Sounding more like a rebel leader than the president of a democratic republic, Daniel Ortega last week called for a permanent Sandinista insurrection to “struggle constantly” against what he calls “the enemy.”
Ortega’s inflammatory words came hours after Sandinista mobs clashed violently with anti-government protesters who marched on nine cities Feb. 28 to protest last year’s alleged election fraud and what many consider the return to dictatorship here under the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN).
Sandinista mobs shot mortars and threw rocks at opposition protesters, who responded in kind. Liberal Party lawmaker Luis Callejas – one of several people injured in the clashes – was hospitalized with a serious head wound after getting hit with a rock allegedly thrown by a Sandinista supporter.
The role of the National Police – given specific orders by Ortega to “not repress the people” – was again criticized by humanrights leaders as inefficient and partisan.
The president’s response to Saturday’s violence was to call for a permanent Sandinista mobilization in the streets. He made the call during a party activity to commemorate the 31st anniversary of the popular insurrection in Monimbó, Masaya, in which he compared the repressive Somoza dictatorship to those who criticize his government today.
“The enemy is still the same, and we cannot trust them,” bellowed the president of the so-called Government of Reconciliation and National Unity.
“The enemy is mobilized because it can’t accept a government of the poor,” Ortega said.
The call for a new insurrection was echoed by his wife, influential party spokeswoman Rosario Murillo.
“Thirty-one years (after the popular insurrection) our people are again taking to the streets, carving a path to liberation amid decadent capitalism. We take to the streets for a better future, in reverence to the blood of our heroes and martyrs,” Murillo said.
Murillo made a similar call last week, urging all Sandinistas to be in “permanent campaign” mode, even though the next presidential election is still three years away.
For many civil society leaders, the Sandinistas’ mobilization is further evidence of its “irresponsible leadership” and “intolerance toward citizen participation,” according to Marcos Carmona, head of Nicaragua’s Permanent Commission on Human Rights.
“To call for a permanent insurrection is to repress and intimidate people to not take to the streets,” Carmona told The Nica Times this week. “This government won’t allow civic manifestations or any type of citizen participation that is provided for by the Constitution.”
While critics argue that the Sandinistas’ obsession with controlling the streets marks the return to totalitarianism, government supporters insist it is part of the historic struggle for democracy and revolution in Nicaragua.
“It is our natural form of struggle,” said Sandinista union boss and lawmaker Gustavo Porras, during a speech last month urging Sandinistas to not cede the streets to the “right wing.” “With this struggle we have gotten where we are today, and we have to continue forward.”
First Lady Murillo has also said that the permanent mobilization is part of the Sandinistas’ celebration of this year’s 30th anniversary of the revolution, which will be marked officially on July 19.
“We have a year of celebration of victories and triumphs,” she said.
As part of the celebration, the government has recently put giant “30s” at the tops of all the Christmas trees at the traffic intersections in Managua, which are still lit every evening in bizarre holiday cheer more than two months after Santa’s return to the North Pole.
The Paradox of Power
Though the Sandinistas control all four branches of government, the FSLN still considers itself the true opposition movement in Nicaragua, according to presidential advisor Orlando Núñez.
“The government is not just a group of officials, because the government is in opposition to the system,” Núñez said. “It’s a paradox, we are the government but we are in opposition.”
Perhaps nowhere is that paradox more evident than in the offices of Nicaragua’s Tax Collection Agency (DGI). State tax collectors have all been given yellow Sandinista shirts that they’re required to wear when ordered to protest on behalf of the government at sweltering Managua intersections.
For critics, the second coming of the Ortega government has nothing to do with the revolution it professes to lead.
Sergio Ramírez, the former vice president under the first Sandinista government and now a leading critic, says the Ortega government of today is more similar to the dictatorial Somoza regime ousted by the original Sandinista revolution, than to the Latin American model of progressive change it pretends to be a part of.
“Everyday the government of Nicaragua has less to do with the model of Venezuela or Bolivia,” Ramírez said.
“In Nicaragua there is no progressive change,” he stressed, “rather a regression.”