Today’s challenge for the Blue and White opposition
This former legislator, who has represented
several Liberal parties in the National Assembly
and is currently in the Broad Front for Democracy,
a part of the Blue and White National Unity,
x-rays the opposition to Ortega’s dictatorship,
describing its advances and challenges.
Eliseo Núñez Morales
In January 2018, just three months before the April uprising, I wrote in envío that “I refuse to believe today’s youth, despite the heavy dose of entertainment anesthesia they receive, don’t have within them that feeling all young people have of believing themselves capable of changing the world. I’m sure today’s young people carry it inside too, even as they’re immersed in the social networks.” I believed this would happen at some time. And it did. And when it did, I couldn’t believe it.
“This struggle of a few is for all”
In April those kids gave to all of Nicaragua the will they were carrying inside to make a change. They accepted having their own dreams shattered so the rest of us could keep on dreaming. Many sacrificed their freedom, even their lives. Many more sacrificed their homeland and are in exile today. Most of them are under the age of 30.
I remember a wall graffiti I would read every day in Monimbó, half a block from the central park, which said: “This struggle of a few is for all.” It was then and continues now to be for all.
Ortega still doesn’t get it
Before taking a look at the x-ray of where the Blue and White opposition stands today and where the dictatorship stands, I’d like to tell you what April was about from my point of view. It was a rupture between traditional society and that segment of our society that wants a modern country. Most of those who triggered and propelled what happened in April were youths. They are the segment of Nicaragua’s young people who talk to friends in Spain, inform themselves about what’s going on with other youth on the other side of the world and even get jobs and income through the computer... It’s a youth that feels they live in the world, the whole world is their space. It was this interconnected world that marked those who got April going. It was that segment they call the demographic dividend and we have always just called youth that started this struggle. The youth that rebelled were those who uprooted themselves from this country’s strong traditionalism and started putting their bets on a society with different values, unknown to many of us who have lived in traditional politics. I feel this is the essence of what happened in April.
The April youth came up against a government incapable of understanding what was happening. In addition to the degree of cruelty the government displayed, we saw a high degree of incomprehension. It’s now a year later and Ortega still doesn’t understand what happened. He believes some CIA office designed a coup scheme to overthrow him. He doesn’t say that only to justify what he’s done. He says it because he truly believes it. And he believes it because he doesn’t understand what happened. He can’t understand that people, especially our youth, besides work and food and clothes, also need freedom.
And then, having convinced himself it was a conspiracy against him, he confronted the rebellion as if it were a war. You can listen to their audios (“Take him down!” “He’s getting into position!” “How many casualties?”) and if you don’t see the images, you can imagine it’s an all-out war and the “casualties” are an armed and uniformed adversary... when they were actually just kids with a slingshot, a rock or at most, an homemade mortar.
There’s not a single Nicaraguan who didn’t cry during these months at seeing the level of cruelty used to put out the rebellion. Those endless nights waiting for an attack, those tears, all the pain, has marked each and every one of us who today are in the opposition against Ortega.
Who’s in the Blue and White Unity?
So, who are in the united opposition against the Ortega government today, in what calls itself the Blue and White National Unity?
The youth movement. First and foremost, the youth movement is operationally the strongest sector within it. There are around 30 such youth groups, some of which define themselves by the university they come from; others by their territorial origin. There are also other groups that had been working together since before on issues such as feminism, ecology, LGBT... All these groups have linked themselves one way or another to three poles: some to the Civic Alliance, others to what calls itself the Articulation of Social Movements and still others have generated their own ecosystem and dialogue with the rest. When it’s time for decision-making, they all come together. Among the youth, the big discussion is about tactics. They have endless discussions, however at the end of the day they reach very mature conclusions despite having little or no political experience.
Business groups. Then there are the businesspeople, the ones most criticized on the social networks. This grouping has three segments: the first makes its moves based on cold calculations beyond the current situation and beyond the national framework: the second is the “mea culpa” group; and the third is those who have always criticized the “consensus” model used by the regime and the business elite.
The first group is numerically the smallest but the most powerful because it comprises the elite with the greatest business and financial interests. They are in the opposition because they now understand that Ortega is “not good business.” Besides not sharing principles, just interests, with Ortega, they know that as long as he remains in government there will be no investments in Nicaragua of the magnitude there was in previous years. We don’t believe these business elite will return to the “consensus” model. Ortega is no longer profitable...and besides, they know that the sanctions from the gringos could affect them if they resume their economic or commercial relations with the regime. In this sense, Ortega’s threats are local for them while those of the US are global. It’s a no-brainer.
The second group is the largest, mostly made up of concentric circles around the financial capital, which had been navigating in the “consensus” politics of the first without having any major decision-making capacity in it. This group feels its alliance with Ortega caused catastrophic effects and is genuinely interested in having things change.
The third group is of emerging businesses, younger ones. They made the most of the advantages of the model Ortega granted them, but didn’t “buy into it.” It’s is a very interesting group because its political demands are the same as those of the youth. From their business platform they want a country with liberties. And they demand their own space. They have money, they have their businesses and now they want to “join the pack,” and claim their own space. In talking with these businesspeople, this group turns out to be the most genuine, because its interests have a lot in common with those of the youth.
It’s very unlikely, though I’m not saying impossible, that the business sector will renew the arrangement it had with the regime before April, because Ortega can no longer solve the economic problem, he is the problem. I know about the distrust the business sector provokes in the other sectors, but I don’t share it. They had their “arrangement” with Ortega for many years because they were making a profit. But now they aren’t and they know they won’t anymore. Another thing is that they are not only the economic elite, they’re also the social elite...and Ortega is not someone they would invite to their parties out of friendship.
Politicians. There are also political groups in the Blue and White Unity. There’s the Broad Front for Democracy, in which there is a group of Liberals, a group from the Resistance, the Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS) and the Rescue Sandinismo group. We politicians are the smallest group within the Unity. Most of us who are there today are the ones who for years, way before April, were saying that Ortega’s model had no future. We spent years not only denouncing Ortega, but also his system. We also spent years burdened by the disrepute politics and politicians had earned.
When I was in the Independent Liberal Party (PLI), which was an opposition party, we decided in 2015 to do “Protest Wednesdays” in front of the Supreme Electoral Council (CSE). We did them every single Wednesday, not with the idea that we could change the CSE or kick Roberto Rivas out as president of that corrupt institution, much less overthrow Ortega. We didn’t even really do it to ask for free elections. We did it so that every week some Nicaraguan citizens could hear that we needed change in Nicaragua. In the end, when there were suddenly more credible speakers—the April youth—risking their lives for change, we heard our words from those Wednesday protests: democracy, institutionality, free elections...
Civil society organizations and movements. This is far and away the largest group in the Blue and White Unity. There are feminist organizations, peasant organizations, LGTB organizations, trade unions and others. It is very broad and above all, very diverse… so much so that Ethics and Transparency’s director Roberto Courtney once described it to me as a total mess...
A new encounter and
Interacting with the youth groups has been one of the most interesting experiences for me. I’ve spent my whole political life trying to convince young people...and didn’t succeed. And now they are coming to try to convince me. Some are very active. Each group has very clear goals. Some ask me to advise them, others want me to join them, others don’t want me butting into anything. There’s a little of everything, but they are all valuable, intelligent people with a common characteristic: they are giving everything for what they believe. And they are grassroots people. Did you see the homes of the first young ones who were released from prison into house arrest? Very poor people.
It has also been a great lesson for me to work with people from NGOs. They are very genuine, very consistent and very insistent people. They are gambling on being able to construct a different model, one that includes unusual issues in national politics such as water, environment, women’s rights, discrimination... We politicians are finally starting to understand that the issues the NGOs present require public policies.
The political parties
outside the Unity
There are two political parties that are not in the Blue and White Unity but are tangential to it: the Constitutionalist Liberal Party (PLC) and Citizens for Liberty (CxL). The CxL is a relatively new Liberal party I haven’t participated in, but I know all of them. For example, I know that the roadblock in La Gateada, in Chontales, was organized and maintained by that zone’s CxL structures. And in the case of the PLC I can tell you from experience that during the uprising in April, its grassroots base joined the Blue and White in all the departments. This goes to show that what their bases think and do is different from what their leadership continues to do, which is to preserve their space within Ortega’s system.
Medardo Mairena, the peasant leader who is imprisoned and sentenced to more than 200 years, comes from the PLC structures and never abandoned the PLC, even though it abandoned him in his struggle within the Anti-Canal movement. Medardo fought along with Francisca Ramírez, another leader of that movement who also comes from the PLC. Both are hardcore PLC, but April changed everything. Even though it’s impossible to imagine PLC caudillo Arnoldo Alemán in the Unity, we need Mairena and Ramírez in it.
Alemán is at the opposite extreme from them in the PLC, and between these two extremes there a lot of people from both the PLC and other parties who disregarded their leaders and in April became blue and white.
Today’s struggle is between
freedom and authoritarianism
Today’s struggle in Nicaragua is not between the Right and the Left. That’s not the discussion in the Blue and White Unity. There’s nobody in it ho is advocating a society of conservative values with a totally open economy and a smaller State, against others who want a centralized State with a planned economy and more progressive values. Today’s struggle in Nicaragua is between authoritarianism and freedom, between those who believe the model for this country should continue being of the strong man and those of us who believe we can be free and build a society in which we all can fit.
We aren’t seeking to become uniform in the Unity but to agree on ideas that will take us towards a unique objective and encourage us to walk together towards that goal. That needs to be built upon every day. One of the good things about the Blue and White Unity is that there are very few of us politicians. The reason it’s good is that in politics egos are managed instead of skills, and with so much diversity in the Unity it leads us to manage many other things.
We’re beginning to discover that the differences that used to separate us and even bother us are the Unity’s main strength. We’ve discovered that we can talk, discuss, criticize, propose and dissent. Something I consider new and great is that what is being created is the capacity to do, undo and redo until we all feel comfortable with our decision. That’s already a seed of the model we want to build. And while we do, what we have before us is Ortega, a troglodyte who is killing us. We’re confronting a tyrant.
Leaving power means prison and death
Who are we up against? Someone in the decline of his career. Someone who in April not only destroyed his family succession, but also what he thought would be his legacy. Ortega ruined the Nicaraguan economy in the 1980s and during this new term in government he built up what he thought would be his legacy: a model of consensus with the business sector and the country’s economic growth. All of a sudden, April happened and the youth’s rebellion forced him to expose his worst side. He killed, imprisoned and tortured, and in so doing he tore apart his legacy, destroyed it to the core. He committed political suicide...
When we think about who we’re facing today, we need to take into account that Ortega is a dead man, a man who has nothing more to lose because he’s lost it all. The only thing he is defending is his life and his freedom and that makes him dangerous. He knows that leaving power means prison and death for him. He knows he’s not leaving a legacy. He can no longer use power as a “toy” for negotiating with business leaders, building highways and offering social programs. That’s over. Today he’s determined to stay in power just so he can stay alive and free.
Ortega has feet of clay
And who makes up the social base that is sustaining Ortega? There’s a big difference between the FSLN in the 1980s and now. Even though I always thought the Sandinistas were wrong, the 1980s was a different reality. It was the dawn of a revolution and the aura of being a revolutionary was important. So was the conviction that they were building an alternative world. Besides, during those years the world was still divided in two, the East and the West, which made them think they were a part of a worldwide struggle for the proletariat, for the poor and against the empire. But most of the people who thought like that are no longer with Ortega.
Some of those who continue supporting him are defending their accounts, their mansion, their fortune and their privilege. Others who also defend him are a segment of public workers who have a job because the party gave it to them. Those people have been so humiliated they have come to think they can’t live any other way without the party; that they don’t deserve more and should be grateful to the party for everything, their jobs and the plate of food. I believe they’ll wake up someday and realize that their lives were snatched from them and they will migrate either towards blind fanaticism or towards rebellion. We started seeing some of that rebellion within the State arise in April. We must add the Sandinista Youth to those two groups who are Ortega’s base, those hundreds of young people who have no political or ideological formation.
If that is Ortega’s actual base, even though he’s a monster, he his feet are of clay. And knowing that, the strategy should be, as Sun Tzu said, not to hit him in the face but “below the belt”... to undermine him. And the international sanctions also help here.
Many rightly see a difference between Sandinismo and Orteguismo, something those of us who have been opposing the FSLN for years must understand. Sandinismo will survive the crisis, and hopefully will find some place to lodge its ideas. because a broad segment of the Nicaraguan population believes in those ideas and values and they have all the right to make a democratic proposal to Nicaragua based on them. What won’t survive is Ortega and Orteguismo.
With a dream and a short-term goal
How do we confront Ortega, what can we do to make him leave, make him fall...? Ortega feels he has no way out. Should he be given a way out in a negotiation, where practically nobody would be happy? Or should we push the crisis to a level of conflict in which everything will tumble, taking on the enormous human cost of this rupture? This is the dilemma we’re in, but whichever of these two ways will be Ortega’s decision. What we as opposition have to do is to push without rest so he leaves, so he falls. And rest assured he will fall.
What do we have to do to keep the Unity pushing? I believe that besides temporary agreements and pacts, political parties were killed by their own inefficiency. Political parties are built to take power, but for years we were inefficient in response to Ortega’s frauds and tricks. The Blue and White Unity has to construct a strategy to avoid falling into inefficiency itself. And that is only achieved by working every day.
How did Juan Guaidó get the Venezuelan people to return to the streets on January 23, when so many were saying the opposition in Venezuela had disappeared? He managed to move the people with two things: a dream and a short-term goal. That was April in Nicaragua: hundreds of thousands took to the streets with the dream of gaining freedom and the belief that we could get Ortega out of power in a short time..
I believe today we must prepare ourselves psychologically and materially for a struggle that could last a long one. If it’s solved sooner, that’s better, but we have to keep on pushing; keep on striking, being consistent. That is the challenge. There will be people who will get left by the wayside, but even more will be left along the way if they aren’t told that the struggle could be a long one.
This platform wouldn’t be strong
enough for an electoral struggle
It’s not only fear that has a lot of people stuck in their houses. Fear contributes, but what weighs even more is that people still don’t see a goal in the short term. We must find it and meanwhile build a platform, which I believe should be like a Lego platform, where each part, each piece, has its interlocking place. Though this seems conceptual, when the Blue and White Unity tried to put it into practice we saw that it wasn’t easy.
Five months went by between October, when the Unity was born, and March, when we finally elected the Political Council! It took so long so everyone would feel comfortable placing their piece in that first platform.
Right now, we’re all united in this diverse opposition with the goal of ousting Ortega, but we know that if we have to move to an electoral struggle the platform we’ve constructed would be insufficient. I say that not because we wouldn’t be able to beat Ortega, but because we would have to take on a democratic system for the selection of candidates.
We must also acknowledge that between October and December, the repression increased and there were months when we couldn’t meet because wherever we went there was a police patrol ready to pick us up. At the end of January, with the visit of members of the European parliament to Nicaragua, the intensity of the repression began to slack. And now Ortega is managing his repression, not only because of the sanctions, but also because he’s running out of resources for repression and the repression itself is running out of steam. There are police who are tired of the work load placed on them, the tension they’re living through, the pressure placed on them, the social rejection they‘re feeling...
Even though I would hope this crisis could be solved via elections, I think it is the least likely probability. How can we achieve an electoral solution with Ortega understanding, even before those elections, that he has to leave? That’s not going to happen.
Transition with him
or rupture without him...
If the solution comes through negotiations, any arrangement will seem bad to one degree or another to all of us. All of it for some and parts of it for others. Political agreements, no matter how well intentioned, never leave everyone satisfied. We are already seeing that at the negotiation table with the Civic Alliance and the government, in Dialogue 2.0.
If the way out is through transition, it will be with Ortega. If it’s through rupture, it’ll be without him. What needs to be assessed is whether the opposition can achieve the rupture or we’ll have to make do with negotiating a transition. Do we have the tools to achieve a rupture? That route would have a high cost in lives and could also risk excluding a segment of the population as a consequence. I think the best thing would be to continue pushing the citizens’ rebellion and civic resistance.
...but a rupture must be avoided
I trust that we can get rid of Ortega without excluding anyone because I’ve seen an enormous will in the Blue and White to avoid armed conflict. I’ve seen how deeply rooted the conviction is that the struggle must take the path of civic protest, of peaceful resistance...Even seeing that, I feel that the costs we could still pay to get rid of Ortega may be high, although not as high as they would be if we decide to end this with a violent, military rupture. Moreover in that case there will inevitably be exclusion, because the strongest always wins through this route, and the strongest is seldom generous enough to open the doors to everyone after its victory.
Ortega is taking us towards conflict. I don’t agree with those who say he wants war. He threatens it, but I’m not so sure he wants it, because he knows he wouldn’t come out of a civil war alive. But despite all that, he does want to drag us into conflict.
Conflict must be avoided, Ortega wants to impose it on us and in the end he’s the one who will decide how we get out of all this. What is becoming clear is that he doesn’t want out of this through negotiations or dialogue. I don’t see Ortega with any incentive or will to negotiate. What incentive is there to offer him? That his party will continue being a political force and would preserve quotas of power and in a few years could return to power? I don’t believe those are incentives for him any longer, because he no longer looks after his party or its members. I almost believe he isn’t even looking after his own children... The incentives would have to be either things he’d want to take or things he’d want to avoid. In the opposition we have nothing to offer that he wants so must figure out what he wants to avoid...
Peaceful resistance is the
only path to a better future
Today we have the challenge of giving the people a dream, but also making it clear that the road will be long and could be tortuous; it will not be an easy journey. We also have to make clear to people that we are also in this struggle so the tragedies we have lived through are never, ever repeated in Nicaragua again. With the punctuality of a clock, each 30-50 years, we have activated a cycle of violence in the country. Trying to oust Ortega through a violent rupture would put us in danger of activating that clock again and having this history repeat itself... Peaceful resistance is the only thing that can take us to a new and better future.
When I say that the struggle will be long it’s because we must prepare ourselves for the worst scenario: that this will go on until 2021. Ortega insists that he’s going to make it till then, but he doesn’t say anything about turning over power then. All he’s saying is: I’m staying and I’ll make it to 2021. Letting him make it to 2021 guarantees that there will inevitably be conflict.
The other way is that between now and 2021, a spark appears that again lights the fuse to the next stage of the civic rebellion. The Blue and White Unity’s task is to push the struggle every day and be ready for that spark that will ignite the rebellion again.
In April and after, when the roadblocks appeared, there was a high degree of dispersion, spontaneity and genuine self-convening, where nobody gave orders for everyone to follow or that anyone would be willing to follow. Now that we are more organized the task is to be ready for the time some detonator goes off, to contribute, help, guide... The Unity’s task is to be organized and ready to help assure that there are fewer human costs this time.
Nicaragua can be different
I recall April again. It showed us that Nicaragua can be different. And it can because there are people who want it to be. They so wanted it that many were capable of giving their comfort, their freedom and even lives for that to happen. I believe that those of us who have the opportunity to continue in the struggle must use every second to think about how we’re going to achieve the Nicaragua dreamed by each one of those who lost their lives and will not get to see it. I don’t hope to see monuments of blue and white stones with their names on every corner. I hope those young people who gave us the opportunity to continue dreaming will always be present in our minds and hearts as we go on building a better Nicaragua.