A vertical organization, created in the image and likeness of the first lady and Vice President, has replaced the historic Sandinista Youth.
By Maynor Salazar and Ismael Lopez (Confidencial)
HAVANA TIMES – On May 28, 2018, Milton Ruiz, national coordinator of the Sandinista Youth (Juventud Sandinista or JS), called together a select group from the National Youth Council for an emergency meeting. He asked everyone to turn off their cell phones, and – visibly nervous – he began to deliver the message. The Companera [Rosario Murillo] wanted them to be more active; they were losing the battle on social media. She was asking those present to get out onto the streets on May 30th to counteract the march that the “right” had convoked.
“She wants us to be alert,” said Ruiz, gesturing with his hands. “To concentrate. The right can’t take the streets from us,” he emphasized, according to what one of those who was there at that meeting, and who formed part of the JS trusted inner circle at that time, told Confidencial.
The order was to activate the Youth to accompany an official march “in defense of the revolution, the Constitution and the peace” that Gustavo Porras, Ortega-allied president of the National Assembly had announced several days before. The march the government was organizing had one objective: to counteract the call for the “mother of all marches” that the self-organized opposition was planning on May 30, Nicaragua’s Mother’s Day, to honor the mothers of the regime’s mortal victims and demand justice for their murdered children.
At the JS meeting, Ruiz gave them their final guidelines, right up to announcing the slogans and the hashtags that would be used. By that time, the paramilitary, police and government shock forces had killed more than 90 people, according to the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights. The regime hadn’t yet declared itself the victim of a supposed “coup attempt”, but it was blaming the violence on the population that was out in the streets protesting.
That May 28, while Ruiz was issuing the final instructions, his phone – the only one still turned on – registered a call. With trembling hands, Ruiz answered: “Speak, companera”, I’m listening. Of course, of course. We’re doing that, I’ll tell them right now.”
“We’re going to set up a display at the Roundabout of the Journalist, and the Plaza Espana Roundabout. The order is to occupy and fill those areas. Don’t worry about protection, we’ll have security there,” Ruiz announced after hanging up.
One of the members of the Youth Council observed that there were only 2 days left until the 30th, meaning a very tight schedule for arranging logistics.
“Don’t worry about anything: you’ll have buses, and there’ll be resources from the Mayors’ offices, and the institutions. What I want from you is to mobilize your people. You’re not going to tell me you can’t, are you companero? Ruiz asked sarcastically.
On Wednesday, May 30, while the mothers of the victims led the largest civic anti-government march ever remembered in Nicaragua, the JS loyally followed Murillo’s orders to occupy key points in Managua and to accompany Porras and add “youth and color” to the march he had called for.
“The goal was to get people out onto the street, so that the opposition march couldn’t get near the perimeter of security around El Carmen where the presidential family lives and Ortega has his offices, explained a member of the Sandinista Youth with ties to the organization’s chain of command.
While the JS spoke of love and peace in their demonstration at the Hugo Chavez roundabout, less than two kilometers away the mothers’ march was brutally repressed by police and paramilitary in the area around the National Engineering University. Six youth died that day in Managua, and the total number of those killed by the repressive forces all over the country that May 30th was 17.
Milton Ruiz’ assent as leader
Milton Ruiz, a 27-year-old from Granada, became the JS national coordinator in 2015. He graduated in Banking and Finance from Nicaragua’s National Autonomous University (UNAN) in Managua and came up from the ranks of the Alexis Arguello Sports Movement, a branch of the JS.
“He’s a good kid. He’s lasted in this position because he’s a good worker, tries hard, and loyally complies with Rosario Murillo’s guidelines,” says the source from the JS.
Others – mainly, former members of the departmental structures of the Sandinista Youth -describe him as a young man without ideas, who responds positively only to what Murillo says.
“He never tells her no, he’s the executor of her orders,” states another former member of the JS who left in 2016 and describes himself as a Sandinista but not an Ortega supporter.
“Honestly, (in the meetings) not many topics are discussed. You go there to give ideas about how to carry out the different activities that have already been programmed,” adds the JS Youth Council member.
“The guidelines have already been issued,” he affirms. “But we always work for the good of the community. Each member has their specific area: you can work in the social, cultural, environmental or athletic area,” he specifies.
The National Youth Council of the JS
The National Youth Council is made up of the coordinators and other select members from the different areas: the Communicators’ Network, Solidarity Promotion, the Guardabarranco Environmental Movement, the Alexis Arguello Sports Movement, the Federation of Secondary School Students, and the Leonel Rugama Cultural Movement. Each grouping has its function. “There’s a space for every youth to integrate and work in the movement they most like,” states the JS member.
“If you feel attracted to poetry, to painting, you join the Leonel Rugama Cultural Movement; if you’re concerned about environmental topics, there’s the Guardabarranco Environmental Movement; if its sports, the Alexis Arguello Sports Movement,” the source explained.
And if your interests have to do with communication, there’s the Communicators’ Network. This grouping plays an important role in Rosario Murillo’s strategy when she wants to transmit a message or “kick off a campaign”, he specified. “They’re kids who are super-connected on social media. They’re always on-line, and in an instant, they’ll make a topic go viral. The other JS groups are a little jealous of them, because they believe they’re the Companera’s favorite,” stated the source.
However, the JS group that plays the most important role for the government is that of the Solidarity Promotion. This is the group that’s most closely related with the government’s assistance programs. If someone in a neighborhood dies, they go to the family and offer to cover the expenses; if a street is flooded, they help find a way to help.
“They do all this in the name of the Comandante [Daniel Ortega] and the Companera [Rosario Murillo] and that’s one of her strategies,” says the former member of the JS.
The making of the new Sandinista Youth
When Rosario Murillo began to accumulate more power within the FSLN and to exclude those historic party figures that didn’t bow to her designs, she began to create parallel structures within the party that would respond to her orders.
“At that time, to give some context, Ortega had won the 2006 elections. He assumed the presidency in 2007, and in 2008 the neighborhood Sandinista committees began to be formed,” Laura – not her real name – tells us. Laura is a woman of 30 who joined the JS at 18. She accepted being interviewed only on condition that we use a pseudonym to protect her identity.
“In the beginning, they made us think that it was a youth leadership group to support the activities the neighborhood leaders held. At that time, there wasn’t any thought about a macro level, or at least we didn’t know about it. We didn’t know that we were like the chess bishops of the Ortega forces,” she explains.
Initially, everything “was really nice,” she says. She recalls feeling very good to be collaborating with the organization – holding parties for the children of the neighborhood, bringing food to those with the greatest needs and provisions to the families of those who had been killed during the revolutionary struggle of the 70s. She also collected money to celebrate Mother’s Day and the Xmas festivities.
However, after that time, the district’s political secretary gave the order that he claimed came directly from the Presidency: the youth groups were to elect a JS coordinator from each district, then for the zone, and later for the neighborhoods… It was a complex structure that was invented in order to have “mini-sergeants” all over, who could control the “little soldiers”, affirms Laura.
At that time, the person who gave the orders in the district was the FSLN political secretary; another secretary coordinated the JS and gave the orders to the zone coordinators, who in turn coordinated the neighborhood leaders, and finally down to “the little soldiers”.
What did you need at that time to become a member of the JS?
Laura: “Time and disposition, because there were a lot of activities in the neighborhood and we had to find the time for all that on weekends or at night after school. The other requirement was to have a credential as a militant in the FSLN.”
What do you need now?
“Now it’s absolutely necessary that you have current credentials as a party militant, something that can only be issued by other members of the JS in the neighborhood who know you. If you don’t, they won’t let you into the JS.”
From “revolutionary love” to repression
“I joined the JS because my father encouraged me, and also because I wanted to experience the things he had done in his youth,” Laura says.
That love affair with the revolutionary spirit was to crumble six months later, when the party installed the vertical structure of “sergeants and soldiers”. In Laura’s case, the one responsible for her group was a person a lot older than them; someone she calls “a sheep for Daniel”.
She recalls: “He was a sheep and he wanted to treat us like they were treating him. We didn’t like it when he said things like: “if Comandante Daniel says that we have to fight the rightists with rocks, then we’re going to do it.” At that moment, I began to question why he was saying that kind of thing to us, when, obviously, we in the group weren’t like that.”
Laura articulated the question she’d been pondering with her fellows in the group. They all agreed that the ideas of their higher-up were absurd, but they chose to continue, because they thought that it would only be a passing thing.
“I recall that I told my father everything that was happening, and he told me I was right. He said that once in a meeting, but his leaders were silent… I found out that their system operated that way, and that you were supposed to adapt to it,” she states regretfully.
The thing that impelled Laura to make the decision to leave the JS was observing the way that the leader recruited other youth to participate in different activities, such as the traditional “El Repliegue” march, recreating the strategic retreat of the FSLN during the revolution, or the July 19th celebration.
“He used alcohol to convince them. Sometimes there’d be money available and the funds collected to buy liquor. That’s when I finished opening my eyes. I understood who the leaders really were, and I comprehended that sheep-like vision that they were trying to implant in us. All that, together with my responsibilities in the university, ended by convincing me to leave that circle,” she relates.
Are these JS groups the same ones that are functioning today as shock forces?
“I can’t say that all those who are inside the JS are shock forces, because it’s not so. But if we talk in terms of percentages, I’d say that at least 70% of the JS in the current context are. Before, not so. But the shock forces aren’t only from the JS, you also have [adult] members of the Sandinista Leadership Committee,” concluded Laura.
A change of face for the JS
After the attack against the elderly and youth from the “Occupy INSS [Social Security Agency]” movement in 2013, Rosario Murillo wanted to “change the face” of the Sandinista Youth.
Before 2015, Fidel Moreno had been the one to transmit Rosario Murillo’s orders to the Sandinista Youth. His team was composed of three principal figures: Bosco Castillo, Minister of Youth; Jose Treminio at that time Assistant Minister of Education; and Aaron Peralta, currently the director of Channel 6 TV.
For the dirty work in the streets, Moreno had Pedro Orozco, head of the JS shock forces. Orozco organized the gang made up of workers from the Managua mayor’s office and JS activists that attacked the elderly and the youth of the Occupy INNSS movement in June 2013.
Orozco directed the repression in the streets with the complicity of the police, but the decision had been made by Moreno, Castillo and Treminio in a meeting.
“After that episode, the JS was seen as a repressive force. Murillo wanted to change its face, so she began to change over the leadership,” said a source from the JS. “From that time on, she’s been operating with new faces, led by Milton Ruiz.”
JS yesterday and today
The Sandinista Youth turned 40 last August 23. The group was born with the triumph of the revolution in 1979.
At that time, the youth leaders who belonged to the FSLN organizations were grouped together to make up a strong bloc that would be responsible for recruiting other youth and leading the ambitious project of the FSLN, at that time led by nine guerrilla commanders.
They were youth who had conspired against the Somoza dictatorship and who had come out of the neighborhoods, the schools and the universities. “They were all brought together by the FSLN to build the movement,” recalls Ricardo Baltodano, former member of the JS during the 80s who was jailed during the Ortega regime’s repression against the April 2018 rebellion.
This first JS group was responsible for reorganizing the high schools, extending the movement within the grade schools and universities, and maintaining the youth groups in the populous neighborhoods. All of this was done until the time that the kids went into the mountains to teach the peasants during the National Literacy Crusade (1981). The latter effort marked the beginning of the JS national political life.
Carlos Carrion Cruz was the first national coordinator. In 1984, he left this position and Pedro Hurtado was chosen. According to Baltodano, Hurtado gained the support and recognition of the group.
Then, before the FSLN electoral defeat in 1990, the coordination was taken over by Ajax Delgado, a friend of Bayardo Arce, the last member of the former National Direction that is still an Ortega supporter.
To Baltodano, one of the main differences that exists between the JS of that time and the group that today Rosario Murillo controls at her whim, is the vision for the nation that they had then, as opposed to the personal ambition of the current leaders.
“We wanted a different country, more egalitarian. We had the illusion that we could build a world of equal opportunity for all. (Now) what you see is the desire for social climbing and a search for ways to position yourself and enrich yourself, as has happened in many cases. They don’t even study the mystique that once existed in the FSLN,” criticizes Baltodano, who is also a university professor.
In his judgement, instead of contributing to a change, this new crop of youth has been utilized to promote the cult of personality of Ortega and Murillo.
“The fanaticism that can be observed is the product of that intense personality cult that not only affects the kids and old people who go around as JS, but it also affects the police, the soldiers in the Army who are subjected to intense campaigns, together with the public employees,” Baltodano argues.
To him, the Sandinista Youth no longer exists. “What now remains”, he laments, “are young people in t-shirts with the brand name of JS, who are destined as shock brigades to carry out tasks of repression,” ordered by the regime.