October 4, 2018 at 3:18 pm PST | by Michael K. Lavers
EXCLUSIVE: Nicaragua activists attend Victory Institute workshop

Five activists from Nicaragua attended a Victory Institute-sponsored workshop in Honduras that took place from Sept. 28-29. (Photo public domain)

SANTA LUCÍA, Honduras — Five activists from Nicaragua who are participating in protests against their country’s government attended a regional LGBTI workshop that took place in Honduras over the weekend.

The activists — who are from the Nicaraguan capital of Managua and the city of Chinandega — are among the 28 people who attended the Victory Institute-sponsored workshop that took place outside the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa from Sept. 28-29.

SOMOS CDC, Asociación Lambda and Caribe Afirmativo — three LGBTI advocacy groups that are based in Honduras, Guatemala and Colombia respectively — also organized the workshop.

The workshop, which is one of three that are scheduled to take place in Central America over the coming months, took place less than six months after protests against the government of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, broke out over proposed cuts to social security benefits and the government’s response to a fire at the Indio Maíz Biological Reserve on the country’s Caribbean coast.

Reports indicate more than 500 people have been killed since the protests began on April 18. The activists asked the Washington Blade not to identify them by name or to publish their pictures because of concerns over their safety.

One activist, a gay man from Chinandega, noted the National LGBTIQ Roundtable of Nicaragua was among the first organizations that urged the government to stop using violence against the protesters. The activist pointed out the National LGBTIQ Roundtable of Nicaragua on June 15 issued another communiqué that called upon the government to participate in a dialogue with protest leaders the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the Roman Catholic bishops had brokered.

The group also demanded “the end to repression at all levels and across Nicaragua” and the release of “all people who have been illegally imprisoned.”

“The National LGBTIQ Roundtable of Nicaragua strongly repudiates all of the violent actions the Ortega Murillo regime has carried out against the Nicaraguan people,” reads the communiqué.

Activist: LGBTI Nicaraguans have been killed

William Ramírez Cerda, a gay rights activist, was among the more than 200 people who were trapped inside a church on the campus of the National Autonomous University of Nicaragua in Managua in July when pro-government forces surrounded it. Ramírez told the Blade during an interview after the 15-hour siege that a student who was shot in the head outside the church died.

The gay activist from Chinandega told the Blade that LGBTI people have been killed in his city during the anti-government protests. An activist from Managua who describes herself as a “lesbian woman” and “feminist organizer” said there are currently 11 LGBTI political prisoners in Nicaragua.

The activists also said the government has launched a “disinformation campaign” on social media to target LGBTI activists and others who are taking part in the protests.

A screenshot the gay activist from Chinandega sent to the Blade contains a picture of a “wanted terrorist” who is described as a “promoter of hate and violence through his social media networks.” Another screenshot of a Facebook page that was taken on Aug. 29 contains pictures of activists who are described as “right-wing terrorist murders.”

“The disinformation campaign is directly targeting LGBT activists who have played a visible role in the struggle,” said the gay activist from Chinandega.

Other activists with whom the Blade spoke said they have been threatened by government sympathizers.

A gay activist from Managua said he brought medicine and other supplies to students who had occupied two universities. He also told the Blade he saw members of Nicaragua’s National Police kill protesters.

The activist said government sympathizers in his neighborhood “threaten me a lot.”

“Sometimes I have to go to the other side of Managua in order to visit my relatives,” he told the Blade.

A transgender activist from Managua told the Blade she tries to keep a low profile because many of her neighbors support the government. The activist said a trans colleague was forced to cut her hair while she was in custody.

“We have begun to be more careful when we make any comments on Facebook, any publication,” she told the Blade. “My family’s security is always more important than my own.”

A female activist from Chinandega was studying at a Managua university when the protests began. She said the unrest prompted her to resign from her job and return to Chinandega.

“It has affected me directly,” said the activist.

The gay activist from Chinandega told the Blade the National Police has stopped him three times. He said he is now living with his sister “because of what the police have done.”

“I am not living in my house,” he told the Blade.

Three Nicaragua officials under U.S. sanctions

Ortega — who led the Sandinista movement that toppled then-dictator Anastasio Somoza’s government in 1979 — has been Nicaragua’s president since 2007. There were no visible anti-government protests in Managua when the Blade reported from the city at the end of the February, even though opposition leaders have said Nicaragua has become more authoritarian under Ortega and Murillo’s rule.

A billboard in Managua, Nicaragua, on Feb. 27, 2018, promotes Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo. Anti-government protests in the Central American country have left hundreds of people dead. (Los Angeles Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The U.S. in July sanctioned National Police Commissioner Francisco Javier Díaz Madriz and two other high-ranking government officials under the 2016 Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act that freezes the assets of foreign citizens who commit human rights abuses and bans them from entering the U.S. The activists with whom the Blade spoke said they support increased sanctions against the Ortega Murillo government as opposed to possible military intervention from the U.S. and/or other countries to oust it from power.

“What we don’t agree with from my point of view is a military intervention,” said the gay activist from Chinandega.

The activist who left Managua and returned to Chinandega after the protests began echoed her colleagues who said Ortega and Murillo need to resign. The activist also said the government’s supporters who have positions within Nicaraguan institutions must also step down.

“There is impunity,” the activist told the Blade.

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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