Lesther Aleman turned 21 in exile. He always believed that he would leave Nicaragua to study, but it was not like that. He left under a strong political persecution and threats of imprisonment by the regime of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo, after becoming the young man who confronted the president at the National Dialogue.
“We cannot dialogue with a murderer, because what has been committed in this country is genocide,” was the sentence with which Lesther Aleman concluded an intervention that went down in Nicaraguan history, on the day that Ortega was rebuked by a 20-year-old university student.
It was May 16, 2018, and after 29 days of protests and a brutal repression, there were 47 murdered. The Dialogue was suspended by the Government in July, the repression intensified and by September the total number of fatalities had increased to 325 confirmed. The number of political prisoners was increased, and Aleman made the decision to go into exile.
The decision to leave
“I left Nicaragua by land. I knew that for a long time I would not be back. That was the most difficult thing, to know that I did not give up the fight, but I did leave my country,” recalls Aleman. “At twenty, I never imagined the process, but we had to write history…we had to write history and most of all we had the clarity that this process is for Nicaragua,” he adds.
Aleman left Nicaragua four months ago. He made the decision when he learned that his capture was imminent, after the imprisonment of his comrade in the struggle, Edwin Carcache.
“Edwin was very close to me…that day everything changed for me. That day was the precise moment to redirect the path of where I was going or where I was going to work.” Aleman had not been able to leave the place where he was hiding for a week to avoid capture, and his meetings with the Civic Alliance for Justice and Democracy, of which he is also a member, could only be via Skype, because they had already searched for him, in the office where the meetings were held.
His abrupt and forced departure from the country brought frustration, he says, but far from meaning a break or retirement, his exile has resulted in a strategic move. “Now, I understand, four months after having left, that from abroad you can analyze, study and to continue to contribute even more.”
The struggle in exile
The work that Aleman is doing, together with other Nicaraguans who are looking for a solution to the crisis facing the country, is divided into three areas: national pressure, international pressure and dialogue. “And we had to deal with the second area that had been neglected in the first months of the struggle. The issue of Nicaragua was put on the agenda due to the influence of Nicaraguans abroad, but none of us who were in the Dialogue had left. None of those that had the opportunity to be in the takeover of the universities, the peasant movement…we had not had the opportunity to make the issue visible beyond the social networks and video calls. So, now is the time to redirect the struggle,” he said.
Aleman continues in his role, which he says is being a spokesperson, and not a leader of the students.
“I believe that the vital role is that, to be interlocutors. At no time should we proclaim or self-recognize ourselves as leaders, but as interlocutors that are needed, and we are willing (to do that) because life puts us here. It was not the time to retreat and, we have the determination to continue in any upcoming negotiation process or any process for the regime to leave,” he affirms.
Ten months after the outbreak of the civic rebellion in Nicaragua, the course of the country is dominated by uncertainty, and many are wondering what is coming next. For Aleman, Nicaraguans must “understand that the biggest demonstration of protest inside the country is to resist.”
“Those who are in safe houses, should continue there, because we do not want more imprisoned unjustly, nor more dead. There are spaces that at the international level have not been touched…today the work is to present proofs, because denunciation has been done. Evidence, clarification, and another aspect is unity. Unification of all purposes,” he adds.
Aleman insists on this last point: “(In) the nonviolent struggle, success is the cohesion around a common purpose. Yes, it could be prolonged, we have seen it: ten months. Nobody said it was going to be immediate.”
To rebuke Ortega “was the popular outcry”
“This is not a dialogue table, it is a table to negotiate your exit and you know it very well, because that is what the people have requested,” Aleman told Ortega nine months ago, at the first meeting of the National Dialogue. That intervention marked a before and after in his life, and in the political dynamics of the country. Although it has also been a source of criticism and controversy.
In January, the now ex-magistrate of the Supreme Court of Justice and ex-militant of the Sandinista National Liberation Front, Rafael Solis, said in an interview given to “Esta Semana” (This Week): “Perhaps the Dialogue started in such a violent way that they (Ortega and Murillo) reacted very defensively. And, if you remember, in the first session of the Dialogue, some of those who intervened, especially the students, stated that there they were not going to talk about alternatives, but about his exit, how it was going to be, etc. It was a way of approaching things, I believe, that probably hardened the position. Probably they felt: “what they want is to finish us, that we leave and they are not thinking on a negotiation.”
Aleman, however, responds that “we never said anything that wasn’t the true.”
“Today, there are many who could say that that moment was a mistake, that it shouldn’t have been like that, that everything got thwarted. But, when you look back, your eyesight is 20-20. When you look forward everything gets blurry, but reflecting on it with all those young people with whom we have talked about it, and adults who say to us: “Yes, that was the popular outcry, that was the clamor of Nicaraguans around the world, it was his way out,” he reaffirms.
“The people will retake the streets”
Aleman identified several achievements of the protests against the regime. “In Nicaragua, despite the frustration, we must also understand that, under bullets, it is also complicated…even though it is true, that not everything has been professional, because nothing was planned…and it is there where we see the success of the self-convoked, the spontaneity, which has united many people.”
“The people of Nicaragua must recognize that they have historically cut the nepotism of the regime. Rosario Murillo is not going to be president in 2021 and only they see themselves beyond 2021. We have consulted governments (of the international community) and nobody sees them beyond 2021,” he adds.
On the current situation and the police state imposed by the regime, which has banned protests and demonstrations in the country, Aleman believes that “the time will come when the people will retake the streets, we know that. It is time for people to also understand that the process and measurement of forces also change.”
Aleman adds: “Daniel Ortega is going to be cornered, but while he is not cornered, he does not have pressure, he will be merciless with the people. So, that is why we say that it is total imprudence to take people to the streets, because it is not the only form of protest…People are hoping that, at any moment, they will take the streets, but in any future negotiation or close at hand negotiation it is necessary to understand that we have measures that must be fulfilled, minimum guarantees.”
Lesther wants to return to Nicaragua soon. To celebrate his next birthday beside his family and in a free country is his dream. He calls to continue with hope and with resistance. “At the international level it continues, it is not over, peaceful measures have not been exhausted and that is why that route is being sought. In addition to the slogan, (the route) continues to be to give back to Nicaragua the hope that the rule of law is a reality…The time has come for each of us to put in our grain of sand in the final stretch and, above all, understand that the agenda is one, it cannot be separated.”