Given the amount of deaths (322 according to UN and OAS Human Rights organizations), and the number of extrajudicial kidnappings and detentions- hundreds and ongoing – there are some that are asking about the effectiveness of what so far has been a mostly peaceful opposition. This piece by Silvio Prado is an important contribution to that debate. He was one of the key proponents and figures in the Network for Local Development in the 1990s, worked at the Association for Municipal Development, and then went on to get a doctorate in Political Science and continues to do studies on and promote local empowerment.
Nicaragua and the Trap of a Civil War
By Silvio Prado
Published in Confidencial Sept 20, 2018
Daniel Ortega wants a civil war. Of all the possible scenarios to put an end to the tragedy that Nicaragua lives, it is the only one that can assure his permanence in power. In all the others, his leaving is certain.
General William Sherman is credited with calling civil war the worse of all infernos, because they are fought between relatives, neighbors and citizens from the same community. Even worse, as history attests, from the ancient romans (who coined the term bellum civile) until today, each civil war is born from the hot ashes left from the previous one. The wounds among brothers do not heal with the last shots.
Nicaragua is the best proof of that. Despite our national anthem—except in very brief periods—for 197 years of history we have been killing each other. Chaining one war after another and staining with “nica” blood our “glorious bicolor banner.”
But now is the first time that one side is not willing to take up arms. This may be the breaking point of a fatal determinism: one party that throws the glove of war to another that instead of picking it up insists on non-military solutions. A revived Gandhi? No, it is the collective intelligence of a people apparently willing to not repeat the mistakes of the last war. And, it is not that they lack the desire to look for a weapon in the midst of so much abuse by henchmen and assassins; it is that the conviction is prevailing that the strength of the oppressors is also its weakness.
True to its essence, Ortega and company declared war on the people of Nicaragua when faced by the civic push of citizens’ protests. Incapable of non-violent answers, it has escalated repression: first by gangs of the Sandinista Youth, afterwards by combined forces of the police and the FSLN, and finally by the deployment of masked thugs as a third armed body of the State. The courts, the National Assembly, and the Ministry of Health and Education have joined in this battle to set up a State in civil war. That is to say, the faction in civil war of Ortega and supporters.
Without any authorities to guarantee security or the citizen’s rights of all—which meant leaving the other part of the population at the mercy of the violent ones—the trap was set. It was only a matter of pushing the social protest to regroup on the other side, to organize itself for war and arm itself. That is to change the mortars and stones for rifles and go on to the stage they had planned so that the army could go into action without hiding its face.
With both sides up in arms the dictatorship would officially declare a civil war and obtain all the options to win. The conspiracy argument would finally provide the basis to present itself as the victim of an “imperialist plot hatched in the offices of Washington.” The victim’s pose would help the regime to break the international isolation in which it finds itself, and give arguments to the Jurassic left to steer their position as accomplices and would provide the basis for expressions of solidarity from other authoritarian regimes, including military aid.
But the strategy has gone wrong. There is no civil war in Nicaragua. What is happening is the perpetration of a barbaric act, the implementation of a policy of atrocities, the annihilation of any form of protests against oppression, no matter how passive or silent it may be. The rush to restore the normality previous to April 18th has led them to use all the power of the State, but they have been shooting themselves on the foot. With all that, evidence has been presented that the disproportionate use of force reveals a dictatorial vein of a regime that is not willing to compromise with the demands of democracy, justice and freedom of a people that demands political change.
It would be a mistake to fall into the temptation of civil war. Experience and courage are not lacking, but it would be a mistake to fall into the trap of military confrontation. On the contrary, to continue fighting in the political arena has been found to be more effective. Yes, we know that it is not easy to keep putting up with arbitrary detentions, torture and murder, but what the regime wants, is that provoked by repression we fall into the abyss of total civil war. On that field, they have all the chances to win.
However, not so in the political arena. Since April 18th each movement of the people has displaced them, making them look more slow, erratic and cruel. They were so in the first protest of the retirees in Leon and Camino de Oriente (Managua), just as they have been ridiculous and impotent against the blue and white balloons of September.
Surely the path of civil resistance will be longer and sometimes despairing, but that of the civil war would be more painful and would sow the seeds of new confrontations. As Lucano said more than 2,000 years ago, “a foreign sword has never sunk in this way: it is the wounds inflicted by the hands of our fellow citizens that have penetrated most deeply.”
Ortega wants, needs urgently, a civil war to continue clinging to power, because he does not conceive another way of life that is not perched on the presidential chair. But, if he cannot develop his full capacity to kill, he will have no other option but to step down from the throne by political means. Then, as it has happened with other tyrants, the citizenry, will be responsible for rebuilding the democratic state that will bring the murderers and their supreme leader to trial. Only then we will be able to exterminate the cursed germ of dictatorships and civil wars that have destroyed our country.
We are also winning by not falling into the trap of civil war.