Sergio Ramirez: Ortega Isn’t Going to Turn Back

“The political powers are going to ask the private sector to endorse their model of a single party state with a market economy, with no alternation of power or legal opposition.”

By Carlos F. Chamorro  (Confidencial)

El escritor y ex-vicepresidente de Nicaragua, Sergio Ramírez. Foto Ángel Medina G./EFE
Author and former Nicaragua Vice President Sergio Ramirez: “We’re heading towards greater restrictions to our freedoms.” Foto: Angel Medina G./EFE

HAVANA TIMES – Writer Sergio Ramirez confesses that he’s been overwhelmed these days with a deluge of requests from the international press, wanting to know his opinion on the latest events which have put the authoritarian drift of Daniel Ortegas regime on the international radar.

The voice of Ramirez, one of the most respected and influential intellectuals in Latin America, also embodies the weight of political experience, intuition and historical perspective.  All of this leads him to say: “We’re watching a movie we’ve seen before and we know that it doesn’t end well”.

By outlawing the opposition, Nicaragua has entered into “a new political phase, marking the end of the limited political pluralism that has existed,” he explains.  We’re heading towards a one party regime with ever fewer freedoms and with no possibility of alternating power, and the regime is not even considering the possibility of turning back. “There’s no turning back here,” he repeats categorically.

Ramirez was Vice President during the revolution and a founder of the Movimiento Renovador Sandinista [Sandinista Renewal Movement] in 1995. Now retired from party politics, he warns that the Ortega-Murillo duo will place private enterprise at a crossroads by asking them to endorse the one party regime with a market economy. “I don’t know how they´ll react, but they’re the only ones really in the conversation with those holding political power,” Ramirez affirms in this interview with Confidencial.

Why has Ortega taken these steps to eliminate pluralism and the legal rights of the opposition?

Sergio Ramirez: The only thing I could tell you is that it’s not a question of impulsive, accidental acts. It’s not that someone woke up one day on the wrong side of the bed, woke up in a bad mood and said: “Now let’s get the PLI [opposition party heading a coalition recently excluded from participation in the November presidential elections and from the National Assembly] out of the game, let’s get those deputies out of the National Assembly.”  Instead, it seems to me that someone is connecting the dots with a pencil to form the figure that they want, and it’s a picture that necessarily brings us an ever greater restriction of political and democratic rights and public freedoms in Nicaragua. That is, we can’t expect that tomorrow they’ll turn back.  I feel that there’ll be no turning back now, after they annulled the legal status of the only true opposition that was left in the country and awarded it to some people they invented.  The other day I saw an electoral ballot with all the photos of the candidates plus that of Comandante Daniel Ortega; no one knows them, they’re figures that have been cobbled together, rustled up, that are there like a tragic filling for that ballot.

All that makes me think that it’s no accident, but that we’re headed towards ever greater restrictions in the panorama of general freedoms in the country.

Private sector at a crossroads

What kind of model for State organization does the Presidential couple foresee? The restrictions that you’ve mentioned have existed for a few years now, but there’s also a solid economic alliance between Ortega and big capital and with the business sectors grouped under COSEP “ (High Council of Private Enterprise”, a conservative alliance of large business interests).  Will this alliance be maintained?

SR: Without a doubt, I believe.  I think that the regime is going to try to establish a model that is essentially a single party with a market economy. They want an understanding with the business groups and private enterprise that this is the political model: one where there’s no possibility of political change in the government, where there aren’t any legal opposition parties, and where the model of total political control will be linked up with a market economy. That’s the panorama I see.

The private sector has already made several pronouncements signaling that the democratic and political restrictions are negative for the business climate, that they affect the division of powers and the image of the country.  They’re demanding a dialogue, saying that just as there’s been an economic dialogue, a political dialogue should also be forthcoming.  Nevertheless, there’s been no response on the part of the government.

SR: That’s precisely the reasoning behind what I’m saying.   Who is that dialogue going to be with?  With Pedro Reyes?  With Máximo Rodríguez?  They’re the straw candidates, but they’re not really in the same league as the government.  Who are the one who’ve always been the government’s counterweight? The large business groups, and that’s who they’re going to seek out.  They’ve been the conversational partners in the issues that transcend what was previously entrusted to the small quotient of political pluralism.  But as I speak about this conviction, I’m not referring to the beliefs of private enterprise: I couldn’t tell you how private business is going to react to this proposal. However, the political proposition on the part of the current powers has no return.

Here’s my view of it: there’s no real political participation and we’re going with a model of a one-party state and a market economy.  We will see if what’s happening in Vietnam, in China, can happen here, or also something similar to what goes on in Russia.  In Russia, there’s a government that has supposedly been democratically elected, but what really exists is an authoritarian model. The Kremlin continues being the Kremlin; huge fortunes have been made in the shadow of the Kremlin; and there’s a somewhat tumultuous understanding between Putin’s government and the large business consortiums in the country.

Faced with such an approach, the private sector is left at a crossroads to accept it or to become a kind of democratic protagonist.  But they claim that they’re not political players –at least, that’s what the large business leaders say.

SR: It seems to me that this is the great weakness in the participation of the private sector in this type of model.  The classic rule of government with the private sector has been: “I’ll take care of politics and you take care of business; don’t cross the line”. And I think that business of not crossing the line is now going to become much more evident.  This is the political system that we have in Nicaragua.  As the Spaniards say, “this is what there is,” and you have to work under this model so that you can continue to do business.  You’re going to have security for your business deals; you’re going to have partners who’ll facilitate for you what we call “permitology” – the day by day managing of the Customs apparatus, of the tax office, etc.

The only thing that the private enterprise can say is: “No. We believe that a free market regime and a market economy is intimately linked to the democratic freedoms.  There can’t be a system of market economy where the political opposition is eliminated and the possibility of substituting one government for another; there can’t be a total absorption of the State powers and the elimination of their autonomy and at the same time a market economy.”  This is crucial, it seems to me.  

They could express that in a press release. But from there to being able to act as a counterweight, to exert pressure or send another type of message to society, that’s another situation altogether.

SR: We’ll see how that develops. In my opinion, the ball here is going to be in the court of private business, not in that of the political parties. The legal parties, I repeat, those that are participating in these elections, aren’t really part of the game.

In the markets, at bus stops, in the universities, in the streets, there’s no atmosphere of crisis, of a political emergency.  Even though all of the political rights have been slashed, there appears a state of apparent normality.

SR: I believe that there’s been no 180 degree turn in public opinion against what’s been happening.  I think that this switch hasn’t yet been turned on, nor do I believe it will be turned on in the short run under these circumstances.  A new kind of political leadership has to be created, and I think that the first thing the real opposition has to do is to take charge of reality.  It’s now an outlawed opposition, an opposition that’s not within what the government or the political powers consider legitimate, and as a result it has to behave in consequence with this.  What does this mean? To connect with the people in the worst circumstances and try to overcome the social control – because there’s a very closed social control in the barrios, in the communities and in the municipalities, there’s a permanent weight of the party in power, of the State on the people, which impedes or makes difficult the political mobilization of the person who would like to mobilize.

What’s the end of this movie? There’s a closing of democratic spaces, there’s a strong authoritarian government based on family loyalty, since the Vice President is the wife of the president and in the line of succession. Does this point or not towards the prolongation of a dynasty?

SR: As I already titled an article that El País asked me to write regarding this situation, I’ve already seen this movie; I even know how these situations end.  I’m older now, I don’t know if I’m going to see the end of this movie, but I don’t think it’ll end well.  That is, as the political and democratic spaces are closed, suddenly circumstances arise that render the situation ungovernable.

I aspire to democratic solutions, and totally repudiate any violent solutions involving war or conflict.  We’ve already had too much of this in the past, and it didn’t take us anywhere: spilled blood, deaths, it never got us anywhere.  I believe that in some moment we’re going to find sufficient maturity to resolve this situation through a peaceful path, the route of understanding.