Nicaragua’s vicious circle of distrust
Visiting with old friends, who are also fellow old revolutionaries, in a rural town where we all used to live, I found a completely different view of the protests and the protesters than I heard about in Nicaragua’s cities.
Why were they so less critical of Daniel Ortega? In part because they did not believe the reports of deaths, police abuse and goon squads attacking the protestors.
Anything that came from the right was suspect. That included the human rights groups close to the right wing. “63 reported dead?” “Who said so?”
I only got some traction when I said that the pro-Sandinista newspaper confirmed the numbers of known dead and missing, presumed dead.
Protestors beaten, tortured and left on the road? Again, who said so? And who are these protestors? “They must have done something to have deserved it.” “These groups could not possible all be students.”
Social media and mainstream media is highly suspect among rank and file Sandinistas inside, and especially outside of the big cities. There is a suspicion of spin and fake news that would seem very familiar to the US based observer.
Added to this is a long history of being lied to, and manipulated by, the same groups of right wingers and their cast of characters now crying foul. Most Nicaraguans know them by first name.
These manipulation and lies include recent economic grief caused by members of these private sector circles.
Some of that grief comes in the form of land takeovers all over the country by right wing, “Miami based” Nicaraguans who are trying to get back land that was confiscated because of their relationship with the Somoza dictatorship. Those “true owners” have committed all kinds of petty crimes trying to reverse the land reforms one little parcel at a time, often on land that these families never owned.
So when the private industry council is talking national politics, social security laws or civil rights, the experience that many Nicaraguans have of them is the support they give to some local rich reactionaries trying to kick farmers off of their land.
And the private industry council is connected to a list of misdeeds and crimes going all the way back to CIA intervention and the Contra War. They have earned the distrust of each generation in their own way over decades. In every part of Nicaraguan history, the private sector groups have been the friends of the rich and powerful in a country where there is a deep economic divide and those at the bottom are accustomed to being treated like shit by the affluent.
So now they are for civil rights and are against police abuse?
Now they are worried about the old age pensions of poor people?
These people have so little credibility that if they claimed that the sun rose in the east, an average Nicaraguan would double check with an astronomer and then wonder what the rich were up to by saying something that was true.
The Catholic Church has its own public perception problems.
I have been asking everyone I know “Who in Nicaragua has broad based credibility that would engender the trust of both sides if they led up an investigation?”
Sandinista friends are slow to say the church, and if they do, they are quick to make clear that they only mean some members of the church and do not mean the local church hierarchy. Some bishops are considered too close to Daniel and most other elder ones have a long history of being close to the CIA, the Contra, Somoza and the obstruction opposition of the past or right wing Liberal governments between Daniel’s first period as president and the second.
The Nicaragua pantheon of scoundrels includes many in black robes.
It includes many wearing the red and black flag of Sandino too.
To think of the Sandinista view of the political divide as single side is too simple, and this is ever truer on the other side where people are opposed to the Daniel presidency in the third term of its second edition for a wide variety of reasons with a long variety of start dates.
But there is enough distrust of the Sandinistas from the rest of Nicaraguans to categorize the situation as a circular firing squad of suspicion.
Some rich reactionaries and their thugs were happy with the Somoza dictatorship and are indeed as sociopathic as the Sandinistas paint them.
On the other hand, old distaste over how the land reforms were carried out also stems from some legitimate claims of abuse. There has never been a serious readjustment or reconciliation and compensation agreement.
What many unfairly expropriated land owners got was a lot of double talk, shifting of the blame and downplaying any harm that came to those unjustly deprived of their property. Organization and transparent due process were never a Sandinista strong point. So many have come from the other side of the land disputes with built in distrust of the Sandinistas and frankly count their fingers after shaking hands with one.
Then come the layers of alienation.
Many of the people who now do not trust the Sandinista Front are former supporters or members. Land is hardly the only issue to have come up over the years. Hardball politics has earned Sandinista supporters and critics patronage or retaliation from government agencies that should not be making decisions, such as road paving, based on political party. Step by step, many old Sandinistas have become former Sandinistas and I have heard repeated talk of how the Sandinistas have strayed from their ideals of clean and humane government
From the time of the Contra War to today, many dubious actions, policies and statements of the Front and its leaders have deserved investigation, public criticism and rebuke, but it never really came. Apologies and restitution are not part of the public discourse.
There has been double talk in lieu of action, there has been back stabbing and personal gain, there has been no small amount of preferential treatment and above all, there has been more propaganda than open discussion. People want answers and debate; they get slogans.
And one could rewrite the above switching the names around because most active members of the political casts have had their hands dirty one way or another during the post revolution presidencies. Of the former Sandinistas there is little to say. Many have now become part of the affluent private sector, some were ineffective dissident intellectuals whose alternative Sandinista movement failed at the polls and the rest have seemed to just neglect politics and public life all together. The only one who could have been an alternative leader is buried in a place of honor next to the national palace.
The last thing being discussed privately or publically are the details of the social security reforms that supposedly were at the heart of the debate, the protests, the student strikes and the suspicion of corruption. Is the fund bankrupt? Was it honestly depleted or was it used as a piggy bank for investment schemes? Is the new plan solvent?
Such questions are swept aside because so little of what anyone says is believed. The head of the police was “retired”. Was she responsible for the abuse? Well, so far the Sandinistas have not admitted to any abuse, nor the use of good squads, despite overwhelming evidence. They withdrew the pension reforms, but are not saying anything about oversight of the pension system.
I spent an afternoon talking with an old friend who was until recently an employee of the social security institute. She though that the cuts and adjustments were a good deal since the flip side was extending health benefits. Most would argue that the Public Health Service is not worth it, but that really depends on where one lives. She is rural, and she is one of the people who saw her own payout cut only six weeks into her early retirement caused because the cutbacks had cut her.
That was the only in depth conversation I had with anyone on the subject, but another friend, a Sandinista economist disaffected from the Daniel leadership, told me that he does not think any small country can avoid using neo-liberal economics today. You will not find that in the press.
A good part of every other conversation was about who they did not believe, who they thought their own side was and what they thought others were “really up to” and who they “really were”.
And I keep asking the same question:
“Who has the trust of the people?”