To no one’s surprise, Nicaragua’s National Assembly this week approved by a vote of 64 to 26 a series of constitutional reforms that will remove presidential term limits and allow Daniel Ortega to rule by decree.
Congratulations to my Nicaraguan brothers and sisters; we have returned to a dictatorship by legal and illegal means. No, it’s not an exaggeration, it’s the reality in which we live. And it’s an ironic reality. The same people who overthrew the Somoza dictatorship more than three decades ago have risen to power to establish another dictatorship. It’s our fault; we have the government we deserve, or so they say.
This is not about political parties or ideologies anymore, it’s about the complete destruction of what it means to be Nicaraguan citizen. Ortega’s dictatorship controls the executive branch (Ortega can now make laws by decree), the legislature (the Sandinista Front has a supermajority in the National Assembly) and the judiciary (Supreme Court judges have demonstrated that they’ve been bribed to rule in Ortega’s favor). Maybe I’m just crazy.
This is a joke, right? Even though ruling for two consecutive terms and running for a third term is barred by our current constitution (the one still in effect today), the Supreme Court decided that Ortega could get reelected in 201. But violating the constitution once was not enough. No, Ortega is now preparing for reelection again in 2016. Why do we let history repeat itself? Why is it that the same people who participated in the revolution against Somoza have allowed Ortega to take total control of the country?
The answer, which is difficult to accept, is truly depressing. It is the responsibility of all citizens to respond to the abuses that have just occurred thanks to the criminal and moral failures of our National Assembly. Unfortunately, there is no organization or opposition leadership that’s strong enough to make that happen. What we have instead is fear and complacency. We’ve become a country full of zombies. It’s like a horror movie with no end.
Nicaragua suffers from a very dangerous social crisis. Nicaragua is in a worsening state of liminality, and now we have to face the consequences. In sociological terms, liminal periods are those where there is political instability, an intellectual crisis at a social level, and national uncertainty about the future. These conditions can lead to radical changes, both positive or negative.
In our case, they’re negative. We’ve allowed certain individuals to take the population hostage and guide us where they want in the name of power and profit. The same remorseless individuals intimidate small crowds of protesters who dare to defy their power. It does not help that these same individuals have control of the army, the national police, all four branches of government, and other institutions that influence society, such as the media, which is increasingly under the control of the ruling party.
As if that were not enough, there is bread and circus in broad daylight. The government-sponsored amusement parks “for the people” and the Christmastime “purisimas,” which feel like soup kitchens for the desperate. This is charity for impoverished citizens, but it’s also the government’s attempt to control populations and gain their vote through bribery, while distracting them from important issues our country faces.
There’s also the socialist model of distribution they use to gain approval from other sectors of society, where they give scholarships to students with the same money they take from their parents through taxes. Regardless of your political inclinations, there’s a price to be paid for all this. The hand that feeds cannot be bitten easily. In a liminal state, citizens do not think rationally because rational traditions disappear. This crisis affects us emotionally, causing a great collective stress. Our traditions are replaced by new messages that begin to spread as citizens start adopting and imitating them. The “Pueblo Presidente” and ” Power to the People” propaganda gives the impression of empowerment to segments of the population who have felt socially marginalized. But there’s very little practical application.
The idea of Nicaragua being “Christian, Socialist, and in Solidarity” promises a socially just and united country under the same religion, but the government does not live by its message because of the injustice it serves and the division it creates. There’s also the reconciliation movement that promised peace, but everyone has seen firsthand the constant anti-opposition rhetoric the government spews, dividing the country into “us and them.”
We also have the Sandinista Youth (reminds me of the Hitler Youth in its effectiveness and loyalty), which should be the “Nicaraguan youth,” but apparently loyalty to the leader is more important than loyalty to country. These messages of “us versus them” are repeated, adopted, and mimicked at an institutional level for the purpose of dividing the country and captivating those who are in the “right” side of the situation.
A central figure in the liminal state is the trickster, who comes to power through deceit and rules the same way. The trickster is a dangerous character, and in times of crisis and uncertainty, entire populations consider them to be charismatic leaders. Hitler was an example of this type of character (Godwin’s law does not apply here). After losing the First World War, Germany was in ruins and its economy was shattered by the sanctions imposed by the Allies. The German people trusted Hitler for his immense charisma in times of crisis, because they needed someone strong to save them from their reality. And we all know how that turned out.
Many decades later we still wonder why a country with such a rich history fell for such a dangerous trickster figure. In our case, we have the Ortega family. They are Machiavellian figures who have spread their propaganda everywhere and convinced the people that they are their saviors to deliver them from crisis. The crisis, according to the presidential couple, was the socioeconomic result of nearly two decades of neoliberal governments.
Nicaraguans believe in Ortega in the same way that Americans believed in Barack Obama. Change and hope was what sold to the American people after nearly a decade of neoconservative governments that started two wars and destroyed the economy. But there was no change under Obama. Instead, the U.S. president continues Bush’s legacy, arguably having a worse track record than his predecessor in foreign policy and constitutional violations.
Sociologist Arpad Szakolczai explains what happens when tricksters like Hitler, Mussolini, Lenin, and Stalin come to power.
“When trickster figures are mistaken for saviors, then emotions will be continually and repeatedly incited, until the community is reduced to a schismatic state. Societies can maintain themselves in such situations of oppression and violence for a long time, without returning to normal order, if stable external referent points are absent. This is why schismogenic societies need to maintain themselves in a perpetual state of war; presumably surrounded by enemies (both external and internal) who try to conquer and destroy them”. The external enemy is the ” global capitalist empire” led by the United States and the internal is “the right“.
A schismatic state is where members of the community have very strong divisions, as in the case of Nicaragua. These figures exert their power and create a state full of hatred, hostility, fear and envy, which act as survival mechanisms for their own sake. We see this in our country coming from loyal groups who have nothing positive to say about the “capitalist right.”
These liminal states create schismatic figures. One could argue that during times of Somoza, we lived in another liminal state, from which one of these dangerous schismatic figures emerged: Daniel Ortega.
The Roman philosopher Cicero warned us, “Those who forget their history are doomed to repeat it.” In Nicaragua, history is repeating itself, and Sandino is rolling in his grave.
Johnny Siman, 23, is a local musician and photographer who studied Music Theory and Business Administration in Texas and Managua. He lives in Managua.