Sitting at the bar at Bocadillos in the Hotel Casa San Francisco in late February 2018, I watched through the broad, tall open doorway as protesters marched by outside in the bright sunshine washing over the Calle Corrales.

They were peacefully protesting the Daniel Ortega regime and its growing authoritarian bent. They all love their country. But many do not love or trust Daniel Ortega.

I had witnessed this sort of demonstration numerous times while in Nicaragua. The year before they marched along the same street, celebrating the real father of Nicaraguan independence, Augusto C. Sandino, a man Ortega takes care to praise, but in no way measures up to.

A few days later, shortly before I flew back to Chicago, I attended a baseball game between the Nicaraguan national team and Cuba in Managua’s new Dennis Martinez stadium.

It was, to say the least, festive. American baseball games feature organ music. Nicaraguan ball games feature entire brass bands. We have the 7th inning stretch. In Nica they have dancing and crowd engagement activities between every inning. 

Less than eight weeks later, I sat before my laptop, staring in disbelief and sorrow at the online news of peaceful demonstrations outside that same stadium being met with lethal force.

The very same upper deck areas of Martinez Stadium I had looked up at mere weeks before were now being used as sniper’s nests from which Ortega’s paramilitary coldly shot to death numerous protestors, with the sole purpose of instilling fear in any citizen who dared to protest his policies. 

That week, Ortega and his wife Muriel pulled the masks from their faces and showed the world who they really were and what they’re really about. The press is now mostly shut down or tightly controlled, and people’s movement between areas is closely monitored and checked. Those who speak out against the Ortega regime are imprisoned and worse. Police now patrol in packs, many carrying automatic weapons.

On June 1, President Donald Trump and some of his enablers pulled the masks from their faces and showed America who they really are, using phrases like “dominate the streets,” referring to our nation’s capital as a “battlespace,” and calling for “retribution” and long jail sentences for protestors.

“It’s a movement; if you don’t put it down, it will get worse and worse,” Trump told our nation’s governors in a teleconference.

“You don’t have to be too careful,” Trump said, adding, “I wish we had an occupying force in there.”

Black America, had taken to the streets in the wake of the horrific scene of a police officer casually kneeling on the neck of a handcuffed black man for nine minutes as he suffocated to death. Black and brown people already knew how suffocating authoritarian government could be and what it felt like to be occupied.

The rest of America — read, white America — woke up on June 1 and realized they were also in the crosshairs of authoritarianism. On Trump’s orders, anonymous, uniformed thugs battered, pepper-sprayed and threatened American civilians with low-flying helicopters over the streets of Washington D.C.

It was a jolting awakening to a reality that has been slowly descending on us like a dark cloud for more than three years — an emboldened, wannabe strongman, modeled after such murderous autocrats as Vladimir Putin, Mohammed bin Salman and Kim Jong-un.

In crossing a clear line of unconstitutionality, using our military to attack and intimidate people on American soil for the supposed sin of exercising their constitutionally protected rights, Trump removed any doubt as to the clear and present danger he is to this country.

America is not Nicaragua. But we are both infected with an authoritarian virus that threatens our rights and freedoms. A key difference between our two countries is that the United States’ body politic is allegedly healthier and our institutions much stronger than Nicaragua’s. So we are better prepared and able to fight off the infection of which Donald Trump is a symptom.

It is past time for all Americans to defend the blessings of freedom so many of us enjoy but that too many of us still do not benefit from.

There are no snipers firing from rooftops here … yet. That may sound melodramatic. But if a man who is clearly incapable of empathy and void of any sense of responsibility or accountability is not removed by voters in November (and his Senate enablers also) it is anyone’s guess which line he will dare to cross next. Or how profound the damage will be.

The citizenry of this country — all of us — cannot afford to stand by and wait to find out the answer to those questions.

Bill Dwyer is a former Oak Parker and former reporter for Wednesday Journal.

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