Lesther Alemán, 20. Photograph: Tom Phillips for the Guardian
As well as coming to terms with their new-found renown, Nicaragua’s student rebels have had to fight off claims they are the puppets of US-backed “coup-mongers”.
Those efforts were undermined last month when several of their number flew to Washington, reportedly to enlist Donald Trump in their anti-Ortega crusade, and were photographed with senior Republicans including Marco Rubio. The trip was reportedly bankrolled by Freedom House, a US-backed nonprofit which supports human rights and democracy advocates around the world.
“We’ve painted ourselves with a terrible brush. We’ll have to correct our mistakes,” student leader Harley Morales subsequently admitted, adding: “We’re not for sale!”
Observers blame most of the recent bloodshed on security forces or government-linked paramilitary gangs. But the students have also been forced to rebut accusations from Ortega and his allies that they are the ones driving the current wave of violence.
“It is a totally peaceful struggle,” Valle said. “Non-violence is our most powerful weapon.”
Costa said the decision to shun violence was not simply about being “good people”: “It’s a political calculation. We know that if we respond to the government’s violence with violence, our whole agenda will fall away. Rationally, we know violence would hurt us more than it would help us.”
Beyond the obvious physical dangers, Valle admitted life as a student revolutionary was a grind: “We’ve got no money … at the start we didn’t even have food. We spent a week with nothing but cookies and water.”
“And wearing natural Ray-Bans,” quipped Costa, pointing to the dark bags under his sleep-deprived eyes.
Valle’s mother was at least beginning to accept her daughter’s new life as an undergraduate insurgent though – even if she was still nervous about the risks.
“It’s natural,” Valle said. “She’s afraid I might get killed.”
Additional reporting by Juan Diego Briceño