The Left Nicaragua Needs
Can the Left in Nicaragua be saved, regenerated, revitalized?
What brand of Left was the FSLN, the main leftist party in our history? This portrait of Nicaragua’s political parties, part 2, argues that building a leftist movement around Herty Lewites’ project is an opportunity and a risk we must actively take today.
Andrés Pérez Baltodano
Nicaragua’s political parties have always been short on philosophical and doctrinal underpinnings. The pragmatic-resigned political thinking of Nicaraguan conservatism has never moved beyond an instinctive defense of an “order” rooted in traditional individual interests.
On the other side of the “historic parallel,” Nicaraguan liberalism has expressed an anti-oligarchic position, but has been unable to articulate a democratic thinking that pulls together and represents the interests and aspirations of the different sectors of our society.
The leftist parties have attempted to represent the interests of the majorities, but without ever constructing a philosophy that clearly states the values and interests uniting the various social, ethnic and cultural groups that comprise our country’s enormous marginal society. The philosophical and doctrinal weaknesses of the Left in Nicaragua, particularly those of the FSLN, the main leftist organization in our political history, are stunning.
Can Nicaragua’s Left be saved, renovated, revitalized? We attempt here to offer a modest proposal, based on the premise that the Left, as a movement and a political orientation that defends the principle of justice as the fundamental axis of social life, is the hope of the poor and excluded, which in our country are the majority. This article is committed to Nicaragua’s crucified population and to transforming its reality.
The birth of the Left:The history of Nicaragua’s leftist parties dates back to the Great Depression, when the Nicaraguan Workers’ Party (PTN) was founded in 1931. The party vividly stated its political position in the May 1, 1935 editorial of its official publication, Causa Obrera [Workers’ Cause]: “Why have we formed as a Socialist Party? The reason is quite simple: in a bourgeois liberal system such as ours, we workers are economically exploited and politically tricked. So what is left to us, given that burning reality? Our understanding is that we have to assert our demands. And here we are, organized in a Socialist Party, taking the first steps…. Our party’s banner is not abstract like those of other political organizations in the country; we understand that man does not live off dreams, but off realities; in other words, bread, light, water. Anyone who does not possess these elements dies, as has been proved. Here in Nicaragua people have died for lack of bread, and that is not the effect of the crisis or anything like it; it is simply the hunger-producing bourgeois political system, and we have enough wealth in raw materials in this country to suffice our needs…. It is with such human ideas that the banner of the Nicaraguan Workers’ Party is colored.”
We live off realities, not dreams
The pragmatism expressed in that statement and Nicaragua’s complex situation in the third decade of the 20th century led the recently created PTN to collaborate with the first government of Anastasio Somoza García, who at the time was presenting himself as a defender of workers’ interests. The June 19, 1938 edition of Causa Obrera explained its support for Somoza as follows: “Motives of national sentiment have guided the PTN to adopt this position of collaborating with the head of state. We have not been moved by any interest in personal profit, but by the fact that the time is right to see to Nicaragua’s collective welfare…. We want justice, and to get it we need to be close to those who can administer it. We cannot assuage that thirst by going to the desert of ineffective acts.”
The Nicaraguan Socialist Party was founded in 1944, and it too decided to support the “popular benefits policy that President Somoza is initiating.” This “benefits policy” to which the Socialists referred translated into the promulgation of new social rights such as the minimum wage and the right to rest on the seventh day of the week.
Three milestones of the Central American LeftAt the same time, the Left elsewhere in Central America was fostering movements aimed at promoting workers’ rights, agrarian reform and democracy. Sociologist Edelberto Torres-Rivas reminds us in his book Encrucijadas e Incertezas de la Izquierda Centroamericana that in 1942, the Communist Party of Costa Rica joined a political alliance headed by Rafael Ángel Calderón, who once elected President promulgated a labor code, social guarantees and other advances in this area.
In Guatemala as well, the government of Juan José Arévalo (1945-51) was pushing for social transformations similar to those promoted by Calderón, influenced by the thesis of “spiritual socialism” and supported by leftist groups of different hues. Arévalo was followed by Colonel Jacobo Arbenz (1951-54), whose government, with collaboration from the Guatemalan Workers’ Party, pushed the orientation further left by promoting an agrarian reform, among other progressive measures. A rightwing military movement supported by the United States closed the chapter on any further transformations in Guatemala.
Torres-Rivas reminds us of at least three movements that were milestones in the history of the Central American Left: that of Augusto César Sandino in Nicaragua (1927-32); the peasant uprising in El Salvador (1932) with the consequent massacre that smashed it; and the social movements that culminated with the 1934 banana strike in Costa Rica.
Three inputs into the FSLN:The history of the Left in Nicaragua took its most important turn in 1961, when the Sandinista National Liberation Front was founded. Eighteen years later it would bring down the Somoza family dictatorship and become the first leftist organization ever to hold state power in Nicaragua.
Sandino, Cuba and Marxism
Between the birth of the FSLN and the revolutionary triumph, other leftist organizations emerged as well, but they had much less political impact: the Communist Party of Nicaragua, the Marxist-Leninist Popular Action Movement and the Revolutionary Workers’ Party.
The formation of the FSLN’s political thinking was conditioned by the example of Sandino’s writings and anti-imperialist feats, the Cuban revolution and Marxist theory. Sandino’s heroic nationalism offered the FSLN a symbolic reference and a historical justification for its struggle against the Somoza regime. The Cuban revolution provided inspiration through its guerrilla struggle and an institutional model for its revolutionary project. Marxism in turn offered the FSLN a theoretical rationale and a conceptual vocabulary for expressing its aspirations, as well as a political identity that, in the context of the Cold War, made it easier to be included and participate in the solidarity networks of the worldwide revolutionary Left. Marxism also fed a vision within the FSLN of history as a liberating process that could expand the limits of reality.
A distorting European MarxismThe FSLN adopted not only the modern vision of history and power articulated in Marxist theory and thought, but more specifically the Marxist interpretation of European history as a universal explanation that could therefore be applied to Nicaragua’s reality. In this regard, the FSLN’s Marxist thinking was imitative and helped distort the country’s historical specificity. Analyzing the early political writings produced by FSLN founder Carlos Fonseca Amador when he was a student, Werner Mackenbach shows how the arguments of the young revolutionary reflected “the influence of a unilinear conception of the historical formation of societies that comes from a non-scientific Marxism spread mainly by Marxist-Leninist manuals.”
The theoretical limitations that can be attributed to Carlos Fonseca must be placed in a historical perspective that reminds us of two things: the cultural backwardness of a Nicaragua marked by its history of wars and foreign interventions, and the difficulty faced by Nicaraguan progressive thinkers in obtaining and studying European and Latin American Marxist literature, especially following the consolidation of the Somoza regime. Keeping in mind these two particularities of the political and cultural context in which Fonseca developed his thinking, we have to recognize that his recovery of Sandino and his creation of a Sandinista movement rooted in Marxism were brilliant intellectual achievements, despite their limitations.
The imitative Marxist thinking coexisted with the aspirations of many Sandinista militants and leaders to develop a new model of society. After taking power, the FSLN’s imitative Marxism ended up being imposed to such a degree that it became an obstacle to the development of this revolutionary organization’s own reflective political capacity.
Pure ideology and practical ideologyThe FSLN failed to translate the values of its “pure ideology”—national sovereignty, social justice and grassroots participation—into a “practical ideology” rooted in the interests and aspirations of the main sectors of society. Nor could it apply it within the framework of historical possibilities and limitations in which Nicaragua was operating.
As Franz Schurmann explains in his book Ideology and Organization in Communist China, the concept of “pure ideology” expresses the existence of a group of ideas articulated to offer the individual a conscious and unified vision of the world, while “practical ideology” represents a set of ideas designed to give the individual rational instruments for action. The concepts of pure and practical ideology are intimately related. Without a pure ideology, the ideas reflected in a practical ideology have no legitimacy. But Schurmann argues that without a practical ideology, an organization cannot transform its Weltanschaung (cosmovision) into consistent actions. Any revolutionary movement must have a pure ideology, but not all are able to develop practical ideologies for the creation of effective political organizations.
A practical ideology, accepted and internalized by the members of a political organization, is a necessary condition for the development of coherent and effective operational strategies. The absence of such a practical ideology tends to translate into agreement on general political principles, but disagreements and inconsistencies related to a given political project’s operational and strategic mechanisms.
Rhetoric, voluntarism and aThe FSLN’s inability to translate the essential values of its pure ideology into a practical one rooted in Nicaragua’s historical reality quickly resulted in the adoption of a set of rhetorical instruments, oversimplification of the problems faced by the revolution, the use of voluntarist political practices and the application of a contradictory and superficial discourse.
contradictory, superficial discourse
The counterrevolutionary war promoted by the United States, the disastrous effects of the US economic and trade embargo on Nicaragua and the opposition of the Catholic Church all contributed to the congealing of Sandinista theoretical development. The country’s crisis, particularly the military one, encouraged the centralization of the state and party structures and ultimately eliminated any possibility of the revolutionary process generating an internal debate to better define its objectives and strategies.
Revolutionary conviction, ideological orthodoxyIn the midst of the crisis affecting the country in the eighties, the FSLN tended to value “revolutionary conviction” over an understanding of the problems faced by the revolution. Public declarations of faith in Marxist socialism and the Leninist institutional model—centralized planning, revolutionary vanguardism and democratic centralism—became the benchmark by which the FSLN measured its members’ revolutionary commitment. “Any voice of moderation [within the party],” commented Sergio Ramírez in his memoirs, “was more than suspicious.” And, he added, “We obtained our certificate of virtue bathing in the old ritual waters of ideological orthodoxy.”
Beyond its theoretic weaknesses, the FSLN also had trouble handling the practical imperatives imposed by the policy of alliances it had engaged in to take power. To hide the contradictions between its thinking and the ideas and values of its allies, the FSLN mixed the Marxist conceptual vocabulary of its own political thinking with the conceptual vocabulary of the national reconciliation government’s program, but in a muddled, even contradictory way.
As Rámirez confirms, the FSLN’s political “game” consisted of “denying the FSLN’s identity as a Marxist-Leninist party to allies and enemies.” The FSLN thus viewed the government plan it drafted with its allies before Somoza was toppled—which was organized around the three basic principles of political pluralism, mixed economy and non-alignment—as an instrument of strictly tactical and transitory value.
The downhill road to resigned pragmatism Very soon after the triumph, the interests and aspirations expressed in the reconstruction program clashed with the Marxist-Leninist institutional model that was at the center of the FSLN’s political vision and thinking. It was an ideal model that lacked any roots and or historical possibilities in Nicaragua. Put another way, it had no theoretical foundation congruent with the context of national and international possibilities and limitations in which the revolutionary process was developing.
The divorce between Sandinista discourse and its political practice ended in a divorce between the party’s revolutionary thinking and actions. Sandinista thinking and discursive expressions remained frozen within a theoretical scheme lacking the enriching input of experience, while the revolutionary experience degenerated into political activism devoid of the theoretical referential required by the FSLN to define what the revolution could and could not do within the prevailing context.
The FSLN’s revolutionary activism eventually degenerated into pragmatism, and later into a resigned attitude toward the weight of a national reality that remained pre-theorized and immune to the constitutive and ordering force of ideas.
The theoretical failure of the Sandinista revolution confirmed what modern political history has shown time and again: it is impossible to domesticate social reality without recourse to ideas. It is impossible to make history without theoretical interpretations of that reality that help us understand what is politically possible, desirable and necessary. It is impossible to make a revolution without understanding the nature of the economic, political, social and cultural reality it is intended to transform, as well as the human and social implications of those transformations.
Social reality is largely constructed with the power of ideas. The realities of capitalism, liberalism and neoliberalism are all products of concrete actions framed within normative and explicative models of reality.
Defending the power of the party The FSLN maintained its revolutionary discourse during the initial stage of the transition following its electoral defeat in 1990, and the rest of the year saw intense grassroots mobilizations. The leadership, however, soon began—pragmatically and resignedly—to accommodate to the new national reality and the crushing wave of neoliberalism. Commander of the revolution Humberto Ortega, who was still at the time head of the armed forces, immediately accepted the Chamorro government’s neoliberal economic policy as “inevitable” and proposed an economic negotiation process to distribute the policy’s social costs.
without building a leftist practice
This pragmatism expressed the resignation of the FSLN’s political leaders to what appeared to be the inescapable weight of reality: that of capital and the neoliberal model. They gradually began to abandon the party’s revolutionary positions and adopt a political practice designed simply to defend and preserve the party’s power within the new conditions created by the transition.
The FSLN’s crisis culminated in 1995 with the split that led to the formation of the Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS), made up of people who wanted to democratize Sandinismo and modernize its mechanisms of struggle. Sandinista intellectual Augusto Zamora said at the time: “The emergence of the MRS is only one expression of a deeper division resulting from the National Directorate’s loss of leadership and credibility and the persistence of violent behavior and politics rejected today by an overwhelming majority of Nicaraguans, including Sandinistas.”
After the formation of the MRS, other groups still within the FSLN continued pushing for the party’s internal renovation, albeit fruitlessly. Daniel Ortega and the group that maintained control of the FSLN after the 1990 electoral defeat managed to neutralize the various outbreaks of dissidence until 2005, with the emergence of a challenge organized by a group of FSLN dissidents headed by Herty Lewites and backed by the MRS and leaders of the moral stature of Monica Baltodano, Henry Ruiz and Dora María Téllez. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
The pact with Alemán: The FSLN’s pragmatism did not serve to expand the party’s support base in the 1996 elections. Defeated for the second time, this time by the Liberal Alliance led by Arnoldo Alemán, the FSLN again found itself facing a dilemma: re-embrace its principles and build a political thought, message and a program of action to defend them; or set them adrift to navigate more easily in Nicaragua’s new political waters, a system strongly conditioned by neoliberal logic, which is naturally antagonistic to the fundamental Sandinista principles.
A political and ethical hara-kiri
The FSLN opted to ride the waves of the neoliberal current. By the 2001 elections, its political vision contrasted dramatically with the one that took it to power in 1979, when its revolutionary political activity was guided by a historical interpretation of society and a theoretical foundation, however weak they may have been. The limitations of Sandinista socialist theory and of the distortions this generated in the FSLN’s interpretations of Nicaraguan history can and should be critiqued, but it must also be recognized that the FSLN was formed and took power with a theoretical vocation, recognizing the necessary role of ideas in any attempt to transform reality. Twenty-two years later, in 2001, its political values, theory and philosophy had virtually been abandoned, replaced by the pragmatic and resigned adoption of a managerial discourse and vision of the function of government.
The FSLN now understood governing as implementing development projects within the limits established by the country’s power structures and the normative neoliberal-based frameworks for public policy formulation imposed by the international financial institutions. This was illustrated by the eminently technocratic orientation of the FSLN’s government platform for the 2001 elections, which resulted in a new defeat for the FSLN, this time against another neoliberal “manager,” Enrique Bolaños.
A deplorable end:The FSLN’s pragmatism was the gateway to its political and moral corruption after 1990. Bereft of any ethical and doctrinal foundation, the FSLN leaders geared their energies to fighting for power, any way they could and at any cost. In 1998, they ended up making a pact with the corrupt upper echelons of the Constitutionalist Liberal Party (PLC). In 2004, Daniel Ortega, still leader of the erstwhile revolutionary party, was still negotiating agreements with PLC strongman and now convicted prisoner Arnoldo Alemán, recognized worldwide as one of the most corrupt presidents in Latin American political history.
Ethics as “bourgeois prejudice”
Some, however, did not renounce their formal Marxism. Orlando Núñez, for example, has recently—and unsuccessfully—tried to offer a sociological justification for the FSLN-PLC pact, arguing that the interests of the Liberal grass roots are identical to those of the Sandinista grass roots. Conveniently, he never specified the nature of the interests uniting the caudillo leaders of both groups.
With much less sophistication, and frankly with a disconcerting theoretical ignorance, businessman and FSLN leader Ricardo Coronel Kautz has recently offered his own justification of the pragmatism that led the FSLN to become the voluntary counterpart of Alemán’s liberalism: “From the Marxist perspective,” he informs us, “ethics is nothing more than a bourgeois prejudice used as a weapon for the monopoly of politics.” In other words, the current FSLN leadership views politics as simply a game that one must know how to play to take power, regardless of the moral implications and human cost of the victory. The rest, suggests Coronel, is mere detail: Left or Right, capitalism or socialism, lies or truth.
Is the Left just a relic of the past?Does it make any sense to speak of Left and Right in a world populated by “revolutionaries” such as Ricardo Coronel Kautz? The shortest answer to this question is a resounding YES, despite the moral and intellectual corruption of many leftist leaders in Nicaragua and elsewhere in Latin America, and even when many have argued that these concepts belong to the past of political history. As futurologist Alvin Toffler put it, the terms Right and Left are relics of the industrial period that have now passed into history.
Toffler is mistaken. Political concepts have an ethical-philosophical meaning as well as a practical and strategic one. As in the case of “Left,” concepts are determined by the political nature and ethical sense of the social phenomena they are trying to capture at the moment of their birth. Their ethical-philosophical meaning is always stable, but their practical and strategic meaning varies along with changes in the reality that the concept is trying to represent.
The term “Left” comes from the fact that the most progressive members of the French Legislative Assembly in 1791-92 were seated on the left side of the Assembly hall. This historic fact lent the term an ethical-political meaning that has served to designate people, parties and associations whose main political raison d’être is—and has to be—expanding the horizon of social justice to promote the interests and aspirations of the neediest social sectors.
The Left is now more necessary than everThe practical and strategic implications of the ethical-political sense of the Left have varied insofar as reality itself changes, thus requiring the struggle for social justice to adjust its rationality and operational mechanisms without modifying its essential nature. Thus, when liberalism crushed the aristocracy, the struggle for social justice demanded that the Left concentrate its efforts on the struggle against the logic of capital as society’s organizing rationale.
Today we again find ourselves faced with historic and ideological changes that require the world’s Left to redefine both its strategies of struggle and the operational rationale within which they must be organized. Despite this, the ethical-political value of the concept of “Left” still prevails. Moreover, the defense of this value is now more important than ever, because the world has never before faced such a huge threat to social justice as the one represented by the globalization of capital: its institutionalization as an ideology respects neither territorial borders nor moral limits.
Let’s put it this way: there will always be a Left as long as there’s a Right in the form of an ideology and a material power that subordinates social justice to market efficiency. Furthermore, there will always be a Left as long as there is a rightwing philosophy that legitimizes the defense and reproduction of power structures in any society on the planet that still subordinate women, people with alternative sexual preferences and identities, and marginal ethnic and racial groups.
The Left is morally valid and humanly necessaryThere is no doubt that the moral failure and material collapse of the Soviet Union, the rapid consolidation and crystallization of the global market, the environmental crisis and the emergence of social movements and realities not contained within the conceptual paradigms of modern political philosophy have created confusion among leftist movements all over the world. Many interpret that confusion as a confirmation of the futility of leftist politics and assume that we have come to the end of the history of humanity’s social struggles. As some historians have noted, they can’t see the forest for the trees, as was the case with many defenders of the European monarchies during the Conservative Reaction, when the resurgence of that style of government after Napoleon’s defeat in 1814 led them to proclaim that the aristocracy was indispensable and liberalism useless. Liberalism retreated but did not die. The concept and ideas it expressed remained in force and were reformulated to make them more effective. We all know how that story ended. Liberalism triumphed over the foolishness of those who failed to understand that concepts and ideas do not disappear when they are nourished by profoundly human needs, such as social justice and liberty.
It’s one thing to recognize that the political concept of “Left” has lost programmatic clarity and quite another to argue that this lack of clarity should push us to toss out its ethical-political meaning and accept only what the power of capital imposes on us as reality. If the programmatic and operational sense of the concept no longer has meaning, it needs to be recreated, because the Left’s reason for existing and its ethical, political and moral significance remain in force. And if the path to justice and liberty isn’t evident today, the path needs to be cleared, shortcuts sought or other openings cut, because the Left’s humanist aspiration, in contrast to the Right’s ambition for power, remains morally valid and humanly needed.
The smell of dictatorshipThe confusion besetting the Left in today’s world is intensifying in Nicaragua due in part to the ideological and philosophical poverty of our parties and political movements, but above all due to the moral crumbling of the elite group that has taken over the FSLN. But it would be another mistake to identify the collapse of an organization and a political leadership with the collapse of the humanist aspirations that nurtured the Nicaraguan Left.
wafts in Nicaragua today
There are stronger demands than ever around the hunger, unemployment, social inequity and lack of opportunities that inevitably generate social aspirations for a better society. We are the second most malnourished country on the entire continent, and to make matters even worse, one of the most corrupt in the entire world, as confirmed by the emaciated faces that fill our cities and rural zones and the cold statistics reflecting our poverty and misery.
In the midst of this social calamity, Nicaragua currently faces the possibility of yet again falling into a dictatorship. The air reeks with the same scent of disproportionate ambition that filled Nicaragua’s valleys, cities and mountains in 1936. That smell of unlimited ambition announces that we could easily fall into the empire of arbitrariness, press censorship, political persecution and the screams of the women of Cuá, as happened with the Somozas.
If there is anything we Nicaraguans should have learned, it is to recognize the winds of authoritarianism. We must not commit the sin of innocence and ignore the fact that the PLC-FSLN pact is just the starting point for the institutionalization of a system of government that would allow the political bosses of these two political gangs to fashion the law, the state and even the democratic processes into instruments for ensuring they stay in power. The PLC and the FSLN don’t yet have everything they need to attain what they crave. But they could end up with it all, including control of the state’s coercive apparatus.
We must “imagine the disaster”We Nicaraguans must exercise the “imagination of disaster” to envision what it would be like, for example, if Arnoldo Alemán had the police and army at his disposal. Imagine the seaside mansion of Byron Jerez, Alemán’s partner in embezzlement, guarded by officers of the National Police to prevent journalists from photographing its installations or poor children from dirtying the walls built with the blood of those who died in Hurricane Mitch. [Jerez, head of the income tax division of Alemán’s government at the time, diverted a significant amount of reconstruction aid and machinery to add a massive roofed terrace onto that mansion.]
Imagine Lenín Cerna salivating as he reorganizes state security and Rosario Murillo again deciding, now with the accumulated bitterness of years of relegation, what constitutes art and culture in Nicaragua. What would it be like if Ricardo Coronel Kautz, author of one of the most ignorant public opinion articles in Nicaraguan history, were the coordinator of the civil watchdog organization Ethics and Transparency? Imagine bishops Miguel Obando, Abelardo Mata and Bosco Vivas commending the rulers of these imaginary but very probable scenarios in their Masses. Imagine them giving communion to all the Silvio Conrados and condemning to hell all the Rosas and other little girls robbed of their childhood.
We mustn’t fool ourselves. We have to recognize that these are images of a reality that is crystallizing day by day before our very eyes. This reality cannot be hidden behind the new image of a “relaxed” and bragging Arnoldo Alemán, or the pseudo-parliamentarism of Daniel Ortega, or the theoretical makeover that Orlando Núñez has applied to the political ties between Ortega and Alemán, or even the cowardly, sacrilegious and irresponsible silence of Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo. The FSLN-PLC pact is what it is: an illegitimate association to commit a crime against the security and common good of all Nicaraguans; a project to transform us, once more, into a great hacienda, with only two overseers.
Nicaragua needs a Left:What can be done about all this? Rescuing, rejuvenating, regenerating the Left in Nicaragua or any other country in the world must be seen as an exercise of reflective political action. A political leadership oriented by a humanistic ethic, an appropriate interpretation of our history and a shared vision of our national destiny could promote the collective mobilization of Nicaraguans and open new and better paths for the country.
A preliminary proposal
Ideas, theory and social thought must play a central role in any effort to revitalize the Nicaraguan Left under the banner of social justice. This doesn’t mean that it has to be an academic exercise. Concreteness, immediacy and current dynamics have to be meshed with our interpretations of the past and our aspirations for the future to channel our actions toward the goal we want to reach. We are at a national and international crossroads and must reflect, doubt, think, theorize, debate and even speculate until we can get the mind, heart and rest of the body to walk in harmony down the old and new paths that will take us to the future we desire. Let’s get started.
A Chávez? Military intervention?Faced with Nicaragua’s political and institutional disorder, some center their hopes on the emergence of a Hugo Chávez, which is an understandable but dangerous wish because it’s a short-term “solution” that doesn’t address our main problem: the absence of a vision and a program for our country, for Nicaragua. The Chávez movement is a courageous one, but without a defined philosophy, an explicit project and a horizon that could be articulated and transmitted to the people so that they embrace it as their own, it ends up an exercise of improvisations dictated by a caudillo.
The result of the 2006 elections?
Others are pinning their hopes on the US Embassy, a shameful and despicable “solution” that deserves no comment. Many who are no longer comfortable with the idea of US Marines marching through Managua yet again have another dream: an OAS-legitimated Inter-American “peacekeeping” force marching down the same streets. It’s an ingenuous position that doesn’t recognize the United States’ enormous capacity to get others to do its dirty work for it.
For now, most are putting their hopes on the 2006 elections. More ingenuousness? Setting aside the possibility of a military coup or a foreign adventure, we must ask ourselves if it’s worth fighting against the pact within the corrupt political regime currently in place.
The doubt raised by this question is understandable. In fact, it’s even necessary, and must be maintained as part of a skeptical political attitude that allows us to detect the traps and possibile electoral fraud that the pact appointees responsible for organizing next year’s elections are surely already machinating. Doubt is also the best antidote to the illness of political faith that blinds us to the errors and opportunism of politicians and candidates. Doubt, however, must not paralyze. We must think.
Three possible scenarios Despite the enormous limitations of the Liberal democratic model and the obstacles that the two mafias currently controlling the country’s political institutionality have put in democracy’s path, washing one’s hands of it is to abandon an arena that determines the organization and distribution of power in Nicaragua. It would imply handing over to the pact’s architects a process that, like it or not, enjoys normative force in the country and legitimacy outside of it.
for the 2006 elections
There are three plausible electoral results that could determine the country’s future political scenarios in 2006: consolidation of the pact’s hard, naked reality through a PLC or FSLN victory; consolidation of the neoliberal anti-pact Right represented by Eduardo Montealegre, by winning the presidential elections and/or getting a significant percentage of National Assembly seats; and consolidation of the democratic Left, represented by Herty Lewites, via the same means as the anti-pact Right.
What would a victory by either Montealegre or Lewites mean for Nicaragua? It’s a particularly valid question because neither presidential aspirant has detailed the ideological principles and ethical imperatives of his programmatic platform. In fact, they have yet to establish a programmatic platform at all. Both have declared themselves enemies of the pact and its two architects. Both have said they are willing to work together to change the Constitution, a reasonable project that must not be seen as a confusion of principles, since an effective constitutional framework simply brings some order to the confrontation of ideas. But they’ve said nothing more. So far, the two have only given us phrases that, as Nicaraguan poet, historian and political commentator José Coronel Urtecho once said, are “for the gallery.”
Eduardo Montealegre is Of the two anti-pact candidates, the one who least needs to articulate a clear and consistent political discourse is Eduardo Montealegre. It’s no exaggeration to say that the only thing this banker and former minister of both Alemán and Bolaños has to do to work effectively as a presidential candidate of the social sector he represents is accommodate himself to the imperatives of global capitalism and its national expressions, coordinate his discourse and actions with the US ambassador in our country and continue kissing babies and attempting traditional dances to appear closer to ordinary people. So what is hiding behind this spiffy-looking banker’s sparkling smile and silences?
by nature removed from social justice
Montealegre’s political vision is determined quite simply by the imperatives of capital. Those imperatives, contrary to the exigencies of Christian ethics, promote the adaptation of the political, social and economic organization of the world’s countries to the growing requirements of the market. Christian ethics, whether Catholic or Protestant, oblige us to adapt the political and economic institutions to the most urgent needs of our society’s men, women and children, as stated with meridian clarity in both the New Testament and the Catholic Church Catechism.
Montealegre’s philosophy as expressed in his private conduct and public actions is neoliberal. This philosophy establishes that the distribution and use of the resources of both state and society must be determined by capital’s instrumental rationale. From this perspective, the orientation of social policy, the objectives of economic policy and the legal framework governing the entire functioning of a society must respond to market requirements.
So under neoliberalism the poor die of hunger legally and the power of capital is reproduced with normality, administrative cleanliness and legitimacy. This explains how the vision of a state run by a neoliberal banker like Montealegre could be incompatible with the naked and carnival-like corruption of a white-collar criminal like Arnoldo Alemán. The normative dignity achieved by neoliberalism facilitates the peddling of Montealegre’s image even to the poor, who sometimes fail to perceive that his button-down smile and charm have always coexisted with a market-centered and thus unjust vision of society. It is his world vision, not his impeccable manners and reassuring clean-cut looks, that we should be thinking—and worrying—about.
Can Herty Lewites rescue the left?There is one more significant anti-pact candidate: Herty Lewites. If he wants to become a genuine leftist alternative for Nicaragua rather than a decaf version of the neoliberalism embodied by Montealegre, his challenge is infinitely more complex than that of the banker candidate. To rescue Sandinismo—the task Lewites has claimed for his movement—and become a true leader of the regeneration of both Sandinismo and the Nicaraguan Left, the former mayor of Managua has to swim against the neoliberal current, creating a discourse and promoting actions whose programmatic axis is the struggle against poverty and misery and whose ethical north is the construction of a socially acceptable balance between social justice and market freedom.
Lewites has to create a new humanistic government platform for a reality that needs to be built, based on the reality of the second most malnourished country in the Americas. It is a magna task that cannot be entrusted to great or little gods, the power of luck, the popularity of polls, charisma or improvisation. It can only be accomplished with clear words that tell the truth and the example of one’s own personal life, which must always be the mark of a true leader.
To articulate a true leftist option, the movement headed by Lewites must also be faithful to Sandino’s thought and example, an indispensable reference for any progressive thinking in Nicaragua. This means that the political thinking and government proposal of a Lewites government must include three fundamental tasks: the defense of Nicaraguan sovereignty, the promotion of an actively constructed citizenship and the expression of a modern version of history.
What does sovereignty meanDefending Nicaragua’s sovereignty means adopting a clear position—without ridiculous theatrical stridency—that unambiguously defends the inviolability of Nicaraguan territory and the right of Nicaraguans to decide their destiny as a nation. This position must be maintained with absolute firmness toward small countries like Costa Rica or huge and powerful ones like the United States, to international financial institutions and European donors alike. But the ethic of sovereignty must be accompanied by concrete actions that give it teeth.
in today’s globalized world?
Defending sovereignty also means developing the state’s administrative capacity and legitimacy to integrate our disarticulated country socially and territorially. Sovereignty must not be seen simply as a legal principle with territorial implications; it is also a principle of political action with social implications. Without a state able to organize and develop the life of our country’s abandoned regions, sovereignty is an indefensible fiction. How can a country be sovereign with half of its territory utterly ignored? How can we take an indignant stand against Costa Rica over the Río San Juan when with absolute irresponsibility and tranquility we have left that border region to its own devices, at the same time leaving people to die of hunger on the banks of our other river border, the Río Coco? We should remember the words of Pedro Joaquín Chamorro Cardenal in his text “Los Pies Descalzos de Nicaragua”: “The base of our nation’s geographic, historic and even socio-political underpinnings is there, in the bare sole of a lake whose rivers, like toes branching off in all directions, await the shoe needed to form a firm structure that will hold up for the march to better destinies.”
Sociologist Benedict Anderson tells us that public institutions create identity. And it is precisely the failure of the Nicaraguan state’s public institutionality in the Río San Juan area, for example, that is pushing Costa Rica, a country that has succeeded in constructing real institutionality on its border with Nicaragua, to mount a juridical assault on our territorial integrity. (See “Nicaragua Briefs” in this issue for more information on this new flare-up of an old border conflict).
Sovereignty is energy, food security The development of the state’s capacity for social regulation is also necessary if it is to act in a sovereign manner and exploit the possible benefits of globalization while successfully dealing with the destructive and disintegrating forces of that process. It’s not about building up the state, much less turning it into a substitute for or rival of private enterprise. It’s about building a public power and institutional apparatus that can filter globalization’s multiple effects and accommodate its influences and forces to the aspirations and most urgent needs of our society’s members.
and the fight against drug trafficking
If Montealegre’s neoliberalism is oriented to adapting the state to the needs of transnational capital, which was his job as treasury minister, the thinking and the program of the Left represented by Lewites would have to organize the state around the two most urgent tasks Nicaragua faces: the struggle against poverty and the country’s social and territorial integration. These two tasks are the necessary reference points for a leftist government to articulate our regional and global integration strategies, to identify the model of relations between state, economy and society that our country needs.
Let’s also remember that the defense of sovereignty is inconceivable without a vision and a strategy to protect our environment and natural resources. The sovereignty of a people without forests, without water, without a sustainable energy generating program and without the environmental conditions to sustain a food security program is a formal but meaningless sovereignty, as is one that can’t prevent drug trafficking from penetrating and consolidating as a power that can domesticate the state in its own service.
How can we build a citizenry thatThe Right practices social charity. The Left has to take up the banner of social justice rooted in real and effective rights. A leftist program should foster social justice through the development of civil rights. To do so, the Nicaraguan Left would have to promote the organization of our population in such a way as to create a social power capable of domesticating and democratizing state power.
domesticates and democratizes the state?
This means that Nicaraguan democracy must cease being a simple electoral exercise to instead become an ongoing process of building collective aspirations that will lead to the genuine social consensus that Nicaragua needs: one that transcends the elitist visions of the groups that now control power and have no idea of the existential drama of being poor in Nicaragua. It also means that Nicaraguan democracy must become a process of sustained and massive political participation that drives local democracy and links it to national democratic processes.
A leftist government has to mobilize the imagination and energies of our impoverished population and identify with our jobless, our peasants with their corn patch and machete, and with our prostitutes. When it sits down to meet with the World Bank, it has to feel that it represents not only our business class but also our street venders, our glue sniffers and our abandoned women. In other words, it has to embody the humanism of Jesus and the dignity of Sandino and transmit those values to Nicaraguans, and not have an emotional meltdown before the occupants of the White House like Bolaños and Alemán before him. In sum, a leftist government has to close the book on the colonial vision used to administer the state since 1990. During the past 15 years, our public administration has been managed by officials who live in Nicaragua but don’t share the lot of Nicaraguans.
The construction of citizenship and participation must open up and recognize the plurality of groups and social sectors currently demanding their inclusion in the country’s political life. The phenomenon of exclusion doesn’t affect only the rural and urban poor, but also women, children, homosexuals and the Caribbean region’s marginalized indigenous peoples and ethnic groups. A leftist government has to give them all voice and vote in the construction of our society. It has to head up an open fight against the racism that dominates relations between the Pacific and the Caribbean and against the ideological venom spread by the churches in Jesus’ name against homosexuals and women when they claim their rights as human beings and citizens of our country.
Nicaragua needs social justice,It’s important to point out that developing society’s organizational levels and grassroots political participation reinforces the development of the state’s social regulatory capacity, which is so essential to protection of our sovereignty. The organization of society helps develop the power of the state, which functions better when the subjects it governs aren’t atomized. At the same time, more effective social regulation by the state allows society to channel its demands more effectively.
not social charity
The development of society’s organizational levels and grassroots political participation are also indispensable for preserving the autonomy required by any national state today to deal with the pressures of the global market and transnational political influences. It is the world’s democratic states—anchored in civil societies organized within human rights structures—that are best able to navigate in globalization’s turbulent waters.
Does neoliberalism build citizenship? No. It is an individualist philosophy rooted in a vision of society in which only those with purchasing power are citizens, in which only those able to survive in the market jungle have effective civil rights. The philosophy of a leftist movement such as the one Herty Lewites aspires to represent would have to dedicate itself to building a structure of civil rights and obligations that grant the poor the power to demand what in terms of justice and humanity is rightfully theirs. The Left’s social justice has to be clearly differentiated from the social charity and paternalistic vision in which neoliberal social policies are currently being formulated.
Transforming culture to Beyond the differences that have separated groups using the concept of “Left” as a sign of identity, that concept expresses a vision of history as a process that can be molded by reflective political action and thus expand the horizon of social justice. In Nicaragua, this implies transforming the national political culture to prevent the resigned pragmatism that dominates us from continuing to reproduce our traditional sense of not being responsible for history.
make us responsible for history
The upper classes assume that the poverty of the majority of their compatriots isn’t their problem, either because God is responsible for the structures and privilege operating in the country and the world today or because they comfortably think that poverty is just a lifestyle adopted by the impoverished because they lack ambition. This is sheer irresponsibility, at the very least because they fail to recognize that their own future is irremediably linked to that of the country’s most impoverished and desperate. They have to learn from history and recognize that this impoverishment and desperation will inevitably end up dragging us all down.
Our poor also act irresponsibly when they, too, assume that their social condition is determined by God and fate. Putting an end to this fatalism and resignation is a required condition for transforming the power structures and social practices that are keeping us firmly in second place among the most impoverished countries of our continent.
This leftist agenda is as difficult as it is urgentThe Nicaraguan Left is the only force capable of initiating the modernization of our vision of the world and of history. We need the Left. The resigned pragmatism and magical, fetishistic Christianity that reign in our society are perversely compatible with neoliberalism. The idea of a God that decides everything is a convenient way for this ideology to disguise the functioning of the market’s “invisible hand,” whose index finger decides who eats and who doesn’t, who lives and who dies in the poor countries of today’s world.
The modern and transforming vision of the Nicaraguan Left must be framed within a humanist and Christian rationality that makes our human condition the independent variable to which the roles of the market and the state must be adjusted. The Nicaraguan Left’s historical vision must be clearly differentiated from the neoliberal vision, which assumes that the logic of the market is—and should be—the principal determinant of our societies’ organization and destiny.
Promoting and defending our sovereignty, constructing citizenship and culturally transforming our society to develop our capacity to make history constitute a difficult work agenda for the movement Herty Lewites heads. Some would even call it impossible. But some of us would say it is necessary and think that we must assume the future with all its risks and all its possibilities.
Lewites is a door we must open, There are three doors on Nicaragua’s political horizon: that of the pact, that of the neoliberalism represented by Montealegre and that of a Sandinista alternative whose democratic and anti-pact nature means it will not abandon the inescapable defense of the rights and needs of the poorest.
a risk we must take
Today, supporting Herty Lewites is to open that third door. What happens after that will depend largely on the principles and the capacity for action and reflection of Lewites and his team. Above all, though, it will depend on the capacity shown by Nicaraguans who reject not only the pact, but also the idea that the only way to end the Ortega-Alemán dictatorial project is to pay homage to the US ambassador and surrender to the logic of capital.
We who reject the pact and any form of dictatorship, reject the US Embassy’s vulgar abuses and any form of foreign intervention in our country’s life, who accept that the market can and must play an important economic role as long as it remains within the ethical and legal conditions that protect the common good, who believe that globalization can be good or bad depending on how we filter and guide its effects and who disdain the resigned pragmatism of those who dance to the music of power must support Herty Lewites, not as a lesser of evils, but as a possibility that we must consolidate and expand.
Supporting Lewites is Supporting this possibility means assuming responsibility for making history in a country accustomed to living its political development as an eternal game of roulette. Supporting this possibility means shaking off faith in Herty or any other person as a principle of our political culture. Supporting this possibility is attempting to build a movement that can transcend us all individually, including its own leader; a movement strong enough to reward or punish its representatives’ conduct and condemn Lewites himself if, out of pragmatism, resignation or opportunism he should decide not to take seriously Sandinismo’s raison d’être and the example of Sandino.
fighting resigned pragmatism
Supporting this possibility means combating the resigned pragmatism that has kept us in misery for centuries, because those who assume that engaging in politics means tempering oneself to the circumstances are as pragmatic and resigned as those who expect their preferred reality to materialize before their eyes without running the risks involved in participating in the regeneration of our history.
Andrés Pérez Baltodano is a Nicaraguan professor of political sciences in Canada and an envío collaborator. Part 1 of this study was published in the August 2005 issue of envío (volume 24, number 289).