MONIMBÓ, Nicaragua.- Last Sunday morning, Álvaro Gómez woke up to the hardest news of his life. His son Álvaro Alberto, 23, had died after being shot in the chest during nationwide protests against President Daniel Ortega and his wife and vice president Rosario Murillo.
For this 48-year-old math teacher from Monimbó, a 45-minute drive south of the capital Managua, the natural pain of losing a child is compounded by the fact that those responsible for his death were his former comrades in arms during the Sandinista revolution, a movement led by Ortega, one of the nine legendary comandantes who overthrew the dictator Anastasio Somoza in 1979.
"The bullet that killed my son, I don't know where it came from, but it was one of them: the police or the Sandinista Youth," says Gómez. "I am a Sandinista, but I am not a sympathizer of the Ortega-Murillo family and, truthfully, the loss of my son hurts. They murdered my son, it was a cruel murder, and they beat him."
According to Gómez, his son, a fourth-year student of finance at the National Autonomous University of Nicaragua (UNAN), was out protesting in support of pensioners from the Monimbó neighborhood over a now infamous social security tax reform, when he was struck by the fatal bullet at dawn on Saturday.
When journalists gave him the news that his son had died on Sunday morning, he could not believe it. "I wasn't until an aunt told me it was true, that she had been to see him in the hospital and found him dead. They killed him with a bullet to the chest," he explained, sittng in his modest, sparsely-furnished home, with a blackboard still bearings the equations from his last math class.
The name of his son, Álvaro Alberto Gómez, now appears on a hand-painted sign that hangs on one of the gates of the Don Bosco Salesian school in Masaya, where there is a small tribute with candles to the Monimbó neighborhood's four fallen students, as well as dozens of wounded and detained.
A Sandinista bastion that rebelled against Ortega
A completely burned-out Ministry of Health vehicle is evidence of the protests one a road leading into Monimbó, a largely indigenous barrio of the city of Masaya, known for its Sandinista roots during the insurrection against Somoza. It was here that Daniel Ortega's younger brother, Camilo, famously fell in combat in 1978.
The neighbors still have hard time believing that the police received orders to open fire of those demonstrating for the rights of the pensioners. "This is about hunger, it's not political, it's the people, the poor, who will suffer because of the INSS (National Institute of Social Security)," says a young man who prefers not to identify himself when in referring to the unpopular pension tax hike that set off the protests.
The younger Gómez was already dead when Ortega cancelled the measures on Sunday. The government has so far accepted no blame for the deaths. Murillo, the vice president, callously accused the students of being criminals and "vampires" seeking to exploit the bloodshed for political reasons.
"Everything was quiet here and then some of those who were not at the march came and attacked our homes," explained the young man who described his family as among the the poorest of the neighborhood.
According to his account, the riot police entered the dirt courtyard of his house last Thursday because some protesters went there to hide, and fired bullets and tear gas which caused several to hospital after they inhaled the smoke. He showed reporters some of the evidence they left behind, including gas canisters, and rubber bullets.
"An unequal fight"
Even though his son was killed, Álvaro Gómez says he is still a Sandinista. He qualified that by adding; "a Sandinista, but not a follower of those who gave the order to kill and authorized it."
He went on: "I was an 8-year-old boy during the insurrection (against the Somoza dictatorship) here in Monimbó. I watched then how they repressed my people and now I am seeing history repeating itself."
Gómez lost a leg aged 17 when it was shattered by a bullet fired accidentally by one of his fellow soldiers while military service in the Sandinista army. But the death of his son confronting riot police and a Sandinista Youth mob was a far from equal fight, he said.
In the 1980s, "we carried a rifle and those who were against us, who were the resistance, also had a rifle. On this occasion my son was carrying a stick, he was carrying a stone, but on the other side was someone with a rifle, a gun," he said.
The death of his son also makes him lament the effects of his own tennege battle. "I fought the fight because I was told that the Somozas were the owners of Nicaragua, the wealthy ones ... Now in this country, the owners of Nicaragua are the Ortega-Murillo family (...) The businessmen now are the children of Daniel Ortega and the Rosario Murillo."
For that reason, he says that if he could speak to Daniel Ortega in person he would ask him to feel the pain of all the dead that this conflict has left.
"If he was standing before me, I would tell him that I was one of his supporters, that I respected him, but now with what he did, with Rosario Murillo, I have no respect for anyone. I lost my son, he was killed on their orders. Rosario Murillo better not come here and tell me he was a young delinquent."