“Gerardo Miranda And We the Thieves”
What will become of Carlos Fernando Chamorro’s investigation
into an extortion case linked to top FSLN leaders?
Will the accused be punished or the accusers?
Sadly, despite the revolution of the 1980s,
the words his father used over 30 years ago
to denounce the Somoza regime’s corruption
and its rhetorical tricks to evade any responsibility
seem as relevant in today’s Nicaragua as they were then.
Andrés Pérez Baltodano
Carlos Fernando Chamorro and the team of the Esta Semana current affairs television program have earned a place in the history of the fight against corruption in Nicaragua, after revealing on May 27 a mafia of racketeers linked to the FSLN secretariat.
Which road will we take?In years to come, when the story of the struggle for justice and freedom of expression in our country is retold, our children and grandchildren will see and admire Carlos Fernando’s image at the end of that dramatic report, urging Nicaraguans to proclaim the truth and defend our institutions. They will surely also compare the strong, confident face of journalist Camilo de Castro as he questioned the consul and former Sandinista legislator Gerardo Miranda, with his vacillating look, nervous smile and distorted features. And let’s not forget the steady pulse and sharp eye of the anonymous hero whose camera opened a window onto the profound moral chaos engulfing Nicaragua. The perspective afforded by that camera must also help us visualize our destiny. Two possible roads opened up before us the night that Esta Semana provided a master class in investigative journalism and an example of integrity and professional valor.
A mafia state or national regeneration?One of the roads leads to an amoral Nicaragua in which future generations will have to learn the values of the world’s Gerardo Mirandas in order to survive. The other is the road to national regeneration, which we must take if we are to recover our country’s dignity and that of each and every one of us.
We mustn’t think we’ve hit bottom yet. The bottom of the abysm of corruption is deep and is only reached when we get to the point of an all-against-all war, like the barbarism of a collapsed state such as Somalia, or when we have found ourselves in a consolidated mafia state in which people live and die according to the whims and volition of a Somoza, Papa Doc, Idi Amin or Trujillo.
We aren’t there yet. We have a free press, where we can still point out the abuses and deviations of those who control our institutions and manipulate the laws. We still live under a regime in which—despite its fragility—the power of the police and the armed forces does not respond to the dictates of a single man, woman or presidential couple. We still have at least formal recourse to democracy. It’s still legal to challenge the power of the state and those who control it.
But all of those arenas of freedom could be shut down tomorrow. Fear, and the silence into which it is pushing us, could triumph. And if that were to happen, the blackmailers and racketeers currently manipulating justice from the shadows for their own profit could start committing their evil deeds in the full light of day, with no fear of societal sanctions or legally established punishments.
Our police might abandon their heroic fight against drug trafficking tomorrow and start collaborating with the mafias that control it. Our armed forces could end up as instruments of terror at the service of gangs disguised as political parties. In that very possible Nicaragua, the dailies could end up publishing only what the government offices coordinating communication want to present. In that country, Nicaraguan “democracy” could end up a circus act to celebrate the rise to power of a son or unconditional supporter of a new and vulgar little dictator.
The choice is oursBut it is also possible that Nicaragua could regenerate itself. The simple mental rejection of the corruption currently surrounding us opens the window of opportunity to the other possibility in our minds: that offered by the road leading to a decent and free Nicaragua that is fair for everyone.
Corruption could be exterminated, or at least punished as established by law. We could clean up our institutions and demand that our governors act like statespeople, or at least stop acting like criminals. We could come to have a National Assembly containing the best women and men in the country, or at least one in which the incapable, corrupt and unconditional are a negligible, shameful and seldom seen minority.
The choice is ours. Tomorrow’s Nicaragua will be what we decide to do today, in this concrete moment, while the voices and images of Esta Semana continue resonating, revealing the level of social decomposition we’re living through, in all its dimensions.
We’re all responsibleHow are we Nicaraguans going to respond? Will fear win the day? Will our resigned pragmatic culture re-impose itself, once again pushing us to temper ourselves to the decisions and actions of those who control state power? Will we place our future in the hands of that magical and providential God who in our falsified Christianity decides and resolves everything? Or will we decide to put an end to the corruption corroding our state and society and start regenerating the country we were born in?
The choice is ours, because we—not God or luck—are responsible for the accumulation of power by individuals like Lenín Cerna, Arnoldo Alemán, Miguel Obando and Gerardo Miranda. All of us are responsible who by act or by omission have allowed Nicaragua to become the poor excuse for a country it is today, who by words or by silence before and now have helped naturalize the state of moral decay we live in.
And because we are all responsible for the ethical coma into which our country has sunk, we can all do something to open the way for its regeneration. Each and every Nicaraguan must and can do something to stop Nicaragua’s cycle of corruption and decomposition from becoming irreversible.
It’s time to overcome the fearThat we have individual responsibilities as Nicaraguans is perhaps the most important lesson we received a few days ago when Carlos Fernando Chamorro, a man of flesh and bones like the rest of us, raised his voice to send a message to the powerful, exercising his rights as a citizen and a professional. That individual, concrete human being we saw on our screens is not immune to fear, much less ignorant of what those currently governing our country are capable of. Yet he raised his voice and fulfilled his obligation.
We don’t all have access to a television camera and a microphone but we can all act like Carlos Fernando Chamorro, from our own particular trench, our own space, our own conscience. We can all do something to defeat the silence, the fear and the ethical and legal confusion currently threatening our society. We can all do something to stop the organized lie promoted from the state from winning the day.
The well-known strategyThe combination of the terse and ambiguous declarations from Daniel Ortega, President of the country and general secretary of the ruling FSLN, and the silence from his wife, Rosario Murillo, the government’s normally loquacious communication coordinator, is alarming. Equally alarming is the campaign launched by the government-linked media to discredit Carlos Fernando Chamorro and impose fear on the country’s mass media and communicators.
of drowning the truth
Added to the silence and fear are deliberate efforts by those close to the government to confuse the population, employing a discursive strategy taken almost literally from the Somoza government’s disinformation manuals. The essence of that strategy is simple: muddy the waters, confuse the facts, blur the definitions of good and bad, in the hope that in those who drown the truth will profit the most.
Thus we witness Gerardo Miranda, feigning indignation that ill befits his person, accusing those who revealed the corruption case in which he had a lead role of defamation and slander. For his part, Sandinista legislator and recently appointed coordinator of the National Economic and Social Planning Council (CONPES) Gustavo Porras tried to divert the attention of the media and society by demanding that Carlos Fernando Chamorro “clean up his honor.” And if that weren’t enough, Porras avoided reference to the corruption case revealed by Esta Semana by launching into an “anti-oligarchical” discourse, calling for “everyone to be investigated,” including those denounced, those doing the denouncing, indignant citizens and indignant criminals. “All of them!” roared Porras.
“Yes, we are thieves”The defenders of the government of Anastasio Somoza Debayle used the very same discursive guile, the same rhetorical tricks when the newspaper La Prensa revealed various cases of government corruption in a dramatic series of reports published in 1974 under the title “The Dance of Corruption.” In one of his memorable editorials on that occasion, the paper’s editor, Pedro Joaquín Chamorro Cardenal—admired in Nicaragua as a hero in the struggle against Somoza and a martyr for public freedom—denounced the Somoza regime’s discursive strategy to drown the truth.
That editorial was published on February 5, 1974, under the title “Don Felipe Rodríguez and we the thieves.” Felipe Rodríguez Serrano, Somoza’s customs director, had responded to the accusations in La Prensa by arguing that the paper had broken the law by publishing official documents demonstrating the participation of Somoza government officials in the acts of corruption it had revealed. According to Rodríguez, this was illegal because the documents were state property! Like Gerardo Miranda and Gustavo Porras today, Felipe Rodríguez made no attempt to deny the accusations of corruption. He simply tried to divert the attention of Nicaraguan citizens by inventing another “crime.”
It is worth recalling Pedro Joaquín Chamorro’s words, because they still ring true as today’s governors are busy creating their own scarecrows to confuse and deceive the public: “Rodríguez Serrano lamented the explanation given to the public regarding the ‘dance of corruption,’ not the corruption that exists in the country, the irregularities in the documents cited by La Prensa, the fiscal losses resulting from privileges, the unfair competition in trade, the immorality of all this…. Instead, he lamented the ‘abuse,’ as he defined it, of the ‘unidentified people’ who gave La Prensa the documents evidencing all the abuses and crimes involved in the case.”
Chamorro added, “We’ve been called thieves and dealers in stolen goods by those caught in the act. Yes, we are thieves because we reproduced a public document that demonstrated the tax abuse and evasion, the importation of private merchandise through the government, etc., while those who carried out those operations are honorable, decent, serious, immaculate, etc., etc., as well as being blessed by the government’s adviser on matters of public morality.”
Chamorro called on the Nicaraguan population “to cut out and keep Rodríguez Serrano’s defense” as a valuable historical document “so that when history is written” we Nicaraguans will know “not only about the pure facts, but also about the explanations given by the most qualified moralists of the Somoza administration in its defense.”
The day will come...We should do the same, keeping Porras’ declarations, Channel 4’s television spots, the President’s ambiguous declarations and anything else that will help our children and grandchildren learn the history of truth and lies in Nicaragua.
At the end of his 1974 editorial, alluding to our country’s magical and providentialist culture, Pedro Joaquín Chamorro ironically warned, “Perhaps Don Felipe will continue going to many Sunday masses and no angel of the Lord will ever waylay him, saying ‘Felipe, Felipe, what are you doing here?’ Perhaps no external sign of transcendental power will manifest itself to insinuate accountability for something as serious as the most absolute and complete distortion of good and bad, legitimate vs. illegitimate, taken to the extreme of providing all the elements needed to threaten with jail, insult and viciously malign the person telling the truth, denouncing the fraud, while the person consuming the ill-gotten gains is branded good.
“Surely nothing like that is going to happen because it appears that such [celestial] conduct is outmoded in today’s world. But the day will surely come in which other voices, i.e. the earthly ones of those who have been exploited and marginalized for so long, of those who have always paid what they owed and never made illegitimate profits of any kind will hammer down on Don Felipe’s ears. He and the other participants of the affairs revealed last week will hear those voices one day, because true justice may take a long time coming, sometimes many years, but it always arrives.”
And it did come around for the Somocistas, because justice always arrives. Its absence today is not definitive. We have no doubt that justice will return and that the neo-Somocismo currently trying to institutionalize itself will end in failure.
Andrés Pérez Baltodano is a political science professor at the University of Western Ontario in Canada and an envío collaborator.