There’s No Quick Way Out of This Crisis
In this most recent crisis, the words and attitude of Henry Ruiz,
one of the most respected historic Sandinista figures,
are especially relevant.
What does the legendary Comandante “Modesto”
think about what is happening in Nicaragua?
It is very hard to fully characterize the crisis Nicaragua is going through right now, because it’s extremely complex. Many interlacing factors have to be borne in mind.
The external factor:One track to follow is that of external factors, the most important of which is the US Embassy’s obscene, shameless intervention against the country’s main political forces. This has aggravated a larger political crisis and unquestionably corrupts its other elements. These gentlemen, these gringos, must realize that the powerful, head-on fight to the death here has left its mark even on the generations that weren’t involved. Historically speaking, Nicaraguan dignity resents the current intrusion in part because that dignity was forged precisely out of the valor of confronting the gringos. We are still all very immediately influenced by the eighties.
Obscene and counterproductive US intervention
And then, suddenly, a very important figure appears in Nicaragua to tell us what to do: US Secretary of State Colin Powell, representative of one of the most reactionary administrations in the history of US governments, of a clearly fascist stripe. He has the brass to say that things have changed because his people are in government and to admit that twenty years ago he participated in a war against us. All this is the continuation of the Yankees’ historic intervention in our affairs, of diktat politics: they send a top official to tell us whom we can elect and whom we can’t. In my opinion, the only thing he achieved by saying that Daniel Ortega must go because he’s obsolete and Alemán must go because he’s a thief was to encourage their renewed alliance. Someone discovered the two were alike, so they grabbed hands and began to make hash out of the country’s institutionality. The Yankees’ mandate has been counterproductive and not very bright, not to mention obscenely interventionist. It has even led some to snap out of their apathy and say that there’s no way we can permit this. But following right on the heels of these reactions, the President began to use this intervention as a mandate, to parrot that this, that and the other has to be done. When the gringos order the Liberals to set aside their mutual distrust and “unite against the Sandinistas,” it changes everything politically, producing and breaking up alliances, uniting and dividing forces in parliament.
Meanwhile, the initiative for Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) has been cast in the role of the Holy Grail, that chalice from the Crusades. HIPC must be saved for Nicaragua to be saved. And anyone who doesn’t contribute to that effort is charged with being anti-patriotic, with betraying the Nicaraguan people. More than forty countries are in line to receive the supposed benefits offered by the initiative. So far, only two from Latin America have been admitted, along with one or two more from Africa, and they have been subjected to the worst rigors of the International Monetary Fund’s adjustment scheme for over fifteen years. Nonetheless, here the politicians are falling over themselves to draft all the laws required to bring the “chalice” within reach.
As the US Embassy’s work plan already includes the order to destroy the Sandinistas, it didn’t take it long to link that and other tasks to attainment of the chalice, which was how we ended up with a judicial career bill with minority support. Legislators from all the different benches had been negotiating reforms to the judicial branch for months and had just reached consensus when suddenly another version was pulled from the Yankees’ sleeve and submitted by Alemán’s Liberals with the support of the government. This version has an article explicitly aimed at expelling officials of Sandinista origin from all the country’s courts, using the artifice that no one who has belonged to any repressive state body can be a judge or justice. But one way or the other, state apparatuses are always repressive!
Ironically, this article sets up a discrimination against all Nicaraguans; it seems there are gentlemen in the National Assembly who forget they were once Somocistas and belonged to the National Guard, among them Enrique Quiñónez, the head of the PLC bench. For Somocistas to be protected from what that bill establishes, it would have to be even more discretionary, specifying that “those who were in the Sandinista organs of repression will have no right to exercise their profession…” and adding “but we Liberals, former members of Somoza’s Guard or Security will, because we are blessed by the gringos.”
Both parties, the PLC and the FSLN, have powerful influence in the judicial branch. The Supreme Court justices are almost evenly divided between Sandinistas and Liberals, which for me is an opportunist policy based not on principles but on anti-principles, because justice is meted out now by influence and money and this leads to abuses. But this doesn’t justify responding with even greater discrimination. Every time a judge colludes with a lawyer it must be corrected, and for that to happen the existing discipline mechanisms must function. We citizens have to fight to make them work. For all that, a number of judges have already been charged with involvement in anomalous or illegal procedures. But the Supreme Court’s institutional commissions aren’t doing anything, precisely because of the enormous influence both parties exercise.
The socioeconomic factor:Within the overall current crisis, which is primarily political, is a second-level crisis—the socioeconomic one—that contains powerful elements that have not been expressed but could mutate. What does the average Nicaraguan, the one continually reassured that the gross domestic product is growing, do to survive? We frequently see new commercial buildings going up and credit cards being whipped out all over the place. But even those who use this plastic money say the economy is in rotten shape. Sometimes we don’t realize the state the market is in until celebrations like Christmas. Right now, in December, you go to the market and it’s virtually empty. When the economy is growing and generating wealth, the markets are active and people even take on a different demeanor. I don’t see any of this happening right now in Nicaragua.
Still silent, but potentially explosive
Another reality is that workers with a certain skill level are going off to Costa Rica, a country that already appears to be having labor saturation problems, because undocumented compatriots who entered illegally are being returned by the thousands. But still Nicaraguans insist on trying, and even if they’re sent back, they go again. Is this insistence because they want to be Costa Rican? Not a bit. It’s simply because there are no job opportunities in their own country.
Nicaraguans used to view the United States as the paradise where they could resolve their problems, but we’re in such bad shape that even our next-door neighbor looks like paradise. Our ambitions to travel in search of well-being have been reduced to going to Costa Rica or trying to find something in northern Honduras. We’re so bad off that workers in the northern coffee-growing areas have been forced to beg coffee hacienda owners not to lay them off: You don’t have to pay me; just give me a place to live, a bit of food and a little work. We’re reaching extreme levels of economic incapacity, which will undoubtedly create another type of crisis. And when these two types of crisis—political and social—come together, something will necessarily have to give.
The development factor:The government just got through inventing a program it calls a National Development Plan, based on foreign resources and hypothetical financing. It’s not a plan that says we’re going to begin to do this and that with our own forces. I believe there must be a way out for our country, but it’s not going to be in the near or medium future. We have a lot of limitations. For example, we’re a country without enough electricity and with a disastrous industrial energy plant. The same thing is happening in California and the solutions they found don’t work, so now they have even knottier problems that they still haven’t been able to resolve. But California at least can say: we’re going to resolve them. We can’t say that. According to government officials, some foreign companies are going to come bail us out very soon, setting up petroleum-based energy plants. But, we haven’t discovered any petroleum yet, which means we’ll have to buy it and pay for it in dollars. Our energy consumption, which is so basic, is suddenly very, very uncertain. I mention the energy issue specifically, because it is essential for developing industry and for any other activity.
Forsaking our own possibilities
The problem of learning is also essential. Huge numbers of people are not being educated because there aren’t enough public schools or because they are now “autonomous,” which really means they’re semi-private and the parents have to pay. Many parents have nowhere to send their children and no food for them to eat. Even if there’s a school nearby, many parents often don’t send their kids because they have no work and can’t pay. If schools were free, most parents would fight to free themselves from their children’s constant begging for food at home; at least they could send them there for part of the day. There are now well over a million children and adolescents outside of the educational system. According to the Ministry of Education, 860,000 did not go to school in 2003, while another 300,000 abandoned their studies during the school year. This means that 20% of the population does not have access to education. And that will generate a vegetable labor force, with no skills whatever. If you don’t have any place to work and there’s no industrial plant being set up near you, why develop any skills? Nor are there any training centers to provide people with skills, or any opportunities to go to school to start acquiring them... This whole set of structural factors is already forecasting brutal damage to the country’s future.
Today, when you speak of industry, you have to talk about an industry characterized by high productivity. And that means skilled workers and capital goods. But we don’t have a clue what kinds of capitalists are going to come to invest in Nicaragua. Sometimes they talk about “clusters,” as the North Americans call them, as if they were the Chinese development scheme. Given their own characteristics, the Chinese made good use of this scheme, but they had a trained labor force. A Chinese worker can do sophisticated work at any point along an industrial process, in agriculture, in a laboratory, in technology. These famous maquiladoras, or assembly plants, are going to come here to form “clusters”; they won’t pay taxes, and they’ll be allowed to contaminate the water and destroy the forests. They’ll come, bringing four or five main cadres with them, and will treat the nationals as slaves. And what will happen afterward? This isn’t development, because it leaves nothing behind.
If you’re going to think about solutions for the country, you have to think in line with the kind of progress that has been achieved in the world throughout history. And education is essential to any progress. Before sitting down to discuss any plan, you have to talk about education and begin to see it as an investment in the formation of human capital. There’s no other way. If the Sandinista revolution had one virtue above all others and about which there was no debate, it was education. The universities filled up in those years. And now they criticize us for having let in mediocre students with a substandard education level so they could acquire skills rapidly. It’s true, we did, but not because we were purposely violating the norms of knowledge and education. Rather it was because we needed a certain level of preparation to provide management and administration opportunities to a greater number of people in society and as quickly as possible.
The state must play a role in the essential aspects of society; I’ve mentioned two of them, electrical energy and education, but there are many others. The fact is that as long as we’re stuck with neoliberalism, with the philosophical conception that private enterprise should do everything, Nicaragua doesn’t have a prayer of going forward. Even figures like Enrique Iglesias, president of the Inter-American Development Bank, are speaking very naturally about the need to build a mixed economy, in which the state participates in certain tasks while others are assumed by private initiative. So now they’re looking for the right philosophy, to define what a “mixed economy” should be.
They’re also saying—and quite openly—that problems have to be dealt with correctly by formulating policies that define and practice social justice. We’ve reached a point in history in which the means of production and the productive forces are now capable of generating enormous wealth, while at the same time producing immense poverty. It’s like the Momotombo volcano: wealth in the cone and nothing but poverty on the lower slopes. This is what’s happening with the system, and they have forced us to accept it in Nicaragua. On top of being impoverished, this country has a small caste that’s making off with the social surplus while the rest of the population is screwed. All those dedicated to agriculture, which is so indispensable, are screwed, the coffee growers… even the cattle ranchers are screwed. They’re looking all around to improve their situation, inventing, when they suddenly discover that cheese can be industrialized... Terrific! Only now, with the Free Trade Agreement between the United States and Central America, we’re right back to the political “cone.” The gringos want the agreement, so we say, yes sir, right away, sir. And we begin to hear lies presented as arguments, saying that we have to sign the agreement because otherwise we’ll remain backward. And the backwardness we can look forward to if we sign?
I’m going to say something that sounds strong, even for me. It makes me sad to admit the truth of that document written by the US Embassy official in Managua, the one distributed to foreign journalists accompanying Powell on his visit to Nicaragua on November 3. She wrote a crude description of Nicaraguan society, of government officials, of its political class, and of the country’s poverty, only exceeded by Haiti. It’s true that it was an intrusive document, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that her descriptions were very close to reality. Nicaraguan society is indeed divided into the two political blocs described in her document, and it is indeed thanks to the terrible political docility of some that such terrible leaders have been able to establish themselves in Nicaragua.
The moral factor:It also seems to me that the moral factor is having a dramatic impact on the national crisis. The country is suffering serious demoralization. What moral categories does Nicaraguan society currently value? Do Nicaraguans still feel the same social solidarity they once did? In 1998, Hurricane Mitch put us to the test. I’ll never forget the repugnant voice of Alemán, then President, ridiculing Posoltega’s mayor Felícita Zeledón’s attempt to warn of the impending tragedy in her municipality. If Alemán had any sensitivity, he would have put down his drink and ordered the army’s civil defense to evacuate the area well before the cone of the Casita Volcano collapsed, releasing a mudslide that killed 2,800 people. At the very least he would have sent someone to check out how serious the threat was. Solidarity is about being concerned not just about my family but also about my neighbor, about the humanity I’m part of. Nor is solidarity only for those in office.
The common citizen is demoralized
Corruption is increasing in Nicaragua. It’s intrinsic to the system that has been imposed on us, since the system doesn’t function if there’s no corruption. If you set out to sell the state telecommunications company, somebody will surely steal something along the line; it’s how the system has always functioned. Seeing that corrupt practices have increased all over the world, violating the old accounting systems, audits, everything, has greatly disillusioned all the neoliberal theoreticians. It’s a global problem. In our case, the citizenry’s response is sad. Many still say, as they did when he was mayor of Managua, “Sure Alemán stole, but he got things done.” It’s a terrible sentence, but it wouldn’t bother me as much if it came from above. The worst part is that the common citizen is saying it, as if it were okay. It’s like an earlier time, when I remember people saying, “Well, they have a right to take things.” This criterion forms part of society’s moral basis, of people’s moral foundations.
Although there are Nicaraguans who indeed think the gringos should come and adopt us once and for all, turning us into a US county, we haven’t deteriorated so far as to be clamoring for that. What would we be if we did? We wouldn’t even be an associated state, because the gringos would actually like to cut Puerto Rico loose. At least we still have a national perspective, but the level of frustration is very high. The spirit of rebellion is quenched. That’s why I say that morality is indispensable, because it’s nothing other than the sense, the consciousness of history.
The people factor:Despite everything, I trust that the real progressive and democratic forces are going to reawaken. And I say unambiguously that we have to fight, to concern ourselves with shaking off this somnolence, this “what’s it to me?” attitude that has been building up in response to the frustration. Someone created a mistaken cultural figure by associating the Nicaraguan with the Güegüense, but that kind of dissembling is only valid in response to a foreign invader, or indeed a foreign authority. But the Nicaraguan is also Diriangén, that indigenous cacique who resisted the Spanish invasion in the 16th century to the death. It is with that spirit of rebellion that we should refuse to lose sight of what’s happening. And it’s that spirit that’s being reborn now, with the protest against the pacts and against caudillismo, trying to find a solution to this latest political crisis, even when we still haven’t plotted a better course.
The class struggle is going to explode
The impoverished don’t seem worried about what is happening because the caudillos have them hypnotized. The Liberal rank and file says that Alemán “stole but he got things done,” while Daniel’s grassroots supporters insist that, “The comandante knows what he’s doing.” It’s as if they’ve been treated like fools for so long that they’ve come to believe that’s what they really are. We, the revolutionary sectors, the intellectuals, have to make some noise, with a certain degree of harmony, to reach the ears of the poor, both Liberal and Sandinista.
How do we break the circle? I don’t want to fall into aphorisms like “Every cloud has a silver lining,” or “Nothing lasts forever.” It seems to me that there must already be signs of annoyance in the impoverished bases. The governing Liberals promised they were going to solve the unemployment problem by creating thousands of jobs, but they’ve hardly created any. There you have a first disenchantment that relates to people’s basic interests. Then there’s Daniel’s discourse, which I find populist, because when they come to him saying, “Comandante, you’re in charge, give me work,” he doesn’t have an answer either. This self-educating factor is violent. People tell you, “Why should I go there if they don’t give me anything?” The absence of solutions is going to create a different perception of reality and people will thus start forming another political consciousness.
Another factor that I think will have an impact is that citizens are going to come up against the hard reality contained in the new Penal Procedures Code. As more grassroots people go to court to settle a controversy between what’s mine and what’s yours, or because someone beat or killed somebody else, they will begin to perceive that there’s no justice here. All that has been created is an economic and a judicial scheme with some problem-solving mechanisms that only work for politicians and others with power and money, not for average citizens.
The class struggle is going to blow up here—although now it’s called “social explosion” because neoliberalism has made such ideological inroads that we can’t even turn to the familiar terms—and these caudillos are going to be unable to control it. Some will want to harness it for their own particular ends, but these crises, which are gestating from below, will find their own expressions. Just as many positive things have been done from below in these years, because not everything comes from on high or the caudillos, a base, an organized sector, has been growing. And these people are going to know how to influence the consciousness of the most impoverished people.
The solution to the crises:The army has played a key role in the national crisis. To conserve their institutionality, both it and the police are obliged to resist the US assault. Because if a crisis of the scope I have described is really gestating, then like all such crises it will mutate from peaceful means into violence, and if the police resources are insufficient to maintain stability, a presidential command sending the army into the streets to impose order would mean changing the history of our army. Although professionally apolitical, the army officers are obliged to maintain their organization’s institutionality. I view this as the enormous advance our army has made today. Against this difficult panorama, where there is no revolutionary force with a clear course, just an FSLN interested in winning the daily power battles against a likeminded Liberal Party and a clueless government, this army has to analyze where our society is headed and prevent the gringos from coming to tell us what to do.
Institutional or extra-institutional?
I think the army chiefs committed a sin—although I still wouldn’t totally define it as such—by sending Nicaraguan troops to Iraq. We can’t forget that the gringos are looking to intervene in new conflicts. I remember hearing Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld say that the United States has the capacity to engage on various war fronts; that while they’re going to take a little trip to Iraq, that won’t stop them from going elsewhere if the desire hits them, because they have an army that can go anywhere. Two years ago, they decided to go into Afghanistan and now they have such serious problems there that they’re trying to figure out how to extricate themselves. Then they went into Iraq and are now crazily trying to get out of there too, to get NATO to take some of the heat off them. Through what it likes to call the “international coalition” for the war in Iraq, the Bush government created the precedent of involving armies of other countries in its wars, acting as mercenaries of the United States with a nod from their politicians. And our Army leaders participated in this. They should be apolitical, but resisting with a correct policy.
In this latest crisis, we have seen Nicaraguan social forces suggesting that a coup is the “solution.” This is especially reflected in the editorials of La Prensa, which is also paying for surveys that reflect the same idea. This seems to me to be encouraging a fascist force, which is very dangerous. Bring down what’s left of institutionality with a coup in exchange for what? And then what? For me, the most important thing isn’t the political conduct of the system’s main mentors, but rather the functioning of institutional structures. What happens if we break with institutionality? A coup would leave us with one person, or a couple of people, endowed with extraordinary powers, who would issue decrees. Where would this take us? To the kind of massacre we recently saw in Bolivia? Only a radical rightwing mentality could be thinking about such a “solution.” Venezuela’s Right tried something of the sort against President Hugo Chávez, with the full support of the US Embassy in Caracas, and it couldn’t pull it off, because there was resistance behind Chávez. They still insist on removing him today, using the very mechanisms provided by the Chavez government’s Constitution. Nicaragua also has constitutional mechanisms for removing a President should it become necessary, but is that what’s needed? Someone tried to convince me that President Bolaños needs to be removed because he’s inept, but what are we offered instead? Who would head the state: troops? Ortega? Alemán? It seems to me that this is the worst road imaginable.
There was a different waySomeone asked me recently if, in response to the US meddling and the government’s submission to its dictates, I wouldn’t have done the same thing as Daniel: join forces with Alemán, the other person proscribed by the United States. In the first place, I wouldn’t have done so many things to make me seem so much like the other. The correct thing now would be a policy of resistance, of Sandinista morality and ethics, just as we learned before. They still might seek us out and point to us as “the worst” but it would be a completely mistaken judgment. Because if they sought us out and labeled us a revolutionary force for preserving what we achieved, for resisting, for being ethical, people would see that we’re right, they would see a solution, no matter how much the gringos damned us. But that’s not what the FSLN is doing. It is possible that the FMLN will lose the presidential elections in El Salvador in March, but it has been increasing its share of the vote and now has a real chance of defeating the Right, even with Shafik Handal, a communist and historic member of the FMLN’s directorate, as its presidential candidate.
The gringos are going over the top to get rid of Daniel Ortega because Washington is full of the same people who fought against the revolution during the Reagan administration, such as Roger Noriega, John Poindexter, Powell himself. For them, there’s a strong edge of personal revenge to all this. But if the FSLN and Sandinismo as a whole had resisted over all these years, we would have the political and moral consistency that is lacking today, though there would certainly have been difficult years for us in that it would have required an alternative behavior to the consumer culture that has ideologically invaded us. And we could have overcome this new crisis in a different way.
Would they have defeated us in parliament? Maybe, but what difference would it make? Because in exchange for our ongoing commitment to a revolutionary moral conduct they would have elected us back with the next elections, until the point at which we could finally succeed in changing the correlation of forces. Sandinismo should not be defended through compromising entanglements, shady mechanisms. That’s absurd. Its defense can’t be based on such artifices. Your doctrine, your ethics, your morality have to be expressed in your everyday practice. That’s the only thing that defends you, that makes you consistent.