He fled political persecution in his home country more than 30 years ago, and now Salmon Arm resident Roberto Guatdamuz Rueda is speaking up against the latest explosion of violence in Nicaragua.
In a series of protests which began in April and culminated in a nationwide general strike on June 14, many Nicaraguan citizens have been opposing government repression and reforms to the country’s pension and social security systems.
Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega withdrew the changes to the pension system a few days after the protests began, but by then enough violence had been directed at the protesters to keep them in the streets demanding Ortega’s resignation.
The demonstrations have turned bloody on several occasions. According to a statement from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, protesters have allegedly been shot by police officers and armed pro-government groups. A June 14 statement from UN Human Rights experts says 148 people have been killed and 1,337 wounded since demonstrations began.
“We call on the Government of Nicaragua to respect its human rights obligations and to undertake prompt, impartial and effective investigations into the alleged violations, and to prosecute and sanction those responsible,” the statement reads.
According to Guatdamuz Rueda, who is receiving information from media reports and from family still living in Nicaragua, the worst of the violence is being perpetrated by paramilitary groups called “turbas” who he says have been attacking protesters with everything from guns to knives and iron bars.
“It’s a fact this a big…, a huge problem for Nicaragua, my country,” he said.
Although the Nicaraguan regime is denying it is culpable in the violence, a report from Amnesty International paints a different picture. In its report on attacks on demonstrators that occurred in May, Amnesty International claims violence carried out by private individuals is part of the government’s strategy to make identifying human rights violators more difficult and increasing its ability to repress protesters.
The report claims the turbas are attacking protesters with the state’s consent as evidenced by attacks taking place in the presence of police who allegedly did nothing and allowed the attackers to disperse and flee the scene.
Guatdamuz Rueda, a former diplomat at the Nicaraguan consulate in Caracas, Venezuela, is no stranger to repressive agents of the government in Nicaragua. He still bears the scars of torture he was subject to before he was forced to flee the country in 1997.
“I can’t go back there. Even when the immigration gave me my permanent residency they told me they can’t give me any visas to go to Nicaragua. I told them I agree. I’d just get off the plane and I don’t know where they would take me. For sure I would be dead in a couple of hours.”
Guatdamuz Rueda, who has lived in Salmon Arm for seven years, is actively following the reports on the protests and ensuing crackdown that he is receiving from family members still in Nicaragua and also from various news sources online.
While he is speaking out against the state-sponsored violence, Guatdamuz Rueda plans to focus on the positive when he sings Nicaraguan songs accompanied by his guitar at the Gathering Together: A Multicultural Festival at the Ross Street Plaza on Wednesday, June 27.