Nicaragua’s Slippery Unity

One of the self-organized women in the 2018 protests. Photo: Jorge Torres. EFE

Whoever aspires to govern this country will have to govern for everyone, no matter what their political colors.

By Gioconda Belli (Confidencial)

HAVANA TIMES – Until April 18, 2018, the opposition in Nicaragua hadn’t achieved much of anything. A series of organized groups had been formed. Among them were the Movement for Nicaragua, Let’s Make Democracy, the Sandinista Renovation Movement, the Group of 27, the Autonomous Women’s Movement, the Citizens Action Party, and the most prominent, the Rural Movement. These groups issued constant pronouncements, warning the population about the ongoing consolidation of the dictatorship.

Democratic spaces in the country were closing, but few seemed to give this any importance. When protest demonstrations were called, they were attended by the same familiar faces. The majority’s indifference seemed inexplicable to many of us, given the government’s accelerated dissolution of the fundamental democratic pillars. The rural residents were the only ones that moved a combative muscle, despite the repression exercised against them.

All that changed, to say the least, during the days of protest in April 2018. The magma of the accumulated discontent, and above all the repression, radically altered the course of events. There had been those who were willing to let the Ortega-Murillo couple’s political manipulations pass. However, these same Nicaraguans were unable to tolerate the gratuitous violence unleashed by the mobs, police and the paramilitary. “Violence begets violence,” as the saying goes. The opposition’s organizational capacity – notably absent during the first nine years of Ortega’s Sandinista reign – suddenly and spontaneously surged. The entire country reacted as one.

Few governments around the world have opted for indiscriminate repression. Lesser demonstrations of condemnation toppled dictators such as Ben Ali in Tunis, Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe and Hosni Mubarak of Egypt. But in Nicaragua, the institutional dictatorship was transformed over a few months into a military dictatorship. Ortega and Murillo showed their willingness to defend power with blood and firepower.

That bloody experience was something new to the generations born in the 80s and 90s. The forced retreat to salvage lives, amid such an attack, wasn’t considered a defeat. Those who have lived in freedom and been raised under other norms can’t easily absorb the huge change that violence introduces into the political situation.

The notion of citizen freedom predominated in Nicaragua since 1990, even during Ortega’s government. This was despite some exceptions, including the Occupy Social Security (Ocupa INSS) movement in 2013 and the repression in the countryside. Faithful to this concept, the multitudes from 2018 began the process of organizing themselves to continue the struggle.  The initial view was a short-term one: the dictatorship was weakened and would fall.  None of the new political groups were setting up for a long haul. They attended the second dialogue, still under the idea that they came from a position of strength.

The groups felt certain the dictatorship could be replaced in the short term, be it through resignation or early elections. However, that analysis turned out to be wrong. Their erroneous forecast has had negative repercussions on the organizational process among the political forces that arose in April 2018. Massive euphoria, as the popular saying goes, puts the cart before the horse. This mentality produced many of the behaviors that have impeded the consolidation of a united opposition force. Such a united force could make a difference, and triumph over the difficulties we face.

For example, the perspective of a short-term victory generated an early internal struggle within the different forces. Each struggled to position the political proposals they had barely finished elaborating as the guidelines for a New Nicaragua. The situation called for a joint analysis of common strengths and weaknesses in a panorama different from what had been expected. Instead, though, the initial rush to assure the ideological and political direction of the new power produced factions. These have continued in their individual trenches, often in furious competition.

Some felt they must avoid having the Left take over power. Others were convinced that a rightist takeover must be avoided.  The saddest thing is, such competition isn’t based on clear definitions of the formulations of one or the other.

There’s been no gathering of different forces to discuss each one’s particular vision of the country they’d like to construct. Nor have they gotten together to agree on a program of consensus.  The differences are based on the prejudices of some against the others. Further, they’re based on speculations about how each one might act in the government, or even on personal resentments.

In other areas, the idea of an imminent rise to power generated a rush to propose names for a future presidency. The origin of these had scarce legitimacy. The names, and the association of each with different rival groups, sharpened the competition between supposedly divergent proposals.

Amid the haste, a tacit agreement was made on two values that don’t mean the same thing to everyone: democracy and justice. It would have been good to have those foundations, at least, if the April events had spawned a change of government. However, in the current conditions, it’s essential to clarify what each one understands by these. Each group should also clarify the commitments they’re willing, or unwilling, to accept so that both concepts can become realities.

From what I could perceive during my time in the Civic Alliance, the National Coalition was formed with a specific concept of unity. It was understood as an alliance of parties and forces regulated by bureaucratic norms of internal functioning. Extensive and exhausting meetings were dedicated to these norms.  Again, the cart before the horse.

How can you forge unity around a clear objective like freedom and the end of eternal continuance, repression and strongman rule in Nicaragua if the essential foundations for working together aren’t set out? Those foundations should come out of a cold analysis, without triumphalism, of the current conditions. It should involve an evaluation of the weaknesses and strengths of the whole, in order to correct the former and consolidate the latter. There should be agreement around minimal program proposals.

The population must understand that winning a battle against the dictatorship, in addition to bringing democracy and justice, will change their lives for the better. Finally, there should be a plan of struggle, adjusted to the current conditions and restrictions.

It hurts the country to see different groups organizing their directive bodies in the outlying territories, each on their own. Or, to have each group sharing their prejudices with their followers. Each one passing on their concepts about why they should form alliances with some, and not with others. When we have liberty and democracy and can compete in free elections, all this will be very valid. However, it’s not valid when what lies before us is a common struggle.

The different parties and forces in this country aren’t the essence of this struggle. The essence is their followers, when joined together with other independent people. It’s they who will make the difference. There’s no justification whatsoever for dividing those drives into fights over party hierarchies. There’s no justification for dividing those protagonists of what must come, the ones who are suffering and want a free country in peace.

Whoever aspires to govern this country will have to govern for all, no matter what their political color. That democratic and pluralistic spirit of the future we want, must begin functioning from now on.  First, let’s open the road.  If we do that, there’ll be time and institutions enough for those who want water to fill their own cups.

Read more from Gioconda Belli here on Havana Times.