The only way forward is through dialogue
News from Nicaragua | Thursday, 19 July 2018 |
Since 19 April waves of violence have profoundly polarised and destabilised Nicaragua.
What started as a student protest in Managua against government reforms to the social security law rapidly spread to other universities and cities which fed into wider protests.
Over the past three months this situation has escalated into violence that has resulted in the tragic deaths of over 300 people, more than 2,000 injured, attacks on and destruction of public buildings, road blocks, the strangulation of the economy, and the loss of more than 100,000 jobs.
Those killed include trade unionists, students, police, government employees, journalists, Sandinista party members, street traders and bystanders caught in cross fire.
A stable country with a growing economy and extensive investment in health, education, social programmes and infrastructure has erupted very rapidly into extremes of violence.
Impact of acts of sabotage of public buildings and road blocks
Opposition organisations, as a means of pressurising the government to meet their demands for the resignation of the President, constructed thousands of road blocks in towns, cities and on major highways on the Pacific Coast of Nicaragua. As with the demonstrations these largely started peacefully but rapidly descended into violence and extortion. At the height of the road blocks over 6,000 lorries from across the region were stuck for days and in some cases weeks, severely disrupting commerce.
Road blocks have also had a severe impact on freedom of movement, stifling people’s livelihoods by preventing them from going to work or to school, selling their goods, and generally adding to the climate of fear and insecurity.
As the Government has moved in to clear the road blocks on the grounds that they have a responsibility to all citizens to protect the right of freedom of movement of people, vehicles and goods, there have been further clashes with protesters, many of them armed.
As Nicaraguan government spokesperson Paul Oquist pointed out in an interview with BBC Mundo, the way to change governments in Nicaragua cannot be through who can build the most road blocks: ‘this will only mean violence without end.’
As of the third week of July, almost all the road blocks throughout the country have been dismantled by local people and/or the police.
Over 60 government and local government buildings, schools, hospitals, health centres, and government radio stations have been partially or completely destroyed, along with 55 ambulances. The estimated cost of infrastructure damage is at least US$112 million.
According to Central Bank indicators 100,000 people have lost their jobs; the tourist sector which has largely closed down will lose at least US$230 million in 2018; the predicted GDP growth rate of 4.5% is likely to fall to about 1% in 2018.
What is already painfully clear is that those who are most affected are be those who are already impoverished, living a hand to mouth existence on the margins in the barrios of the cities and in the countryside. They are the ones most affected by price rises, shortages and being prevented from earning a living.
What role has the media and social media played in fanning the flames of polarisation?
The extraordinary power of social media has played a major role in what has happened. This is the way in which protesters have mobilised extremely effectively in huge numbers so quickly, but it means that it is difficult to discern fact from fiction, and creates an echo chamber whereby people and the media cherry pick whatever information fits their narrative; this serves to intensify conflict and no-one knows where to get reliable information any longer. This has fed into hostile anti-government messages that are replicated in the media nationally and globally and caused people to take extreme positions and actions. Images, often manipulated, play a powerful role in fomenting hatred and instilling fear.
So-called ‘independent’ commentators presented as ‘experts’ are using overblown, simplistic rhetoric to frame a very complex situation; this in turn fans the flames of polarisation and conflict.
This media war is intense, promoting the dominant message that the Nicaraguan government is entirely responsible for all the violence. There has been little, if any, coverage of opposition violence resulting in the deaths of government employees, Sandinista party members and the police; the widespread destruction of public buildings including hospitals and schools; the kidnapping of long distance lorry drivers; the impact of thousands of road blocks; the US funding of opposition organisations aimed at “nurturing” the Nicaraguan uprising (see theglobalamericans.org, May 1); and the call by international bodies (the Organisation of American States and the Central American Integration System) for negotiations within the constitutional framework without outside interference.
What role has the US played in fuelling the conflict?
It is important to recognise the depth of the simmering anger and frustration against government errors in the lead up to this crisis that resulted in people turning out on anti-government demonstrations in such large numbers. However, it is also clear that this anger quickly moved from calling the government to account to demanding regime change and that the initially peaceful protests have evolved into violence on both sides.
It is no coincidence that ‘regime change’ in Nicaragua – along with Cuba and Venezuela - happens to be the stated aim of the Trump administration. The CIA Freedom Fighters Manual of the 1980s is full of helpful hints on how to destabilise and overthrow the Sandinista government through measures such as spreading rumours, sabotaging state institutions and infrastructure and blocking highways: there is no reason to believe that the current CIA manual is any different.
Over the weekend of 21 and 22April, there was a wave of violence targeting social security offices, police stations, municipal authority offices, university buildings, government offices, and medical supply stores of the Ministry of Health. The speed of the escalation and the simultaneous events throughout the country appear to have all the hallmarks of a well-co-ordinated, politically motivated operation designed to undermine the government and destabilise the country.
The National Endowment for Democracy (NED) was set up by the Reagan administration in 1983 in the wake of a storm of negative revelations about the CIA. Its purpose is to do overtly what the CIA had been doing covertly: meddling in the internal affairs of foreign countries.
Between 2014 and 2017, the NED funded 53 projects in Nicaragua totally US$4.1 million mainly to NGOs focusing on governance, private enterprise, human rights, strengthening civil society’s capacity to defend democracy, and fostering ‘a more active role for youth in defending democracy.’ Representatives from some of these organisations travelled to Washington in 2016 and 2017 to lobby far right politicians to place sanctions on Nicaragua in what has become known as the NICA Act.
Evidence of this can be found in an article by Benjamin Waddell, “Laying the groundwork for change: A closer look at the US role in Nicaragua’s social unrest” in NED funded magazine Global Americans. Waddell states: “Looking back at the developments of last several months, it is now quite evident that the US government actively helped build the political space and capacity in Nicaraguan society for the social uprising that is currently unfolding.” He ends the article by stating: … “ the NED’s current involvement in nurturing civil society groups in Nicaragua sheds light on the power of transnational funding to influence political outcomes in the 21st century. “
It is also important to consider development in Nicaragua in the context of the Trump administration ‘America First’ agenda and US destabilisation internationally; the potentially dire repercussions of the US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal; the building of a US Embassy in Jerusalem; statements undermining British democracy; and withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement …to name but a few.
Since coming to power, the Trump administration has intensified interventionist policies against Venezuela, Cuba and now Nicaragua. On 7 May, in a swearing in ceremony for Carlos Trujillo, the new US ambassador to the Organisation of American States (OAS), US vice president Mike Pence stated that working for ‘freedom’ in the three countries is a priority for the Trump administration: “We will stay by the side of those who long for freedom and we will confront their oppressors.”
On 5 June, representatives of the Nicaragua 19 April student movement, Victor Cuadras and Zayda Hernandez met in Washington DC with far right Republican Senators Marco Rubio and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen calling for support from the Trump administration.
The intention is to bring Nicaragua into line and mould the country in the image of what the Trump administration considers an acceptable ‘democracy’.
Initiatives to end the violence
On 16 May, the National Dialogue was inaugurated involving all parties to the conflict: the government, business sector, civil society organisations, small and medium businesses, students and academics. The dialogue is being mediated and witnessed by five representatives of the Bishops’ Conference.
One of the key commissions of the National Dialogue is the Verification and Security Commission made up of representatives of the Government and of the Civic Alliance for Justice and Democracy, the main opposition grouping. Their role is to create a climate of peace and reconciliation through measures to bring an end to all acts of violence and repression from whatever source. This Commission will be accompanied by a delegation of representatives of the Inter-American Human Rights Commission (IAHRC). Other commissions yet to be established will be responsible for proposals relating to electoral reform.
The Truth, Justice and Peace Commission appointed by the National Assembly in early May has a mandate to investigate all deaths that have occurred as a result of the violence and identify those responsible. This Commission will be accompanied by an international panel of experts appointed by the IAHRC.
However, the National Dialogue has since broken down several times. The government has stated that anything is up for discussion as long as it contributes to ending the violence; the very divided, fragmented opposition has at different times insisted that the government step down or early elections be called as a precondition for dialogue.
Another point of contention is the interim IACHR report which the government rejected as subjective, partial and biased that focused entirely on human rights abuses by the government without even mentioning the violations by non-state actors linked with the opposition of which there is ample evidence.
A positive step has been the 30 June declaration by the Presidents of the member states of the System of Central American Integration (SICA) calling for peace and respect for sovereignty without foreign interference. The statement expresses confidence in dialogue and reconciliation as necessary paths towards the construction and preservation of peace. The SICA member states have also called for “an immediate cessation of violence in all its forms, which has resulted in insecurity, death, and destruction of public and private goods.”
The challenge of building peace, justice, reconciliation and ending violence
The greatest challenge facing Nicaragua is stopping all forms of violence from whatever source. This must include justice for all those who have lost friends and relatives, peace building and national reconciliation to restore trust.
Given the profound polarisation of Nicaraguan society and the climate of fear, hostility, and insecurity, this will be an extremely complex but essential process in finding a way out of what has become a political, economic and social crisis.
As the Nicaraguan government has stated, with the support of the Organisation of American States (OAS) and the Central American Integration System (SICA), the only way forward is dialogue, free of foreign interference, within the framework of the Constitution and with the support of the international community.
NSC supports calls for an immediate cessation of all violence and a negotiated, a peaceful solution through the National Dialogue mediated by the Catholic Church, involving all sectors of society – the government, students, civil society, the private sector and the trade unions.
NSC rejects any form of foreign intervention in the internal affairs of Nicaragua as a violation of international law and against the principle of national sovereignty.