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Miami-Dade County declares April 18th Nicaraguan Freedom Day

Six years after protests, Miami-Dade County declares April 18 as Nicaraguan Freedom Day
Six years after protests, Miami-Dade County declares April 18 as Nicaraguan Freedom Day 03:22

MIAMI -  This year marks six years since thousands of Nicaraguans saw massive anti-government demonstrations in their homeland.

On April 18, 2018, thousands took to the streets to protest against controversial reforms to their social security system where elderly people saw their paychecks reduced.

The protests turned into a demand for that country's ruler Daniel Ortega's resignation after he responded with repressive force.

Ortega's actions led to arrests, deaths, and a significant exodus of Nicaraguans, tens of thousands came to South Florida.

"I am declaring today, April 18th as Nicaraguan Freedom Day," said Daniella Levine Cava, Mayor of Miami-Dade County at a gathering with Nicaraguan exiles. "By commemorating a significant day, the county stands in solidarity with the Nicaraguan people," said the mayor. 

At least 355 people were murdered from April of 2018 to six months later, according to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), although Nicaraguan Organizations raised that figure to 684.

"Fourteen percent of the population forced into exile," said Felix Maradiaga, who is one of them. His crime? He challenged Ortega in the Presidential Elections.

Maradiaga, a human rights and political activist with a track of outspoken activism, was accused by the regime of "financing terrorism." He was arrested and spent 611 days in jail.

"Very difficult conditions in terms of lack of water, lack of food, constant interrogation, no access to lawyers, even the trial took place inside the prison," said Maradiaga. 

His wife and daughter fled to South Florida.

Six years later, Ortega is still in power and attacking the Catholic Church, too.

"You have all these pastors and missionaries that are being arrested now," said Florida Senator Rick Scott. 

Scott led a resolution condemning the Nicaraguan regime's religious persecution in the U.S. Senate. He acknowledges more needs to be done.

"Number one, we need to call it out, we need to be very vocal about it. Number two, help people from Nicaragua who are in this country. Number three, try to pass legislation that would force the Biden Administration put sanctions on the Ortega regime," said Scott. 

Ortega has governed Nicaragua for 27 years. His wife, Rosario Murillo is the vice president, she declared April 18th as the National Day of Peace because protesters are in jail or left the country.

According to the Pew Research Center, in 2021, 450,000 Nicaraguans lived in the U.S., almost 40% in South Florida.

CBS New Miami's Ivan Taylor addressed the issue of immigration with Maradiaga. 

"Immigration is a hot subject in the U.S. Do you foresee there will be an increased exodus of Nicaraguans coming specifically toward South Florida? 

"The best investment that the Western World (U.S. and European Community) can do is to help us build democracy," responded Maradiaga.  "Nicaragua is a case study. We didn't use to produce such massive number of migrants, if we had democracy and freedom in our countries, I think that would be the best policy for both the U.S. and Europe."

On Sunday, April 21st, the Nicaraguan American community will hold two marches, one in Miami and another one in Sweetwater commemorating what started on April of 2018. 

Organizers say every year, they get bigger as the exodus keeps increasing. 

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