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The Silence of Big Business in Nicaragua’s Civic Rebellion

“Pellas, Ortiz, Zamora and the council of large business owners stand before a fork in the road: wait for something to change, accept Ortega’s offer

Why would the business owners organized in COSEP (Superior Council of Private Enterprise) not accept joining in on a national strike?  The most important argument is that a strike would be one more severe blow to the economy of Nicaraguan households. 

That’s true, but no one can deny that our dysfunctional government has already shattered the economy of the greater part of the households, and that’s not getting any better.  Poverty grows day by day, alongside the price increases.

The company owners know – they read it in all the international reports – that the current government has put Nicaragua in an absolutely precarious international position – as precarious as the mental health of the ruling couple.

The large business owners, COSEP, and all of us know that after so much death, repression and hatred that’s been broadcast far and wide in the land, the ruling couple are no longer in a position to find solutions.  They need to stay in power. They won’t make Evo’s “mistake”.  They won’t resign.  They won’t risk themselves in clean elections.  They’ll maintain themselves in power by blood and firepower.

Under these circumstances of political shakiness, a deteriorated economy and a government that openly functions in tandem with an armed ideological organization against the country’s laws, one wonders: Why do the business owners and the most powerful economic groups choose – in the case of the majority – a slow death and an image of appeasement that will cause them to go down in history as part of the problem and not as part of the solution.  Or are they waiting for a miracle to occur?

No, they’re not ingenuous. It’s possible that the business owners and economic groups that influence the COSEP decisions (Pellas, Ortiz, Zamora, etc.) don’t want to contribute to greater poverty.  But at the same time, they confront other facts that makes it hard for them to be more proactive in the construction of a new direction in Nicaragua. 

For some of them, it’s probably out of fear.  Who can blame them? This government already threatened that if they go on strike, the government will put their companies to work, in other words “give a green light to robbery”. This fear, although it doesn’t affect all the large business owners, is real and no one can blame them for it.  But if that’s so, they should be honest and say so.

Fear has taken over Nicaragua.  In addition to the deranged messages the rulers publish, directed at teaching a lesson to the opposition, there are many other fears:  Fear of not having an income for the coming month; fear of the present and the future.  Fear of the armed and shielded delinquents. Fear of being assaulted in the bus, the taxi or while traveling in a car.   Fear of the police and riot squads armed to the teeth. 

Likewise, we’re afraid of being denounced by a neighbor.  Fear of the wildly growing national debt, of seeing how the government is destroying the country, selling or giving away lands and properties that are part of the public domain.

Another real fear is that what happened before will happen again. That the so longed-for solution, a change of direction for the country, won’t come, or will take longer than expected, and all the companies, small and large, will be obligated to pay the taxes, fines and fiscal dispositions whose resources the government use at its whim. Small business owners are terrified, because bankruptcy looms imminent.  With the current level of uncertainty, there’s no small business owner who’s sleeping well.

Yes, the fear’s there. We’re all afraid, and that’s why we went from those massive marches to flash-mob protests. The repression is horrendous, and even so, many people are doing what can be done to avoid letting fear control their consciences and their actions – the few actions that can be undertaken in a militarized country. 

It can’t be denied that part of the business class has also swallowed their own fears and is moving on.  But it’s obvious that other impediments have kept them from becoming more definitively active.

One hypothesis as to why there’s so little forcefulness in COSEP has to do with the fact that the people that make it up and their closest advisors aren’t common people. Or rather, they’re ordinary people who live and want to live like people above them. Does anyone recall that phrase: “material life determines conscience”?

As beings that live in society, our consciousness is constructed based on what we do, our ties and most significant relationships. That consciousness guides our steps and decisions. In politics, in associations, in the trade unions, the common ground is that the individuals construct and assume a group consciousness – generally by consensus, but not always. In all the groups, there are dominating voices that impose values, beliefs fears, interests, etc.

Up until 2018, COSEP and their advisory group, together with the government, formed part of a collaborative economic model.  In other countries, this model of “collaborative capitalism” is made up of business owners. In Nicaragua, where the principal government policy is the lack of transparency and the absence of independent powers, that model was their best cover letter to present to the international community. 

A modern and inclusive socialist government – of the wealthy, of course, while the poor got chickens and zinc roofing sheets.  The inclusion of the company owners and large capital in that model was a winning lottery ticket for Ortega. An excellent strategy but later ruined by the spilled blood. 

After the 2018 massacre COSEP decided to distance themselves from that model. They’ve managed to remain outside it, with a clear position that the only way out is political, and not economic or military as Ortega believes. However, -and here’s where my first hypothesis enters in to explain why the COSEP business owners are so timid in their political actions-, their consciousness has been determined by their experience and their advisors within Ortega’s collaborative economic model. 

During the last years, their activities as business owners functioned in terms of influencing policies of distribution, capital gains and expansion, control of variables adverse to economic growth, international relations with the banks, lobbying actions, etc. We know that when economic interests come first, other values such as empathy, solidarity and personal sacrifice are marginalized – and, let’s be clear – that’s how an economy functions, the same or worse in the 21st century socialist model.  

With the crisis, COSEP aligned itself with the Civic Allilance, but they haven’t yet managed to decide what is the essence of their contribution. As an economic group, they have more in common with the collaborative model created with the government, than with the Alliance, which is a political grouping.

In the collaborative economic model, they could launch proposals, draft lines of action, be part of decisions that from their point of view could generate important impacts. In the civic organization, they feel lost, and the most they’ve been able to do is to back the Alliance’s positions through pronouncements and communiques. These have their value but are insufficient and disproportionate to what they represent as an association, and to the gravity of what’s happening in Nicaragua.

With that in mind, the doubt arises whether they’ve discussed, as COSEP, what social and political conditions they need to become involved in the Alliance in a more proactive way, on a par with the other active members; and if they’ve expressed these points to the Alliance.

My point is that they don’t discuss their support for a national strike, just as they don’t discuss other actions that would be necessary to change the country’s direction, simply because they can’t get out of their economics mentality.

In other words, they haven’t reflected and decided how they want to project themselves to the rest of Nicaragua; how they want to interact in favor of real changes in the current context.  Further, they haven’t discussed with the Alliance or with other groups what conditions should be created among everyone, to seek stronger and more definitive actions.

Alongside this, there’s another detail, and it must be said: COSEP isn’t an isolated entity in the economic world. This group enjoys the support and advice of a number of very influential people. Those influential magnates exert a decisive role in the country’s economic life, but they haven’t shown their faces in the current context, nor have they said half a word about what we’re all suffering. It’s hard, however, to believe that they’re not influencing the decisions made by COSEP.

This powerful group is watching people and companies dying every day, but they say nothing.  What’s stopping them from expressing their political opinions?  What’s their position on a change of direction and towards what direction? Are they going to remain silent about the criminality of a regime that employs armed guards to keep people from meeting and discussing matters of national politics?

In 1978 and 1979, the large business owners supported various conclusive actions within the context of the armed struggle. It’s interesting that, being individuals of a peaceful leaning, that they don’t seem to know how to pronounce themselves at this time, or how to meaningfully support a peaceful struggle.

It’s also interesting that faced with a peaceful social movement that is disperse but deeply committed and determined, the regime prescribes bullets and the economic groups cover it up with their silence.

What an enormous fork in the road lies ahead for the Pellas, Ortiz, Zamora’s and the presidents of the COSEP chambers that lead the country’s economy!  Either continue hoping that something will change; take up the government’s call to return to the collaborative model and continue building “peace and happiness”; or return to the Alliance in a more proactive role that’s relevant to what Nicaragua needs.

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