By Daniel Kovalik and John Perry
(Daniel Kovalik is a Senior Research Fellow at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs. He teaches International Human Rights at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. John Perry is a COHA Senior Research Fellow and writer living in Masaya, Nicaragua.)[This article was first published in MRonline on August 4, 2023.]
Three previous articles (1, 2, 3) described the coup attempt in Nicaragua in 2018, and how public support grew initially but then waned. This final article, covering the period from mid-July to the present day, shows how the coup was defeated and what happened in the aftermath.
By July 2018, three months of violence—over 200 deaths on both sides, including 22 police officers, kidnappings, torture and destruction of property—had exhausted the Nicaraguan population, and they were desperate for the government to restore order. The calls for the government to clear the tranques (roadblocks) that had strangled the country became deafening. Daniel Ortega’s strategy had worked: had he removed the roadblocks too soon, the resistance might have been much more violent, and it would have left deeply divided communities. He had waited until he had the backing of most of the population.
While police had been ordered to stay off the streets, at least eight police stations were attacked by fully armed protesters. Now they were told to respond, but this was to be a controlled operation: President Ortega mandated the clearing of the roadblocks area-by-area, deploying massive force but giving orders that it be used sparingly. The aim was to drive out the insurgents, seize their weapons, arrest them where possible but minimize the casualties on both sides.
To achieve the force necessary, while avoiding use of the army, “volunteer police” were recruited from among the thousands of combatientes historicos—those who had fought against Somoza or against Ronald Reagan’s Contra forces, who were still young enough to take part and who knew how to use weaponry. One of them, Alfonso Guillen, proudly told Dan Kovalik that they had removed the tranques in his area without any fatalities.
Of course, local “independent” media and “human rights” bodies portrayed each limpieza (cleansing operation) as a massacre. Their lead was followed by the corporate media. Rather than welcoming the ending of the violence, as most Nicaraguans did, the BBC saw a “downward spiral” in “Nicaragua’s worsening crisis.” A senior UN spokesperson perversely condemned the “violence against civilian protesters,” showing no regard for the suffering of ordinary people. As Guillen put it, “The goal of the tranques was to destroy the economy and to create terror through torture and rape.” The corporate media ignored this and, in the face of all the evidence, repeated their narrative of government attacks on “peaceful protesters.”
The final limpieza took place on July 17 in Masaya, one of the cities worst affected (and where John Perry lives). This allowed the huge numbers of people to turn out two days later for the 39th anniversary of the Sandinista revolution and attend the traditional celebrations without incident. Both authors of this article were among the crowds in Managua that day, while every city and small town held its own celebration because travelling to the capital was still dangerous. A quickly composed song, Daniel se Queda (literally “Daniel stays”) rang out from loudspeakers nationwide and led to impromptu dancing in the streets.
Throughout the coup attempt, the government had made conciliatory moves: withdrawing the pension reforms that were the alleged cause of the protests, confining the police to their stations, holding local amnesties in which protesters who were arrested were conditionally released, and ensuring that the limpiezas resulted in few casualties, even though by then many protesters had conventional firearms.
A further, massive step towards reconciliation came a year later, when all those arrested—over 400 people, including those guilty of murder or terrorism—were conditionally released (a step quickly dismissed by the corporate media as a way of absolving not the criminals, but the police who had allegedly killed protesters).
When the smoke cleared, many Sandinistas felt that the insurrection had a silver lining: enthusiasm for the party was rekindled and complacency about the dangers of counter-revolution had ended. Supporters realized that the Catholic Church and business leaders had betrayed the alliances the government had made with them in earlier years; they could not be trusted. As Nils McCune, a comrade who lives in Nicaragua, put it, speaking about the church, “Its complicity and indeed leadership in the violence has brought lasting shame and disrepute on it.”
The government also intensified its public works programs, knowing that private investment would be slow to recover. Within weeks, roads that had been ripped up to create tranques had been repaired, and within a year most of the buildings destroyed had been rebuilt. New hospitals, schools, renewable energy projects and social housing projects soon began to follow. Government support for small businesses was also stepped up. If big business would not invest as it had before, the gaps would be filled in other ways.
If the attempted coup had been the only challenge facing Nicaragua, full recovery might have been achieved swiftly. However, in reality it was only the first in an unparalleled series of threats. At the very start of the insurrection, the U.S. imposed sanctions, which would deprive Nicaragua of around $500 million annually in multilateral aid over subsequent years. In 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic halted the country’s economic recovery, and the government (having prepared well in advance) took the brave step of refusing to impose lockdowns. Nicaragua’s relative success in tackling Covid came despite international help being severely limited by the sanctions. In November 2020, it also successfully prepared for two powerful hurricanes which hit the same part of the Caribbean coast in quick succession, and which went on to devastate ill-prepared Honduras.
Although the economy suffered further damage, in 2021 it recovered by 11% and has since resumed annual growth only a little below what it achieved in the years before 2018. Yet despite the recovery, relaxed U.S. immigration rules that favor Nicaraguans have, since late 2021, led many of those with jobs and often with good qualifications to head north, creating an unwelcome, if limited, brain-drain.
This was not all. The government’s intelligence services, until 2018 largely focused on restricting the drug trade, had been reoriented towards identifying internal threats. They detected preparations for renewed opposition violence in the run up to the November 2021 elections, and a series of arrests took place. The corporate media immediately pounced on this as action intended to forestall Ortega’s likely defeat at the elections, even though none of those arrested had been adopted as candidates by opposition parties.
Also, with striking (if typical) hypocrisy, Washington condemned Ortega’s government when it began clamping down on the NGOs which had fueled the coup attempt, by implementing a law very similar to regulations that have applied in the U.S. since the 1930s, and which have since been applied by U.S. allies like Australia and the European Union.
If most Nicaraguans had breathed a huge sigh of relief when the violence ended in 2018, they breathed another one in 2021. The elections then took place peacefully, and the Sandinista government was returned (against five opposition parties) with 75% of the vote on a 66% turnout. The crowds in the streets after results were announced were just as enthusiastic as those three years before.
Most observers are aware that hardcore support for the Sandinista government covers perhaps a third of the electorate. But a large majority were willing to give the government their votes, if only to ensure that the country returned to the peace and relative prosperity it enjoyed before 2018. Happily, everything suggests that, despite the best endeavors of the U.S. and its allies, this is now the case.
Dan Kovalik’s book, Nicaragua: A History of U.S. Intervention and Resistance, closes with a quote from the hero of Latin American liberation, Simon Bolivar, who said that the U.S. appears “to be destined by Providence to plague America with misery in the name of liberty.” However, Kovalik adds, “Nicaragua, led by the Sandinistas, is one country in the Americas which has decided to reject such a fate, and it has shown the resolve to pursue another reality in which the U.S. can no longer determine its destiny.”
By Nan McCurdy
Study on Unsatisfied Basic Needs Released
The inadequate housing index decreased by 0.1 percentage point, going from 5.2 percent in the year 2021 to 5.1 percent in the year 2022 according to the latest report of the National Institute of Development Information (INIDE) on Unsatisfied Basic Needs for the year 2022. It adds that the low education index stood at 8.0 percent, decreasing by 0.8 percentage points with respect to the year 2021. The overcrowding index stood at 11.6 percent, decreasing by 0.7 percentage points with respect to the year 2021. Overcrowding in the urban area was 11.1 percent with a reduction of 2.0 percent with respect to 2021. The percentage of insufficient services at the national level was 14.2 percent, showing a reduction of 2.6 percentage points with respect to 2021. Read the study in Spanish: HERE
(Radio La Primerisima, 9 August 2023)
Increase in Homeownership
The latest survey by the National Institute of Development Information (INIDE) indicates that the main form of housing tenure in Nicaragua is home ownership, representing 64.6% of the population owning their home, a 0.2 percentage point year-over-year increase. The basic services to which households have access include public water supply (80.2%), sewage service (45.2%), garbage truck service (56.2%). The main type of fuel for cooking is butane gas or propane (61.7%). The main appliances available in the homes are the following: cell phone (90.3%), television (75.3%) and refrigerator (50.4%). (Radio La Primerisima, 15 August 2023)
Devaluation Rate of the Córdoba against the Dollar Will Be 0%
On August 9 the Central Bank reported that as of January 1, 2024, the sliding devaluation of the exchange rate of the Córdoba against the US dollar will be zero percent (0%) per annum. (It was previously 1% per annum.) According to the Bank, this decision has been made to provide greater exchange rate predictability, as well as to facilitate the State’s budget formulation, the Central Bank’s monetary programming, and business planning. It adds that this measure is being adopted within a framework of adequate macroeconomic policies and macro-financial indicators and because the recent economic evolution shows the following results: (i) economic activity growing, (ii) consolidated public finances, (iii) financed balance of payments, (iv) stable financial system, (v) growing international reserves and (v) monetary and exchange rate stability.
The monetary and exchange stability is reflected in the fact that the BCN has not intervened in the foreign currency sales market since August 2020, that is, for the last three years, and that foreign currency is traded freely in that market. Since that date, the BCN, at the Official Exchange Rate, has only purchased foreign currency that banks and financial companies sell freely to the BCN to satisfy the increased demand for Córdobas by the public. The BCN considers that, in the midst of these favorable conditions, the reduction of the slippage will contribute to strengthen the national currency and to compensate for the effects of the high international inflation on the national economy, thus favoring the purchasing power of the population. With this policy, the BCN reiterates its commitment to its objective of the stability of the national currency and the normal development of internal and external payments. (Radio La Primerisima, 9 August 2023)
More Geothermal Energy Production
Polaris Energy Company of Canada announced its operating results for the second quarter of 2023. The report indicated that the San Jacinto-Tizate geothermal plant in Nicaragua generated 131,529 MWh of electricity, representing US$15.2 million in sales. (Nicaragua News, 9 August 2023)
241st Women’s Police Station Opened in Rivas
The women of Rivas now have a second office to make their complaints if they suffer gender violence. On August 9 the National Police and local authorities of Rivas inaugurated this second Police Station for Women and Children in that city. The office is named after the Sandinista Concepción Avilés Obando. This is the 241st Women’s Police Station to be inaugurated nationwide. (Radio La Primerisima, 10 August 2023)
Homicides and Femicides Down This Year
The National Police recorded a decrease in homicides and femicides in relation to the same period of 2022. General Commissioner Jaime Vanegas, inspector general of the police, said that so far this year there have been 12 homicides and two femicides fewer than in the same period of 2022. He added that this year there has also been a decrease in robberies in three categories: intimidation, force and violence. Regarding the citizen and human security plan, he said that 519 meetings were held with families on August 11. The goal of the plan is to have more than 5,000 meetings in the 153 municipalities between August 11 and November 8. Vanegas said that during the meetings the population has asked for greater police presence and dismantling of criminal centers. These meetings include the National Police, the United Firefighters, state institutions and local and regional government authorities. (Radio La Primerisima, 14 August 2023)
School Lunch Ingredients Arrive on Ometepe
Protected by the National Police, the shipment of food that makes up the school lunch, a flagship program of the government, arrived on Ometepe Island. This program strengthens the educational system, which is undoubtedly an example for other countries to follow in terms of investment in education. The lunch is guaranteed for more than 1.2 million Nicaraguan children including preschool, primary and secondary distance learning students and ensures a plate of food in the classroom. This delivery covers the last months of the school year – August to November. “The parents prepare the food for their children,” said Bayardo Tapia of the Ministry of Education, who was in charge of receiving the shipment on Ometepe. The school lunch ingredients consist of rice, beans, corn, cereal and oil, guaranteeing a healthy nutrition and improved performance in the classroom. The school lunch reaches the farthest corners of the country such as the island, which can only be reached by water or air. See photos: https://www.tn8.tv/nacionales/merienda-escolar-llega-a-la-isla-de-ometepe/ (TN8tv, 13 August 2023)
Wiwilí Sports Center Inaugurated
The Wiwilí, Jinotega, sports center was inaugurated with the presence of hundreds of youth. The project included the construction of a soccer field with synthetic turf, bleachers, facade, lighting and more. Next year the multi-purpose fields will be expanded to provide more facilities for games and championships. See photos: https://radiolaprimerisima.com/jovenes-de-wiwili-jinotega-estrenan-centro-deportivo/
(Radio La Primerisima, 14 August 2023)
Ana Julia Guido Reelected as Attorney General
On August 11, the National Assembly reelected Dr. Ana Julia Guido Ochoa as Attorney General with 89 votes. Julio César González was elected as Deputy Attorney General. National Assembly President Dr. Gustavo Porras said that the they will be sworn in on August 12. The other candidates proposed for the position of Attorney General were Noel Horacio Carrión; Ana María Velázquez, Alejandro García, Julio Cesar Lacayo, Ramón Espinoza and Griselda Altamirano Flores. In the case of the Deputy Prosecutor, two candidates were presented: Bladimir Miranda who obtained 4 votes and Julio César González with 87 votes. See Photos: https://radiolaprimerisima.com/ana-julia-guido-es-reelecta-fiscal-general-de-la-republica/
(Radio La Primerisima, 11 August 2023)