Nicaragua: Revolutionary Stability Amid Regional Destabilizing

By Tortilla Con Sal

Events this year in Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador have thrown into sharp relief the security and stability currently prevalent in Nicaragua.

The failure of the Mexican authorities to investigate correctly, in an accountable way, the terrifying disappearance of 43 students in Ayotzinapa in September 2014, confirms the extensive corruption affecting Mexico’s criminal legal system and security services. Likewise, this year’s clearly assisted escape of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman and its sequel cast the Mexican authorities involved as cartoon figures from some kind of anti-Cantinflas snuff movie, not just garrulous and inept, but irredeemably sinister and corrupt too, living down to the racist yankee caricature of the “obedezco pero no cumplo” latino. For years now, under successive U.S. dominated neoliberal regimes, the creeping annexation of Mexico’s authorities by organized crime has seriously affected its southern neighbors.

In El Salvador, through 2015 the criminal network of maras mounted a determined, mortal offensive challenging the FMLN government led by President Salvador Sanchez Ceren. His government is working urgently and effectively to address the crisis and menace presented by these highly organized criminal gangs, despite constant obstruction and equivocation from the country’s right wing opposition.

In Guatemala, large scale demonstrations against the country’s notoriously corrupt authorities culminated last month in the arrest and detention of the country’s President Otto Perez Molina and various members of his government, including his Vice President. Guatemala’s neighbor Belize also has very serious problems as a transit and money laundering center for the regional narcotics industry.

In Honduras, prolonged mass demonstrations took place for months protesting against the country’s corrupt authorities, especially a massive fraud affecting the country’s social security system. However, far from acting decisively to root out anomalies, the Honduran government instead caved in to orders from the U.S. authorities to forcibly liquidate one of the country’s biggest financial and business conglomerates, ostensibly to combat money laundering, but clearly with a strongly repressive political motive. In Guatemala next weekend, voters will elect their President from among candidates representing the very same political class against which the recent mass demonstrations were organized. The authorities in Guatemala and Honduras go through unconvincing motions pretending to address their societies’ ingrained corruption while in fact merely postponing the political resolution of their peoples’ increasing frustration and desperation.

Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, Belize and Honduras are all very badly affected by every variety of organized crime, people trafficking, contraband, extortion, money laundering and especially narcotics. South of Nicaragua, Costa Rica, whose people for so long took enormous pride in their country’s relative prosperity and stability, now look on as their country steadily loses its historic regional economic leadership, while also succumbing more and more to organized crime and the unwelcome effects of a heavily increased presence of U.S. military personnel. Panama, notorious as a fiscal paradise for money laundering and tax avoidance, hasenjoyed the benefits of an economic boom from the current widening of its inter-oceanic canal but is also in the throes of a far reaching corruption scandal involving former right wing president Ricardo Martinelli.

By contrast, Nicaragua has become the regional example of a stable, well managed country, steadily overcoming its social and economic problems, free of widespread, systemic official corruption and a bulwark against regional organized crime and drugs trafficking. This reality has far reaching policy implications for Central America and the Caribbean. The most politically important is that a revolutionary, socialist inspired, mixed economy has out-performed all its neighbors bar Panama, the beneficiary of exceptional investment from the expansion of its canal and its role as the region’s main financial center. Admittedly, Nicaragua’s economy and society are recovering from a very low base. Of all the countries at war in the region through the 1980s, Nicaragua was the only one deliberately targeted for destruction by the United States. Subsequently, the country was ransacked by its corrupt elites under one U.S. client government after another.

So Nicaragua is still very much in transition from a condition of almost total collapse in 1990 after nearly thirteen years of armed conflict, followed by 17 years of neoliberal misgovernment. The obvious question is how such a country, deliberately destroyed by war and economic sanctions applied by the United States, then ransacked by its local elites, now, after just 8 years of Sandinista government, has outstanding social and economic indicators and unprecedented political stability. Some observations by the leading Sandinista strategist, Orlando Nuñez Soto explain a lot about how Daniel Ortega’s revolutionary political and economic policies have made Nicaragua’s stability possible.

“Revolution is measured by achieving in the short term and by whatever means necessary what we have been unable to achieve over a very long period or what other countries have achieved before we have been able to: sovereignty, social equality in all aspects, the exercise of universal rights, popular organization and participation in public institutions and management of the economy, welfare in all areas measured by world standards, among other things as well. Socialist revolution is measured by its advances in substituting the capitalist model of life and production, generating poverty, unemployment and inequality, by another socialist oriented model, able to overcome that situation and change the correlation of forces between capital and labor. In both cases, what has happened in Nicaragua over the last 50 years entitles us to continue talking about a revolution….

The big challenge continues to be the possibility of securing the material bases to eradicate poverty, guarantee employment and diminish social inequality within an international capitalist framework that we cannot eliminate by decree, in which moments of reform and counter-reform are interspersed with moments of revolution and counter-revolution. A revolutionary process has different moments and different priorities according to its progress, national political will and internal and external circumstances. Under current conditions and with all the current limitations, the vital task is to create the basis of an alternative system within the existing market economy, for example by organizing workers and consumers into cooperatives, especially when control of the means of production by State entities is not on the agenda and where the industrial working class is a minority.” (“Cooperativismo y Revolución” – Revista Correo #41)

When finally, after 17 years in opposition, the Sandinista Front returned to government in January 2007, it faced the task of rebuilding a country starved of investment. Businesses struggled to cope with power cuts of up to twelve hours a day. Domestic agriculture was chronically deprived of credit and technical support. Around a quarter of the country’s working age population had emigrated, enriching other countries with their labor. What has transformed Nicaragua’s economy since 2006 has been the decisive leading role of the Sandinista government. President Ortega and his team, coordinated by Rosario Murillo, set out systematically to democratize the economy by fomenting activity for small and medium sized businesses and agriculture, especially cooperatives. These sectors make up 70 percent of Nicaragua’s economy.

The Sandinista government combined new funding from the Venezuelan led Bolivarian Alliance of the Americas (ALBA) with traditional development cooperation from countries like Japan and Taiwan and from international development banks. That enabled a nationwide renovation of infrastructure leading to better communications via roads, ports and airports and abundant, reliable electricity. That investment encouraged large foreign and domestic businesses to invest as well. At the same time, economic programs focused on bringing women into economic activity especially with micro-credit for urban women and livestock programs for women in rural areas. That economic stimulus was backed up by large scale property titling programs, also prioritizing women. Likewise since 2007, social investment programs have supported living standards of low income families in the areas of housing and nutrition, and with subsidies of public transport and electricity prices. Public health care and education are free, complemented by carefully targeted projects carried out with cooperation from Cuban educators and health professionals. All this means that impoverished families have a guaranteed basic level of social and economic security and are thus better able to participate as protagonists in economic activity.

At the same time the government has engaged in permanent dialogue to reach consensus around a social and economic a model of shared responsibility between the public sector, private businesses and labor unions. A crucial factor promoting stability has been agreement about tax reform, reducing exemptions and progressively broadening the tax base. That fiscal reform has increased government revenue and enhanced confidence in the justice of fiscal policy. It also lays the groundwork for more ambitious socialist fiscal policies in the future. Along with fiscal reform based on consensus, the government has also focused its political project around consensus on achieving the objectives of the National Development Plan.

By insisting on dialogue and national unity in this way, President Ortega has effectively eliminated the political opposition. The extent to which this is so can be seen from the consistent results of a series of exhaustive opinion polls carried out since 2011 by the center-right M&R polling company. The latest poll in the series shows the political opposition having a total of 8.1 percent support, broken into 7.7 percent for the two main Liberal parties and just 0.4 percent for all the other opposition groupings including former Sandinistas openly aligned since 2006 with the right-wing political opposition. On the other hand, the Sandinista party led by Daniel Ortega enjoys over 56 percent support, and 35 percent of people describing their political alignment as independent. The M&R poll found that, as national personalities, both Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo enjoy levels of approval over 80 percent.

Only 4.2 percent of people regard corruption as a serious problem in Nicaragua, while over 32 percent see unemployment as the country’s most serious economic problem. As many as 47 percent of people say they would go abroad to work if they got the chance, although that figure has dropped from a high of 69 percent in 2007, the year Daniel Ortega became president. Even so, over recent years, when polled about whether they are optimistic about their economic situation in 12 months time, an average of 65 percent of people between 2011 and now have said they think their situation will improve. The latest figure is 66 percent.

Polled on the issue of citizen security compared to a year ago, over 60 percent say they feel more secure. Even in the capital Managua, 65 percent of people said there was no youth gang activity in their neighborhood. Nationally, 12 percent of people said they had been the victim of a crime in the previous twelve months.

These levels of economic optimism and citizen security offer an extraordinary contrast with Nicaragua’s neighbors. The economic and security policies imposed by North American and European governments on countries like Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras completely fail to meet the needs of the region’s impoverished majority. In Nicaragua, revolutionary policies of democratization supported by Venezuelan and Cuban regional initiatives contribute dramatically to national and regional security, prosperity and stability. By contrast, U.S. and allied country policies drag down regional economies, hold back social development, promote corruption and destabilize the region by promoting volatile political change in favor of corrupt, repressive local elites. Nothing could be clearer.