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  Number 447 | Octubre 2018
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Nicaragua

“The regime is using the judicial system as a repressive political weapon”

Reflections by a former attorney general on the crisis the government triggered in April, with special emphasis on the illegal treatment of hundreds of political prisoners the regime has jailed under new laws in the third stage of its repression.

Alberto Novoa

The political crisis we’re going through caught us all by surprise. We were an apathetic society, with even the energy of our youth, which is so fundamental to social rebellion, dormant. Nor did we see any energy in workers, because unions have been sidelined in these years. Even the women’s movement and the anti-canal peasant movement, the most active of Nicaragua’s social sectors, had been quieter than in recent years, the former because international funding has largely dried up and the latter because the canal appears to be a dead letter. No one saw the awakening coming because the government, allied with the business class, seemingly had absolute control over society.

It wasn’t a single-issue rebellion


April’s rebellion may have been triggered by the social security reforms, but the powder keg was a massive accumulation of infringed and disrespected civil rights; the institutional crisis of electoral crimes; the larceny and shady political deals; and the self-appointed license of the executive branch to do and undo whatever it felt like after having taken command of all four state branches as well as all ministries and the offices of comptroller general, attorney general and prosecutor general. The presidential couple was accountable to no one as no oversight entity could call that absolute power to task for any wrongdoing. With each decision, that absolute power was telling us “I am the State,” in a modern-day repeat of Louis XIV’s famous statement.

The event that sparked the April rebellion wouldn’t have had the same effect without that accumulation of simmering grievances. In 2015, the government had decided to reform social security by increasing the contribution of both employers and employees, just as it did in April 2018. But that year the move was barely noticed; it certainly didn’t produce any protest. At the time the economy was still vibrant and the social programs financed by Venezuela’s petroleum cooperation still held out hope that non-beneficiaries could get in on the offers by cozying up to the government. Moreover, there was no appealing political alternative anywhere on the horizon.

A peaceful contradiction
answered by state violence


The protest against April’s social security reforms began peacefully the evening of April 18. The repression of those first unarmed student and elderly protestors was initially led by what appeared to be members of the Sandinista Youth, if the tee-shirts they were wearing are to be believed, plus other youths on motorcycles referred to popularly as motorizados. Swinging truncheons and metal pipes, they cracked heads of both young and old. When enough more protestors showed up to outnumber the pro-government forces, anti-riot police were sent in to disperse the demonstrators.

In the few other protests this past decade, such as the one in 2013, also by pensioners and their student supporters, the truncheon-wielding thugs had typically meted out enough of a repressive dose to quell the display of discontent by atomized, disunited and thus easily intimidated youths. This time, for some unexplained reason, the order came down to respond with excessive violence using anti-riot cops trained for a very different kind of problem. But even those black-clad, padded, helmeted and shielded police failed to have the expected intimidating effect. By the next day the street protest had grown, and the new order was apparently to shoot to kill. The students were met by a phalanx of riot police with tear gas, rubber bullets and even live rounds, to which they responded with rocks, slingshots and homemade mortars. Between April 19 and the end of that month, the majority of young people killed had been shot in the head or chest. With each upping of the ante and each unjustified death of someone’s child, the rebellion grew, as did people’s support for it.

The rebellion challenged the regime’s absolute power and expressed, once again in our history, a contradiction that could and should have been resolved peacefully. But as always, the ruling power decided to resolve it out of the barrel of a gun. The law has virtually never resolved any political and social contradictions in Nicaragua. The authorities always try to resolve them by force, which only accumulates more unresolved ones and triggers new ones.

Two centuries of history marked
by the “Pedrarias syndrome”


Nicaragua’s first governor was Pedrarias Dávila, a Spanish military man who murdered his friend Vasco Núñez de Balboa in Panama before coming here. Pedrarias governed with an iron hand and his sons were as bloodthirsty as he. Our history has been marked by the Pedrarias syndrome ever since, rule by cruel, unscrupulous and machista political strongmen.

In 1821 Nicaragua achieved its independence from Spain and included itself in the Central American Federation. After separating from the Federation in 1838, we went through a period of total anarchy that lasted until 1852. Just in that 14-year period, the country had 25 Heads of State, Supreme Chiefs and Directors of State, as they were variously called. Each change, which occurred every three or four months, contributed its quota of blood.

The first President was proclaimed in 1852, but the armed rivalry between the Liberals of León and the Conservatives of Granada continued until the gringo William Walker came to Nicaragua with the support of those in León and decided to take over the country for himself. Our fellow Central Americans had to come help us reach an agreement to get rid of him, but not before much more blood was spilled. Walker was executed by firing squad in Trujillo, Honduras, in 1860.

Differences continued to be resolved only by bullets between 1858 and 1893, during which time seven citizens of Granada, most of them from the Conservative Party, successively ran the government as if it were their hacienda. Some Conservative theoreticians call those decades of government a Republic and current references to Nicaragua “again becoming a Republic” hark back to that period.

What is known as the Liberal revolution began in 1893, when General José Santos Zelaya installed himself in power. He proposed liberal laws that were quite advanced for the time, but the United States increasingly viewed them as affecting its interests. On December 1, 1909, US Secretary of State Philander Knox sent Nicaragua’s charge d’affaires in Washington a message alleging all manner of corruption and cruelty by the Zelaya government. The Knox Note, as it has come to be known, made clear that the United States would not rest until Zelaya was gone. Given the US military forces arrayed against the President and reported US financing of his Conservative and Liberal enemies, he resigned weeks later.

Political unrest continued and by 1912 the US Marines had invaded Nicaragua and the Liberal social and economic model Zelaya had been installing was truncated. The gringos aborted his incipient national capitalism and imposed a Conservative government that was very docile toward US interests. In 1927 Sandino appeared with his nationalist, anti-interventionist war. The Marines finally left for good in 1933, leaving us under the power of the Somoza family dynasty for nearly half a century.

Years more passed with only the imposition of armed force rather than law. We had a dozen constitutional texts with dozens of reforms, but no Constitution solved the national contradictions. All the ones we’ve proclaimed, including the one in effect today, were created to resolve the problems faced by the power groups dominating the political scene at a particular time. It is evidence that our society has never had a juridical underpinning on which to build, that our ruling classes have always shaped reality by continually seeking to adjust the law to their own interests.

In 1979 we came to the Sandinista revolution, with its lights and shadows, an event that’s still determining our reality. The 1990 election results put the civil war of the 1980s behind us and Nicaragua seemed to be finally putting itself on a healthy path with respect to the law. But even in the transition period the new government alliance negotiated the law, receiving Supreme Court positions in exchange for the continuation of Sandinista military structures in the Police and the Army.

Chamorro was followed by the governments of Presidents Alemán and Bolaños. I worked with the Bolaños administration for a time and was able to apply the law to unravel some very serious corruption cases. We accomplished some things, but in 2007 the country was thrust back into the process of adjusting all laws to the authoritarian model Ortega and Murillo constructed. That’s how the country evolved until the April rebellion erupted and the regime responded with bullets.

The criminalization of protest


In April and May, the correlation of forces favored the rebellious population mobilizing all over the country. Up to and including the Mothers’ Day march on May 30, the mass mobilizations were the largest ever seen in Nicaragua, with hundreds of thousands of people participating in marches in Managua and other cities.

The national dialogue, which began in May, gave Ortega time to organize his forces and begin a counteroffensive. After violently destroying the roadblocks the protestors and their supporters had built on both highways and entrances to neighborhoods in late June and early July, he moved to a new stage: the criminalization of protest, aided by the passage of a new anti-terrorist law, and the manipulation of the judicial system as a political weapon of selective repression. That’s the stage we’re still in. The regime has decided to impose order at all cost, snuffing out any mobilization at its incubation point, capturing all student and neighborhood leaders who try to organize it. The objective is to remove the leadership of any protest, mobilization or march by what is now called the “blue and white” opposition, given that no political party colors are seen in the mobilizations, just a river of blue and white national flags. The government is using all its repressive arsenal to impose that “order,” accusing all opposition of terrorist acts, including participation in peaceful street demonstrations.

The arbitrary fate
of the detainees


For years we’ve been watching Ortega destroy any vestige of independence in the branches of government. For me, the most grotesque aspect of this repression is watching how the judicial branch is falling to its knees before Ortega’s absolute power. Police, prosecuting attorneys and judges obey his orders with neither professional qualms nor shame.

The police arbitrarily capture—or better said, kidnap—people with no judicial authority whatever. The relatives of those detained can only watch helplessly as police officers and paramilitary elements take away their husband, child or grandchild. Then begins the search for the kidnapped person. Generally, those detained in this illegal manner are taken to Managua to the Police judicial auxiliary prison known as El Chipote, regardless of where they were captured. The authorities then either admit to the family members that they are there or deny it for several days or more. Whatever answer given is decided arbitrarily.

Some are released, while others are held much longer, again seemingly arbitrarily. While there they are mistreated, tortured and interrogated under threats, then taken to La Modelo prison in Tipitapa. National human rights organizations estimate that the regime has opened some 350 judicial processes, most against young people accused of “terrorism.”

How the law should work
and how it works today


Our penal code establishes that if a police officer takes someone before a judge after holding that person for over 48 hours, the judge must order his or her immediate release. But in this dismal stage in which protest is being crim¬inalized, no judges have released any detainee, even though virtually all have been held longer than the legal 48 hours and continue to be held for days or even weeks.


The law also obliges the judge, or any other state official for that matter, to presume the detainee’s innocence and treat him or her accordingly. So why are detainees taken off to jail, even tortured, if the presumption of their innocence can only be erased after a definitive judicial sentence, after the prisoner has exhausted the last court of appeal? In today’s Nicaragua the presumption of innocence is being violated right from the moment the police apprehend people, then present them to the media labelling them as terrorists, criminals, murderers... They stigmatize and ridicule the detainees, effectively declaring them guilty even before they have passed through the filter of a judicial process. This preemptive criminalization violates the universal right to be presumed innocent.

And this is without mentioning the sad role being played today by the Public Ministry, which is accusing all of these people of a long list of crimes with neither evidence nor investigation. A former student of mine who works there told me they have printed accusation forms so the public prosecutors don’t even have to write anything except the name of the accused, then send the form to the judge, leaving the detainee already tried and convicted. The Nicaraguan penal system was always a meat grinder for the poor, but now it is grinding up rebel meat, particularly when the rebels are also poor…

How trials ought to work…


Our Constitution establishes the right of the accused to choose their own defense attorney. But a good number of today’s detainees are being “defended” by lawyers from the Public Defenders’ Office, which is part of the corrupt judicial branch that answers to the interests of the absolute power.

Our Constitution also establishes that trials should be oral and public. Why oral? Because of the principle of immediacy. It speeds up the process, specifically allowing the judge to learn the facts involved more quickly. And why public? So the people can do their job of monitoring the role of both the judge and the prosecuting and defending attorneys, either directly or through the media.

But there hasn’t been a single public trial since April. Neither the family of the accused nor the media are allowed in the courtroom. Nor are the international human rights organizations currently in the country whose mission is to witness that process. Everything is being done behind closed doors.

Ortega’s juridical abuses
are worse than Somoza’s


I want to go back to 1964, well into the Somoza dynasty, which I and many others fought against. Carlos Fonseca and Víctor Tirado were tried that year in what was known as the Trébol court, previously a movie theater by that name. As journalists and the general public were allowed in, a packed court heard Fonseca’s six-hour declaration to the judge, in which he listed all the offenses of the Somoza dictatorship one by one. He later published a book of that testimony—which had also been taped in the courtroom—under the title Yo acuso a la dictadura (I accuse the dictatorship).

Three years later, Daniel Ortega himself was arrested together with another compañero and tried for assaulting a bank. Their trial was also public, as was Doris Tijerino Haslam’s two years after that. People came to support them, some with a placard demanding “freedom for the political prisoners,” and journalists showed up as well. Yet Somoza never ordered that the courthouse doors be closed when political prisoners were being tried and never denied them their right to their own lawyer. The prisoners were free to choose good lawyers to defend them: Aquiles Centeno, Luis Manuel Robles, Roberto Argüello Hurtado…

It’s not my intent to make comparisons between the Somozas and Ortega, other than to say that “by their fruits you shall know them.”
I also recall when 300 National Guardsmen killed Julio Buitrago in 1969, using a tank and several airplanes to attack the safe house where he was holed up. On the day of his burial the Guard didn’t turn up to intimidate us, nor did they show up to harass us as we carried the body of their victim Casimiro Sotelo to the cemetery.

In contrast, I watched sadly as the pick-up truck bearing the casket of Matt Romero, the 16-year old killed by the paramilitaries during a march on September 25 demanding the release of the political prisoners, was followed by six or seven trucks full of anti-riot police carrying their assault rifles at the ready, as if they were in combat. It was an obvious attempt to intimidate, but I heard people in the streets yelling “At least Somoza left the dead in peace, unlike this bastard!”

Political act vs. common crime


Like Ortega today, Somoza did insist that those jailed were common criminals. not political prisoners. He said Ortega had simply robbed a bank and that his accomplice had killed someone, without saying anything about the motivation. Like almost all other penal codes, Nicaragua’s doesn’t differentiate between crimes based on their motivation. A homicide is simply the death of one human being caused by another and the punishment is established for that act. But motivation does make a difference. If I rob someone to then enjoy the fruit of my theft, I’ve committed the simple crime of robbery. But if I take that money and give it to an organization that’s seeking to overthrow an unjust government, my action is political because the robbery is motivated by a political purpose, not the desire to enrich myself. It’s a political crime, a crime of rebellion against the authority.

Right now we have more than 300 political prisoners; people accused of crimes of a political nature. They are being tried for exercising their civil and political rights. The fundamental treaty that created the United Nations establishes the right to rebel when faced with an oppressive authority that limits human rights, and those taken prisoner for exercising that right conceded to us by international law are by definition political prisoners.

Our rights have been infringed


Nicaragua’s absolute holder of power has violated our rights, including the right to petition, which our Constitution grants to all citizens. We have the right to ask Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo to step down. And they have the duty to respond to us. We also have the right to criticize public officials as thieves, as inoperative, or for any other reason. And again, they have the duty to respond.

We also have the right to meet, to demonstrate, to protest, to demand, to express our opinions in public and in private, to seek information and disseminate it… But all of these have been violated, and now more than 300 youths are in prison and being tried for exercising those rights. We are thus in the presence of political crimes, political prisoners and political trials, with political consequences. And this reality is a major political problem for the regime.

The new “anti-terrorist law”


According to data of the national human rights organizations, nearly 80% of those captured and imprisoned since April have been accused of being “terrorists” based on a new law approved after April called the “Law against the laundering of assets, financing of terrorism and financing of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.” In September, I filed a writ of unconstitutionality against it with the Supreme Court, along with diverse social sectors.

In fact, the law was drafted before April at the request of the United States with the aim of gaining greater control over money laundering, but it is being used as the basis of these political trials. Some businesspeople proposed that I file the writ back then, less concerned at the time about terrorism than about the regime using the law to indiscriminately and arbitrarily monitor their assets. I only agreed after seeing the government interpret the social rebellion as acts of terrorism, and I extended the charge of unconstitutionality beyond the issue of assets, which most specifically affected businesspeople, to also cover the articles referring to terrorism, which were affecting all Nicaraguans.


The law violates constitutional articles referring to Nicaraguans’ civil and political rights by stating that anyone would be considered a terrorist “who individually or acting together with terrorist organizations carries out any act aimed at causing death or serious bodily injury to any person or destroys or damages public or private goods or services, when the purpose of said acts, by their nature or context, is to intimidate a population, alter the constitutional order or oblige a government or an international organization to carry...out an act or abstain from doing so.” It establishes sentences of 15 to 20 years in prison, depending on the degree of intimidation involved.


Who qualifies an organization as terrorist? The government? And what qualifies as altering the constitutional order? Calling for Ortega’s resignation? Asking for early elections? Are those terrorist acts? Is it an act of terrorism to call for the repeal of Law 840, the canal law?

If we analyze that law, we quickly see that it defines a good part of exercising our legitimate rights as falling into the criminal sphere of “terrorism.” Evidence of such an arbitrary and skewed definition is that peacefully calling for Ortega’s resignation has in all seriousness been branded as coup-mongering. Recently even people who released blue and white balloons in the streets have been detained as terrorist collaborators. That is the abuse we are exposed to today.

As for financing terrorism, the law says prison sentences of 15 to 20 years will be handed down to those “who, by whatever means, directly or indirectly, illicitly and deliberately collects, gathers, channels, deposits, transfers, moves, assures, administers, protects, brokers, lends, provides, or hands over assets, be they of a licit or illicit source, for the purpose of them being used or knowing that they will be used, in all or in part, to commit or attempt to commit terrorism….” Perhaps the law applies to the lady who gave out free bags of water to protesters gathered outside the first session of the national dialogue to repudiate the governing couple. By the law’s strict definition, she must be guilty, because she contributed to alteration of the public order and was giving out her assets: the little bags of water she normally sells. And if the law applies to her, it surely applies to NGOs holding training and leadership seminars for youth. The government only has to argue that they are training terrorists to alter the constitutional order...

In my writ I said that “Terrorism and the financing of terrorism are defined so broadly in this law that their interpretation and scope of these penal classifications is left to the discretion of the judge, with the single objective of opening spaces for criminalizing public civic protests and solidarity among Nicaraguans.” I didn’t introduce it to the Supreme Court because I believed it would prosper. I have no confidence whatsoever in Nicaragua’s judicial system. I’m quite sure it will suffer the fate of so many others of its ilk, including all those filed against the canal law, which simply ended up in the round file. I did it, or rather we did it, as historical evidence, so that someday someone can say that a group of individuals protested that law. Days later it was joined by another filed by the Nicaraguan Human Rights Center (CENIDH), for the same reasons.

What is Ortega’s plan
for all these prisoners?


In a country with as many conflicts as Nicaragua, there have always been large numbers of political prisoners. Now they are accused of being terrorists, while in Somoza’s times they were accused of being Communists. The only good news is that for a variety of factors political prisoners seldom ever complete their sentences. One reason is that they represent evidence of subversion, of rebellion against the order the person in power at the time is trying to impose. Having prisons overcrowded with political prisoners doesn’t really suit the image of peace, harmony and normality Ortega and Murillo are trying to peddle. Each of these prisoners and their desperate and irate families represent emotional baggage and social repudiation that only stoke the opposition against the governing couple.

Some think Ortega has had so many people arrested because he’s planning to negotiate an amnesty that would also cover him and all his accomplices responsible for the crimes committed on the government side. It would be a way to dodge the population’s demand for justice. The idea is that people would be so relieved to have the prisons emptied of their children that they would accept the measure even though it’s a far cry from justice.

The difference between
pardon and amnesty


A pardon is a reprieve, in which the sentence is rescinded but a crime is still considered to have been committed and the blot remains on the individual’s record. Amnesty is a whole other thing. The word comes from amnesia: wiping the slate clean and starting fresh. The archives are expunged, leaving no official trace of what happened and who did what. It is as though that part of history never existed.

Nicaragua’s history is rife with amnesties. The last one I can remember was in the early 1990s, when what were known as recompas, recontras, rejuntos and revueltos—rearmed remnants from both sides of the war of the 1980s—were engaging either separately or jointly in armed actions, largely to call attention to the government’s failure to fully implement the peace agreements. In July of that year, Víctor Manuel Gallegos, a former major in the Sandinista Popular Army who went by the alias “Pedrito el Hondureño,” led an attack on Estelí involving some 150 ex-Army personnel. The siege of the city, which went on for days, left 29 dead and a cache of some $5 million stolen from the banks. Their freedom was finally guaranteed together with that of the rearmed contras by an amnesty negotiated by President Violeta Chamorro and Army Chief Humberto Ortega. Pedrito, by the way, resurfaced in September as a leader of Ortega’s paramilitaries.

A total amnesty had been decreed even before the 1990 elections in which Chamorro displaced Daniel Ortega as President, annulling all war crimes committed during the 1980s by either side. I belonged to the FSLN at the time and worked in the judicial system during those years. We knew that all the files on crimes committed by both the Somocista National Guardsmen prior to the overthrow of Somoza and later by the contras were kept in a huge room. Those files contained the truth as told by both the victims and the victimizers, many of them during the anti-Somocista tribunals held in the first years of the revolution.

But they were burned as part of the handover of the government to Chamorro, destroyed in the name “of the future.” It was a historical atrocity because those judicial documents contained a wealth of information for anyone interested in later investigating what had happened in those years. Such stupidity and short-sightedness mean that we in Nicaragua will never have a “White Book”; we’ll never know our true history. Moreover, all the wounds treated with that Band-Aid of an amnesty are still there; they aren’t healed. With the same misguided concern for “the future,” Nicaragua never engaged in a cathartic “truth and reconciliation” process as so many countries did with greater or lesser sincerity…

Nicaragua has never resolved
its differences through dialogue


Nicaragua’s contradictions need to be resolved not by force and fiat, but through dialogue, through a social pact. Speaking of a social pact in the Rousseauian sense means a deal, a compromise born of a grand coming together in which everyone agrees to cede some of their liberty in exchange for everyone else doing the same. In describing his concept of a social pact in those terms, Rousseau differed with Hobbes, who argued in his 1651 book Leviathan that human beings don’t hammer out agreements through any pact, but only through force; not because we decide to, but because we’re forced to by a stronger power.


In Nicaragua we have belied the proposals of both Rousseau and Hobbes. We’ve never managed to reach any agreement as the result of a genuine social pact, but nor have we been forced into any lasting social pact by power. Nicaraguan society doesn’t respect the law or the power that proposes laws, because the power doing the proposing has never earned the required moral authority. It has only made of the laws a robe fit to its own measure. Must we always live like this?

We’ve never enjoyed the rule of law


After April we began talking about “recovering” the rule of law, but we’ve never had it for longer than a few years at a time. The rule of law is an ideological expression conceived by the French revolution’s victorious bourgeoisie in 1789. France’s Enlightenment thinkers defined the rule of law as a government with a separation of powers, a concept antagonistic to the French monarchs who declared “I am the State.”

The French revolutionaries granted maximum power to the Assembly and the bourgeoisie appropriated that forum as its deliberating power at the time. That notion of the rule of law and the separation of powers prospered. Presidentialist regimes with the maximum power in the executive branch predominated in some incipient nations, particularly in Latin America, while parliamentary regimes predominated in Europe. The power of the presidency has always been extreme in Nicaragua. The current regime is the epitome of the model, with Ortega himself as the President, head of State, head of government, supreme chief of the Police and the Army and the secretary general of the governing party. He, at least in name, is the absolute and only power.

The US has left us a stunted
political and business class


In France the rule of law corresponded to the new class at that time, the bourgeoisie, but in Nicaragua the bourgeoisis never really developed. It had its best shot at emergence with the Liberal revolution of the 1890s under President José Santos Zelaya, but then the gringos came along and curtailed any possibility of developing a national version of that social class. And our politicians, the majority of whom come from that sector, remained forever looking to Washington for signs, messages, orders…

Nicaragua’s bourgeoisie was never able to create a rule of law that could maintain the balance of powers. During the past 11 years, the business chambers in the umbrella organization known as the Superior Council of Private Enterprise (COSEP) and the burgeoning number of companies in the American-Nicaraguan Chamber of Commerce (AMCHAM) allied virtually unconditionally with Ortega, enjoying the good prices they got for the raw materials we export and particularly those Venezuela paid for what we exported there. They even applauded the planned construction of the interoceanic canal as the panacea that was going to deliver us from poverty. That is Nicaragua’s business class. It never took the time to develop itself and never had the strategic vision to create a rule of law that would represent it. In the process, it lost 11 years of genuine economic development by uncritically and self-interestedly supporting Ortega’s model of absolute power.

While other countries were advancing to a greater or lesser degree, our bourgeoisie ended up stunted, unfeeling, content with the privileges that gave it power, protected by tax exemptions and exonerations and by the shady deals they cut until they even convinced themselves that they were in charge because 80% of the laws approved by this regime had been minimally negotiated and endorsed by their business chambers.

Where do we go from here?


Now even this has been lost by the April revolt, by a self-defined and spontaneous social rebellion that shares strong anti-dictatorial and anti-Ortega convictions, but still lacks a strategic formula to take further steps forward. The proposal of the array of social sectors involved is to take up the dialogue again, get Ortega to step down and move up the elections. While there’s nothing wrong with that as far as it goes, it’s framed only as an institutional solution. But what will we do about the levels of poverty we have, particularly as they have been exacerbated by the economic crisis produced by the political one? Will we settle for consumer capitalism? What will we do with our natural resources, with the educational system? What development model will we build to achieve truly better education, a healthy environment…? Will we remain under the influence of the United States?

None of these and a number of other questions appear to be the subject of reflection yet, let alone of public debate. We’re acting as if resolving the institutional political problem is going to resolve the bedrock problem of our future: how to produce wealth and develop a firm system of authentic social justice.

What does this new
generation want?


I’ve heard young people say that if we can just get rid of Ortega, the other problems will be easier to solve. I’ve also heard them say they don’t want either left or right! I can’t help but ask what they do want. I see the university students as activists against the Ortega dictatorship, in fact against our whole older generation. But I still don’t see them thinking about a strategic project, about the economic and political model they want to build instead.

I don’t believe this libertarian movement that began in April is leaning toward revolutionary change, toward a radical transformation. In fact, I see it as barely reformist. Recovering free elections and democracy isn’t a revolution, but don’t get me wrong; it is something very important that we have to recover.

There’s finally an incipient
aversion to caudillo figures


My personal belief is that with the weight of our history, and with all that has happened, what we most need is a transition government that can carve out agreement on a new social pact, a new political pact in which the majority of us can fit comfortably and in which we can achieve a new scheme of coexistence.

I don’t yet know what we’ll get with the April uprising; I don’t think anyone does. But I do believe that the caudillo or strong-man syndrome, the syndrome of Pedrarias with which we began our history, has taken a major hit. In physics one studies the law of inertia, which says that an object in motion tends to stay in motion at the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force. I don’t think what happened in April and since then is enough to stamp out all the aspirations of the caudillos we have in our society; they will continue in the inertia of an object in motion. But I do believe that this catharsis we’ve had, these 400 deaths we’ve suffered have transformed society’s vision into an unbalanced force that will act on them more strongly than in the past.

I don’t think a new caudillo will emerge as a result of April. The social agitation that has occurred and is still occurring is producing a diversification in opinions and in the traditional leadership figures. It is feeding the search for unity in diversity. April’s young leaders even use such terms. And that’s a new and very positive sign.




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