MANAGUA – Halfway through the five-year term of President Daniel Ortega, the campaign promises of peace, reconciliation and national unity have yet to take shape in Nicaragua, analysts say.
Despite the Sandinistas’ massive propaganda campaign to identify itself as the pastel- colored government of “reconciliation and national unity,” even that central message has been twisted at the highest level.
For example, President Ortega last week accused the opposition of plotting a coup in Nicaragua by “creating chaos and anarchy and calling U.S. troops to come and remove the government of the people.” In a separate speech last week, First Lady Rosario Murillo painted a much softer picture, speaking of “the great Nicaraguan family” and “a revolution of love that obliges us to be more Christian each day.”
The government’s confusing love-hate, war-and-peace message was again prominent in last week’s three-day international symposium in Managua to celebrate 2009 as the UN-declared “International Year of Reconciliation.” The entrance to the conference hall at Managua’s HotelCrownePlaza was decorated with messages of peace and photographs of war. And even the folder handed out to participants had the word “Reconciliation” printed over an old black-and-white photograph of Sandinista rebels holding assault rifles.
Sandinista keynote speakers, too, mixed calls for reconciliation with venomous attacks against their political enemies. Catholic priest and UN General Assembly President Miguel d’Escoto, who is also one of Ortega’s closest advisors on foreign policy and holds the rank of minister in the Sandinista government, urged Nicaraguans to reconcile, but at the same time lashed out at the opposition by calling them “assassins.”
Political analysts such as María López say the government’s message is simply “not coherent.”
“There is a great contradiction and anyone can see it if they look at the situation with a bit of honesty,” said López, editor of Envío Magazine.
López said the Sandinistas are trying to rule the country as a ‘minority’ vanguard, while “disrespecting the majority of the country.”
“That is not the proposal of reconciliation,’ López said.
The analyst said the government is hiding “its authoritarian and exclusive political project” behind the emotions of reconciliation and love and dismissing any attempt at constructive criticism as being “hatefilled” attacks by their enemies.
Nicaraguan sociologist Cirilo Otero says the Sandinistas’ message of reconciliation is a political tactic used to manipulate most people’s genuine desire for “peace, calm and stability.”
Otero said he thinks the Sandinistas “are not really interested in reconciliation,” rather are using the word “as a hook” to win support and undercut any attempts at criticism. In other words, by associating itself with the concepts of love and reconciliation, the Sandinistas are directly implying that those who criticize their government project are hate-filled people who want to divide the country, Otero explained.
“It’s what we call social camouflage,” Otero said. “It’s extremely cynical.”
Reconciliation to Date
The Ortega government claims a major part of its promise of reconciliation is delivering social programs to the poor, who have been long neglected and marginalized in Nicaragua.
“Reconciliation is most important with god, and then with the poor,” said Father d’Escoto.
That message was echoed by Catholic Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo, an ally of the Sandinista government and head of the Ortega-created Commission on Reconciliation and Peace.
Speaking at the symposium on reconciliation, Cardinal Obando said that there can’t be peace and reconciliation until there are “concrete conditions for human dignity for all.”
The Sandinista government insists it is working to establish those conditions with its social programs to combat poverty and increase health and education coverage.
“In two years we have done more than many other governments have done in 10 to 20 years,” said presidential advisor Orlando Nuñez.
Others close to Ortega, however, are having a harder time evaluating the Sandinista government’s progress.
“You know, I have been outside of the country for a year and a half,” Father d’Escoto told The Nica Times this week, when asked how he views the process of reconciliation in his own government.
Critics: Gov’t Hiding Behind ‘Reconciliation’
By contrast, d’Escoto showed no reservations discussing the political situation and the problems of reconciliation in Honduras.
D’Escoto also had no trouble blaming the “rightwing” for being an obstacle to reconciliation in Nicaragua.
“What I have noticed is the stubbornness of the right, which controls the media; they don’t want to be part of the national community,” d’Escoto said. “They want to keep being the dominant force. We shouldn’t be surprised; the fight we are waging in the entire world is a struggle against new forms of slavery. But I think in Nicaragua, the right continues to be too stubborn.”
Not everyone in the Catholic Church agrees that it’s the opposition that’s preventing the work of reconciliation in Nicaragua.
For Juan Abelardo Mata, the Catholic Bishop of Estelí and vice president of Nicaragua’s Episcopal conference the Sandinista government is to blame for moving the country away from any possibility of real reconciliation.
“Everything is politicized,” Mata told The Nica Times this week. “If people are not on their knees before them, the Sandinistas call you a re-contra, stubborn or someone who is incapable of dialogue. For them, dialogue is saying ‘yes sir, I agree.’
“Mata says the government’s “zero reconciliation” policy has even destroyed the country’s democracy.
“There is no democracy in the country,” Mata said. “People don’t have the right to elect their authorities and the government violates the laws and the Constitution and doesn’t care.”
In Nicaragua, it seems, the government of reconciliation has even managed to divide the Catholic Church.