By Flavio Previtali
On December 6, 2018 the International Institute for Peace (IIP) held a panel that discussed social movement in Nicaragua in light of the protests against Daniel Ortega that started in April 2018. The event was introduced by a welcoming speech from Stephanie Fenkart, Director of the International Institute for Peace. The panelists who took part in the discussion were Angel Medrano, a member of the Party Ciudadanos per la liberdadand the movement of 19thApril; Leo Gabriel, Journalist and former correspondent from Nicaragua; Teresa Gruber, member of SOS-Nicaragua Austria and Laurin Blecha, historian specializing in Nicaragua and Latin America. The discussion was moderated by Marlene Prinz, Project Assistant at the IIP.
The panel started with Laurin Blecha discussing the evolution of Sandinism over time. He argued that there is a difference between Sandino and Sandinism. Sandino, born in the late 19th century, was a revolutionary leader who fought the U.S. army occupation between 1927 and 1933. He didn’t leave any ideology and Sandinism as a concept was only elaborated after his death. It was Fonseca in the 1970s, who established the ideology based on two pillars: a national discourse about Nicaraguan people and social revolution. After the revolution, in the 1980s, Sandinism moved from counter-history to hegemonic narrative. The guerilla was transformed into a political party that occupied all the positions in the state. A step further in the anticipation of the nowadays events was later made in the 1990s when Daniel Ortega managed to establish control over the party and to define a top-down approach from the party to society. The party is the vanguard that lead the people. According to this narrative, every attempt to question the authority is an attack against Sandinism and the revolution itself.
Angel Medrano continued the discussion by introducing more details about the situation in Nicaragua in light of the recent protests. He explained that the conflict escalated in April 2018. On April 13, a fire caused the loss of several hectares of forest in a national forest. After the government denial for international help, protests arose in the country. The following approval of a new social security reform triggered a new wave of protests which started on April 18. He argued that at that moment, president Daniel Ortega put in action a three-level strategy to repress the movement. First, paramilitary forces acted together with the police to violently end the protests in the street by killing and wounding several people. Secondly, Ortega prosecuted political leaders, despite the presence of a national dialogue to solve the situation, by imprisoning them. Finally, the government tried to shut down the independent media.
Leo Gabriel, who was in Nicaragua at the pick of the protests in April 2018, had the chance to interview Daniel Ortega. In his speech he tried to give a presentation of the presidential side towards the movements of protest. He painted a situation of fear on the government side, in which Ortega’s security is evaluated as the most important thing. He argued that the leader himself appeared completely isolated, not well aware of the complexity of the movements protesting against his government. In fact, he linked the whole political leaders to the liberal party, which is accused of collaborating with the armed drug dealers. Ortega portrayed himself as still living in the 1980s and fighting the same old enemies. He also pointed out that there is still a consistent part of the population, at least 20%, in favor of the government.
Teresa Gruber gave an insight into the human rights situation in Nicaragua and the contribution of international organizations. In a recent report conducted together with other human rights organizations, such as Amnesty International, systematic violation of human rights in Nicaragua was denounced. She explained that this report has two goals: to increase the visibility of the case for the international community and to serve as a tool to mobilize people outside Nicaragua. The report highlighted some key points such as a deliberate and systematic violation of human rights; a clear state responsibility; and repression against civil population. She pointed out that violations didn’t happen only in the last few months but have been present in the whole eleven years of Ortega’s presidency. According to her, the report should work as an advocacy tool to press the international community to act. In particular, she argued that targeted economic sanctions to individuals related to Ortega could work to lead him out of the comfort zone in which he is now, pushing him to dialogue.
In the second round of questions, Angel Medrano discussed the effect of the current situation on migration and economy. He argued that Nicaragua is facing a severe economic crisis, moving to recession into depression. Last data on economic growth confirmed that GDP will decrease by 4% in 2018 and that almost 250 000 jobs were lost. This will boost migration, which until now have been limited to refugees and asylum seekers due to the humanitarian crisis. The situation in the country seems tense, but it could escalate at any time. In his opinion, there will be no economic solution without a political one.
According to Laurin Blecha, the situation in Nicaragua should be analyzed in its complexity avoiding too much simplification. Sandinism, which does not mean support to Ortega, still has support in the population. On the other hand, there is a strong anti-Sandinista movement, mostly linked to the private sector. Lastly, there are young people, who are thinking about post-Sandinism, questioning the political culture of the country. In this regard, Teresa Gruber highlighted the role of women as another important group to be taken into account. There are several female political leaders imprisoned and they should be involved in any dialogue and peace process.
Thinking about a possible peaceful solution, Leo Gabriel questioned the approach of the passed national dialogue. The variety of opposition forces were represented together and asked Ortega to leave as mandatory condition to start a dialogue. But now Ortega has regained strength and has no reason to leave and for this reason, another form of dialogue is necessary. He proposed the creation of an “assembly of consultation” which should obey the same rules as a constitutional assembly. There should be delegates from every sector of society with the key task to fix the rules of the game: to bring justice and democracy to the country. He argued that the opposition seems in favor of this proposal and at the same time it is important to know that Ortega’s faction appears also divided. The army, for instance, has never intervened to repress the protests. Finally, the work of the assembly could be guaranteed by The Central American Integration System.
In the following Q&A session, questions were raised about the effect of economic sanctions and the future of Nicaragua beyond Ortega. What concern economic sanctions, the panelists agreed that they should not be directed against the country but should target specific individuals to affect the regime and not the population. About the latter, the panelists expressed different opinions. For instance, Angel Medrano called for democracy while Laurin Blecha and Leo Gabriel stated the necessity of setting the rules and creating a true change, cultural and institutional, something that could take years to be fully implemented.
Find below the video of the event.