Flying over Nicaragua



From Sandino to Ortega. Notes on the Revolution

“I see the snowstorm approaching,/ I see the earthquake moving on,/ I see the stone in the middle of the path/ and I see the rivers flooding the banks;/ but these storms have hats,/ earthquakes have money in their pockets,/ / the stones are taken away by car/ and the overflowing rivers handed over to the police/ – all of this I show.” (Bertolt Brecht, “Song of the Dramatist”).

“Meager were the forces. And the goal/ was at a great distance;/ clearly visible, although for me/ difficult to reach./ Thus passed the time/ that I was granted on earth.” (Bertolt Brecht, “To Those Who Will Be Born”).

On February 9, the Ortega-Murillo government took a surprising decision: it decided to banish from the country 222 political prisoners rendered stateless for the crime of treason. All your personal documents, from certificates and diplomas to personal and confidential data relating to health status, erased from civil records; and their property seized by the state. Thus, in a single day, they went from citizens who were political prisoners to stateless people expropriated from everything that belonged to them. They became, therefore, in terms of law, practically non-existent subjects.

The exception was the Bishop of Matagalpa, Rolando Álvarez, who refused to board the plane that transported the stateless persons to Washington. Rolando Álvarez was taken to prison in worse conditions than he had previously enjoyed, and quickly sentenced to 26 years and 4 months in prison. Six days later, similar measures were applied to another 94 Nicaraguans who are refugees or known to be living abroad.

For the government of Managua to act as it did, formally supported by dubious legality, it was necessary for Ortega and Murillo – the vice president would have been the creator of the operation – to count on the agility of the legislative and judicial powers. Within the scope of the unicameral legislature, the National Assembly reformed article 21 of the constitution and adjusted the ordinary law that regulates the same matter. The Judiciary, in turn, immediately applied the updated law. From a formal point of view, therefore, government action can always be defended as resulting from strict compliance with the law.

What allowed the legislature to act with such speed? Its own composition, the result of past elections. Currently, of the 94 seats in the Assembly, the opposition – made up of 5 parties – occupies 14, while the FSLN party holds all the others, with the exception of one, occupied by a small regional party, Yatama, whose base is the electorate of the Atlantic Coast, a region sparsely populated by some native peoples and English-speaking black populations. The Yatama party is allied with the FSLN.

As expected, there is no easily available data on the ideological tendencies of the 16 members of the Supreme Court of Justice, but at least in this case of banishment with statelessness, the line adopted by the executive apparently followed without major dissent.

Until this moment, it is still not possible to assess whether or not the action taken by the government, in coordination with the other powers of the republic, was positive for Ortega and Murillo. On the one hand, the governmental and party capacity to generate popular support was evident. Large demonstrations – organized or spontaneous – did take place. Massive support, therefore, from a part of the popular classes to what the president decided. Internally, immediate, undoubted success.

But at the other end of the ball, in the external dimension, something becomes increasingly clear: a symmetrical situation is emerging, the opposite of the success achieved in the strictly Nicaraguan sphere. Mexico and Colombia went from expressions of concern to criticism of the government in Managua. Chile criticized the ban outright. Santiago's rhetoric has increased in tone since then. Brazil and Argentina were silent at first, but then, although less directly, they also manifested themselves, in essence, in a critical way. Both countries finally decided to take in some of the banished stateless persons.

In Central America, not much support. In the Caribbean, Cuban support is expected. In South America, the same with respect to Venezuela. Both the Cuban and Venezuelan positions are, for anyone who knows the history of imperial aggression against Cuba since the beginning of the revolution, and against Venezuela since the rise of Chávez, perfectly understandable. There are no others available, if we analyze reality from an angelic prism.

United States, United Kingdom, Spain and virtually all other members of the European Union, also as expected, sympathized with the banned and condemned Nicaragua. The United States granted them work visas valid for two years. Spain was the first country to offer them nationality titles. Deep down, this northern Atlanticist group considers what happened in Managua to be a welcome and unexpected help, manna that, obviously, is being instrumentalized ideologically at a gallop. The event greatly reinforces the rhetoric and propaganda of all those who, linked to the Biden doctrine, think geopolitics and geostrategy as reducible to manifest foolishness: the imposition on a planetary scale of mandatory choice between idealized 'tocquevillian' democracy and perverse expansionist authoritarianism .

The Biden doctrine, it is important to note, is just the most recent avatar of the boundless Manichaeism that has marked the foreign policy of the Imperial Republic since at least the establishment of the Truman doctrine (1947). It is easy, for the willful blindness that is in fact a servile drive, to see the world from this false binary opposition. In this, to the surprise of many, the Atlanticist lens reveals itself to be practically indistinguishable from the other that is opposite and complementary to it, that of a certain left that, by confusing Ortega and Murillo with the great and last social revolution of the last century, which so much excited those of my generation, ends or begins by abdicating, in the name of the anti-imperialist struggle, any critical, elementary thought. Pavlovian reactions prevail on both sides.

Although the dynamics of events still do not allow for a sufficient degree of clarity, the balance of gains, losses and damages does not seem very favorable to the Ortega-Murillo government. In Latin American and Caribbean terms, the picture should become more defined later this month, with the Ibero-American summit taking place in the Dominican Republic.

Fundamental: the process started on February 9 will be long. Still, it's just a frame in a feature film. In order to understand it in a less superficial way, it is necessary to turn to the history of Nicaragua, especially from the first half of the XNUMXth century, that is, since the Sandino insurgency. This perspective that operates with the long time of history, when applied to Nicaragua, is, in itself, in fact illuminating, if you take into account, moreover, the biggest framework of all, that of the dynamics of capitalism in its most recent imperialist phase, whose neutral and bland name is globalization.

In the case of Nicaragua and all of Latin America and the Caribbean, the greater weight of capitalism in its global imperialist phase is incarnated in a specific variant, the one that, built by Washington, considers us all as a lowly backyard. Never forget that this incessant project of domination was clearly formulated almost exactly 200 years ago. In December 1823 President James Monroe proclaimed his doctrine.

What was established by Monroe has seen successive avatars. For our immediate interest, the most important were: the Roosevelt corollary (1904); the second Roosevelt's 'good neighbor' policy (1933); the Truman Doctrine (1947); the Carter doctrine (1980); the Reagan Doctrine (1981); and the shift avatar, the Biden doctrine. Each one of them, specific; each of them, inserted in a determined historical period. But all, despite their differences, have a common trait: they are imperialist formulations that are completed with imperial practices. All focused on the domination of Latin America and the Caribbean, but not just our region. The project, we know, has a planetary dimension. For us Latin Americans and Caribbeans, the most brutal of all, if we think in terms of formulation, the Roosevelt corollary. The most lethal for Nicaragua, the Reagan doctrine.

It is against this background that one understands in its real dimension the guerrilla war waged by Sandino against the American occupation forces, an effort that persisted from 1927 to 1933, that is, until the marines withdrew, not without first the United States to create the National Guard whose first leader was Anastazio Tacho Somoza. A year after the withdrawal of the 'marines', Sandino and two of his generals were assassinated (February 1934) by the National Guard, after having met with the then president Sacasa, linked to Anastazio Somoza by family ties. According to Somoza himself, the operation would have been orchestrated with the connivance or support of the then American ambassador in Managua.

Only in 1961, that is, 27 years after the triple assassination that opened the doors to the establishment, in 1936, of the dynastic dictatorship of the Somozas, finally overthrown 43 years later, in 1979, did a new armed resistance begin. This time not against the US marines, but against Tachito Somoza, the National Guard and all the forces that supported the infamous dictatorship. Eighteen years later, the revolutionaries came to power.

It is important to take into account that: (i) the Front was structured in a very imperfect way based on three main tendencies, autonomous and independent, each with its vision of revolution; (ii) the great mediator between them, Carlos Fonseca Amador, perhaps the most interesting of the Nicaraguan leaders, was killed by the National Guard in 1976, that is, three years before the triumph of the revolution. Three tendencies, therefore: the Third Party; that of the Protracted People's War; and the so-called Proletarian Tendency.

The main leaders of Terceirista were the Ortega brothers, Daniel and Humbero. They operated from Costa Rica, were the strongest in military terms and advocated building alliances with the bourgeois opposition. The Protracted People's War trend was influenced by Vietnamese and Maoist experiences. It supported the long-term strengthening of peasant bases in the mountains, particularly in the Segovia area. Operated from Honduras. The Proletarian Tendency centered its revolutionary work on the urban and rural proletariat. In all of them, there were followers of liberation theology. A fact to bear in mind: it was only towards the end of the final offensive against Managua, which originated in León, that the three trends came together and merged. But never completely, never completely.

The fusion of tendencies, the union finally achieved within the FSLN, lasted roughly from 1979 to 1990, when Daniel Ortega lost the elections to Violeta Chamorro. Even so, in those 11 years there were serious moments of tension within the FSLN, as Ortega ceased to be 'the first among equals' and began to exercise a different type of leadership. A new style of rule emerged, more clearly asserted with the return to power, in 2006, of the FSLN party, Daniel Ortega elected president for the second time. The victory, relevant data, was obtained with the support of 38% of the valid votes. The 16 years of crossing the desert, which at first glance were well completed, were also those of growing internal turmoil for the FSLN.

The Sandinista Revolution came to be understood from different periodizations. For some, the movement went through six phases, of which the first was the longest, extending from 1961, the year the FSLN was created, until the mid-1970s. This would have been the slow formation stage. The second lasted only 5 years, from about 1974 to 1979/1980. Phase of fantastic dynamism. The third extends until approximately 1985, Nicaragua being run by the Sandinista Government Board headed by Daniel Ortega. Ortega, leader; but still continuing to be first among equals. The fourth period is that of Ortega's first presidential term, which ended with the electoral defeat against Violeta Chamorro. The fifth is the crossing of the desert. In it is when the front decomposes. It is there that the progressive dissolution of what we could perhaps call a tense revolutionary fraternity takes place. This is where a certain decadence begins to take shape.

Since 2006 Nicaragua has been experiencing the sixth stage of the revolution, in my view the most problematic. As we are better informed about this period, at least in journalistic terms, I preferred to simply list a series of points that may contribute to the debate that took place on the left regarding what the Sandinista Revolution is today.

In this context, I assess that: (1) the future of the revolution has become totally unpredictable. As the historian Jeffrey Gould would say, the contingency quota of the process started in 1961 took a giant leap. (2) the sixth period is explicitly marked by the exercise of personalist power now embodied in the Ortega-Murillo couple. (3) the Frente Sandinista is irremediably fractured or, I dare say, on the way to extinction as a revolutionary party. Today, of the original commanders, Daniel Ortega only has Bayardo Arce. All the others died or retreated to the private sphere, or are part of the 'renovating Sandinista' camp in direct conflict with what they call 'institutional Sandinism'.

Humberto Ortega, whose last task was to manage the process of professionalization of the Sandinista armed forces and police, has long become a prosperous businessman who lives almost always in Costa Rica. Humberto, by the way, since 2018 has become a moderate critic of his brother.

(4) the purges that took place and the constitutional reform that allows Ortega to run again as long as his state of health and Nicaraguan political circumstances allow, were not accepted by all the opposition. (5) the composition of interests between the Ortega government, on the one hand, and, on the other, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, a bone across the throat of a part of the revolutionary left. (6) the strange Christianity adopted by converts Ortega and Murillo, together with the rise of conflict between the government and the Catholic Church, something that has been intensifying since the second half of last year, took a negative turn with the condemnation of the bishop of Matagalpa.

(7) on the other hand, the government apparently supports itself very well. It has significant support from the popular classes. Ortega won the 2021 elections with 75% of the vote. Do not forget that during the election campaign he repressed and arrested 7 of the presidential candidates. Those who ultimately competed with him were not well known. Also, don't forget that in the elections held 15 years ago, Daniel obtained 38% of the votes, little more than enough to return to the presidency. Given the fragility of the opposition, both the renewed Sandinista and the “traditional” liberal-conservative bourgeois, it is very unlikely that in the 2026 elections, Ortega, candidate of the FSLN, does not get his fifth consecutive term.

(8) in addition to the support of a part, I don't know if the majority, of the popular classes, Ortega also relies on the pillar constituted by the armed forces, the police and those of a militia character. The performance of this group of armed men and women was decisive in April 2018. For the unconditional supporters of the Ortega-Murillo regime, these military-popular forces repressed terrorists with great effectiveness and legitimacy, in full defense of the threatened revolution. Admirable behavior, then. For others, his execrable role would definitely mark the inglorious end of the revolution.

(9) On the rhetorical level, the government is doing very well, at least at first glance. His intense anti-imperialist discourse works, as it could not fail to work, because anti-imperialism is synonymous with the Sandinista revolution. But discourse does not innovate. It has become repetitive rhetoric that, however mobilizing it may be, does not create new horizons. Will this discursive drought negatively affect the government's ability to convince 'vis-à-vis' the popular masses, by 2026? (10) the bourgeois opposition, in addition to being divided, is weak. His speech, he also very much worn out. Your practice, even worse. In this labyrinth, one certainty remains: the United States and the Europeans will do everything, once again, to create a type of competitive oppositional front. Sisyphus awaits them, holding the stone at the base of the mountain.

(11) the Sandinista renewal attempt did not succeed. The two small parties created by the dissident Sandinistas failed. At this moment, if we think about political-electoral strategies, it is still not possible to say whether the banishment and statelessness to which great leaders of historic Sandinismo were subjected will turn out to be negative factors or not for Ortega and Murillo. I believe that this somewhat shared situation – that of the electoral fragility of the bourgeois opposition being mirrored in the electoral fragility of the renewed Sandinismo, itself an ambiguous concept that manifests itself in an equally nebulous discourse – can lead the renewed Sandinismo to some kind of tactical articulation with the bourgeois opposition, to the jubilation of the US and Europeans. Such a specific impulse, if carried out, could well be the final nail in the coffin of the Sandinista revolution.

(12) an immensely positive factor for the Ortega-Murillo government, the beneficial effects of social policies: education, science, workforce training, health, basic sanitation, culture, especially popular culture, roads, bridges and other infrastructure works . They, the distinctive mark of Sandinismo since 1979, are being taken forward by the current government, albeit in another modality, that of understandings with the World Bank and the IMF. In their concreteness, they strengthen the image of the ruling couple as protectors of the material interests of the people. In this regard, the question remains: will these policies be supported by the World Bank and the IMF in order to ensure the necessary resources for their continuity? In April 2018, not to forget, the demands, suggestions or demands of the FM, agreed with the government, led, at the moment when the social security reform took shape, to the insurgency that consumed more than 300 lives.

(13) the external environment is very unfavorable to Ortega and Murillo: (a) the US will continue to be what it has been since 1823…; (b) the European Union, the United Kingdom and the main European countries, sheep that will certainly accompany the US in this policy of 'subtle' intervention in the name of democracy; (c) Latin America will continue to be divided, support for Ortega, for more than understandable reasons, tending to be limited, with moments of eventual punctual expansion of a tactical nature, to Cuba and Venezuela. Cuba and Venezuela, so brutally attacked by the empire, have – by obligation, by principle and by interest – to reinforce their militant solidarity with the current Nicaraguan government, and with any other that is not the pure and simple re-edition of the Chamorro-Alemán- Bolaños. Even because there is no alternative in sight.

(14) Joe Biden's government will be increasingly aggressive. Attack Nicaragua in every possible way, provided that in principle – something that can change – they do not involve direct military confrontation, not even operations'by proxy' in the terrorist war style of the 'contras', greatly benefits the current occupant of the White House and his party electorally. In other words, Managua will have increasing difficulties in its relationship with Washington, which at the limit can, in addition to affecting the inevitably tempestuous bilateral relationship, make dialogue between the government, the World Bank and the IMF very difficult.

(15) What is Ortega's greatest hope in the face of this adverse situation? In essence, consolidate the support it receives from Beijing and Moscow. The extent of Russian support will likely depend on the course of the war in Ukraine. China's is much safer in the immediate period that extends until 2026. After all, the big step has already been taken: the award, for 50 years, of the construction works of the canal between the two oceans to the Chinese company based in Hong Kong. All it takes is for these works to speed up for Nicaragua to breathe less toxic air.

Bearing this whole framework in mind, my feeling is that the Ortega-Murillo regime and what may still survive from the great Sandinista revolution will remain threatened. Today, and for this very reason, the government has to pragmatically focus on its own survival. The Revolution, in the opinion of many, has completed its cycle. Ortega, so different from Napoleon I, consciously or not, plays the role of executor of the will in this tragedy.

Despite everything I said above, I have no great doubts about Ortega's ability, three years from now, to win his fifth consecutive term as head of state. That seems to me almost assured. Seeing, once this scenario materializes, what will be left of the revolutionary process initiated in 1961.

* Tadeu Valadares he is a retired ambassador.

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