Interpreting the Ortega Dictatorship’s Onslaught

Ortega police officers remove computers and other equipment from the recording studio of Esta Semana and Esta Noche, illegally raided on May 20, 2021.  Photo: Nayira Valenzuela / Confidencial

Is the third raid on Confidencial a sign of the regime’s strength?

By Enrique Saenz (Confidencial)

HAVANA TIMES – Imposing fear has been one of the most used resources by tyrannies in the course of history, and in different latitudes. Daniel Ortega does nothing more than follow the same formula that his counterparts of the most diverse ideologies have applied: from Hitler to Putin; from Idi Amin to Stalin; from Pol Pot to Ferdinand Marcos; from Pinochet to Kim Il Sung.

Torture, killings, mass incarcerations, confiscations, extrajudicial executions, and humiliations of all kinds. Dominance by terror. And by propaganda. Propaganda always with the purpose of numbing, deceiving, or terrorizing.

Imposing by fear becomes more visible when the domination is stripped of all clothing and brute force is exhibited as the single means to subdue wills.

At one time Ortega was able to impose his model of domination propped up on several pillars and dressed in various garments: agreement with the economic elite; agreement with a sector of the Catholic Church; abundance of external resources; and his alliance with the PLC. Additionally, numbing part of the population with handouts and delusional projects that for a long-time dazzled minds and ambitions. There were also certain institutional spaces and feints with oppositions organizations to keep up appearances. It also helped him that the international community kept looking the other way.

In this way Ortega was able to dismantle the precarious democratic institutions with impunity. He seized control over the legislature, the electoral apparatus, the judicial apparatus, and the local governments. No public space escaped his control.

Once the balloon that had been inflated with the subsidy of Venezuelan oil cooperation deflated, the model of domination began to falter on all sides, except one: that of the repressive forces. Ortega had paid special attention to seducing the commanders of the Police and the Army with open and covert perks.

As the balloon deflated, to preserve his capital and that of his cronies, he unloaded the weight of the lean cows on the population and also on part of the business sector. Let us remember that already by 2014 he imposed a first reform to contain the INSS Social Security (INSS) crisis. A reform that punished businessmen and contributors.

Precisely, the INSS debacle is one of the emblematic signs of the failure of a subsidized economic model: corruption, wastefulness, incompetence, and inability to generate productive jobs. The imposition of new reforms was the spark that ignited the prairie.

After the initial surprise when the protests broke out in April 2018, Ortega shed the garb that had served to disguise his dictatorship. And he reacted with the only strategy he knows and prefers: the strategy of war.

Fear, as a repressive recourse of tyrannies, is closely associated with its flip side: the fear that overwhelms tyrants themselves. The more fearful they are of losing power, the more they harden the repression.

It is in this context that we must interpret the recent onslaught of the dictatorship.

Ortega had been meticulously staging his electoral circus. But fear, his paranoic delirium and his own quarrelsome nature are betraying him. His fears and temper are weighting more than his calculations. And this circumstance must be taken advantage of.

Is the third raid on Confidencial a sign of strength?

Obviously, this last raid is due to fear of freedom of information, freedom of the press, freedom of opinion and the prestige of that media outlet. Does the dictatorship hope to silence or subdue Carlos Fernando? It obviously knows that it cannot be achieved. Besides the fury and revenge sought, it seeks to intimidate via by example: “if we can do it with him, we can also do it to you.”

In the process, with arrests and harassment, it seeks to intimidate journalists and independent media outlets. A useless effort. Neither materially, nor politically, nor morally, nor technologically can it silence those brave voices.

On the other hand, the attack against Cristiana Chamorro, with a crude, unusual and blatant set up, is a tangible and public sign that Ortega is terrified of the possibility of facing her next November. Worst still, he is terrified of opening a single loophole with the elections.

The blitzkrieg includes new repressive laws; reforms to the electoral law after imposing a Supreme Electoral Council composed only of loyal servants; a devious electoral calendar;  stripping the PRD of its legal status, and restricting the mobility of candidates. The dictator has shown his determination to hold on to power, once again, at all costs.

Recent events show that he is no longer even interested in staging the semblance of an honest electoral process.

In these conditions, the voices that, in the heat of the abuses, appeal to elections are out of place. And it is not a question of forgetting about the elections, because that route cannot be abandoned, for now. It is a matter of timeliness, of relevance and of opportunities for discourse and action. At this moment, it has to do with turning back the brutal onslaught of the dictatorship. Here, once again, the essential condition is unity.

Unity and solidarity. Unity to agree and implement an emergency strategy to face the stepped-up repression. Solidarity for collective defense. The opposition presidential hopefuls face a significant challenge.

One final note: fear is an effective dictatorial device to intimidate or paralyze. But fear has limits and cannot go on indefinitely. At a certain point, when these limits overflow, fear loses its effectiveness and reverses itself against the oppressor. Those limits were broken with Somoza. They broke with the Sandinista Government of the eighties. They broke up in April 2018.

And they will break again.

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