Bolivia is like a hall of mirrors in an old amusement park. It distorts the reflection of those who peer into that mirror seeking images that confirm their vision of themselves.
The electoral process still hadn’t issued the official results when the projections began. The clear MAS party victory led one side and the other to see their own hopeful reflection in those results. They looked for lessons that hopefully would lead them to victory in the November 2021 elections scheduled in Nicaragua.
The opposition side viewed the MAS victory through a lens that emphasized the lack of unity of the opposing parties. However, those parties offered extremely diverse ideological options, from extreme right to the center.
Daniel Ortega’s allies, in turn, hailed the MAS victory as proof that socialist postulates remain relevant in the 21st century. To them, it also validated the alliances built under the Alba framework.
Certainly, there are some formal coincidences between MAS in Bolivia and Ortega in Nicaragua. They both used legal maneuvers to legitimize their indefinite reelection, and they share an anti-imperialist discourse. However, beyond the house of mirrors, a closer look at the Bolivian reality highlights the abysmal differences between the two. Those differences go beyond the immediately apparent.
The FSLN arose at the beginning of the sixties as a clandestine and guerrilla organization. They had scarce or no ties to the social movements. Contrary to this, the current MAS was founded as the result of an alliance. In 1997, the Coca growers, the farm movement and the Confederation of Tropical Farmworkers joined forces, with Evo Morales presiding.
In contrast, Sandinismo didn’t emerge as a mass movement until the Nicaraguan revolution triumphed in 1979. The organizations that arose at that time functioned as the FSLN’s telephone lines. They had little or no autonomy, which hindered them from becoming permanent social movements. When the FSLN became the opposition in 1990, these movements enjoyed some moments of greater independent action. However, once the FSLN returned to power in 2007, they were once again subjugated to the government’s will. A decade later, they have all but disappeared.
In Bolivia, when MAS was the governing party, there were attempts to subordinate the social movement to the government. But the organizations always maintained their autonomous spaces. This autonomy allowed them to preserve their influence as communal, rural or labor movements.
The crisis unleashed by the OAS-led denunciations of fraud following last year’s October elections forced Evo Morales to resign. He did so under pressure from the most conservative sectors and from the Bolivian army. Nevertheless, these events didn’t decapitate the social movements that nourish the MAS political forces.
Morales’ exile, which the OAS secretary general painted as a back-door escape, avoided a civil war and a bloodbath. As such, it created the conditions for MAS to return to government by the electoral route.
The origin and history of the MAS allowed it to transcend Evo Morales. It has demonstrated that its popular roots remain alive. It’s also shown that its years in government have made a deep impression on Bolivians. During those years, its economic and social policies vindicated the majority indigenous population and transformed the face of Bolivia.
The MAS is structured as a political party with Morales as its principal leader. But its ranks include representatives of different sectors. The Movement for Socialism achieved its cohesion through consistent government programs that facilitated the sustained growth of the economy. Their programs also achieved a reduction in poverty, and improved people’s living conditions, especially those of the indigenous people.
The FSLN of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo, in contrast, has become a power apparatus. It functions in close coordination with the public institutions. Without those institutions, it lacks the capacity and the resources to mobilize the population. Its alliance with large capital prior to 2018 erased the lines of the political platform they pretended to identify with. So did its projects, such as the great interoceanic canal. Nothing is left except the patronage system they use to retain the support of their electoral base.
The FSLN lacks a medium and long-term program to define the Nicaragua they want to build. It has limited itself to seeking short-term national and international alliances to sustain itself in power. They’ve had no concern for who that ally is. The rupture with large capital, represented by the upper echelons of COSEP, wasn’t only an internal crisis. It also represented a rupture with outside sectors who had looked kindly upon that [government-business] marriage.
The MAS confided its strategies for returning to government in its ties to the social movements. They offered a coherent economic and social program. In contrast, the Bolivian opposition, across all political shades, made their visceral rejection of Morales their chief electoral flag. The unity or division of these anti-MAS forces wasn’t, therefore, the principal factor in their defeat.
In Nicaragua, the situation is diametrically opposed to that of the MAS and Bolivia. The FSLN doesn’t have a social movement that embodies their programs and postulates. Since 2018, its repressive apparatus has been its main political buttress in the face of the population’s dissatisfaction. From their seat of power, Daniel and Rosario know that they can’t allow the least crack in their social control. Otherwise, they run the risk of a new outpouring into the streets.
Unlike the MAS, the FSLN transformed into an apparatus at the service of Daniel’s and Rosario’s power. The FSLN has no alternative leaderships, built from government experience and the party’s proposed programs. It’s been reduced to an instrument for sustaining the strongman, whose will is not discussed, and whose orders are obeyed.
Up until now, the only factor that unifies the opposition in Nicaragua is an anti-Ortega stance. They could eventually become an electoral option capable of facing up to Daniel Ortega. However, at the moment, the opposition doesn’t have a program that could mobilize the different social sectors. They have yet to offer a clear alternative to the siren songs of the Ortega camp. This quagmire coincides with the situation of those in Bolivia who opposed the MAS.
Unity isn’t a magic wand, and the Ortega camp knows that. That’s why they’re working to create laws that will advance their control and repression, beyond just dispatching the police. They’re working to set up an electoral process that – unlike the Bolivian one – can be carried out with a decapitated and program-less opposition. This would allow the Ortega regime to fulfill the electoral protocols and reopen the doors for national and international alliances. All while assuring that Ortega and Murillo continue at the head of the government.
The Bolivian experience has little or nothing to do with Nicaragua. The FSLN’s tactics and strategies are centered on their permanence in power. If the opposition wants to replace the Ortega regime, they must learn the lesson the MAS has offered. That’s the lesson to study, instead of the one offered by the MAS adversaries.
This means developing program proposals that respond to the population’s real necessities. They must restore the people’s hope that change is possible, and assure there’ll be no return to anything of the past
*Journalist. Consultant in communication. Member of the Confidencial Editorial Council