By Chuck Kaufman
Before I get into analysis of the current crisis and unrest in Nicaragua, it is apparent from some of the emails we’ve been getting that there are plenty of people who do not understand the role of Nicaragua Network/Alliance for Global Justice in the international solidarity movement. The Nicaragua Network was formed in February 1979, six months before the Triumph, to coordinate existing local committees in solidarity with the Sandinista Front for National Liberation-led armed uprising against the Somoza dictatorship. We were not directed by the Frente and we did not advise the Frente on how to run the war or the revolutionary government that followed the Triumph. We experienced joy and sorrow along with our sisters and brothers in Nicaragua, but our JOB, as expressed by numerous Nicaraguans to numerous groups of gringos was to “change our own government.”
Need some background? Read Nicanote’s recent pieces on the recent unrest in Nicaragua here and here.
Nothing has changed in the 39 years since our founding. We are not part of the human rights industrial complex which arrogantly imposes an 18th century liberal understanding of individual rights that serves US and European colonial interests. We are part of the anti-imperialist movement that opposes, in all circumstances without exception, US intervention in the sovereign affairs of other nations. There is no such thing as a humanitarian intervention. It is a lie.
We care deeply about Nicaragua. We have celebrated the rising standard of living and the recuperation of social rights to education, health care, housing and adequate nutrition since the FSLN returned to power through democratic elections in 2007. We are confident that Nicaraguans themselves will resolve their current crisis peacefully and that our opinions on how they should do so are fine to express among friends and family but are not helpful or appropriate in public forums.
We recognize that the government and the national security forces made decisions or failed to make decisions that contributed to the current crisis. One would have to be blind or a fool to believe otherwise. One would also have to be blind or a fool to believe that years of training and financial support for anti-Sandinista civil society and training of opposition youth has not also contributed to the current crisis. We will be rooting for a peaceful and constitutional resolution to the crisis in which all voices are heard and we will be alert for the ways that the tools of US imperialism are being used to manipulate international perception of the reconciliation process.
You do not have to agree with our approach, but I want to be clear that we are not going to abandon almost four decades of solidarity in order to please you.
As I write this account on Thursday, April 26, much is still up in the air, but the violence and riots have stopped, the unrest in Nicaragua has subsided, the stones and debris have been cleaned up, and all the responsible sectors of society are preparing for dialogue. For the past ten years, most public policy has been made by consensus developed by business and unions brokered by the government. It is what they call the Tripartite Model and it has led to labor stability and an economy safe for investors. That is the system that broke down last week.
The consequences are not trivial. I have one friend whose language school may have to close because of cancellations due to the violence. Tourism is bound to be affected and investors will be more cautious. I anticipate that the 5% economic growth predictions will fall short due to the increased uncertainty. Nicaragua’s reputation as the safest country in Central America has been dealt a major blow.
The Catholic Church hierarchy has offered to mediate the dialogue and it looks like all parties have accepted. One thing that may need to come out of the dialogue process is some form or Truth Commission. Everyone was surprised by the level of violence. There was a very slick paid social media campaign that was immediately launched to place all blame on the government and security forces. It is not uncommon for opposing demonstrators to throw some rocks at each other or throw a few punches. The role of the police has been to keep them apart.
Did the police respond with disproportionate and lethal force during the first two days of the crisis? It is certainly possible. But, if so, it would be an about face for a police force rooted in the revolution that from day one of the neoliberal governments following the 1990 Sandinista electoral defeat refused all orders to repress the people. One person who lives in Nicaragua and went on a delegation I led to Honduras told me that her hardest task when she returned was to convince her neighbors that in Honduras people fear the police!
Police departments from all over the world come to Nicaragua to study its community policing model including its programs to teach marketable skills to at-risk youth and its active sports programs to engage young people in healthy activities. So yes, I can’t say that police violence was not a key factor in the unrest in Nicaragua getting out of control, but I also know that two police were killed and 121 police were wounded nationally during the riots. Obviously police violence is not the only factor that exacerbated the violence.
The US government has spent tens of millions of tax dollars to fund anti-Sandinista civil society groups, including those led by people who once were Sandinista revolutionaries but who have since aligned with the traditional right-wing which calls for US intervention. The Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS), which once split from the FSLN over issues of internal democracy and financial transparency, rather than staking out a political position to the left of the Sandinistas, has instead blocked with right-wing parties. It has gone so far to the right that the president of the MRS traveled with right-wing leaders to the US where they met with NICA Act author Ileana Ros-Lehtenin and actually called on the US to cut off Nicaragua from access to the international financial infrastructure. In most countries that would be considered a treasonous act.
I am flabbergasted that any US progressive could possibly argue that the US has no responsibility for the current unrest in Nicaragua. It is only with willful ignorance that one can fail to see the parallels between Nicaragua and Venezuela and Syria, both of which have been targeted for regime change. Does Nicaragua have to go the way of Libya and Ukraine before US progressives say, “Oh. Well. I guess the US did play a role.”
US intervention is not even a secret. Luisa Molina, head of the Civil Coordinator (Coordinadora Civil), an anti-Sandinista federation of civil groups, declared on Channel 12 concerning the violent protests at the University of Central America, “This is no less than the result of the work we of civil society have done in the construction of citizenship.” Young people have received seminars and courses in leadership, for which they received diplomas, financed by foreign organisms such as the International Republican Institute, a branch of the National Endowment for Democracy. She concluded, “Today, these are the results after many years of training in values and principles which we have been sharing with the youth of Nicaragua.”
I don’t know what the full story is. Neither do you. Neither does anyone in Nicaragua, because in these kinds of “earth moving” events, no one can see the whole picture. We had one correspondent who wrote in part:
I think in general what people in the United States know about the violence is little (and even what we know about it here is also badly lacking in objectivity). My experiences last week were very different than what the media has been showing. What I saw were street clashes between unarmed protesters and unarmed counter-protestors during the week, which turned into armed clashes by Friday, with the police playing a very limited role. I was scared for my safety when I saw a very poorly armed police force basically retreating under mortar fire by anti-Sandinista civilians, and pro-Sandinista civilians exchanging mortar with anti-Sandinista civilians. As you know, several police officers are among the dead, as are many pro-Sandinista civilians and a journalist from a basically pro-government station. And many students.
We hope that the people of Nicaragua will reconcile. The past week has dealt a serious blow to national unity. The damage to people’s trust in their public institutions, to interpersonal relations, and to the economy will be a long time healing, and if not handled right might never heal. The lost lives and the broken bodies are not something that can ever be returned. We weep with our sisters and brothers in Nicaragua and renew our vow to expose and oppose any actions by our own government to disrupt their sovereignty or interfere in their process of reconciliation.