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A torn country that the dictatorship can’t stitch back together

The country that rebelled in 2018 doesn’t appear willing to put down their banners for change and the right to hope. These rise each day, unconquered.

Photo: Confidencial / Archive

Silvio Prado

29 de abril 2022


Four years ago, Nicaraguan society and government exploded into many pieces. Once more, the country suffered a painful rupture; this time, it precipitated the collapse of everything accumulated over at least 28 years. Since that time, thousands of Nicaraguans have become wanderers in the world, pushed out by the government’s persecution. There are nearly 200 political hostages in the dictatorship’s dungeons. Thousands suffer scars from wounds and torture, and the families of more than 350 assassinated Nicaraguans clamor for justice.

Each victim carries their own particular pain; each encloses a story of tearing apart, and each individual gash embodies the terrible fracture of an entire country. The dictatorship that was the cause will never be able to repair these rips.

The Nicaragua of April 18, 2018 no longer exists: it expired; it succumbed; it collapsed from exhaustion. What occurred that afternoon changed everything forever. As after an earthquake, nothing returned to its original place. Not the State as a legal and administrative body; not society as the organization of daily life; neither the repressive apparatus nor the repressed population have gone back to the old routines.

Despite all the efforts they’ve invested, the Ortega regime’s reactionary forces have failed in their attempts to reset all the pieces and return to the starting point – the former model of dialogue and consensus with the large business leaders, the public apathy fed by music concerts and virtual arenas, and the control of social conflict via the corporate party organizations.

In other words, April 18, 2018 has become a kind of central axis for the political struggle between the conservative forces, that are trying to go back, and the opposition, that is trying to go forward along the path the rebellion opened. The regime has now been attempting for four years to erase what happened, through waves of repression and speeches of denial. The opposition forces have spent the four years wishing – in vain up until now – to solidify an alternative for political change. Yet, they’re attempting this without a clear strategy that could let us know what they want, once they’re grown.

Despite everything they’ve tried and their stated desires, the dictators haven’t managed to close the wounds that opened during those hot, dry Nicaraguan days. On the contrary, every day they open a new wound, causing the previous ones to bleed yet again. Every time they’ve had within their reach the possibility of mitigating the crisis and moving towards a normalization of the situation – even as a mere façade – they’ve opted instead to worsen the repression.

After the crisis, when the dictatorship had the opportunity to facilitate coexistence, reopen the valves of dissent and encourage political tolerance, they instead pushed through punitive laws, that criminalized the last remains of liberty. When they had the opportunity to organize competitive elections that wouldn’t risk the regime’s dominance, they unleashed a brutal witch-hunt against all their potential competitors and the independent media.

Even once the electoral fraud was consummated, instead of opening a period of pax domine – as Ortega proclaimed in January 2022 when he awarded himself the presidential banner – the regime ordered kangaroo court trials to assure guilty verdicts and prison sentences for all the political prisoners. In this way, they hardened still further the inhumane jail conditions for these prisoners. But they didn’t stop there either: as if they hadn’t done enough, they further squelched the right to association, by declaring illegal NGOs, independent trade unions, humanitarian associations and community organizations. And just when we thought that nothing worse could happen, the dictatorship ordered the closure of private universities, even some whose owners were close to the regime. The ones they didn’t close, like the Central American University, were excluded from the national budget assigned to higher education.

And they didn’t stop there, either. Since daily life contains infinite spheres, and totalitarian regimes have a need to control it all, their next act was to go after the very few musicians that remained in the country, including some whose parents were Ortega regime bureaucrats. At the same time, the dictatorship demonstrated that they’re willing to go to such unimaginable extremes as to banish (yes, expel people who were born in the country, a practice of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries). If they couldn’t lock them up for being a political itch, they had to find some way to teach them a lesson. It’s the same ferocity shown against thousands of exiles, who are denied every day the basic right to have a passport.

The dictatorship can’t heal the wounds, because every day they invent a new reason to believe in supreme punishment. They can’t because they don’t want to; and they don’t want to, because their will is fed by a deep instinct to cause harm, to dominate and nullify as much as possible any expression of daily life that they don’t happen to approve of. Hence, it’s become a crime to think, have opinions, write, study, work, desire, travel …. or sing.

All of this has been fed by uncertainty – the same disease all dictatorships suffer when, closed into their paranoias, they begin to see threats under every rock. Then the witch-hunts move into their own ranks. Each new event foments their suspicions of the social collective. The resignation of an ambassador led to mistrust of the public employees; the songs referring to April cast a shadow over all the musicians; and the videos and messages of the old FSLN militants made them suspect the so-called “Historic Sandinistas” of betrayal. Like a boa constrictor, the dictatorship closes ever more in on itself, and its spasms even engulf those who four years ago kept their feet out of the fires of the social rebellion.

It’s inevitable that in fending off uncertainty the regime must squash, purge, expel. With the country nearly paralyzed in fear, with more than 150,000 compatriots exiled, with no opposition parties and with the social and political leaders in prison, it’s the only explanation for the dictatorship’s ongoing need to invent enemies for itself every day, even among its own accomplices, so as to survive.

A despotic regime that only lives to destroy and that remains anchored in the past, mute, without poetry or song, can’t stitch together a country that’s ripped across all four seams. It can only aspire to the resigned pacification of society. But after four years of resistance, the country that rebelled in 2018 doesn’t appear willing to put down their banners for change and the right to hope. These have risen unconquered every day of these last forty-eight months of struggle.

This article was originally published in Spanish in Confidencial and translated by Havana Times



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Silvio Prado

Silvio Prado

Politólogo y sociólogo nicaragüense, viviendo en España. Es municipalista e investigador en temas relacionados con participación ciudadana y sociedad civil.