I was a combination of everything that you shouldn’t be

My name is Marlon, I’m 37, but fighting for justice and freedom has been something that has been growing with me since I was a child.

My parents participated in the revolution in the 70s. They were fighting against a dynasty in power, the dictatorship of Samosas. 

It was a beautiful time, that search for freedom. It was a difficult time, it was like a war, there were deaths and awful things, but there was beauty in the people uniting  to liberate the country. Freedom won, and a new administration was established, it was the Frente Sandinista de Liberciaon National, the party that raised up to free us all, to free Nicaragua.

My mom and my dad met in the revolutionary guerrilla and I grew  up surrounded by this beautiful ideology of justice and freedom. That’s my vision, my mindset, but unfortunately life taught me that it does not exactly work like that all the time.

My personal empowerment started with music. It was an act of freedom listening to metal while living in a country that is so religious and conservative. Then came art. I decided I want to be an artist, and everybody in Nicaragua condemns art, you do it if you have money or it is just a hobby. People were telling me not to do it, “I want to dedicate my life to it”, was my answer. 

I studied art, I graduated and 1 year after I already had my own business, it was a design studio.

I was a combination of everything that you shouldn’t be, dreadlocks hair, metalhead and artist. Many choices that I made were kind of revolutionary in Nicaragua in the moment I took them, but I didn’t have anything exactly against the Sandinista administration of the president Ortega. I was actually a typical human, because things didn’t directly affect me, I didn’t actually take action. Then I got hit for the first time, it was 2014.

As for  my appearance I’ve always been pretty recognizable. It is hard to see a manager of a design studio full of tattoos, piercings and long hair. I was giving conferences in universities, talking about entrepreneurship, open source operating systems  for design and innovation. At the time I was developing a mobile game, when a German researcher noticed me and asked to collaborate with an open source  community that was working on mapping buses viability in the capital Managua, the project was called MapaNica. I was so  excited, that was my opportunity, my chance to make a good change in the county. I felt this project was so needed, we could reduce the traffic, make routes quicker, optimize the conjunctions. We could make things better for everyone.

In 3 months, we received funds for collecting data and developing the design for a new bus road system. We went around with a Google Car to map the city with computers recording and producing graphics, it was just great. We were seriously thinking, “maybe the government will notice us and join forces, we can collaborate for the common good.”

Those times were just awesome, we were so creative, full of resources, then a feeling of hate arose. I would have never believed one day I would be able to hate.

Finally came the day to present the project. We held a press conference in the most trafficked bus stop of Managua distributing flyers and maps to those passing by. 

There were a lot of people. We called all the tv channels, newspapers, radio stations to cover the event. In the crowd, I noticed that none of the state media came.

The very next day a friend who works in a governmental tv channel called me: “What are you doing man?!”, he was so worried, I couldn’t understand. He told me I have been blocked by the government. I didn’t even know what it meant to be blocked’. An email had been sent to all the producers of the State channels stating prohibiting coverage of my  project, claiming it is compromising the sovereignty of the State. I was completely shocked, I had no words. We had  been investing so much time, energy and hope. We wanted to keep going.

We kept pushing our voice in the media, we wanted to show that the project had nothing to do with politics, it was about improving the quality of life of the people, but that it didn’t work.

At that time, I wasn’t even thinking about the possibility of a dictatorship. Soon after I began to feel that we needed to be careful.

The German researcher started to be intimidated by the police, until he had to leave the country. The way they do it in Nicaragua is a sort psychological pressure, a torture. They park a big police truck in front of your house and two officers just stand out there with huge guns in their hands. They are there when you are leaving, they are still there when you come back, making you feel like you are in danger, that something can happen to you in any  moment, and you don’t know what for. They did it with him, then with me and other people involved, and the project just died. 

There were signs of the degeneration of power way before that moment, since the Sandinistas won the election in 2007. Sometimes I think we are so dumb, it took us so many years to truly understand what was going on and when we rose up it was like a civil war. 

It happened where nobody would see, in  the margins of the country villagers got killed for protecting their own land from exploitation. The government wanted to cut trees and export wood, and deployed the army against the people. The  same happened to the communities living in the jungle. It was a massacre, and even two children got shot to death by government forces. And then again, when miners asking for better working conditions got confined in a village and were killed one by one by the military. Even old people protesting against the retirement system reform got clubbed by the police. 

The first time I took the street was in 2011. The government announced the willingness to  cut funds for public universities. Without the same funds I would have not have been able to study years earlier . We went on a strike fighting with ‘morteros’ against security forces. I found myself in a sort of battle, that was a wired adrenalin. When you are there you know you can be beaten up, taken and arrested by the police, or die. I was not scared. Since then I discovered that I can fight, that I do fight, but afterwards was another story. 

2018 came, and was the catharsis of all crises. The government of Ortega wanted to build a sort of Panama channel, a project that implied the destruction of Indio Maìz, a natural reserve, the green heart of Nicaragua.

In April 2018 a wild fire broke out in Indio Maìz, the government waited 3 days before taking any action, refusing aid coming from Costa Rica.

Protests started in Managua on 18th April. The government deployed the paramilitaries, ‘Las Turbas Sandinistas, ‘The Mobs’, and the day next there were already two deaths, a 15 year old kid, shot in the neck, and another one in university, he was my student, he got shot in the chest. 

During a rally for Mothers’day, snipers were shooting from the roof of the stadium that was the final stop of the march. I still have goose bumps remembering that sea of people marching. They killed the brother of my friend there.

We started to take over public places, universities, people were building ‘triceras’, trenches, even in churches, piling up walls of bricks taken from the street. That was a sign meaning “we are mad at you, we are protesting and defending ourselves in here, you need to leave”.

Uprisings expanded to all Nicaragua. People even went on highways, the ‘Carretera Panamericana’, stopping trucks coming and going from all America to cut the supply chain and pressure the government. The request was one and only: for  president Ortega to go away.

I wanted to see the university I was working with years before. I knew it was taken by the protesters and I was imaging it as a battlefield. Instead, as soon as I walked in the entrance, I perceived a sense of structure. There were people I never saw in my life, who never saw my face in their life, and we were so connected. We are on the same side, we want the same thing so hard and we want to do things in the same way, collaborating.

Everyone was so proactive, no one was demanding anything from us , it was just an automatic choice that became an organization. There were coordinators, there were fighters in the frontline against the paramilitaries, backed by nurses and doctors ready to assist the wounded. I was usually among those who were collecting money for food, for medicine, bandages and gauze.

This sense of unity reminded me what people were telling me about the cool things of the revolution, but this time, the same party who overthrew the dictatorship in the 70s, was against us, against the people. We, the people, needed to get another identity, so we started dressing the color of the Nicaraguan flag, white and blue, against the paramilitaries, black and red. 

Is very common in Nicaragua to give nicknames to everything. We called them ‘Lo Sapos’, the frogs and we, the people against the government, we became ‘Los Puchitos’, the meaningless. Nowadays, you can still get in trouble if the police see you wearing a white shirt with blue trousers in the street.

We lost the battle. Nobody wants to fight, nobody wants to die in the street, we didn’t want a civil war. So, we chose dialogue, a big mistake.

In that moment the government was talking with us on one side, and started hunting us, behind our backs. 

I wasn’t a leader, I was not organizing, I just helped, I made some art, I didn’t do anything, but I didn’t go unnoticed. They put me on a list of banned people, waiting to go to jail, accused of terrorism and compromising the security of the nation. 

They started suppressing the people, then shutting down the media and NGOs. Many people fled outside the country, some media remained online and kept informing people from abroad. There is not a single printed newspaper anymore in Nicaragua.

I had the luck of knowing in advance that I was on the black list. The fact that my appearance gets everybody’s attention put me in trouble but at the same time gave me a chance. People recognized me in the street and started to tell me “hey I know you are on the list, you should flee”. 

A friend of my father informed him as well. I didn’t want to believe it, but it was true.

I hid in a security house, I didn’t go out if not at night, for two months.Then the day came and I left the country like a normal person. I went to the airport. Everything could happen, but in my mind, I just need to be as normal as possible, moving smoothly, like a tourist on holiday. 

A second chapter of my life started, arriving in Spain was a second trauma.

Nicaraguans can travel to Spain and stay for 3 months without a visa. You just need to prove you have a ticket to fly back, which of course I never took, becoming illegal. 

Illegality makes you feel like a sub-human, you feel rejected as human. Is not like when a girl pushes you back or you can’t do something because you are under age. I truly feel different, even if I speak the same language. I’m in the process of applying for political asylum, for two years now I’ve been waiting for a yes or no. 

The ID card that I have gives me some rights while waiting, but in practice is kind of complicated, I often feel resentful. In theory I can open a bank account, but in practice the bank policies do not recognize my document. As soon as I show my red ID card bank employees raise their eyebrows, I tried so many times. Also, I can’t leave the county anyways. I can’t if I remain illegal, and I can’t with the document I have because it does not allow me to get a plane even inside Spain, the companies are just refusing my ID. 

I know it will not be like that for all my life. I’m mindful. I talk with a lot of immigrants and knowing their stories, I know everything can be worse, always. 

I don’t know what can happen to me if I go back. Even if they forgot about me, everything I do is public, art exhibitions or music. If I go I can’t stay hiding. So, I made up my mind that until the government changes, I will not go back. 

After all of this, for me the fight still is worthy, there is so much to do.  Sometimes ease makes people grow up without empathy, while everyone needs to be more aware of what is going on in the whole world. 

I never thought “I want to forget all of this”, not even for a second. I want to keep it and spread it as a record, putting my face on it. Those who are not aware of history are condemned to repeat it.

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