Nicaragua and the Left: Between Pride and Ignorance

Jorge Capelán and Stephen Sefton

The recent article on Nicaragua of the Latin American Strategic Geopolitics Center (CELAG) demonstrates very clearly the strengths and weaknesses of the intellectual left in Latin America and in Europe. Its representatives take in broad strokes the current processes at global and continental level. In some topics they know well, they demonstrate a good capacity for rigorous research. However, none of the members of CELAG is from Central America or the Caribbean, and in the case of Nicaragua they show that they do not know basic details and basic facts about the country. The article also does not show that much is known of what has been written in the last 10 years about Nicaragua, its economy, its politics and geopolitics, by various means that include analyzes of the Sandinistas themselves, for example the contributions of the historian Aldo Diaz Lacayo , of intellectuals like Orlando Nuñez Soto, Carlos Midence and Carlos Fonseca Terán or analysts like William Grigsby Vado, among many others.


The CELAG article gives a couple of brushstrokes on the geopolitical theme, mentioning Venezuela, Russia and the Interoceanic Canal, but leaves aside fundamental issues for any serious analyst on the Central American isthmus, and particularly on Nicaragua. First, its geopolitical location is a defining element of the Nicaraguan nation located in an area of ​​passage between East and West, and North and South. Second, water, whether as a means of transportation or as a means of livelihood, is the country’s most important resource and the object of the greatest disputes, especially in the 21st century. And third, being the nation with the most extensive territory in its region, Nicaragua is perhaps the only country in the world that, being larger, has lost territory at the hands of its smaller neighbors.

This is so because the touchstone of all the colonizing projects has been to avoid the political unity of Central America, and especially the development of Nicaragua as a Nation-State. This is how the United States accepted the development of a certain Welfare State in Costa Rica but never will in Nicaragua. You can talk a lot about Russia, China or Venezuela, but without understanding the previous elements it is impossible to have an idea of ​​the interests at stake. That is why the history of Nicaragua has been plagued by wars and long periods of poverty. By the way, these facts are well known by the President Commander Daniel Ortega. The CELAG analysts start from the fact that in Nicaragua a “color revolution” or rather a “soft hit” as it is called here is taking place. This is a more than evident truth for those of us who have experienced the events in the country during the last month. However, when CELAG tries to argue that the progress of the ongoing counterrevolution is now the result of the pressures of the IMF, we do not believe it.


It is true that in 2005 Nicaragua entered the HIPC initiative that allows it, in exchange for true economic intervention, to forgive most of its debt with the IMF. In 2006, the government of that time approved the entry into the CAFTA-DR FTA, practically a tacit condition to benefit from the cancellation. What CELAG does not mention is that none of this was managed by the Sandinista administration, which took office in January 2007, but by the liberal government of President Enrique Bolaños. More than a year before the end of President Bolaños’ term, the FSLN opposed the entry of Nicaragua into CAFTA-DR at the end of 2005 when the whole bloc of 35 Sandinista deputies in the National Assembly voted against the treaty because they wanted it to be renegotiated.

The IMF is only one ingredient of all the forces that determine a very unfavorable environment for any process of change in Central America and the Caribbean. This means that CELAG does not understand the internal situation of Nicaragua when it asserts that “the Nicaraguan government has been yielding to the local and international business community and the International financial institutions, which are pushing for an adjustment.” On the contrary, private companies have joined forces the minority political opposition in Nicaragua at this moment precisely because of the firm solidarity defense of President Daniel Ortega’s government of the social and economic rights of the impoverished majority of the country. It is, among many other things, free education and health, annual increases in the minimum wage always 5 or 6 percentage points above inflation, the massive property titling program in favor of humble families and in general, the deep and broad democratization of the country’s economy, especially in favor of women.

CELAG constantly refers to the relationship of the Government of Nicaragua with the IMF, the employers’ association, the canal company HKND. But nowhere is there any mention of that government being backed by a very broad social movement. When reading the version of CELAG, the impression is given that here there have not been popular sectors that go out to defend the government, which is not at all true. On April 30, Managua was filled with Sandinistas who, by their own decision, went to support the government.  Something similar happened last week. Demonstrations condemning the violence have happened throughout the country and it has been the grassroots organizations of the Sandinista Front in the neighborhoods that have organized the population to repel the gangs that promote looting and various acts of violence. That does not mean that the Sandinista Front has been able to mobilize all popular sectors.

The popular economy

What is more serious still, the article of the CELAG ignores fundamental facts about the political economy of the country. In Nicaragua, wealth is not produced by the bourgeoisie but by the popular, cooperative, associative and self-managed economic sector, which produces more than half of the GDP and generates more than 70% of employment. For that reason, the government did not allow Uber to enter Nicaragua, for example. In terms of investment, it is not the Nicaraguan bourgeoisie that contributes the most, but the State and foreign capital – even within these, a considerable part are very small capitals, even of non-capitalist logic, of Americans who set up small hotels and other types of activities with capital brought from their own countries. For all its prominence in the debate, COSEP is not a strong guild of entrepreneurs. Its president José Adán Aguerri does not have a known company, he is a mere official of a union that covers a lot but amounts to little pressure. On the other hand, the universe of economic actors of the popular sectors and small capitals not dominated by speculative logic should have been politically consolidated to the left, but that was not achieved by historical factors specific to Nicaragua.

Here the main operator  interested in the coup, besides the United States, was the great international financial capital. Saturday, after the protests, the one who went to embrace the students of the private Polytechnic University was Piero Coen, the richest man in Nicaragua and the seventh most powerful millionaire in the region, according to Forbes. The objective was not only to return the country to the state prior to 2007 but to the one before 1979, or perhaps  the 1920s when Sandinismo did not exist. “The COSEP does not represent me, I am with you, boys,” said this financial “revolutionary”.  Privatizing the INSS today with a million affiliates and numerous new clinics and hospitals, and reversing a process of redistributing urban and rural property for almost 40 years and ending peasant food production are some of the interests of these groups.

With a fragile economy but dependent on very resilient factors (the only Latin American country that produces 90% of the food it consumes, popular economy, extensive cooperativization, diversification of foreign trade and sources of income, etc.), the Sandinista economic model is very successful, they are not inventions of the IMF.  If something could have failed, it is the political administration of that model. Here after a month of crisis prices have not risen, and at the time of writing these lines remain the same as always. The sectors of the popular and associative economy have played a very important role in preventing looting from putting the country out of control, but for many reasons these movements did not receive the quota of political power that would have been truly theirs to effectively defend the model and force employers to fulfill their part of the deal by paying more taxes. The reform of the INSS was not bad nor was it neoliberal. But that was never explained to the people beforehand. Many people came out in good faith to protest, but they deceived and instrumentalized.


Regarding the protests, CELAG says, “It is not a minor fact (and there is no possible justification) the reaction of the Ortega government to the claims of the protesters. It is questionable and, evidently, it has been overtaken by events – as shown by the large number of wounded and killed by the protests”.

First, in the legitimate peaceful demonstrations on Wednesday the 18th  against the reforms of the INSS, the claims of the protesters that day against the resolution to reform the INSS were biased, misinformed and irrational. The resolution proposal was not going to go into effect until July and there was more than enough time to reform it. It makes no sense for CELAG to apply to Nicaragua a logic that does not apply in the cases of Bolivia and Venezuela where there are also protest movements that make extremely biased, unrealistic, and ill-reasoned demands on their governments, to say the least. Second, the response of the national police was proportional to the events. Almost immediately, the peaceful demonstration quickly deteriorated into clashes between groups of protesters and groups of young people affiliated with the government.

Immediately, the violent opposition groups of the political opposition in the country led by the Renewal Movement of ex-Sandinistas, now allies of the US extreme right and beneficiaries of the financing of the United States government and its NGOs for decades. During the 19th, 20th and 21rst of April the armed groups of the political opposition mixed with students and young people and also integrated hundreds of delinquents recruited of different cities with the purpose of intensifying the attacks. They attacked all kinds of infrastructure with firearms, spell weapons and Molotov cocktails. Since its inception, the protests have been very violent. However, an image of disproportionate repression and even of “massacres” has been projected by means of a tremendous disinformation machinery in the social networks and the news media of the private company and its international allies. An important component of misinformation has been the manipulation of the figures of the dead and wounded. At this point CELAG also repeats the false propaganda on the right with the phrase “the large number of wounded and killed by the protests.”

In the city of Estelí two young people died in circumstances that are still to be clarified. 18 police officers were injured and also 16 workers of the Mayor’s Office. It was a battle in an area of ​​16 blocks that lasted 5 hours. The attackers were between 500 and 600, half of them brought from Managua and León. They tried to burn down the mayor’s office, loot a food store for social programs and also attack a supermarket. Given the level of violence on the night of April 20th in Estelí, a toll of two deaths is slight and indicates that the National Police did not use firearms, but rubber bullets and tear gas. A relevant fact is that in 1994 during a single day of armed conflict in Estelí between the government and the insurrectionary forces that had taken the city at that time, more than 50 people died in a single day.

The reaction of the government of President Ortega and the National Police was proportional to the threat of the armed groups and their companions who had nothing of “peaceful protest.” When making a mistake about the government’s proportional response, CELAG is also wrong about whether it is correct or not to refer to a “large number of wounded and deceased”.  Like Estelí, apart from Managua, the cities of León, Masaya, Granada, Diriamba, Jinotepe and Chinandega, all suffered attacks by armed groups determined to destroy public offices and private property without respecting anyone.

However, CELAG applies a logical framework of peaceful “protests” that, of course, is inapplicable to the case of a violent insurrection in so many urban centers besides the capital city. By Monday, April 23rd, the opposition media were reporting a number of 20 to 23 deaths. Among them, there were two policemen, a journalist, several government supporters, several passers-by, and several protesters. It does not make sense to mention “a large number of wounded and deceased” without differentiating between victims of armed groups and victims of police action. Only to report “a great amount” is to collaborate in the mediatic offensive of the political opposition in Nicaragua that implies that all the victims were the result of government action.

The opposite is the case. All the deaths resulted directly from the armed violence unleashed by the political opposition. In the two days following April 23rd, when there were no serious incidents of armed violence, the NGOs and the media of the political opposition inflated the number of the alleged deaths to more than forty. Then people appeared on social networks denying the reports of his death and there were families who reported that their dead had nothing to do with the protests. There is much that is not yet known outside (and even within) Nicaragua about issues that are still being investigated. Not even the number of deaths is known, much less, in most cases, who killed them.

Another imperial onslaught

On Saturday, April 21rst, President Ortega announced the dialogue proposal and the private company accepted it. On Sunday the 22nd, President Ortega revoked the resolution of the INSS reform. If the protests had been about the reform of the INSS, the violence would have ended there. But it is not over, because the political opposition wants to reach the power that it could not win through the electoral route. While CELAG notes “important differences” with neighboring countries, it does not notice the most obvious in relation to the events between April 18 and 22 in Nicaragua. At no time was the army deployed to suppress the protests, as has been the usual response in those countries to violent attacks such as those that occurred in Nicaragua. Dissolving demonstrations by annihilating the demonstrators is something totally foreign to the doctrine and preparation of the Nicaraguan police forces formed in the wake of the 1979 Revolution.

When CELAG observes that the government “has evidently been overtaken by events”. It must be said that it is very true. How can it be (many in Nicaragua are asking) that security forces (of Sandinista origin) that for almost 30 years have kept international organized crime at bay, and have been monitoring all movements of imperialism in the region for forty years , have not been able to gather intelligence warning of what was being planned? How can a government that has built a formidable and massive disaster prevention structure of all kinds be overwhelmed by a political (not social) emergency like the one that has been presented? It can be said that for a few days the political structure was practically paralyzed even though at each level it was trying to take the measures deemed necessary, appropriate and feasible to face a very volatile situation in which an excessive armed violence quickly prevailed in many urban centers.

On the other hand, it is fair and necessary to observe that the Latin American and European left has also been overtaken by events in Nicaragua. With few exceptions, intellectuals in Latin America and Europe have shown the same ignorance and lack of political vision, socio-economic understanding and moral humility that they demonstrated in the case of Libya. They do not understand Nicaragua. In the best of cases, they have distorted and mutilated the reality of the country so that it fits in some or other ideological framework that does not respond to the particular characteristics of Nicaraguan society and economy. In the worst case, they support the arguments of the country’s political opposition led by ex-Sandinistas now blessed by Donald Trump and Mike Pence, allies of Marco Rubio, Bob Menendez and Ileana Ros Lehtinen, at the service of corporate interests such as the Group Coen and its regional counterparts.

Nicaragua does not need the superb distribution or retention of stars for having passed some examination of leftism. It requires sensible solidarity to resist a further onslaught of the Yankee empire and its international and national allies against a socialist and anti-imperialist government, unconditional ally of Bolivia, Cuba, Venezuela and all the popular movements of Latin America and the Caribbean.