The task right now is to avoid the consolidation of a family dictatorship
Known as Comandante “Modesto” in the guerrilla struggle against Somoza,
and one of the nine members of the FSLN’s historical National Directorate,
the respected author offers broad brushstrokes of Nicaragua’s reality today
then calls on the population to abstain from voting in the
November 6 elections.
How did we get to where we are today? And I’m not talking about how the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) got us here… because it no longer exists. What we have now is just a political group that orbits around Daniel Ortega’s caudillo, or political strong-man, behavior. This group still uses the FSLN initials, but there’s no longer any mystique, norms, programs or debate; actually there’s no longer anything.
Those responsible for Daniel Ortega being in that position are, first of all, those of us who fought against the Somoza dictatorship; all of us who forty-some years ago brought down a dictatorship then slowly allowed that guy to become entrenched in power. Important contradictions existed for years, but we let the time go by… Yes, we’re to blame, some more than others. And now an incipient dynastic dictatorship is rising up before our very eyes, challenging our own conscience.
Dictatorships are very painful political experiences. And if those in the front lines of responsibility for this dictatorship are the men and women who let Daniel Ortega get where he is today, we’re also in the front lines of those obliged to bring him down. We have to take the first step. The mission of dealing with Ortega falls to those of us who knew Somocismo; who confronted it, lived the imperialist intervention in the eighties, saw the initiation of democracy as a rule of law in which pluralism wasn’t a danger and written law seemed to be respected. Taking up the banner of social justice that deteriorated in those years will be part of our struggle today.
A great majority of youths aren’t yet assimilating the consequences of the institutional genocide Ortega has committed during these ten years he’s been back in power, reforming the Constitution and demolishing institutions. But I’m convinced that sooner or later these youths will come to understand that this struggle isn’t just ours, that they too need to take it on board. I believe they’ll join in if they observe correct politics in our struggle, ethical commitment and politics devoid of the opportunism and corruption that runs parallel to these nefarious practices. The mandate all Nicaraguan society has today is to get this dictator out of office.
Let’s recall a little recent history. After Daniel Ortega lost the elections first to Arnoldo Alemán in 1996 then to Enrique Bolaños in 2001, discontent, in fact a furtive struggle, was going on inside the FSLN because many of us Sandinista activists, both organizational militants and not, didn’t want him to continue being the party’s presidential candidate. Why only Daniel each time? We could see that he lacked charisma and wasn’t able to keep Sandinismo together.
With that conviction we started a movement in May 2004, proposing Herty Levites as the FSLN’s presidential pre-candidate. In January 2005, 10,000 Sandinistas backing that idea held a rally in Jinotepe. The rallies we held with Herty were massive and in them we Sandinistas re-found ourselves. We began to feel whole again. And that was the idea: that a force would emerge from within the FSLN that would recover the principles being trampled, principles that upheld national sovereignty, the revolutionary mystique and a genuine struggle for the poor.
But rather than permit the internal primaries guaranteed by the party bylaws, they threw Henry out of the FSLN at the start of 2006 and Daniel Ortega again named himself the candidate. Herty, who ended up running on the Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS) ticket, died suddenly just as the election campaign was getting underway that year…
Ortega won that year and returned to government. But did he really win? At 10 o’clock on election night Eduardo Montealegre, seemingly running in second place on the ticket of his newly formed Nicaraguan Liberal Alliance, recognized Ortega’s victory without waiting for the end of the ballot count, so 8% ended up uncounted. Even with the Supreme Electoral Council already controlled by Ortega at that time, the result might have been a run-off round between him and Montealegre had they been counted [Ortega had 38.07% and Montealegre had 29%, but less than three percentage points would have changed the outcome as the then-new rules for first-ballot victories are that the winning party must have at least 35% and be at least 5 points ahead of the first runner-up].
And I think Montealegre would have won a second round, creating an electoral and political alliance with the rest of the opposition. I’m not saying that because I would have liked to see him win, but because it’s positive for a leftist force to be willing to risk power by taking on the Right, win or lose, in open, transparent and democratic elections. Alternating in power is a reality we have to accept in the representative or direct democracy scheme. But none of that matters to Daniel Ortega. The election he won in 2006 wasn’t a clean victory, and that persistent doubt weighs on the political history of both him and his party.
When Ortega began to govern in 2007, those of us who had pushed the project of Herty for President said, Well, let’s give him a chance; maybe he’s changed. And we said that because we went over the government program he presented with some economists who had been supporting Herty and decided it wasn’t bad. It gave some signs of wanting to cut loose of neoliberalism and begin to construct an economy of national development. So we decided to give him a year to see how he did. But one thing was that program and another was his political turn-around. He went straight away to INCAE, the Harvard-linked Central American business school, met with the most important business leaders in the country and together with them decided what his gover¬nment’s political economy would really be. It’s the same one governing us today. He told those business leaders: You run the economy and I’ll handle the politics.
Where are we now?
What country do we have now as a result of all that? The agrarian reform is a thing of the past, with the concentration of land back in the hands of a few. Big landed estates are advancing everywhere, although with some tasks still to be done. And now the pillaging of the Caribbean Coast is in full swing: they are deforesting and taking out the lumber. And where there’s any suspicion of gold they already have the land marked out on the map to give it in concessions to B2 Gold. Does Daniel Ortega care about ecology? Not in the least. To him, Pope Francis’ “Laudato Si” is just hogwash.
What he cares about is the amassing of wealth among “us.” And by “us” he means him, his family, his cronies and those who are already the wealthiest in the private business sector. Poverty is a political problem and won’t be surmounted in Nicaragua with the political economy Ortega is pushing. Paying attention to the figures, debating whether the poverty indicators are improving a statistical point or two is a way of deceiving ourselves, of distancing ourselves from the common vision we need of how to build a prosperous and sovereign nation.
What’s currently generating wealth in Nicaragua?
Of course wealth is being generated, but the question is who’s grabbing it. Some US$1.2 billion came into Nicaragua in family remittances last year. And Ortega granted over $1 billion the same year in fiscal exonerations to big business. So who’s contributing to the country’s economy: our workers in exile or big capital? And the poor who stay in the country are still the ones who contribute the greatest labor force to the informal sector because almost 80% of our economy is found in those low-paying, precarious jobs that don’t offer social security. And what’s being said to our teachers, nurses and other poorly paid public employees who have to hold down three or four jobs just to have enough income to maintain their families? Those are the opportunities the sacrosanct market is offering us!
Moreover, Ortega is going to bequeath us a seriously indebted country. The oil agreement Hugo Chávez Frías signed with Daniel Ortega Sáavedra in 2007, which over these years has brought Ortega more than US$4 billion, could have changed Nicaragua’s social profile. Ortega has been governing for ten years and with that money we could have broken free of the vicious circle of growing macro-economically while continuing to expand the social gap. We could have changed by dedicating a good part of those resources to improving education, which is always the very best lever for achieving the development of any society and any nation. But the source of money for Ortega, his circle of power, his family and allies has collapsed.
What we have today is a debt for that amount with the Central Bank of Venezuela, and I’m sure that creditor is going to collect because the money belongs to the Venezuelan nation. For some time they’ve been telling us it was a private debt as the money didn’t pass through the budget approved by the National Assembly. The parties with seats in the parliament repeated to us a whole line about “private debt” and emphasized it in a way that creates the magic that spawns credulity. But I’ve never believed it. How could a contract between two Presidents be a private agreement? I sincerely don’t believe Chávez understood the extent of Ortega’s gall and would have consciously lent himself to such thievery. The thief was here and Chávez wasn’t his partner in crime. Ortega abused Chávez’s good faith.
Who is Daniel Ortega?
Ortega is a Sandinista who struggled and has the merit of having spent seven years in a Somoza prison. He said afterward that they tortured him every day of those seven years, but he invented that. Hugo Chávez called him a “guerrilla” but he wasn’t in any guerrilla group. He was the coordinator of the Government Junta of National Reconstruction from 1979 to 1984, then was elected President in 1984 and again in 2006 and 2011 and will once again be President in 2016. He’s a man who once owned nothing and is now a potentate because he turned politics into good business, forgetting the ethics and principles that must rule a revolutionary fighter, as he was once believed to be.
Calling himself socialist, Christian and solidary is nothing more than saccharine rhetoric to fool the militants of his party and those in the people’s humble ranks. Daniel Ortega is a political defector, a man who has moved lock, stock and barrel to the right, adopting the most reactionary capitalist economic policy in modern history and practicing the arts of corruption.
Is he a dictator?
Is it fair to call what he has constructed in Nicaragua a dictatorship? We’ve spent a lot of time discussing whether it is or not. Some used to say he wasn’t a dictator because there were no political prisoners, no political assassinations, no torture, no repression… But it’s now confirmed that we have all of it, all the elements on the repressive menu of dictatorships, although the cases are still few. But just wait, because if he continues laying roots in government there will be plenty to go around, and for everyone.
If this were a democratic government, what need would there be for the Law of Sovereign Security? That law puts a threatening bully stick in Ortega’s hands. To what end does he want direct command of the Police and Army without the regulatory filter of a civil authority? The point is to have no intermediation by anyone in any crisis in which he could lose control. In such a situation Ortega will order “adequate” repression. That law, the sovereign security doctrine, allows the new State Security, which may not seem to be that but indeed is, to repress anything the dictator’s eyes consider damaging to his political order.
A family dictatorship that’s a step beyond Somoza’s
How can anyone not see that this is a dictatorship, and a family one at that? In that particular aspect it’s even quite similar to the Somoza family dictatorship. The only difference is that Daniel Ortega has gone even further than Somoza by making Rosario Murillo, his wife, his Vice President. Salvadora Debayle, the first Somoza’s wife, was never Vice President. Nor was Isabel Urcuyo, wife of Luis Somoza, who succeeded his assassinated father. Nor was Hope Portocarrero, wife of “Tacho” Somoza, who assumed the presidency upon his brother’s death. Admittedly his mistress, Dinorah Sampson, ran things, but from behind the throne; she never held any institutional post. So Ortega has taken a giant step beyond them, and did so without measuring the rejection that decision has sparked in his own ranks.
Before Rosario Murillo was named, I was asked if I thought he would choose her for the vice presidency and I said no, because it wouldn’t add anything to Daniel Ortega politically. The vice presidency obeys a concept of political alliance, and that’s how he has used it several times. So why then name her? He would only do it if he had a double problem: one, that he feels he no longer has the capacity to organize the Danielista Front, still known as the FSLN, giving it structure and leadership posts to make it function as a machine. And two, that he isn’t sure he’ll make it through another five-year term. Moreover, Daniel Ortega doesn’t like to work and she’s hyperactively involved in everything… All that must have made him decide to choose her as his running mate and hence the person who will succeed him.
And who is Rosario Murillo?
History teaches us the role she’s playing because there has always been an Agrippina behind the throne… This one is now fabricating her own profile: great niece of Sandino, related to Rubén Darío… before we know it she’ll be Christ’s cousin! She’s one of those self-aggrandizing people who are only virtual reality figures and thus disappear from the headlines as quickly as they occupied them once people’s fascination moves on.
The longer Daniel and Rosario are in power the more they’re alienating themselves. I think this is the right term: the two are alienated by power. It dazzles them and the longer they are in power the more crazed they become. I think the degree of this duo’s alienation is what’s making them commit such political absurdities.
What’s more, there are numerous contradictions in the upper echelons of this dictatorial power. Rosario has had run-ins with everyone. Some have lost the fight with her and been ousted while others have risen up the ranks thanks to her. There’s constant movement in and out by those who have tried to cozy up to the inner circle. In the midst of the conflicts, she and her children have been assuming increasingly more responsibilities in the state apparatus. I think she’s been winning the internal dispute so far.
Still other conflicts among the upper echelons have to do with the divvying up of profits… And of course the newest one is Daniel’s decision to impose her as Vice President. It’s causing him very serious internal problems and eroding the organizational support he’s been able to maintain up to now. He’s paying dear for his bad decisions because he misjudged how many of his followers are unhappy about her being Vice President and are rejecting it, even to the degree that some are clearly saying they’ll join the abstention movement and not vote on November 6.
Make no mistake; “Danielismo” is still strong, but it’s only because the contradictions haven’t broken through the surface yet. There are already conflicts of an economic nature because the government is clashing with some of the business chambers in the Superior Council of Private Enterprise (COSEP), it’s key ally. That’s where the contradictions are clearly growing. Once money becomes a driving force for someone, they always want more. We now have a model based on greed, and whoever becomes part of it wants more and more.
So far big national capital and even massive transnational capital get along just fine with Daniel Ortega. He not only promises them everything; he fulfills his promises. And if you don’t think so, just look at the recent repression he’s ordered: for example, when the workers in a free-trade-zone assembly plant demonstrated for better salaries and more human labor conditions, they asked for the support of “comandante Daniel and compañera Rosario” to buttress their fight. What comandante and what compañera? The order went out to repress them so the bad example wouldn’t spread to the other 110,000 workers in the free trade zone today, which is the only source of formal job generation this regime and its likeminded neoliberal predecessors have promoted. The same thing happens in the public sector: those who don’t say how high when the governing couple say jump are out, as are those who don’t mention “the comandante and the compañera” any time they offer public declarations about their administrative work. And the judicial system’s machinery mows down any employee who demands labor rights.
The governing duo is still strong, but the contradictions are mounting, and contradictions are never static. The discontent among the segments that generate those contradictions is on the move…
What is to be done?
But rather than just talking about them, it seems to me that we need to ask what we can do to get rid of them. I’m now a member of a small political movement called the Patriotic Movement for the Republic (MPR). It’s a movement, not a party, because it has no programs or bylaws. It’s a political project with political goals that’s seeking political solutions to this country’s problems and is looking to change the political economy this dictatorship has imposed on us. We’re the product over time of what was an earlier movement started only by Sandinistas, the Movement against Reelection, Fraud and Corruption. A number of Sandinistas and other, unaffiliated citizens joined together around these three objectives and we’ve been hammering out more doctrinaire political thought.
We in our movement view non-reelection as a principle in perpetuity and a historical need in Nicaragua in order to break with political-bossism. Establishing non-reelection in perpetuity in a new Political Constitution, which we also need, is fundamental for us. A secular State is another practice that must be defended.
Yet another principle we want to see brought back is popular petition candidates, which the Alemán-Ortega pact eliminated. We’re convinced that the political party system needs to be transformed, because the way it currently functions necessarily leads to political cronyism, which in turn always leads to all kinds of corruption. Popular petition candidates permit political movements and civil society to engage in politics and particularly in elections united by common programs and goals without the conventional bonds and allegiances to a party. Numerous social movements exist in Nicaragua today, but they have no political participation because the pro-party laws block them…
The Movement for the Republic considers the overturning of Law 840, the canal concession law, politically urgent because it’s an attack on national sovereignty and territorial integrity. It incriminates Daniel Ortega as a political traitor who should be tried to serve as an example to all politicians, parties or other assemblies, illustrating to them that national sovereignty is sacred and sacrosanct and cannot be played with in the name of any reason alleged as important. Political abuse such as that committed by Ortega in the canal concession merits the highest punishments on the scale of the highest crimes.
Today, the faculties that parties and citizens should have to exercise representative democracy with their direct vote has been demolished by the very powers that make up the rule of law. Daniel Ortega has annihilated the electoral process and turned its remains into scrap to be recycled by the sell-out parties, of which the current incarnation of the Independent Liberal Party (PLI) turned over to Pedro Reyes, a former State Security agent, is a prime example.
We propose abstention
Citizens’ conscience must not be played with, which is why we propose abstention. There’s no reason to go vote. Abstaining is a dynamic action if it’s in pursuit of a political goal. As a political act it will consciously help delegitimize the electoral farce these people have set up. We pro-abstention citizens identify ourselves as those who reject the electoral farce of Ortega and his minions. We are and will continue struggling to construct an even stronger and more legitimate rule of law than the one Ortega has torn down.
Starting now we need to build an abstention campaign with all the people we know, convinced that abstaining is an active political decision. The only vote that’s useful for Ortega is one in which people go stand in line, even if only to destroy the ballot or write some political or other message on it. Because even if someone annuls their vote through some such action, they will be seen in line and viewed as a voter. What’s more, all the crossed-out, dirtied, written-on or otherwise defiled and thus annulled ballots will later appear marked with box 2 as a vote for the dictatorship.
Since the results of this farce are already decided, there’s no point to standing in line to cast a vote that won’t matter. But if the streets are empty on Election Day, we’ll know Ortega lost and abstention won.
The next day…
Our plan is that the very next day, Monday November 7, we’ll continue organizing and meeting to build a massive movement to overturn Law 840 through a plebiscite, That would hopefully avoid the negative consequences a vote only by the National Assembly would have on our country’s economic sovereignty. Since Law 840 has constitutional rank, it would require the vote of two-thirds of the National Assembly representatives. But even if they were to do it, Wang Jing, holder of the canal concession, would immediately come down on us like a ton of bricks because the canal law itself says he can sue us in an international court for any damage or harm to his interests. At this point we don’t yet know if the canal concession, be it for US$50 billion or $70 billion, has been converted into financial derivatives that might be moving in the speculative market. Who will answer for that when they learn that the law was abrogated?
If we do it with the votes of the legislators Wang Jing will sue us, but if we bring an entire people out into the streets demanding repeal of the law we’ll have national and international moral support and political weight. So it has to be with a plebiscite. And that means a mass movement that will prevent the plebiscite from being organized by the Supreme Electoral Council. There are enough honest personalities in this country to organize it. The masses in the streets are the ones who provide the moral and political authority to overturn Law 840 and then make a constitutional change.
And after that…
In new steps of the struggle, we’ll slowly start incorporating other banners, including the possibility of drafting a new Political Constitution as the basis of a new rule of law in which there’s no reelection. In addition, the law of sovereign security will be repealed; 7% of the gross domestic product will be dedicated to education; the promise to provide land and credits to poor peasants will be honored; therapeutic abortion will be reestablished; and our environment will genuinely be protected with long- and medium-term policies to help Nicaragua contribute to the world struggle against climate change. And all this begins with a decision not to vote on November 6.
There’s a lot to do, and we’re not going to wait until November 6 to get to work. We need to talk to people about abstention starting now, forming a kind of information chain with which we can organizedly also start discussing what follows. We’ll begin with the repeal of Law 840 because that banner has the objective underpinnings of an organized movement that has been fearless and is asking for solidarity.
We’re not banking much on Managua, which is always slow to climb on board. The struggles in Nicaragua always come from the outskirts and get to Managua last. It took the assassination of Pedro Joaquín Chamorro in 1978 to get Managuans to understand that something was happening, and meanwhile we were dying in the mountains… The plan is to start now creating conditions and consciousness outside of Managua until we organize a movement that creates a new correlation of political forces in the country.
It’s not like planning a piñata
We’re not going to achieve all that in a day. Organizing politically isn’t like planning a piñata, in which you set a date, invite people from the barrio, buy the piñata and in no time it breaks and everyone has a great time. No, organizing politically requires patience. People have to be convinced of the objectives, and the objectives themselves need to be clear. When people ask me what this mass plebiscite movement is for, I tell them “it’s to bring down Ortega.” And we’re not going to do it with an armed movement, but with a powerful social movement, which will save a lot of bloodshed. So we’ll need a lot of patience, but we also need to start. The keys are patience and clarity of objectives. That’s the way the struggle against Somoza was: it was sustained, sustained, sustained, and thus it grew, grew, grew…