In mid-April, a spate of protests led by students around the cities of Nicaragua, starting in the capital city of Managua, erupted over President Ortega’s social security reform. Such reform essentially will result to the citizens paying more taxes whilst cutting down the amount received by pensioners. Over the weeks, the single – issue protest has expanded to include issues of Ortega’s consolidation of power and the corruption in his administration and has resulted to calls for ouster for the former guerilla, who helped topple down the Somoza dynasty in 1979. The protests have led to several clashes between the protesters, the counter-protesters that support the Ortega administration, and have resulted to several deaths of the student protesters. In response, President Ortega has withdrawn the social security reform but interestingly, this has not ended the protests that continues until today. The question now is this, will the April 19 movement, the name the student protesters have taken to calling the protest the end of President Ortega’s almost 12 year – rule in power? And more importantly, what does this mean for Nicaragua’s democracy?
Is this the end for Daniel Ortega? In my assessment, this is not the end and here are the reasons why:
One, President Ortega is savvy enough to hold back on repression and violence. In a study, della Porta observes that the stronger repression is, the likelier the success of a movement . In recent news, the Nicaraguan military through its spokesperson Colonel Manuel Guevera has claimed that the military sees no reason for repression . Violence on the other hand is largely reported to be perpetuated not by government agencies but by the counter-protesters in support of the current administration, which leaves the government innocent of any violent acts towards its citizens.
Two, Chenoweth provides several indicators of a successful movement: that non-violent struggle is more effective than violent struggle, that number and diversity of mass movements matter, that flexible and innovative techniques are key, and that the aim is to change incentives, not to melt hearts. In addition to this, the resource mobilization theory argues that successful mobilization is hinged on the resources and organization of the movement . Taking all these into consideration puts the on-going April 19 movement at the losing end.
As mentioned earlier, clashes between the protesters, the counter – protesters, and the police have largely been characterized by violence. Though the death of several students has gained the attention of the citizens, eliciting sympathy, violent mobilization is less likely to attract participation from citizens as it naturally poses a threat to the well-being of the would-be participants. Hence, this puts the on-going movement at a disadvantage in terms of attracting participants.
The number and diversity of mass movements is crucial to the success of a movement and that the aim is to change incentives, not melt hearts. Again, though the number of participants has increased over the weeks of protests, reports still put it at tens of thousands and not in the millions. Moreover, the protesters are still largely composed of students with little to no support from the crucial sectors such as the Catholic Church, the business sector, the military, the police, and the civil society. Thus, in the context of successful movements that toppled down a president such as the EDSA I and EDSA II of the Philippines where all these sectors were present, the April 19 movement in Nicaragua has its work cut for it in gaining the support of these sectors to strengthen their movement. The Catholic Church, formerly a staunch critic of the Sandinista government has opted to serve as a mediator in the proposed talks between the Ortega government and the protestors. For its part, the business sector represented by COSEP has close ties with the Ortega administration. The military and the police are securely under Ortega’s control, leaving very slim chances of defection. Lastly, the civil society has greatly weakened in Nicaragua due to Ortega’s cutting off its funds from international donors.
That flexible and innovative techniques are keys, emphasizing the importance of a repertoire of contention . Chenoweth, probably drawing on Tilly emphasize that in order to succeed, the movement must employ forms of protests that have never been seen by the government. Thus far, the movement has confined itself to the typical protest methods, with a tiny hint of innovation by flipping the messages that Ortega himself used during the Somoza revolution. However, the level of innovation necessary to take the current government by surprise requires more than a flip of message as proven by the text movement of the EDSA II revolution. Social media provides a format that the on-going movement has yet to take advantage of.
Moreover the, on-going movement is at a disadvantage of sustaining it in terms of resources and organization, given their obvious status as students. Without the support of resources from the business sector, the middle forces, or the civil society, there is the question of how long the students can keep at this without any money bankrolling their daily survival and more importantly their activities.
Furthermore, also important to consider are the other issues that will crop up if Ortega does step down from power. Central to this is the issue of succession. In presidential forms of government, the vice-president takes over when a president is ousted. However, we have a unique case in Nicaragua where the vice-president is the wife of the president, thus violating the purpose of the ouster. Furthermore, Ortega’s incredible control over the FSLN dominated national assembly and Supreme Court puts into question whether his ouster will stand or be overturned by both institutions over some flimsy technicality conjured in order to keep Ortega in power.
The Future of Nicaragua’s Democracy
With all these being said, what is in store for Nicaragua’s democracy? The on-going protest movement is important because it provides a political opportunity for other protest movements in Nicaragua, as there is now an opening in the government for citizens’ demands in addressing the balance of power between the government and the citizens . However, without gaining the support of the crucial political players in the Nicaraguan society and without a clear solution to the issue of succession, it seems that Nicaragua’s democracy will continue to backslide under the Ortega government.
Donatella della Porta. 2014. On Violence and Repression, Government and Opposition 49: 159-187.
Erica Chenoweth. Nov.21.2016. People in the streets are protesting Donald Trump. But when does protest actually work? https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2016/11/21/peo…trump-but-when-does-protest-actually-work/?utm_term=e02f794a3f9e http://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-44066877
Charles Tilly.2006. Regimes and Repertoires. The University of Chicago Press: Chicago
Charles Tilly and Sidney Tarrow. 2015. Contentious Politics. Oxford University Press: USA
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