Closing in on an enigma
By Gioconda Belli (Confidencial)
HAVANA TIMES – What’s happening to Daniel Ortega? We thought he’d accepted the need to coexist with certain rules of the democratic game; and that the polls and other indications of his and Rosario Murillo’s widespread personal popularity would allow him to continue his particular brand of carrot-and-stick politics as seen up until now.
I even dared to suggest that this government’s praxis could be categorized as “dictatorship lite”. I said this in an attempt to be very democratic, given that the prevailing discourse that paints Ortega as a “dictator, a tyrant and another Somoza” often seemed to me to echo the Sandinista tones of the eighties – the same style of discourse that Ortega uses.
Such language paints everything in black and white, I thought. There’s no room for common ground or understanding of the reasons for the mutual discrepancies. It makes it seem that one side can only exist if the other ceases to exist. And the truth is, as citizens of the same country, we have to aspire to being able to coexist, despite how much difference there may be between our ideas. Those of us who advocate democracy can’t sound the same as a populist leader who hasn’t blanched at devouring his party’s own children rather than tolerate their differences.
It’s been sad to discover that my tiny spark of political optimism was unfounded, and that the talk about dictatorship and the shadow of Somoza was neither in vain nor premature, although I do still think that we need another kind of language.
So we’re now into pure, hardcore populism that detests democracy, though it has managed through manipulation of the laws and institutions to conserve the image of formal democracy, while emptying it of content and obstructing the participation of any sector of the population – big or small – that doesn’t think in the same way.
The hardening noted in the last few weeks, I dare affirm, is a direct consequence of the problems that Nicolas Maduro is having with an opposition ever more able to call attention to responsibilities and poor management, and with increasing popular support. Let’s add one or another little piece of advice he may have received: “Don’t let the opposition live, kiddo; pull it out by the roots before it has a chance to grow. Look what’s going on in Venezuela.”
In Ortega’s radical populist mindset the idea of free elections, of alternation in power, is a bourgeois trick. That was the left’s way of thinking until the current crisis of socialism. The failure of this system led to an ideological crisis with two results. One part of the left became more democratic, realizing that an imposed socialism, predicated on the privation of liberties, didn’t build either a new man or a just society. Another part embraced populism: free trade, manipulation of popular culture and a reduced democratic space based on “elections” set up so that the model would be acceptable on an international level.
But Ortega has already seen what happened with Peronism in Argentina, in Bolivia with Evo’s referendum, and he sees what’s happening in Venezuela. He doesn’t want that alternative to exist in Nicaragua. The easiest recipe: finish off the opposition before it can raise its head and organize.
It’s interesting that Eduardo Montealegre’s legal right to represent the PLI was taken away just at the moment when it had managed to gain some traction with the choice of Luis Callejas and Violeta Granera as a presidential formula, and with well-known figures like Berta Valle and Ana Margarita Vijil poised to become deputies. Luis and Violeta, I dare speculate, would have managed to motivate a good number of rural and urban residents because they’re an honest pair, new faces, younger. Also, during the electoral processes, people tend to increase their perception of what is good and bad in their surroundings, and the parties that aren’t in the government can always promise more.
The point is that Ortega has cut the wings of an opposition alternative configured as a broad alliance. The Supreme Court served him on a silver tray the lawsuit that had been stuffed in a drawer five years before. Magistrates Rosales and Solis lent themselves in disciplined fashion to the play, or perhaps they gave them the idea. And – Zap! Down came the guillotine.
No one should be astonished that the multitudes haven’t poured out into the streets in protest. Eduardo Montealegre’s figure doesn’t move a lot of people. If Luis and Violeta and Ana Margarita and Berta or other deputies had been on the campaign trail for longer, they surely would have gathered good crowds, but the regime didn’t give them time. It was a surgical operation with two drones named Rosales and Solis, both well known for other “verdicts” legally unsustainable but “artistically” constructed.
Ironically, the maneuver was so crude and the guillotine so obvious that in the long term what they achieved was to discredit the elections and legitimize the opposition.
Then came the expulsions that have so concerned COSEP [The High Council of Private Business], a group that up until now have been Ortega’s happy tablemates. According to the media, a professor and two customs employees (all three of them U.S. citizens) were expelled less than 24 hours after arriving in the country; a female Mexican investigator was harassed until she left, and six internationalists from the “Good Life” movement were first accused of having explosives and then declared innocent, but deported anyway, “kicked out”, as they say, “feet first at the northern and southern borders.”
That kind of thing hadn’t been seen up until now. Nicaragua has been an open country. Reporters and researchers of all nationalities have been able to meet – not with the government – but, yes, with those who were for and against it. In one fell swoop, the rules were changed in the last few weeks. This seems a strange not to mention unnecessary measure, since there’s nothing that we know of to justify it. The US has been on very pleasant terms with this government, and even Ambassador Dogu’s complaints have been more than diplomatic.
What we do have to say is that we’ve gone from a framework that is relatively clear in terms of Ortega’s actions to a climate that’s not only perplexing but also of palpable fear and insecurity. Was this necessary? Could it be, as in Rome, that someone consulted the oracle, saw disasters in the future and decided to impede the dire predictions?
Impossible to know; we can only attempt a response and hope that they reconsider. Perhaps those who are issuing the orders will come to realize that all of the dire predictions came to pass on the other side of the Atlantic, with the Brexit vote, and they shouldn’t be seeding more windstorms nor invoking hurricanes.