By Carlos Fonseca Terán on May 3, 2018
Now it is Nicaragua’s turn. Nicaragua is a country which after two successive wars, has achieved remarkable stability: the annual economic growth has hovered around 5% in the last ten years, with high levels of security and safety, and, according to the UNDP, Nicaragua is one of the Latin American countries with the greatest reduction of poverty and inequality during this same period of time—since the return of the Sandinista Front to govern the country.
During nearly one week, the country literally burned. The detonator was a reform to social security—since reversed—which consisted in a slight increase in the deductions of workers and a larger increase for businesses, as well as establishing a contribution from pensioners. Another measure was to make those whose salaries are beyond a certain amount pay deductions in correspondence with what they really earn and not only up to a certain sum, as it has been up to this point. This latter measure had the objective to decrease the possibilities of business owners to scam the social security system by reporting invented high salaries to be able to draw large pensions. But the general objective of the set of measures taken was to solve the fiscal crisis of the Nicaraguan Institute of Social Security (INSS) caused by the broader coverage of social security and the increased amount of benefits enjoyed by workers. This was the alternative that the government found to avoid applying the proposal of the IMF, which was to increase the retirement age and the number of weeks of contributions required to access a pension. The IMF proposal also was to eliminate the pension to war victims and the partial pension to people who reach retirement age without having met the number of necessary weeks—benefits that the Sandinistas achieved shortly after returning to government.
As can be seen, the measures taken were considerably less harmful to workers than those proposed by the IMF, which were vigorously supported by the private sector. The business lobby, (Consejo Superior de la Empresa Privada—COSEP) protested the reforms, which is understandable, given that the main impacts were to felt by business owners and high salary individuals.
As such, it is not surprising that no labor unions or workers have participated in protests, with the exception of workers of the large private companies—who are not allowed to organize unions—obligated by their bosses to march. But the key protagonists were groups of university students, especially in two private universities that receive public subsidies to facilitate access for students of fewer economic resources.
The protests began with small pickets organized by upper-class and upper middle-class youth, who often organize this sort of activity against the Sandinista government. The difference this time was that the confrontations between these youth and the Sandinista youth from poorer neighborhoods—called “hordes” by the rightwing—generated a feeling of solidarity in a large part of the university student body, which escalated the protest by placing barricades in public roads and confronting the police that arrived to clear the roads with homemade firearms.
This phenomenon was the product of a generalized perception that the reforms affected workers and pensioners. Meanwhile, there was no process of discussion and approval of the reforms, which made it difficult for those who might have defended them to know what to defend and limiting their motivation to do so. This was due to the late response of Sandinistas’ neighborhood organizations and state institutions, as well as social movements aligned with the FSLN. In part, what motivated the protests were groups of students and youth in general that assumed that they were defending just social demands, but who now have everything to lose due to the unfavorable relation of forces that will be present in the necessary national dialogue being installed to review this and other topics. The unfavorable relation of forces is, ironically, a product of the protests themselves.
The confrontation grew until the situation got out of the control of authorities and the confrontations spread between detractors and defenders, no longer of the social security reforms as much as the Sandinista government itself, which has enjoyed eight years with over 60% popular approval. In the heat of the confrontations, weapons of war appeared and with them, the dead of one side and the other, including police officers, because there were deadly weapons in the hands of groups that confronted authorities. In the following two days, many public buildings were burned, institutions were attacked, private businesses were ransacked, nearly all by antigovernment groups.
President Daniel Ortega spoke to the nation during the two most violent days of the conflict: first, to call for dialogue and second, to cancel the reforms that had motivated the protests. Both sides called on the Episcopal Conference of the Catholic Church to be a mediator of the dialogue, although some bishops have openly sided against the government and called for more protests.
The situation calmed when the President declared that the reform to social security would be cancelled in order to find other options in the national dialogue. However, small politicized groups continued protesting, rejecting the dialogue and demanding the resignation of the president, as certain communication media have continued to incite violence and publicize false and ever-growing numbers of dead. They have included people who had nothing to do with the protests, including victims of gangs that took advantage of the situation to carry out killings.
Fortunately, the gang killings were not able to prolong the period of violence, because these groups in Nicaragua do not have anything close to the organizational and operational capacity of the mara, which are widespread in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. Currently, the Attorney General of the Republic is investigating the facts in order to formally accuse those found as responsible for the deaths that have occurred. The Sandinistas in the National Assembly created a Truth Commission comprised of people of high standing in the country who have nothing to do with the conflict. However, in the general perception within as well as outside Nicaragua, there has been installed a myth of a student massacre perpetrated by the National Police, which is absolutely false.
It is possible that the reforms themselves, as well as the method to implement them, were not the best. But it is impossible to deny that they were meant to stop the policy that the IMF wanted to impose on the country with the support of the private sector. Indeed, the private sector has supported the protests and even initially conditioned its participation in the dialogue. This constitutes a temporary rupture of the mechanism of consensus that has been implemented with participation of the government, labor unions and the private sector to define the minimum wage, fiscal policy and the other aspects of the economic and working life of the country.
It is curious that the escalated violence appeared simultaneously in most of the main cities in the country and has been carried out with similar methods in each place. It is also curious that these events resemble the destabilization format applied by imperialism in the Arab countries. Ileana Ros-Lehinen and all the US and Latin American ultra-right are supporting what they call a social protest against neoliberal policy.
The really hallucinogenic, however, is to see how some opinion writers who call themselves leftist close ranks against the Sandinistas based on what has occurred, accusing the Nicaraguan Government and President Daniel Ortega of having abandoned revolutionary principles and presenting as real Sandinistas the “renovators”: those who renounced socialism and anti-imperialism upon the Soviet Collapse and since then have moved among the most reactionary sectors of the US Congress to ask for economic sanctions against Nicaragua.
The Nicaraguan Government and the Sandinista Front of National Liberation are accused of being led by corrupt leaders and a new Sandinista bourgeoisie. However, curiously the real Sandinista bourgeoisie was precisely that which abandoned the FSLN and founded the Movement for Sandinista Renovation (MRS), which absorbed in the 1990s the majority of those who had held high-level positions in the Sandinista government of the 1980s.
When the Sandinistas lost power, it was precisely this sector that unlawfully appropriated public goods and then allied with the rightwing government, just as today it continues to support the most reactionary candidates in the elections. Meanwhile, it attacks the FSLN for its negotiations with the rightwing when in opposition, which was realistically the only way to elect judges, due to the judicial dispositions promoted by the same “renovators” behind the back of the people and with another sector of the right.
The MRS hides the fact that the FSLN has never gone into elections in alliance with any of the sectors of the rightwing in Nicaragua: neither the oligarchy which is an ally of the MRS, nor the petty bourgeois with which in years past the FSLN made agreements that were necessary in the long road to return to power—agreements that were criticized from within the FSLN without leading to those of us who criticized to stop supporting the FSLN.
No bourgeois was to be seen in the recent demonstrations of support by the Sandinistas in defense of the revolutionary process. On the other hand, in the demonstrations of the right, there was a notorious and enthusiastic presence of the Nicaraguan bourgeoisie, showing off its brand-name clothing, its sunglasses and refined styles, and, in the Latin American case, its white skin, inherited from the colonizers who with the theft of the land of our indigenous peoples, gave origin to their fortunes, bathed in indigenous blood and the sweat of slaves, as well as worker and peasants.
With Sandino, the workers and peasants lifted up their heads for once and for all, and, admired by the peoples of the world, confronted the external and internal oppressors with unequaled bravery, just as today they stand to defend the revolutionary achievements, reached through the sacrifice of more than 80,000 Nicaraguans fallen in the war for liberation against Somoza and in the war of the 1980s in defense of the Sandinista Revolution, which today like yesterday tells imperialism and its lackeys, Ye Shall Not Pass.