Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 314 | Septiembre 2007



You Can’t Organize People and Raise Consciousness by Decree

This FSLN insider reflects on the party’s history, the role of that history in its current situation and some of the political measures implemented so far in what the FSLN government is calling “the second stage of the revolution.”

William Grigsby

The first question we need to clear up if we’re going to analyze this Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) government is whether or not we’re in a “revolution.” There are two answers to this question, two currents, two ways of analyzing it. Both Daniel [Ortega] and Rosario [Murillo, Ortega’s wife], who are the dominant forces within the FSLN, consider us to be in a new revolutionary stage. They frequently talk about “the second stage of the revolution.”

Are these revolutionary times?

In my opinion, we’re not in a revolutionary process. I prefer to define it as a transition toward something different. And we don’t know whether this something will be better or worse; that remains to be seen. It seems to me that the preconditions, the elements that can define a revolutionary process aren’t present in today’s Nicaragua. So what is a revolution? In 2001, Fidel Castro expressed it this way: “Revolution is a sense of the historical moment. It’s changing everything that must be changed. It’s full equality and liberty. It’s being treated and treating others as human beings. It’s emancipating ourselves through our own efforts. It’s challenging powerful dominating forces within and outside of the social and national ambit. It’s defending values one believes in no matter what the sacrifice. It’s modesty, disinterest, altruism, solidarity and heroism. It’s struggling boldly, intelligently and realistically. It’s never lying or violating ethical principles. It’s a profound conviction that there is no force in the world capable of crushing the driving force of truth and ideas.” It seems fair to me to use these ideas to analyze and define the stage we’re passing through, and by doing so we can see that we’re not in fact experiencing a revolution in Nicaragua. First of all because, due to lack of awareness, we don’t have an organized people. And if there’s no consciousness, there’s no organization. Secondly, because the driving force of the revolution—in this case the FSLN—is neither sufficiently organized nor the political majority in society. And thirdly, because not even the FSLN government has a program aimed at changing our society’s socioeconomic structures.

If we pay attention to the government’s actions—not its discourse—they are aimed at perceptively improving the system’s administration, improving the energy, health and education policies and creating credit policies. But nobody is thinking or talking about any structural change of society. This isn’t because the FSLN or Daniel and Rosario don’t want to do this, but rather because the political possibilities don’t exist to achieve such economic or social transformations. The correlation of forces to achieve that doesn’t exist either in society or internationally. For all of these reasons—and we could add more—we‘re not in a revolutionary process.

We have a government that has the will to improve the administration of public affairs, change the political priorities of public administration and prioritize the impoverished masses. From 1990 to 1996 we had—or rather suffered—three governments whose main objective was to improve the income of the powerful sectors, making the rich even richer. Now we have a government that leans towards prioritizing the impoverished masses in its policies. This is indisputably revolutionary in itself, in the sense that it’s novel and in the results it will have for the poorest people. But it isn’t revolutionary in the traditional sense of the word, in terms of the structural transformations Nicaragua needs.

Does Nicaragua need another revolution?

I believe that if the government knows how to use the aid it’s finding from so many countries—Venezuela, Iran, Brazil and Taiwan and others—to crank up development and ensure that it’s diversified, then we’re heading for a better society, the likes of which we haven’t seen up to now. The oil refinery, cotton, hydroelectric plants, new ports... all of this is going to change the country. If it all actually happens, and I believe it will, there’s going to be employment and our emigrants will return. The surveys say that the main priority of 60% of Nicaraguans is to leave the country. If we manage to alter that, so that say only 20% want to leave, that would be quite a change. We were in a country nobody wanted to be in. We will have achieved a lot if we can just feel proud of living in this country because it’s improving.

Another question I’d ask is whether Nicaragua needs a revolution. Does this country, Nicaraguan society, really need its structures transformed? And this question is relevant because when we Sandinistas first started to fight there was an obvious need for a revolution; we really felt society had to be changed. The first reason for this was the dictatorship’s absolute power. The second was the accumulation of wealth in the hands of the Somoza family and a small group of oligarchs associated with it. And the third was the enormous poverty affecting the vast majority of the population. There was an economic and social reality and a number of contradictions within society that made us feel things couldn’t go on that way. And that’s why there was a revolution.

But you can’t invent a revolution; they don’t come out of people’s heads. They respond to society’s needs. It’s one thing to have revolutionary ideas and quite another for those ideas to correspond to a social need. Based on this, we should ask ourselves whether Nicaragua really needs a revolution, whether we have structural problems that require structural changes.

In my opinion we do, but we don’t have the right conditions today. We must create those conditions, especially the subjective ones, which are the most lacking. According to the old theory, a revolutionary movement emerges when the objective conditions—social framework, economic weight—combine with the subjective conditions. This happens very rarely and when it does it leaves its mark on history.

How the revolution happened in Nicaragua

How did the Nicaraguan revolution come about? I think it’s worth taking a quick look back at what happened and how to understand what’s missing right now. The objective conditions were there: one family controlling 60% of the economy, 85% of the population with access to just 5% of the national wealth, a complete lack of political freedom... Those were the objective conditions. But what was missing was grassroots organization.

Let’s recall how the Sandinista National Liberation Front was founded: by a handful of people, mainly young students. Carlos Fonseca was a university student and so were Tomás Borge, Silvio Mayorga and all the other founders of the FSLN. And it began to build itself mainly from that social sector of students from poor families that had made a great sacrifice to send their children to university. They were the children of people who had access to education. Throughout the sixties the FSLN was sustained by this source. Later they went up into the mountains and started organizing peasant networks, at which point people like Bernardino Ochoa, Benigna Mendiola and Gladys Báez appeared. But at the beginning the source was students.

During the events of Pancasán, which happened 41 years ago, 29 compañeros died. The vast majority of the main FSLN cadres died there and others were taken prisoner. In 1969, when Leonel Rugama fell and Julio Buitrago had already been killed, the FSLN virtually disappeared. It had fewer than 100 members, yet they had an important projection in society because they would hit a bank branch or execute a member of Somoza’s National Guard, as happened in León, when Gonzalo Lacayo was executed and Mildred Abaunza died. There were also spectacular strikes that created hope as they immediately connected with people’s aspirations. There was a very close relationship between the FSLN’s actions—both political and military—and the people’s feelings.

The incorporation of the Christian movement was also very important for the FSLN’s consolidation as an alternative power. The FSLN would never have grown the way it did without it—without the taking of churches, the Cathedrals of Managua and León, which had such an impact on society. During that time our “guide” was Reynaldo Antonio Téfel’s book El infierno de los pobres” [The Hell of the Poor]. Tefel was from the Social Christian Party and had a very powerful influence on the ideological formation of a whole generation, the restless generation of the early seventies. His book encouraged us middle class kids to go out and investigate the garbage dump at Acahualinca and discover marginalized neighborhoods. We had figures and could show we were right. We had a tool to explain why we should all be anti-Somocista. During the early seventies being anti-Somocista wasn’t the same as being revolutionary. The difference between the two at that moment was opting for armed struggle.

The Managua earthquake changed everything

The 1972 earthquake dramatically changed not only the national economy but also the correlation of forces in the country. That year the FSLN had only about 300 armed people at the most. But in 1973, 1974, it started receiving cadres from the Christian movement, such as Javier Carrión, Joaquín Cuadra, Mónica Baltodano, Aminta Granera and Luis Carrión. From then on the Christian movement became the FSLN’s second great source of recruits after the university student movement. José Benito Escobar also organized work in the union sector, while teachers provided another major source of FSLN sympathizers. The support from the health sector was less strong.

The earthquake changed the structure of society. It destroyed the country’s political and economic hub, killing 12-15,000 of the 150,000 people who lived in Managua at the time. The dictatorship had managed to consolidate itself up to that moment, but after the earthquake everything started to change. People in Nicaragua talk more about “before and after the earthquake” than “before and after the revolution.”

After the taking of Chema Castillo’s house,
every kid wanted to be in the FSLN

In 1973 Ricardo Morales Avilés was killed in jail. It was probably the FSLN’s greatest strategic loss. But the FSLN began to grow following the spectacular coup of storming Chema Castillo’s house during a Christmas party with important guests in December 1974. The commando unit that participated in that operation had an important mixture of social and political origins, including middle- and upper-class university students, Christian sectors, some from the workers’ sectors—including the construction and teachers’ unions—and some peasants organized above all by the Socialist Party. That operation also gave the FSLN an international projection as the news and photos flashed around the world.

From then on everyone wanted to be in the FSLN. All the kids, all the youths dreamed about it. It was the power of the image—the guerrilla fighter, the uniform, the red and black bandanna, the rifle, the declarations... Being in the FSLN was the big new thing, the closest you could get to looking like John Wayne! The National Guard reacted ferociously. The worst years of the Somoza dictatorship were 1975-1977. There was a scorched-earth policy in the countryside; justices of the peace were killed without asking questions first; terror was imposed in rural areas. Hundreds of people were murdered whose names have now been forgotten. In the cities you never knew who might be spying on you and you suspected everyone.

The Group of Twelve became
a pivotal factor of hope

From 1977, the three tendencies began to emerge in the FSLN. The Ortega brothers were busy pushing for the insurrection. Then came a key factor in raising people’s hopes and belief that it was possible to overthrow the dictatorship: the emergence of the Group of Twelve. They were big names, recognized citizens who gave the FSLN the status of a belligerent force, which was supremely important because guerrilla movements were outlawed, considered terrorists, murderers. The Group of Twelve drastically changed the correlation of forces on the political level.

Then came FSLN unity, promoted by Fidel Castro at a time when none of the three tendencies had clear internal hegemony. And finally, after a year and a half of growing popular insurrection, the FSLN took power in1979.

During the decade of revolution
we mainly just defended ourselves

What did we do during the ten years of revolution? We defended ourselves. Did we discuss ideology with the people? We did during the literacy crusade and a bit after the crusade, but not really very much. All kinds of grassroots organizations formed, with some existing ones strengthened and others created: the Sandinista Defense Committees (CDS) based on the Civil Defense Committees of the insurrection; unions such as the Farm Workers’ Association (ATC) and National Union of Farmers and Ranchers (UNAG); the Luisa Amanda Espinoza Women’s Movement (AMNLAE)—which grew out of AMPRONAC, the cross-class women’s organization originally created in 1977 to respond to the national human rights situation of the time; and the Sandinista Youth... But what we did most during those years was defend ourselves and obey orders. Political and ideological formation was the FSLN’s Achilles’ heel.

In my opinion, the biggest rupture was when the decision was made to turn the fight against the counterrevolution into an institutional one and the draft was established. By law you had to defend the country and the revolution, but up to that point everything was based on voluntary decision. But that quarry was becoming exhausted because people were dying on the battlefronts. You start to think twice about going to fight in the mountains as you bury your dead. And when you begin to identify less with what you’re going to defend, you think three times. Without any massive political work, it was very difficult to mobilize people out of conscience.

The impact of military service was brutal, devastating, not only because you were off to war and might get killed, but also because of the way draft-age kids were picked up. The same was true of the Agrarian Reform, because you didn’t get ownership of the lands that were distributed. Up until 1984, 1985, I was convinced that everyone was living better under the revolution, but when they sent me to pick coffee in the mountains during those years I discovered it just wasn’t the case.

Neglect and malnutrition of the FSLN

Throughout the eighties, the FSLN as a party fed off its historical strength: the people from the First and Second Promotions who had entered the FSLN as militants before September 1978 and had led the insurrection. They totaled only about 1,200 Sandinistas. Up until then, the FSLN’s philosophy was that of a classic cadre-based party: only the best, most selfless, most humble could make it into the FSLN. It was really tough to get in. Most kids doing their military service weren’t in the party, so the FSLN wasn’t growing via the forces that were really doing the fighting. In the nineties things got worse with the reduction of the army and the mass layoffs… I remember big tough retired soldiers crying with rage because they’d been thrown out of the army after risking their lives and sacrificing their youth to the armed forces: “After everything I did and I’m not even in the FSLN.”

At that time the FSLN as a party was more or less the Cinderella of the revolution’s priorities. There was no clear awareness of what a party was. What existed during the eighties was a state-party: the ministers were in the Sandinista Assembly and the presidential delegates in the departments really called the shots. And while all this was going on, the people fighting the war, the workers in the factories, the real people living in poverty, weren’t in the FSLN.

From an anti-system party of militants
to a pro-system party of voters

Following the electoral defeat in 1990 came the famous ideological discussion about which direction the FSLN should take, which boiled down to whether it would be a party of the system or against the system. Being a party of the system meant abandoning the struggle on the streets, behind the barricades, which was so fashionable at the time... Those heading up that tendency argued they were methods of the past; that we could never get back into power that way; that we had to modernize. Some of the cadres who thought that way and are no longer in the FSLN went to the barricades set up in 1990 and called on people to demobilize.

This discussion came to a head during the FSLN’s 1994 Congress and those of us who argued for an anti-system party won the discussion, which in my opinion was the most democratic process in the history of Nicaraguan political parties. There was pure debate among the grass roots from February to May of that year that included very well attended political discussions every weekend. The delegates who went to that Congress really represented what those below were thinking and saying.

After the Congress the whole sector that felt the FSLN had to modernize, abandon the methods of grassroots struggle and prioritize the parliamentary and electoral struggles left the FSLN to form another party. There were no expulsions or exclusions. They just left, leaving a single tendency in the FSLN: the Revolutionary Left. But life takes many different turns and the ideas we defeated in 1994 triumphed over time within the FSLN as we know it today. The ideas, not the people.

From a revolutionary party to
sharing quotas of power

Another split came in 1998, under the government of Arnoldo Alemán. Again there were two choices: turn into a party of the system and share power quotas or continue with the revolutionary option. At that time the FSLN was no longer able to win elections or grassroots struggles. It had to change and an internal struggle started up. It was tough. Those in the Businesspeople’s Bloc came in through the back door, surreptitiously, almost hidden, and they’ve been a powerful influence in the party ever since. Meanwhile, the tendency that argued the need to negotiate spaces of power and prepare for elections, claiming that it wasn’t time for revolutionary struggles of the masses, that the international correlation of forces wasn’t favorable, started to build up strength... That was the beginning of the pact with the PLC. The first link in that pact was the reform of the Property Law in mid-1997. Then other links just kept being added.

What was the FSLN sustaining itself with over all those years? Who entered the FSLN ranks during that time? In 1994 a party census revealed 104,000 FSLN militants in Managua alone and 420,000 of us nationwide. It was a very powerful force. Starting in 1996, after the great disappointment of that year’s electoral defeat, another whole load of people left. They didn’t switch to another party; they just dropped out of politics, didn’t want to know anything about it and became FSLN voters rather than Sandinista activists. Whether the FSLN was a party of activists and militants or of voters was another issue underlying the debate. It was still possible to talk about a party of militants in 1994, but the FSLN soon turned into a party of voters.

The Sandinista mentality corrupted

What growth has the FSLN had since the 1996 electoral defeat? Does it even have a growth policy? The short answer is no. New FSLN militants? Not any more, because the category of militant no longer attracts anyone. And anyway, who were the main victims of the Liberal governments? Sandinistas just for being Sandinistas; Sandinista peasants just for being Sandinistas and Sandinistas thrown out of their state posts. Plus which, what were people seeing? FSLN legislators had work and were raking it in; FSLN municipal councilors were also earning well. So everyone in the FSLN wanted to be a councilor, a legislator or at the very least a close friend of someone who held one of those posts.

Nobody aspired to positions of power to serve the people, to change things, to improve people’s living standards any more. All they wanted was to give the orders, have money in their pockets, have a nice car, a nice house and send their kids off to study somewhere… This phenomenon has become widespread in the FSLN ever since. It’s a form of corruption that has become state policy and is also corrupting the mentality of Sandinistas.

Another factor that had previously helped corrupt the mentality of Sandinistas was what was dubbed the “piñata” of 1990. I’m not referring to laws 85, 86 and 88 [which during the transition from the FSLN government to the Chamorro government hurriedly sought to legalize the ownership of lands previously distributed in the Sandinista agrarian and urban reforms]; they are a source of pride not shame. I’m talking about the real theft, which was surreptitious, underground and never properly revealed in which people from the outgoing government took computers, houses, money, farms, fleets of cars... That piñata destroyed the FSLN’s moral authority. And a load of FSLN leaders got caught up in it; not all of them, but certainly a lot. I remember a quote from Humberto Ortega that I believe is crucial to understanding what happened to many FSLN leaders after that ideological about-face. In an interview, he said that “before the revolution we were all young and had nothing to lose, just our lives. Now we’ve got children, a house, a car, we’ve got things to defend... and we’re not young any more.”

The FSLN that won the November elections

To sum up, there have been different ideological changes in the FSLN, the Sandinista social grass roots is dispersed; serious damage has been caused by the closet piñata and the FSLN has changed position from an anti-system party to a party of the system, one of electors not militants and of electoral struggle rather than the struggle of the masses... There have also been ideological and political errors that have no explanation or defense, such as the recent one of forgetting everything Cardenal Obando y Bravo did and conniving with him, penalizing therapeutic abortion. But despite all this, even under these circumstances, the FSLN—a party of voters with an army of around 30,000 very efficient electoral monitors—managed to win the November 2006 elections.

That’s today’s FSLN; nothing more than that. It’s an efficient skeleton, an effective electoral machine run by determined people. Of course they are Sandinistas who continue defending the ideas of Sandino, of the revolutionary eighties and have educated their children accordingly. But is it a party of militants, which means participating in discussions about where we’re heading, what sort of shape the country is in, what we can do, what to propose, how we function…? There’s none of that and hasn’t been for years.

The FSLN that won the last elections is a party with political secretaries like the one in Granada who’s been re-elected ever since 1990. A party that ran a man like Álvaro Chamorro Mora, who everyone already knew was a crook, as candidate for mayor of Granada, where we never get more than 30% of the vote and only won by dividing the Right, and there are many similar cases.

But there are also a lot of positive cases. For me one magnificent example is the department of Madriz, which was the cradle of the National Guard’s foot soldiers. The great surprise of the 1996 elections was that the FSLN actually won in five of that department’s nine municipalities thanks to the work of Manuel Maldonado, who spent all his time working with the people. Things aren’t quite the same there now, but it was a very important example. The mystique that exists around Ocotal or Estelí has nothing to do with what we’re experiencing here in Managua. The Sandinistas there are whole other thing. The other good example for me is León, because a discussion, a grassroots dynamic really is going on there. In Boaco and Juigalpa the situation is pathetic. Even in Matagalpa, the once important Sandinista grassroots sector is considerably reduced. And let’s not even mention Managua, which in my opinion is in an even worse situation.

Rosario and Daniel respond
with their Councils of Citizens’ Power

Daniel and Rosario know all about this political reality; they’re both absolutely clear about what’s happened. Their evaluation is probably based on a cost-benefit analysis. Everything that happened was the cost that had to be paid to win the elections, to get into government. But I’ve got a different evaluation.

From that point of view, they know they can’t advance in society without an instrument that helps them reap any political benefits from the government’s implementation of programs in favor of the poor sectors. They both know that someone has to act as harvester and they don’t have the people to harvest any more, because everyone in the FSLN has been looking for a cut of the pie. “Are you going to give me a job?”—that’s all the discussion amounts to these days because there hasn’t been any political work for such a long time. So if they want to push forward, to win the ideological fight against the Right, they have to have a grassroots political instrument or they could end up not winning anything at all: it’s essential for them. If you don’t want to be just another government, if you want to make a difference, to change, then you need people behind you. So they decided to create the Councils of Citizens’ Power (CPC) by decree, as a way of organizing the grassroots sectors whose consciousness has been built. They’re basically saying, “I decree that the people are going to organize now.” And in my opinion that’s not how things work.

How did the Civil Defense Committees emerge during the insurrection? The National Guard would turn up in a given neighborhood and there would be fighting, leaving a couple of wounded. So how could we treat them? Well, so-and-so was a nurse, so someone would be dispatched to tell her to send some gauze. And what’s-his-name was a doctor; so someone was sent to tell him to give us a syringe. That’s how they started: to help those wounded in combat. And then they expanded as the number of wounded increased and the CDCs took on another connotation, other tasks. They were political schools. I remember that it fell to me at the time to organize the Popular Action Committees (CAPs). We’d go to a neighborhood and look for kids to start up baseball or volleyball leagues, or whatever. We’d hold parties on the weekends... And we’d gradually win over youngsters to the FSLN to become guerrilla fighters. That was very effective. We discussed things with them, talked to them and increased their consciousness. I remember I started with five people and ended up with two FSLN squads that attacked the Ticuantepe barracks.

The Councils of Citizens’ Power
haven’t turned out too well so far

Will the Councils of Citizens’ Power act as schools in the same way as the previous forms of grassroots organization? That would be the ideal: a political school with debate and critical capacity, because if we’re not critical we lose our human condition; if we’re not organized we can’t move forward.

Will the CPCs be a political school? Daniel and Rosario said the CPCs had to be pluralistic. They said they were designed to discuss the situation in its geographical setting and make decisions that were to be obeyed by the state structures. That’s basically what they’ve told us. But that isn’t always what’s happened in practice. The CPCs aren’t very pluralistic. Maybe they are in certain neighborhoods, but it’s not the predominant tendency. In fact, they’re not even very pluralistic among Sandinistas, because there are Sandinistas who are with the party’s political secretaries and others that aren’t, and the latter aren’t allowed into the CPCs. Inactive Sandinistas aren’t allowed in and as the municipal elections are just around the corner, anyone who sticks his or her neck out wanting to be a candidate is excluded as well.

That’s what’s happened. In a large number of cases, an instrument that might have had the chance to develop has become a political instrument to fulfill the aspirations of the FSLN structures. And those structures are now basically just an electoral machine that in a good number of cases isn’t headed up by the community leaders. Those in charge of the FSLN structures are now just electoral organizers: people who take voters to the polling place, who are responsible for ensuring that your vote isn’t stolen, who mobilize people when the candidate is going to visit... There’s nothing more beyond those electoral activities. What we need to raise consciousness, to connect with the people, is real community leadership. We need to forge and attract this and it just isn’t being done.

Our need, and presumably the government’s aspiration, hasn’t been totally satisfied by the CPCs, among other reasons because the FSLN’s parasitical structure has taken over these Councils. There are exceptions, like in León, where for all their defects the Councils have engaged in political work, in winning people’s hearts and minds. Are we going to keep changing governments and ensuring political strength within the governments, or are we going to change the system and the problems it has caused us? Capitalism lies at the heart of Nicaragua’s problem, and not just “savage” capitalism as they now try to define it. The system itself is what is oppressing the people, and to change that we have to win over people’s minds so they share a focus on the need to change the system and help push in that direction. This is a long-term process and requires great awareness.

The need to organize people
with great political consciousness

The FSLN no longer exists as the political party we knew and that some of us have as a historical reference. That FSLN was pulverized by the market, by personal conduct, by strategic political decisions. What is the FSLN’s big problem right now? Itself, because it’s full of people who aspire to quotas of power rather than to serve, to change people’s reality. Most of them just want to occupy a post and earn a good salary.

The FSLN doesn’t exist institutionally either. Some people have institutional posts, legal representations and the relevant seals and quotas of institutional power, but politically speaking the FSLN doesn’t have an institutional existence. According to the party statutes, the highest FSLN authority is the National Sandinista Council, which has something like 35 members. Have any of you heard about them meeting recently? Then there’s the Sandinista Assembly, which I think has 700 members. When did it last meet? On the lowest institutional level are the departmental, municipal and territorial Sandinista Councils. Do they function as a general rule? If I’m in a party that gets into power, wouldn’t it be reasonable to expect some kind of discussion of what to do with that power as a party? That hasn’t happened.

In order to advance, the government needs to organize people with a high level of consciousness, whether it be in line with the government’s perspective that this is “the second phase of the revolution” or with the perspective of people like myself who consider this to be a transition government. It needs political instruments to reach out to all people, not just Sandinistas. If it doesn’t achieve this it won’t be able to continue.

I don’t think the CPCs satisfy that need yet. It’s not a matter of whether the Right legally abolishes them or not, because the functioning of the CPCs depends on political will. If the President orders his ministers—who are his delegates—to go listen to and obey what the CPCs have to say, then that’s what’s going to happen regardless of what any law might say. That’s a political decision and whether it’s legal or illegal is irrelevant. The Law of Citizens’ Participation also says people have to be taken into account in making certain decisions, but has anyone been taken into account in recent years even though it’s established in the law? It’s political will rather than the legal framework that will determine whether the CPCs are going to have or stop having an influence.

Unfortunately the CPCs aren’t pluralist enough and this is a pluralist society in which we Sandinistas are in the minority. That’s something we still haven’t fully understood. We’re in the minority both electorally and socially. If we want to be the majority then we have to increase people’s consciousness. In social or ideological terms, I think we’ve got around 20%, being optimistic. And in electoral terms we measured 38% in the last elections, although I think this could perhaps have risen to 45% with the votes of people who didn’t vote for the FSLN out of fear rather than anti-Sandinista conviction.

Woking at the base to build a majority

How are we going to change things if we don’t become the majority, if we don’t make progress raising people’s consciousness? In recent years there have been efforts to build other instruments that favor some of the people’s interests, but none have been able to replace the FSLN. The Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS), for example, is not a revolutionary force or an anti-system force. It’s a force of the system and a social democratic one at that in my opinion. So if I want to change the system in Nicaragua, the MRS isn’t going to be any use to me. If I want power to change hands, then it is an option and maybe I could even end up with some kind of post.

But what about the instrument the FSLN used to be? Has it lost validity? I think those four letters still have meaning for people; Sandinistas still gather under the party’s red and black flag. I believe that the FSLN is still the instrument to go with, but it won’t serve to change the system as it is now. It will probably work to win elections, but not to change the system. If we want it to do so we have to change the FSLN. But how are those at the top going to change if the people at the bottom haven’t? I was taught that all changes start at the grass roots. If we want to change the way the government is doing things, we have to get involved, work at the bottom, get our hands dirty, fight for what we believe in.

So you get sidelined, censured, hit with a thousand problems? So what? You have to keep working at the base. I don’t know any other way of doing it. I don’t see any sense in being like a sniper, waiting for the government to make mistakes so you can criticize it. The reality is that we have this government for at least five years and we can improve things. If you get the chance, get involved in the CPCs. And if the secretaries don’t let us participate for whatever reason, let’s make another CPC and see who has more people!

I think the government’s approach based on the idea that we’re in the second stage of the revolution will only lead to errors of analysis and of political measures. I think they need to be less ambitious, more humble, at least aspire to be a good government. That would allow us to accumulate forces, to aspire to working on raising people’s consciousness so we can really open up that new revolutionary arena in the next elections. And none of that is done by decree.

William Grigsby Vado is a journalist, director of Radio La Primerísima and political commentator on its late-night program “Sin Fronteras.”

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