Movement.

But the students had not organized sufficiently to express a list of demands or choose representatives for upcoming negotiations with the government, which the Roman Catholic Church has agreed to mediate. The church announced Monday that talks would begin Wednesday.

Inside a home office decorated with revolutionary paraphernalia, the man better known by his nom de guerre "Commander Zero" rejected the idea that there are parallels between the fight he waged with Ortega against a dictatorship and what occurred in April.

"Here in Nicaragua we can do anything short of causing chaos, and these young people from certain universities put up barricades so that people couldn’t get out to the streets, seeking to create chaos," he said. When police went to remove the barricades they were met with rocks and mortars, "so the police responded with violence."

Standing in front of an altar of flowers and a large photo of his smiling son, Gomez said the young man had not been politically active before. He was two months into a night job at a factory in a free-trade zone where he sewed logos onto shirts to finance his fourth year working toward a banking and finance degree.