Lesther Aleman arrived in Nicaragua on Monday morning wearing blue pants and a white shirt, the colors of the national flag, and with his characteristic voice of an announcer told reporters at the airport: “Nothing is normal in this country. I decided to return, after a year in exile, taking my own risks.”
The student, who turned 21 in exile, became an enemy of the dictatorship of Daniel Ortega, when during the first national dialogue, in May 2018, he demanded from Daniel Ortega that he surrender. Lesther did so in front of all the cameras of the TV channels and social networks transmitting live. By then, already, those killed by the repression were counted by dozens.
Ortega became uncomfortable with the guts of that 20-year-old youngster, a student of the Central American University (UCA). Days later he suspended the dialogue and the so-called Clean-Up Operation was unleashed.
Lesther Aleman had to go into exile, until this Monday when he decided to return to be semi-clandestine and reintegrate into the Civic Alliance. In this interview Lesther Aleman tells why he decided to return and what he is going to do.
You said nothing is normal in Nicaragua upon your arrival at the airport. Why did you decide to return to the country?
It is a personal decision. It is a decision in which I assume my risks, assume my responsibilities and as journalist Pedro Joaquin Chamorro used to say: assume my fears. I am clear that I must manage the fear that can invade all of us. It is similar for all Nicaraguans, because we continue in a system that represses, persecutes, harasses and still has more than 120 innocent citizens imprisoned.
Repression is seen every day and we have to fight against it and the system. I decided to return believing that it is the right decision after having made an analysis.
My agenda at the international level, which we had organized as a student youth movement, the Nicaraguan University Alliance (AUN), was pretty much fulfilled. This does not mean that the work ceased internationally but that my function at the international level was coming to an end. During the 12 months that I was away I did not waste time. I continued working for Nicaragua, and the difference with today is that now I will do it from here.
What do you come to do? To safeguard yourself in a safe house or to actively work in opposition to Ortega?
The first thing is that I return for my love for Nicaragua and return to live. In any case the issue of security has to be taken in consultation with those of the movement.
I come again, as when I left, to be part of the spaces I was physically in… I return to the spaces within the Civic Alliance, in the National Unity and to continue the struggle. And, above all, to encourage the opposition forces to find a clear common purpose, and to continue building an alternative proposal for those that identify as blue and white, but still have doubts about this process. To the person that is skeptical, which is normal for Nicaraguans, but is awaiting a new proposal to believe in and above all to be able to fill the gaps that the regime may leave.
Mistrust is natural, but in any case, it is to manage what we have. I assumed my responsibility in the first days of April, on April 18, when we started with this civic and peaceful struggle. And today I reaffirm that, my conviction remains immobile. I come to work for Nicaragua from the inside.
Lesther Aleman returns to the Alliance
You come to incorporate yourself to the Civic Alliance, what can you contribute to the Alliance returning from exile?
There has been much hard work in the international arena… we also created that link. There was a lot of feedback, both from where I was and from the tours [of Alliance members to the US] that were made. I accompanied the tours when they arrived, for example to Washington, where we had contact with the international community.
In a heterogeneous way, different sectors are fighting against the dictatorship. I return to the Civic Alliance, physically, because when [Alliance member and fellow student] Max (Jerez) has spoken I have spoken, and when I speak Max speaks. It is a matter of trust above all, an understanding that everyone does their job and we are not indispensable. I return under this approach: each one works by sectors, we are there by name, we are not there as figures but because of what we can contribute. And I feel useful, I feel that I can contribute.
You also return in a context where, although it does not want to be admitted, there are discrepancies within the opposition on the way to confront the Ortega dictatorship and soon also, probably, a great alliance will be announced. Which is your position around the alliance that is going to be announced or that is being discussed?
The new proposal in which we all be aligned is the departure of Ortega, with freedom, justice and democracy. It’s not about clichés or slogans, but to materialize it.
It is an effort to generate more credibility. The regime is weakening every day by inertia. That is, the persecuting and harassment, generates a cost for the government. It also generates wear and tear with its officers, because they are also human beings. However, the opposition must also recover, and at some point gain even more political capital and support from the citizenry, because that is from where the proposal’s elaboration comes from.
Differences and discrepancies are natural, because we have a fractured opposition. An opposition that is hurt, and also a citizenry that faced those 11 years where there wasn’t at least one group effectively confronting Ortega and did so in a way as frontal as now. As a result, we are aware that it is necessary to build an alternative to corner and take Ortega to the door he must cross: the negotiating table.
I am not a demagogue to tell you in what period of time he will do it… it is both the international and national pressure that will make him reach (again) for a negotiating table where we can achieve the electoral reforms. They are the keys to the process to guarantee public freedoms and also the civil and citizen rights agreed to at the negotiating table that recently ended.
And justice for the victims, that was your first demand in the first dialogue?
In any case it is the third banner, besides freedom, democracy and justice. We have accompanied the process. I think that it is crucial for the victims to maintain their autonomy because it is this group that will catalyze the agreements. It is a group that will accompany the agreement when they are reached, and it is the group that will guarantee that we have justice, reparation, and non-repetition in the post-Ortega days.
We have backed them as students and personally I support the process of the family members, mothers and the memory of the victims, which were taken from us and in any case give priority to the truth so we will know it.
The regime claims that crimes were committed by the blue and white opposition and the truth must be revealed. A mixed national-international commission must be created against impunity. And, above all, a follow-up, because what Nicaragua needs, besides building a memory, is the truth, because we cannot heal the wounds in a vacuum.
What is your position as students regarding coming together in a great Alliance with those political parties that have also been allies of the dictatorship all these years?
The first thing is to realize that no sector will be able to defeat Ortega by itself. We all need each other. Those of us who have already been receiving legitimate responsibilities from citizens in the first and second dialogues and generating a little more confidence at a negotiation that will not disappoint what Nicaragua wants. In the case of political parties, they must be considered as political actors and they must be recognized.
I recognize them as political actors, but at this time they must also become citizens. That is, if they are political actors they must contribute to the process of achieving that the Blue and White Unity, Civic Alliance or Coalition, or whatever name is given to that alternative structure, be as heterogeneous as possible and not repeat the past vices of national politics.
There is a perception in part of the population that much of the student movement has been easily controlled by the business sector. What happened?
The truth is that many times people have a different perception of what it is. I have been within the processes and within the structure and I know that neither the private sector, nor any other sector controls the rebelliousness of youth. The population must see young people as being rational and not all feelings and uncompromising in our demands. Within the plenary sessions of the (Civic Alliance) all things can be discussed.
There are no cameras, there is no perception, but that is where negotiation really takes place. Ideas are presented, there is criticism and alternatives are proposed to build those changes. Young people carry a natural rebelliousness that nobody will be able to overshadow or control…
How would you describe your relationship with the business sector?
Similar to the relationship we have with civil society [organizations], the “Movimiento Campesino” (Peasant Movement), unions that we are converging with, (leaders of the) Caribbean Coast. There are internal dialogues that naturally had to occur. One is generational. Many times, because you are young, they don’t want to believe you. They don’t want to listen to you or have doubts about you and don’t expect you to continue, thinking you’ll get fed up and quit. But over time we have overcome many barriers in the internal dialogues.
The best for us is that we, as we say in good Nicaraguan, have all sweated through this with all sectors paying a price. I will conclude with this: as young people we have a commitment that we acquired for Nicaragua. People should not expect a perfect youth organization, because since April we began to organize ourselves under bullets. I think that we also should be well measured in this, because we are building leaderships with values and responsibility.