Opinion: The Nicaraguan tiger and the April rebellion

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By José Luis Rocha

 

In the past months Nicaragua has witnessed a wave of protests from different sectors of society, which have been met with violent repression by the Ortega/Murillo government. During this time, access to cities has been blocked, protesters have been arrested and disappeared, and some accounts report more than 300 deaths in 75 days of demonstrations. The role of the state in these events is linked to the deployment of the riot-squad police and of pro-government youth groups who have been accused of acting as paramilitary agents. Sparked by student protests, the movement has been joined by labour unions, business groups, academics and intellectuals in an uproar that goes beyond opposition to the state’s negligence and oppressive policies. The demonstrations are also fueled by the discomfort caused by the malfunctioning of the democratic systems and by alliances of the government with segments of society that a large part of the population interprets as a betrayal of the Sandinista ideals.

In this post, Alternautas reproduces an article by professor José Luis Rocha where he explains the events leading up to the demonstrations. Rocha’s article rests on an image that is very telling about what has happened in Nicaragua in the last months: the dormant tiger. The dormant tiger is a metaphor for a society that survived years of struggle, and that grew in social organisation through the Sandinista revolution and years of USA counter-revolutionary intervention. The tiger fell dormant after victory, fatigued from resistance but fed from years of collective collaboration. Today, the tiger seems to have awakened with renewed energy from the youth and cyberspace as the ideals that created it are replaced.

 

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Marx understood revolution as a “tiger’s leap into the past.” In April’s turmoil, the Nicaraguan tiger, its insurrectionist youth, grounded itself in the past to leap toward a future that must not repeat the present. How did the unimaginable become reality? April 2018 would have been impossible without social media. Nicaragua’s leaping tiger is wholly a creature of the Information Age.

They say that on May 31, 1911, when Mexican dictator Porfirio Díaz was about to board the ship that would take him from Veracruz to exile in Paris, after having committed his final fraud—the only failed one in over three decades in government—against Francisco Madero’s Anti-reelectionist Party, Díaz let fly one of the most prophetic of the many highly memorable sayings attributed to him: “Madero has unleashed a tiger, now let’s see if he can control it.”

The tiger is the people, though not just any people: it is the populace of revolts, uprisings and disturbances, whose capacity for excesses and action is impossible to predict. We’ve seen it in the Arab Spring, the fall of the Berlin wall, the overthrow of the Shah of Iran in just a few hours, the massive desertions from the tsar’s army just before the October Revolution... No social analyst or sybil was able to detect the symptoms that preceded these uprisings as their eyes scanned an apparently clear horizon in the daylight breaking on these uprisings. This is why historian Theda Skocpol maintains that “revolutions are not made, they come.”

An apparently dormant tiger

The Nicaraguan tiger seemed to be slumbering in prolonged lethargy. Some spoke of conflict fatigue from the war of the eighties; others of new generations of politically apathetic youth. Yet others pointed to the decay and cooptation of social movements. At any rate, it’s a fact that we Nicaraguans put up with the increase in the value-added tax to 15% and other unpopular tax reforms; the kicking off of the 21st century with a rogues’ deal between the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) and the Constitutionalist Liberal Party /PLC), the two indisputably strongest political parties at the time; and no fewer than four fraudulent elections since 2008. We endured without serious unres Ortega’s unconstitutional consecutive reelection, the persecution of NGOs and the dismantling of the independence of the branches of Statet, although there were a few protests and proposals.

The four governments that followed the end of the war of the eighties (Violeta Barrios de Chamorro, Arnoldo Alemán, Enrique Bolaños and Daniel Ortega), each of a different political stripe, shared a common denominator: they all sold Nicaragua to tourism and foreign investment interests alike as an oasis of peace, in marked contrast to Central America’s northern triangle countries. At least up to now, when someone or something unleashed the tiger in Nicaragua. Or maybe the tiger leapt up because someone finally hit a nerve…

“We won’t leave you in peace…”

How did they hit the tiger’s nerve? It all began with protests provoked by the negligent response of state entities—all of which operate as a single, centralized voice—to the wildfire raging in the Indio-Maíz nature reserve, which ultimately consumed well over five thousand hectares of forest. The fire ignited political flare-ups around the country as university students took to the streets in protest and were vilified by Edwin Castro, head of the FSLN bench in the National Assembly and then professor of constitutional law at the Central American University (UCA) in Managua.

A group of students reacted to Castro’s insults (“keyboard environmentalists who want to profit from misfortune”) by bursting into his class on April 12 shouting slogans, while one sat astride a window as a makeshift podium to read a communiqué warning that “We won’t leave you alone, not any of you!” Others yelled at him, “You’re a corrupt, shameless thief.”

A video of this scene went viral on the social media. Something had given way. A taboo was broken. Edwin Castro was the regime’s first official to be on the receiving end of an explicit rejection in a place he surely considered a preserve safe from his adversaries. The unthinkable and unfeasible had happened. And the audiovisual proof spread to the four corners like seeds on the wind.

The tiger leapt quickly to the streets

Four days later, the embers of Castro’s comeuppance still smoking, a non-consensual approval of social security reforms was handed down: a 5% tax on existing monthly pension disbursements, a 12% cut in new ones and an increase in contributions from workers (6.25% to 7%) and employers (19% to 22.5%).

It was the immediate blow that sprang open the floodgates holding back grievances about economic injustices accumulated during Ortega’s 11 years in the presidency: the ruling family monopoly of companies providing health services to the social security system; the Ortega-Murillo sons’ control of the majority of television stations; the mining company concessions; medicine market oligopolies in similar hands, January’s revelation of the multi-million-dollar mansions that Supreme Electoral Council President Roberto Rivas had purchased in Costa Rica and Spain... and an extensive “etcetera” that could fill treatises and encyclopedias.

The tiger leapt angrily to the streets. Gut-led masses—tigers—become part of social movements and are the ones who make social changes. The clamor for change comes from the gut for the simple reason that the powerful use dialogue, reason and persuasive words to resist being stripped of all they have accumulated. In his book Networks of Outrage and Hope, Catalonian sociologist Manuel Castells, who for decades has accompanied and studied diverse social movements from May 1968 in Paris to Spain’s Indignados in 2011, highlights the role emotions play in politics. If power seeks to impede change by intimidating the population, counter-power achieves its objectives when the tiger gets over its fear and fills up on anger and hope.

The FSLN at the heart of the plunder

The students’ protests marked a turning point: loss of fear and the boiling over of anger. An anger that could be channeled because it found a focal point: the FSLN. The party was now identified with all kinds of looting: misuse of social security system resources; lumber-trafficking mafias and deforestation; an extractive economic model; even drug trafficking, among other pressing evils.

We’d seen it all already under Somoza. Somocismo was a system linked to capitalism’s supranational dynamics, which went beyond his control. In this sense, he wasn’t solely responsible for all the country’s ills. However, since it was a system well integrated into these dynamics and had a strongman—Anastasio Somoza Debayle—who embodied it, the rage found a concrete objective and provocative language, and was thus channeled. 
The FSLN is the founding crux of the current despoiling, although not the exclusive participant. I have no doubt that most plunder would still take place even if the FSLN did not exist, as we see happening in the rest of Central America, where the pillaging is being done by political parties whose origins and rhetoric bear no resemblance to the FSLN, with the possible exception—and only up to a point—of El Salvador’s FMLN.

What has happened in Nicaragua over the last two decades, even before Ortega took power in 2007, is that his FSLN breathed life into the plunder, shaping it and giving it both hands and heads. What’s more, he has contributed his own particular method for perpetuating the system, a version revealed as not entirely original if we look beyond the Nicaragua of 2018: using thugs to control the opposition; political patronage with showy government posts devoid of power; handing out zinc roofing and sacks of beans; declaring a Christian confessional State; identifying himself and his wife as socialists; and disguising it all in colorful cosmetic kitsch splashed on public benches, billboards and any official communication.

We are witnessing a “rhizomatic” revolution

In the streets of a Managua grown weary of soaking in the Technicolor official cosmetics that serve as a political invasion of public spaces, the rage of April has been steeped in the presidential couple’s mega-billboards and, especially, the “Chayo-trees,” also known as “tin trees,” but christened “trees of life” by Rosario (a.k.a. Chayo) Murillo: gigantic iron structures sown throughout the capital, 140 at last count. They are symbols of the regime.

The April revolt has fixed its eye on them with the hateful, but common, legal calculus of “an eye for an eye.” In retaliation for the government’s negligence in facing the wildfire in the Indio-Maíz reserve, protestors began to deforest Managua, felling and mercilessly burning various “chayo-trees” in what they called the “Chayo-Maíz reserve.”

The political conflagration that first flared up on April 18 spread to numerous points in the capital and dozens of municipalities around the country. The April siege waged against protesters by police, its anti-riot forces and members of the Sandinista Youth claimed a toll of at least 46 confirmed deaths, the overwhelming majority among the opposition forces.

Such repression stoked both rage and creativity. It provoked what Spanish sociologist Manuel Castells calls a “rhizomatic revolution,” a concept suggested to him by Isidora Chacón. Wikipedia describes a rhizome as a subterranean stem that spreads horizontally, sprouting roots and sending up leafy shoots from its nodes. Rhizomes grow indefinitely, constantly producing new outgrowths. Thanks to social media, the April uprising against the Ortega-Murillo government showed all these characteristics: horizontality an indefinite expansion stemming from small nodes of discontent that connect with one another and produce new shoots. The only underground part of this rhizome was the accumulated rage.

Today’s Wi-Fi is yesterday’s paving stones

The installation of free Wi-Fi in parks and other public spaces is attributed to the express will and unquestionable orders of Rosario Murillo. Starting in 2014 the government paved virtual spaces with superhighways.

I have no idea if there was personal gain behind this generous decision. Somoza carpeted the streets of Managua and other roads with paving stones produced in his own factories: Somoza the statesman bought paving stones from Somoza the businessman. Over time, these paving stones became the ubiquitous raw material for the insurrectionists’ barricades that helped bring down his regime, Wi-Fi was to the April uprising what paving stones were to the anti-Somocista insurrection of 40 years ago. Both virtual and physical streets provide many opportunities for horizontally spreading discontent.

Why did Murillo send signals in March, just ahead of the April uprising, that she saw danger in the social networks? Over the last two decades, young people—the main users of this public unsecured Wi-Fi in the parks—had been the object of reproaches revealing more about the nostalgia if the analysts doing the reproaching than about the real moral and political fiber of these young people’s character.

Were our youth apathetic?

A few years ago various studies portrayed Nicaragua’s youth as apathetic, apolitical and comfortably disengaged from the country’s reality. In the sardonically-coined words of a Costa Rican historian, whose intention was to reveal the intricacies of the turn taken in our political culture, youth had substituted the battle-hardened cry of “Patria libre o morir” (“Give me liberty or give me death”) for the more prudent “Patria libre o lesiones menores” (“Give me liberty or give me minor injuries”). Some studies and analyses didn’t even give them that much credit. The youthful affinity for social media was interpreted more as evading the national than delving into the global; the global virtual reality had merely estranged them from the real country.

The analyses that attributed political apathy to Nicaraguan youth weighed their actions using old scales of what constitute political: political actions and resources for social mobilization. These analyses and studies had not bothered to explore the wellsprings of young people’s political awareness because they were based on a system of values that didn’t exactly match that of youth in the seventies. Diverse voices reported that five years ago, during the #OcupaINSS uprising, which was also organized over social networks, what most moved the young people was seeing retired elderly people beaten by thugs as the police stood by. They say that what lit the fuse now in León was seeing multiple images on social media of Sandinista Youth members knocking over a hypertensive and diabetic old man who had taken to the street in protest over the 5% reduction in his pension. He was walking peacefully with others when they violently threw him to the ground.

In such a narrow conception of what defines politics, the complaints youth made on the social media were not tallied as political actions. At its root this blind spot comes from ignorance of the potential and types of struggle inherent in the new information-age tools, an issue to which Manuel Castells has dedicated thousands of pages, also applying his theoretical framework to recent social movements.

The cyber-script of April’s revolt

According to Castells, the Indignados movement in Spain began on Internet via the social media, which provide autonomous spaces largely beyond the control of governments and corporations that throughout history have monopolized communication channels as the bedrock of their power. He describes how individuals shared pain and hope in the public space provided by the networks, connecting among themselves and envisioning diverse projects stemming from different origins, thus forming networks independent of their personal opinions and allegiances. They came together.

Castells adds that their union helped them overcome fear, that paralyzing emotion by which the powerful thrive and multiply, using intimidation, dissuasion and, if necessary, brute violence displayed or imposed by institutions. From the safety of cyberspace, people of any age and condition dared to occupy urban spaces in a blind date with the destiny they wanted to forge, reclaiming their right to make history—their own history—in a demonstration of the self-awareness that has always characterized great social movements.

April’s rebellion followed this script. Their social networks were the tool young people used to overcome the pressure the Ortega regime has inflicted on the traditional media outlets for years and the censorship of various channels imposed in April. Their networks also enabled them to conquer the fear instilled by the presence of the paramilitary mobs and anti-riot police that for years have controlled the country’s streets.

Victory over fear and a growing rage were the impetus for taking back the streets, where for 11 years this dramatic, overwhelming rejection had been absent. As a friend remarked, when young people took the leap from Facebook to the real country, the struggle leapt from cyberspace to the streets of Managua, León, Masaya, Bluefields…. And as this struggle played out on two stages, the virtual and the street, it brought about a reality that had previously been virtual simulations: the destruction of the “chayo trees,” the emergence of new leaders, innumerable memes mocking Ortega and Murillo, feelings of companionship and of nationalism expressed in thousands of blue and white Nicaraguan flags and initiatives to paint curbs, poles, benches and walls in blue and white, all over the country.

Neither leaders nor political parties

The actions that took place in physical spaces were conceived and planned in cyberspace. In a continuous virtuous circle, social media reflected and amplified events on the streets, enhancing them in audiovisual touch-ups and turning them into giants with a kind of national and global megaphone.

Within days, the social media were the platform from which powerless citizens who up to then had lived lives harmless to the regime, suddenly stood out as legendary leaders: the resistance of the people of Monimbó and Comandante Monimbó (Fernando Gaitán, also nicknamed Comandante Caperucita, Spanish for Little Red Riding Hood); sellers in the Mayoreo Market who threatened the paramilitary mobs with their pistols and machetes; students barricaded in the Polytechnic University (UPOLI), interviewed on CNN; resistance in hundreds of videos from the neighborhoods surrounding this university; and “Plomo” (Lead) in which rapper Erick Nicoyas González summed up the epic period and fueled spirits. These are just the first few of the revolt’s many displays, characters and outbursts that flew around the world on social media and only later appeared in traditional national and international media outlets.

Social networks made it possible for this rebellion to take place without designated leaders. Of all the attending advantages and drawbacks that implies, the greatest advantage is that it was a revolt of common, everyday people, not of party militants or established social movements. The Nicaraguan tiger’s revolt is of a piece with that of Spain’s Indignados and the Middle Eastern movements, none of which identified with any political party or had formal representatives. It also shares two other striking characteristics: lack of money and lack of fear.

Collectively recovering the public arena

Contrary to the generally accepted idea of a digital globalization beyond physical space and its borders, the French writer Frédéric Martel sustains that, as surprising as it may seem, Internet doesn’t eliminate traditional geographical boundaries, dissolve cultural identities, or even file down linguistic differences. Instead it consecrates them.

The use the youth made of their social networks during the street/virtual uprising was a sample of how Nicaraguans’ sense of humor is a great tool for struggle and an instrument to inform the international community about what’s happening in the country. Spreading like wildfire are memes, audios and videos imitating Daniel Ortega’s slow drawn-out voice, repeating the same words time and time again. There were many pictures of Rosario Murillo posing, dressed and speaking like a sorceress. When the campaign to burn and cut down the “chayo-trees” began, a picture became famous depicting the Vice President in flames, claiming as each of her “trees” was set afire or toppled that she was losing her powers.

The Güegüense’s irreverence sprang forth with all the combination of solemnity and brazenness that characterized that 17th-century Nicaraguan theatrical protagonist. It began in virtual spaces, where the youth profaned all the new-age symbols of Danielismo (or more accurately Chayismo), saturated with bright colors and billboards of the couple. It later cropped up in the streets, traffic circles and plazas where university students, working and unemployed adults from low, middle and upper classes melted together in an inter-class crucible and, equipped with power saws, demolished a large part of the iconography of an “amurillada” Managua, a brilliant term coined by Monica Baltodano in a 2014 article for envío. The ex-guerrilla comandante employed it to refer to the mutations experienced by her former party and the influence Rosario Murillo has gained within it since 1998. 

The recovery of physical public spaces—which the Ortega regime hyper-politicized—was also seen in April and since, sometimes with the meticulous work of an ant, sometimes with the impetuosity of a tsunami, always as an inevitable task to undermine the existing power and express counter-power, leaping from the ethereal digital space onto the geographical territory.

“Long live the students!”

Another trait of the social struggles of our times also consecrates what is local while projecting globally. It’s a trait whose implications go beyond the traditionally local pole, although that’s its starting point. It’s the use of revolutionary tradition.

From the first day of protests around Indio-Maiz, the youth took up a people’s challenge to Edwin Castro in UCA’s classrooms. Resorting to slogans taken out of the revolutionary knapsack, the students chanted: ¡Alert, alert, the environmental struggle’s marching for Indio-Maiz!” as they approached the congressman-professor’s classroom.

During the following marches, one frequently heard, “The people united will never be defeated” and songs composed by the Mejia Godoy brothers during the 1970s to narrate, orient and encourage the social movements against Somoza. “Long live the students” by Violeta Parra and other songs by Los Guaraguao have been used for years in all FSLN activities. Now these same songs are being sung again with greater ownership and relevance by students rebelling against the regime that’s repressing them, by students who truly are “birds not frightened by animal or police”...or are rightly frightened, but are facing them.

The tiger’s leap

The tiger moves comfortably within the virtual spaces but leaped from there into the streets. What’s surprising is that the tiger resorted to revolutionary tradition to give the struggle a local setting… or maybe to legitimize it for a particular audience. Following Marx. I call this use of tradition “the tiger’s leap leap into the past.”

Walter Benjamin further developed Marx’s idea of revolution in his essay “Theses of the Philosophy of History”: “Thus, to Robespierre ancient Rome was a past charged with the time of the now which he blasted out of the continuum of history. The French Revolution viewed itself as Rome incarnate. It evoked ancient Rome the way fashion evokes costumes of the past. Fashion has a flair for the topical, no matter where it stirs in the thickets of long ago; it is a tiger’s leap into the past. This jump, however, takes place in an arena where the ruling class gives the commands. The same leap in the open air of history is the dialectical one, which is how Marx understood the revolution.”

Obviously, the youth are not proposing a return to the past. At no time have they expressed an idealization of the Sandinista past. However, the turn they propose is clothed in the past to be able to advance towards a future that doesn’t repeat this present.

There are at least two reasons to “talk and sing in the past.” One is the need to snatch the torch of the Left from the FSLN. That’s how they’ve tried to present themselves to the people of Nicaragua and the international community, where many outmoded solidarity committees still swallow all of the FSLN’s rhetoric hook, line and sinker, and don’t follow up on its abusive neoliberal policies.

The second reason they sing the past is that they’ve heard those histories in their homes, from parents and grandparents, and they sense they should speak in a language understandable to the adults to organize the uprising in uprising terms. Through this language they can avoid ambiguity and leave no room for doubt about their objectives. 

April’s rebellion is a past charged with the time of now, or, better put, a present time with a plethora of symbols from the past. That’s why the eruption in Monimbó became so meaningful. In that emblematic indigenous barrio of Masaya, what started out as a peaceful march of pensioned people later turned into resistance to the Ortega forces from behind barricades, a rebellion that left four dead and dozens wounded. The “Monimboseños” have been pioneers in struggle; their rebellion was a detonator for the anti-Somoza struggle and was now for the anti-Ortega struggle. That’s another reason they talk about the “April 19” Movement, evoking July 19. It’s the reason for insisting in chanting “Daniel and Somoza are the same thing!” The social networks have been a tremendous global instrument to express the struggle in terms of a local past.

Rapid construction of common sense

Another sphere the social networks played in that was key to the April uprising was the construction of quick consensus. In the case of the April 23 mega-march, for example, the process developed roughly like this: the business leadership under the COSEP umbrella put out a communiqué calling for a march led by employers and employees, but inviting the students, by then the heroes of the hour. The call spread within minutes via Whatsapp, followed by comments, rejections or jokes, including a sprinkling of analytical articles... Within hours a verdict was reached about what the business sector was up to or perhaps what it knew... In the end, the march wasn’t just the business sector with a smattering of students. Everybody went. It was at that point the largest mega-march ever seen in Managua.

That sort of vertiginous construction of common sense had an effect. I call it dizzying because the problems and judgments, even though they were not without nuance, seemed to start out formulated in a mess of opinions and end up being expressed basically in the same terms.

That’s how the most important conclusion was reached amidst the smoking guns: after more than 40 dead we’re not where we started and reversing the social security reforms is no longer remotely enough. Nicaragua is simply not the same. It’s no longer an issue of “a” problem and a particular political error. It’s a saturation of problems that called into question the entire political system.

The country changed, the system must change

This turnaround, this “changed country,” this conclusion, was reached through a combination of the youths’ sensitivity towards multiple causes and their use of social networks. Both involved departing from what the late Argentine political theorist Ernesto Laclau called the logic of difference and moving toward the logic of equivalence.

The youth started with social demands that the system could have answered one by one and reabsorbed (a badly managed forest fire, needed social security reforms...). But instead they quickly got rerouted by the escalation of events onto a path that joined with other demands, establishing a relationship of solidarity that stirred up still other demands that have turned into a demand against the entire system.

The fact that the FSLN of Ortega-Murillo embodies that system greatly facilitates the convergence of multiple struggles into one. Trying not to notice that the social networks—also the vehicle for denouncing the killings and tortures—had made possible the leap towards the anti-systemic logic of equivalence, Ortega wanted to return to the logic of difference and respond to one of the individual demands (the social security reforms), but that train was no longer at the station.

That leap had occurred through rhizomatic reflections circulating through the networks and being strained through consciences until forming an also rhizomatic knowledge: a horizontal one of indefinite expansion from small sprouts of discomfort that add to the original starting point. The Ortega-Murillo government is determined to continue operating as before, pretending a common sense had not been formed that placed us in the logic of equivalence. Out of that monumental ignorance it’s putting together a strategy that can only lead to more bloodshed.

The voice of the bishops

Since the beginning of the uprising and amidst a vacuum of credible voices, the Catholic episcopate arose as the voice of the main political actor. The rejection of career politicians was tacit but unequivocal during the April uprising. The bishops and parish priests must continue to nourish their moral strength at the well of the bloodshed as the Catholic Church has a tradition of martyrdom that allows it to extract hope from sacrifice. Intolerance of the brutality committed must be our national seal.

The Catholic Church arose with authority via a great figure of this drama, auxiliary bishop of Managua Silvio Baéz, who analyzed the repressive actions of the government with determined and lucid statements and called the rebel youth “the moral reserve of the nation.” The Church sealed that rise to a stellar role by agreeing to mediate the national dialogue and calling for “a pilgrimage for peace on Saturday April 28. It was a torrent, even larger than the march called by COSEP.

Though packed with religious symbols, it was a procession with unquestionable political weight. And for this same reason it was an implicit denial of the FSLN-Catholicism marriage Ortega-Murillo have tried to suggest through very solemn official acts with the repeated appearance of the former archbishop of Managua, Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo, their pocket cardinal. As of now, tens of thousands expressed that they had demarcated their Catholicism from Danielismo.

Prominent Evangelical leaders have remained at the sidelines, excluding themselves from the uprising. The pastor of Hosanna, the largest and most opulent Neo-Pentecostal megachurch in Nicaragua, made clear in his sermon on Sunday, April 29, his resistance to grounding himself when he voiced what was reportedly his most belligerent statement: “We have to ask for God’s direct intervention!”

In this context, the Catholic Church—with the advantage of a pyramidal structure the myriad Evangelical churches lack—emerged as the main spokesperson backed by solid institutionality.

The tiger is restless

The tiger remains restless even though the special police’s guns went at least briefly silent, even though hundreds of thousands of people marched in the streets twice in the space of five days, and even though there were signs that the national dialogue was being organized.

The heart of that tiger is the moving force of students that terrified the Ortega-Murillo loyalists for a week. The tiger threatens to return to the streets it is not fed the resignation of the presidential couple. And that’s only one of their demands.

The tiger has no visible head. While that is something of a weakness, it’s also a strength because it deprives its opponents of being able to club it to death. The social networks solve its problem of communication and in fact opened up the chance to act with the simultaneousness typical of well-articulated social movements. However, that doesn’t solve the tiger’s lack of representation and organization. It’s possible that the social networks will continue making up for this vacuum through the rapid construction of common sense in a matter of minutes, but that may not work at the negotiation table, where Ortega and Murillo will seek to bog down the talks and make the tiger dizzy.

The tiger could get desperate

The tiger could also get desperate and go back to risking its collective neck in the streets, whose monopoly it seized from the governing party. However, the party has not lost the capacity to continue confronting it with that sector Marx called lumpen prolitariat, a force that during the 19th century in France was Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte’s shock troops against the revolutionary masses.

Thus we have in Nicaragua, as a consequence of the April uprising, a new modality of class struggle: the economically diverse student body but with middle-class habits and aspirations—versus the youth from the marginal barrios who don’t have access to higher education and see the university students as a privileged group in a social ascent denied to them. Such a confrontation must be avoided at all cost.

There must be no stolpping halfway

What should be asked of the actors who will go to the dialogue? They have to get all the way to the bottom of this, not stop halfway. Unconditional justice and a national strike, if needed. It’s time to set aside pocketbooks and prudence.

The bishops shouldn’t speak with restraint; to do so is to mock those lives lost. As for the business sector, it has to decide, if it has not done so already, whether the stability it longs for can best be reached again through its romance with Ortega or a break from him, giving determined support for those fighting to oust him. The economic strength of those represented by COSEP can frighten not only the government, but even more importantly the Army, which guards its own corporate interests and will be, in the last instance, the main bastion where continuity or defeat is played out.

What does the tiger need?

The tiger needs organization and leadership that is new and rotating, not one from which another Daniel Ortega or the next Jasser Martínez can arise. It needs to be creative to avoid being provoked, to build a leadership that’s not a caudillo and to innovate other forms of struggle, moving beyond the “war of marches.” However, the tiger shouldn’t abandon the streets, which through so much courage they have recovered for their right to dissent.

If it gets caught up in internal struggles and drowns in individual protagonism, as have so many before it, the student movement will lose what has been its strength up until now: its ubiquity, its instant rhizomatic construction of common sense, its capacity to synthesize from the logic of difference toward the logic of equivalence. It must continue to exploit the virtues of virtual space to maintain the physical rather than allow the malice and meanness that can arises during the local landing to paralyze the weightlessness and eloquence it has demonstrated in the digital terrain.

The tiger must keep attacking or stalking

The student movement’s dispersal of energies and the lack of organicity of those protesting make it impossible to foresee the course of this struggle. Trying to dissociate itself from the social security proposal of COSEP, which felt well-remunerated when Ortega revoked the social security reforms, one of the various groups of university students released a sheet of petitions in which they demand the investigation of the killings and punishment for the perpetrators, the immediate removal of all mayors and other public officials and police chiefs who protected the vandals as opposed to the students, the reestablishment of freedom of speech, the release of all those imprisoned for protesting, independence of the branches of State, investigation of the illegal enrichment of public officials and return of what they’ve stolen, the immediate resignation of Daniel Ortega, Rosario Murillo and their entire Cabinet and a call for early and transparent elections. We need to return to that proposal, in fact expand it.

Reviewing the multiple pillages suffered by Central America, we can see that flexible labor laws, extractivism, the mortgaging of food sovereignty and so much more damage done to sovereignty are common to all countries of the isthmus. They are not linked only to the FSLN.

This widespread regional situation can make more than 40 deaths risk becoming an anecdote, a footnote in a history that will preserve the general lines in a script where we hopefully won’t discover later that the FSLN was an important but only contingent actor. That is why the tiger must continue demanding. And if not satisfied, it should continue attacking or stalking, ready to leap towards the past and take over the future.


José Luis Roca is a journalist and writer at the Envio review (Managua, Nicaragua), and a sociologist at the Universidad Centroamericana José Simeón Cañas, El Salvador, and the Universidad Rafael Landívar, Guatemala.