Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 250 | Mayo 2002



Our Weak Civil Society Has Been Weakened Further

This well-known feminist journalist and activist offers >envío readers a lucid analytical recap of how civil society affected and was affected by the transition period following the Sandinista government’s 1990 electoral defeat. It is the fruit of debates, reflections and her observations of reality, necessarily through a woman’s prism.

Sofía Montenegro

To understand the present, as we all know, it is necessary to understand the past, especially the recent past. Unless we are clear about what has happened over the past few decades, we cannot explain the difficulties and dilemmas civil society is experiencing in its attempts to effectively organize the struggle to change the country’s situation.

Various stages of the political transition

The political transition from a dictatorial system to a democratic one in Nicaragua has taken place in stages, with the overthrow of the Somoza family dynasty in 1979 opening the way. Some pinpoint the later beginnings of the political transition in 1990, with the electoral defeat of the Sandinista revolution. Others, myself included, set it in 1984, with the "low-level" transition that occurred with the first elections following Somoza’s overthrow and the shift from a multi-sectoral Council of State to a classic legislative branch structure. This moved into a "high-level" transition toward the end of the eighties, with the Esquipulas negotiations that sought to end the wars in the region. The agreements arising from that process led to further openings in Nicaragua’s political system and to the 1990 elections won by Violeta Chamorro.

With her government in place and the war formally over, the transition involved a political and economic liberalization and complete freedom of expression for the mass media. President Chamorro took office with a very fragile political coalition of 14 rightwing and center-right parties known as the National Opposition Union (UNO) respectively supported by their like-minded voter constituencies. The rest of society, which could be called "left-leaning," remained supportive of the FSLN. The UNO’s rabidly anti-Sandinista sectors were quickly revealed to have little influence in the coalition. Led by the new and fast growing Constitutionalist Liberal Party (PLC) and its leader Arnoldo Alemán, they pulled out of UNO to create their own political coalition. At that time, the PLC was a tiny party "bought" by Alemán and transformed into a political machine able to forge such a new coalition of power. Meanwhile, the parties left in the UNO to guide the democratic transition to its next stage were no less fragile for the departure of the others. Nor were they up to steering the national ship successfully through the perilous waters from liberalization to consolidation, which should have followed the course taken in 1984, 1988 and 1990.

Weak political system and co-opted civil society

The political system at that juncture was characterized not only by the fragile coalition in power, but also by a technocratic government, an inadequate institutional and judicial framework and a strong opposition comprising not only the FSLN but also the UNO’s "losers." The external framework was one of strong international pressures.

At the beginning of the nineties, the country’s civil society still largely consisted of massive grassroots movements and organizations subordinated to the FSLN. The social organizations, born in the fervor of the revolution, were made up of workers, farmers, neighborhoods or communities, women, youth and even children. All were politically submissive to the FSLN, continuing to obey the party’s line unquestioningly even after it was out of power. These were also times of economic crisis and social mobilization, with massive strikes, work stoppages, street barricades and marches supported by significant, largely pro-Sandinista segments of the grassroots population.

New movements emerged to take their place alongside this already organized civil society, among them an independent women’s movement, an indigenous movement, an environmental movement, human rights organizations and various civic networks. The nineties also saw an explosion of new nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), with 1,750 registered by 2001. The lifting of censorship and the climate of liberalization gave rise to an expansion and diversification of independent radio, print and television media.

The huge rise in the number of NGOs and of social movements and organizations and their increasing independence from the FSLN and other parties was matched by their diversification, with these organized actors coming from the cities and the countryside, all social strata and all sectors. This proliferation contrasted sharply with what would soon be increasingly restricted arenas for participation and fed the mounting crisis of political representation among the political parties.

The democratic transition aborts,
authoritarianism consolidates

This first stage of open transition under the Chamorro government also saw the failure of an attempt at democratization inside the FSLN itself as well as of an effort by the more thinking and moderate Right to articulate itself as a strong actor. With both the FSLN and the far-right opposition coalition that was beginning to coalesce around the PLC showing clearly authoritarian traits, no real democratic third actor was strong enough to form a center alternative and consolidate the transition.
Lacking a party and affiliated base, the Chamorro government was obliged to negotiate a series of political transactions with the FSLN. Unlike the pact between the PLC and the FSLN hammered out a few years later, society accepted and legitimized this one because the negotiations were aimed at neutralizing the continuation of violence and making the country governable.

The Chamorro government might have concluded the democratic transition it initiated with another term in office, but under the circumstances, the transition was aborted. The plethora of established or newly formed small parties failed to either forge or rally around any centrist project that might have attracted the third of the population that appeared increasingly disaffected by the two stronger options: the PLC on the Right and the FSLN on the Left. Without the formation of any strong democratic pole, no new social contract was created and the two authoritarian poles were free to consolidate their hegemony.

This inconclusive transition was not without significant achievements, however. The armed conflict ended and the political system did become more pluralist. And while the unemployment, poverty and marginalization indicators began to worsen significantly, the hyperinflationary, war-distorted economy was brought under control to the satisfaction of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

1996 elections polarized
by two authoritarian parties

For the reasons just given, the 1996 elections were split between the FSLN and the PLC, and their respective campaigns relied more on political and ideological manipulation than the offering of distinct programs. Just as the campaign closed, months of a technical tie gave way to a significant shift of support to PLC candidate Arnoldo Alemán.

His coming to power put an end to the democratic transition and kicked off a five-year rollback of any progressive advances made during either the Sandinista or Chamorro governments. Many of those who voted for Alemán did not anticipate that at the beginning. Rather, expectations of new political leadership; a new social pact, national project and development model; democratic governance for channeling conflicts; and a reform and strengthening of the country’s institutionality were widespread. All Alemán brought, however, were new forms of authoritarianism, not only in the political system but also in the country’s institutional and judicial framework and among its social actors and economic processes. In short, everywhere.

Over those years, confusion reigned among the population, which had lost its sense of direction. The FSLN, which had once attracted the most lucid and socially committed people in the country, made no attempt to help people re-center themselves and could not have done so had it wanted to. It had already become an unreflective, uncentered political group closed in on itself, having pushed out anyone capable of discerning, debating or dissenting from the course that was leading the FSLN toward its own hard, pure authoritarianism. I was among those who left.

Cementing two-party
authoritarianism via a pact

The political system was transformed yet again during the Alemán government. Unlike Chamorro, the PLC came to power at the head of a strong Liberal alliance and with a solid social base, the fruit of determined political work to mend the fractures in Liberalism created with the overthrow of Somoza and to champion the most vituperative anti-Sandinista sentiment. In the two-party polarization that characterized the newly elected National Assembly, the leaders of both the PLC and the FSLN exercised a strong grip over their handpicked bench members. They were determined to prevent any repeat of the splits in both the Sandinista and UNO benches of the previous legislature that had permitted independent thinkers to ally with the smaller party benches and push through constitutional and electoral law reforms at the end of President Chamorro’s term. If all of the third forces in existence at the time were weak or subordinated, those few that won legislative seats in 1996 were co-opted by the Alemán administration and then all but eliminated by the 2001 elections thanks to the PLC-FSLN pact hammered out over the intervening years.

That pact between these supposed ideological enemies is based on their overriding objective of divvying up Nicaragua economically and politically between them. By the municipal elections of 2000, the pushing through of new electoral and constitutional reforms agreed to in the pact had closed all other political spaces, leaving no option but the alternation in power of those two groups.

When permitted, however, expressions of political pluralism have always re-emerged throughout the country’s history, despite the long tradition of two dominant parties. Now, as during the Somoza years and other historical moments, a virtual two-party exclusivity was imposed; the only thing that had changed was that Sandinistas instead of Conservatives now opposed the Liberals. Such artificial imposition is a risky maneuver, however, as Nicaragua’s history shows that a forced two-party system always results in violence. It is even a dicey political wager for the two parties involved, given the tendency not to relinquish power peacefully.

Buttressing authoritarianism
and profound economic inequality

In the newly reformed institutional and judicial framework, the number of high-salary magistrates in the various branches of state was increased and split between the two parties; political pluralism was destroyed; laws were approved with no civic participation; political and administrative corruption was virtually institutionalized; and "legalities" were instituted to guarantee impunity to the pact’s stakeholders and legitimize undemocratic and therefore illegitimate actions. The FSLN bears inescapable co-responsibility for this grim situation, which the government of Enrique Bolaños, elected in November 2001, is now trying to rectify, with overwhelming popular endorsement.

In the economic terrain, the PLC-FSLN pact sired two new investor groups made up of the country’s nouveau riche from those respective parties, who had acquired their wealth either by usurpation or by sacking the state. The Alemán government put the state apparatus at their service, which generated a conflict with the traditional economic groups under the umbrella of the Supreme Council of Private Enterprise (COSEP). The fiscal terrorism applied by General Tax Division head Byron Jerez was used to silence these representatives of private enterprise any time they opposed governmental policies.

During the Alemán years, figures were cooked in the official country to show economic growth and thousands of new jobs. Meanwhile, the real country has been characterized by unemployment, extreme poverty, increased social marginalization of the poor and their struggle for sheer survival, while small privileged groups have had access to all kinds of consumer goods in newly built shopping centers. All this has been accompanied by rampantly increasing inequality in the distribution of income. In the Alemán government’s final years, Hurricane Mitch followed by plunging international coffee prices intensified the economic crisis, crumbling what was left of rural production to the point that even the more affluent began to feel the pinch.

Nicaragua’s tragedy is that no that no democratic pole has emerged to take charge of this abysmal situation. The only hegemonic poles are authoritarian, and the Alemán-Ortega pact has only buttressed the foundations of that authoritarianism.

How societies should function
and how Nicaragua’s does

Civil society is made up of the traditional forms of association (churches, business chambers, professional associations, unions, NGOs, clubs, groups and worker and peasant movements) and the newer social organizations and movements (of women, ethnic groups, environmentalists and, in Nicaragua’s case, an incipient anti-corruption movement), as well as the media and any other groupings that influence public opinion, such as the educational system. While NGOs, civic associations and social organizations and movements may all appear to be the same, there are substantial differences in how they define themselves and in their roles and functions within society. The massive wave of emigrants produced by the country’s lack of opportunities can also be thought of as a new actor, but while their departure is weakening civil society within, they are totally unorganized abroad and have no representation in Nicaragua.

Civil society’s representatives propose changes and offer constructive proposals that they either communicate to the government directly via the available institutional mechanisms or through mediators such as political parties or the media and any other grouping. They then pressure to see them implemented in an ongoing interaction. If the state is institutionalized, organized and democratic, the government responds to society through state policies or governmental actions.

While that is how civil and political society should interact in the best of cases, any similarity between such a model and the Nicaraguan case is purely coincidental. The Nicaraguan state has never been either institutionalized or organized, is authoritarian rather than democratic, and is now being minimized by the decisions of the international financial institutions. If all that were not problematic enough, it is fragmented, bureaucratic, inefficient and rife with corruption.

In their role as mediators in this model, the political parties have three functions. They should serve as synthesizers of the desires and demands of the citizenry, particularly their own voting constituency. They should have a proposal for change molded into a program that they work to turn into state policy. And they should educate and politicize the citizenry and voters, helping them mobilize to defend their own interests.

There was a time when the FSLN was the party of the Nicaraguan people and performed these tasks, but it now represents only the corporate interests of the elite business circles that privatized it, to which Daniel Ortega is loyal. Something similar happened to the PLC, which was privatized by Arnoldo Alemán, although his ownership is currently in dispute following Enrique Bolaños’ election.

Furthermore, the PLC-FSLN pact nullified virtually all existing or embryonic political parties, leaving the two pacting authoritarian parties with no competitors. Aligning first with one group then with another, the two parties to the pact have also polarized everything and deepened the chasm that exists between the state and civil society.

As mediators, the media have played an extraordinary role as the watchdogs of public administration in Nicaragua in the past decade. Despite all their defects and the weaknesses of national journalism, the mass media perhaps qualify as Nicaragua’s only democratic institution and, effectively, its only mediators.

The social actors grow
more autonomous but less belligerent

By the end of the nineties, Nicaraguan civil society revealed a fundamental new feature: the social movements and organizations appeared disjointed and co-opted, now less by the FSLN than by international cooperation. As I will point out below, it imposes agendas that do not always coincide with either the national or grassroots agendas.

These organized expressions of civil society are also suffering increased political, institutional and judicial control through laws, taxes and the bi-party political alienation and co-optation. The tax terrorism used by the Alemán administration against outspoken political and economic opponents was also applied to the most belligerent NGOs and media.

In the absence of a repressive police force, army or censorship, these pressures and controls helped silence civil society. The Alemán government’s offensive against the NGOs, for example, was intended to close, repress and/or intimidate them, and it worked. They began to moderate their criticisms and even censor themselves or simply remain silent. Only now, with the new Bolaños government, are people beginning to speak out again.

Civil society’s strengths and weaknesses

Nicaragua’s civil society has various potentials and dilemmas today. Among the former are its heightened level of association and the emergence of new actors with greater negotiating capacity, more available resources and a newfound credibility, legitimacy and recognition. Their capacity for social and political leadership and for political dialogue means that they provide a counterweight to the government’s authoritarian tendency and to the vacuum of leadership representation from the political parties.

As for dilemmas, its external ones are the exclusionary political system and the institutional and judicial control produced by the pact. Some of the internal debilities, including fragmentation and competition among the organizations, our weaknesses as social and political subjects and the virtual non-existence of a shared national agenda that could provide any antidote to our subordination to international agendas, prevent us from acting more coherently. The social organizations and movements have also become more like NGOs, spending more energy fundraising and bureaucratizing to implement projects, and less acting as the participatory representatives of their respective sectors. In line with this shift is a lack of linkages and coherence in their political activities.

If we are to build a belligerent and pro-active civil society, we must exploit our potential and be willing to deal with these dilemmas and weaknesses. We can only grow stronger if we start to understand, discuss and resolve them. As things stand, however, the list of members in Nicaragua’s civil society holds out little hope of this happening.

The gloomy roster of Nicaragua’s civil society

Although we are all part of civil society, not all social actors are necessarily progressive or even in favor of change, democracy and equity. Most of them, in fact, do not favor change. Private enterprise, for example, certainly does not want equity and the Catholic Church and most evangelist sects oppose progressive change—in fact, the Catholic Church hierarchy is putting together a social movement to oppose the issues for which the women’s movement is fighting.

If the Catholic Church is essentially a pillar of the status quo and supports authoritarian power, private enterprise is weak, the urban proletariat barely exists, most unions have disappeared or dwindled into insignificance and the four union confederations, which have very limited representation, are led by corrupt union bosses and cringe from any new idea. The peasant movement was decimated first by the war and then by the property conflicts, and what remained standing was mowed down by the crisis in rural production. Clubs such as the Rotary or Lions have limited or strictly humanitarian projects. The educational system is a shambles, with the "privatization"—euphemistically called decentralization—of public schools excluding a notable mass of poorer students. Meanwhile, the universities—an institution that produces symbolic power and legitimacy—are self-censored, while their curricular changes are producing a depoliticized and passive student body and churning out professionals made to order for the neoliberal system: good business administrators and computer experts. Who in recent years has heard any university rector, supposedly the highest representative of wisdom, speak out against authoritarianism, the dangers of politicizing the government institutions into bi-party instruments, or even institutionalized corruption? Last but far from least, the student movement and the youth movement, traditionally in the front lines of Nicaragua’s history, are fragmented and relatively catatonic.

Among the new social movements that have survived, the autonomous women’s movement is fragmented and the indigenous movement is currently fighting to achieve greater coherence. The NGOs are offering a particularly fragmentary, competitive representation and tend to create social clients—relating to people as beneficiaries, users or victims—rather than create or help organize social subjects. The Civil Coordinator, formed more by NGOs than by social movements to advocate an alternative reconstruction model in the wake of Hurricane Mitch, has attempted to pull together a comprehensive representation of civil society but has not yet achieved it. As for the mass media, while belligerent and hard-hitting as monitors and political mediators, they remain very polarized.

A confusion of missions between
NGOs and the women’s movement

One characteristic of both old and new social organizations and movements is their fragmentation and lack of an overall vision of the problems. The fragmentation of the women’s movement, of which I have been a student and militant activist for over 20 years, did not begin in 1996 with the Alemán government, but in 1994 with the NGOs, which began to replace the movement. Given that their existence is tied to financing from international cooperation, which now has at least a lip-service commitment to crosscutting all its programs and projects with a gender focus, the promotion of this international agenda point began to overshadow the more political agendas of the movement itself.
There is confusion between their respective missions, roles and representations, but the reality is that NGOs represent the institutional mission established in their founding charters. If an NGO’s mission consists of applying Band-Aids to all wounds, that is the limit of the "social change" it will be able to produce, whereas a social movement has a larger, more utopian scope to its vision of social change.

The Alemán government was terrible for the women’s movement. We believe that in addition to the pact between the PLC and the FSLN, there was also one between the Catholic Church hierarchy and the Liberal government, which created a genuine parochial state. During the last five years, followers of the Vatican’s conservative line on education and women’s sexual and reproductive rights have headed the ministries of health, education and the family. All the struggles around AIDS and safe sex, the high maternal mortality rate, sex education for young people and family planning programs have survived only thanks to NGOs, because all these issues were taboo to the public health program during the Alemán administration. In addition, therapeutic abortion, legal in this country for over a hundred years, is on the verge of being legally redefined as a crime following his term in office, which would represent an effective death sentence for a great many women.

Women and youth:
Nicaragua’s two great majorities

There are two great majorities in Nicaragua, women and youth, yet they are ignored as such in many analyses and programs. It is infuriating to hear us referred to as the "women’s sector." Small-scale manufacturing or other economic and social groups are sectors, whereas women make up half of the human species, and in this country even a bit more than half. Yet, when it comes to thinking up programs or discussing the reformulation of the national project, we do not have the representation that corresponds to us.

This is particularly important when speaking of either representative or participatory democracy. For example, in the recently created National Social and Economic Planning Council (CONPES), envisioned as a consultative body to the President for economic and social planning and made up of political, economic and social organizations, the women’s movement has less representation than the multiplicity of business associations and unions. Only two women represent our national majority in CONPES.

The women’s movement is a social movement because it proposes to transform culture and the political system, and demands the inclusion of half the nation. We women demand democracy as well as development, because there can be no development without democracy, no equity in a sea of authoritarianism. The fight to include women is thus a fight for democracy as a precondition of development. We are demanding a kind of development that includes the majority and takes into account the particular conditions by which women have been excluded. This requires the creation of mechanisms and arenas for democratic debate.

Politicized feminists, those of us who have not lost sight of the nation’s forest for the trees of particular projects, are demanding not only democracy and development, but also the opening up of the system so that new alternative political forces can be built.

It is a similar story in the case of young people, another absolute population majority. Nicaragua’s population pyramid is very wide, with over 60% under the age of 16. Young people are being encouraged into totally individualist development, not the necessary individuation. A recent study of mine conducted among Nicaraguan youth of the nineties shows that they grew up among democratic values but, with some notable exceptions, are profoundly conservative, apolitical and conformist. They do not discuss anything; the few that are organized do not mobilize and not even the universities promote debates.

The youth have many demands, but the lack of opportunities to express and resolve them are leading young people to abandon the country in droves or take refuge in street gangs—one of the few rapidly growing new social movements. If one task of a social movement is to form a collective identity, that identity has largely disappeared in today’s Nicaragua. Ironically, teenage gangs represent a collective youth identity, particularly among the excluded youth, but one with perverse features of destruction and self-destruction and lacking in the political capacity to demand a change that could transform their situation.
Between women and young people—half of which are also female—we have an indisputable majority, but one with absolutely no representation. This obliges us to rethink ourselves as a society, a task that would lead to the strengthening of our currently weak civil society.

Civil society’s autonomy from political society
is a prerequisite for concluding the transition

The Nicaraguan government’s institutional structure is decadent and split into the two dominant camps. The National Assembly is a polarized disaster while the justice system is corrupt and unjust and old pro-Alemán elements still coexist in the state bureaucracy alongside new ones pledged to Bolaños’ "new era." The army and police, ironically, are the most institutionalized bodies and have best withstood the bi-polarization.

The more autonomy civil society has from such a political society, the stronger it is and the more democratic the state is. Only a strong and autonomous civil society can establish a correlation of forces that could lead the state to democracy. Today, Nicaraguan civil society is not only close to political society, but is in fact virtually co-opted by it. Establishing that balance is the prerequisite the country needs to continue consolidating the inconclusive transition. This implies reorganizing civil society and each of its organizations and coming together in broad coalitions that oblige political society to change.

Cutting loose from parties
vs. cutting loose from politics

Civil society’s contribution to democracy can be measured four ways. First is the degree to which its organized forces are solid enough to take on state authoritarianism, altering the balance between civil and political society. Second is the degree to which they are able to impose standards of public morality and values on the state, playing a disciplinary role and providing the example to be followed. Third is the degree to which they articulate the interests and demands of the population groups they represent, providing an alternative channel as intermediaries with the state. And the fourth is the degree to which they manage to redefine the rules of the political game along democratic lines.

It is on this last point that we have a fundamental problem: a gradual de-politicizing of the civil society organizations in which we have gotten used to saying, ‘No, I don’t want to get involved in that because it’s political.’ Cutting loose from the parties, which is necessary, has become confused with cutting loose from politics. I can be a citizen without a party, but not without political positions: on authoritarianism, on corruption, on institutionality, on the rule of law and other political issues.

Thanks to their political formation, capacity to mobilize and solidarity, Sandinistas are the only ones that could recover any of the mystique of political activism, make a dent in Nicaraguan society’s political cynicism and re-embrace the social causes for which the FSLN was born. Regrettably, however, they are still buying into a historical identity that renders more loyalty to their party and to the "lines" established by their caudillo than to their nation or to democracy. They have not renewed their own thinking and only assimilate any new thinking in a non-critical manner. Not daring to dissent, they are accomplices of the status quo.

Nicaragua needs to construct a democratic and inclusive new leftwing force that can become a hegemonic pole able to lead the country. A leftist party should favor democracy, social justice and social change, values that no longer define or even interest the FSLN. Leadership is nothing other than the capacity to represent, embody and interpret the population’s needs and aspirations. The FSLN’s current leaders have not personified the reality of the poor for a very long time, and cannot interpret it because they do not say what is going on, do not tell the truth and do not recognize their own errors. They are dedicated instead to watching over the interests of a small economic corporation. No longer setting any example and lacking sincerity, the FSLN has lost its leadership.

The FSLN, however, is also theoretically and politically out of date. Its thinking is rigid and arthritic, with no flexibility or capacity for coming up with new ideas or proposals. It no longer has any intellectuals within the organization and is not rethinking reality. That makes it very difficult for it to change.

Nicaragua’s Left needs
political and psychological healing

The psychological wounds produced by the lack of honesty of the FSLN’s leaders has created tremendous pain, frustration and mistrust among the population. We feel that our own convictions and commitments have been swindled; we feel mauled, stigmatized. Healing a psychic wound so deep would require a collective therapy.

The very least that the Nicaraguan people deserve is to go through an open, public, systematic and sustained process of recognizing the truth, giving a name to the train that ran over us, recognizing the errors of the revolution and personal responsibilities in them. The failure to do this has produced a distrust and lack of credibility that requires an act of political and psychological healing, that requires political therapy. But such therapy requires mentally and politically healthy leaders, and we do not have them. The deep wound in Sandinismo has a long way to go before it heals.

The coalitionist model vs.
organic model of social movements

Social movements are defined by the action of a collective grouping that offers enough continuity to promote or oppose a given change in society. Nonetheless, the model that international cooperation has sold us, presenting it as more democratic, hampers the creation of social movements, and its adoption is one of the reasons for the weakening of civil society, the women’s movement included. This model, which I call "coalitionist," is based on the diversity of identities upon which minimal common denominators can be established. Its features include informal leaderships and structures, work on specific single issues and a fragmented and fragmenting discourse. It engages only in short-term actions based on current events, not in short, medium and long-term political actions defined by the objectives of structural change. It is also characterized by affiliated groups that come together then disband, based on their interest in mobilizing around the issue of the moment.

This coalitionist model is valid, but only in established, consolidated and very developed democratic societies where individualism predominates, there is more individuation and the democratic system, with all its defects, is consolidated and operates according to norms. None of these characteristics define today’s Nicaragua. For example, the model functions perfectly well in the United States for the major actions organized there, both for the reasons above and because the rights of individuals are protected by and large. In both theory and practice, individuals can challenge the state without being "disappeared" as has been the tragic history of Latin America, where you only survive by having an organization and a group that protects you or by hunkering down and becoming a silent and passive victim of the powerful.
Mechanically applying this model here over the past decade has weakened or dismantled the existing forms of organization, because it only fragments and its proposals do not allow the establishment of either strategies or common identity. It does not encourage the staged development of actions toward an overriding long-term proposal, rather only fleeting ones in response to an immediate problem. With it, we have been unable to pull together a single consistent political action, even in the women’s movement. Similarly, we have been unable to arrive at a common position on corruption. No proposal goes beyond banging pots and pans for an hour. In fact, none even gets that far.

While this model has its virtues when it comes to creating a coalition, it is useless for pushing social change and engaging in political struggle. It is counterpoised to Latin America’s traditional organizational model, one I call "organic," which is based on collective identity, works with maximum common denominators, and has trained and legitimated leaderships, an organizational structure and an apparatus that can analyze reality and synthesize the results into a programmatic proposal with strategies and tactics. And instead of affiliating other organizations, it has individual members with a strong and explicit commitment. This is the model of revolutionary social movements, which of course international cooperation does not want to see resurge.

Where do we go from here?

All civil society actors seeking social change must assume that the task right now is fundamentally political. This means putting our energies into the construction of a new social movement prepared to struggle for an inclusive and democratic project and put the country back onto the path of institutionality.

It is imperative that the progressive and socially committed actors become the critical conscience of what is happening in the country and within their own organizations and movements. We urgently need to fight against conformity, opportunist pragmatism or instrumental thinking and rebuild and increase the organization of people as subjects, returning to strategic work and to the national political priorities. If we do not do this, we will do nothing. We must understand that it is impossible to fight against poverty and corruption without fighting for democracy. Only when we fundamentally address this task will our civil society, now weak and weakened, be strengthened.

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