The Ghost of the 1990 Defeat

This opinion piece by a well known essayist paints a picture of the increasing isolation of the Ortega government, and  highlights the fact that the regime´s analysis of the current situation harkens back to the 80s.  It is true that high ranking members have left the party and the country since the April 2018 uprising, including a Magistrate of the Supreme Court. Another issue is whether the current reality – now almost 40 years later – can be completely captured by an analysis from the 80s. This is also the reference point for some in the opposition, those who Rocha calls the “lifelong anti-Sandinistas”. One possible extrapolated  conclusion to be taken from the article is that for the post-crisis situation to be successful and stable it will have to respond to a reality that is inclusive of the 40 years of events since the 1980s.

The ghost of the 1990 Defeat

By José Luis Rocha, September 24, 2019 in Confidencial

[original Spanish version]

In the El Carmen[1] bunker they are enduring once again the 80s show, an inexistent contra; the opposition union, and the loss of international allies.

There is panic in El Carmen, and it expands from there to the entire territory of Nicaragua. The Citizen Power Councils carry it to the popular neighborhoods and work places, the police to the streets and malls, the paramilitaries to the residential neighborhoods, and the soldiers to the furthest corners of Rio San Juan, Wiwilí, El Cuá and Wamblán. The ghosts of the 80s roam the country from coast to coast. The exhausting vigilance of the dictators is becoming a nightmare for the citizens.

There is uncertainty in El Carmen. How long to hold on? Who to trust? From who will come the stab in the back or the firm hand, the letal potion or the devious tip-off? From the drivers subjected to ongoing scrutiny? Or the body guards with an ideological lineage going back four generations? From some obsequious deputy who jumps from one party to the next? Or from a spineless person who maybe already began to dance to another tune? Maybe from a decades-long talkative cook, or from a new fearful housekeeper? Who is peering in the curtain? Who will raise the latch? Who is lying and who is trustworthy? Is it the Cuban Politburo that advises them to hold on, but would gladly negotiate a bilateral agreement with Trump? Is it his infiltrators in blue and white spaces who now feel comfortable there? Is it the Sandinista capital that already flirts with other clubs of millionaires and seeks less risky locations for their capital? Is it those who advise more repression, but have not gotten their hands dirty, or, if they already have, will be able to say later that they were only obeying orders?

How is the information filtering out? Does the decades long militant journalist circulate it, who during the day spits out vitriol about the opposition, but at night prepares his new life? The official who today does favors for the opposition in order to save his skin tomorrow? The ambassador to the OAS who reads with scholarly passion the cabled speech about sovereignty but obtains – just in case, for what is seen now and what appears on the horizon – US nationality? The high officials who bruise their hands applauding the Orteguista system every July 19th, but have their children living in western democracies? The friends for hire, the partners for hire, the pay for view allies? The colonels, majors and captains that have not accumulated much yet, and bite the bullet when they see their pensions at risk of evaporating on account of a submissive general who, securing himself into his position, has truncated hundreds of possible promotions? Who is passing information to Roberto Samcam and José Cubillo? Who saw those who fled go by and did not stop them? Who is passing weak intelligence against the exiles? How can conscientious saboteurs be distinguished from a sea of inept professionals?

Who? Whom? How many? How? The threats are ubiquitous and buzz crazily when night falls. They dull minds and cloud sight. Without being able to fall asleep, the dictators turn their gaze backward, toward the path that they always want to take again, the only one that their feet feel firm on. The 80s show is projected in their imagination and its timeworn script guides their decisions the following day. Only in the heart of this script do some actions make sense that seem fully aimed at precipitating their end: the ongoing harassment of all those who show symptoms of dissent, the unexpected and abrupt resurrection of the repudiated interoceanic canal project, the ridiculous compulsive obsession of persecuting blue and white flags, the resistance to the entry of supranational regulation organizations, the extrajudicial executions of peasants and the refusal to return the assets and/or legal status of communications media and NGOs, among other measures destined to ward off the ghosts of the 80s.

The first spectre is that of “the contras”. The presidential couple act as if there already existed an armed counterrevolution similar to the one that existed in the 80s. They know that the contras started with small bands, and they want to pull up the shoots by the roots. Hence the murders in rural areas: 14 executions from January to July of 2019. Better if they are “retail” deaths, because when they are done in bulk – like the massacres of 2018 – they become international news. Dispersed and in trickles the deaths pass by unnoticed by most of the media. The siege and assault on the municipality of Mulukukú, to the point of causing their mayor to go into exile, forms part of this strategy of neutralizing embryos of these new contras, that only exist is the nightmares of El Carmen. In this re-edition of the 80s show, an army composed mostly of officers who joined the ranks of the army in the 90s cannot accompany them. But they can always count on the sadism that some soldiers add from their own harvest, that which does not depend on orders from a commander, but on brutal machismo and the yearning to be someone, and to exercise their small quota of power.

The new contras are worse than the ones of the 80s because they are everywhere. When the police ban a march that was going to be massive, the crowd shatters and flickers in the form of hundreds of picketers. Blue and white balloons emerge from any rural outcropping, patron-saint procession, public school or mall. That is why the presidential couple redoubled the police and military presence, and rushed to graduate new cadetes and police dogs, as badly trained the latter as the former. Six hundred promotions in the police – most lower ranking, not leadership positions – they want to buy loyalty in a legion that has become the principal support for the dictatorship. The same thing happened in the army, in whose 40th anniversary their highest general saw himself invited? Obliged? to read a speech that sealed his unconditional fidelity. The simultaneous exhibition of heavy weapons was just the intimidating background for the tragic comedy. What is the next step? Maybe a pair or series of (self) attacks to justify the deployment of soldiers in allegedly strategic objectives. The organization of retired soldiers was only an appetizer that has more hermeneutic use than military effectiveness.

The second spectre is as fearful as the previous one: the union of all the opposing segments in one anti-FSLN force, like the one that was capable of defeating them in the 1990 elections. Maduro and the Cuban Politburo probably insist on the fact that no way would they let power be taken away from them through votes if they can retain it with bullets. With swollen bags under their eyeballs, the dictatorial couple does not know what to do. Before the April rebellion, Almagro was willing to play their game of an interminable electoral reform. That farce can no longer be continued without revealing itself. A group of kids ruined that play and its monstrous development. The only margin for action that the dictators have they invested in buying time and dividing. Buying time to see what happens: to see if a stroke of luck would benefit them, if more presumed leftist governments would come to power, if a generous sponsor would emerge, if Trump is replaced by a less aggressive president…But in general buying time is losing time: the deterioration of the government progresses, Venezuela closed its wallet and increasingly has less chance of opening it up again, and a change in the president of the United States does not guarantee a change in policy toward Orteguism, which in fact has benefitted from the fact that Trump is a dog who barks louder than he bites.

The work of division the opposition itself is doing, which is cut through by several fault lines: lifelong anti-Sandinistas versus anti-Orteguistas with Sandinista roots, ferociously anti-business sectors versus those who look for more leadership from big capital, those in favor of a soft landing versus the partisans of making a clean sweep of the current system. Until they reach an agreement on the urgent objective, they will be pawns in a strategy that benefits Ortega.

The third spectre is the loss of the sponsors of the revolution. There is no doubt that the fall of the socialist block at the end of the 80s, that contained a big pocket of solidarity toward the Sandinista revolution, was decisive for the FSLN to make the decision to make important concessions in the negotiations with the anti-Sandinista resistance. Ortega and Murillo are afraid of being left without rich friends outside the country. In the face of the important decline in Venezuelan aid, they are courting Iran, Russia, Taiwan. Hence the trips of Laureano Ortega, Denis Moncada and Paul Oquist, white collar, or red and black collar, beggars. There are desperate measures: they shook the dust off the canal project, to see if someone would bite.

There are more ghosts dwelling in El Carmen, where That 80s Show runs daily, which in its current version consists of a family, a gang of followers and two legal but discredited coercive forces who attempt to subdue a people. A sector of the opposition also conjures these ghosts. But that is another kettle of fish and the topic of another article.

[1] El Carmen is the name of the neighborhood where Ortega´s home and presidential offices are located.

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