Nicaragua: The bloody end of Sandinism and the need for a class struggle orientation
(«Proletarian»; Nr. 15; Winter 2018)
As of mid-June, the savage repression carried out against protest demonstrations since April by the police, the military and organizations linked to the FSLN (Sandinista National Liberation Front, the ruling party) throughout Nicaragua, had resulted in 212 deaths (including children and adolescents) and more than 1,300 injuries, according to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (CIDH).
The protests began after the pension “reform” measure, introduced on the recommendation of the IMF by a decree of President Daniel Ortega on 17 April.
Allegedly balanced, because it provided for an increase in employers’ contributions at the same time as those of employees, this reform aimed above all at workers who saw their pensions reduced by 5% – with retroactive effect. This reform, designed to reduce the social security deficit, was in addition to the rise in fuel prices and the fall in social assistance, measures implemented as early as 2017, which caused growing discontent among the population as their consequences (increase in unemployment and poverty) became apparent.
The bloody repression of the students who had been the first to demonstrate against the attack on pensions caused widespread outrage and set fire to the powderkeg. The demonstrations spread across the country. The Catholic Church and the employers’ organizations (COSEP: Consejo Superior de la Empresa Privada, Superior Council of Private Enterprise), which until then had supported the government, condemned the repression. Ortega was therefore forced to announce the withdrawal of the reform on 22 April.
But this did not disarm the opponents who continued the demonstrations: tens of thousands of people, mostly young people, marched the next day, April 23 in the capital Managua, as well as in other cities of the country against repression and in solidarity with students. The demonstrations and roadblocks subsequently spread rapidly, while government repression intensified, but without being able to break the movement that was generalizing and involving various sectors of the population: small traders, small bosses alongside proletarians, all demanding the departure of Ortega and demonstrating under the national flag.
In mid-May a “national dialogue” was set up with the support of the United States and the Organization of American States; but it was interrupted after a few days because of continued bloody repression and the government’s refusal to accede to some opposition demands.
On June 14 the national strike called by the “Civic Alliance for Justice and Democracy”, a gathering of student, employer, peasant and Catholic organizations, was a great success, completely paralyzing the country.
Following the strike, meetings within the framework of the “national dialogue” resumed. The opposition, which has agreed to call for the lifting of the roadblocks, is calling for early presidential elections (a proposal made by Ortega himself).
* * *
Nicaragua, with a population of just over 6 million, is the poorest country in Latin America (after Haiti). It exports mainly agricultural and textile products; its main economic partner is the United States, which is also the largest investor.
About thirty years ago, it experienced a powerful popular revolt that ended the dictatorial regime of the Somoza family (installed and protected by the United States since the 1930s). The guerrilleros of the Sandinista Front had taken over the revolt, but to channel it and prevent it from taking an anti-capitalist turn, practically limiting it to the fall of the dictator. However, despite the Sandinistas’ openness to US imperialism, despite the very limited nature of the Sandinist reforms (only the large landowners most tied to the dictator were expropriated), the Reagan government supported the armed struggle of the “contras” (Somoza supporters) against the regime and imposed heavy economic sanctions.
In 1990 Daniel Ortega was defeated in the presidential elections. The following 15 years were marked by a disastrous liberal and antisocial policy for the impoverished masses (famine and poverty on the proletarian side, corruption and rapid enrichment on the bourgeois side).
In 2006 Ortega was again elected president; although his program had a significant social component (healthcare, the fight against illiteracy, etc.), he had made political agreements with right-wing politicians and had taken a former contra as vice-president. To consolidate its power, the Sandinista party relied on the Catholic Church (the parliament passed a law prohibiting abortion, including for therapeutic reasons) and employers. Congratulated for its economic policy by the IMF and international financial organizations, the Nicaraguan government received substantial financial aid from the United States and cooperated with it in various fields (1); this did not prevent it from also receiving substantial aid from Venezuela (in oil, equivalent to a quarter of the annual budget) and from taking positions at the international level called “anti-imperialist” – entirely bourgeois in fact – (diplomatic support to Libya and Iran, etc.) but which were used to give itself a “left-wing” image internally.
The first years of the Ortega presidency were the years of renewed economic growth. Foreign investment increased, attracted by low wages and a business-friendly policy, reassured by a balanced budget, fuelled in part by remittances from emigrants to the United States (representing 60% of the country’s budget). Ortega was re-elected in 2011 and 2016 (in the latter case with his wife as vice-president) – despite the deterioration of the situation of the proletarianized masses, criticism of the regime’s corruption or opposition to the pharaonic project to break through a canal rivaling that of Panama (2); the sharp increase in abstention in these elections was undoubtedly proletarian in character.
But Trump’s election (the US government has reduced its aid from $10 million a year to only $200,000, and i is threatening sanctions because of Nicaragua’s open support to Venezuela), combined with Venezuelan economic difficulties (which have led to a drastic reduction in its aid and a reduction in Nicaraguan exports to that country), and lower prices for agricultural products, have changed the situation in the last period. The employers and the government have passed the economic difficulties on to the proletarians and the masses. The average real wage is falling, and poverty is such that 60% of the population could not afford the basic necessities.
No to national dialogue!
Yes to class struggle!
The person responsible for the fate of the proletarians and the poor Nicaraguan masses is therefore not only Ortega and his clan with its corruption: the whole bourgeois class has inspired government policy and the Catholic hierarchy supported it to the very end. But today Sandinism seems to have exhausted its usefulness for the maintenance of social order in Nicaragua; the employers’ organizations, the Catholic Church as well as the student organizations and others participating in the so-called “national dialogue”, have as their main goal to prevent the generalized anger against the situation from which the masses suffer, from taking an anti-capitalist orientation and turning into a real insurrection. That is why they preach pacifism against the crimes of the police and the organized gangs of the regime and that is why they advocate no other alternative than early elections in a few months and are ready to sacrifice the scapegoat Ortega.
But it is not new elections that can change the situation of the proletarians and the exploited masses; this prospect of new elections has no other aim than to stop the current movement. Only the proletarian struggle, on class bases, can wrest concessions from the bourgeoisie. But to do so, it is necessary to break with the lie of the interclassist union, which leaves the proletarians under the control of the bourgeois and petty bourgeois, and with the lie of the national union, which only serves the capitalists.
The proletarians and the Nicaraguan masses have been deceived by interclassist and national illusions during their long history of struggle against imperialism and dictatorships. The bourgeois and petty bourgeois continue the same work today.
In order that the victims of the Sandinista regime will not have fallen in vain, in order that the gigantic mobilization of the masses will not lead to yet another cosmetic replastering of the bourgeois dictatorship, so that it is possible to put an end to misery, repression and exploitation, it is impossible to count on any “national dialogue” with the bourgeoisie; and it will not be enough to replace Ortega with another politician: it is capitalism that must be fought, and the bourgeois state that must be destroyed, by opposing class struggle to national dialogue.
And the first step on this path is the work for the constitution of the class organization of the proletariat, in union with the proletarians of the other countries, who know the same situation as the proletarians of Nicaragua.
June, 24th 2017
(1) According to an official statement by the US Government, “the Government of Nicaragua and the United States cooperate on law enforcement, combating drug trafficking, controlling migration flows, protecting against natural disasters, improving trade and other matters of mutual interest”. The same text states that “the United States is Nicaragua’s dominant economic partner, buying 51% of its exports, providing 32% of its imports, 20% of its investments, being the source of 54% of financial remittances from emigrants (...) according to 2017 figures” see: https://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/1850.htm.
(2) The agreement for the opening of this canal with a Chinese company was shrouded in obscurity. It provoked opposition from peasants who were located on the route of the canal, opposition from those who suspected a vast corrupt enterprise, as well as that of the petty bourgeois nationalists protesting against the selling off of land to foreigners. But this agreement seems to have lapsed and the Chinese billionaire promoting the project has disappeared...
International Communist Party