Opening a Historic Window in Nicaragua


The country navigates between episodes of repression and mobilization with uncertain results, but there’s a new political capital based on collective action.

By Angel Saldomando  (Confidencial)

Photo: Jorge Torres /EFE-Confidencial

HAVANA TIMES – Recent events in Nicaragua have surprised many with the intensity and the massiveness of the revolt against the regime of Daniel Ortega, a regime that has been increasingly following the path of authoritarianism and corruption.

Nevertheless, there were harbingers announcing both the timing and the contents of this outcome, although perhaps they were few in number. The inability of a relevant alternative reading to foresee events was the product of the people’s forced accommodation, due to the regime’s takeover of all institutions, dismantling the rule of law, the repression and the population’s need to survive.

More than once, the reserved response to a critical analysis was: “If I do what you suggest, I’ll lose my job and they’ll make my life impossible.” Or in Nicaraguan lingo: “You need to navigate the tides with the flag of a dupe.”  That is, act the fool to survive.  While the routines of power were maintained – as always happens in these cases, even more so with dictatorships – the next day appeared to be the same as the day before, and just as intimidating.  The revolt broke with all that, opening the question of what will happen next, what side am I on, and that freed up all of the accumulated discomfort.

Using the logic of the past, the regime wants to maintain order, but this is being questioned, as is their responsibilities. The magnitude of the crisis opens the possibility for a regime change and brings into question the possible paths to make it happen.

Given the negative effects of an unprecedented repression, who can tell what’s next: the total destruction of the regime’s image, an increase in the mobilization and greater demands for democratization and justice; they’ve had to accept a national dialogue in an attempt to lessen the pressure.

On one side, there’s the regime with their governing apparatus; on the other, a majority of rural and urban residents, students, the church, communicators, business owners, and women. The agenda for the dialogue is currently being prepared, as well as the times and the format.

Nevertheless, it still can’t be affirmed that this attempt at mediation will be effectively put in practice. The church itself, through its mediating body the Episcopal Conference, has given a one-month deadline following the eventual inception of a dialogue to verify whether the exercise is useful and if there are real results. A difficult exercise, that will surely navigate between episodes of repression and of mobilization with uncertain results. The situation is far from defined.

It can be noted, though, that the demonstrations have generated several significant features:

A dynamic of social alliances has been created, inorganic alliances, but no less real and visible, with the potential to grow and be consolidated. This goes far beyond the regime’s practices of centralized control. A never before seen capacity to articulate the local level with the national has been formed, integrating sectoral struggles into a national formulation for the first time. A storyline opposite to the official discourse has been elaborated, one that profiles itself as the reclaiming of a model for the country, even if it clearly lacks precision.

The “people” – previously disperse, without coordination, without any way to identify themselves within a common dynamic – now sees their struggles represented, emerging actors, the sketch of a model for the country (be it only to affirm what isn’t wanted), a flag and a path of growth.

The outcome of the current crisis, in any of its possible scenarios of continuity in power or regime change, must now take into consideration this new political capital. The collective action bases itself on this capital and generates new spaces for demands and construction of meaning.

All these aspects of authoritarian power were previously controlled and repressed by the government, imposing their façade of “the people are president” over a country subordinated to the hegemony of a script that deliriously mixed the omnipresent images of a divine president, the people, the family, the party, Sandinismo, and Christianity.

The new political and social awareness, like the cruel and revealing disillusionment operating across all sectors regardless of age, personal history or social extraction, has escaped from the regime’s sealed jar.

This constitutes their first and perhaps most strategic defeat. It’s without a doubt the greatest danger for the regime, and the one they will doubtless try to destroy. A new historic period has been opened in Nicaragua, whether for the short or longer term, and its costs are unforeseeable. But the route has been traced.

At a time when the political parties and institutions have fallen into discredit in many countries, it has become validated once more that the only possible regeneration must originate in collective action, in a society in motion. In no way does this guarantee a result, but it’s the only condition for replanting the debate, the dissent, democracy, the constructive political sense of the conflict.

Governments on the right or left – whatever these terms mean – win elections, but don’t govern democratically, much less enter into a dialogue with their societies in search of the common good. Worse yet, they subscribe to a policy of converting the rule of law into a party instrument, and of corruption and repression. Latin America, overall, lacks the minimal social commitments to resolve this problem easily.

Nicaragua returns once more to this difficult path. The historic window that was opened with the fall of the Somoza dictatorship and later closed with the breakdown of the old elites and the rise of the Ortega apparatus, has been opened anew. It’s a new opportunity for the country and one more lesson for the region.