These are the last days. The President trembles in fear. Daniel Ortega is afraid, and fear is a dangerous thing.
On May 30, Nicaragua celebrated Mother’s Day, an event of such importance that it is an official work holiday. The Civic Alliance that is leading the revolution (made up of members of civil society, private enterprise and university students) organized a great march to honor the mothers who have lost their children in the protests since April, those who had to identify the tortured bodies of their children, and those who are still looking for the disappeared. At the same time, Rosario Murillo (Ortega’s wife and vice-president) proclaimed herself “mother of all Nicaraguans” and invited people to a celebration in the streets.
In previous days, off-road vehicles with no license plates and carrying hooded gunmen had been roaming the city and firing at small groups of protesters. They were not waiting for nighttime to strike at protest hotspots. We do not know who these people are, but they always appear to retreat to Carmen, the district where the presidential couple lives. Violent attacks and repression are continuing on the university campuses, and on May 30, the day of the two opposing demonstrations, the numbers spoke for themselves: 38,000 joined the pro-government march, while 320,000 people participated in the anti-government one, the largest mobilization ever seen in Central America.
A couple of hours after the start of the “March of the Mothers of April,” the police and paramilitary forces attacked the crowd. The fighting in Managua and other cities led to 16 dead and over 200 injured. This has been yet another massacre. The representatives of the Peasant Movement arrived in Managua in the morning and took refuge in the Cathedral; more than 5,000 people found safe harbor on the grounds of the Central American University (UCA). During the night, there were clashes in various parts of the country, even more wounded, and looting. According to the government, “right-wing vandals” were responsible for everything, but their lying media machine no longer works as they intend.
A failed dialogue
The dialogue that should have led to an agreement between the government and the Civic Alliance has failed: no middle ground between the parties seems reachable after four days of discussions. The students had told the Civic Alliance representatives that it was absurd to try to talk with a murderer, and they were proven right. The main points on the agenda were justice for the events in April, the democratization of the country, the reform of the electoral system and early elections.
On May 16, Ortega and Murillo were present at the first negotiation session: the opposition brought hard accusations against them, that they were unable to answer. In the following days, however, the discussion became stuck on the one aspect that the government seems to care about: the barricades put up by the Peasant Movement at strategic locations throughout the country (as it has become difficult for companies linked to Ortega to illegally sell valuable timber stolen from the tropical reservations with the roads being blocked). No member of the government even spoke about the dead or about justice, let alone about the possibility of the President’s resignation. They continued to try to cloud the reality with simple word games and a great lack of substance covered up by rhetoric.
After the enormous march on May 30 and the violent massacre that followed, the mediation commission led by the Bishops’ Conference declared that there will be no more dialogue until the government ceases fire. The Civic Alliance for Democracy and Justice, led by the university students, demanded the same and asked the people to continue their peaceful resistance.
The government is again pretending they are willing to come to the table after 45 days of protests, but no one believes them any longer. Or perhaps some do: the corrupt, those on their payroll, and some decrepit old-timers from the international Left who are still somehow seeing socialism in a government that can no longer be called anything except an institutionalized dictatorship.
The big lie
Ever since April 18 and the beginning of the wave of protests, something changed: the first image of the bloody face of a student wounded at the Faculty of Agriculture opened up painful scars and wounds that had never healed. Students were not to be touched, and Ortega took a fatally wrong step. The Sandinista Front led monolithically by the “Commandante” and Rosario Murillo had set up a silent dictatorship. A government in an authoritarian mold could not have reacted differently to the April crisis, and the increase in the intensity of protests corresponded to a proportional increase in violence, the expression of a pathological power that had already infected the body of society. This is the typical protection and self-defense mechanism of such regimes, which brought out in stark relief the oppressive nature of the relationship between the dictator and the subjugated people (as described by Mejri and Hagi in the case of the Tunisian Jasmine Revolution).
Ever since its colonization, Nicaragua has been under various models of authoritarian and strongman government, based on the construction of major paradigms and emotional relationships of dependence: i.e. religion and family. One cannot fight against the figure of God and that of the father/mother, and Ortega had understood this very well, as one can see first of all in his pact with the Church allowing them control over women’s bodies (abortion became illegal in Nicaragua because of a law he pushed for), and then in his and his wife’s self-canonization as the “parents” of an entire nation.
But they did not expect that their “sons” and “daughters” would be rebellious, nor did they count on a Church that has suddenly recalled its mission. This time, the government and its advisers made serious errors of judgment: they had not picked up on the weariness of the people, they had not properly gauged the strength of the vanguard of the Peasant Movement and the feminists, and they had not thought of the immediacy of the online dissemination of evidence of their acts of barbarism starting from April 19. They had not thought that even their most loyal acolytes could also change their minds.
The international image of Nicaragua used to be that of a stable, secure, high-growth country, but in fact Nicaraguan society was under an ostensibly mild-mannered dictatorship, forced to passively accept living in a confined intellectual space without the right to express their opinion. Nicaraguan society has rebelled against a longstanding historical tradition of the abuse of power, not only against its current incarnation. Ever since his first term, Ortega has been adept at using words, holding on to their outward form and changing their content: his slogans that proclaimed love, reconciliation, and a Christian, socialist homeland full of solidarity had capitalized on the people’s need for peace, the need for economic stability and the strength of symbols. But all these bulwarks are now failing him, one after the other.
Students and protesters began to use the government’s own words, and songs, against them. They did not take explicit political positions, but reclaimed the symbols of the Sandinistas, the ideas of Carlos Fonseca (the founder of the Sandinista Front), and the ideals of the Revolution, and spoke of Ortega’s betrayal of all of these. There is no shortage in Nicaragua of leaders able to replace the “Comandante,” but it is the paradigm of leadership itself that the government has destroyed, and the students have understood this.
One cannot yet say whether this will be a new “color revolution,” and whether Gene Sharp’s theory of peaceful resistance will guide this revolt, but it is clear to everyone that the youth who are taking part in this ethical uprising are the protagonists and moral leaders of the Nicaraguan events.
What will the future bring?
It is currently difficult to assess the prospects for the future. The people do not want a new war, but Ortega and his cabal must go away. The presidential couple is guilty of the bloodiest peacetime repression that the country has ever seen, including that by Somoza, the tyrant that the Sandinista Front had defeated: over 100 dead so far, around a thousand wounded and taken prisoners, and many more desaparecidos. The interventions by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights did not have any effect, nor did the harsh denunciation by Amnesty or the UN’s demands to stop the violence.
Many would argue that Ortega is shooting his last remaining rounds before his surrender. But uncertainties remain about the people’s capacity to withstand a situation that is becoming more complicated and tense every day: the possibility of a national strike is currently dividing opinions within the movement, and the ghost of the troubled 80s, with war, hunger, and mourning, is still haunting everyone.
The university students have sparked the uprising, and now they must show that they are able to manage it.