Nicaraguans lost to political violence


When Gerald Jose Vasquez Lopez joined student protests in Nicaragua earlier this year, he assured his mother, Susana, that she shouldn’t worry.

He was fighting for Nicaragua so the country could be free, he told her. Lopez, 20, said he’d be home soon, when the protests were over.

Days later, Lopez was dead, killed during a 15-hour siege at the National Autonomous University of Nicaragua (UNAN). He was a student in technical construction.

Lopez and one other young man, Francisco Jose Flores, died in the July 14 siege. As many as 450 people have been killed since anti-government protests began in April, according to a recent tally by a human rights group.

The long, violent siege at UNAN was part of an ongoing rebellion by Nicaraguans against their government. Thousands, many of them students, have poured into the streets to call for the resignation of President Daniel Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo.

Student rebels at UNAN had occupied the school for two months when paramilitaries loyal to the government attacked. During the standoff, Lopez was shot and killed.

The protests have widened into countrywide revolt against Ortega, who took office in 2007.

Juan Carlos, a photographer documenting the uprising in Nicaragua, was on assignment for The Washington Post the weekend the university came under fire. “The mood is this thing is going to go on to [become] a civil war,” Carlos said.

The photographer met one injured student protester who goes by the pseudonym “El Viejo.” He was hiding in a barricade when the university came under attack.

Bullets exploded around El Viejo, hitting a wall and blowing shrapnel at his face.

In addition to those killed in the protests since April, at least 2,800 have been injured, the Nicaraguan Association for Human Rights recently reported.

After the siege ended, Carlos attended wakes for Lopez and Flores. At Lopez's wake, his mother held up a piece of bloodied clothing and wept.

“It was very eerie,” Carlos said of the wake. “It was quiet — but quiet from sadness.”

There wasn’t much crying, Carlos said, “but you could feel that sadness.”

Lopez’s sister, Paola, stood by her older brother’s coffin, gently arranging bullet casings she had laid on top of it. Lopez’s mother, Susana, was in shock.

“[Susana] just kept saying, ‘This is my first son. ... I lost him.’”

“It’s always sad to be in these situations, kind of invading that very, very tragic moment,” Carlos said. “But there’s a need to show this type of moment to get people more connected to what’s going on.”