The rise of a new resistance in Nicaragua

May 3, 2018

Last month, mass demonstrations led by students broke out across Nicaragua to protest government cuts to Social Security. They were met by vicious repression from a Nicaraguan government led by Daniel Ortega, a former revolutionary who has moved far to the right.

In July 1979, workers, students and farmers rose up under the banner of the Sandinista Front for National Liberation (FSLN) and overthrew the U.S.-backed dictator Anastasio Somoza Debayle and his hated National Guard. Massive changes followed as the Sandinistas wiped out illiteracy, distributed land to the poor, organized trade unions and made radical inroads on the power of the old ruling class--many of whom fled to Miami after the revolution. Over the next decade, Ronald Reagan and then George H.W. Bush armed and funded a right-wing force of mercenaries, the contras, killing tens of thousands and bleeding the country dry.

Between 1979 and 1990, Daniel Ortega was effectively the head of government, representing for many on the left a principled anti-imperialist. He easily won election as president in 1984. The revolution remained popular, but by 1990, exhaustion and corruption undermined the FSLN, leading to an electoral victory for right-wing puppet Violeta Chamorro.

In 2007, Ortega once again won the presidency. But this time, though he was sometimes counted among the so-called "Pink Tide" left-of-center governments of Venezuela, Brazil, Ecuador and Bolivia, Ortega's administration grew increasingly corrupt and authoritarian while pursuing neoliberal investment schemes that benefited his cronies (including his wife Rosario Murillo, who is also his vice president) instead of ordinary Nicaraguans.

Oscar René Vargas is a Nicaraguan sociologist and political analyst. A militant in the Sandinista revolution, he later criticized the political and moral degeneration of the FSLN. He is the author of numerous books on the political and social history of Nicaragua and Central America. This article about the current protests in Nicaragua first appeared in Correspondencia de Prensa and was translated by Lance Selfa.

MORE THAN 100,000 people participated in the march in Managua on Monday, April 23. That was without a turnout from other major departments [the country’s 15 regions, each with their own sub-national governments], and without resources.

While the march still had not left the neighborhood of Bello Horizonte, there were still people in the Rotonda Cristo Rey area, and some had already arrived at the Polytechnic University (UPOLI). There were thousands and thousands of people, some wearing black in memory of the deceased.

The student resistance to government repression in the UPOLI has become the bastion of the social movement's struggle, so it was important that the demonstration oriented to this sector.

There were also simultaneous marches in the cities of León, Estelí, Jinotepe, Bluefields and Matagalpa. We can say these marches were significant from photographs. And although I do not know the number of the different departmental mobilizations, at the risk of being wrong, I would say that easily some 250,000 people mobilized throughout the country.

Thousands demonstrate against pension cuts and government repression in Nicaragua
Thousands demonstrate against pension cuts and government repression in Nicaragua


THE SOCIOLOGICAL and political elements to note are:

1. The vast majority of participants were young people under the age of 30. At least 50 percent of the demonstrators were women.

2. The traditional political parties did not have any significant presence or influence on the development of events. They have little influence in the emerging social movement.

3. The dominant slogans in the course of the march were: no more repression, support for the students, condemnation of the murders, Ortega and Somoza are the same, no to corruption, no to killer cops, abolish the riot police, the people united will never be defeated and so on.

4. All of the above corroborates our analysis that the social movement was in a process of gestation and that at some point it was going to emerge on the national political stage.

5. The challenge for the social movement is to give it a representative leadership that has the capacity to continue to organize social discontent that has come to the surface.

6. Without an existing leadership that is representative and visible, there is a fear that the social movement will move towards dispersion or anarchy.

7. An immediate meeting of youth leaders is necessary to establish a strategy and to lay out tactical steps to be taken.

8. It has to be noted that the social movement cannot be sustained without a recognized leadership.

9. The Ortega-Murillo administration has been defeated politically and socially. They are isolated. They have lost control of the street. The spirit of the march was one of repudiation of the presidential couple and for their total disrespect for citizens' lives and rights of citizens.

10. Due to the extent of the social mobilizations and the degree of repression exercised by the Ortega-Murillo government, the position of real powers has changed. In other words, there is a dynamic process shaping a new correlation of forces.

11. Big business has distanced itself from, but hasn't broken with, the government. The Ortega-COSEP [Superior Council of Private Enterprise, the main business organization] pact is breaking down, and there are different voices within the private sector. In my opinion, the president of COSEP, Chano Aguerri, no longer represents different sectors of the business community.

12. The majority of the bishops of the Catholic Church ceased to be the government's silent partners and have decided to support the social movement.

13. The ruling party is immobilized. The departure of the old cadres has left it without the capacity to respond. That is why the government has resorted to the use of shock forces with no social base.

14. Pro-government unions have demonstrated their inability to mobilize the rank and file they claim to represent. The bill reforming the National Institute for Social Security (INSS), and the state's subsequent repression and killings of students and leaders lacks all social legitimacy and has led them to paralysis.

15. The government cannot count on the support of state workers because, although they have not publicly spoken out in favor of the social movement, neither can they be counted on to provide the government with an unconditional social base.

16. Although the government maintains control of the media, it has lost influence because of social media. Social networks have been the means used to spread information and to organize events of recent days.

17. The issue of Nicaragua and the political crisis of the Ortega-Murillo government have broken through into the international media. The government has lost the invisibility that had benefited it. From now on, the media will try to find out the causes of the social outburst.

18. The Ortega-Murillo government will begin to be described as a family dictatorship, similar to that of the Somoza family. This will cost the government international support from other governments and from the international left.

19. The United States, European Union and different Latin American countries have called for a halt to the repression and for the restoration of democracy.

20. The social movement has put different branches of government (judicial, electoral, legislative and the treasury) under question. As a result, they have therefore lost the little legitimacy they still retained.

21. The other hidden issue was government corruption. The inexplicable enrichment of many municipal and central government officials has been one of the issues raised in the social mobilization.

22. Because of its repression and killing of protesters, the population distrusts the police more than any other institution. The demand for the resignation of police chiefs Aminta Granera and Francisco Díaz is widespread. One of the biggest problems for the government will be how to clean up the police and to make them acceptable in the eyes of the people again.

23. The Army has been on the sidelines of the conflict. Previous army chiefs (Humberto Ortega--Daniel Ortega's brother--and Joaquín Cuadra) restrained that Ortega so that he has used the army to repress the demonstrations. However, Ortega is using it to safeguard other state institutions.

24. As of April 24, 2018, we can say that the situation stands as follows: socially, the Ortega-Murillo government is isolated and without support; economically, the situation is deteriorating, leading to greater discontent; internationally, it is more isolated than ever; politically, it benefits from the lack of a visible and unifying movement leadership.

25. However, the Ortega-Murillo government is more vulnerable than ever in the last twelve years (2007-2018).

26. The immediate struggle is for the release of all political prisoners and for public hospitals to care for the wounded.

27. The most important demands are: the formation of a provisional government with representation of the youth, honest academics, and other sectors of civil society (women, peasants fighting against the canal, miners).

28. The establishment of a Truth Commission to investigate and punish those responsible for the crimes and murders of 30 citizens, as well as the corruption of officials.

29. Call on the honest sectors of the Army and Police to support a Provisional Government.

30. The objective of an Interim Government would be, among other things, to change the logic of the "plunder state" (Estado-Botín), to abolish the current authoritarian system, to eliminate the political class's pervasive impunity, to defend natural resources (forests, water, biodiversity) and to fight to reduce social inequality.

First published in Correspondencia de Prensa. Translated by Lance Selfa.

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