Eliecib Gago Guzman was studying two careers in Nicaragua. She was in her final year of Applied Economics at the Central American University (UCA). At the same time, she was a sophomore at Nicaragua’s National Autonomous University (UNAN), where she studied Political Science. “I began studying Political Science because I wanted to have the knowledge and resources to make change. Decisions are made in the political arena.”
During her time at the UNAN in Managua, Eliecib began noting the many privileges granted to those in the government-allied National Nicaraguan Students’ Union (UNEN). They received preferential treatment, simply because they belonged to a political grouping aligned with the Ortega regime. Daily, Gago had to confront a reality tinged with such favoritism and corruption, even within her chosen field.
“All the UNEN “elite” were in the Political Science Department. Even my faculty guide, Dany Benites, was married to Luis Andino, at that time president of the National Student Union. There was another professor as well, whose classes I attended at that time, who was married to an UNEN leader.”
Eliecib Gago felt disgusted by the corruption she witnessed. That motivated her to support the actions of those expressing opposition ideas. She helped on social media, “writing bulletins, speeches, creating art, ideas, logistics, etc.” She thought she had kept a low profile and that she was safe from the reprisals. She never expected that the events of April 2018 would end up with her forced departure from Nicaragua.
On the UNEN blacklist
Gago recalls that students in her department were tired of asking UNEN for concrete support, without ever receiving any response. Her indignation increased when she found out about the press conference. “Luis Andino [national UNEN president], together with the Political Science department head [Mario Armengol] and others had offered a press conference. In this conference, they asserted that the UNAN students in Managua had been informed and agreed with the government’s Social Security reforms. That was false. NO ONE had informed us of the issue, much less asked for our opinion.”
When the April insurrection exploded, Eliecib told us, the Political Science students were “the first to organize. We published a bulletin, withdrawing our recognition of the UNEN as an organization that represented the students. In this bulletin, we asked the university authorities to take a position on the matter. Dreamers that we were, we asked them for help.” They created a campaign: “the Leadership of the UNEN don’t Represent Me.” This all took place in the context of the April 2018 protests.
One of Eliecib’s actions that greatly offended the UNEN was a strongly-worded speech she gave. She delivered this address at one of the independently organized protests, held in front of the UCA. Her speech “was transmitted nationally. I was also quoted in some of the national and international media. Even though I had my face covered, they recognized me.”
“Without knowing it, I had given the UNEN “reasons” to classify me as a “terrorist” and open a file on me. I found that out some time later,” she noted.
Given the outstanding participation of the Political Science and International Relations students during the April insurrection, the dictatorship turned its fury on that career path. They eliminated the entire department from the educational options at the Esteli campus. The reason was that this discipline provides students with indispensable intellectual resources for the formation of social movements and the analysis of political events. Such critical development wasn’t convenient for the regime.
Family decides to flee the country
The Gago-Guzman family made the decision to leave the country when they discovered that Eliecib had been expelled from the UNAN. “The students’ web page had been updated for our return to classes in the first week of October 2018. A week before the start date, I was finally able to get in. I discovered that I had been expelled. That translated into an [unofficial] criminal sentence. Within the movement, many of the students that had been expelled were already political prisoners. Others had received threats. Some had been the victims of abductions, other were in safe houses,” she recounted.
The Gago-Guzman family’s house was smeared with red paint. Political harassment by FSLN sympathizers in her neighborhood increased. There were insistent questions, threatening comments and surveillance of their movements. Fearful of the worst, the family decided to head towards the United States, their fate uncertain.
Three months in a US detention center
In the US, Eliecib Gago lived through the difficult experience of detention, although she was requesting political asylum. She was locked up for three long months in the Eloy Detention Center in Arizona. “I fled my country to safeguard my life, and not be a victim of abduction, rape, torture, arbitrary imprisonment or even assassination. In the country where I asked for asylum, I was put in a jail and deprived of my freedom for being an immigrant and for being illegal.”
She recounts that she reached the United States without meeting the legal requirements for entry. “At the time of my fleeing, the embassy was closed. Given the urgency, our conviction that “we have to get out of here”, there wasn’t any time to plan or anything like that. I arrived with my family, and we asked for asylum. My family was put on parole and allowed to continue the process in liberty. Because I was 21, I was separated from my family and sent to a detention center.”
Gago was at the detention center for approximately 3 months. In order to get out, she had to deposit guarantee money. She was able to do this with help from an organization in Tucson, Arizona. Eliecib recalls the whole experience as agonizing. She suffered hunger, cold and discrimination.
“Being in a detention center was the worst experience of my life,” she affirmed. That same center has been denounced for human rights abuses. There have even been some cases of immigrants detained there disappearing. “I was treated as a criminal. In Nicaragua, I’m a “criminal” because I’m a student, and in the United States, I’m a “criminal” for being an immigrant.”
Communicator for the “University Action” student organization
Eliezar Gago is a member of “University Action”[Acción Universitaria]. The Facebook page for this association defines it as a “democratic and inclusive youth and student organization. We advocate for the right to higher education, university autonomy, a structural change in the public university and the political activism of the youth.”
Gago comments that the group was born from the “WhatsApp groups that were created in 2018 in an effort to organize ourselves as students. When the University Coordinator for Justice and Democracy was born, we worked with them. Some members of our movement were even founders of the University Coordinator. It wasn’t until months later that we decided to give ourselves a [separate] name.”
According to comments made by University Action member Levis Artola Rugama, “University Action and other organizations are aimed at continuing in the resistance as part of civil society. We want to become one more organization in the universities. This would democratize the campuses of the public and subsidized universities.”
This student organization regularly posts on its Facebook page images and reports about student rights, and corruption in the UNEN. It demands the reintegration of the students who were unjustly expelled from the public universities for holding civic protests in the streets.
Looking towards the future
Eliecib Gago and her family members were fortunate enough to obtain political asylum in the United States. She is currently living in Florida, holding down two jobs. Work takes up much of her time. However, she always finds time to continue her activism in Accion Uiversitaria as their coordinator of communication. She’s also teaching herself English.
Eliecib remains firm in the struggle for a free country. She’s convinced that the generation of April marked and will continue marking a historic milestone in the future of Nicaraguans. “Our generation will go down in history as agents of change. Instead of being known as the students with diplomas – which we’ll eventually be – we’ll be known for our conviction and our commitment to our ideals. We’re committed to respect for our basic economic, social and human rights. We also demand respect for our constitutional and student rights. This means the deconstruction of the current system, and the reconstruction of a free, equitable and democratic society.”