Memories of a Soccer Player: “A Sniper shot twice at protesters’ heads and scattered the protest”

For the first time since the civil uprising in April 2018, a high-profile soccer player spoke about the massacre that the Ortega regime committed against protesters who took to the streets that year demanding their resignation. During the conversation, the Spanish player, who is a naturalized Nicaraguan, revealed that he witnessed “people dying” from his window and was affected by tear gas. “This is the main reason why I am no longer in the country,” he stated

Pablo Gállego, a former Nicaraguan National Soccer Team player, stated during an interview on the YouTube channel “Infames” that he saw how paramilitary groups of the Sandinista regime shot at demonstrators during the 2018 marches.

Gállego, a former National Soccer Team and Real Estelí player, confessed in the interview that the paramilitary groups aimed at the protesters’ heads, with the goal of dispersing them. 

Gállego is a soccer player who currently plays for Unión Deportiva Barbastro in Spain. He became a naturalized Nicaraguan in 2021. During the protests in April 2018, he was playing as a forward for Real Esteli. From his apartment window, located near the municipality of Estelí, he observed how the protesters were attacked by armed groups linked to the Sandinista regime.

“(During a protest) I was trapped in a cafe, in the middle of a shootout. When they called a truce to drink water, we managed to leave. I had never experienced mustard gas (tear gas), I couldn’t breathe, my eyes were burning terribly,” the Spanish soccer player said to the YouTube channel “Infames,” which is dedicated to interviewing sports celebrities.

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According to the report by the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts (GIEI), on April 20, 2018, serious incidents occurred in Estelí between protesters and agents of the National Police operating alongside pro-Sandinista shock groups. At least three people were killed by gunshots, and a fourth person was seen dying in videos circulated on social media.

“These deaths were caused by gunshot impacts to the head and chest. However, they were not the only people killed in the department of Estelí. In subsequent events, GIEI was able to document, within its period of analysis, seven more fatal victims in Estelí,” the report states.

He saw everything from his window

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Graffiti during the march called “Nothing is normal”, held Saturday, Aug. 18, 2018, in Managua, Nicaragua. Divergentes | EFE/Rodrigo Sura

Gállego did not specify in the interview the days he observed from his window as the protesters were attacked by snipers. Nor did he offer an opinion on what was happening in the country. He simply stated that it was an alarming situation and that he received a call from the Spanish embassy asking if he wanted to leave the country.

According to GIEI, the protesters intended to hold a peaceful march from the southern exit of the city of Estelí, circle through the central avenue, and end in the Central Park square in the center of the town. However, a few minutes after the mobilization began, the National Police and paramilitary groups blocked the route, forcing them to change the original path and head towards the park and the municipality area.

Around five o’clock in the afternoon, the National Police and paramilitary groups received orders to prevent the mobilization from reaching the municipality area. Protesters were attacked with rubber bullet shots, tear gas, and also stones. As night fell, the situation became even more violent. According to available videos, shots were fired at the protesters, and the Central Park area began to see the first injured people.

“At nine o’clock at night, the videos obtained and analyzed by GIEI show how shots were fired at the protesters who were in front of the municipality. It was at that moment that the first deaths of the day happened,” the expert group’s report details.

That night, Francisco Valdivia Machado, César Noé Castillo Castillo, and Orlando Pérez Corrales were killed; they were in the vicinity of the central park and municipality. According to the GIEI report, they were nearly simultaneously killed.

Based on videos showing the position of the victims and obtained testimonies, “it is very likely that the shots the young men received came from the municipality.”

Gállego was not indifferent to what happened that night. According to his narrative, he saw people die in front of his home, which was located next to the municipality. The player observed everything from his window, from the arrival of the protesters until they were violently attacked.

According to the former Real Estelí player, to disperse the protest, the municipal government brought in a sniper who shot twice at protesters’ heads. The next day, he saw the blood left behind from the victims killed the previous night.

“I began to see news reports of traffic being stopped throughout the country. It was an alarming situation. This attempted ‘coup’ or social uprising is the main reason why I am no longer in Nicaragua after my contract ended,” explained the player who would return to the country a few years later to play for Managua FC, another First Division soccer team.

Franco, Orlando, and César…

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Franco Valdivia was killed on April 20, 2018 by paramilitary groups. His relatives say that a sniper shot from a privileged position and killed him. Divergentes| Courtesy

During the repression on April 20, three citizens from Estelí were killed. The first reported by GIEI is César Noé Castillo Castillo, 42, who was shot in the chest. César was taken by coworkers to the San Juan de Dios Hospital in Estelí. He agonized for some time and died on May 12 at his home due to the severity of his injury and inadequate medical treatment.

Simultaneously, Orlando Pérez Corrales, 24, was shot in the chest, dying immediately. According to GIEI, after the impact, the young man’s coworkers recovered his body and took him to the San Juan de Dios Hospital in Estelí. However, he was dead on arrival and was moved to the morgue.

The third was Franco Alexander Valdivia Machado, 24, who was shot in the head. According to the GIEI report, immediately after, people who were part of the group that clashed with the protesters—possible perpetrators of the murder—dragged the young man’s body from the scene and left him lifeless at the San Juan de Dios Hospital in Estelí.

“These scenes, truly heart-wrenching, were recorded. The inhumane treatment of the young man’s body also constituted a distortion of the crime scene,” the expert group stated.

The information we publish in DIVERGENTES comes from contrasted sources. Due to the situation in the region, many times, we are forced to protect them under pseudonymity or anonymity. Unfortunately, some governments in the region, including the Nicaraguan regime, do not provide information or censor independent media. For this reason, despite requesting it, we cannot rely on official, authorized versions. We resort to data analysis, anonymous internal sources, or limited information from the official media. These are the conditions under which we exercise a profession that, in many cases, costs us our safety and our lives. We will continue to report.