Friday, May 18, 2018

Sandinista Make-over

This article from the TruthOut progressive website  by William I. Robinson, professor of sociology at the University of California at Santa Barbara who worked in Managua with the Nicaragua News Agency and the Nicaragua Foreign Ministry in the 1980s and was affiliated faculty with the Central American University in Managua until 2001, makes interesting reading and is worth quoting at length.

"...The image carefully cultivated by Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega and his supporters as the standard-bearers of the popular revolutionary process led by the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) in the 1980s has all but crumbled in the wake of the mass protests that broke out last month against pension reform that left dozens of people dead, and hundreds injured and jailed. For some, the protests were a plot organized by the United States to destabilize a revolutionary government. For others, it was an explosion of mass discontent against a corrupt and authoritarian regime. While the United States and the traditional Nicaraguan oligarchy would certainly like to have a more pliant regime in place, they have accommodated themselves to the Ortega government...the FSLN leadership has made pacts with the traditional oligarchy; suppressed dissent; enriched itself through plunder of state resources and an alliance with transnational capital; and deployed the army, police and paramilitary forces to violently repress peasants, workers and social movements opposing its policies..."

"...As the 1990s progressed, new Sandinista landlords and businessmen began to develop an affinity of class interests -- and to merge with -- the bourgeoisie. The new Sandinista elite gradually moved from leading the popular classes in their resistance to the counterrevolutionary program of capitalist reconstruction to utilizing the party's (dwindling) authority to contain these classes and control their mobilization. Yet the FSLN leadership continued to legitimate itself with a revolutionary discourse that no longer corresponded to any political program or conduct other than that of furthering its own group interests and securing a place among the dominant bloc in the new neoliberal order...the FSLN assured Nicaraguan and transnational capitalists that it would defend their economic interests, but in turn, they would have to accommodate a Sandinista monopoly of political power..."

"...Bayardo Arce, a former revolutionary leader who became the Ortega government's principal economic adviser and its liaison with the private sector, described the Sandinista program as "a market economy with a preferential option for the poor." While pursuing redistribution through social spending, the FSLN virtually did away with the "area of social property" first created in the 1980s revolution, including the state and cooperative sector, so that 96 percent of the country's property is now in the hands of the private sector. Since regaining power, the Sandinista bourgeoisie has vastly expanded its wealth. Leading Sandinistas grouped around Ortega have heavily invested in a new round of capitalist development that includes tourism, agro-industry, finance, import-export and subcontracting for the maquiladoras. Arce, a part-owner of the agribusiness conglomerate AgriCorp and one of the richest men in Nicaragua, is emblematic... The "market economy with a preferential option for the poor" showed positive results in social indicators. Rising international commodities prices, a wave of foreign investment and substantial aid from revolutionary Venezuela helped sustain high rates of growth, a reduction in poverty and an expansion of social services. But as Venezuelan aid that funded social programs has declined due to that country's economic crisis, and as the government has extended destructive extractive industries into new territories, the contradictions and limitations of the Sandinistas' model have led to mounting discontent. As economic difficulties mount, growth rates have dropped off and the Ortega government has reached agreement with international financial institutions to implement an increasingly neoliberal program, including cutting subsidies to electricity, the privatization of infrastructure and reducing pensions."

"... In Nicaragua, the Ortega government has presided over this new round of capitalist expansion, including a wave of transnational and local corporate investment in free-trade zones, agroindustry, mining, logging and tourism, spurred on by the government's tax breaks, land concessions and other policies that have been praised by neoliberal institutions such as the International Monetary Fund.  Under Ortega, the exploitative maquiladora industry has rapidly expanded in free-trade zones, where more than 100,000 mostly young women stitch clothing for Asian and North American corporations and their Nicaraguan subcontractors. Transnational capitalists prefer Nicaragua over neighboring countries due to extremely low wages, strict worker control and relative political stability achieved by the Ortega government. Workers earn an average of $157 a month, the lowest wage of any maquiladora workers in Central America and estimated to cover barely 33 percent of a household's basic necessities..." 

"...the international left cannot seem to let go of the illusion that governments such as the FSLN in Nicaragua or the African National Congress in South Africa still represent a revolutionary process that advances the interests of the popular and working-class masses -- this, even as the new ruling castes turn to escalating repression to dispossess those masses, plunder the state and impose the interests of transnational capital. In The Wretched of the Earth, Frantz Fanon warned that the new elites brought to power by national liberation movements demand that the people "fall back into the past and become drunk on the remembrance of the epoch" that led up to national liberation, even as their practices and the pursuit of their own class interests betray those historic struggles....Some among this left have pounced on the history of US intervention to support Ortega's claim that the April protests and mounting unrest are the result of a US destabilization campaign similar to that waged against the country in the 1980s or to that currently being waged against Venezuela. According to this convoluted reasoning, if some in Washington would prefer to see Ortega replaced by a more traditional representative of the capitalist oligarchy, then ergo, Orteguismo constitutes a revolutionary process, and thus those who oppose it are counterrevolutionary instruments of US imperialism..."

"...The real tragedy of the April protests is not that they threaten a fictitious revolutionary process, but that the population is caught between the corrupt and repressive Ortega government and the traditional oligarchy, backed by the international right wing which has never been comfortable with the Sandinista monopoly of political power and wishes to hijack the revolt to recover that power for itself..."

The full article is insightful

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