Recognizing the trappings of dictatorship


Throughout the history of our country, almost every person who has reached the Presidency of the Republic has been considered “the chosen one”—a sanctified individual who is the only person capable of leading the country.

Commonly, these individuals demonstrate a sickening will to perpetuate in power to the point where it becomes a type of dementia and obsessive vice. Once in power, they forget about the people who helped them get to the top.

Many of those who have reached power, either through elections or coups d‘etat, suffer from the delusion of feeling indispensable to the nation; without them, the country will sink between the two oceans. They believe that power belongs only to them—by right of inheritance or by their own intellect—and that this power endows them with the right to impose their will upon others, without the least concept of service, responsibility, or obligation to the people.

Unfortunately, the origins of dictatorship lie not only in the will of the dictator, but also in the complacency of those whom he claims to represent. These “subjects” are asphyxiated with lies, blackmail, overt and subtle threats, and the lack of opportunities for those who contradict his wishes.

Though often disguised as democracy, dictatorship is characterized by the triumph of arbitrary rule and personal whim over respect for rule of law, before which we should all be equal without any type of consideration. We must understand that XXI century dictatorship is no longer the violent threat of execution by firing squad or prison, such as the threats that existed during the somocista dynasty. Instead, dictatorship now means the gradual reduction of individual liberties through the exclusion of jobs, police and fiscal terrorism, and a judicial system in which there is no minimum guarantee of equity or shared values of democracy and justice.

Those who want to impose a dictatorship dedicate themselves to destroying opposition parties with a methodical and deliberate approach. Using threats, blackmail or praise, the ruling power transforms the opposition into obedient, submissive, and corruptible politicians who serve the interests of power.

A modern dictatorship is disguised with self-censorship of the press and with the massive presence of an official media that depicts a powerless and scandalized opposition. In some cases, international organizations that need to justify their existence in the country are also willing to ally themselves with the powers that be, and in turn publish fake facts that hide a sad reality. These organizations present the nation as a country in development, where poverty is being reduced where the government is magically resolving all the inner problems of the country. But these organizations are only putting their own credibility at risk by not considering the consequences to the democratic system in the country in which they are operating.

How many times have Nicaraguans witnessed this process under presidents from the left and the right? How many times have Nicaraguans suffered under presidents that intended to remain in power forever at the expense of a humiliated, impoverished and uneducated people?

In these last few years, have we as a nation started to wake up?  What conclusions should we draw from our situation? Will we be able to find promising new leadership with honesty and talent, or will the division among the opposition foster a divided, confused and fearful people who only worry about finding solutions to their daily problems?

If the people are the ones who choose their leaders, they must also remember that they are the ones who can change them.

Cristiana Guevara-Mena is a lawyer and young blogger living in Managua. A version of this article ran on the author’s blog, Ensayos Politicos, a bilingual blog on national politics and youth issues.

  • El Hindu

    I don’t think that you could have summed things up any better. That was a really wonderfully written piece.

  • Cristiana Guevara-Mena

    Thank you very much! Please feel free to visit my blog

  • Michael Hartmann

    Very well thought out piece. Unfortunately I sense the conditions you list in Nicaragua, and after lengthy consideration decided against making a very large investment in Nicaragua. The principal factor was the apparently widespread corruption of the judiciary, which can and does, facilitate de-facto asset extra legal asset seizures. If you have no sense of protection of your property rights, it is not wise to invest in anything or anyplace.

  • Carla Chamorro

    Good one Cristiana, la chispa del freedom will never ever be extinguished. Since man stopped being monkey do, dictatorship survive only for a brief time. Even the dictator’s money vanishes as ” lo que no te cuesta….” it all end up bad and they still think the path to democracy is a capricho and not the natural evolution it is. It happens whether we like it or not.
    With Castro and Chavez close to kicking the bucket or “colgando los tenis” it’s a matter of days….

  • Alba Frias

    Cristiana, you forgot one other telltale sign of dictatorship: the lack of a real mayor in Managua. Somoza never wanted to have a mayor, because he was afraid of someone rising to political prominence in Managua. The strongest mayors Managua has ever had were Herty and Nicho. But now, once again, Managua doesn’t really have any political leadership, unless you count Ditsyi whatzherface, the woman that tries to dance Gangnam style at the carnival.

  • Mark Oshinskie

    Bien hecho! Pero debia a decir mas sobre la riqueza del dictadores modernos, mientras sus sujetos tienen poco.

  • Gringo O

    When Nicas like the smart, aware and not afraid to speak out people like Guevara-Mena, there is an opposition to be delt with. Multiply even to a small degree and many others will follow. Bring them all together, young and old and a political force can emerge. These individuals are already here in Nicaragua. I have met some. However, they mostly are afraid to speak out or act on their own or in very small groups.

  • Ken

    Although I welcome some of the sentiments expressed, let me be the gadfly here.

    The first three paragraphs basically offer a psychological profile of dictators, essentially describing them as uncaring meanies, but I’m not sure this profile is accurate. There have been a lot of psychological studies of dictators, and something tells me that many don’t fit your stereotype. I’m not even sure that all Nicaraguan dictators share a similar psychological profile.

    Then there is the danger of presenting any psychological profile of dictators. Even if the profile is accurate, it deflects attention away from what dictators do to gain and maintain power. They don’t for example “forget” the people who helped them get to the top, as you say. Instead, they selectively reward some and punish others. Characterizing them as meanies may feel good, but it doesn’t advance an understanding of what dictators do or therefore how to combat them.

    The rest of the piece gets into some of this, so I think it is better, but then you throw in the whopper about 21st century dictators being less violent. They are? I seriously doubt that historical patterns have changed, and believe Syria already shows they haven’t.

    What I think you mean to say is that Ortega seems to be less violent than some of the Somozas. Maybe this is true, maybe it isn’t. The long reign of three Somozas was mixed and there is enough anecdotal evidence to incline some to suspect that Ortega isn’t above a little violence. Plus, since he’s running the show, he is in a position to suppress information about any violence he secretly orders.

    However, rather than try to compare levels of violence, it seems to me to be more profitable to focus on what Ortega does, how that fits or conflicts with Nicaragua’s traditions, and how those traditions might be modified to minimize dictatorial excesses. Indeed, how exactly are Ortega’s excesses to be checked?

    Disparaging Ortega’s character with psychological generalizations doesn’t seem to get us where we need to go.

  • Chavalo808

    yes, some Nicas need to understand that “dictatorship” during Somoza may not look the same as it is now, but they fall under the same “dictatorship” category – individual liberties and representation are not being recognized.

  • Mike

    Change the actors, and she could very well be talking about the U.S.A. I wonder who her audience is, though. Certainly not the poor Nicaraguans who do not own a personal computer. “Si son los pueblos quienes eligen a sus líderes, también deben ser conscientes que pueden cambiarlos de cualquier forma posible.” —Sounds like she is asking for foreign aid.

    • Cristiana Guevara-Mena

      Not necessarily asking for foreign aid… but most certainly would not hurt at all!

  • Abu Sharif

    Good contribution to the discussion, although Ken is right with his “amendments”, I suppose. But, Cristina, there is already violence, some years ago street manifestations were thrown stones at by paid pandilleros, the list of dead people is already there: Carlos Guadamuz, Hertie Lewites, Alexis, the liberal campesinos in 2011, the La Paz Centro victim in 2012 (okay, some are suicides or natural, aren’t they?). And Dora María said “The worst is still to come.” And social conflicts are forbidden, police terminated several in 2012 by brutal violence, because foreign capital was threatened (like this week Ortega’s canadian collegues of B2Gold).

    Or this 1984-brochure of the unconstitutional 1st Lady, this is violence, too.

    Last thing: I suffer when you seem to call “them” “from the left”. I am an izquierdista, therefore I know, see, hear and feel every day, that these people are not “leftists”. That’s one of their camouflages, like their being Catholic church goers. Tomás Borge, RIP, in CONFIDENCIAL did the following auto-goal, saying the truth this time, against his normal “costumbre”:

    ¿Qué es “de izquierda”?
    Tener vocación por el socialismo, eso es ser de izquierda. Ser honesto, no ser hipócrita, no ser mentiroso, eso es ser de izquierda.