MANAGUA – The deteriorating economic situation for many Nicaraguan families could become a spark that ignites a dangerous social conflict here if the Sandinista government does not do more to respond to the needs of the people, according to renowned economist and opposition political leader Edmundo “Mundo” Jarquin.
Jarquin, a leading intellectual leader and former presidential candidate for the leftwing Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS), said he thinks it is “inevitable” that Nicaragua’s slumbering civil society will begin to mobilize against the government if the socio-economic situation continues its downward spiral from the first year of President Daniel Ortega’s administration – a period, he claims, that has led to more poverty and unemployment in Nicaragua.
Nicaragua last year had the highest accumulated inflation rate – more than 17% – and the lowest economic growth rate in the region. That equation has translated into an increased cost of living for Nicaraguans.
While the administration has been quick to point to international factors – a slumping U.S. economy and skyrocketing oil prices – as the reasons for inflation and stunted economic growth, Jarquin said that the only way to explain the fact that Nicaragua has faired worse than its Central American neighbors is that the Ortega government is “inexcusably irresponsible.”
“The Ortega government is failing strategically to respond to unemployment and poverty,” charged the former analyst for the Inter-American Development Bank.
Jarquin said he thinks the worsening economic situation for many Nicaraguans, after a decade of what he calls “slow but progressive improvement” could soon provide a catalyst for a popular mobilization against the Ortega administration, similar to what happened to the Somoza dictatorship in the recession years following the devastating 1972 earthquake.
“At the end of the dictatorship, everyone mobilized. This was possible because here there was an accumulation of socio-economic tensions immediately after the earthquake,” Jarquin told The Nica Times.
Similar socio-economic tensions could again lead to a non-ideological social mobilization against the government in the near future, Jarquin said.
In Defense of Democracy
On a more academic level, if not yet manifest on the streets, some members of civil society are expressing a growing concern over the state of Nicaragua’s democracy, and the Sandinista administration’s tendencies to consolidate power.
Jarquin accused President Ortega of “reversing and interrupting” Nicaragua’s democratic process that – ironically – started under the first Sandinista government, from 1979-1990.
Jarquin said the first major blow to the democratic process occurred in 2000, when Ortega and outgoing President Arnoldo Alemán forged their power-sharing pact and reformed the Constitution to their own political benefit. The analyst said the socalled pacto is one of the two biggest tragedies that Nicaragua has suffered as a result of its political polarization – the other being the civil war in the 1980s.
Since Ortega has returned to office, Jarquin said the reversal of the country’s democratic process has become accelerated by an administration that is implementing – in his words – “a model of institutional authoritarianism.”
Given the current situation, Jarq uin said,the most important political work in the country right now is the defense of democracy.
He is calling on the population of Nicaragua to unite in a non-ideological manner to defend its democracy, without getting caught up in the polarization of the past.
At a forum last week on the new role of left-wing political parties and civil society in the context of the Sandinista government, several activists expressed concerns that civil society is not adequately representing a coherent front for people’s concerns.
Edipcia Dubón, a member of a civil society network called the Red Nicaraguita, asked why it is that civil society was mobilized against the previous administration of President Enrique Bolaños, but now appears to be disarticulated under Ortega.
Others have noted that many of the traditionally loudest civil groups, such as the student unions and the National Workers’ Federation (FNT), are controlled by Ortega, and, therefore, have not protested against his government. The riotous student protests over the 6% budget allocation, which had become an annual event involving violent clashes with riot police, have not happened under Ortega’s watch. The former leader of the violent student protests, Yassir Martínez, is now a Sandinista legislator.
Still, many non-aligned civil groups have remained quiet, even in their protests of the Ortega administration’s implementation of the controversial Councils of Citizen Power (CPCs) – Sandinista groups that many fear are substituting civil society in many areas.
In some ways, the most active civil society groups these days are found in the docile world of cyberspace, where 1,149 Facebook users have joined the group “Daniel Ortega doesn’t represent me.”
Mario Quintana, head of the Coordinator Civil, the umbrella group of civil society, acknowledged that civil society has been “sleepy,” but said that democratic spaces remain open and that organizational work continues.
Jarquin, meanwhile, said the past could be a factor in the political apathy of today.
“I think that the reason why [people aren’t in the streets] is because they still have a fresh memory of the conflict of the 1980s and they feel that they have already taken the conflict to the extreme and it did not resolve anything,” he told The Nica Times. “So now people are passive or perhaps just hoping that things will get better on their own.”
However, the economist predicted, once people start feeling a greater pinch on their wallets, “the social conflict will increase, lamentably.”