Nicaragua: The Popular Insurrection and Its Prospects

It is customary at the end of the year or decade to do an assessment of the past. This article by an anonymous Nicaraguan author does a review of the events since April 2018, but within the context of Sandinism since its beginnings. The article provides valuable perspective to events that we experience day to day.

Nicaragua: The Popular Insurrection and Its Prospects

By “Netzahuatl”[1] published in “sinpermiso” December 21. 2019

[original Spanish]

The FSLN was founded as a Marxist political military organization in the 1960s. At some moment in the fight against Somoza, the dictator at the service of the United States empire in Nicaragua, the organization divided into tendencies, related to a strategy for taking power. On one side was the “Prolonged Popular War” tendency that proposed guerrilla work in the countryside, and the development of peasant organizations. On the other side was the “Proletarian” tendency, that proposed the development of the organization of workers and urban guerrillas.

Finally the “Third Way” tendency was added, led by the brothers Humberto and Daniel Ortega, which proposed the insurrectional thesis, in my judgement and seen in retrospective, without an ideological justification, simply sought taking power for power´s sake.

With the triumph of the Revolution in 1979 the Marxist discourse was maintained, and it inserted Nicaragua into the Soviet orbit, but the specific economic policies were more social democratic, and “radicals on the left” were persecuted. On the political plane the façade of representative democracy was maintained, with a dominant political party, the FSLN.

In 1990 the FSLN lost the elections as a consequence of the imperialist war of aggression and the economic, political and moral deviations of the leadership. In the face of this loss, the FSLN abandoned any appearance of a revolutionary organization, and perpetrated the largest theft of public goods in the history of Nicaragua, which is known as “the piñata”, with the purported purpose of “ensuring resources so the party could deal with the new stage”. In reality, the stolen assets were the basis for a now economic group, the “Sandinista” bourgeoise.

From 1990 to 2000 the FSLN, under the leadership of Daniel Ortega, turned into an electoral organization, under the iron hand of its secretary general, and where the democratic decision- making structure, like the party Assembly or Congress disappeared in practice, concentrating effective power in the strong man, Daniel Ortega.

Ortega presented himself as the candidate to the presidency, and lost the elections of 1990, 1996, and 2001. In that period he entered into mafia-like negotiations with the Nicaraguan bourgeoise, and turned over piecemeal the popular organization of the Revolution and State enterprises (allowing for their privatization), in exchange for the recognition of the ownership by the FSLN leadership of the assets stolen in 1990 and improving their political situation, negotiating access to some posts in the State.

In 2006 Ortega returned to the presidency of Nicaragua, after a pact with the strong man from the liberal party, Arnoldo Alemán, one of the most corrupt politicians in the history of Nicaragua, only surpassed by Ortega himself. Ortega won the elections of 2006 without increasing his percentage of votes. His triumph was based on two pillars: the decrease in the percentage of votes needed to win thanks to a reform in the electoral law, and on assuring the US, local bourgeoise and the Catholic Church that they had nothing to fear, that his government would ensure the interests of those 3 actors.

The Presidencies of Ortega (2006-2018)

The last 12 years of Ortega´s government have had the principal objective of ensuring the continuity of the strong man in power: for that purpose Ortega took the following measures:

-Ensuring the interests of transnational capital allowed for foreign investment without taxes, with the cheapest and most docile labor force in Central America (thanks to yellow-dog unions), and allowing unrestricted repatriation of capital and profits.

-Turning over a large percentage of the national territory to transnational mining companies concessions for exploration and exploitation of minerals.

-Promoting an alliance with the most reactionary sectors of the Catholic and Evangelical Churches with measures like the criminalization of abortion under any circumstances (therapeutic abortion had been legal in Nicaragua since 1891).

-Renting out the National Army of Nicaragua and the National Police to the government of the United States to work to stop the flow of drugs toward that country, as well as the flow of “illegal” migrants to the same destination.

-Subjecting the branches of the State (Legislative, Judicial and Electoral) to the Executive Branch. Using the Judicial Branch to interpret the law (declaring “unconstitutional” the article of the Constitution that prohibited reelection), subjecting their enemies to criminal trials and freeing their friends with acquittals. Using the Legislative Branch to change the Constitution (eliminating the article that prohibited reelection), and laws to their liking. Using the Electoral Branch to “win” all the elections with the margin that Ortega might decide.

-Violently repressing political parties when they protested over the electoral frauds, making use principally of criminal youth gangs and, when necessary, party sympathizers and the police.

-Promoting a strategic alliance with national capital through the incorporation of the Superior Council of Private Enterprise into the  national economic decision making body, and allowing them in practice  the initiative on economic matters, at the same time that they were incorporated into the leadership councils of all State institutions whose tasks are outside of economic interests.

-Subjecting the country in an absolute way to the dictates of the International Monetary Fund. The social, economic and political damages of these actions were prevented by clientalistic social programs financed by a small percentage of the economic aid from Venezuela. According to the Central Bank of Nicaragua between 2007 and 2017 Ortega received $3,852,600,000 (three billion, eight hundred and fifty-two million, six hundred thousand dollars).

That money came into Nicaragua as a private donation, and therefore did not form part of the national budget, nor was its use subject to public scrutiny.

Starting in 2014 the flow of petrodollars began to decline. Ortega was working on an alternative source of financing for some years, and in 2013 sold the sovereignty and a non-specified strip of national territory to a Chinese investor to build a Great Interoceanic Canal of Nicaragua, which supposedly would compete with the Panama Canal.

The Canal law talked about the expropriation of the land that the concessionary company thought necessary for the work, and talked about the monetary compensation based on the book value of the land (always less than the market value).

The Canal law provoked an important sector of the peasants who live in the zone potentially affected by the canal to organize, and they declared themselves in rebellion against the Ortega government, in the “Defense of Our Land, Lake and Sovereignty”. The peasant organization, in spite of the repression, jailings and murders unleashed by Ortega, has not stopped fighting the government in a peaceful way, joining the feminists who since 2006, when Ortega criminalized therapeutic abortion, are fighting him as well.

The construction of the ill-fated canal never happened, and lacking fresh resources, Ortega had to start to decrease the clientalistic social programs, which made their beneficiaries begin to be concerned about their future. In these circumstances we began year 2018.

The Spark is ignited

In the first third of the month of April a forest fire started in the Indio Maíz Biological Reserve, in southeastern Nicaragua.

Three days after the fire began, the Ortega government had not moved a finger to put it out. It is known that one of the businesses of the Ortega bourgeoise has been the sale of precious woods, and environmental groups for years have been concerned about the ongoing assault on the forests of the country.

The fire roused fear in the environmental movements and even in sectors not connected to the ecological struggle. The April 10th ecological and social movements held a press conference in the Central American University in Managua (Jesuit) to denounce the indolence of the government to the fire. The students announced a march for April 12th that would wind up at the seat of the National Assembly (Congress) demanding that the government move to put it out.

It was at that moment, in my mind, that the Ortega government decided on a substantive change in its methods of social and political control, a change which led us to where we are today. Until that moment Ortega managed social protests through repression with beatings, and the occupation of public spaces with people hired for those purposes (with streets and plazas already occupied by its employees, the protests did not have a place to occur).

This time  Ortega resorted to his traditional tactics, but he added a new one: a noticeable deployment of police with shotguns and crossing bandoliers (Pancho Villa style) along the entire route that the students had to follow to reach the National Assembly (Congress), in addition to small groups of  motorcyclists within the reach of the police, to pursue the students?

The students were not able to march in Managua and were repressed throughout the entire country. The situation did not lead to generalized violence, because a providential downpour put out the fire. 55 million square meters of forest were burned. The quantity of animals that perished is unknown.

In April Nicaragua exploded

The students were repressed, but still on April 15th in the city of Matagalpa a group of young people tried to do cleanup work on the river that bears the same name. They were intercepted by the police and were prevented from doing the cleanup work. The Ortega repression was reaching those levels of absurdity.

On April 18th Ortega published decree 03-2018 which increased the monthly payment of employees and employers into social security, and decreased pensions for the retired.

Governments of the last 29 years have used the National Social Security Institute (INSS) as their petty cash box. Successive governments of Ortega have not been the exception. In addition, it has had a poor investment policy for the money of the workers, and several of the loans made to friends and employees of Ortega remain unpaid, or had to have their collateral impounded. On the other hand, Ortega increased the payroll of the workers exponentially, with many unnecessary titles but which provide political benefits.

INSS is on the verge of bankruptcy because of fraud, and poor management of the money of the workers on the part of governments, principally Ortega´s government. Instead of collecting the portfolio in arrears and the stolen money, analyzing the structure of responsibilities, improving the administration, Ortega decided that we workers, businesspeople and retired people would pay the bill.

That same day the association of retired people came out in small demonstrations against the measure, in León (the second largest city in the country), Chinandega (northwest), Managua (the capital) and Boaco (central part of the country).   Ortega lambasted the elderly with his shock troops composed of young gang members and thugs from the professional structures of the party. The anti-riot police were deployed to break up the demonstrations and protect the thugs.

The students came out to support the elderly and protest against the government. There is a history to the fact that the insurance of the elderly is a delicate issue that generates immediate action from the students.  Already in 2013 there was repression against elder adults and that gave rise to the #OcupaINSS movement (see ). The government beat the elderly, the students who supported them, stole their vehicles, cameras, cell phones, but in that case, eventually ceded.

In spite of this recent history, the government decided on April 18, 2018 that it had to repress in an exemplary way to cut off the protest uprising at is roots. In my judgement, Ortega and Murillo thought that the resources that they had available were getting smaller, and decided that it had to stop the rot and provide an example to discourage later attempts at rebellion.

They began to beat with pipes, bats, stones everyone who was in front of them. They stole from protestors and journalists. It was 9pm that day and the repression continued. The youth took refuge in the university campuses and took them over.

On the 19th the youth woke up protesting in their universities. Ortega continued repressing indiscriminatingly, and in a meeting with the principal leaders of the party in power and the territories, at noon, transmitted his orders to them, through one of his principal operators, “ we are going all out” (against those who protested).

That day there were several people wounded by the repression and the first three deaths. The students, far from withdrawing, took over their campuses and called the people throughout the country to support them. The population responded, and the first barricades appeared in the neighborhoods close to the universities. In an action of tremendous symbolism, in Masaya, the legendary indigenous neighborhood of Monimbó, a Sandinista bastion, they raised up barricades in support of the students and against Ortega, and began to battle the police and the shock troops of the party.

In the following days Ortega brought out into the street his hired gang members and looted businesses, burned down homes and offices, under the complacent gaze of the police. The propaganda apparatus of Ortega said that the looters and arsonists were the students.

Ortega grovels before his owners of transnational capital

On Sunday April 22nd, transnational capital that operates in the country forced Ortega to read a letter from them on national TV ( ) to abolish the decree that modified the social security payments and pensions and to call for a national dialogue. In the letter the foreign companies said to Ortega: you told us that we could come to earn money, but this is a mess. It is important that you pacify this, and as soon as possible. Repeal the decree, call those protesting to a dialogue, and make it so we can produce in peace. Ortega groveled before the feet of his foreign owners, thanked them, and agreed to everything, but warned that he was not going to allow “disorder nor illegal activities”. One thing was his duty to submit himself to the will of his owners, and another very different thing was to allow Nicaraguan citizens, who he considered his personal livestock, to rise up and challenge his power.

At the moment of Ortega´s TV conference there were already 30 killed by the repression. The protestors said that their objective was no longer the INSS decree, but the ouster of Ortega, and a large majority of us Nicaraguans agreed that it was a just goal. Ortega had to leave. After that repression he could not continue governing.

The tyrant maneuvers to bolt himself to the throne

The decree caused protests in several cities of the country, but the excessive repression gave way to a true popular insurrection, which was responded to with fire and sword by Ortega and his henchmen. At the time of the popular uprising Ortega was paralyzed. He never expected it. He went through several explanations before reaching the most preposterous one, that the problem was a “failed coup attempt financed by drug-traffickers, local bourgeoise and US politicians in Florida in reprisal for Ortega having been the leader of the opposition to the US in the 80´s” !?!?

In Nicaragua there is no opposition from political parties worth talking about. The political parties are the most discredited institutions of liberal democracy in the country. They have no popular appeal. Orteguism has taken over the student organizations in the secondary schools and public universities. But that Orteguista youth organization is as discredited as the political parties. The students were forming their new organization in the heat of the struggle in the barricades.

Ortega infiltrated the barricades throughout the country, in cities and highways, which was not difficult for him, considering that the uprising was not planned, nor was there a central command, nor security measures worth noting. Once infiltrated, they began to take actions against the population for the purpose of discrediting the protest movement.

Ortega asked the Archbishop of Managua to organize the national dialogue and requested that the episcopal conference would serve as mediator and guarantor. The priests accepted the former request, to mediate. The first ones that the Cardinal Archbishop of Managua invited to the negotiation table, in representation of the insurrectional forces, were the business owners-the same people who were Ortega´s partners for the last 11 years and who, based on the decree that increased their burden of social security, according to appearances, divorced him unilaterally!

In the first edition of the national dialogue Ortega had to put up with the presence of the students, the anti-canal peasants and the feminists. There was no way to marginalize them. Precisely for that reason the dialogue did not make progress: the people asked for his resignation and he asked for the subjection of the people. These basic proposals have not changed from May 2018 to now: the people continue asking for Ortega´s resignation and he continues doing everything that he can to avoid it.

Likewise, in the first week of the dialogue, Ortega accepted the entry of the IACHR in Nicaragua and the formation of a International Group of Independent Experts (GIEI) to collaborate with the investigations of the government of Ortega on the events of April and May. The IACHR created a Special Follow up Mechanism for Nicaragua (MESENI) which installed itself in Managua on May 24th.

Contrary to what might be expected of OAS bodies whose Secretary General, Almagro, showed himself favorable to Ortega, the IACHR and the GIEI issued reports that revealed the serious human rights violations carried out by the tyrant, and even what could be considered crimes against humanity.

A short time after having started, the dialogue was broken. Ortega used this time to approach the ex-combatants of the war of the 80s who he had abandoned since 1990. Most rejected him, but he found some receptive ears, and used them to form a body of mercenary paramilitaries. With this body of paramilitaries he started operation cleanup.

The popular forces had barricades in the principal cities and highways of the country. The country was paralyzed. Ortega sent special forces from the police and his paramilitaries with military weaponry, which included even armor-piercing grenades, heavy machine guns and AKAs, to demolish one by one the barricades throughout the country.

Using sharp-shooters they killed the principal leaders who emerged from the struggle. A good part of the people killed were shot in the head or torso. The intention was to kill them. The great majority of them were unarmed or had homemade weapons.

Once operation cleanup was ended, the mortal victims were more than 300 people. The repression had sent into exile more than 70,000 people. Most of the leaders emerged from the heat of the insurrection are dead, in jail, in exile or are clandestine.

In the midst of operation cleanup Ortega renewed the dialogue. There was no end to hostilities. The “dialogue” was held with the sound of machine guns and rifles shooting at the people. Something that did not seem to bother the delegates of either side.

Initially the OAS, through its Secretary General, supported Ortega. It was not until the government of the US announced the need for early elections that Almagro began to follow that line. It appears that the US had reached the conclusion that Ortega was no longer viable as a manager of the country in Nicaragua, and offered him a soft landing.

The representatives of the business owners in the organization that negotiated in the name of the “opposition” jointed the chorus of the US and the OAS, and proposed that the solution to the conflict was electoral reforms that would ensure “competitive elections” and move up the date of the elections. The popular clamor for the ousting of the tyrant was lost amidst the shouting of the powerful.

Soon the European Union joined the chorus. Elections with Ortega for a fourth consecutive period. Meanwhile the repression, now selective, continued being applied and peasant opponents appeared dead, strewn throughout the mountains of Nicaragua.

Ortega had to release many of the more than 700 political prisoners. He made the lives of those “freed” impossible, he accused them of new common crimes. The idea is to terrorize and immobilize them,  or send them into exile. Several of those 700 political prisoners suffered torture and rape while they were in the hands of the repressive forces. At the moment of writing this, more than 150 political prisoners are suffering in the dungeons of Orteguism.

Ortega intends to govern forever and ever, on mountains of cadavers if necessary, in a type of tropical “Reich of a thousand years.”

The US and its vassals and allies want to remove him by elections in 2021, so that the status quo might remain intact. They want Orteguism without Ortega (or with Ortega, because the possible “democratic” candidates are capable of losing the elections).

We the popular sectors demand that the tyrant be ousted through peaceful civil disobedience, and the popular clamor appears to want to begin to be the dominant voice.

The characteristics of the conflict have determined that a large amount of people have had more than enough time and suffering to reflect and arrive at the conclusion that the only way out is popular organization and power. Anarchistic approaches and proposals have bloomed on the social networks. Even though we are still in darkness, the future is promising.


[1] Psuedonym of one of the correspondents of “El Socialista Centroamericano” in Nicaragua

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