MANAGUA – The opposition’s ability to channel political discontent into civil protest will be put to the test Nov. 21 – a day the opposition hopes will mark the awakening of a nationwide movement to reclaim the streets and Nicaragua’s democracy from President Daniel Ortega’s Sandinista Front.
The scheduled march is part of a socalled
“citizen campaign for democracy” announced this week by 19 civil society organizations to commemorate the first anniversary of the Nov. 9, 2008 municipal elections, in which the Sandinistas are accused of stealing 43 municipal polls (NT, Nov. 14, 2008).
“We can’t allow another dictatorship to consolidate itself in Nicaragua,” reads the joint declaration. “We have to ensure that our children inherit a country that is prosperous and with social justice, peace and liberty – the country that thousands of Nicaraguans who fought and gave their lives to topple the different dictatorships of our history dreamed of.”
Violeta Granera, head of the civil society group Movement for Nicaragua, called for the removal of all eight electoral magistrates responsible for last year’s election fiasco, which she called “the most transparent and documented electoral fraud in Nicaragua’s history.”
“Twenty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, an act that was detonated in part by electoral fraud, we call on all Nicaraguans to knock down the wall of shame represented by electoral fraud,” she said.
Adding to the opposition’s sense of urgency is the recent Supreme Court power-play by six Sandinista judges, who on Oct. 19 ruled to strike an article from the constitution prohibiting Ortega’s aspirations to seek unlimited reelection. The opposition – including the seven Liberal judges of the Supreme Court who did not participate in the decision – argue the Sandinista ruling was illegal and therefore void. But Ortega and the Sandinista-controlled Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) claims the ruling is “written in stone” and therefore irreversible (NT, Oct. 23, 30; Nov. 6).
Civil society leaders this week stated in their declaration that Ortega’s reelection move is a “flagrant violation of the Constitution” and a brazen attempt to “replace rule of law with a de facto regime.”
“Orteguismo represents the danger of repeating a painful history that all Nicaraguans know: the tragedy of a dictatorship and violent confrontation,” the declaration reads.
While some civil society leaders hope to reanimate the silent majority with next Saturday’s march, other dissident groups are losing faith in the traditional leadership of the opposition.
This week’s civil society meeting, which was attended by less than 100 people even though the group allegedly represents 19 different organizations was interrupted by two dozen youthful “independent and non-partisan” activists who burst into the meeting off the streets enraged after being attacked by a gang of Sandinista Youth.
Activist leader Giselle Rivas, wearing an EZLN Zapatista t-shirt and flanked by two dozen youths – some of whom were brandishing battle scars from their street scuffle with the Orteguistas – read the group’s declaration.
The group railed against President Ortega and his political counterpart Arnoldo Alemán, both of whom they accuse of “killing the rule of law and assaulting democratic institutions.”
The youth group also blasted the impotence of opposition leaders, blaming them for putting their personal interests ahead of Nicaragua’s democracy and failing to “consolidate a true opposition movement.”
“Instead of returning us to democracy, each day we sink deeper into despair,” Rivas shouted into the microphone. She called for a “civil and peaceful popular insurrection” against the political authorities who are holding the country down.
“As young people, we don’t think that the opposition is doing a good job and neither is the government,” Rivera told The Nica Times, after her group stormed out of the meeting chanting “Democracy Yes, Dictatorship No!” “Civil society has to take to the streets because we’ve already seen that nothing can be done legally here,” she said.
In the streets, however, civil society’s protests have been repeatedly met by Sandinista violence. Rivera’s group was attacked in front of the Plaza de Sol Police station, in plain view of the police.
After the masked Sandinista Youth chased off Rivera’s group by pelting them with rocks, eggs and firing homemade mortars, the unruly mob turned its aggressions on the police station, hurling rocks at the station and breaking windows.
A day earlier, five police officers were injured in Nagarote, León, when a similar Sandinista mob attacked a police line that was protecting a separate civil society protest against last year’s alleged fraud. Despite the violence, the National Police have yet to make any arrests in more than a year of protests, not even when their own agents or headquarters have come under attack.
Fighting Fire with Fire
The calls for nonviolent protest are growing fainter every day. Indeed, some in the opposition are now starting to take a page from the book on disproportionate response.
“If they throw one rock, we’ll answer with two,” has become the new mantra of the opposition.
On Monday afternoon, the new eye for an eye tactic was revealed in downtown Managua, when Liberal Party activists broke out their own homemade mortars and started firing back at the Sandinistas for the first time since last year.
The Sandinistas were quick to denounce the violence, accusing Liberal leader Eduardo Montealegre of “ordering” people to fire on “university students who were celebrating the Sandinista Front’s first anniversary of the triumph in the municipal elections.”
Images of the scene broadcast on local television, however, showed a surly band of masked Sandinistas attacking a smaller gathering of opposition protesters and chasing them off with rocks and exploding mortars.
In the rural northern department of Jinotega, which served as a major theater of war in the counterrevolutionary struggle against the first Sandinista government in the 1980s, a group of former “Contras” has decided that enough is enough, warns former Contra commander Germán Zeledón.
“Following the fraud of 2008 and everything else that has followed, there comes a moment when the people don’t have any other alternative than to take up arms,” Zeledón told The Nica Times this week in an interview in Managua.
Zeledón is part of the socalled “Group of Nov. 9,” a group of 23 former mayoral candidates who claim the Sandinistas robbed them of victory in last year’s elections. He says that former Contras and a new generation of anti-Sandinistas are organizing, and warns that armed conflict could be coming.
“There is a group that is organizing in Jinotega called the FDN (Nicaraguan Democratic Force), which was the original part of the Contra … the true Contras,” Zeledón said. “In this sense, they are reorganizing all throughout the territory that was once the corridor of war.”
When pressed on the issue, he said, “The people are reorganizing and that’s all I can tell you, I can’t give you any more information because remember [the Sandinistas] control the army and the police.”
He said the main goal of the alleged Contra reorganization is “physical protection,” but said it’s also a response to the country’s eroding rule of law. Zeledón insists he’s not involved in the organizational efforts, but says he knows that “the strategy will be different,” from the conflict in the 1980s.
“We will continue to march and protest, but parallel to that there are people who are organizing and thinking of other activities,” he warned. “I told them to calm down, but there will come a moment when they won’t remain calm any longer.”