WORLD — In Nicaragua, blood, rage, and the looming threat of dictatorship

Fifteen-year-old Álvaro Conrado died of a gunshot wound to the throat on April 20.  His final words were, “It hurts to breathe.”

Álvaro had been embedded in the massive demonstrations taking place at the National University of Engineering (UNI) in Nicaragua’s capital city, Managua, and was tasked with passing water out to student protesters the day a police sniper shot and killed him.

“He wanted to help from a young age and died helping,” his grandmother told the BBC following his death.

“All this is unfair, he had dreams, we were preparing, he had already learned English, he was going to study law at UCA [Central American University] and then we were going to look for a scholarship abroad,” his father said.

Álvaro was one of thousands of students and workers who had descended on the capital city to protest the government’s response to devastating forest fires in a protected region of the country’s Indio Maiz Biological Reserve, as well as its decision to cut pensions and social security by 5 percent while simultaneously raising worker contributions by 0.75 percent.

The demonstrations — which later spread to cities like Masaya, Esteli, León, Matagalpa, and Bluefields — quickly turned bloody, as President Daniel Ortega’s Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) cracked down on the protests, killing several people, including a Nicaraguan journalist, who was shot in the head.

According to the Nicaraguan Association for the Protection of Human Rights (ANPDH), as of June 5, more than 100 people had been killed in the protests. (Other reports, including numbers released by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, claimed the number was as high as 127, although that figure could not immediately be verified.)

Álvaro’s father said that he had warned his son the protests might get dangerous, but that the 15-year-old gathered two friends and went to the demonstration anyway. After riots erupted between police and protesters, with the two sides launching Molotov cocktails and tear gas canisters at one another, Álvaro took on the responsibility of hauling water to those affected by the latter, making three trips to the northern side of the campus near the newly opened National Baseball Stadium before he was struck by a rubber bullet to the neck.

“A sniper shot him from the stadium,” his father said.

The rubber-coated steel bullet severely damaged Álvaro’s trachea and esophagus, according to the the hospital which issued his death certificate. According to the BBC, on the way to the hospital, he reportedly asked the people with him not to let him close his eyes, out of fear that he might not wake up.

He died minutes later.

Álvaro quickly became a symbol of the resistance against the FSLN. Nicaraguan singer and composer Carlos Mejía Godoy released a song memorializing the 15-year-old, titled “Soy Alvarito Conrado” (“I Am Alvarito Conrado”), which closed with the words, “I am Alvarito Conrado, my blood has not been in vain, a better future is coming.”

Activists praised the teen’s bravery. “He is Alvarito, our hero,” protester Jordana told ThinkProgress. (ThinkProgress has withheld Jordana’s last name for safety reasons.)

Álvaro’s father has since asked that protesters honor his son’s memory by demanding justice. “My son was a normal child and it really hurts me [to lose him],” he said, according to Nicaraguan weekly newspaper El Confidencial. “But I do not want [my son to be] a martyr, that does not work for me. What I ask for is justice.”

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Image credit: Protester Jordana [last name withheld for safety reasons]