Felix Maradiaga, Violeta Granera, and Jesus Tefel on changing the correlation of power with the dictatorship and creating an alternative government
HAVANA TIMES – On Wednesday, June 28, a process of “unity in the actions of the opposition” was announced, promoted by the Monteverde group, organized in exile in Costa Rica since 2021, which now includes political prisoners, among them at least four former presidential aspiring candidates exiled in the United States.
Over the course of four days, more than thirty political and civic leaders met in the United States, including Juan Sebastián Chamorro, Félix Maradiaga, Violeta Granera, Eliseo Núñez, Miguel Mora, Jesús Tefel, Medardo Mairena, Alexa Zamora, Alex Hernandez, José Antonio Peraza, Daisy George, Suyen Barahona, Luciano García, Tamara Dávila, and Juan Diego Barberena, among others.
According to the communiqué released this week, this process aims to form a plan of unity in action to overcome the dictatorship and lay the foundations for the democratic transition in the country.
In an interview with Esta Semana and CONFIDENCIAL, three of the participants in this meeting, former political exile Felix Maradiaga, former political prisoner Violeta Granera, and member of the Monteverde group, Jesus Tefel summarized the main objective of the opposition unity: “to change the correlation of power with the dictatorship, create a counter-power and an alternative government, and promote the democratic transition, after the departure of Ortega and Murillo from power.”
Last Wednesday a process of unity was announced in the actions of the opposition in exile and the political prisoners who are also in exile. Who are the promoters of this political process?
Felix Maradiaga: The regime tried to silence the opposition through the repression and imprisonment of the main leaders. However, it was not possible. Those already duly organized people found themselves in Costa Rica, in that situation of repression, and decided to talk.
Perhaps I am not the best person to talk to you about this process known as Monteverde. But I want to express my gratitude to the people who, in the absence of those of us who were in jail, did not allow the process of political organization to slow down at any moment. They did it under challenging circumstances under a lot of repressions, and obviously, like any other process of this nature, with a series of imperfections, as is natural in politics. One of these weaknesses was precisely the communication due to the repression. Those who initiated the process considered, and I think it was the right decision at the time, to do it with the utmost secrecy. This prudence to protect especially those who were still in Nicaragua at some point was unfortunately interpreted as secrecy. In this new phase of this internal dialogue process of the opposition, we have decided to give it much more communication.
Jesús, you are part of that group that defines itself as Monteverde, which was organized in exile in Costa Rica in 2021 and that presents itself as the promoter of this initiative. What is this group and who are its members?
Jesús Téfel: First of all it is not a group, it is a process where people from the opposition, the diaspora, the civil society, the business community, peasants, students, and young people meet to dialogue through an orderly process to find a common consensus. This was born, in 2021, when many of us had to come to Costa Rica fleeing repression. To put it in context, Felix (Maradiaga) and Violeta (Granera) were arrested in June, I had to leave in July 2021, a month later, and by August we were already having the first preparatory meetings. We were under attack, they were taking prisoners, and we were in that emergency situation, but we still continued the conversations. This process was formed with the people who were free and who were outside Nicaragua. We could not include in the process someone who was inside the borders of Nicaragua because we were exposing them to jail.
Is this a group of people, or organizations that participated in the 2018 social movement?
Jesús Téfel: They are individuals. We joined as individuals. Within the organizations, there are individuals who have to understand each other, have to agree, have to build trust and break down prejudices. We wanted, modestly, without expecting too much, to bring people together, to reach agreements to then radiate outward and influence the organizations of which we are a part.
Now there is talk of the creation of a new process between this Monteverde initiative and the former political prisoners who are exiled in the United States. Violeta, what came out of this meeting you had in the United States?
Violeta Granera: I am very impressed by the great work that our brothers and sisters have been doing in the space offered by Monteverde and whose priority, in the first place, was to fight and articulate efforts of all Nicaraguans for our liberation and to dialogue on how to continue the struggle for the liberation of Nicaragua. At this moment, there is an emphasis on those who are still imprisoned and among them, especially Monsignor (Rolando) Alvarez. It seems to me that this is an addition to all the efforts that have been made and that obviously cannot be left aside. There are positive things that have been rescued and also lessons from those efforts that must be overcome. In the first place, it is a very frank and diverse space for dialogue.
There are no organizations, but obviously, the people who are there represent different spaces that have been formed in the past and even spaces that have been formed after 2021. I believe that the next steps in Monteverde will be, obviously, to continue with the dialogue and communication with these other spaces that have already advanced some proposals. I see many similarities more than differences, and we need to meet in a more systematic way, to be able to create unity in action that we all know is the only way we are going to be able to get out of the dictatorship and also to build a democratic Nicaragua.
How is this process convened? Because some groups within the Nicaraguan diaspora question and ask, “Who elected them? How is the representativeness of the people who are proposing to lead the opposition established?
FM: Within this plural space, there is a general recognition that it has to be strengthened, that it has to include sectors or people that are not yet represented. But it is also not the only space for political organization, that seems to me to be very innovative, because one of the things that did a lot of damage in previous unity exercises was precisely the hegemonic attempts of some groups or other platforms to present themselves as the only box or as the only platform. This is a self-convened effort.
Individuals at this stage can contribute to this process, but recognizing that the pace must be accelerated to reach a much more institutional, much more organizational moment. Those of us who are there, although we were invited in a personal capacity, represent organizations. I was allowed to put my concerns on the table. One of them was the work of Fundación Libertad, which is an academic entity, and of Unión Autoconvocada (UNA), which has an international agenda. And the conclusion is that the essence of the work in this phase will be done by people and organizations. This space for dialogue is a space for concertation for unity in action. In other words, it is for unity in action, concertation in action, and not so much on the formality or rigidity of a platform as was, for example, the (National) Coalition. We do not want to be a Coalition 2.0.
How can unity in action be promoted under the current conditions of the police state in Nicaragua? Unity in action to get out of the dictatorship, but how is it organized?
JT: Everyone who is present has international influence, we contribute to public opinion, and we have links with people who still remain in Nicaraguan territory. Here we have a process in which we can agree on which are the fundamental elements to denounce and advocate for with the international community for all the measures we require to be implemented for this transition. In the area of public opinion, we look at what messages of hope we can say with propriety and that we know have strength because there is an important group of people who are willing to comply. And then, in the case of Nicaragua, which is the most difficult part, because if it does not have an impact within Nicaragua’s borders, no progress will be made, then what are the plans that we all have together, what does each one contribute, what human resources exist within Nicaragua. I do not dare to tell you right now that we are going to take actions of one kind or the other, because even saying so could send someone to jail. But between all of us, we are going to find those solutions.
There are other initiatives such as the space for dialogue that Dr. Ernesto Medina and Haydee Castillo have been promoting, in which they have also summoned all sectors of the opposition around a plan, and they even say that international experts should be requested to support them to allow the opposition to dialogue. Is international mediation necessary to promote this process?
VG: I am familiar with this initiative and I think it is a very good one. I have been to some presentations, I know their proposal and I believe that there is much more coincidence than differences between us, with them and with other spaces. The proposal of an international mediation should be considered, but those are the issues we should discuss and agree on. It seems to me that Nicaraguans can dialogue, if we overcome all the mistrust and that polarization that I feel is provoked in many cases and quite artificial, because the majority of the Nicaraguan people, since 2018, are asking us is that we all unite. They are not thinking about ideological differences because this is not the time and we must have mercy on the people of Nicaragua who are suffering so much. I believe that this effort to combine ideas, proposals, and actions is going to demand enormous generosity on the part of all the spaces and above all, individual generosity.
There is a lot of noise on (social) networks. Some are legitimate, others I believe are quite provoked and if we want to consolidate the spaces, each movement, each space, each process must take the time to move forward, without entering into the dynamics of confrontation or attacks, which is what has been perceived. But I am optimistic. I saw a great willingness in Monteverde to build those bridges. What we must do is create all together a space of agreement based on respect for that diversity and leave aside the resentments of the past and be aware that only together we are going to get Nicaragua out of the terrible mess that the dictatorship has put us in.
Is there a demand for the exclusion of people from the opposition or political sectors in this process? How do the members of this opposition movement, which says it must be inclusive and wants to expand to the participation of other sectors, define themselves?
FM: It is a discussion. It has taken place both behind closed doors and in the public space of social networks. I am very sad to see the polarization of the opposition. One of the things that surprised me the most when I got out of prison was that the poles are much more marked than in 2021. In 2021, in the spirit of offering a unified platform, the opposition organized around a project of primary elections. In February an agreement was signed with several pre-candidates and I interpreted that many of the disagreements that occurred were natural of a primary election process that opened some wounds, which I hope are healed, because the cordiality and communication that I have found among those of us who were at some point pre-candidates, today we are not candidates for anything.
The Monteverde process is not about any electoral plan, it is to change the correlation of forces of the regime and that change requires, among other things, a unified voice at the international level. And some international actors will listen better to someone coming from a leftist experience. I will give examples of Euro-parliamentarians who at some point saw the revolution in a very pleasant way. Another example, I have a very fluid relationship with Liberal International and with the liberal network of Latin America. That is my political family, that is the one I am going to talk to. The youth groups are doing an excellent job with the international youth platforms, and the women’s groups as well. At this moment a plurality of voices is required so that each sector can put international pressure on the regime. I believe that this is what has been lacking in Nicaragua. To be able to explain clearly that none of the poles is going to solve the problem.
I do not want to escape a thorny issue that Violeta has put on the table. I feel very close to the liberal sector, to the sector of the Nicaraguan resistance, and yes, it is a sector that has felt that the Monteverde process has not been sufficiently inclusive. I am grateful that I have been allowed to explain that feeling of insufficient participation. And if I did not believe that the response was satisfactory, I would not be speaking to such a serious media outlet saying that I came out of the internal dialogue of the Monteverde process with satisfaction because I have found that the plenary, the Assembly, has recognized that many more efforts have to be made to include, to build bridges, to find the right balances.
People who are listening to you are probably wondering what is the next step, is there a kind of road map for the opposition to become a power option that represents hope for the people, and even for those who are today hostages of the regime itself and who are looking for another way out?
JT: Yes, the thing is that we are first talking about a foundational group. Later we expanded a little. And now we have recently doubled the space of those participating in this process. We are reaching agreements with those who are outside, with those with whom we have not yet had a communication link, although there are people who are not participating in the Monteverde process, but who have had meetings.
We have had several spaces for conversation with different people and the idea is to continue doing this to build this road map together. We have already seen in the past how it happened to us in the National Unity, it also happened to other organizations, we came out with roadmaps designed on a desk, which when the time comes, and when they are faced with the use of force by the regime and the total control of the institutions, they are not achievable.
It is useless to start designing things on paper, rather than to start building things collectively. Right now what we have to do, if you ask me what the road map is, is a total change of attitude in the opposition and understand where we are. We have to put our feet on the ground. We are all in exile and those who are inside Nicaragua are stuck facing down because otherwise they will go to jail. So it is with those conditions and with our feet on the ground that we have to plan and act because that is the only way we are going to change the correlation of forces we have today.
But can this process you are going through be indefinite or does it have an urgency to lead to a political result, either in terms of its projection, its international spokesperson, or within Nicaragua?
VG: Yes, indeed. In the Assembly, we talked a lot about this sense of urgency and Felix raised it repeatedly. We are all aware that Nicaragua does not have much time, there is too much pain and suffering, we want to go fast, but with a firm step, learning from the lessons of the past. And it has been proposed that one of the most important steps must be to establish this articulation with all the spaces, not necessarily that we all be in one space, but that we finally have a single vision, a single narrative, a single strategy.
And everyone working, strengthening their own space to be more effective in the action of the struggle for the liberation of Nicaragua. We are going to need to advance in this process of defining a spokesperson, of having a better definition of who is going to assume what responsibilities. But hopefully, this can also be done in coordination with the other spaces with which we share the same objectives and the same vision.
How can the result of this process be translated? Are you talking about creating a kind of network of networks or a unitary movement of the opposition?
FM: One of the things that must be corrected is precise to accelerate the pace of joint actions to be able to wear down the dictatorship and to have on the part of the international community the will for stronger diplomatic pressure, for stronger sanctions, for a direct attack on the sources of financing of the dictatorship, as has been the case of CABEI. I am telling you about my current presence in Guatemala and Central America on these issues.
It is going to require a counter-power in more direct terms, an opposition that gives certainty to the international community that there is a democratic alternative to power. The international community is very concerned about the instability in Central America and it seems as if they are negotiating stability versus democracy. If the opposition does not give the certainty that we can organize ourselves and be that alternative platform of government in the scenario of a collapse of the dictatorship, it will be very difficult to move forward, and that is step number one, to be a real source of counter-power. The second is a coordinated voice in forums such as Brussels; I believe that the OAS is a worn-out space. We have to take action at the United Nations, as recommended by the resolution of the Human Rights Council in March of this year, and we would like this process to take or accompany the actions recommended by the United Nations, for example, in the area of justice.
The third thing and this is an issue that we cannot talk much about for security reasons, is the internal organization of Nicaragua. It is not true that all the opposition left, it is not true that they managed to exile all the leaders, but we have to protect and take care of those who are still in the country and maintain an organizational umbilical cord with those who are inside. And finally, the issue of attrition from within the dictatorship, yes, is the great possibility, either of an implosion or of greater attrition of the Sandinista Front itself. And that implies an opposition that gives certainty to those who at this moment are inside the State apparatus, that on the other side of the table, there is a reasonable opposition, a sensible opposition that is not thinking of sending to planet Mars all those who are Sandinistas or who at some point voted for Ortega. We have very clear information that the internal erosion of the Sandinista Front and Ortega’s inner circle is real, but they are not going to take the necessary measures, and I am referring, for example, to the Army, to operators within the Sandinista Front, they are not going to take the step of desertion, of distancing themselves from the dictatorship, if they do not see on the side of the opposition a willingness to build a new Nicaragua where those who do not have blood on their hands, although at some point they may have believed in the political project of the (Sandinista) Front, but whose hands are clean, will be part of the process of democratic construction.
Felix spoke of an alternative government, what does that mean, are you talking about a democratic transition or is someone contemplating the creation of a government in exile?
JT: The objective of this process is to achieve the democratic transition after Ortega’s departure and to lay the foundations of a solid democracy. At some point, Ortega will have to be challenged for power. But at no time has there been talk of a government in exile. That has not been a topic of discussion. We are rather focused on designing all political action to be able to do it within the Nicaraguan territory, where we believe we can generate changes and it is the type of power that generates a real impact on the lives of Nicaraguans, not a Government in exile.