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Nicaraguan students helping their country from NCFL

Published: May. 16, 2018 at 4:57 PM EDT
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Americans don't see many reports of the ongoing civil unrest in Nicaragua, but many people here are very interested in how they turn out.

President Daniel Ortega raised taxes on social security and reduced pensions, leading to student protests in the capital, Managua.

Protests turned violent when law enforcement turned on its people with gunfire. Since then, the Sandinista president has withdrawn the reform.

International students in from Nicaragua are trying to help from here in North Central Florida by sending money and supplies to protesters.

Although the reform is no longer on the table and students have been released from custody, violence led to more than 60 deaths, and the number is rising every day. Protests continue as Nicaraguans ask Ortega to step down from office.

"Nicaragua's showing they want a change and they want it now," said Ana Lucia Callejas, an international student at Santa Fe.

She is among the Nicaraguan students in Gainesville facing heartache for their nation.

"My cousin was almost killed in one of the plantones, what they call protests there, it just worries me a lot for the future of my family, my friends, my country I love so much," said Alejandro Villavicencio, an international student at the University of Florida.

"All day on the cell phone,there were videos, audio, horrible things that are happening, and you say to yourself, I can't believe I'm here, in peace, without being able to do anything, and the people in my country are suffering so much," said Callejas.

It all started on April 16th, after the government issued an order reducing pensions and raising social security taxes by five percent.

"In Nicaragua that means a lot because as you know this country where the great majority, people are poor," said Former Representative for Nicaragua in the Organization of American States Rita Delia Casco.

Two days later, students started a peaceful demonstration in front of the Central American University in Managua.

"Everybody, independent of their social status, their political view, their economic status, everybody just went to the streets in support of the students and against the repression on the part of the police and on the paramilitary groups," said Casco.

Protesters tell us the national police, along with the Sandinista Youth, a paramilitary group fighting for Ortega, shot at protesters during peaceful demonstrations.

"We feel like we live in a world that is upside down. Instead of feeling safe with the police we feel like they are our enemies," said Maria Jose, a protester in Nicaragua.

"They obviously violated the duties of the police by using the police against their own people," said Alejandro Vivas Cuadras, a lawyer in both the United States and Nicaragua.

Marches are still going on all over the country with support of the Catholic church. Officers have been using military weapons against protesters. Human rights are being violated.

"The most egregious being obviously the right of life, with the death that happened. The right to due process by illegally detaining the protesters that were peacefully manifesting themselves. The right to peaceful protest," said Cuadras.

Most of the dead are students, the youngest being 15 years old. Even journalists lives are being threatened.

"Something that is going on is the government has censored a lot of tv programs a lot of radio as well and they're not letting people know what is happening in Nicaragua," said Alejandra Maltez, an international student at UF.

Ortega controls most of the news organizations through family ties and business investestments.

"Like his patron in Caracas and his mentors in Havana, the Ortega government has stayed in power by rigging elections, intimidating critics and censoring the media," said US Ambassador for the United Nations Nikki Haley.

"The United States condemns these brutal actions in the strongest possible terms," said U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, urging Ortega to allow the Interamerican Commission on Human Rights to investigate the country last week. "The people of Nicaragua deserve better than the worsening repression of Daniel Ortega's government."

Monday, Ortega announced he would accept the human rights organization's request to visit.

President Ortega has had a long reign over Nicaragua. His control expands into every government branch.

"Asking the judicial power to judge these crimes is pretty much asking them to judge themselves," said Cuadras.

"It's been 11 years of violations to the constitution, the law. It's been 11 years that the people have been affected and lied to by a corrupted government," said Callejas.

Gainesville students held their own event, recognizing their fellow students in Nicaragua who've been killed, and raising awareness. "The Nicaraguans in Gainesville got together and we're raising our voice and demonstrating Nicaragua's not alone," said Callejas.

They're collecting food, water, and medical supplies.

"The more people that know about the situation thats going on in Nicaragua, the more it gets to international organizations that might be able to help our country and the people who live in it," said Villavicencio.

Wednesday, Ortega met with leaders of the student movement and the Catholic church as part of an open dialogue. They're demanding that Ortega returns the country to it's democratic roots.

This hits close to home for the TV20 newsroom. One of our producers Patty Matamoros is from Nicaragua, and her family and friends have faced the violence in Managua first hand.

To help the local students raising money, Venmo any cash donation to @nicaragua-libre. Follow the student movement in Instagram at @nicaragualibreoficial to see donations in use.