It’s been asserted in recent academic discussions that the creation of the paramilitary bands signifies that the FSLN has returned to its origins as a political-military organization. But the transformation has, in fact, been worse: the FSLN hasn’t returned to its past, but rather has leapt into prehistory, to the stage that preceded the creation of political parties, when people grouped themselves around a strongman, a military leader from the ancient Italian city-states, or a feudal lord to whom they swore absolute fidelity.
In the 90s, some believed they were witnessing the transformation of the FSLN into a modern party. The party congresses, the approval of a program and of statutes heralded the evolution of the political-military movement that had taken power in 1979 into an organization with a format similar to contemporary parties.
The election of national and local authorities by the FSLN members concluded what is known as the process of institutionalization. In that transformation, the political movements go from a phase of “informality” to another in which they adopt the rules of the game that will add stability to the organization and to the functioning of the entire entity, depending ever less on the original personalities.
In the case of the FSLN, that process slowed as Ortega began appropriating the party to himself, until he had converted it into a personal mechanism for returning to power. When he had succeeded in this objective, the party assumed an inverse course – the deinstitutionalization, in favor of total gravitation around the leader and head of state.
The Congresses stopped being the maximum authorities whose occurrence was prepared in advance with discussions from the ground up and which would then meet over several days. The collective government organs (the national directorate and the Sandinista assembly) disappeared or lost all relevance, and the intermediate departmental and local structures became nothing more than transmission cables for the authoritarian rule.
Despite that regression, the Frente still conserved what could be called the “Sandinista program by inertia”: the values and ideals formulated in times past, although the dismantling of the institutions had impeded the party from putting these into effect. The campaigns launched by the Executive branch made it seem that behind everything was a program to bring society to a determined level of well-being and equality. There was even one ideologue from the regime who – paraphrasing the ideas of Lee Kuan Yew – had synthesized the Ortega camp’s great objective proclaiming that while poverty existed, freedom could be sacrificed.
But these presumptions were blown to pieces last April 18th. From then on, the FSLN has been losing all characteristics of a modern party to become a detachment of people whose only objective is that of saving Ortega. But contrary to the diagnosis others have read into this, the party hasn’t gone back to its past but has evolved towards the only possible future for parties that gravitate around one perpetual leader: its self-immolation as an organization of collective interests. In other words, it’s crossed over into the proto-State, the phase that preceded the birth of politics.
Since April 18th, the FSLN has gone on shedding each one of the attributes that, although they were purely formalities, were left since the 90’s: its framework, the organs of party direction and its program.
Some time ago, the structure had become little more than a network for the political control of its members and the beneficiaries of the government programs. It had lost any intention of ideological cohesion and was left with only its capacity for mobilizing demonstrations and counterdemonstrations and to a lesser extent for mobilizing around the electoral dates, as the elections of 2016 and 2017 demonstrated. This doesn’t mean that it had no muscle, but it was a muscle to scrutinize and punish.
In the first years of its return to power the Consejos de Liderazgo Sandinista, local groupings of active Sandinistas, made a virtue out of necessity by attacking the citizen demonstrations with belligerant motorcyclists, occupying the roundabouts with obligatory picket lines [of public employees], and mustering gangs to attack the protests.
However, after April 18 the membership was transformed into the seedbed of the hired killers, together with fanatics from the Sandinista Youth. In fact, it was the aggression of this segment against those that were protesting against the reforms to Social Security that unleashed the rebellion. Instead of being “the party’s influence within the masses”, they dedicated themselves full time to massacring the population to regain its obedience.
According to what we know from the students captured by the paramilitaries, the departmental and municipal FSLN offices became clandestine centers of detention and torture, where the demonstrators were taken with the complicity of the police. The political secretaries, formerly intermediate structures of political leadership, now took on the job of organizing and sending out the assassin squads. And later, when the FSLN put on its ski masks, they became one more gear in the killing machine.
Finally, the last step that was lacking for the leap backwards into prehistoric times has been the abolition of anything resembling a program. The derisive remarks about the dead, and the dance of the police and the celebrations of the armed groups in the cities decimated by their “clean-up operations,” demonstrate that any strategic proposal has been replaced by the slogan “Daniel stays.”
With this shibboleth, the FSLN has gone on to become a group congregated around one unique proposition: protect the strongman and die for him. No more “free country,” because that slogan has been taken over by the rebellious populace. There’s also no more “government of reconciliation and national unity,” because even for the most enthusiastic that’s a senseless slogan when every day the killers abduct whoever they want.
Let’s accept it then: the FSLN is a party no more. It’s more of a horde, a coterie of people huddled around the head of a clan who without shame has named as police chief one of his own family.
With neither program nor proposals to offer the population to recover the hint of consensus, among a mass of fanatics obsessed with maintaining Ortega in power and held together by the ideology of violence, they don’t care if they have to continue killing and jailing the entire rest of Nicaragua in his name.