It’s been one year since Nicaragua’s civic uprising, and women, who have been uniquely impacted by political violence, are still fighting back.
On April 18, 2018, protestors took to the streets throughout the Central American country, demonstrating against Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo’s government, particularly the president’s social security reform proposals, in a mass rally that sparked an even bigger and longer anti-government movement.
Since then, the government has responded to the mass opposition with violence. Police and paramilitary groups are often sent to rallies to intimidate protestors and deter observers from joining protests. On April 19, authorities’ shots claimed the lives of two young men, Darwin Manuel Urbina, 29, and Richard Eduardo Pavón, 17. A year later, more than 300 are dead, 700 are in jail and 62,000 in exile.
These deaths have directly impacted women — their mothers, partners, siblings and friends — who are turning their pain and anger into fuel for their political fight. Throughout the nation, women have been playing key roles in the opposition movement.
Last year, when Ortega denied there had been any student killings, 21-year-old Madelaine Caracas read out the names of all those deceased, gaining instant repute.
She’s not alone.
A group called Mothers of April, which bands the mothers of those who were killed, jailed or disappeared, has since formed. Together, they offer each other support and make demands, like ending repression, disbanding paramilitary groups and holding elections earlier than those scheduled for 2021.
One of the mothers is Yardira Cordoba, whose son Orlando was shot during a Mother’s Day march in May 2018 when snipers killed 19 people. He was just 15 years old. According to his mom, Orlando, who played drums at his church, left his high school to attend the march on his own. When Cordoba, 45, learned of his presence and that he was wounded, she rushed to the hospital, where he died. “I fell on the floor, crying,” she told Al Jazeera.
The mom, who then faced harassment by pro-government supporters, was forced to move across town. Another of her sons lost his government job because of the publicity and moved to Costa Rica. Long scared to speak out, she joined the mother’s group, seeking support and change.
“I want justice, for my son and all the others,” she said.
Long-time feminist activists in the country are also leading efforts. At 69, Marlen Chow, a sociologist who carried an AK-47 in the Sandinista revolution that overthrew United States-backed dictator Anastasio Somoza in 1979, has since taken on the government that succeeded him.
She was arrested last October for protesting. When police asked her which group she was representing, she said “Pico Rojo,” or red lipstick, igniting the hashtag #SoyPicoRojo, with women and men protesting Ortega and showing their solidarity with Chow by posting photos of themselves in red lipstick.
The women’s efforts have helped ignite some change. Ortega has agreed to release some prisoners, allow people to practice their legal right to protest and let media report on demonstrations and Nicaraguan politics freely. However, human rights officials at the United Nations have said that the president hasn’t followed through on all of his promises.
Until he does, he can count on women to be on the frontlines of resistance.
A Latina teenager from Redondo Beach, Calif., a beach town edging Los Angeles, has gone missing, and authorities believe she could be with two homicide suspects, KTLA reports.
Alora Benitez, 15, was last seen on Wednesday morning in Torrance with her mother and a man, both suspects in the killing of Jeffrey Appel in Carson on Tuesday.
According to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, Appel, 32, was found dead in a car in the 400 block of East Carson Plaza Drive. An autopsy report noted that the man, from Las Vegas, died from gunshot wounds to the neck and torso. His death has been ruled a homicide, with Benitez’s mom, Maricela Mercado, 40, and her ex-husband Roman Cerratos, 39, as the main suspects.
Local police issued an Amber Alert Wednesday when they learned the girl, who is 5 feet and 2 inches tall and about 100 pounds, was last seen with the suspects.
A BMW belonging to the suspects was found in the border town of San Ysidro, though the girl, her mother and the man were not found.
Julian Benitez Jr., the girl’s father, described his daughter as “my air and my life.”
“I just need her back,” Benitez, who hosted an Easter Sunday vigil in Windsor Hills, said. “I need her back in my arms.”
During the vigil, families and friends gathered to pray for the girl’s safe return. Her dad also sent the girl a direct message.
“Alora, if you’re listening, if you see any of this: Make a run for it. Call 911. Get to a phone. Ask for help. Go where there’s a lot of people,” the father said.
Authorities are urging anyone with any information on the child’s whereabouts to contact the Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau at 323-890-5500. They can also send tips anonymously to L.A. Regional Crime Stoppers at 800-222-8477.
While Alora’s case is horrifying, it’s unfortunately not unique.
In the US alone, an estimated 460,000 children go missing every year. A majority of these youth are of color. According to Robert Lowery, vice president for the Missing Children Division of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, about 35 percent of them are Black and another 20 percent are Latinx, CNN reports. Unfortunately, while these young people were abducted, ran away and/or forced into sex trafficking in our own backyards, news of their disappearances hardly make local news, let alone national or international headlines.
Below, we highlight a sample of the countless Latina girls who are missing, some who have disappeared as recently as this month and others whose cases have remained cold for decades.
Sofia Juarez went missing on February 4, 2003, the day before her fifth birthday. Her disappearance, which remains unsolved, triggered Washington’s first-ever Amber alert. A 10-year-old relative reported seeing the young girl walking down the driveway with a man dressed in a black sweatshirt, black pants and sneakers. Officers considered her grandmother’s boyfriend Jose Lopez Torres, a neighbor with a record of minor sex offenses Kevin Ireland and the girl’s father as possible suspects, but no arrests have been made. Sofia’s mother died in 2009, but her family vowed to continue their search for the girl.
Haley Romero-Menendez was last seen in her Northwest Washington, DC neighborhood on Tuesday, March 12. The Metropolitan Police Department is currently asking for the public’s help in finding the “critically missing” 16-year-old Latina. Standing at 5’5” and 130 pounds, she was last seen wearing a green hoodie and blue jeans.
Reyna Alvarado-Carrera was last seen in her Norcross, Georgia home in 2005 at the age of 13. Few details are known, but authorities believe she was abducted by a non-relative male named Jose Carlos Gatica Luna who was 34 years old at the time of the disappearance. The girl, who went by Gaby, is now 27 years old.
Manhattan Latina Sulay Andino was last seen on March 20, 2018 at the age of 16. Standing at 5’5″ tall and 145 pounds, the girl, now 17, is believed to be in the Bronx, though there are few details around her disappearance, including what she was last wearing, who last saw her and what she was last seen doing.
Diana Belinda Alvarez has been missing since May 29, 2016. The girl, then 9 years old, was last seen in her Fort Myers, Fla. home wearing a short-sleeved shirt and blue shorts. Jorge Guerrero, who is currently incarcerated on possession of child pornography charges, is the prime suspect in the now-11-year-old girl’s disappearance. The girl’s mother, Rita, visited Guerrero in jail in July 2016, where the man told her that her daughter was alive but did not tell her where she was.
Henrietta Geck Cruz Avila went missing the summer of 1960, when she was 17 years old. She was last seen in Garden Grove, Calif., where she lived with her husband who she had dated for a month before they wed. News reports refer to the marriage as “no overwhelming success.” The summer of her disappearance, Henrietta’s parents contacted her husband, Merle, to ask where she was. He stated she had packed her bags and left him. A mysterious telegram signed “Henrietta” was sent to the family after the conversation and a collect call was made from someone claiming to be her, though they hung up as soon as her mother took the call. Henrietta’s parents hired a private investigator and offered a $1,000 reward for information on her remains, as they believed she was killed, but she, now 76, remains missing.
Alissa Albizu disappeared from her home in Philadelphia the night of October 16, 2015. Officials have classified her case as an “endangered runaway.” Last seen at age 13, when she was 5’2”, 112 pounds and wearing a red shirt and blue pants, Alissa, who has a tattoo on her right hand, is currently 16 years old.
Agueda Arias disappeared from Longview, Washington at age three on November 16, 2001. The girl was last seen with her mom, Guadalupe Barajas Castro, shopping with an adult male friend. The vehicle the mother, who was pregnant at the time, was driving was found abandoned in California. Neither she nor her mother was seen again in a case authorities have said had “suspicious circumstances.” She would be 20 years old today.
Manuela Carina Caz Choc
Manuela Carina Caz Choc, 16, was last seen June 10, 2018 in Culpeper, Virginia. The girl is believed to be with a man, named Oscar Quinich Tut, who was posing as her biological father. Manuela, now 17, was 5’0″ tall and 92 pounds at the time of her disappearance. She also had gold caps on three of her front teeth with a half moon shape in the middle and a skin condition causing discoloration on both her arms and back.
Aileen Rivera was last seen in Warminster, Pennsylvania on March 10, 2019. Reading police are asking for the public’s assistance in locating the missing 15-year-old. She is 5 feet 4 inches tall and about 120 pounds.
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