Ortega Walks the Tightrope in Nicaragua
It’s foolish to say that Ortega still rules his pond. What Ortega is doing, as his ship sinks, is to first drown every human being within his reach.
For a tightrope artist, the rope is his workplace. He or she could happily spend days and nights on a rope thrown across an empty chasm, watched with admiration. For a corrupt dictator, on the other hand, a tightrope is a tottering nightmare.
Engulfed in such a trance of uncertainty, a genocidal tyrant like Ortega, viewed with unanimous revulsion, unleashes anarchic paramilitary forces that he can’t control completely, whose horrendous crimes – instead of sustaining him – will certainly precipitate his fall. Unless someone steps in, out of negligence or calculation, to help him get his balance.
The more serious problem in this case, is that Ortega is dragging us all down in his fall, destroying the country. We need only glance at the macroeconomic data and the conditions of employment of the population that already reflect an economic bankruptcy that will be difficult to revert for a long time to come. In consequence, whatever there is of sanity in the nation should push urgently to hasten the fall of Ortega, before we all fall off the cliff in a terrible humanitarian crisis.
His crimes make a peaceful exit difficult
The family that he burned alive in the Carlos Marx neighborhood embraced three generations. They perished together in a fire provoked by his crazed mobs, including two children: one 6 months old and the other two years old. This crime has made the need to separate this monster from power even more imperative in the eyes of the world, before such criminal tragedy engulfs the entire population in greater terror.
Ortega didn’t get a chance to play the harp during the fire in the Carlos Marx neighborhood, as Nero did while Rome burned, but, he did display the same cynicism as the despotic emperor by accusing his victims of setting the fire.
Ortega’s ever more brutal crimes reduce the crack through which he could abandon power with some remote possibility of coming out unscathed. Now, instead of crossing a bridge for his departure, he will have to walk a tightrope.
To assert that Ortega still rules the pond in this chaotic situation is as foolish as saying that a sailor who likes to splash around in the bathtub is ruler of his pond when his boat is sinking on the high seas. What Ortega is doing, in his shipwreck, is to first drown every human being within his reach.
The struggle and the art of negotiation
In this struggle for freedom, it’s a bad idea to neglect the art of negotiation. The first thing that a negotiator must manage skillfully is the dynamic interrelationship between struggle and negotiation. Ortega will work to sever that tie, and the people’s weakness in that area stems from the lack of a unified direction in those two aspects of the conflict.
It’s easy to understand that the dialogue is a result of the struggle; however, it’s not the goal of the latter. The goal of the struggle is Ortega’s departure. As a result, the struggle, not the dialogue, is the decisive factor, and in no way should the dialogue imply a reduction or a dismantling of the struggle. The physical terrain that the people have conquered should never be voluntarily delivered over, not even through dialogue. Certainly, the barricades will be abandoned when the struggle triumphs, but not when a mixed commission, including figures from the Ortega government, decides so in the dialogue. The people’s fortifications aren’t negotiable. Peace doesn’t mean a return to the repressive Ortega normality, but the conquest of freedom, obtained by dismantling the Orteguista system. Ortega’s peace won’t lead to democracy; it’s democracy that can lead to peace and the immediate revitalization of economic activity.
Moreover, the dialogue shouldn’t continue until the paramilitaries stop threatening and criminally attacking the barricades and roadblocks with their AK-47s and Dragunov rifles, pointed at the infinitely brave members of the population armed with slingshots.
The dialogue can lead to a trap if those who participate in it act independently of the citizens, with the mistaken idea that they’re the leaders of the people’s fight. In reality, they must be nothing more than the loyal mouthpiece of the people’s demands, and right now the people demand Ortega’s resignation. If those in the dialogue don’t reflect this, they will simply disqualify themselves. The struggle’s direction must be determined by the organized protestors, around a program for combat.
The pool shark’s trick
When we were young, we practiced making cannon shots in Arturo Bone’s pool parlor. This pool maneuver obligated us to calculate the angle of strike, the force of impact, the rebound and the trajectory of three balls that – following precise steps on the table – collided with each other. With a certain spin of the cue, you could manage to cause a predictable sequence of events that coincided with the magic of the primeval movements of the stars.
Today, the principal negotiation is taking place between Ortega and the United States, because he has always preferred to bow down to the dictates of a superior force. That’s what his strategy of brute force comes down to. Those directly involved in the struggle can’t look to a secondary sphere of negotiation like the National dialogue for answers, attempting to negotiate agreements there that in reality have already been traced with third parties. Instead, the people must also negotiate directly with those from the US and the rest of the governments from the OAS, in order to achieve a negotiation that, like the cannon-ball pool maneuver, arrives at a high-level agreement with Ortega also. That’s the way to attain the best perspectives for the cause of freedom and national independence.
In game theory, which mathematically describes the decision-making process in a negotiation or conflict, a basic rule is to situate oneself in the initial position that offers the best perspectives for benefit. This is because one’s own initial decisions substantially influence those of the opponent. Those from the United States shouldn’t impose upon the people in the fight any agreements they have reached with Ortega, as if he were the only belligerent force in a position to negotiate the transition.
Instead, the people must make up their own belligerent force. It’s not a matter of placing the United States as mediators of the conflict, as Ortega is doing, but of neutralizing the exclusive negotiation in progress between the US interests and Ortega’s interests.
Early elections and/or Ortega’s resignation
As a focus for the varied interests of the different national and foreign forces in this conflict, what must be objectively considered is the choice of working towards Ortega’s resignation or of advancing towards early elections with Ortega’s permanence in power until then.
The Civic Alliance states that in negotiating early elections they haven’t said that Ortega shouldn’t resign. That kind of ambiguous statement – that they haven’t said that it’s not going to happen – isn’t the way to reason. Two distinct negations don’t constitute a logical affirmation, but a play on words. What they haven’t said won’t happen is as immense as infinity. Logically, the people are limited to observing what is said in a negotiation. That’s the way of acting transparently, without demagoguery.
It’s obvious that the dialogue by itself lacks any strength to demand Ortega’s resignation. Consequently, none of the international organizations that are pressuring Ortega for early elections are demanding his immediate resignation. Of course they’re not, because they hope that his exit from power will come from above, in a controlled way; or if you prefer, in an orderly way, under rules that let them have some influence in the results.
That’s how the international Establishment is functioning in this case, avoiding running any risks in the political transition processes.
The essential thing, though, isn’t Ortega’s resignation, but his definitive defeat. That the decisive objective. That is, the total dismantling of the Ortega system, that has encrusted itself on the state. However, the art of negotiation includes as an objective the maximum isolation of Ortega, taking advantage of his clumsiness in negotiating. The international community must be attracted to negotiate with the Nicaraguan people, avoiding running the risks. In other words, a focus for transition is needed that requires the isolation of Ortega.
Ortega’s defeat is possible, even though he may not resign immediately. Therefore, instead of becoming obsessed with Ortega’s resignation, in pursuit of which we would be isolating ourselves, it’s necessary to lead him to his defeat by surrounding him with a slogan that isolates him. Everyone is in agreement about disarming the paramilitaries and the rest of the assassins and with beginning a process of investigation, arrest and punishment of those who have committed crimes of action or of omission (such as failing to attend to the wounded in the state hospitals).
But, in that resignation from above that’s being offered to Ortega, a dialogue is as necessary as a lifejacket in the middle of a storm. The dialogue serves Ortega’s interests, although the dialogue with Ortega is useless. That is, everything that serves Ortega’s interests generates a certain dependent weakness in him. The people should use that dependency of Ortega very decisively, essentially to put an immediate stop to his repressive capability.
The arrival of the international human rights organizations should be accompanied by an immediate disarmament of the paramilitary bands and the immediate removal of the high police commands that have been responsible for the different massacres. If this doesn’t happen, the dialogue should be suspended. Even the US and OAS representatives have proposed this explicitly, and Luis Almagro, the OAS general secretary, has said something similar. This will allow us to advance to the next checkpoint for transition.
International Commission Against Impunity in Nicaragua
Ortega’s immediate resignation can only happen if he realizes that any other path leaves him much more to lose. He should lose more if he waits for early elections. For example, and only as an example, if he were to resign today, he would be allowed to be put on trial here, but, if not, he would be handed over to international justice for crimes against humanity. Ortega, on his side, trusts that the very power he holds today as head of the paramilitaries, can be conserved later, as a way of governing from below even if he loses the elections. And, for him, that’s the power that counts: to once again put society under his thumb.
For the people, the true choice lies, not between immediate resignation or early elections, but between the immediate resignation of Ortega or an immediate end to the impunity of his system. Ay, there’s the rub, as Hamlet would say. Ortega could remain until the elections if, and only if, the impunity of his regime is ended immediately.
A framework law agreed upon with the UN is urgently needed to allow the immediate installation of an International Commission against Impunity in Nicaragua, a commission that, more than the corruption, investigates the crimes.
The Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts would work under that Commission to investigate the violent acts that have occurred since April 18th. They should also immediately bring together an autonomous police unit against impunity to be administered by the International Commission, in order to defend the citizenry with a reform that is pertinent to the Constitution. In addition, an autonomous branch of the judicial power would be created. All of this without giving Ortega the power to designate any functionaries. The framework law and the constitutional reforms would give validity to these exceptional measures, so as to regulate in a secure way the transition from the current crimes to the development of early elections.
Ortega could remain in power until early elections only if his real power is removed, which means talking away his command of the paramilitary forces. These forces would then be subject to the rule of an exceptionality law for their immediate disarticulation (as the investigations determine) by an institutional police unit that could also be created.
Clearly, we would also need an immediate transformation in the electoral power, within a broader transition process. However, that’s not the subject of this article that only deals with the change in the power relations between Ortega and Nicaraguan society.