The phenomenon of spontaneous mobilization that shook Nicaragua beginning in 2018 was the greatest asset of the rebellion against the authoritarian regime. However, as the months pass, it has become one of its worst impediments.
What at the beginning of the explosion was a breath of fresh air that multiplied the focal points of rebellion, today seems to be feeding the fragmentation of the struggle. Although most opposition forces concur about the strategic objective of ending the oppressive regime, they’re having difficulties resolving the tactical steps needed to get there.
Two years ago, the social mobilization appeared after a long dry spell as the result of two currents: the excessive gravitation of the social organizations around the NGOs, and the regime’s campaign against autonomous civil society.
It’s convenient to recall Ortega’s ferocious campaign against the NGOs in the first years of his return to governing. Underlying this attack was Ortega’s dispute for power over three resources: financial resources, political influence in society that the NGOs had amassed during the previous years, and – of no less of importance – the capacity of the NGOs to scrutinize the official dogmas and generate alternative discussions.
The measures adopted were an increase in government control over the NGOs, and the harassment of those social movements that had shown the greatest autonomous development: the feminists, the environmentalists and, in the years immediately preceding April 2018, the rural movement that opposed the inter-oceanic canal.
Among the youth and student organizations that weren’t controlled by the FSLN, there were isolated expressions such as Techo [Roof], Puente [Bridge], and the Bosawas Mission. Although they didn’t represent any important challenges to the Ortega camp, these groups also suffered repression, as exemplified by the attack against #OcupaINSS, the movement opposing the Social Security reforms.
That was complemented by another maneuver right out of the manual for authoritarian regimes: the cooptation, and weakening, or even the disappearance, of the political parties.
Summing up: until April 2018, with the exception of the rural demonstrations against the canal, social protest was at a zero. There was a huge wasteland between the population’s demands and the government.
This gave rise to the commonplace discourse that civil society was weak, principally because it lacked autonomy. That is, it lacked self-organization, self-regulation, or its own norms, demands and leadership. Supposedly, these deficiencies weakened civil society’s capacity for mobilization and for serving as a solid counterpoint to an authoritarian state that increasingly invaded the sphere of civil society.
Paradoxically, this panorama of dispersion became a force against the regime, a force that -judging by the torturers’ interrogations and the official propaganda – the Ortega camp has still not wanted to accept. The spontaneous mobilization was the reaction of individuals to so many years of accumulated affronts. From this angle, the April rebellion had a lot of similarities to the Arab springs, dynamized more by the social networks of resistance than by social movements as we classically understand them.
On the contrary, the April mobilization, without the direct intervention of organizations to get people out, nor of leaderships recognized by all the participants, brought together participants around an opposition identity that rapidly transcended the specific demands related to the social security issue, the institutional conflict (against the government apparatus) and the cultural sphere (human rights, liberties and democracy).
Nonetheless, in the interior of the protest movement, this starting point also held the first handicap: the fragile legitimacy of those who appeared as the public face of the mobilizations. With leadership that lacked political legitimacy in the form of recognition and representativity, and of legitimacy earned by their actions (correct direction given to the struggle) an ephemeral, de facto kind of legitimacy was imposed. It was inevitable, given the moment, that their legitimacy would be attributed either for the place where they waged the struggle – the barricades, the streets and the universities – or even a bit randomly.
The media also contributed to this type of unexpected leadership. In the face of their need to put a name to the protagonists, they attributed that category prematurely to those who were perhaps taking their first steps in the political arena.
The other inconvenient thing was the urgency of constructing mechanisms of collective action as they went along. Given all this, it’s not strange that the groups that arose during the rebellion have identified themselves with names that include the term “April 19th”.
As tends to occur in social avalanches, mobilization preceded organization, marking it with all its features: local micro-groups without national structures, immediate actions versus strategy, short-term alliances and demands coming before the transformation program.
Given the conditions in which events developed, it couldn’t have been any different. It couldn’t be expected that the contradictions between the “means of production and the productive forces” would create “the objective conditions” of the struggle to launch a challenge to the regime. As nearly always, our bags were arranged on the cart as we went along, and here we are.
If two years ago we made a virtue of necessity, it now falls on us to go forward the opposite way: to harmonize the struggle’s virtue of self-organization with the need to organize for change, in a direction that is the opposite of atomization. This implies abandoning our own little garden plots to go out and build bridges with different ones, and to exercise tolerance with our eyes fixed on the strategic objective of a regime change.
In this landscape, the self-organized initiatives have a lot to learn from the feminist movement and their years of experience in constructing autonomy, marking off spaces, and building a narrative of their own to meld with that of other collective actors, including the political parties.
It’s not a matter of retracing our steps backwards to the desert of pre-2018. Instead, it’s a matter of transforming the struggle into more complex, broader organizations, more inclusive of other identities. Surely this will lead to some internal crises, like the departure of the initial leaderships and new ruptures, but the option of remaining closed in to preserve the purity of the territory is unworthy of the inheritance of the self-organized movement, the most beautiful innovation of recent years in our political culture.