Student leader who confronted Ortega returns to Nicaragua

FILE - In this May 16, 2018 file photo, student representative Lesther Aleman interrupts Nicaragua's President Daniel Ortega, shouting that he must halt the repression, during the opening of the national dialogue on the outskirts of Managua, Nicaragua. The university student leader, who confronted Ortega in the first national dialogue in 2018, returns to Nicaragua after a year of a self-imposed exile in the United States. (AP Photo/Alfredo Zuniga, File)

A Nicaraguan university student leader who confronted President Daniel Ortega in the first, failed talks on solving the country’s political standoff returned to the Central American country Monday after spending a year in exile in the United States.

Lesther Alemán, 21, arrived on a flight from Miami and was met at Managua’s international airport by other student leaders and opposition figures.

Alemán told journalists he is running a “very high risk” by returning, but that won’t stop him.

“The decision has been totally personal and I am not encouraging anybody to return,” he said, “because the repression in the country continues.”

Anti-government protests erupted in April 2018 and were met with a tough crackdown by security forces and armed, allied civilian groups. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights says 328 people were killed, hundreds arrested and at least 70,000 fled into exile.

The government accuses the opposition of attempting a “failed coup d’etat.”

Alemán was a fourth-year journalism student when the unrest began and became well-known after he urged Ortega to resign during the nationally televised talks in May 2018.

“This is not a table of dialogue. This is a table to negotiate your exit and you know it well,” he told the president. “Give up!”

After several months hiding in safe houses, Alemán said in September 2018 that police were seeking to arrest him and fled across the southern border into Costa Rica.

He said he was able to re-enter Nicaragua on Monday without restriction, though immigration officials asked him some questions.

“They delayed in stamping my passport and asked me (where was) the exit stamp,” he added, without giving details on how he left Nicaragua last year.

“Nothing is normal” in Nicaragua,” Alemán said. Otherwise, “those would come to greet me would be my parents and I would take a taxi to my house, but I can’t do that.”

He vowed to continue “fighting for justice and democracy” and urged the government to resume negotiations with the opposition.

Other exiled opposition figures have returned to Nicaragua in recent weeks, two of whom then alleged they were being followed and harassed by paramilitaries.

Ortega officials have repeatedly said they consider protesters “terrorists.”q