The Correlation of Forces May Not Be what Ortega Thinks

File photo from April 2018 by Alfredo Zunica / AP

The failure of the Ortega regime’s indiscriminate repressive strategy reflects their inability to weigh the respective factors at play.

By Oscar Rene Vargas (100% Noticias)

HAVANA TIMES – The political and military circles around the Ortega dictatorship commonly speak of the “correlation of forces”, meaning how their military, police, paramilitary and traditional social base lines up in opposition to the peaceful insurgent movement. They currently believe that their assets are so far superior to those of the opposition as to give them an overwhelming advantage. Hence, they assume, they’re guaranteed to win the socio-political struggle.

In fact, between 2018 and 2022, things haven’t played out that way. The regime has struggled against the social movement, forcing them to raise the levels of oppression to an extent that’s served to isolate them from the international community, with collateral effects on their social base. This in turn has forced them to try and control the flight of their functionaries of all levels, out of the country.

The reason they’ve been unable to annihilate the spirit of the self-organized population is that the dictatorship hasn’t paid attention to the intangible factors that impinge on the “balance of forces”. They conceive of the balance of power as a “scientific” calculation, based on an evaluation of merely material factors – the number of troops and paramilitary.

However, there are intangible factors in the socio-political struggle that can be decisive. The weakest of the two belligerent forces, measured in conventional terms, can nonetheless prevail over the strongest if they have better morale, stronger support within the country, the support of important international allies, and leaders who are able to formulate the right strategy.

As the regime became an institutionalized dictatorship under Ortega and Murillo, the concept of balance of forces became an article of faith, based on the belief that the final victory falls to whoever possesses more arms and troops. This optimism prevails right up until today. Meanwhile, the members of the regime’s intimate circle have ignored the intangible factors. It’s a vulnerability that the true opposition has unfortunately thus far failed to exploit, in order to promote and accelerate the ongoing process of IMPLOSION in the regime’s base of support.

When the regime’s repression succeeded in paralyzing the social movement, Ortega’s inner circle of power (the military and the upper functionaries) believed that the national correlation of forces had once again tipped in their favor. Today, thanks to the efforts and capacity for resistance of different sectors of the social movements, we have reason to be sure that the “balance of power” is in fact shifting to the side favoring the fall of the dictatorship. The means involves the regime’s social implosion.

In the epilogue to Leon Tolstoy’s epic novel War and Peace, set during Napoleon’s disastrous 1812 invasion of Russia, Tolstoy observed that wars aren’t won solely because of the superior strategic qualities of charismatic leaders, or the number of troops. Instead, they depend on the spirit of struggle of the simple soldiers who decide to confront and protest against a despised enemy (the Ortega-Murillo dictatorship).

That’s the chief reason the social movement hasn’t been completely eradicated, and the spirit of struggle against the dictatorship remains, despite the erroneous strategies of the traditional opposition leaders. It also explains why the regime maintains the levels of repression, for fear of new social protests and to avoid the collapse of the dictatorship’s pillars.

The failure of the Ortega regime’s indiscriminate repressive strategy reflects their inability to weigh adequately the respective factors at play. The citizens’ morale has defied the repressive levels; the fall in support for the dictatorship was reflected in the results of November 2021; the population is suffering the effects of greater international isolation, etc. But the lessons don’t stop there. The dictatorship is already weakened, but the opposition hasn’t had the strategic capacity to mobilize the self-organized citizens anew. For that reason, they need to change strategy and move towards favoring the regime’s implosion.

The first of Ortega and Murillo’s many miscalculations regarding the success of the repression was their inability to adequately evaluate the negative effects on the most vulnerable population, which affects the balance of power. This in turn stemmed from the couple’s poor reading of the meaning of the social upsurge. The rulers and their inner circle were convinced that the regime could act with relative impunity, and that constituted a grave error in terms of the international situation.

We also know that the dictatorship’s principal intelligence agents provided inexact information on the self-organized citizens’ capacity for resistance. That information helped convince Ortega-Murillo that the social and political forces of the opposition would give up after only a few months of repression.

The dictators and their inner circle are now discovering that ignoring the intangible factors can lead to disastrous results. They seriously underestimated the scope of the international community’s response to the repression and the human rights violations. International public opinion is now convinced that Ortega and Murillo should not remain in power.

For the opposition, it would be a fatal error under the current conditions to stick to a strategy of stimulating a new social tsunami. Doing so would be ignoring the objective correlation of forces, in terms of the social-political reality.

However, in the last few months, we’re been witnessing the decomposition of the Ortega-Murillo regime’s social bases, due to the deterioration in the salaried workers’ purchasing power, as well as that of the mid-level state and local employees. In addition, there’s the growing impoverishment of the 177,000 pensioners, who must figure out how to stretch the average monthly pension of 6,000 cordobas – about US $168 dollars – to cover a month’s worth of basic products estimated to cost 17,000 cordobas [US $470], nearly three times more. At the same time, inflation continues shooting up the cost of goods and services.

Beyond that, data from the Nicaraguan Central Bank indicates that the Nicaraguan population over 60 years old was around 570,864 in 2020. Subtracting the number of pensioners, we learn that some 393,864 seniors don’t even enjoy that reduced Social Security pension. This situation too affects the dictatorship’s social base.

At the same time, we’re witnessing an open confrontation between the historic Sandinista militants and Rosario Murillo’s sympathizers. That provides yet more evidence of the internal implosion that continues evolving, this time among one of the dictatorship’s pillars.

Up until now, the regime has managed to maintain their social base via a strategy of selective incentives to the loyal: guaranteeing impunity for those involved in illegal mining or logging, those who deal in contraband, and those who have ties to narcotrafficking. That is, the dictatorship has maintained its social base through perks and territorial control.

In 2022, these conditions have changed. The regime’s capacity to satisfy all sectors of its base have been limited by their political errors: the indiscriminate repression that affects party members who traditionally support them; their international isolation; the greater impoverishment of the vulnerable population, etc. These reasons have led the process of implosion that began months ago to become visible to many members of the opposition.

The balance of power or the correlation of forces is now in favor of the weakening of the dictatorship. However, if there’s one thing to be learned in the current moment, it’s just how changeable these calculations can be. The current juncture could easily become counterproductive, if the true opposition doesn’t adopt a strategy to promote this implosion, but instead continues behaving irrationally without uniting against the dictatorship. Together, we’re the majority, together we’re stronger.   

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