Chilling Similarities Between Ortega and the Somozas
This retired Brigadier General of the Army of Nicaragua
was one of those responsible for several of the FSLN’s
most heroic feats during the struggle against Somoza,
including the taking of Chema Castillo’s house in 1974
and of the National Palace in August 1978.
The following is his vision of the challenges
the Army faces at this difficult time.
In the old days, all armies in Nicaragua bore the seal of the caudillo or party that formed them. That explains why our history is saturated with civil wars between one party and another, traditionally the Conservatives and Liberals. That’s also why the armies were born and died with their particular caudillo. The National Guard we defeated on July 19, 1979, was born with the first Somoza [Anastasio Somoza García] under the wing of the US intervention and died with the last Somoza [his second son, Anastasio Somoza Debayle]. Although the Guard was started with the intention of providing Nicaragua a professional army, Somoza García very soon took it over and stamped it with his personal seal.
A summary of the Somoza dictatorshipThe Somoza dictatorship lasted almost 45 years, prolonging itself by means of a fabric carefully woven by the first dictator. He converted the National Guard into his own praetorian army whose function was to be simultaneously army and police, and also organized shock troops to repress his opponents. Somoza also appropriated the Liberal Party and stamped his own personal seal on it as well, turning it into the Nationalist Liberal Party, which ended up being his family’s own party. Another of his accomplishments was to buy off and subject his political adversary, the Conservative Party, which became popularly known as the “mosquito” party, giving it certain quotas of power until he turned it into his accomplice. Somoza also strengthened relations with most of the Catholic Church hierarchy of the time so they would not challenge his regime. And he managed to politically cancel out private enterprise, giving it business arenas only provided it not get involved in politics. The dictatorship had populist public policies that allowed him to develop a widespread system of political patronage and a social dynamic of corruption, thus planting in the social self-image a corrupt, individualist and opportunistic system of blind obedience and submission to authority. Somoza also enjoyed the backing of the US governments over all those years. Through this fabric, the regime Somoza created controlled everything and stayed in power almost half a century, generating a culture based on perks, blackmail, the subjugating of wills and loss of liberties.
How does this governmentIt is chilling how many similarities exist between the current government of Daniel Ortega and that fabric the Somoza dictatorship managed to weave. Ortega has taken over the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), the party responsible for the revolution, perverting it and turning it into his own family-based party. He has now organized and trained shock troops, which made their public debut in the context of the November 2008 electoral fraud. Through his pact with former President Arnoldo Alemán, Ortega has been turning that caudillo’s Constitutionalist Liberal Party (PLC) into his own “mosquito” party, giving its upper echelons quotas of power that allows him to sell himself as legitimate because he has “opposition,” while at the same time keeping the rest of the opposition political forces divided. His public policies are also based on patronage and seek social control. He’s been unable to control the Catholic Church hierarchy as a whole, but his blackmail efforts in that direction did attract Cardinal Obando, who has become an accomplice of his misdeeds. He has also been maintaining the best of relations with big capital, under the same slogan as Somocismo: “You dedicate yourselves to business and leave politics to me.” Big capital has been perfectly happy to do that. And if that isn’t enough, Ortega is feeding a scandalous messianic personality cult that’s even more exaggerated that the one practiced by the Somozas.
compare to the Somoza dictatorship?
In addition, Ortega has done the same with the whole of the State that he did with the FSLN: privatizing it and turning it into an instrument of his particular interests. All state institutions—the judicial branch, the electoral branch, the Public Prosecutor’s Office, the Office of Human Rights Ombuds¬person—are politically subordinated to his will. Daniel Ortega has achieved greater subordination in the state institutions than the Somozas did, because in Somoza times there was a certain degree of independence in the judicial branch with judges who stood up to Somoza and acted in accordance with the law.
What did Somoza have Is anything still out of Ortega’s control? Yes, a small redoubt consisting of the National Assembly, part of the National Police, and the Army of Nicaragua. What more does Ortega need to completely resemble the Somozas? His own National Guard. Up until now he hasn’t needed it, because he’s used his shock troops to repress the population when it has protested in the streets to demand respect for its civil rights.
that Ortega doesn’t?
While he doesn’t have a National Guard, he hasn’t lacked any desire or effort to turn the National Police and Nicaragua’s Armed Forces into instruments at his service. The very day he took office in 2007 he reminded the army and police chiefs of their Sandinista origins during a speech just after swearing them in, as if some of them were unaware or ashamed of those origins. And he did do so with the clear intention of informing them what the position of the army and police should be with regard to the new government. He reproached them with that, rubbing it in their faces and in the faces of the whole country. Ever since, Ortega hasn’t missed a chance to demonstrate his desire to control both armed institutions, to pervert them by turning them into institutions subordinated to his own political project.
Perverting the National PoliceOrtega has made important progress in the case of the National Police, although it’s true that Arnoldo Alemán started this process of perverting the police institutionality during his presidency. Alemán began influencing leadership rotations in the police force, naming Edwin Cordero as police chief. Cordero was my comrade in the guerrilla forces, but he got ensnared in Alemán’s web, doing a great deal of damage to the police institution. Alemán also forced very professional police cadres out of the ranks even though they hadn’t reached retirement age, including Commissioner Eduardo Cuadra, who was directly in line to head up the police, Commissioner Pedro Aguilar and Commissioner Palacios. Getting rid of these men was a true waste of talent.
I think that marked the start of a problem Ortega has intensified. The fact is that there’s now a sector of the national political class—of which Alemán and Daniel Ortega are the main exponents—that has no national vision, looks no further than the small circle of their own personal and group interests and uses power for personal enrichment, to amass large amounts of capital, thus enabling them to play politics on an ongoing basis.
We still have a good police force in Nicaragua. If we compare it to the other Central American countries it’s still pretty efficient, although we’re increasingly critical of it. The crime resolution rate is higher in Nicaragua than Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, despite the institution’s major material and technical limitations. Yet it hurts me to say it, but I believe that the police force we have today is no better than the one we had five, ten years ago, with respect to its adherence to the Constitution and the law.
Ortega has been manipulating the National Police to unsettle it. Like Alemán, one of his most significant actions has been to rid its ranks of very professional officers who weren’t of retirement age simply because he felt they weren’t backing his political project. He also promoted another group of officers when it wasn’t yet their turn for promotion, placing them in the line of succession for when First Commissioner Aminta Granera finishes her term. Among those promoted was Francisco Díaz, who is now an in-law as Díaz’s daughter married one of Ortega’s sons in January 2010.
The people Ortega promoted ahead of their scheduled time have strained the National Police structures as the law establishes that promotions can’t be made unless there are posts to be filled. In both the army and the police, military rank is the visible face of an officer’s degree of qualification to occupy a given post. A rank corresponds to each post and a higher rank cannot occupy a lower post. Promoting police officers without having any posts for them to fill—because they are already occupied by other officers—creates a conflict within the police force, which has no posts for them within its structures. This presidential discretion has already started to affect the institutional life of our National Police, an institution I greatly appreciate and would hate to see fall apart, because if that happened it would be a loss for all of us.
The creation of the Ortega’s aim in the case of the army has been the same as for the police. Will he succeed? Let’s quickly summarize our army’s history to get an idea of how we would all lose out.
Sandinista Popular Army
The Army of Nicaragua was born out of the Sandinista Popular Army (EPS) and started its institutional life with the triumph of the revolution. Its embryo was the FSLN’s guerrilla and insurrectional columns. We still celebrate September 2 because that’s the day in 1927 when General Augusto Sandino established the Army for the Defense of National Sovereignty that fought against the US intervention in Nicaragua. We’ve taken that day as our own because we also took on Sandino’s ethical, moral and political legacy.
When we triumphed against Somoza’s National Guard, all we knew was how to be guerrilla fighters. But a regular army is quite a different matter. From the beginning, we took on the task of forming what had to be a new army of the Nicaraguan nation, in the knowledge that we were also the armed heart of the revolution.
We started forming the first units of the new army with the support of internationalists from Chile, Argentina and other countries who had certain notions because they had received courses in military academies in the USSR and Cuba. We used this advice to create the first battalions. Then, with military advice mainly from Cuba and later the USSR, we worked on shaping the Sandinista Popular Army, creating units, squads, platoons, companies, battalions, brigades and all the support units: artillery, mortars, anti-air artillery, engineering… We also created the air and naval forces and opened the first military schools in Nicaragua. We sent our officers abroad for training, mainly to Cuba, where we ended up having a military school exclusively for Nicaraguans. We also had a smaller number of officers training in the best Soviet academies and a contingent of pilots studying in Bulgaria and the USSR.
Forced back into combat very soonThat regular army we were establishing so quickly was forced into combat again very soon. Starting in 1980, the remnants of the National Guard that had fled to Honduras were forming what later became the counterrevolution (contras) or Nicaraguan Resistance, which first received advice from the Argentine military and then advice, equipment and direct backing from the US military. The contras eventually became a formidable guerrilla army with around 18,000 armed men and a broad social base in Nicaragua.
Throughout the war the revolutionary government made constant efforts to negotiate with the Reagan government. At one point the gringos told us they wouldn’t attack if we didn’t help the Salvadoran revolutionary movement and supply them with arms. But such a condition was impossible for us in the light of internationalism, of solidarity. In addition, the Salvadorans had given us arms to fight Somoza, and strategically we believed that internationalizing the conflict in Central America, stoking up the armed struggle in El Salvador and Guatemala would make it more difficult for the United States to try to resolve its contradictions with us militarily. We were following Che Guevara’s maxim of “one, two, three Vietnams” to bog down the US troops if they attacked one of our countries.
Things got complicatedThings got more complicated for us because following the revolutionary triumph we didn’t adequately read the economic, political and social model Nicaragua needed. We were novices. We had been guerrilla fighters with a certain amount of political formation, but managing a country was a different matter altogether. We also committed the sin of pride. We didn’t take on the task with humility and couldn’t appropriately interpret the contradictions in Nicaraguan society. We believed that, because most of the population was involved in the fight against the dictatorship and supported the armed struggle led by the FSLN, it gave us carte blanche to develop a model of the country that the people didn’t know about and that we failed to properly define. Although it was novel for us to proclaim the three pillars of that model to be a mixed economy, political pluralism and nonalignment, in practice we were acting in an authoritarian way and gradually rejecting the democratic system.
and we made mistakes
The war increased in intensity and right from the start we were forced to dedicate most of the national budget to dealing with it. That meant putting the brakes on all of the good intentions in our economic and social program, which had started with a magnificent literacy campaign applauded the world over.
Among the many errors we made as novices acting with an absurd paternalism, was to start repeatedly writing off the debts of cooperatives and peasant producers in the countryside. This gradually built up a “nonpayment” mentality and following that a “non-work” mentality, because if you’re going to write off my debts, why bother to work? It got to the point that people in the countryside were working just two or three hours a day arguing that “the poor are in power now.” Those very serious mistakes are being repeated today in Ortega’s government, incredible as that may seem.
There were also tremendous mistakes that affected small- and medium-scale producers, who are in the majority in Nicaragua. In this area a discretionary use of power was permanently expressed, and the FSLN political secretary in any rural district or municipality applied the law as he or she saw fit. That caused major problems. In rural mountainous zones small-scale ranchers with 20 cows and a sheet-metal roof had their properties confiscated because having all that meant they were “rich.” Errors such as this, multiplied across the country, generated a great deal of dissent and resentment, which translated into thousands of peasants joining the counterrevolutionary ranks. When we realized what was happening, it was already too late. Some of us never realized, some never learned, including Daniel Ortega, who has learned nothing at all.
Military service, the threat of US invasionI’d go as far as to say that from 1983-1984 the war was expressed as a war between the countryside and the city. The contra ranks mainly consisted of peasants, while those of the Sandinista Popular Army were largely urban residents. Even though we did have many thousands of peasants with us, most of our troops came from the urban centers, particularly after the Patriotic Military Service Law was passed in 1983 and young people began to swell the ranks.
and ending up in the Soviet camp
We had to form a large, permanent army capable of repelling the counterrevolutionary attack and a possible US invasion. During those years we lived with the threat of being invaded by US troops. The Reagan government prepared over 100,000 of its troops during ongoing exercises and maneuvers in Honduras. All of the units currently in Iraq and the one that took the airport in Haiti after the earthquake—the 82nd Airborne Division—prepared for an eventual invasion of Nicaragua. The 101st Air Assault Division, the 24th Mechanized Infantry Division and the 7th Rangers Regiment, among the military units I can remember, prepared to invade us. They couldn’t do so because the Reagan government never found the political space either internationally or in the United States to pull off the operation. The Nicaraguan revolution had a great deal of sympathy in the world, even in the USA. And we also had the great umbrella of the Soviet Union, which still existed at the time. Although initially we hadn’t wanted to, we ended up in the Soviet camp during those times of East-West conflict.
To equip our army we sought—and found—cooperation from the USSR. All the armaments came from the USSR, and still do. Having a regular army meant acquiring all kinds of weapons for a regular war. And given the characteristics of the counterrevolutionary war, we also always had irregular units for the guerrilla conflict, including irregular combat battalions and light hunting battalions, known respectivelyas BLIs and BLCs.
The conflict of the eighties was very intense and was magnified by the Reagan government’s support. US intelligence planes flew over Nicaragua on a daily basis. The most famous was the Blackbird, the SR-71, which is now outdated and is confined to US museums. It was a radio-electronic reconnaissance plane. They had it fly over Nicaragua at a lower altitude than normal so we could hear its thunder when it broke the sound barrier; that scheme was designed to terrify us as part of the psychological war. By the time we heard its sonic boom, it was no longer over Nicaragua, because it flew at 2,500 kilometers per hour. In each fly-over it photographed every part of Nicaraguan territory, so the United States knew exactly where we had our tank units, our artillery. They knew everything; they had the Nicaragua theater of operations all mapped out and provided that information to the contras.
Electoral defeat accelerates The main political characteristic of the revolutionary decade was the identification between the State, the party and the army, to which we could add the unions and many other etceteras. Even before the 1990 electoral defeat, we in the army command were talking about the appropriateness of transforming the Sandinista Popular Army into a professional army, separating it from the FSLN even if it would always be the army of the revolution. This process drastically accelerated following the defeat at the ballot box.
the army’s transformation
Although a Transition Protocol was signed between the government of Violeta Chamorro and the FSLN to guarantee a climate of security and ensure the least traumatic handover possible to the new regime, there were people who urged the new President to dismiss Humberto Ortega as head of the army and dissolve the EPS. Luckily the more reasonable positions on both sides of the divide held sway. It wasn’t possible for Humberto to leave the army until we had made it more cohesive.
Under Violeta Chamorro a plan was designed to reduce the army, which had grown to up to 100,000 men, including permanent professional units, voluntary reserve units and militia units. The retooling process was very hard. The reduction plan covered a five-year time period, but we did it in two and a half, preferring to implement it quickly. It was a brutal reduction that left the army first with 14,500 men, and finally with 12,200, the number we have today, making it the smallest army in Central America.
The reduction was traumatic. We left over 10,000 officers in the street with no social security benefits. I had officers who begged me not to be laid off, who said they had dreamed of being soldiers all their life. They were also hitting the streets in the worst possible conditions, in a politically polarized country with a destroyed economy. We sold part of our weapons to Peru and Ecuador, which had a conflict in their Amazonian zone. We sold the six MI 25 combat helicopters to Peru and our artillery to Ecuador, including the famous Katiushas (BM-21) and used the money from those sales to create a fund to ensure the social reinsertion of the thousands of officers who were going to be retired and to create seed capital for the Military Social Prevision Institute, the army’s social security fund, because the government didn’t have the capacity to contribute anything and I don’t think it had the political will to do so either.
Our international negotiations to provide backing for the retirement of so many soldiers didn’t provide the results we were looking for. Only the Spanish government responded; it contributed about US$5 million, which wasn’t enough because the retirement plan cost around $18 million, even with small amounts of compensation that provided a minimum of six months’ salary for the most recent officers and 36 months’ salary for those with the most seniority. Norway gave us $1.15 million for month-and-a-half micro-business training courses for retiring officers and also provided each one $1,000 to start up their own small business. But nobody started anything with that money, because they used it to pay off debts and it disappeared almost as soon as they received it. The government did give us a number of coffee and other agricultural farms, as well as cattle ranches, to share out among some of the officers, but we were only able to benefit about 1,500 officers with them. Depending on the size, we divvied the farms up among two to six officers. Most of those farms are no longer in their hands as they were forced to sell them because they didn’t know how to work them or didn’t have the financing to make them produce.
We passed from the reduction to an accelerated professionalization and institutionalization process for the birth of the new Army of Nicaragua. We rapidly turned ourselves into the army we’d never had, a professional, non-party, non-deliberative army that adheres to the Constitution and the law. And that’s the army Ortega is trying to control. So how does he plan to do it?
How Ortega is working to The fact that the army is a permanent state institution should give it more strength to resist. But tin-pot tyrants like Ortega have an arsenal of resources to try to undermine an institution: flattery, hugs, favors, buddy relations, pressure, blackmail, business opportunities… They work on officers like ours who they can co-opt through all these mechanisms, reminding them of their origins, playing on their sentiments, compromising them in complicated and delicate situations, favoring them in some business deal, seizing upon some indiscretion to blackmail them, or turning a blind eye when an indiscretion is uncovered.
bring the army under his control?
There are no scruples when it comes to employing these resources. At some point the recipients cross the ethical line, maybe out of political survival at first, and as it produces good results they repeat it again and again, until there comes a moment when, having erased the line altogether, they start to justify themselves, as if in an existential need to deceive themselves about what they were doing.
The army’s best defense is strict adherence to the Constitution and the law. And the best way of caring for and defending this institution is by being critical of it: being permanently critical when it’s acting outside of its constitutional mandate, refusing to tolerate it at all if that happens. Because we have no doubt at all that Daniel Ortega is going to gradually try to get it out of that framework, to influence the army and drag it over to his camp.
How will he do it? His strategy has always been to bulldoze people, pushing you and pushing you and pushing you… seeing how far you’ll let him go. If you manage to stop him on a certain point, he’ll negotiate around it or re-jig things, but he won’t backpedal. That’s what he does with his political adversaries. And that’s what he’s doing now in an effort to subjugate the army, to control it, albeit in a less ostensible way.
He hasn’t named a defense minister in three years. The Defense Ministry was created to provide a clearer idea of the military institution’s subordination to civilian power. But Daniel Ortega didn’t respect that and named Ruth Tapia as a general secretary with ministerial rank, which is absurd. That lady is running a tiny institution and doing next to nothing. Ortega did this because he wants—it’s in his interest—to have a direct relationship with and influence over the army.
Laying the groundwork Since then, he’s been subjecting the army to minor tests that don’t appear to put its legality at risk, but do prepare the ground for introducing increasingly bigger tests. He’s put the army in uncomfortable situations. For example, in April 2008, Ortega “hired” an army aircraft to bring to our country the girls who survived the Colombian attack on a FARC guerrilla camp in Ecuador, exposing the army to a delicate international conflict. And what did the head of the army do in response? Did he contradict the President? That could have led him to be accused of insubordination and fired. Did he complain and say that what he did wasn’t legal and thus call the army’s institutionality into question?
with a series of minor tests
Then there were other events, such as the entry of the Russian navy into Nicaraguan territorial waters without authorization from the National Assembly, and the sending of a Nicaraguan military brigade to Haiti following the earthquake there, which is totally justified and laudable, but was also done without getting National Assembly authorization or even consulting it as required by law. What would it have cost to consult the Assembly? Who would have said no? But Ortega is doing all this because he wants to make it quite clear that institutionality means less than nothing to him and he prefers to impose his will.
The latest thing Ortega did was along the same lines. During a brief meeting on December 3, he talked of the need to extend the periods served by army officers, so that qualified ones who still aren’t old enough to retire can continue contributing to the institution. And he said that after having sent into the street qualified National Police officers who weren’t even scheduled to retire and could have contributed greatly to that institution!
That day Ortega proposed the need to make the time periods for people to remain in the army more flexible. A military career lasts 30 years and when that period is up, an officer could be in his or her fifties. Should they be sent out onto the streets at that age? There’s an objective fact here: people in the police or army are required to have a high degree of very particular specialties that civilians can’t provide, so sending them out into the street can only be a waste for the institution and the country, after having invested so much in them. And the higher the rank of the retiring officer, the greater the competition to take over that post, so that person’s capacities have been more highly evaluated and better qualified.
All this means that Ortega’s proposal has a certain amount of reason, but coming from him we’re justified in having reservations and asking ourselves why he’s doing it. Is he interested in certain officers remaining in their posts longer than the law dictates? Only days later, it was announced that army regulations guiding military careers, ranks and time scales had been reformed, which only increased suspicions. Ortega’s proposal was implemented and the military career will now be 35 years “if the institution deems it necessary.” Why did Ortega announce it first and the army complied with it afterwards? Any suspicions are justified and indeed heightened by the fact that a few days later the National Police implemented the same flexibilization policy on presidential orders, extending the time scales to guarantee longer stays in their posts for certain officers.
The position of the new army chiefWe have to trust that the new Army Commander-in-Chief, Major General Julio César Avilés, will stay firm, although I have to confess that it surprised and even frightened me to hear him on November 21, during his first statements after being named by the President, thank both the President of the Republic “and compañera Rosario” [First Lady Rosario Murillo] for choosing him. It’s understandable that he should mention the President, who’s the Supreme Chief of the Armed Forces, by why on earth mention “compañera Rosario”? Was it a mental lapsus? Would someone who didn’t fully identify with the presidential couple say such a thing? I hope that, even given such identification, he’ll adhere to the Constitution and the law. Only if he does will he be complying with his mandate.
I know Major General Avilés. He’s from the old generation that founded our army. He’s a highly qualified cadre professionally speaking, with enormous military experience, as is General Ramón Calderón Vindell, who could also have been named. I also believe Avilés is very well trained for his new post. But could his probable identification with Daniel Ortega’s political project endanger the army’s independence? Only time will tell. I trust that conviction about the need for strict adherence to the Constitution and law has penetrated deeply enough among the current generation of officers, particularly the most senior ones, to stop the army’s mandate from being diverted in the next five years of Avilés’ own mandate. Of course Ortega’s attempts to divert them will continue and even become more intense if Ortega gets another five-year term in power in 2011.
Ortega’s project and The Constitution and laws have no value to caudillos such as Ortega, who think their will can get them everything and their own desires determine what’s good and bad for their subjects and for citizens. They don’t believe in the democratic system: they just use it to get into power. That’s the only way to explain the impressive list of arbitrary acts Ortega has committed to ensure the continuity of his political project.
his brother’s warning
Ortega’s project is to remain in power for at least the next 20 years, according to what they say in internal meetings. That project is moving forward because the opposition is fragmented and penetrated by Ortega’s accomplice, Arnoldo Alemán. It’s an indefinable project because it merely expresses Ortega’s authoritarian and dictatorial vocation. He can’t envision himself not in power or not heading the FSLN. He can’t even envision giving power to Rosario Murillo, because although she currently has a lot of it, it’s still Ortega who calls the shots, among other reasons because Rosario Murillo has no influence over the FSLN rank and file and has generated contradictions in all the pro-Ortega ranks.
We’re in the presence of a regime with a clearly dictatorial vocation and you’d have to be blind not to see it. Daniel Ortega has gone out of his way to open our eyes every day with what he’s doing. General Humberto Ortega is an important personality in the army’s life who still makes sudden appearances, like Halley’s Comet. He led the army during the war, making great contributions to the military strategy; he headed up the building of the new army; he knew how to honor his commitment to put it on the institutionalization path; and he knew how to retire at the right moment. He recently expressed serious concerns about the path this government is taking, even calling on the population to demonstrate its opposition in the streets. The fact is that the actions of Daniel Ortega and his group are so starkly obvious that it’s hard not to see what’s happening. Humberto Ortega currently has very little influence in the army, but knowing where he comes from and his history, he attracts attention and leads to reflection even in FSLN ranks when he talks. So to this extent it could help people open their eyes.
There are certainly still many people who remain in the FSLN out of good faith, because they believe that today’s FSLN is the same FSLN that brought about the revolution and also believe that despite all his defects Daniel Ortega is still a revolutionary leader. It’s an existential matter, based on the fear of losing one’s identity or feeling orphaned. It’s never easy to abandon a party, a church, a profession in which you’ve spent a large part of your life; doing so triggers a kind of mourning.
Civil society, not the army, should halt Ortega Is there any corruption in the army? There’s an image of two armies in Nicaragua: the one that provides aid during disasters and the one led by the business generals. I think we should feel proud of our army, which is so different from those in the rest of Central America that are repressive, human rights violators and—in the recent past—even criminal. But this doesn’t mean we don’t have to watch closely to make sure it doesn’t fall into the temptation of detouring from the constitutional mandate. When it starts getting involved in business dealings and spending more time dedicated to those dealings than to its real duties, it runs the risk of neglecting its professional nature and getting caught in a conflict of interests. Like any citizens, officers have the right to conduct economic and financial activities, but mustn’t take advantage of their posts and influence to do so. Just as we have to put the brakes on Ortega’s dictatorial pretensions, we also have to keep a look out on the army and denounce any abuse committed by its officers and soldiers, without letting a single one slip through the net. All of today’s opinion polls show that citizens consider the army to be the country’s most trustworthy and beloved institution, and the best way of loving and protecting it is by being critical of it.
Some people are banking on the army to lead a coup against Ortega’s excesses. When politicians don’t manage to resolve their contradictions they always turn their attention to armies, which is a mistake. We have to leave that task to politicians and expect civil society to get involved as a frontline actor, as it has been becoming lately. And if we can see the danger this government is exposing Nicaragua to, we have to expect all political, social, trade association and religious actors to join forces and energies to resolve this contradiction through political channels. Calling for army participation is dangerous and has caused great tragedies in Latin American history. The army could not remain impassive if Nicaragua was on the verge of collapse or a civil war, but meantime, we can’t ask it to resolve what we couldn’t.
We’re in a very difficult time. We have to focus our efforts on trying to establish a broad front to try to block Daniel Ortega’s way in 2011. But it can’t be just any old front, with anyone involved and based on just any old plan, because we can’t accept what used to be said in Somoza’s times: “After Somoza, anything.” We can’t accept just any old thing after Ortega. The challenge to establish a real democracy with social justice in our country demands much more than that.
Hugo Torres is currently an alternate legislative representative of the Sandinista Renovation Movement.