Building Democratic Alternatives in Nicaragua Is More Important than Sanctioning the Dictatorship
Taking into account the latest Cid Gallup polls and the FSLN’s performance in the electoral circus held on November 7, 2021, it can be estimated that no more than 10% of the Nicaraguan population supports the Ortega Murillo dictatorship unconditionally. The problem is, that is more than enough to hold on to power through force. That base includes a critical mass of fanatics, highly organized and disciplined, that glorify killing and dying in the name of the dynastic project led by Daniel, Rosario, their offspring and cronies. They have weapons, State resources and a framework of impunity to carry out their perverse crusade. At this point, everything the regime does, for example official propaganda and the voting circus, is meant to keep that minority permanently mobilized and willing to unleash violence and hatred.
The dynasty that the dictator couple intends to impose does not require a healthy economy, national legitimacy nor international recognition. That helps to explain why there is a scarcity of national and international ideas about potential levers that could truly dislodge them from power. In fact, economic sanctions and diplomatic pressure, even if surgically aimed to mitigate their negative impact on Nicaraguans’ livelihoods, may become a pretext for Ortega and Murillo to continue radicalizing that fanatical minority under the logic of confrontation. This does not mean that diplomacy’s tactical instruments ought to be abandoned, but without integral strategies they may prove counterproductive.
As a point of departure, it must be recognized that building alternative democratic institutions is more important than punishing the dictatorship. Many of the sanctions and other forms of pressure are little more than that by now, a kind of symbolic punishment with little impact in terms of improving conditions for the legitimate power of the citizenry to triumph in the face of the illegitimate power of the Ortega Murillos. International support is key for Nicaragua to reach a democratic solution to its compounded human rights, economic and political crisis. But it is a complementary factor that can only yield effects as a tool guided by a national resistance with a much more constructive program.
Following Daniel and Rosario’s pseudo coronation in the most recent electoral farce, it is reasonable to expect that Nicaragua will continue to stagnate and enter a sustained process of deterioration. That deterioration, whether it is gradual or sudden, does not weaken the regime terminally and will inevitably take a toll on Nicaraguans. But there are opportunities for change in the midst of degradation. It is possible to bury the dictatorship alive under the weight of its own decay and of new social capital that may be built through alternative democratic institutions that promote citizen participation to solve problems or unmet needs. This approach may erode the fanaticism on which Ortega and Murillo depend, increase the political cost of the police State and show Nicaraguans, including many who support Ortega, that democracy is key to face the most immediate of challenges, such as impoverishment and the lack of economic opportunities.
Alternative democratic institutions are structures organized by civilians who share a commitment to participation and inclusion. They emerge beyond the State and other such formal institutions that, far from empowering citizens and helping to solve their problems, serve for the powerful to maintain the status quo. Their direct purpose is to respond to unsatisfied collective needs, so they may attract diverse sectors and establish common interests between supposed enemies. They are powerful mechanisms of civil resistance or nonviolent struggle against repressive regimes. They were important for the Solidarity movement in Poland in the 1980s, as well as the fight for independence in the United States and India, among other historical examples. In Nicaragua, they could arise as community health clinics, participatory media outlets, autonomous labor and trade unions, productive cooperatives, parent teacher associations, even parallel elections and governments.
The imagination and implementation capacity of Nicaraguans are the decisive factors for the country’s future. They ought to be focused on building a new social contract based on democracy and participation. This is achievable by starting small, in everyday life, among family and friends, with colleagues, with the Sunday league football team or the neighborhood association, at the community level, strengthening bonds where they spring up in the first place, to solve mutual problems and create public value. And it may grow to become a constructive national resistance, a common platform with space for all sectors of society, where political condemnation of the dictatorship, unbreakable commitment to truth, justice and nonviolence, demands for the freedom of political prisoners, symbolic sanctions, real economic pressure, diplomacy with its points of contact, efforts for economic reactivation with equal opportunities and an ambitious and innovative deployment of cooperation for building alternative democratic institutions coexist.
Enrique Gasteazoro is general manager at the independent Nicaraguan newsroom Confidencial.
Editor's Note: This column was originally published and translated by Confidencial.
FI name: November 2021