The Battle for Public Opinion in Nicaragua
The battle over public opinion, currently won by the independently organized groups in Nicaragua and lost by Ortega, has begun anew.
Daniel Ortega’s regime has launched a new communications strategy to circulate his story: he’s offering interviews to the media, asking his militants to approach people even if they have “different politics”, creating new communications media and putting some new faces on those that transmit his messages.
The story is the same: the protests are imperialist attacks; the protesters are criminals and terrorists, the regime isn’t leaving, they want peace. What’s changed are the channels for communication.
Why this fine-tuning of the communications media on the part of the Ortega regime? Because it’s lost the battle for public opinion, one of the most vital political tools. Because it underestimated, scorned, insulted and diminished the people who received their information. Because the regime was thought to be all powerful, so that just because it was them, it would be listened to and believed. They forgot the tiny detail that it takes two to communicate: the broadcaster and the recipient. And they accepted as true the numbers that showed the regime’s communications channels to be “the most watched”, “the most followed”, “the most listened to”. Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo believed themselves to be influencers because that’s what their analyses, imbued with ideological biases and conceit, made them believe.
Now all of the channels for communicating Ortega’s story have been weakened: his TV stations lost audience; no one believes his newscasts and few watch them; ditto his pages on the social networks. Rosario Murillo’s midday discourses are listened to, but only to know what new insult the regime has bestowed on the dead and the protesters: “miniscule people”, “ants”, “vandals”, etc.
In other words, they’re listened to because they provide fuel to the fire that was lit in April. The same thing happens when Ortega speaks in the public plaza; it helps maintain the people’s ire and reveals his strategies. The huge signposts with the images of the smiling regime leaders are now garbage; the vice president’s “trees of life” are a forest of downed iron; they were always weak on social media because they’ve always considered it frivolous entertainment. That’s the worst possible situation for a politician – weakened communications channels with almost nobody on the other end of them, only those who are loyal to their orders and commands, who at any rate don’t need to be convinced.
Basing itself on Ortega’s mistaken analysis that it was the empire and not the people who were protesting, the entire content was then erroneously established. This analysis led him to order his people to shoot and to begin to kill. And with that, he blew up the entire communications strategy on which the information that cushioned his anti-democratic regime rested. The regime weakened their own communications strategy, and in any case the official media already lacked robust content; it was uniform and thus tiresome.
In managing to get public opinion completely turned against him, Ortega did the most effective thing: he opted to launch a political discourse about terror instead of a struggle of ideas. He chose to construct a story about fearing the leader, and in that way strengthened his image as a monster. Acting in an authoritarian manner, imposing terror by means of assassinations in cold blood, all of this just fattened up this brutal discourse.
Today, neither national nor international public opinion accepts the Ortega regime’s story. Today, he’s seen as a liar, a manipulator of the political times, an assassin, a torturer, a mediocre politician who erred in the simplest of analyses: it wasn’t the tentacles of the empire, but just some young people who wanted the forest fire to be put out. He erred in his political response: almost 400 people killed under his command. He went from being the President to becoming the killer of young people and children. His presidential period became known as that of the worst civilian killings in peacetime.
How can Ortega reconfigure his discourse in the face of national and international public opinion? A difficult challenge for a communications strategy, but not impossible. How can you communicate the virtues of a poisoned product and have the people understand that it’s something that’s good for their health?
The lightbulbs of someone in the regime finally lit up: “It’s our communication, fools!”, they announced, then clarified: “It’s the new communication, fools!” And something much more incredible happened – they’re paying attention. After years of silence without offering interviews to the media, now Ortega situates himself before the cameras and the journalists’ questions and makes his case about how to face the greatest nightmare that a government can have: the people want him to leave power, and want him to go right now.
The recent interviews offered on the Fox News channel, with Oppenheimer on CNN, with Euronews, with Telesur are within this scheme: to begin to make the communications channels more robust.The regime isn’t giving interviews to specific journalists, although the ego of some of the interviewers would have them believe otherwise, but they’re trying to select certain publics – now the Trump supporters, now the Latin American audience, now the Europeans, now those who follow the propaganda of the ALBA countries. And he does it so that they will do him the favor of creating traditional and digital contents that go out over the communications channels that he doesn’t have. For every interview that he offers, a stream of information enters in the form of advertising, video clips, digital content for the social networks. And this filters into the networks of the self-organized.
As in all battles, the hand-to-hand combat method has always been effective. Thus, the orientation of his militant groups to forge new relationships with those they’ve had “political differences” with since April. Will everyone just become “bff’s” again? The independently organized protest movement in Nicaragua is made up of, among others, many people who used to sympathize with Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo. Yes, that sympathized with their regime even although it was anti-democratic.
There are former members of the Sandinista Youth. Likewise, people who were trying to get businesses started and who gravitated to the group in power in order to find a way to stay afloat. There are also people who will go to their death for whoever’s holding power at the moment. And many people with huge basic necessities. All of these people abandoned or distanced themselves from the Ortega regime when they began to slaughter people. Will they manage to open strengthened channels of communications with these people? Will they let the distance be bridged?
The creation of new communications media – RedVolucion for example – is an attempt to create digital content that will circulate on the social networks. Using the traditional televised format and an aesthetic of agitation and propaganda, like the discourse, “they’re the villains – we’re the good guys.” What they’re emitting there is the Ortega regime’s propaganda directed at the young people organized in his structures. The difference is that those giving the messages are new faces or little-known ones. This could also be the beginning of a school for new makers of militant political opinion in the face of the fall and later disintegration of all the regime’s ancient talking heads.
And finally, the new faces; where there’s always been a single face to broadcast the ideas of the Ortega camp. Now they’ve understood the huge error of that and freed the way for new faces, new voices on the social networks who emit their opinions on the edges of the official lines (but without getting too far off). They’re aren’t a lot of them, but they’re human and identifiable, amid the army of false profiles that act as bots for the Ortega camp. It appears that they don’t have permission to become public figures, that place is reserved for others, such as the most recent and spectacular case of Juan Carlos Ortega Murillo and his recently debuted program El Ciclo [“The cycle”]. Is this the family’s new relief for the communications system? With a format of interviewer – interviewee and a modern aesthetic.
The diagnosis: these are attempts to fortify the channels of communication. But, with the same story, starting with the same variables for analysis that brought Ortega to this catastrophe and where he lost the battle.
Will the Ortega regime manage to extract from the shit-covered bottom of the well of history one of the screws from the metal trees, then clean it up, polish it, put it back on, make the colors glow and manage to light up the avenue? Anything can happen with a creative and efficient communications strategy that has something to say, people to say it to, and money, a lot of money for carrying it out. And time, a lot of time for it to sink slowly into people’s minds.
There’s only one piece missing to have everything work: credibility. That so objective and subjective quality that’s woven up with truth, honesty, trust, knowledge of the information. Is Ortega’s story accompanied by the truth? Is it honest, worthy of trust? Do the Nicaraguan people possess a high grade of knowledge about the events that have occurred in order to discern freely?
Credibility isn’t the possession of the one emitting the discourse: it’s awarded by the one who receives the story, in other words by the people, the recipient of this new strategy of Ortega. So, in the end, all this goes back to where it always was, where everything was born: the people. The battle for public opinion, won by the self-organized in Nicaragua and lost by the Ortega regime, has begun once again. He’s back.
*Originally published in 1001 tropicos.