This article appeared in an online publication based in Barcelona, but written by an Honduran writer on the left. It was written in the early days of the uprising, but it still very relevant and offers a common sense lens to analyze competing explanations for the uprising. The original Spanish can be found here: http://kaosenlared.net/que-pasa-en-nicaragua-explicacion-desde-un-enfoque-critico-de-izquierda/
What is happening in Nicaragua: Explanation from a critical leftist approach
By Tomás Andino Mencia, Tegucigalpa., April 22, 2018 published in KAOSENLARED, online publications based in Barcelona.
These events require an explanation. And there are three explanations placed on the table: that of the right and the gringo empire, that of the Nicaraguan government, and the one that comes from the critical left.
The world has been surprised by an impressive popular mobilization in Nicaragua, principally of youth, that began rejecting the reforms to the social security system, but that has evolved to ask for the resignation of the government itself. Its cost is tragic: dozens of dead, wounded, and detained, schools and workplaces destroyed, economic activity semi-paralyzed.
This event requires an explanation. And there are three explanations placed on the table about this: that of the right and the gringo empire, that of the Nicaraguan government, and one that come from the critical left.
The explanation of the right and the empire is that it has to do with a “socialist” or “leftist” government that by its very nature is dictatorial and an enemy of democracy. But if that were what it is, property would be collective, state or solidarity owned, and that´s not how it is; capitalist private property is omnipresent and the country is as neoliberal as many other countries of Latin America, so that argument does not help to understand anything.
The explanation of the government has one see the movement of the Nicaraguan youth as a CIA conspiracy. In his speech on April 21, Daniel Ortega accused the youth of being “small grops of the ultraright” that want “to destroy the peace that Nicaragua enjoys”. So it is that his government would be the “victim” of a well orchestrated offensive, similar to the “guarimbas” of Venezuela [people who went out and blocked streets].
My explanation does not share anything with the previous ones.
In my opinion what we are seeing is the outbreak of very profound social discontent, accumulated over a decade, that has as its basis a series of contradictions between the government and the People, incubated within Nicaraguan capitalism, hand in hand with unpopular decisions, dictatorial and domineering attitudes of the Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo duo.
I am going to cite only ten of these contradictions between the government and the People:
First, the approval to build an interoceanic canal by a Chinese company at a very high economic and social cost (US$50 billion dollars) has generated strong dissatisfaction because it implies destroying many rural communities, obviously against their will, and cedes territorial sovereignty to that company for a century. Out of that emerged a broad oppositional peasant and citizen movement, which is repressed and villified by the government, but that continues even today.
Second, extractive activity, particularly mining, has nearly doubled the surface area ceded in this period (from 12% to 22%), generating strong conflict in the rural areas and among environmentalist movements, also repressed.
Third, the pressure over land that industrial monocroppers are having, like African Palm and sugar growers, as well as the large increase in cattle raising activity. They leave less land available for the peasants.
Fourth, the environmental neglect, whose most recent manifestation was the apathy of the government toward the fire in the Indio Maíz reserve, mobilized youth sectors to protest.
Fifth, the tax control against non governmental organizations, especially human rights and feminist ones, who do not forgive the government for its abritrary actions, repression and accusations of sexual abuse. This keeps the relationships of the government with the world of the so-called “civil society” very tense.
Sixth, the presidential re-election, prohibited by the Constitution, which was imposed using the same mechanisms that JOH [Juan Orlando Hernández, current President of Honduras] used: a Supreme Court ruling, made him to be seen as an authoritarian.
Seventh, the same effect that the accusations of electoral fraud in the last two presidential elections have had, where the Ortega formula was imposed.
Eighth, the Vice President, Rosario Murillo, Ortega´s wife, exercises an iron control over the media which is resented by the independent media, reaching the point of proposing control over social networks.
Ninth, the widespread corruption of public officials causes a lot of ill-will, who have become millionaires overnight, while the people are experiencing economic difficulties. Beginning with the presidential couple themselves, who are questioned for having accumulated resources from the “piñata” agreed upon with Arnoldo Alemán, and of administering around 4 billion dollars of resources from ALBA without accounting for its use; even cases like that of Orlando Castillo Guerrero, manager of airports, over a milion dollar embezzlement.
Tenth, after several years of good relations with the government, part of the Nicaraguan business sector (affiliated with powerful COSEP) began to question the helpfulness of continuing the marriage that they had maintained for a decade with the Ortega-Murillos, in which period they had benefitted all along the line, out of fear of losing the favors of the empire, after Donald Trump had the Nica Act Law approved, and began to apply sanctions on Nicaraguan officials. Since then they have begun to rethink this.
In spite of this, Nicaragua has a good reputation for its sources of employment and the absence of crime. It is why the maquilas have migrated a lot to that country, because the salaries of its workers are among the lowest in Central America, and under these conditions capitalist enterprises feel like they are in a paradise there. The absence of crime, that goes hand in hand with employment, is in effect its best competitive condition.
Therefore Nicaragua is a country that has had important capitalist growth, not equitable, in which big economic and social contradictions have accumulated, with a citizenry wanting to demonstrate about them, which it has not been able to do, is not taken seriously, or pays for it with discrimination or repression.
INSS, THE TRIGGER TO THE CONFLICT
Within this context the conflict was produced by the reform of INSS (Social Security), demanded by the International Monetary Fund. It was not the first time that a reform was done (in 2013 one was done that failed), just that on this occasion it happened when the dissatisfaction over the causes mentioned was at its highest, especially among the youth who were born after the Revolution of 1979. The protests began by those directly affected, retired people; they were followed by the young students; and then other sectors of the population. Finally the business sector got involved, who previously had broken the negotiations over this issue in the Tripartite Commission.
From what has been said, the current crisis does not fall like a lightening strike out of a clear sky, but rather has an important history that explains it. Structural and current problems difficult to solve in the hands of a closed, authoritarian, and repressive presidential couple.
THE IRRATIONALITY OF THE OFFICIAL ARGUMENTS
Therefore to come to say that the social demonstrations are a “conspiracy” to destabilize the government on the part of small “ultra right” groups is a typical statement of a dictatorial government, incapable of providing rational and needed responses to the problems proposed, and that insults the intelligence of the public.
Even the most disinformed observer would note that it is impossible for the CIA to have so many infiltrated and paid agents throughout the country, among retired people, workers and an army of youth registered as university students, in order to go out at the right moment to “destabilize” the government. But it is comprehensible that the government, accustomed to imposing itself all the time, never expected such a forceful social reaction, and has not been able to weave together a “better” explanation.
It is the classic strategy of a “progressive” government that feels corralled by its People: they manipulate the anti-imperialist sentiment of the people, that feels a profound respect for the Sandinista Revolution of 1979 (including the person who writes these lines), so that any other argument be believed, under the authority that they were told that by the “leader”, Daniel Ortega.
Arguments that get to be absurd; for example, that university students would destroy their own universities, that as sharpshooters they would shoot at their own classmates, that they would torture and disappear one another; they burn public buildings to attract social repudiation towards themselves, etc. A script typical of a suicide movement, that rather seems written by an advisor of JOH or the Honduran Military Police.
They do not say that the violence was initially unleashed by bands of motorcyclists from the clientele youth of the government, that are used as shock troops and cannon fodder against other youth. All within the sight and patience of the police authorities.
And when the youth defend themselves from these groups, or when their indignation is unleashed against symbols of the government, then the party-liners proclaim the “demonstration” of their accusations. Do they really think they are dealing with fools? Fortunately the diffusion of cell phone technology has allowed the filming of these shock troops when they have been protagonists of these deeds.
Some people tend to make simplistic comparisons. They say that it is a script similar to that used by the gringos in Venezuela. If the case were that of the Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, the explanation of Ortega would make sense, because in Venezuela the “guarimbas” were organized by an ultra right wing party (“Voluntad Popular”, the party of Leopoldo López) to destabilize that government. But it is NOT the case of Nicaragua. In this country the movement was self convened by progressive sectors, of university youth as has been said. For analysis to be objective it has to be based on reality.
Seeing things from that perspective, allow me to explain several “weird” things of the Nicaraguan government:
Isn´t it strange that Ortega was the first government to recognize JOH and that he never questioned the criminal repression that he unleashed against the Honduran People? Isn´t it strange that the US government during the last eleven years did not “bother” Ortega with any serious attempt of “destabilization?” In comparison, the empire promoted coups in Venezuela, Honduras, Paraguay and Ecuador in that same period. In spite of the fact that Nicaragua is a much weaker country than they are, during that time it left him alone.
This is explained by the eleven year honeymoon that maintained benefits for national and international private enterprise, which nurtured juicy business deals, included the coup government of Pepe Lobo and JOH, and with the reactionary Nicaraguan Catholic Church (from which their slogan of “Christian and Solidarity Socialism).
Now those times are in the past. The Ortega-Murillo presidential couple now expects the hostility of the empire, that seeks to domesticate their government through economic boycott actions; it has the divorce with national private enterprise or an important sector of it; and it has the active repudiation of a good part of the People. The direction the country will take will depend, on one hand, on the response of the government to the protest movement launched by the youth and by other popular sectors, as well as the capacity of this group to win better democratic and social standards. The coin is in the air and it is still premature to say what will happen.
But where there is no doubt is that with the social mobilization in recent weeks, whether it continues forward or recedes, it begins a new era where a new historical subject has risen without fear of taking the floor and deciding their destiny.
Tegucigalpa, M.D.C. April 22, 2018