Recently, Nicaraguans gathered at the statue of their national poet, Rubén Darío, in the eponymous Ruben Dario Park in Sweetwater.
What began as a small gathering grew too close to 500 people within half-an-hour. The passionate crowd was wearing blue and white, the colors of their national flag - which has become a symbol of rebellion against the current government. Many held poster boards with pictures of Nicaraguans either killed or jailed over the last nine months for protesting against president Daniel Ortega.
The group marched for about 2 miles down Flagler Street while cars honked in support. They weaved through the neighborhood, commonly referred to as Little Managua or Little Nicaragua, waving flags, chanting, while onlookers cheered. Their message: Ortega must step down.
When Nicaragua’s left-wing Sandinista Revolution overthrew right-wing dictator Anastasio Somoza in 1979, Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega became the country’s president - but over time he lost support from his party's popular base. He was voted out in 1990, only to be elected to the presidency again in 2006. He has been tightening his grip on the country ever since.
Tensions reached new heights in April of last year, when hundreds of thousands took to the streets of Nicaragua demanding an end to the Ortega regime. The student-led protests centered on an order from President Ortega that increased taxes while reducing pensions.
Security forces responded with a murderous crackdown, killing over 300, according to the according to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, with hundreds still missing.
The U.S. recently approved heavier economic sanctions on the Nicaraguan government for its violent repression of protesters. Daniel Ortega shirked all responsibility, and blamed the independent media for “inciting violence.”
In the last months, some Nicaraguan journalists critical of the government have been beaten, others have been jailed, and several have received threats against their families. Some had fled to neighboring nearby countries, such as Costa Rica. Last month, police raided one of the last remaining independent media outlets in Nicaragua, 100% Noticias (or 100% News).
Political commentator Jaime Arellano, whose weekly program "Jaime Arellano en La Nación" was long critical of the Ortega regime, is among the group of journalists suffering retaliation.
Arellano, 59, who suffers from migraines and blood pressure, came to the U.S. seeking medical treatment in December, just weeks before police stormed the TV news station 100% Noticias, in Managua on Dec. 21, 2018 and an order for his arrest was issued.
"We kept going until like a month ago, when they ordered the capture of myself and all of the journalists at the channel and they arrested the owner of the channel, Miguel Mora, and the chief Lucia Pineda Ubau - they are in jail right now,” says Arellano, who decided to stay in Miami with his son for the time being.
Miami has become a refuge for these journalists and activists, and also a place for the Nicaraguan diaspora to organize and protest - calling on the international community to come to their assistance.
Arellano was treated like a hero at the Saturday’s march, with people crowding him to take selfies - although he is always quick to point out he is neither a leader nor alone in his views.
“We are here to march, for those who lost their lives in the hand of the dictator, Ortega. They want freedom, they want democracy,” he says. “We will get it, we will get, we are closer than anyone thinks. We are winning because we are together.”
Waving a small Nicaraguan flag and using a mask to conceal his identity, a young man named Hugo -he asked not to publish his name for fear of retaliation against his family in Nicaragua- says he came to the rally in Sweetwater because he loves his country. “Those guys [Ortega government] are murderers. They have betrayed the people. He must step down from power forever!”
Nearby, Alba Portocarrero holds a sign with a picture of her sister Delmi Portocarrero, who is kept in the El Chipote prison in Managua. Delmi is 56 and was arrested in May of last year, accused of allowing pro-Ortega paramilitaries to be tortured in her house.The rest of her family had to flee to Guatemala.
In obvious distress and with tears in her eyes, Portocarrero says her sister is being unjustly imprisoned: “she is just like every citizen, she was making her voice heard.”.
Other anti-government advocates also joined the street march, including many exiled journalists and activists who have fled Nicaragua.
Lesther Alemán, a twenty-year-old student who boldly told Ortega at a public meeting that it was time for him to step down, was at the rally, representing the hopes of Nicaragua’s youth.
For now, Jaime Arellano continues to broadcast his show remotely from Miami on YouTube and Facebook. He says he receives death threats on a regular basis to be silenced. “I can guarantee, Ortega will leave the country this year,” Arellano tells the crowd around him.
“Are we winning?” he asks - The crowd cheers and shouts back “Yes, we are winning!”.