Insecurities in the region’ssafest country
How can Nicaragua be Central America’s “safest country”
and still breed the insecurity we’re currently experiencing?
The growing fear, which is just another name for insecurity,
is fed by the omnipresent social control.
There’s a feeling of insecurity among the peasants
living with armed groups or resisting the canal project;
the geopolitical alignments in foreign policy
are triggering speculations that spark fear;
and although the aim is to provide security,
the official secrecy on issues of national concern
ignores the fact that disinformation also provokes insecurity.
Two current realities are causing major insecurity among the peasant populations of various rural areas. In the north, it’s the government’s militarization and repression in response the presence of armed groups and in the south it’s the eviction and expropriation threatening the residents of numerous communities due to the Grand Interoceanic Canal and its associated mega¬projects.
Armed groups There is increasing talk in personal conversations or fragmented news clips of politically motivated armed groups mobilizing in different parts of the country’s northern and Caribbean regions and enjoying the support of the local population. The bishops of Estelí, Matagalpa, Jinotega and Managua have been talking about this since 2009, informed first hand by their congregations. The government and the Army, in contrast, have steadfastly insisted they are nothing but common criminals.
In last year’s September issue of envío, Roberto Orozco, an expert on security issues, asked the following: “Aren’t they a natural reaction to the politicization of the institutions?... The objectives of the current armed groups aren’t those of common criminals. All the acts they’ve committed have a political message…. They say in their communications that they’ve taken up arms because of this govern¬ment’s violation of the Constitution and the laws; Daniel Ortega’s re-election and intention to remain in power forever; the electoral frauds; the political violence exercised in the countryside by FSLN sympathizers allegedly supported by the National Police; the closure of political spaces… What are these reasons if not political?”
For years the media have been reporting skirmishes by these groups against the Army, attacks on police stations, communiqués denouncing murders of their leaders that always go unpunished…
On January 20, 2015, an incident occurred that attracted special attention, generating particular concern and even greater fear and speculation. As usual, the government has cloaked it in disinformation. A Nicaraguan Human Rights Center (CENIDH) report documented the details, which were further expanded afterward with the account a survivor personally gave to the bishop of Estelí, Abelardo Mata.
DeathsThat afternoon, on hilly farmland in the community of El Portal, municipality of Pantasma, department of Jinotega, a small group of four rearmed men opened a backpack they had received from someone who said it contained mobile phones and flashlights. They knew the person but didn’t know he was collaborating with the government. When the men opened the backpack, a bomb inside was activated by remote control, blowing two of the four to pieces and injuring the other two. One of the wounded men escaped and managed to speak with Bishop Mata.
Within minutes some 20 soldiers showed up, shooting wildly. They finished off the other wounded man then tortured and killed the peasant who owned the farm when he and his two sons arrived at the site after hearing the explosion. One of his sons was wounded, taken prisoner and interrogated by the police for hours about his links “to armed groups.”
Army and police personnel then cordoned off the zone and removed the remains of the bodies. Although all these military movements took place in full view of the community, the Army denied having ever been in the area and the Police, without presenting evidence of any investigation, stated definitively that it was all a settling of scores between two groups of marijuana traffickers.
On January 24, relatives of the victims and local inhabitants from El Portal went to the CENIDH offices in Managua, where they blamed the Army for everything that had happened and begged that it “stop killing peasants.”
DenialThe CENIDH report, based on more than 20 testimonies and interviews, confirms the Army’s responsibility, concluding that “these extremely serious events demonstrate the use of military intelligence for illicit purposes in operations conceptually considered state terrorism, which consists of a government using illegitimate methods designed to induce fear or terror in the civilian population to achieve its objectives.”
The backpack bomb is the third bloody event the Army has unleashed in Pantasma in its persecution of the armed groups. It follows the killing of one civilian in Anisales and another in Tamalaque, also documented by CENIDH and also blamed on the Army by those communities.
The Army’s inspector general, Major General Adolfo Zepeda, rejected CENIDH’s version as presenting conclusions that “do not contribute to the country’s institu¬tionality.” Using very harsh words, he also disparaged the human rights organization itself, claiming it’s made up of “people incapable” of doing investigations. It’s the first time disqualifying declarations have been made against CENIDH for holding the Army responsible for crimes it may have committed.
A lot of fearThe bishop of Jinotega, Franciscan friar Carlos Enrique Herrera, also called the event in Pantasma “an act of terror,” adding that “we cannot deny the existence of the rearmed groups; we are in a situation of uncertainty and distrust because things are happening and are not being given their real name. People are really afraid.”
The vicar general of the diocese of Jinotega, Father Elear Pineda, who doesn’t mince words, recently said in his homily, “I remember when Arnoldo Alemán was selling eggs and Daniel Ortega had nothing in 1979, and now they and many more are millionaires. Where does so much money come from while the people are suffering the high cost of living?” After the bomb crime, he said he’s being threatened, but is not afraid. He did, however, refer to the fear the militarization in the northern mountains is provoking in the communities. “In El Portal,” he said, “people are living as though in a state of siege, extremely fearful. Pantasma is a time bomb.”
ImpositionIf there is one place in the north, the setting of the eighties war, with the potential to be a time bomb it’sPantasma. It was very near there that the peasants’ armed movement against the revolutionary government first started, only months after the overthrow of Somoza. Pantasma is one of the places where revolutionary government atrocities—not just the fruit of perverse personal decisions but more institutional ones than it wants to admit today—were most looked into and documented internationally.
That may be why President Ortega didn’t dare alter the results of the 2012 municipal elections there. Nonetheless, family members of Gerardo de Jesús Gutiérrez, alias “El Flaco,” one of the farmers most persecuted by the Army in the nearby municipality of Wiwilí, say the fraud organized in that municipality to ensure the ruling party the mayoral post was what motivated him to take up arms against the government. Already wounded once, he remains at the head of a rearmed group.
AngélicaFauné, sociologist and researcher of the Nicaraguan peasantry’s historical memory, offered the following reflection in the May 2014 issue of envío: “Sandinista imposition still perturbs the Nicaraguan peasants. Worse yet, the government has now imposed FSLN mayors in those same areas of resistance. They previously had Liberal mayors they recognized and had elected at least until 2008 and in some cases 2012. Now they don’t even have that. The old Resistance leaders of the eighties still don’t recognize that hegemony, because they are convinced they won the war of the eighties, or at least took it to a draw. At a minimum they know the FSLN lost politically and is now governing via electoral frauds.”
Resistance For Father Elear Pineda, “the question of the canal is another time bomb that is also going to blow up.”
The peasant resistance against the construction of the interoceanic canal along its announced route has not waned; it remains massive, decided and firm. From September of last year through this February, there were 32 marches of peasant communities and districts against the canal.
One of the most symbolic was number 25, on February 9, the day the new school year opened, when hundreds of boys and girls from El Tule, department of Río San Juan, marched with their mothers to say no to the canal and no to the sale of their family’s lands. They also announced they will not attend school in protest against the presence of military and police in their communities and even in the classrooms. As El Tule has been the site of several marches, its residents are proclaiming it “the capital of the anti-canal struggle.” In the early hours of Christmas Eve last year, it also suffered the most violent governmental repression against the anti-canal movement.
Similar children’s marches were held in San Miguelito, also in the department of Río San Juan, and La Fonseca, in the municipality of Nueva Guinea. Thousands of families participated in the most recent and one of the largest marches, number 33, on March 1 in Punta Gorda, that far-flung corner of Nicaragua that is the site of the canal’s Caribbean entrance and legally territory belonging to the Rama indigenous and Kriol peoples.
Anxiety The government’s irresponsible failure to provide any information to the thousands of peasant families that face eviction and expropriation to allow construction of the canal or the sub-projects associated with it is only part of what is making that time bomb tick. It’s significantly aggravated by the government’s indifference to what they’re shouting in those marches, the censuses being conducted with the subterfuge of using medical brigades, and the measurements Chinese technicians have been taking of people’s land without providing any explanations. These gross expressions of disrespect for the country’s population have created a climate of major anxiety and insecurity, not to mention indignation.
Virtually no progress has been made on the canal project for weeks. This uncertain and prolonged prologue to the project is keeping alive the question asked back at the beginning, when the passage of the law and signing of the contract had all the quality of some maneuver by the Red Queen: Will there really be a canal or not?
As rumors of all kinds began to fill the vacuum left by the lack of information and some people began looking more carefully at the language of both the canal’s law and its contract, more and more questions surfaced: Does the canal have commercial objectives or only geopolitical ones? Is this just a massive money laundering opportunity? Or perhaps a massive land grab?
When a panel of international experts met in November 2014 at Managua’s Central American University to discuss scientific and social aspects of the canal project, Anthony Clayton, ALCAN professor of Caribbean Sustainable Development at Jamaica’s University of the West Indies, gave credence to the more cynical rumors. Clayton said he had consulted all available international information on shipping traffic, and in 80% of it the canal project was either not mentioned at all or presented as “making no commercial sense.” He added that this mega-project could be taken advantage of by illegal businesses linked to organized crime, making it a serious security problem for Nicaragua.
Uncertainty Lacking a viable commercial rational and as yet any public studies of its financial viability or news of who will be investing in it, a number of possible objectives began to take hold in the mind of all but Daniel Ortega’s most devout followers. The most fanciful is that it is merely a fantasy, part of an image-building operation to guarantee Ortega’s reelection in 2016, while the most cynical is that it’s a speculative project that will never come about but will serve as justification for the Chinese company, in partnership with the group in power, to take control of lands with high tourist potential. In between those two extremes is the more sophisticated concern that it’s a geopolitical enclave that will serve the interests of China’s government.
The latter idea was dealt a bit of a blow by the first ministerial forum between China and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), held in Beijing on January 8-9, 2015), at which China’s President Xi Jinping listed his government’s investments in Latin America for the next five years. While the list totals US$250 billion and includes huge infrastructure works, Nicaragua is not represented and not a single word was mentioned about the canal, even though its construction had been “inaugurated” only days earlier at the backwater seacoast community of Brito, site of the supposed canal’s Pacific deep water port.
While in China, Costa Rican President Solís assured his country’s newspaper La Nación in a telephone interview that the People’s Republic of China is not behind the canal project: “The topic was not on the agenda, but I have seen repeated Chinese government opinions in various media that it has nothing to do with the canal, and I believe them.” Meanwhile, Laureano Ortega, the President’s son and his govern¬ment’s principal liaison to Chinese businessman Wang Jing for the Canal, led a technically unrelated visit to China by a Nicaraguan delegation the week prior to the summit, which received little media coverage.
A lot of rhetoric Could the canal be a project Russia is hoping to take advantage of in its geopolitical conflict with the United States?
Russia’s Minister of Defense SergueiShoigu came to Nicaragua in February, after first visiting Cuba and Venezuela. Timed to coincide with his junket, Vladimir Yevseyev, director of the Russian government’s Public and Political Studies Center, made declarations to Pravda, the official daily newspaper, stressing the importance that a canal through Nicaragua would have for Russia. “Russia will be able to guarantee nuclear dissuasion, given that the Russian Navy (which would pass through the canal) has long-range Cruise missiles. If Russian ships are deployed somewhere near Cuban territory, Russia will be capable of attacking the United States…”
Yevseyev also expressed the geopolitical meaning the canal would have for the Nicaraguan government. “It is evident that Nicaragua cannot stand up against the United States. But if Russia and China are there to lobby for Nicaragua’s interests, then that country can feel more independent.”
Are these declarations just the saber-rattling rhetoric of a rash official? Or is Russia, which is going through a profound economic crisis, behind all of this, prioritizing the rebirth of its military might to negotiate its borders in Europe with the US and thus again occupy an important role on the world chess board?
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister SergueiRyabkov attempted to re-sheathe the saber, playing down what he called “media myths” about Russia’s participation in the construction of the Nicaraguan canal and arguing that “there is too much speculation” about this issue. He did, however, admit that Russian government bodies, builders, surveyors and cartographers are analyzing the technical and economic aspects of that “great unprecedented infrastructure project.” In his view, President Ortega’s political will, the organizational base Ortega has created in Nicaragua in recent years and the contract conditions provide assurances that the project will move to “the execution phase.” In May last year, Ryabkov had declared that “with our Nicaraguan colleagues we have discussed this project on repeated occasions and are seeking the most appropriate ways in which Russia could cooperate.”
A new arms race? During his visit to Nicaragua, Defense Minister Shoigu signed an agreement to train Nicaraguan military specialists in Russian universities. According to Pravda, “the armed forces of Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela are being technically and mentally subjected to Russia and that marks a return to the Soviet system of allied military cooperation between Russia and Latin America.”
Shoigu’s visit to Nicaragua occurred two days after Major General Adolfo Zepeda reported that Nicara¬gua’s Army was negotiating to obtain “long-range interceptor” planes to combat drug trafficking. Although Zepeda did not say which planes he was referring to, his comment triggered speculation that they could be Russian-made MIG-29s. Lacking any clear confirmation or denial of what planes will be bought, the speculations stoked still more insecurity and worry.
If they are MiG-29s, they are expensive: some US$30 million each. As they are combat planes they would alter the “reasonable balance of forces” agreed to among the Central American countries. And according to military experts, they aren’t actually appropriate for the anti-drug struggle. Retired Army Major Roberto Samcam argued that it would be more effective to buy speedboats to improve naval resources because “the main route of cocaine today is still by sea: it’s going from Apure and Sulia in Venezuela to the Honduran Moskitia.”
Former Foreign Minister Francisco Aguirre Sacasa doubted that the MiGswould actually be bought due to geopolitical reasons: “Let’s remember that during the eighties the possible acquisition of MiG fighter planes by Nicaragua stirred up a hornet’s nest in Washington. And now that Washington-Moscow relations are tense again, Nicaragua would have nothing to gain. It would put us back in Congress’ sights and would further chill relations with our main socio-commercial partner and the world’s only superpower… I don’t believe there will be any MiG-29s, just as there won’t be any Wang Jing canal.”
Speculations Nicaragua is rife with speculations these days. And in a country in which for seven years and two months neither the President nor Rosario Murillo, his wife and communication secretary, has held a single press conference to clear up issues such as this, the speculation feeds into the feeling of insecurity.
Will the alignment with Russia and the announcement of the purchase of Russian combat planes turn out to be real or are they only fantasies of President Ortega’s mental geopolitics, still anchored in the eighties and in the historical memory of the despicable US role in this country over a very long time? Is Putin taking advantage of Ortega or is it the other way around, with the MiGs and the outmoded closeness to Putin’s Russia providing a bargaining chip to help Ortega get a possible future Republican government in the United States to ignore any fraud used to insure his third reelection in 2016?
Will there be fraud? The phantom of fraud haunting Nicaragua is another reason for the insecurity. We’ve seen no sign whatever to suggest that it won’t happen again. There are no indications that Ortega plans any changes in the electoral branch of government, now totally aligned to and under the control of the governing party apparatus that organizes everything before, during and after the elections.
Ortega has also lined up several political parties that are willing to give these elections the image of pluralism and competition, and he’ll keep creating others with a Liberal identity and/or a religious profile, as shown by the launching in late February of the presidential pre-candidacy of Assemblies of God pastor SaturninoCerrato, whose Evangelical denomination, at roughly half a million faithful, has the largest following in the country.
On February 25, Cerrato became the first to throw his hat into the ring for the November 16 elections as leader of the New Christian Alliance Party (PANAC), having previously resigned his post as national superintendent of the Assemblies of God. He has been waiting since December 2013 for the Supreme Electoral Council to grant it legal status as a political party. In his first speech as a pre-candidate, at an event held in a Managua hotel, he only said, “I am here as a son of God and as a son of this land that saw me born.” He made no other religious allusion or invocation, so common in the speeches of almost all the country’s politicians these days.
But he made up for it in an interview with El Nuevo Diario that appeared on October 21, 2014, in response to a question of whether he intended to be “a prophet in the presidency.” “We Christians have abandoned different fields of the human mission and that’s why the devil has taken possession,” he said. “We Christians have abandoned sports, the movies, politics and that has given the devil free space to take possession and that’s why there’s all the graft and corruption in sports, politics and everything else.”
Media control The official secrecy, skewed information or utter silence on issues of importance to the country also provoke insecurity. In January, the purchase of Channel 2, one of the country’s most powerful TV stations, by Mexican-born Ángel Gon¬zález, owner of the Latin American media network Albavisión, further concentrated the national media in the hands of González and his business associate, Nicaragua’s presidential family.
González, nicknamed “Ghost” presumably due to the range of phantom companies run by local relatives, friends and stand-ins,” is known to own nearly 30 TV stations and more than 80 AM and FM radio stations in Latin America and is rumored to be worth at least US$2 billion. In 2013 he became the major stockholder of Channel 2, which for many years set the bar for quality news coverage, and now he’s its sole owner.
According to media researchers Rick Rockwell and Noreene Janus, González’s own political position is conservative, but he largely keeps it to himself, preferring to cooperate with the host country governments. They particularly point to the modification of the editorial lines of his stations in Guatemala and Nicaragua in order to please their respective governments. As part of that strategy he has turned over Channel 2’s informative spaces to Murillo.
In response to González’s outright purchase of Channel 2, Estelí’s Bishop Abelardo Mata lamented the concentration of media. “A critical voice is always healthy,” he said, “so that there will be a clean exercise of authority and to maintain a dialogue with the different sectors of the country.” Mata wasn’t the only bishop to speak out on the issue. Matagalpa’s Rolando Álvarezremarked that “freedom of expression has been wronged,” referring to the business interests that also control the media, silence denunciations, hide problems and censor information: “When I have issued declarations about the mining exploitation in Rancho Grande,” few media, specifically only two, have echoed that predicament. The problem of media control isn’t a result only of politics, but also of economic interests.”
The Ortega-Murillo family now owns four TV channels in partnership with González and has turned the state-owned channel into a party medium. They also have an ever-growing national radio network as well as local radio and TV stations. All these pro-government media, which for the first years of the Ortega administration were called “Citizens’ power media,” have now been dubbed “family and community power media,” which is an ironic cliché on many levels given that this vast media control and power is tightly in the hands of only one family.
The Ortega-Murillo governing couple’s control of TELCOR, the state institution that regulates communications, permits them and their “ghost” partner to buy up new frequencies with no difficulty. Similar strategies are being employed today in other countries of 21st-century socialism, where the censorship or confiscation once conducted by dictatorships has been replaced by the idea of buying up media, as that legitimizes accumulation in the hegemonic market system. In short, the 21st century Left is playing the system rather than trying to destroy it.
Single thinking With some variations in their programming, the González–Ortega Murillo pro-government media foster “single thinking” in the sense that Herbert Marcuse gave that concept: a universe of discourse populated by self-validating hypotheses which, incessantly and monopolistically repeated, become hypnotic definitions of dictations.
Some of those media adhere to the most unmitigated philosophy of “if it bleeds it leads,” and also foster machismo, homophobia and even disparagement of the poor. Others are dominated by documentaries that display Nicaragua’s natural beauties, repeatedly presenting the country as “blessed, beautiful and always free,” while still others specialize in trivial programs with a youth profile. But all of them permanently present both government propaganda and a skewed interpretation of the nation’s history.
The news spaces never touch on social conflicts, or only do so anecdotally, unless of course the presidential family has a particular interest in highlighting something. Religious events get privileged coverage, and a lot of time is also given to presenting the grateful words of poor people benefited by the government’s social programs. The ads are provided by the increasingly numerous firms being created or bought up by members of the FSLN business group.
Silences The country’s major issues and their causes—massive emigration, an econo¬my sustained by remittances sent home by our migrants, the most notorious cases of government corruption, the poor quality of the public education model, the disasters caused by foreign mining companies, the murky management of Venezuelan cooperation and the canal project, the government’s questionable energy policy (dealt with in detail by expert Fernando Bárcenas in the Speaking Out section of this issue)—never appear in the official media. The only thing stressed about some of these issues is the insistent official propaganda the government employs to build myths about its “successful” administration. Everything we learn about such major issues silenced by the duopoly comes from the increasingly fewer media still beyond the reach of this octopus’s tentacles.
Conformism? In a world like today’s, when the “civilization of the spectacle”—as Peru’s Vargas Llosa dubbed it in his book of the same name—has come to dominate all fields of life, the duopoly and its contents have had undeniable success in promoting a certain social indolence. Between soap operas, contests, promotions, ads, music, endlessly repetitive political propaganda and other “reality” shows, it’s hard for the tried and tested see–judge–act methodology to function with the same velocity and efficacy.
As in many other aspects, however, the real Nicaragua doesn’t square with the official one, the media duopoly’s country. But in this case the reality is right there to be seen. It’s visible, no matter what the official media would like us to see. Bad examples, bad treatment and inequalities are seen and felt, and are judged increasingly critically even by sympathizers of the governing party. And anything that isn’t visible and felt personally reaches people through rumor so that very soon everybody who’s not willfully disengaged knows what’s happening and is talking about it with trusted friends, so it slowly but surely starts moving people from inertia to indignation, and surely one day to action.
And action is what we’re already seeing in northern and southern areas of the country, among the peasants, who are using cell phones as a valuable means of communication in their efforts to resist the canal, mining or military control. “We do it with this little apparatus, this cell phone,” Petronilo López of Rancho Grande, Matagalpa, told envío. “That’s how we in the Guardians of Yaoska work, and in a day we have the whole town gathered together.” In that case, they come together to resist the open-pit gold mining that the Canadian B2Gold company wants to impose in their pretty and unscarred community.
Fear about the future Media control is a government priority that reveals its fear of debate, criticism and even pluralism. Buying up more and more media shows that it needs more and more tools to impose itself as an omnipresent power. In such an environment, the accumulated disin-formation, excessive propaganda and skewed news provoke even more uncertainty and insecurity. What’s really going on? What’s going to happen? And how is what is or isn’t happening going to affect me?
In the most recent of the quarterly national polls by the Nicaraguan firm M&R Consultores, done between December 13 and 29, one of the most noticeable answers was to a question about people’s attitude when political issues come up in conversation—with the inference that the issues are about problems in the country that the official media silence. Only 19.4% of those surveyed said they participated, while 78.5% said they either left or stayed to listen but didn’t offer any opinion. Equally interesting was that a much lower percentage than normal (only 2.4%) either didn’t answer the question or didn’t know.
Most striking of all was that three quarters of those who said they either left or remained silent defined themselves in a separate question as government sympathizers. The Costa Rican polling firm Borge y Asociados began to be aware two years ago of a certain fear among those polled when they asked questions about their political opinions. What then can we assume about that 75% who claimed to sympathize with the government: do they really or might they be nervous about admitting that they don’t?
A year ago, SinforianoCáceres, president of the National Federation of Cooperatives (FENACOOP), told envio that “there’s a crisis of social cohesion in this country, one that’s noted and felt in the fear and uncertainty of many people and in their distrust of political power, judicial power, in fact all the factors of power. People are distrusting and it fills them with doubts about their future: Will they cut me off? Will they give me the project? Are they going to fire my boy…? People are living with their back against the wall and their hair on end. With no social cohesion we can’t build anything, either economically or socially.”
Is there security? Despite all these insecurities, the government continues to boast about the country’s safety. It recently invited people to “assemblies of citizen security,” arenas in which the police meet with the para-government Family Cabinets to listen to the problems affecting urban neighborhoods and rural communities. The residents call attention to the robberies and growing number of liquor stores, and even demand better police patrols, better treatment in the police stations, more effective responses to emergency telephone calls… But no one says anything about the greater insecurities,.
On February 21, in his speech commemorating the 81st anniversary of the assassination of Sandino, President Ortega rambled on about a new concept he called “sovereign security,” which he described as follows: “It is the miracle of an understanding between economic and social forces that has stopped the establishment in Nicaragua of drug trafficking, organized crime and gangs, which have regrettably been advancing and establishing themselves among our brother peoples in the Central American region.”
Hours later, Murillo made an equally unsuccessful attempt to explain the notion: “Sovereign security means we’re all together in unity in our Nicaragua, in this privileged model of faith, family and community. It has to do with our Christian values, family values, socialist values and solidarity practices.”
Despite the efforts focused on Nicaragua’s citizen security, and now on behalf of the novel concept of sovereign security, the critical situation in Venezuela, which is putting the petrodollars in danger, the occasional moments of pressure demanding transparency in the next elections and the tensions in the countryside are all provoking insecurity, and thus new tensions within the power apparatus. Daniel Ortega is more vulnerable today than in all previous years. Doesn’t that in itself create insecurity?
Inconformity The people at the bottom aren’t the only ones living with their back against the wall and their hair on end. Something similar is happening to people nearer the top.
There has been a continuous stream of unexplained and sudden replacements of mayors, Cabinet ministers and deputy ministers and officials in strategic areas. The most recent were the changes of ministers in the energy and social economy sectors. This instability is multiplying the unease and inconformity provoked by the unipersonal—at times bipersonal—centralization of both large and small decisions, which is cutting off any initiative from the majority of government officials. On another level, criticisms by former combatants and militants of “the old guard” are more openly and frequently heard.
TensionsDiplomatic blunders of the size committed by Ortega in the January CELAC meeting in San José, Costa Rica, must have caused tensions in the circle of power similar to those it caused among Ortega’s Latin American colleagues. First he registered four Puerto Ricans with Nica passports as part of Nicaragua’s delegation, three of his children as advisers and his wife as foreign minister pro tem, then he attempted to impose one of the Puerto Ricans as his stand-in representative in the event’s most important private government meeting so he could leave, which resulted in the meeting being canceled.
It’s equally unthinkable that General Julio César Avilés’ ratification as head of the Army for five more years at President Ortega’s order, thus breaking the chain of command and the military hierarchy, hasn’t created tensions within that military body, after so many have worked so hard to institutionalize the Army of Nicaragua. Retired Generals Humberto Ortega, JoaquínCuadra and Javier Carrión, the first three Army chiefs in the ordered five-year succession of the military command, who did so much to defend the Army’s institutionality, did not attend the ceremony in which Avilés received the staff of command from Ortega for the second time.
In the speech with which he agreed to remain in his post, Gen. Aviléssaid: “Nicaragua is going through a great moment in its history. In that regard, President, we will do everything possible to contribute to the execution and security of the strategic projects you are promoting and that will bring wellbeing to all Nicaraguans. The Grand Interoceanic Canal, Tumarín, the development of ports, airports, highways and the important push to tourism, among others, are clear paths to national development, paths in which the government, business people and workers are joining forces for a better Nicaragua. To our people and to you, President, we say: Count on our firm support for the realization of these titanic and important works.”
The general’s continuation in his post was criticized by former comrades in arms, current critics of the Ortega government and also security experts. In addition, Cardinal LeopoldoBrenes, the archbishop of Managua, said: “It is always very important to have new faces, rather than having the same person for many years…. It is also positive to have changes in the government institutions, because they inject new ideas, new vitality.”
InsecuritiesThe tensions between loyalists of Ortega and of Murillo are increasingly presumed, conjectured and even visible. So are the silent battles for Cabinet positions between representatives with power from Daniel’s old guard followers and those with power from among Murillo’s youthful followers. In Somoza’s time these were playfully referred to as rivalries between the traditionalists and the “miniskirts.”
Insecurities are affecting both those at the bottom and those at the top. And that breeds insecurity throughout this tiny society as a whole. Will we have the “privilege,” as the official propaganda says, of “living nice” in such a “safe” country for very long? It’shardto imagine...