THE steep price of dissent. Nicaragua takes hard line on even the smallest anti-government protests.

Dianna Lacayo never imagined that a hunger strike held in a church would turn into a nine-day siege, with the police outside and the electricity and water cut of inside.

But to the Nicaraguan authorities, even the modest protest was a terrible challenge to be crushed.

For nearly two years, Nicaraguans have been rising up against the grip of one family, the  Ortegas,   who are   accused of turning the  country into a personal fief : The president has no term limits., the first lady is the vice president, and their children hold top posts in industries like gas and television.

In the face of unrest, the government has used uncompromising measures to silence public dissent. And despite a collapsing economy, American sanctions and mass emigration, President Daniel Ortega, and his wife, Vice president Rosario Murillo, still holds power firmly.

Once seen as a national hero for his leadership of the leftist dandinista Front that overthrew the dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza in the 1970s, now Mr. Ortega is seen by many in this generation of Nicaraguans as an as an autocratic ruler himself.

As pro-government activists sow violence in the streets, voices of dissent are silenced by arrest and assault. Roughed up and robber by government supporters, protesters sometimes return home from demonstrations without phones or even shoes.

''If we go outside with a flag, we go to jail,'' Ms. Lacayo said. The standoff here at San Miguel Arcangel Church made clear that no place is a sanctuary.

Desperate to be heard, Ms. Lacayo and eight other women went there to see whether a hunger strike might win freedom for their husbands, brothers and sons, political activists who are languishing in government prisons.

By the time it was over,  14 people in all, including Catholic priest, had spent more than a week locked inside, surrounded by police, as basic supplies dwindled to near nothing.

''They left us like rats in a hole,'' said the Rev. Edward Roman, the pastor who was trapped in the church with the protesters.

For Nicaraguans, it was another reminder that simply speaking out can have severe consequences.

The honor and serving of the sad state-of-affairs in the world, and Nicaragua in particular, continues. The World Students Society thanks author Frances Robles.


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