Directed by : Stéphane Goël

Genre : Documentary

Duration : 70′

Year : 2006

Original version : French, Spanish

Subtitles : German, English, Italian

Qué viva Mauricio Demierre

The Sandinista revolution incited hundreds of young occidentals to realise their political ideals in Nicaragua. Everything seemed possible in a country in full socialist reconstruction after decades of Somoza’s totalitarian regime. A generation of activists joined the revolution and experimented with it daily.

From 1982 onwards, “the Contra”, a counter-revolutionary guerilla financed by the USA, made attacks on the country to weaken the Sandinists. The civil war claimed 50,000 victims, among whom there were some twenty young foreigners.

After four years spent in Nicaragua, Swiss agricultural engineer Maurice Demierre was killed in an ambush on 16 February 1986. He became a martyr of the revolution.

The film goes back over Maurice Demierre’s and his companion Chantal Bianchi’s journey, from their departure from Switzerland in 1982 to Chantal’s pilgrimage to Maurice’s grave twenty years after his death.

For her, this was a way of coming to terms with the death of her companion, just like the Nicaraguan people had to come to terms with their revolution.

Historical context

The Nicaragua of July 19, 1979 emerged from the long Somozist night with images that shook the world of solidarity. In Managua, thousands of young men and women fighters, out of uniform, each with his or her own look, brandishing rifles, pistols or molotovs, in baseball caps, red and black scarves tied around their necks. Perched on improbable trucks, they laugh out loud in the dust and the sun to celebrate the fall of the dictator and the victory of the Sandinista revolution.

These images, the first in a series produced by the popular revolution in the early ’80s, captured the hearts and minds of thousands of young people, third-worlders, committed Christians and revolutionary activists, mainly in Europe and the Americas.

In the early ’80s, Nicaragua emerged from anonymity onto the world news screen. Literacy and vaccination campaigns, popular Sandinista militias providing security, coffee-harvesting brigades, land distribution: these were breathtaking images that suggested hope was on the way.

This news is circulating, reaching Switzerland and boosting the readiness of hundreds of volunteers and brigadists. A people of the South rebuilding their country and defending their revolution electrifies a solidarity movement ready to practice internationalism.

But where do these internationalists come from? The oldest militants come out of May 68 and years of political and social work in factories and on building sites. In Switzerland, their internationalism was nurtured by common struggles with southern European émigrés working in the country. It was also forged through demonstrations in support of the Vietnamese people. Younger people are often linked to protest movements such as “Lausanne bouge”, which swept through several Swiss cities in the early 80s. Occupying abandoned houses, they want to change life, to discover new social spaces outside the concrete and dullness of Switzerland.

Other forces in opposition or in revolt against Western society responded to the call of the new Nicaragua: committed Christians, trade unionists, anarchists and feminists all joined forces to form brigades.

On the ground, in Nicaragua and Europe, in Switzerland too, the solidarity movement took off. For the first time in a long time, with Sandinista Nicaragua, this was not a protest movement against the repression of a dictatorship, but a movement in support of a victorious revolution, which in many ways seemed to open up a new period for Central America and even Latin America.

But above all, for the first time since the Spanish war in 1936, Nicaragua is putting concrete internationalism back on the agenda, with commitment on the ground, shoulder to shoulder. Brigades were sent out to help rebuild the country and demonstrate international solidarity in the face of contra attacks.

Of course, it’s not all plain sailing for the young brigadists, the “Sandalists”, as the mocking Nicaraguans call them. It’s not always a straightforward meeting between those who come from affluence and those who have known only deprivation. Participation in production can be problematic, when brigadists bring in less than they consume, as for example during the coffee harvest, when internationalist activity had more symbolic than economic significance.

It is against this passionate backdrop that the story of Maurice and Chantal, who left for Nicaragua in November 1982, unfolds.

Singing revolution

The second of five brothers and sisters, Maurice Demierre was born in Bulle in 1957, into a family marked by its Christian commitment and particular political sensitivity.

Motivated by his family’s religious values and deeply influenced by the example of an uncle, Abbé Louis Heimo, a missionary murdered in Thailand, his decision seemed irreversible: to work in solidarity with a Third World country.

Coming from a working-class background – his father was a typographer – Maurice wanted to work in the building trade after obtaining a literary baccalaureate. But he missed the outdoors, and began a series of agricultural internships in Italy, France and Spain. Eventually, he worked on several estates in French-speaking Switzerland, as well as on a number of mountain pastures. At the same time, he attended the Grangeneuve School of Agriculture, where he graduated as an agricultural technician.

In 1977, he joined the regional group of Frères sans Frontières in Fribourg, with the well-established plan of going as a volunteer to a country in the South, “any country”.

His attraction to the Third World continued to grow, coupled with his closeness to rural Switzerland and his non-violent, anti-militarist attitude, which made him a conscientious objector. His refusal to serve in the army on religious, ideological and political grounds earned him a three-month prison sentence.

After his release, he met Chantal Bianchi, a young schoolteacher from Lausanne, and fell in love with her. He abandoned his long-held idea of devoting himself to the priesthood and set about convincing his companion to leave for “a country in the South”, an idea that obsessively occupied him. Chantal, for her part, wanted to go to Paris to attend drama school. For love, she decided to follow Maurice.

Landing in Nicaragua at the end of 1982, her first contact with the Third World, was far from easy. Linguistic limitations, major cultural differences and Maurice and Chantal’s non-violent vision did little to ease their adaptation to a country that was beginning to be attacked militarily, and whose very survival was at stake.

There were problems of mutual understanding with local partners, administrative issues, and a lack of time on the part of their direct managers to work together from the outset as they would have liked.

Many months were needed to understand the daily logic of Nicaraguans in this intense period of their history. Above all, there was a very profound collective revolution, involving trade unions and political parties, shaking up the Nicaraguans themselves, and all the more so those who had arrived from other countries.

Maurice is providing technical assistance to a dozen small production units in the north-west of the country, close to the Honduran border. Training in agricultural techniques and housing construction. This project, modest at the outset, has since expanded to 8 cooperatives with over 200 dwellings. Swiss cooperation provides the financial basis, and the future beneficiaries do a great deal of voluntary work.

Chantal, for her part, after a year spent “fetching water from the well under the mocking eye of the women”, finally managed to find meaning in her commitment. She learns Spanish, and wins the women’s trust by charming the village children with her guitar and her songs. Eventually, she uses her skills as a schoolteacher to organize “popular education seminars” where local young people are invited to express themselves through theater and music.

Little by little, a strong identification between Maurice, Chantal and the local peasants was born. It’s a curious process of cultural assimilation, in which the rhythm of the campo people, their way of seeing life and time, and even their way of speaking – typical of the countryside and far removed from the language of Managua – impose themselves on them as a way of life.

Their daily lives are sometimes enlightened by visits from fellow internationalists. Among them is Yvan Leyvraz from the canton of Vaud, who arrived in Nicaragua in May 1983. Yvan is a rebel with a big heart, rebellious and solitary. He left for Nicaragua after deserting from the Swiss army. He was on his own, with no particular plans other than “to help people wherever they would have him”. There was no shortage of work, and Yvan demonstrated an immense ability to bring people together. He takes part in building projects and creates a brigade of construction workers with whom he builds 40 houses and a school in the north of the country.

Frenchman Joël Fieux is a former Nicaraguan. Joël is an environmentalist and anti-militarist activist who fled France to avoid doing his military service. He arrived in Nicaragua in September 1980 and worked on setting up a printing works for the Sandinista Front. He married a local girl in 1984, with whom he has a son, and is waiting to receive his Nicaraguan passport.

German Berndt Koberstein arrived in October 1984. He is a locksmith and a member of the Communist Party. Very active politically, he campaigns for greater solidarity with Nicaragua. He also works in a print shop.

Maurice and Chantal’s involvement in Nicaragua came to an end in the spring of 1986. They were sad to leave a country they had grown to love, but in which so much remained to be done. But they were also determined to resume their training, so as to be better equipped to set out again under other skies of misery.

This is what Maurice wrote in his last letter to his sister and brother-in-law:

“The hardest part is not the job. It’s leaving these people, this life, these habits already, and this revolution on the march to a cold, gray, right-wing reactionary Switzerland, where everything is harder to live. Anyway, we’ll tell you about it, and after all, we’re not gone or home forever. Life is a movement, a caminar, a journey, towards a utopian goal, and a concrete idealism of struggle.
Bye, now. Ciao. Spouts and all!
Managua, Nicaragua, 10.2.86 “

Mauricio ha muerto!

On the evening of Sunday February 16, 1986, the life of the Brigades Internationalistes community suddenly changed. Maurice Demierre leaves the village of Somotillo in his van, carrying fifteen women and children, whom Maurice escorts to a nearby village. Just 500 meters from the village exit, the van hits a mine and smashes into the embankment beside the road. Ambushing contras fired machine-gun bursts and fled in the direction of Honduras. Maurice is killed, along with 5 women. Six other women and 3 children are seriously wounded.

Chantal hears the explosions from her home. In the account she would later publish, she describes exactly how the evening unfolded.

Tina storms in through the street door, pale, horribly pale…
I already know. And it enters me from the lower abdomen, in the solar plexus, to amplify and spread out, from the tip of my toes to the tip of my braid… A gigantic space, revealed, lost and frightening, an abyss in which I place my two feet that from now on will slide endlessly into it – nothingness.
And her cry, dry, slamming:
– Chantal, ¡ Mauricio ha muerto!
My vertigo shrieks and freezes, petrified forever, pain embedded in my flesh.
I put down a plate I’d been holding in my hands, pick up my bag hanging from the back of a chair. And softly, overwhelmed by my own voice, colorless and perfectly firm:
– Here we go.

9:30 p.m.
The yellow van seems to have sunk into the embankment on the left-hand side of the road…
– But… why is it on the left? Maurice was going to the right, to Jiñocuabo!
– The mine,” says Juan, “blew the van away…
I get closer. Pancho holds up a flashlight and shines it on us:
– I found it in the pocket of the van, it’s your husband’s… I’ll give it back to you when I don’t need it anymore.
My gaze plunges into the back of the vehicle.
Three women’s bodies lying on the deck, bathed in blood… stiff…
– Shit!… My eyes crinkle.
I walk to the front of the cabin, up the right side.
The rear window is broken. The windshield in pieces.
I rest both hands on the window sill and lean in. Maurice.
Maurice’s big, huge body. There.
Sitting in the driver’s seat, his whole upper body lying sideways, as if fallen onto the passenger seat.
My eyes narrow. “…All that blood…” My petrified vertigo stirs. Slowly. Very slowly… A sliver of blood flows from his left eye, down his neck.
Thick blood. Black.
And then her face. Momo. Tranquil, serene, as I’ve perceived him all day long. Maurice. And I knew…
“Maurice, that much? The call, the urgency of the fight for life, at this price? Maurice, I feel you there, but… was it really necessary?… ¡Asesinos!… Murderers!”

Maurice Demierre’s burial in the village square of Somotillo gave rise to a huge popular demonstration and made him a martyr of the revolution. His assassination received widespread media coverage in Europe and around the world, and numerous demonstrations were organized to call for an end to American support for the counter-revolutionary movement.  In Nicaragua, Maurice Demierre’s sacrifice served as an example to educate the masses. His non-violent Christian commitment is celebrated throughout the country. Schools and agricultural cooperatives are named after him.

Chantal Bianchi is sucked in by a whirlwind. After Maurice’s funeral, she criss-crossed the country, taking part in conferences and round-table discussions. In July 1986, she attended the revolutionary parade in Matagalpa to celebrate the 7th anniversary of the victory over Somoza. It was there that she met Yvan Leyvraz for the last time. Together with Joël Fieux and Berndt Koberstein, he was killed on July 28 by a contra rocket.

In September 1986, Chantal Bianchi is invited to the United States by the Witness for Peace organization to testify in 25 states about her struggle for peace and development. She took part in radio and television broadcasts in Switzerland and France. She wrote a hard-hitting book: “Nicaragua, Maurice Demierre is alive”.

In June 1987, the Sandinista authorities informed Chantal that they had arrested one of the members of the commando who had murdered Maurice. She asked to meet him and found herself face to face with a poor, shabby, alcoholic devil, who explained that her companion had been killed by chance.


Chantal is at the end of her rope. She returns to Switzerland. After a few months’ reflection, she decided to train as an actress with Serge Martin’s troupe in Geneva. She then joined Jacques Gardel’s Atelier de Travail Théâtral, where she met French actor and director Thierry Crozat. In the mid-90s, they formed the Compagnie des ArTpenteurs. The troupe pursues a process of artistic creation through the search for a particular theatrical and musical language. Their language is free, joyful, disconcerting and rebellious. Its shows, often performed in the big top that the company moves from town to town, are popular, jubilant and committed. Although primarily aimed at a “non-initiated” audience, the company is also invited to present its work at major institutions such as the Théâtre de Vidy and the Festival d’Avignon.

For Chantal, 20 years after the murder of a companion and an aborted revolution, it’s time to take stock of her life, her commitment and her artistic journey. She intends to do this through the creation of a show on the death of Maurice Demierre, directed by Thierry Crozat. From one companion to another, from past to present, from political utopia to theatrical utopia, from Nicaragua to Switzerland and back. For Chantal Bianchi, it’s the end of a long mourning process. The mourning of a companion, of her first love. For the people of Nicaragua, now the poorest country on the American continent after Haiti, the mourning for their revolution remains to be done…


Directed by : Stéphane Goël

Assistant director : Claude Bianchi

Images : Steff Bossert

Sound : Marc von Stürler

Editing : Karine Sudan

Music : Corinne Galland, Paco Lobo, Julien Sulser

Sound mix : Luc Yersin

Color grading : Jean Reusser, Steff Bossert

Production : Climage, Stéphane Goël

Coproduction : Radio Télévision Suisse, Irène Challand, Gaspard Lamunière

Financial support : Office fédéral de la Culture (DFI), Direction du Développement et de la Coopération (DDC), Fondation Vaudoise pour le Cinéma, Fonds Regio Films, Succès passage antenne

© 2006 CLIMAGE – RTS


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