Neither Forgive nor Forget? A Response

“It seem to me that this position, although evidently well intentioned, is incorrect and risky,” writes Larios in response to Gioconda Belli.

18 de enero 2019


Neither pardon (legal) nor forget (political). The parentheses are useful to rehearse a response, with the brevity of a slogan, to the comments of writer Gioconda Belli on the meaning of the popular phrase: “Neither forgive nor forget.”

This concern is not futile, debate builds democracy.

It has to be said, because in our culture a predisposition exists to think that if we are at war we have to deal only with the next bullet, and not what we are going to do when we win or lose.

“What is the use of talking about all this, a friend recently asked, if we cannot even exercise our right to vote?” Well, precisely: if the struggle for the vote is so costly, we need to think very carefully about what and why fight and for what to vote, what kind of society does each one want, how do we agree on how to build it.

These are the discussions that must be held collectively, publically, among as many citizens as possible. So that later there are not only a few who secretly conspire and decide for the rest. So that everyone’s talents will make us, together, come so close to the truth as we humans can. It is true that for Nicaragua it involves a dream hitherto impossible to achieve: that of a free and prosperous society.

For that reason, it is necessary to appreciate, and it is worthy examining, the questioning that Gioconda Belli makes, which is not only relevant for the immediate and tactical, but has profound implications for any democratic project in Nicaragua.

“Neither forgive nor forget” versus barbarism and authoritarianism

Belli’s presumption is that “neither forgive no forget” makes it more difficult for individual to desert such as magistrate Rafael Solis, a key figure in the construction of the dictatorship, but who—as is clear from the text—returns now as the prodigal son of the parable, repentant; and like that prodigal son, we should receive him, forgive him, so that others like him “recognized their mistakes and join the cause of all.”

It seems to me that this position, although obviously well intentioned, is incorrect and risky.

In the first place, let us not be deceived: out of Ortega’s power circles deserters will leave inasmuch as fear overcomes the regime, insofar as the idea of defeat and punishment advances, and not because anybody (certainly, no one with the legal or moral authority to do it) promises impunity.

As far as the call to pardon: I am not the confessor or psychoanalyst of magistrate Solis, and I do not know, nor do I have any obligation to know, if his desertion is “a sign of growth, of progress towards a state of mind and conscience,” as the one that Gioconda Belli mentions. Nor am I a judge or a jury in the investigation that—ideally—should occur to dispel the widespread suspicion that Solis has illicitly enriched himself.

Therefore, I cannot condemn him, but I cannot absolve him either.

In fact, the idea of “neither forgive nor forget” is that, for the first time in our history, we treat the accused and Justice fairly, with the respect that is needed to guarantee a civilized life: no prison, no expropriation, no absolution, no exoneration, no forgetting, without due process.  That is what we all should aspire to, for which we must leave behind the fateful custom of forgetting the crimes after each episode of authoritarian barbarism and war that we have suffered, as a curse, for almost two centuries.

We must fight against the force of a tradition that makes us search for how to cushion the fall of some culprits (I have already read somewhere the revisionist and compassionate history of the role of Police Commissioner Granera, for example), and that has made of Nicaragua a country where in the name of peace and pardon impunity is encouraged. We must oppose policies of exceptional generosity towards those that have cause so much harm.

Not for revenge, but because we have to create—it is imperative, is essential—a legitimate legal order, that will put things in their place, that will allow the people to act in accordance with the law, and not to contravene it confident in that there will be at some time “forgive and forget.”  

We must also tell the truth: magistrate Solis, a deserter at the last minute, has been one of the main architects of the tragedy that already has left hundreds of deaths, thousands injured, and tens of thousands in exile. Magistrate Solis is a suspect (I cannot say guilty, that should be done by a legitimate judge) of illicit enrichment and corruption. In political terms, magistrate Solis is not an innocent victim, but a key accomplice of the perpetrators, or a perpetrator himself.

Nor is this the first massacre that occurs under the rule of the FSLN, in which magistrate Solis has participated prominently for decades. That should not be forgotten, that must always be said. Why? Well, simply because it is true. And, telling the truth is not a hindrance in the march towards democracy. On the contrary, without truth we get lost along the way.

Without truth there is a “pact” and a shady deal in a dark room, mutual forgiveness and a convenient oblivion. Without truth there is cynicism, and what there always is, a recycling of all the culprits, who then, when another one appears, can even boast of being noble and integral people, to whom nobody, never, “could prove him anything.”

Where does the legitimacy of the self-convoked comes from?

Finally, I find objectionable the proposal that the citizens resistance against the Ortega-Murillo should coalesce in a certain vertical leadership (elected, it is true, but how? by whom?), from which slogans will “fall”, and provide legitimacy: “The next stage of the struggle must define an entity that will agglutinate and give legitimacy to the self-convoked movement…we need to define the slogans of the resistance.”

This vision is contrary to the current will of citizens, which seems to have developed a pronounced animosity, an almost allergic reaction, to any gesture that recalls the vanguard of long ago. The people want, I believe, that this becomes a different time, a different struggle, in means and ends. For that, it has sacrificed so much and continues to sacrifice. And, for that reason, the self-convoked is a legitimate movement in its own right, and does not need any “entity” to grant it such favor.

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Francisco Larios


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