It has been demonstrated that every authoritarian system carries the germs of its own destruction. I know this because I took part in the construction and imposition of a revolution that, despite its achievements and good intentions, claimed for itself the power to decide what counted as an acceptable political truth and, in its name, manipulated laws, institutions and decrees, crushed the opposition and acted with a supreme arrogance that made it believe it would rule forever.
The Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) was as convinced of its invincibility in 1989 as its new incarnation under Ortega is in 2014. The need to keep up appearances we saw during Daniel Ortega’s first post-revolutionary term in office, in which alliances were created and the autonomy of the country’s institutions (particularly the army and the police) were moderately respected, is already a thing of the past.
This second term has consolidated the process of State-Party fusion we saw in the eighties, in both State institutions and the military establishment. The constitutional reforms reveal an intention to establish the life-long rule the leadership wishes to set up at all costs. The entire country has been transformed into the political manor of the FSLN and the only sector “spared” this domination by the party is the private sector and the free market. Under a socialist slogan, Nicaragua now has capitalism with obvious advantages for the nomenclature.
As is often the case when this type of absolute power becomes established, the majority of the population relies on “Christianity and solidarity” from others in order to survive in the labyrinth of favors, red tape, personal and political prices, blackmail and thinly-veiled threats, when not affiliated to the generous and giving party. The fear of becoming an outcast or enduring reprisals leads people either to adopt a calculated “apolitical” attitude or a kind of abject servility that is willing to take advantage of the “generosity” of the regime, a regime that needs applause and acclamation from the masses, in order to convince itself the people loves it and will follow it anywhere.
The dictatorship Daniel Ortega is reestablishing is not like Somoza’s. What he is repeating is the formula that failed in the eighties, this time with a liberal economy and illusory freedom of the press enjoyed by only a few media and by the premise that any message can be quickly minimized through a communication empire that includes numerous TV and radio stations, or if needed, by young, empowered followers willing to hammer the absolute truth of the party into the public – gladly and with impunity.
It is often said that what defeated the Sandinistas in 1990 was the war waged by the Contras. But it must be said that the exhaustion of the people at the time was also a reflection of another, deeper fatigue, the one sensed at the grassroots. People were fed up with the top-down system, the hierarchies and arbitrariness of the party, justified as discipline and the need for “Sandinista unity” in the face of the enemy, which encouraged self-censorship and prevented internal criticisms.
The slogan “Dirección Nacional Ordene” (National Directorate Give the Orders) was in fact a demand for submission to party members who – owing to the strange psychological makeup of the masses – felt all the more revolutionary the more they were willing to obey any order without complaints. Failing to do so, we were told, was a “threat” to the revolutionary project.
The mentality of the anonymous, obedient and faceless masses is a patent characteristic of the behavior of the individuals within the post-revolutionary FSLN, reluctant to have their own public opinion and forced to repeat the official discourse (when they say anything at all). Even the president is the victim of a communications policy that prevents him from listening to the questions posed by journalists from his own country and forces him to pronounce long spiels from grandstands, diatribes for which he is not very well suited. In this connection, the eighties were a kind of oasis where we at least perceived the collective efforts and the diversity of criteria within the leadership.
In the absence of a consolidated opposition – the current one hasn’t even managed to achieve the unity it had in the 80s and has been decimated, bought out or infiltrated – the only opposition that can emerge in the country, if the voracity of the monopolistic government is to continue and civic alternatives continue to be curtailed, is that of anarchic groups.
The most disconcerting aspect of the July 19 massacre [when gunmen opened fire on a caravan of FSLN supporters killing five and wounding two dozen] is, in my opinion, precisely that possibility: that we will begin to see more and more political movements led by gangs lacking a program, moved by resentment and impotence, terrorist attacks against innocent civilians, a dangerous and unhealthy form of violence, aggravated by the fact it could lead, as we appear to be seeing, to the persecution of minor figures from among the opposition, turned into scapegoats in order to conceal the authorities’ lack of real leads.
The strange and psychologically terrifying behavior of the authorities while carrying out these crackdowns is obviously pre-conceived to produce fear and terror among the population. Though it may prove effective in some cases, it could have the exact opposite effect in others. “Violence engenders violence” was a phrase used at one point in the sixties to account for guerrilla actions.
As a woman and citizen of Nicaragua, I am feeling the country’s anxiety levels rise. We are reliving the stubbornness and arrogance of the eighties, the mistakes that ended up with the deaths of countless people, the blindness and, ultimately, the defeat suffered back then. I would like to believe that we still have time to rethink things.
If the issue of the canal, for instance, is not handled on the basis of a popular consensus and with transparency and professionalism the country’s future and new generations deserve, will bring innumerable problems upon us. The Nicaraguans who have been mistreated will react. The country may be slow to react, but its explosive reactions have been as constant as that of its volcanoes.
Ortega and company must come to the understanding that so much power is a double-edged sword. It demands a high degree of responsibility, vision and humility. It is not a guarantee, nor a carte blanche, to do what one pleases.