Currently, for Nicaraguans it is very dangerous to express their repudiation of the regime of President Daniel Ortega. The Nicaraguan government has expelled the United Nations human rights delegation from the country, has removed legal registration from the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights and other non-governmental organizations that demonstrate the human rights violations of thousands of Nicaraguans who have suffered at the hands of the current government.
The Nicaraguan government currently does not authorize any kind of demonstration against its administration. Even in public universities, students cannot assemble in groups of more than three people for fear that it is “dangerous”. Ironically, even the use of the national flag and patriotic symbols have been condemned and are associated with terrorism.
Despite the detentions, repressions and threats, Nicaraguans continue to express and demonstrate against the government. No longer in massive marches, the Nicaraguan people are expressing their repudiation against the government in other artistic and creative ways.
Nonviolent resistance in the face of repression
In September 2018, in a “form of citizen resistance”, the streets of Nicaraguan cities and towns were filled with blue and white balloons, the colors representing those of the national flag. The police responded swiftly by destroying the balloons, an act met with ridicule as the balloons did not pose any danger to the public.
In October, 38 people were arrested, (the great majority of whom were elderly) who were gathered in one of the main commercial areas of the country carrying flags of Nicaraguan blue and white. The police captured, beat and imprisoned these people for using the national flag and demanding the release of political prisoners. According to the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights, these arrests are following a trend where the total number is already around 500 detainees which have been seemingly arbitrarily sentenced for “vandal acts and terrorism.”
Defiant red lips
One of the people who was detained in October was taken to Chipote detention center, popularly known in the country for the methods of torture used there. This detainee was Marlen Chow, 69 years old, a sociologist, influential political activist and defender of human rights. In the past, Chow opposed the Somocista dictatorship and was a former sympathizer of the Sandinista government.
During her interrogation, Chow was questioned: what organization did she belong to? And who paid her to participate in the protests? She told the national media that during the interrogation, she recalled the association founded in the past by the renowned Nicaraguan-Salvadoran poet, Claribel Alegría. And so, Chow declared she belonged to the “Asociación de Mujeres Nicaragüenses Pico Rojo” (Association of Nicaraguan Women with Red Lips), and immediately took from her handbag a stick of red lipstick that she always uses, and she painted her lips in a show of defiance. She then told all the other prisoners to paint their lips red in solidarity. All those questioned then answered that they also belonged to the Association of Nicaraguan Women with Red Lips.
A viral trend on social media
Chow was released the day after and her story was made known through local media channels. Then the news went viral on social network. Thousands of Nicaraguans published photographs of themselves with red lips saying that they belong Association of Nicaraguan Women with Red Lips, with the hashtag #SoyPicoRojo.
The hashtag #SoyPicoRojo has become a phenomenon on social media and has spread beyond just Nicaragua. It is not only Nicaraguans who joined this form of creative and non-violent protest, but also many people of different nationalities across the globe who express their support of the protests of the Nicaraguans, which highlights the situation at the international level.
An inclusive form of protest
An important aspect of this form of nonviolent and nonaggressive protest is the fact that it has been inclusive. The movement has involved people from different areas of the country, social strata, religious beliefs, political ideologies and generational strata. There are photographs of farmers and business people, seniors and youths, models and housewives, professors, taxi drivers, journalists, comedians, doctors and musicians, all with red lips and the hashtag #SoyPicoRojo. Notably, the #SoyPicoRojo movement has transcended the gender gap. In a country like Nicaragua, in which macho culture is deeply rooted, it is especially significant that men have joined this form of protest and taken it as their own- it is to leave aside gender stereotypes and taboos.
Rebellion through irony
The response of Marlene Chow in her interrogation reflects the creativity of the Nicaraguan people. Despite living through persecution and mourning for the people killed in the protests, Nicaraguans manage to turn pain into laughter, an expression of rebellion through irony. The police expected that during her detention, Chow would confess between tears that she belonged to a terrorist group or that her participation was financed by some country opposed to the government of Daniel Ortega and would represent some danger to his dictatorial government. But they never could imagine that despite the threats and pressure made during the interrogation, the ingenuity and satire of Chow would emerge with a firm response, her face adorned with a big smile and bright, defiant red lips. The #SoyPicoRojo movement has managed to have an unanimous consensus, in which men participate as well as women, young people as well as seniors. The #SoyPicoRojo movement shows that despite the government’s persecution and criminalization of the protests against it, the Nicaraguan people continue to find ways of collective nonviolent resistance to human rights violations.