Gioconda Belli Comments on the Dilemmas of Nicaraguan Private Enterprise

It’s the hour of unity,
the hour to create a silence,
so as to hear the footsteps of the tyrant as he departs.

By Gioconda Belli  (Confidencial)

A busy Managua underpass during the June 14th general strike. Photo: Carlos Herrera /

HAVANA TIMES – A few days ago, I called a businessman friend who is usually a jokester. I didn’t expect that when I asked him how he was, he would answer – “very depressed”, then be unable to continue any further. His voice broke, and I could hear that hoarse sobbing that emerges when men don’t want to cry but can’t hold it back. We weren’t able to continue the conversation.

Like many other middle-sized and even large businesspeople, this one left the country during the eighties to work elsewhere. He lived in exile, longing for Nicaragua, and with the electoral triumph of Violeta Chamorro in 1990, he returned. As he became more established in the country, his expectations for doing business grew. The arrival of Daniel Ortega to power alarmed him, but he decided he could survive. With the arrangements for private initiatives under Ortega, he stopped fearing a return to the eighties and considered it a positive climate for investing and putting his faith in the future of Nicaragua. He invested.

He didn’t agree with many of the Daniel Ortega’s actions, but he wasn’t part of big capital, nor did he sit at the table with COSEP [Superior Council of Private Enterprise, composed of large business owners] to discuss strategies. He simply accepted the existing state of things, because he didn’t feel he was capable of altering them. Like many owners of medium-sized businesses, he’s a man of work and not very adept at political involvement.  In these last few months, nevertheless, he didn’t miss any of the demonstrations against the regime.

How many business owners are there like him, who trusted the country and placed all their bets on Nicaragua, believing in a stable future, and now are faced with bankruptcy? How many are facing that perspective at the age of sixty or seventy, and now see before them an end to the comfortable and peaceful lives that it took them so many years to reestablish after returning from exile?

The personal tragedies come in all sizes and colors. Dying in the trenches isn’t the only way of losing your life. For a person who has reconstructed a business with effort and has gone into debt with the banks, trusting in a positive future, the possibility of a catastrophic bankruptcy is devastating. That person knows they no longer have time to begin again, as they did in the nineties. So much effort has dissolved into nothing in so few days, and they find themselves desperately wondering how to face their old age, something they thought had been resolved.

In the Marxist concept of class struggle, the categories that existed at the beginning of the industrial revolution in the nineteenth century are still employed: the proletariat and the capitalists are great enemies – antitheses of each other. The theory predicts that when the proletariat has succeeded in abolishing capital and taking over the means of production, a just and egalitarian society will come to exist. In practice, history hasn’t worked out like that. The middle classes, chiefly the students and professionals, have participated as leaders or supporters in the most important revolutions since the French Revolution in 1789. People from diverse social strata have converged around ideas of social justice, equality, and honesty; and have also offered their lives for these causes.

In Nicaragua, to keep from looking further away, many young people from bourgeoise backgrounds participated in the Revolution, and many have continued until today supporting democratic leftist options. Further, a democratic proposal must dispense with that notion of having one class eliminate the other. In a democracy – which up till now is the method of government that has given the best results and the one we in Nicaragua aspire to – all sectors have the right to exist, and each one offers their contribution to society.

Seen in this light, private capital – the small, medium and even the large business owners – aren’t the problem. The problem is that there’s no strategy in the country to require them to contribute to the collective benefit; that is, adequate tax laws and legislation to limit those enterprises that affect the country’s ecology or the well-being and development of society as a whole.

An example of a miscarried alliance in terms of the nation as a collective was, for example, Daniel Ortega’s model of consensus and dialogue with the business sector. The company owners followed the logic of capital and their own interests. They failed to see the danger that all of society faced as those who had economic power accepted Ortega’s thousand and one maneuvers: decapitating alternatives, destroying the rule of law and the incipient democracy that we had; putting the Army under his thumb; dominating the State powers; mortgaging our country to a Chinese magnate; among many other positions that transformed his administration into a dictatorship.

That’s how it was until April of this year. The social explosion surprised the business community as much as the rest of Nicaraguans.  Finding themselves at this juncture, the business community recognized their mistake and opted to support the popular rebellion, nominate representatives to the National Dialogue and, finally, climb aboard the train of the protest against Ortega. Their losses have been great, and now Ortega is affecting them directly with the land takeovers that he’s encouraged all over the country.

Just like the rest of the citizens, if Daniel Ortega remains in power, private enterprise faces a dubious and unstable future. It’s obvious that the government has opted for a strategy of chaos and destruction whose objective is to quash the rebellion, no matter what the cost. We must be clear that at this juncture there are only two roads: resist or surrender. Some weeks ago, it might have been possible to attempt reaching an agreement for early elections, but at this point that road has been closed off by Ortega himself. If we surrender, we’ll have a vengeful government that will flaunt its power by humiliating and persecuting whoever they choose – including private enterprise.

The people have demonstrated that they’re ready, that they’ve emerged from the spell that kept them docile for eleven years. They’ve put up the dead, and their valor and tenacity have been extraordinary. On an international level, Ortega is extremely weakened and isolated. We shouldn’t deceive ourselves thinking that removing some roadblocks and bringing out his Hilux pick-ups full of hitmen is a show of power. On the contrary, it’s a regrettable decision that has transformed him into a leader that murders his own people, another Somoza capable of being a monster, and as such a government that, according to the latest Cid-Gallup poll, 70% of the people oppose. That percentage might reach 80 because the Sandinista bastion of support itself has fractured and abandoned ship. To say that we’re the majority isn’t a euphemism.

I believe it’s important that private business not be afraid that the eighties will be repeated here, with closed minds that will want the country’s public policies to return to those years. Private enterprise is and will continue to be capitalist. It’s their essence. And in a democratic society like the one we dream of constructing, they have a fundamental place in contributing to development and the general welfare. For the same reason, it’s time we laid to one side the prejudices that in no way benefit us. And it’s also time that they come to the full realization that in this situation it’s our turn to push with everything we have, so that this chaos and Daniel Ortega’s scorched earth strategy fail. It’s the hour of unity, the hour to bring forth a silence so as to hear the footsteps of the tyrant as he departs.