While the April 2018 uprising was largely student led, this fact can be easily missed in the media coverage. This article provides some student leader perspectives of the current situation where the opposition is trying to unify in light of a future electoral process.
What opposition, and what changes?
By Harley Morales-Pon and Juan Carlos Márquez
November 6, 2019 in Confidencial
There is a power struggle in a conflict that oversimplifies the political space between the Ortega Murillo regime and the Blue and White Coalition
On social networks the activities of the most representative alliances of the national political scene are criticized: The Civic Alliance for Justice and Democracy (ACJD) and the Blue and White National Unity (UNAB). They argue that the former has been kidnapped by the interests of the business sector, and the latter has been taken over by the Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS) under a type of political opportunism. Not carrying out more forceful actions-a phrase with an imprecise meaning – is attributed to both.
We provide a description and analysis of the way in which the opposition to the Ortega and Murillo regime is composed. The purpose is not to shed light so as to provide weapons to the adversary, but to give ourselves an understanding of the positions occupied, the political posturing and the strategies implemented by the different agents in the internal conflicts. This is fundamental at this time in which Unity is spoken so much about as a panacea to the departure of Ortega and Murillo.
Prior to April 18, 2018 the Ortega and Murillo regime was supported by a series of national and international actors, that included the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, the organized private sector and the international community, more concretely the Organization of American States (OAS), and it was sustained by the consent of a significant percentage of citizens who perceived and positively valued the model of the public-private alliance, or the COSEP model, that made the economy grow, but sacrificed democratic institutionality.
The massacre of April began to change everything. Indignation mobilized a large number of citizens into the streets. Quickly i) an evisceration of the State, its institutions and institutional procedures was carried out; ii) a change took place in the political correlation among the social forces; iii) an interclass and heterogeneous social block was formed that claimed for itself the representation of the popular will for many voices and attempted, from outside institutional structures, to challenge the political power of the regime; iv) lastly, the coalition of actors connected to the dictatorial regime began to disintegrate.
In this way, given the rupture of institutional frameworks, two privileged spaces emerged as extraordinary frameworks where, in an open and unveiled way, a struggle for power took place in a conflict that simplified the political space between the regime of Ortega and Murillo and the Blue and White people: the streets and the National Dialogue.
The Civic Alliance
So the Nicaraguan Episcopal Conference (CEN) called together a series of highly relevant actors to serve as the counterpart to an official delegation in the Dialogue process. Among them were included students, peasants, business-people, actors of civil society and the university sector, among others.
As the expert in social movements, Sidney Tarrow, states, when a disintegration occurs in the heart of the elites, it not only motivates the citizenry to venture into collective action, but also motivates segments of the elite themselves who are not in power – the business sector organized in COSEP after the rupture of the Alliance, Dialogue and Consensus model, and other political elites opposed to the regime – to accord to themselves the role of “tribunal of the People”. This is what they did, they spoke in the name of the large multitudes who were fighting against the regime in the streets. The case of the students and peasants was an exception.
But what were those sectors that formed the Civic Alliance? Was there a convergence between those who were dialoguing in the conference rooms and those who were fighting behind barricades in the streets? Did they have the capacity on their own to pressure Ortega and maintain a favorable position in the political correlations of forces internally and internationally?
Probably the most questioned sectors were two: the business sector and the student sector. First of all, the business sector organized in COSEP, which in its moment was a strategic ally of Ortega, found itself in a dilemma; on the one hand, it perceived that the autocrat was a short and long term factor of instability, because through its repressive actions against the unarmed People, it had broken the trust of economic agents, and with that the investment climate, and on the other hand, Ortega continued being the “strong man”, capable of containing the more radical positions and exploits of the opposition behind the fear that “they will take heaven by assault”.
Far from this, the business sector, and more specifically big capital personified in the Counselors of COSEP, now out of alignment with the harshest positions of the autocracy, constituted, following the postulates of Guillermo Odonnel and Phillipe Schmitter, a type of reformist faction with the desire to change from the old Ortega regime, with the capacity to have an impact on and pressure within the regime, given their communication with followers of the dictatorship, and their alliance with key countries in international politics like the USA. What is more, it could be said that this sector was the most organized on the national level because of the level of institutionalization of its associations.
Secondly, the student movement was a complex element to analyze if the five student organizations who confronted the Ortega and Murillo regime in the National Dialogue were taken as the basis. It is valid to recap, in fairness, that the insurrection, although it was started by university students, transcended the university and became purely popular. The People flooded out and became the April Popular Insurrection.
The slogan “they were students, they were not criminals”, even though well-intentioned, was deployed from a purely classist perspective – “criminals” could be mowed down. This annulled any rights of the “shirtless” to demand their place in any decision-making spaces, and interrelate “taking the streets” with “pounding the table” in the Dialogue. Even more, certain student organizations who wielded the right granted by the pulpit to speak for the People in general, did not have a connection with grassroots students who were entrenched in Universities like the UPOLI or the UNAN-Managua, much less with the those in the barricades. This blocked a relationship between progress in the streets and progress in the Dialogue. The internal conflicts in the student movement that were forming beginning in April weakened their capacity for political impact on both sides.
Without going into more depth on the other representatives of sectors who on their own did not have the capacity for mobilization, except for the organized peasant movement, we can make two reflections: 1) it is understandable why the organized private sector has positioned itself as a relevant actor in this alliance, its fundamental position in the management and decision making of the convergence is based on its capacity for organization, acting in block for their interests, and its capacity for direct pressure on the Ortega and Murillo regime. 2) The reasons are clear for the hope placed on students organized in the Civic Alliance, which at one time was exaggerated, and why it has been dissolving given their incapacity to lead the resistance and truly provoke a sufficiently large enough uprising to topple the existing political regime.
In these days the Civic Alliance has communicated that it will have meetings with certain key sectors to exchange ideas about the formation of an opposition coalition, while the Citizens for Freedom Party has presented a body of advisers with a view to being the ballot position in future national elections. If by chance hopes continue to be placed on relevant figures of the April insurrection, it will be important to focus attention on, or build or renovate the political subject that subverted the bases of the Ortega and Murillo regime. After all, as the political scientist Chantall Mouffe states, there are no political subjects who fight, politics in itself is the struggle to constitute that political subject. It has to be invented and reinvented.
Harley Morales Pon is a student of sociology, member of the Con Vos political movement, and a member of the National Dialogue. Juan Carlos Márquez is a social communicator, member of the Con Vos political movement.