Who to believe about Nicaragua?

More than three weeks after the beginning of violence in Nicaragua, many of the country’s biggest cities continue to see chaos on the streets. The initial spark, changes to the pension system, have long been forgotten. It has now turned into a clash between the government and its supporters, and some sections of the opposition, supported by the United States.

There’s no doubt that the initial violence included killings by police, FSLN supporters and opposition students. The government has since launched three initiatives to examine the events which led to up to 42 deaths, including: “a National Dialogue without conditions involving all sectors which will be mediated by the Bishops’ Conference; a Truth, Justice and Peace Commission set up by the National Assembly; and an investigation by the Prosecutor’s Office to hold all those responsible for killings, violence and sabotage to account” (see here for further information from the same article by the Nicaragua Solidarity Campaign).

People’s first reaction, even among government supporters, was anger that such violence was seen on Nicaraguan streets, scenes which they expect in places like Guatemala and Honduras. This anger, and sadness, was fed by an unrelenting social media campaign, seeking to blame all violence on the government, and inciting people to not only to protest, but to attack both private and public property.

The protests have also shaken the solidarity community. Anyone familiar with Nicaragua will know that the Ortega government is supported by many, but also intensely disliked by others. This opposition includes both the extreme Right, and those who see the FSLN as having sold out. These divisions are also represented in international opinion on the current crisis (see here).

Since the events of April 19-24, Nicaragua has seen peaceful protests, some organised by the government, some organised by the churches. Much of the country has returned to calm. But on many nights violence returns to some streets, with tourist buildings and shops being ransacked, FSLN political and local headquarters torched. A lot of the violence has crossed the line from protest to looting and extortion, particularly in cities like Masaya (see here).

The continued unrest is now aimed at destablising the government, and getting rid of Ortega and the FSLN. This has been a long term goal of the United States and its allies in Nicaragua. Last year the National Endowment for Democracy provided over $1 million to finance ‘civil society’ organisations (see here).  Many of these helped ratchet up the tension after the initial clashes, using social media to make unverified claims of killings, torture and “disappearances”. At a time when there were deaths on the streets and arrests, this only inflamed the situation.

Many of these organisations, and leading figures in the opposition, have been actively lobbying in Washington to pass the NICA Act, which would see the US use its veto in lending organisations to cut off Nicaragua from international loans. These loans are used to finance Nicaragua’s social programmes, which has made the FSLN government so different from the neo-liberal presidencies from 1990 to 2007. When people call for the removal of Ortega, they are also calling for the ending of these programmes for the poor (see here). 

US Vice President Mike Pence has stated that undermining the governments in Nicaragua, Cuba and Venezuela is a Trump administration priority (see here).

The FSLN government under Ortega is far from perfect. Even the National Dialogue, the best way out of the current upheaval, will not be straightforward (see here).  But we know where to look to see the alternatives. They already exist in countries like Guatemala and Honduras and Brazil, where the poor get poorer, and violence is a way of life.

Statement from the ATC

One of the privileges of our February delegation was meeting with Fausto Torrez, who works for the ATC, Nicaragua’s campesino union. As founder members of Via Campesina, and one of the original mass organisations of the Sandinista Revolution, their radical credentials are beyond doubt.

Over two hours Fausto told us about the challenges faced by Nicaraguan campesinos and campesinas, and the struggle being waged for food sovereignty at a national, regional and global level. He was frank about the gains under the current Sandinista government, with a massive increase in rural co-operatives which has benefited the poorest Nicaraguans. He was also honest about the governments shortcomings, and the penetration of multinationals in the Nicaraguan economy. For this reason, and others, the ATC is one of the few mass organisations (with 52,000 members) in Nicaragua not directly aligned with the FSLN.

He told us: “We came out of the Sandinista revolution. During the years of neo-liberalism (1990 – 2007) we worked alongside the FSLN. But we are not a member. Traditionally our members are Sandinistas, but we are not part of the structure. It’s important we are outside, to put pressure for credit, health, education.”

Fausto also had this to say about the current government: “There’s no such thing as a perfect government. But in the campo (the rural areas) we have seen development. This is the phase where Nicaraguans can re-construct ourselves. So as the ATC we want the government to get on with it.”

With the current crisis in Nicaragua showing no signs of abating, it’s worth reading the ATC statement below, an independent organisation which represents some of the poorest, and hardest working, in the country.

*An Urgent Call for Solidarity with Nicaragua Asociación de Trabajadores
del Campo /Rural Workers Association*

May 17, 2018

Friends in Solidarity,

We have lived a month full of tragedy in our country. The peace we achieved as a people, so fragile and at the cost of so many lives, is in
immanent danger of disappearing irreparably. There are now two sizeable camps of the population with dangerously contrary positions. On one side, there is a combination of private university students, media outlets with rightwing owners representing the oligarchy, Catholic Church bishops close to Opus Dei, the private sector and, of course, the US Embassy, working together to create a situation of chaos in the country in order to remove president Daniel Ortega. This group of actors accuses the National Police of having killed dozens of protesters in the riots that reached all Nicaraguan cities, ostensibly against a reform—since revoked—to the system of social security. As we have described, the reality is more complex, and the violence was generalized and explosive, involving protesters with homemade firearms that often
misfired, as well as counter-protestors, paid pickets, unknown gunmen and street gangs. The National Police was really a minor actor in the violence, using tear gas and rubber bullets to clear crowds in a few points of Managua, but not involved in the vast majority of the 50 or more deaths that have been reported since April. The Interamerican Commission of Human Rights has been invited by the government and currently is investigating the events of April.

A national dialogue began on Wednesday, May 16th, with the participation of anti-government students, civil society organizations, and the Presidency, and mediation by the Episcopal Conference of the Catholic Church led by Archbishop Leonaldo Brenes. However, the coup-like violence has only grown and currently, rightwing armed groups have all of the main highways in the country closed. On the other side of the conflict, the militancy of the Sandinista Front continues to withstandphenomenal provocations, including:

* The destruction of its Sandinista homes (party headquarters) in
dozens of cities
* The destruction or defacement of hundreds of historic monuments,
murals, and memorials of Sandinistas
* The arson of dozens of public buildings
* The interruption of work and the food shortages that have resulted
from the road closures and violence
* The deaths of passersby and journalists by paid pickets and violent
* Relentless false accusations and lies circulated by corporate media.

It must be added that Facebook has been the primary means for
transforming Nicaraguan society that one month ago was at peace into a toxic, hate-filled nightmare. Currently, hundreds of thousands of fake Facebook profiles amplify the hatred and pressure Nicaraguan Facebook users to begin to share and post hate messages. Many, if not most, of these fake Facebook profiles have been created in countries other than Nicaragua, and in particular, Miami is the city where many of the
Facebook and WhatsApp accounts behind the violence are managed.

Historically, the ATC has been a participant in the Sandinista struggle.
In truth, we have not felt consulted or represented by the current FSLN
government. The current coup attempt makes use of these historical contradictions and is trying to co-opt the symbols, slogans, poems and songs of Nicaragua’s Sandinista Revolution, since of course the rightwing has none of its own. However we may feel about Daniel Ortega, the ATC would never contribute to making chaos and sowing violence in order to force the collapse of the democratically elected government in
order to install a more docile, Washington-friendly neoliberal
government. There are clearly real frustrations in sectors of the
population, especially youth, and if these sectors are unable to find
popular organizing processes, they will end up being the cannon fodder
for a war, which would be the worst possible situation for the
Nicaraguan people.

In this context, the ATC has called for “all national actors to
reorganize themselves based on their aspirations.” With this intention, the ATC proposes to confront the national crisis with aseries of dialogues among young people, without party distinction or any ideological basis, in favor of peace and understanding. We propose extraordinary youth assemblies in the cities of San Marcos, Jinotepe, Rivas, Granada, Masaya, Estelí, Matagalpa, Jinotega, Juigalpa, Santo Tomás and Tipitapa, as spaces for young people to discuss the national situation and find pointsof unity. It is important to mention that we do not have a previously defined “line” to impose upon these debates—they will be spaces for listening, forming ideas and thinking with our hearts.

We call upon your solidarity and generous support for the creation of an emergency fund for peace in Nicaragua that makes possible this round of extraordinary youth assemblies. The national coordinators of the Rural
Youth Movement, Sixto Zelaya and Marlen Sanchez, will have the
responsibility of organizing the assemblies and administering the fund with absolute transparency.

It is urgent to organize the Nicaraguan family and win peace!

– International Secretariat of the ATC