Vilification and insults have taken over the official discourse. The harangue – aggressive and exaggerated – is first and foremost. There are no nuances; its only purpose is to fire people up. The rules of the game are neither clear nor stable. Nicaragua is guided by delirium and simulation; when that fails, threats of arbitrary violence blossom.
In this deteriorating scenario, every opponent is a terrorist and a traitor, while the crass, ranting autocrat is a peacemaker and a patriot.
The official discourse is outdated, but it sinks in, because it evokes anger and hate. We know that it’s easier and more effective to make people drunk with resentment, antipathy and old grudges (against the Yanquis, for example), than to promote acceptance or adhesion through kindness or reason in order to construct a different future.
The regime’s infamy and the poverty of thought are apparent. Nonetheless, in Nicaragua, everything remains at a stalemate. Nothing ever seems to change, like in that scene from Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ 1975 book The Autumn of the Patriarch. The Nicaraguan reality becomes yet more bizarre when we consider that today’s oppressor was yesterday’s guerrillero who found in Garcia Márquez character a justification for his struggle.
There’s not the least doubt that the arbitrary actions of the Ortega-Murillo regime spark aversion and the desire for vengeance. There’s nothing bad, per se, with such feelings: they prove we recognize injustice, the need to correct something that has brought great pain. The key is in what we do with these emotions. The paths and the options are varied, but Nelson Mandela warned that we must avoid channeling our feeling into resentment. The South African leader reflected that resentment was like swallowing a dose of poison and hoping that such an action would kill your enemies.
In this desperate context, we must avoid losing hope. We must also be careful not to fall into the trap of injury, avoid recurring to “anything goes”. Instead, we need to find the language and the sentiments to speak of what’s happening in Nicaragua beyond the crisis and the [necessary] reaction to injustice and the abuse of power.
Of course, we must stay informed about the day-to-day events and continue exposing the deceit and the lies. However, that necessary work shouldn’t extinguish the construction and discussion of more long-term common projects and the broadening of alliances. The latter should not only be based on shared hatred of the tyranny, but also around substantive goals and forms of government that will allow Nicaragua to recover the basic principles of the rule of law.
The weakness of power, violence and fear
The destruction of Nicaragua’s institutions has been profound. The political class is ravaged, the organizations and all normal proceedings are weak; the rules of the game are altered endlessly and without consequences, according to the rulers’ whims, to guarantee the regime’s survival.
In her essay “On Violence” (1969), Hannah Arendt warned how, when threatened with loss of power, an authoritarian regime will predictably escalate their violence. She believes that power shouldn’t be based on force or justifications but founded on a legitimacy that can only be granted through the willing accompaniment of a political community to a determined form of government, as an expression of their assembled and consensual will.
When power is in crisis – and in Nicaragua it clearly is – the means of destruction (violence and arbitrary actions) are what determines the direction. Arendt described the totalitarian regimes as those where: “the violence, after having destroyed all the powers, doesn’t abdicate its position, but continues exercising complete control.”
The Ortega regime is the palpable expression of the ravages of power. When the personality cult and populism proved insufficient to assure continuance of power, the regime turned to violence and arbitrary actions, sheltered in their impunity, in order to spread fear and thus remain on the throne.
The regime has assumed control of the bureaucratic apparatus in order to exercise power. This was recently demonstrated by the rapid destitution of an Appeals Court Magistrate who ignored the regime’s script and allowed a legal appeal of their actions to go forward. When that fails, control is exercised through violent blows, using hitmen that revel in their impunity. These armed figures are charged with delivering disciplinary messages to the homes such as “time to stop pissing us off!’ Finally, of course, there’s also the feared and well-publicized recourse of political imprisonment.
It’s all uncertainty and sham, but it’s also degradation and decay.
Although it may seem like this scene will go on forever, the end is inevitable. The vultures, as in the political novel, have invaded the dens of power and the marauders are looting everything they can. We must face the current sham and repetition of the despotic scene, but we must also find the keys to avoid repeating it, and keep away from collaborating with a script that’s been determined by the vociferous couple.
The sometimes-frustrating Autumn of the Patriarch points to the need to expose and confront despotic governments. However, it also raises questions of how to avoid repetition of the same scenario, and how to encounter another way of exercising public power before the decay demolishes everything. That’s a gigantic challenge, especially because the scene tends to repeat itself, while the growing resentment worsens.