Nicaragua: Self-Criticism When?

Scene from an opposition protest in Managua rejecting the Supreme Court ruling and demanding free and competitive elections. Photo: Carlos Herrera / Confidencial

Up until now, none of those involved in the fiasco have publicly assumed responsibility for their errors, nor for their arrogant posing, nor their exclusionary outbursts.

By Silvio Prado (Confidencial)

HAVANA TIMES – Now that the electoral parody that no one wanted has played itself out, it’s time to wonder if anyone in the opposition groups has thought about engaging in some self-criticism, be it ever so slight. There were so many times voices in the past months sounded alarm bells of what could happen, given the stubborn divisions within the opposition forces. The warnings came in all shapes and sizes, from all sectors and with all possible emotional tones – all of them pleading for unity.

Nevertheless, the reactions were all the same: attacks worthy of Cain; sectarian discrediting; and capricious, unfounded proclamations of majority representation. Over a month has passed since the fraud, and nearly all the opposition leadership is in jail, in exile, or underground. Maybe it’s time to wonder: have the people who fomented so much intolerance and political cannibalism stopped at any moment to reflect on what they triggered?  And, if not, when do they intend to do so?

They might begin by asking themselves if, in light of what happened, they still believe that the principal contradiction to be resolved is between dictatorship and democracy. If, in the end, the evidence – namely the brutal witch-hunt the dictatorship unleashed beginning last May – has brought them to understand that those warnings of what might occur if they continued with their internal fights weren’t just empty alarm bells. Perhaps now they understand that the enemy has always been a well-organized tyranny, and not the group next door, suspected of being leftists or free market sympathizers.

I’m speaking of those who continued up to the last-minute demanding “submission to my brand” in the name of unity; the groups that discredited everyone they considered not pure enough to enter into the kingdom of their allotted ballot space. Maybe now, 170 political prisoners and thousands of exiles later, they recognize that they were mistaken. Maybe they recognize that their myopic and sectarian positions have contributed to deepening the tragedy our country is experiencing.

It’s time to recognize that the swarm of groups that emerged from the April 2018 social explosion squandered the political and social capital they gained. Instead of steering a course towards what was vital, they got drunk on trivial procedures that only served to lock in their tiny fiefdoms. They spent weeks and months adjusting the rules and mechanisms with which they thought they could patch up the deeper underlying problems: political mistrust and the very poor – not to say null – strategic perspective.

It must be recognized: the formulation ended by strangling the movement. That old debate between the strictures of format and the dynamics of movement ended in favor of the former. As soon as the electoral clock began to tick, with the lists of candidates in the menu, the cooptation of those spearheading the party mobilizations grew worse. The last straw was the declaration from the owner of a tiny party that an organization without legal status didn’t exist. Ironically, months later, that party leader would become a victim of her own fallacy [when her own party was stripped of legal status].

The political activists also contributed to this frustration. In their role as media commentators, they had no compunctions about filtering the internal communications of the opposition blocs, nor about poisoning the waters around the converging movements. In passing, they simplified the dictatorship’s work of zapping all the opposition groups into oblivion.

This recounting would be incomplete without including the maneuvering of big business. This group worked to foment a sectarian ultraright alternative and sabotage any kind of anti-dictatorial consensus that might include groups suspected of being leftist of progressive. Faithful to their core of maintaining de facto power, the large corporations were swayed more by nostalgia for the pre-2018 collusion of dialogue and consensus than by the demands for political change from broad sectors of society.

The imprisonment of the former president of COSEP [association of medium and large business owners] and of the manager of the most important bank in the country were also not enough to prod them into forming the common front needed before the elections. In a display of rational choice, the lords and ladies of the illustrious last names held aloft two lit candles: one for wishes past (their plan for a political party) and one for wishes future (a resumption of the dialogue with Ortega after January 10).

In contrast, the dictatorship was more cohesive and didn’t make false steps. The repression unleashed at the end of May demonstrated that – despite or thanks to the internal struggles of the opposition groups – the Ortega forces didn’t differentiate between one and another – they imprisoned all of them. Rightist, centrist, or leftists were all the same to them. It didn’t matter whether you were a banker, a farmer of a professor; a woman or man; ally, former sympathizer or longtime opponent; old or young. The only ones saved were those who didn’t represent any danger due to “ties” outside of politics, and those so irrelevant they didn’t inspire any uncertainty.

Jail and exile ended by putting everyone on the same level – all those who had put their differences first and were incapable of imposing joint strategic objectives with which they would surely have been in agreement.

Logic would have us believe that the great sharpening of contradictions with the dictatorship that’s played out over the last six months would lead to new attempts to form unified groups. But there are few signs of hope. Evidence of this dearth of unity can be found in the separate statements issued on December 1st: one by the former Citizens for Liberty political party (CxL); and one from the National Blue and White Unity (UNAB), both demanding the liberation of the political prisoners.

Not only were they unable to agree on a joint statement, but in addition, the CxL demanded first the liberation of their directive board, with their complete names. This demonstrates the persistence of petty sectarian attitudes, implying that if the conditions for elections were to recur, they’d repeat the same fights over candidacies and ballot spaces that we saw between 2020 and 2021.

The same misunderstandings would be repeated, among other reasons, because no one has assumed responsibility for the past disastrous failure. To date, none of the people who led the fiasco have publicly admitted their mistakes, nor recanted their arrogant poses or their exclusionary outbursts. As long as they continue failing to do so, they can no longer be participants in or facilitators of new processes for understanding. Those who haven’t developed a broad mind as the fruits of lessons learned from such a traumatic experience should move aside.

Without a serious self-criticism, in which those participating recognize their quotas of responsibility for the failure of efforts to form a united front in 2021, it will be extremely difficult to overcome the zero-sum logic in which many of the leading opposition figures have wrapped themselves. It’s not a matter of erasing the blackboard and starting over, but rather of reaping the maximum benefit from the good and bad experiences that are still fresh. It’s about understanding something as simple as the fact that no one can win separately, unless we all win.

Read more from Nicaragua here on Havana Times.