“This government is uglier than my handwriting,” Nahiroby Olivas, a student from Leon, joked in a video that he posted on Facebook on June 29. The yellow sign he’s holding contains the handwritten phrase: “He who doesn’t love his country, doesn’t love his mother.”

That’s the same exact phrase that he used to conclude the arguments he’d had with his mother since the protests began on April 18 of this year. When she attempted to convince him how dangerous it was to participate in the protests in Leon, he’d end the conversation by repeating: “He who doesn’t love his country, doesn’t love his mother.”

One of the last times that they spoke, his mother told him that if he participated in one more demonstration or march, she’d have to throw him out of the house. “What can I do, then, Mother? If that’s your decision, well, I’ll just have to go,” he responded, seconds before once again uttering the phrase that Jackeline Valdivia now has engraved in her heart.

The political activism of this youth was awakened on the morning of April 18, when a number of student leaders from the National Autonomous University of Nicaragua (UNAN) came to recruit him, asking him to leave class and participate “in a march”. Minutes later, he learned that they had been summoned to beat up some elderly people who were protesting the reforms to Social Security that Daniel Ortega’s regime was attempting to impose.

“My son has never had a fight in his life. That day he came back horrified after seeing how the youth beat that group of old people. He told me that he kept imagining that they were doing that to his Dad, who’s retired,” Jackeline explains.

Voice of the students

 “A coup plotter”, a “terrorist”. That’s how the official media of the regime have described Nahiroby, the awkward boy of 18 who – together with other students – led the protests in the university city, and who today is in prison.

“They want to expel us from our university for fighting for university autonomy!” he yelled in an improvised march when he was told that the authorities had thrown them out of the university for exercising their right to demonstrate.

When he would take the microphone, in the streets or on a stage in front of hundreds of demonstrators, his nasal voice would ignite, and the audience responded to his urging.

At first, they didn’t pay him a lot of attention and didn’t want to accept him in the protests because they looked on him as a child, his father, Claudio Olivas, recalls. “But later, they saw that he was a kid with good ideas and willing to fight for what is just,” he explains.

The leader turns 18

On April 19, a day after the protests began, Nahiroby turned 18. He had to postpone his celebration until the next day. He was at his birthday party when the University Center of the National University (CUUN) caught fire. The burnt remains of a student, Cristhian Emilio Cadena, were later found at the site. Today, the police are accusing Nahiroby of both crimes.

His parents affirm that on the day this happened, he was celebrating at home with them and his friends.  Claudio Olivas, who was a law professor for more than 30 years at the UNAN [Nicaraguan National Autonomous University] in Leon, assures that they have proof of their son’s innocence.

“Nahiroby learned about the burning of the CUUN on Facebook. He even came over to me, indignant, to show me the video of what was happening,” his mother states.

In addition to the crimes mentioned, he’s accused of kidnapping for ransom, hindering public services, aggravated robbery with intimidation and violent robbery.

“We have proof that he’s innocent of all the crimes they’re attempting to pin on him. I know that he’s incapable of doing all those things. These accusations are a badly written novel, and those who accuse him know they’re lying. Their consciences will never be clean,” Jackeline insists.

Hyperactive and talkative

“Nahiroby has always been an upright kid, and everything they say about him is false. He was my first friend when I moved into the neighborhood. I remember that they were still building my house when he came over and said: ‘Hey, little kid, let’s play baseball,’” said one of his best friends.

His friends describe Nahiroby as a person with a strong character, but sure of what he wants. “The last time I saw him I tried to talk to him about soccer to distract him, but he just said to me very confidently that this is a just struggle, because we deserve a better country,” the friend explains.

His mother assures that Nahiroby has always been “a hyperactive child”. When he was little, he’d cry because he wanted to go to school. They had to register him for classes two years earlier than the compulsory age for starting school.

He liked to play soccer at school, and he’d go to the stadium with his father to watch the baseball games. He was also very enthusiastic about writing poetry, and from the time he was 15 he danced in a ballet group.

“The Sandinista Party is dead”

What hurts Claudio Olivas most is seeing his son in jail. He describes himself as a “hard-core Sandinista” who supported them “with closed eyes”.

“Nahiroby would say to me: ‘you’re supporting something that’s not good. Over time, I discovered that what my son was doing was right. It’s unjust what the government is doing, repressing people for no reason,” he said.

“Since they captured my son, I’ve sworn to support him. To me, there’s no room for the Sandinistas any more. It’s not right what they’re doing to me, they’ve betrayed me. My son is a student, he’s no criminal,” Olivas insists.

A determined youth

Nahiroby’s parents assure that they were surprised when he announced to them that he was going to study law. Both tried to convince him that it wasn’t an easy career, because both are lawyers. But it was useless.

“He surprised me, because when he was small, he always wanted to be a doctor. Later, when he got a little older, he’d tell me that he was going to be an animal doctor; eventually, he decided that he wanted to be a lawyer, but said that he’d be different, because he’d fight for what was right.”

The university student from Leon shared several videos in which he declared that he was fighting for university autonomy. “Someone’s going to tell me that I’m a cyber-terrorist, because I’m trying to educate people. To them, educating seems like an attack,” he declared.

In a Facebook Live post he recorded on August 20, he challenged Walter Mata, one of the student leaders who were allied with the Ortega regime, to a debate regarding university autonomy.

“As students, we have the right to demonstrate freely,” Nahiroby insisted.

The last march

Jackeline Valdivia was afraid to participate in the marches in Leon, but when she could no longer see her son at home, she went to several, just to be able to hug him.

On August 25, she and her youngest daughter, together with her two twin nieces and Nahiroby’s grandmother, decided to participate in a demonstration.

“The march ended when we got to Guadelupe Park around five-thirty in the afternoon. He hugged me, and also his grandmother and his little sister, and he told me to take care of myself.”

Ten minutes later, she found out that he’d been arrested, together with six other university students. “It hurts so much, but it’s a comfort to me that at least I saw him on that day,” she says.

Since that date, she’s seen him a few times. Her son remains optimistic that the country is going to change. “He tells me that if they ask about him, I should tell them that they mustn’t let that seed of change that’s been planted dry up, that the moment for change is now,” she relates.

“Nicaragua, be strong! Nicaragua, be strong” were the words of the university student who raised his fist on high, one month after his arrest during the initial hearing at his trial. The video immediately went viral.

His father says that whenever he’s been able to see him, he repeats the same phrase, but also asks them personally to be strong. “He wants to tell Nicaragua not to forget about them, but also that they continue hoping that the people will triumph.”