‘Indignation must be organized’

Former guerrilla leader-turned-Sandinista dissident Monica Baltodano is leaving the National Assembly to bring the struggle back to the streets

MANAGUA—As Nicaragua’s newly elected and reelected lawmakers report to National Assembly Monday for their first day of grip-and-grin and disingenuous argle-bargle, Sandinista reformer Monica Baltodano will not be among them.

For the first time in 15 years, the National Assembly—or “La Chanchera,” (the pigsty) as it’s known derisively in Nicaragua—will be absent of Sandinista dissidents.

The Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS), once a formidable legislative bloc, has been absorbed by the untested, right-wing Independent Liberal Party (PLI), and the Sandinista majority will be a monolithic 62 votes loyal to President Daniel Ortega. Meanwhile, the very small handful of independent lawmakers who struggled as endangered species in the previous congress can now be officially reclassified as “extinct.”

In many ways, Baltodano—an independent leftist who represented the lonely Movement to Rescue Sandinismo (Rescate)—was the last her kind. Her departure from the National Assembly drives another nail into the coffin of political pluralism, however symbolic it once was.

Baltodano’s refusal to play by the rules of congressional decorum (all Nicaraguan lawmakers should: 1. Employ partisan invective while forming secret alliances with their opponents; 2. Vote mindlessly along party lines, 3. Celebrate personal mediocrity and collective underachievement;  and 4. Obsess over reelection) made her a bit of an oddity during her five-year term as lawmaker.

Now that she has escaped the pigpen and shampooed the lingering barnyard stink out of her hair, Baltodano says she is ready to get back to the work of organizing disobedience—only this time where she feels she can have a real impact: on the streets.

“My role is to struggle from the streets, to organize civil movements among the popular sectors of society,” the former Sandinista guerrilla leader told The Nicaraguan Dispatch in an interview from her home in Managua.

Baltodano, who led the guerrilla insurrection in Managua in 1979 after leading Sandinista rebels to victory in Granada, says Nicaragua needs to organize a genuine grassroots citizen movement that can “put the corrupt political system up against the wall.”

She criticizes opposition political parties “that don’t offer any real opposition,” as well as civil society movements that have lost touch with the streets and only “make declarations from hotel conference rooms.”

“The politicians are failing and the civil movements are failing,” she said.

Baltodano, whose Rescate movement boycotted the Nov. 6 poll with a protest vote, thinks the opposition was silly to believe in an electoral solution to Nicaragua’s problems. And she thinks the opposition made a tactical error by focusing its time, efforts and resources to mobilize people for an attempted election-day putsch.

“I don’t think that democracy should be reduced to the act of going to vote every several years, because democracy has to be every day. It’s a daily struggle,” she said. “We have to change the way politics is done in this country.”

Baltodano says legislative politics in Nicaragua has become corrupted by power and pork-barrel remuneration for lawmakers, some of whom have few job qualifications beyond obsequiousness.

“Politics in this country has been reduced to fighting for status quo and to protect the lifestyle of a handful of politicians,” she says.

Baltodano says that same system of political rewards and punishments makes it difficult to organize civil opposition.

“There is a lot of pressure and blackmail by the government,” she said. “If people want work, they have to be with the government party. If they want to benefit from social programs, they have to be with the government party. If they want a land title, they have to be with the government party. If they want basic rights to education and health, they have to be with the government party. So the situation is very difficult because (the government party) is organizing a system of oppression. This is system that represses and restricts rights from the bottom up with mechanisms of control: the CPCs (Sandinista Councils of Citizen Power).”

She says one of her top youth organizers for Rescate was told last year by government agents that that he had to renounce his political activism if he wanted his mother to benefit from the government’s property-title program.

As a result, she said, some political activists are starting to use pseudonyms again, like they did during the days of clandestine struggle against the Somoza regime in the late ‘70s.

“The situation here is not easy,” Baltodano said. “And the worst is yet to come. This (government) project is just starting. They are not only interested in controlling all government institutions, but also public opinion by trying to control the media.”

A peaceful struggle

Despite—or perhaps because of —her personal history of leading armed insurrection, Baltodano says change has to come peacefully.

“We have so much history of confrontation in Nicaragua,” she says in her characteristic whispered voice, which is barely louder than a rustle of the plants in the warm afternoon breeze. “I don’t know if this is just a personal dream of mine, but I envision change will happen here as part of a great civil movement that creates a situation where the regime falls without resorting to armed violence.

“Nicaragua has lots of experience with war, but we have to develop confidence in peaceful solutions,” she says. “Nicaragua has never tried a peaceful solution.” 

At the same time, Baltodano says, leaders can’t sit back and wait for change to happen on its own.

“We have to foment indignation,” she says. “We need to organize indignation. Because it will not happen here on its own, like it has in other countries. We need to organize it in the neighborhoods and communities.”

While that may sound like recalcitrant rabble-rousing, Baltodano says it’s really just about being prepared for when the moment comes.

“There are circumstances that cannot be predicted, but they trigger a social explosion,” she said. “The idea is to be organized and ready for when it happens.”

  • Pedro Arauz

    The “new” Nicaragua…?

    For those who still think Ortega is nothing but a common criminal and a child molester:

    Gobierno se toma 17 mzs. en “centro” de Managua Enero 9 del 2012

    La toma de un valioso terreno urbano de 17 manzanas en las inmediaciones del centro comercial Galerías Santo Domingo en el nuevo “centro” de Managua, ha generado un foco de tensión entre el presidente Ortega y un importante grupo de empresarios privados.

    La propiedad ubicada en la zona de mayor desarrollo urbano de la capital, valorada en varios millones de dólares, fue ocupada por la fuerza a inicios de diciembre por la alcaldía de Managua, siguiendo órdenes de la Procuraduría de la República. El terreno pertenece a un grupo empresarial en el que participan Juan Bautista Sacasa, presidente del BDF, los directivos de OCAL Carlos Reynaldo y Cesar Augusto Lacayo; el ex embajador de Nicaragua en Estados Unidos Ernesto Palazio, y el propio ministro de turismo de Ortega, Mario Salinas.

    La toma se produjo sin brindar ninguna explicación a los propietarios, aunque fuentes cercanas al procurador Hernán Estrada, revelaron que éste justificó la ocupación alegando que se trata de un bien del Estado que fue adquirido de forma anómala por el grupo empresarial, durante la administración edilicia de Herty Lewites. Sin embargo se desconoce cual es la objeción legal que ha presentado el representante del estado.

  • Confiscate Gringo

    Dear Tim, I understand your unawareness of the Nicaraguan political reality and the individuals you interview as it is this case with Monica Baltodano who has possession of confiscated and stolen properties from American citizens. Even the chair where Monica is giving you this interview is confiscated property, since she has never worked or produced any goods or services to support herself or her family. The only thing that Monica Baltodano is good for is that she is the former Bayardo Arce’s wife who is the closest advisor to Daniel Ortega. Daniel Ortega use Monica as the Trojan horse who is always in the opposition destroying any possible union or coordinated action since she must protect her own interest defending what Baltodano had accomplished with the confiscated properties. The day Daniel Ortega decides to take every single confiscated property from Monica, he will finish with this impostor. Ask Monica if she has confiscated properties, the Popol Na is a confiscated private home to American citizens a two millions dollars house with 3,000 square meters of construction and 5,000 meters of land.

  • Pedro Arauz

    Anything even close to Sandinismo now and before is nothing but crap, rotten crap and never ever to be trusted.