El Salvador:
FMLN Confronts Challenge from the Right

David Grosser

September 4, 2018

Salvadoran protester. The sign reads “The water is mine, not the oligarchy’s”

In 2009, twenty years after the negotiated end to a brutal civil war, the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN), former guerrillas turned left political party, finally won the presidency of El Salvador, defeating ARENA, the far rightists who had made the country a showcase of neoliberal “reforms”.

With a second FMLN administration nearing its end and a presidential vote scheduled for February 2019, the prospects for a third term for the Frente are very much in doubt. They have attempted to use the existing state to make reforms that could transform the life of their base — the poor, workers and peasants. The right wing has used their still-considerable power to obstruct their efforts to deal with the formidable array of issues — poverty, crime and unemployment — that afflict the country. The result, for now, is a population angry at how little has changed and willing to take it out on the incumbents, who in this case are the left.

Upon taking office the FMLN instituted an ambitious social reform program. To name only one among many, the “Paquete Escolar” (school packet) program provides every public school student with a uniform, a pair of shoes, school supplies, plus daily a hot meal and for those in primary grades, a glass of milk. The Ministry of Education also rescinded “voluntary” fees for attendance that many schools used to make up for under-budgeting by the government, thus making public education truly free. As a result, more kids enrolled in school; students, who were better nourished, did better academically overall and since local small and medium producers received preference in furnishing the food, milk, shoes and uniforms, employment received a boost. (You can find many more examples of the FMLN’s social programs at www.cispes.org.)

Summing up their achievements, Hilary Goodfriend, a journalist based in San Salvador, wrote in Jacobin:

The FMLN’s policy progress often goes overlooked in international media coverage of El Salvador, which prefers to sensationalize gang violence and migration with little analysis of the profound structural causes of these crises. The achievements are modest in contrast with the revolutionary socialist doctrine that the party espouses, yet they offer a first response to the staggering inequality that has kept the vast majority of the Salvadoran population in conditions of misery, precarity, and marginalization for decades, if not centuries. In particular, they have countered the devastating consequences of the neoliberal model that the US-backed Right imposed upon the country over the previous twenty years. https://www.jacobinmag.com/2017/01/el-salvador-fmln-arena-peace-accords

And yet it appears that these advances have not been enough to insure their re-election. In the most recent legislative and municipal elections, held in March, the party lost six seats (giving them 18 out of 84) and now, if the right wing parties can unify, they can override a presidential veto. Similarly the Frente lost the race for Mayor in the capital, San Salvador, many major cities and in some of their traditional strongholds as well. It was a disastrous showing all in all.

Importantly though, the results do not show a shift to the right on the part of the population. ARENA picked up seats but not votes: their total was virtually unchanged from the last legislative contest three years ago. The Frente, on the other hand polled almost 30% fewer votes than they had in 2015. In this contest at least, their base stayed home. So they now have seven months to salvage the situation and repair the breach with their base or see the social progress they have been able to accomplish reversed if the right wing resumes control.

Challenges to governing

Part of the Frente’s problem lies in the right’s still formidable bases of power. While the left has the presidency, even before the recent election they never had a majority in the legislature. The right has blocked the FMLN’s initiatives and often they must compromise with the right to get anything passed. El Salvador is unique in that the center barely exists — the vast majority of political power lies at the extremes of the political spectrum. So, the Frente needed, for example, to horse trade with GANA, a right wing rival to ARENA, in order to get the budget passed.

In addition as Goodfriend has noted:

The Right maintains a firm hold on the country’s judicial system, and the Supreme Court has become a principal destabilizing force in the country, undermining FMLN governance by blocking access to crucial state income, striking down several progressive tax reforms, and wreaking havoc with the electoral system to the benefit of the FMLN’s opposition.

In this the right is following a strategy which Latin American observers often refer to as a policy of “soft coups,” resorting to legislative and judicial maneuvers to obstruct and even remove center/left governments as seen recently in Brazil, Ecuador and Paraguay.

Finally, Goodfriend notes the importance of the right’s near monopoly over the major communications media:

The country’s major television channels, radio stations, and newspapers remain consolidated in the hands of a few families with deep ties to ARENA, who have launched a full-frontal assault against the government. The Right has taken full and cynical advantage of the deeply entrenched gang-related violence that plagues the country to lambaste the government, all the while blocking funding for urgent public safety measures and comprehensive social spending to address the roots of the insecurity — roots that extend, incidentally, into the neoliberal reforms that devastated the social safety net under ARENA in the wake of the civil war.

As noted, these measures have not built the right but they have sapped the energy, confidence and resolve of the FMLN’s base — breeding cynicism that all parties are equally bad and pessimism about the Frente’s capacity to fulfill its mission. This depoliticized populace then is vulnerable to the changes in the political system forced by the Supreme Court that are restructuring it along “US” lines — campaigns driven by the personality of charismatic candidates rather than the content of party platforms and campaigning by advertising in the mass media instead of face to face contact on the local level.

Internal problems

Some regular FMLN voters (although we can only conjecture how many) stayed away from the polls because they were following a call to boycott by Nayib Bukele, former Mayor of San Salvador, who had governed as part of the Frente but was expelled by the party shortly before the vote. The party had made a Faustian bargain with Bukele, rich, young, handsome and media savvy, but not a frente militante of long standing, in a successful effort to win the mayoralty of San Salvador away from ARENA in 2014. They had done a similar maneuver with Mauricio Funes, their first successful presidential candidate in 2009, and survived the experience well enough to win the presidency again in 2014.

Bukele coveted the party’s nomination for president in 2019 and, when it was clear that he would not get it, he distanced himself politically from the program and often voiced criticism of party positions that echoed those of the right. After his expulsion, which enraged part of the FMLN’s base, he called on his supporters to boycott the vote. Many regular FMLN voters may have heeded his call and, significantly, the number of “votos nulos” (spoiled ballots) rose 300% over 2015. (It should be noted, however, that the Supreme Court has made ballot and voting procedures significantly more complicated so some of that rise may also be due to problems that voters had figuring out how to fill out the ballot correctly.)

On to 2019

Now Bukele has announced for the presidency as the candidate for a new party (“New Ideas”) trying to stake out a center position between the left and right, a sort of Salvadoran version of Clinton’s New Democrats. At this point Bukele is not yet an official candidate, and the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) is still reviewing his request to run as the candidate of GANA, the third strongest party after the FMLN and ARENA and solidly on the right. However, a poll by the University Public Opinion Institute (IUDOP) of University of Central America in May gives him an early lead. Respondents preferred New Ideas (38.5%) to ARENA (30%) with the FMLN far behind at only 8.9%. More recent but less reliable polls, show the Frente’s candidate, Hugo Martinez, bolting ahead of Bukele. And it remains to be seen how many of his supporters will be turned off by the blatant opportunism of Bukele’s attempt to run on the GANA line. But bearing in mind that a lot can change in the coming seven months, if the actual results in February 2019 mirrored these figures, then Bukele and ARENA’s Carlos Calleja would face off in a second round, and the FMLN would be left to negotiate shifting their support to Bukele from a very weak position. But everyone on the left is acutely aware that the return of ARENA would prove disastrous for the majority of the population and would threaten what the Frente has accomplished since 2009. And the popular movement, almost universally allied with the FMLN, has been jolted into action to promote the FMLN and defend their program.

A way out

The FMLN has faced difficult situations before and they may find a way to salvage this situation yet. Many of us who have stood with them throughout the long slog from guerrilla war to political power have done so for just that reason: their willingness to face up to reality no matter how unfavorable the balance of forces; to develop a realistic strategy to move forward and to carry it out with unity, organization and courage.

In fact, the right may have rendered them invaluable aid in rallying and unifying their disgruntled base. Not wanting to waste time with their legislative majority, the combined rightwing parties quickly introduced a thinly disguised water privatization law. Response by the Frente and the popular organizations was swift and militant — over the past few weeks marches protesting the deal have been a daily occurrence across the country. Twice so far, the administration of the national university has shut the campus and the combined forces of the students, faculty, staff and at least some administrators have marched on the Legislative Assembly building. During the first march, the Rector of the university was pepper-sprayed by private security guards while trying to deliver the university’s demands.

And with their typical arrogance the right parties refused to even hear the objections of the Jesuit University of Central America or the Archdiocese of San Salvador — a remarkably tone deaf move given the strong identification of much of the population with the church.

Yesenia Portillo, a CISPES activist reported from El Salvador,

The Archbishop has stated his opposition forcefully “We do not believe that private business should have majority control over [water] resources; it should be the state.” Meanwhile the Episcopal Conference issued a statement expressing, “As pastors, we are witnesses to the clamor of our people, who are calling for clean water in every home and who cannot pay the cost if this vital resource were to be turned into a commercial good subject to the rules of the market.” The alignment between the religious sector, the environmental movement and the broader social movement could play a determining factor, much as it did in the [2017] successful fight to ban gold mining in El Salvador. http://upsidedownworld.org/archives/el-salvador/water-wars-el-salvador-social-movements-resist-water-privatization/

Already the rightwing parties are distancing themselves from their water proposal — will the issue re-energize the left’s base so that they hold their criticisms in check sufficiently enough to unify around the FMLN? As Salvadorans say “vamos a ver” (we’ll see). But if the right regains the presidency the FMLN will resume its role as the voice of the opposition, the varied popular organizations defending the interests of the poor majority. They don’t have the luxury of sitting the class struggle out — they will continue to fight regardless.

David Grosser is a member of CISPES and Solidarity in Boston. To learn more about how people in the US can support the struggles against water privatization and for fair elections in El Salvador go to www.cispes.org.

Nicaragua’s Popular Rebellion Stopped — For Now

Dan La Botz

August 2018

What is the state of the popular rebellion in Nicaragua? What brought about the rebellion? Who is involved in the rebellion? Who are the most important national and international actors? And what is the nature of the Left’s debate over Nicaragua?

President Daniel Ortega’s government has succeeded — for now — in stopping the Nicaragua’s popular rebellion after four months of the most severe repression, including killings, kidnappings, and torture of the regime’s opponents by both the police and paramilitary forces.

During the months of June and July the Ortega government dispatched police and paramilitary forces to take the university campuses, towns and cities such as Masaya, and Managua neighborhoods held by the opposition, killing dozens of people, kidnapping others, wounding scores, and arresting and torturing many. The best estimate is that more than 300 have been killed and thousands wounded, but no hard numbers are available. (1) Ortega’s renewed offensive against what were at first largely peaceful protestors has succeeded for the moment in paralyzing the opposition, though the country continues to seethe.

During the last few months, in addition to violence, Ortega used a variety of other tactics to defeat the movement. To combat the business class with which he has collaborated since the 1990s, Ortega — who through three recent presidential terms had no interest in land redistribution — sent his followers to seize and occupy some lands held by his wealthy opponents, most of whom make their money in agriculture. Ortega also lashed out at the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, with which he had an alliance for many years, but which is now on his enemies list because of its support for the opposition. He has called Nicaraguan Catholic leaders co-conspirators in a “coup” aimed at overthrowing him.

Ordinary citizens and working people who joined the democratic protests and then what became a popular and peaceful rebellion are being fired from government jobs, and a number have been arrested, accused of “terrorism,” and jailed. For example, doctors and professors of medicine in the public universities and hospitals are being fired for participating in anti-government protests. The students who were among the first to protest have born the brunt of the violence throughout, dozens being killed, wounded, or tortured. As former Sandinista Oscar René Vargas put it, “The government is trying to decapitate the social movements by arresting local leaders and anyone who has criticized the [government’s] violence against the people.” We are in the “Pinochet phase of the regime,” (2) he said referring to the military dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet of Chile from 1973-90, who imprisoned and murdered hundreds of leftists associated with the former government of Salvador Allende, which was overthrown by the 1973 coup that Pinochet led. There could hardly be a stronger condemnation of a government by a Latin American leftist.

Following up on the months of violence and the suppression of the opposition, as the government’s mopping up operation against its opponents went on, Ortega used the July 19 anniversary celebration of the 1979 revolution against the Somoza dynastic dictatorship to mobilize his supporters, though many attended out of fear of being fired from government jobs or attacked by his paramilitary forces. In reality, Ortega’s masked paramilitary thugs — whom he refers to as “voluntary police” — have become for the moment his principal source of power. As in so many other parts of the world, we now have government by a dictator and his gangsters. Still, most Nicaraguans appear to remain opposed to Ortega and the government’s repression of the rebellion. The recent events have created a whole series of economic, social, and political problems — interruption of agricultural production, the collapse of tourism, and international condemnation of the regime — that will not easily be resolved. The popular rebellion may only have been a rehearsal for a revolution, but only time will answer that.

Mass protest against the government of Daniel Ortega, Managua, May 31, 2018
Photo: EFE/J. Torres

The Ortega Regime: Neoliberal Dictatorship

How did things get to this point? The Daniel Ortega government, as I have explained in my book What Went Wrong? The Nicaraguan Revolution: A Marxist Analysis, has its roots in the revolution of 1979 that overthrew the Somoza dynasty. Modeling themselves on Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, and the Cuban Revolution, Ortega and the other leaders of the Sandinista Front for National Liberation (FSLN) who overthrew the Somoza dictatorship wanted to create a new one-party state that controlled absolutely both politics and the national economy, but both the U.S.-backed Contra (counter-revolutionary) war against the FSLN government and divisions within Nicaraguan society made that impossible.

The threat from the United States of continued war drove Nicaraguans in 1990 to vote for the opposition coalition of Violeta Chamorro, who became president. Daniel Ortega first formed an alliance with Chamorro’s son-in-law Antonio Lacayo, and then gradually made peace and then formed a de facto partnership with Nicaragua’s corrupt Liberal and Conservative parties, with the country’s capitalist class, and with the rightwing head of the Catholic hierarchy, Miguel Obando y Bravo. From the 1990 election until 2006, Daniel Ortega and his conservative allies were the powers behind the throne, wielding enormous power during the presidencies of rightwingers Arnoldo Alemán and Enrique Bolaños.

Finally in 2006 Ortega succeeded in winning election to the presidency once again (he had served as president during the war in the 1980s). He consolidated his hold on the government, taking control not only of the presidency, but also of the legislature, and the Supreme Court, as well as controlling social organizations and NGOs, and buying up television stations. Ortega imposed neoliberal economic policies aimed at attracting and maintaining domestic, U.S. and other foreign investment by suppressing maquiladora labor unions and keeping wages low. Nicaragua became integrated into the U.S.-dominated North American economy, selling half its products to the United States. At the same time, Ortega established a partnership with the U.S. government, collaborating with the U.S. military, U.S. Navy, and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency. Nicaraguan continued to be dependent upon U.S., Venezuelan, and other international aid, but still remained one of the poorest countries in Latin America. Changes were made in the Constitution to permit Ortega to run for a third consecutive term, and with the traditional political tools of fear and favors, he won election again in 2011 and then 2016 with his wife Rosario Murillo as his vice-presidential running mate.

The Resistance

Ortega had for years harassed his political opponents, sending his FSLN thugs to beat them when they campaigned against his party. He also worked to discredit and to destroy independent social movements, especially the feminist movement. Large-scale opposition to Ortega began in 2014 with his plan to build an interoceanic canal financed by a Chinese capitalist. Farmers and environmentalists began to protest against the canal; on several occasions police confronted and beat some of them. When in April of this year Ortega announced a reform of social security, both business groups and pensioners objected, and the latter took to the streets to protest. When the elderly protestors were pushed around by police, students came out to join them. Ortega’s forces then shot some of the students, and a few weeks later when mourning mothers led the Mother’s Day demonstration, Ortega’s police and paramilitary fired on them too. The Catholic Church attempted to organize a national dialogue, but Ortega stonewalled the discussions, while the opposition had become intransigent in its demand that he and his wife-vice-president step down.

The Nicaraguan popular rebellion of this spring and early summer developed as a broad multi-class movement — students, retirees, farmers, working people and businesspeople, religious and lay people — a broad democratic movement that lacked a common political program. The strongest organization with the clearest political ideas — fundamentally conservative, pro-capitalist ideas — is COSEP (Consejo Superior de la Empresa Privada en Nicaragua), the leading business organization. The Catholic Church is also powerful, though it is historically divided into the conservative hierarchy, a theology of liberation current led by some university professors and parish priests, and the mass of pious believers. Students created several organizations, but they have had a tenuous existence because of the government persecution of student activists. Now it seems that some students have begun to sort themselves out politically and a student “left” could be emerging, (3) though exactly what they think is still not clear.The farmers’ movement has been largely limited to those fighting to defends lands directly affected by the proposed transoceanic canal.

There do exist social movements — environmentalists and feminists — among the educated middle class, but because of government persecution over the last decade or more, they remain small and marginal to the society as a whole. Because Ortega’s FSLN controlled the industrial and agricultural unions, there is virtually no independent labor movement. While there is no independent working class movement, working people have been very active in the opposition movement. Two left opposition groups with social democratic politics do exist, the Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS) and the Movement to Rescue Sandinismo (MPRS), both of which broke with Ortega and the FSLN years ago, but they never succeeded in finding a following among the increasingly alienated and politically apathetic public. And because Ortega’s FSLN has discredited the idea of socialism and repressed rival democratic socialist currents, it is not surprising that aside from the MRS and the MPRS there is no left to speak of in the movement. The result is that the popular rebellion has been a democratic movement fighting against dictatorship, but its constituent members have failed to create clear political programs. There is, however, the possibility that the democratic struggle could open up a social struggle that would create a new left, while in any case many believe that even a more democratic bourgeois regime would be superior to Ortega’s dictatorship.

The popular rebellion’s activists occupied university campuses, barricaded themselves in Managua neighborhoods, and fortified their villages and towns. Opponents set up something like 150 roadblocks throughout the country, bringing the economy to a virtual halt. They also organized at least two general strikes that paralyzed the country for a day or more. Whenever possible they took to the streets again and again in massive protest demonstrations against the government, marching even as sharpshooters fired on them, killing dozens. Attacked by the police and paramilitaries, some opponents fabricated weapons or took them from the police and fought back. So the violence continued until Ortega’s police and paramilitaries eventually succeeded in stopping if not entirely eradicating the largely peaceful rebellion. (4)  

International Actors

The popular rebellion and its violent suppression, which had interrupted the economies of all of Central America and raised the specter of revolution or reaction, led international actors to become involved. The United States government, which has dominatedthe Caribbean and Central America since 1900 or earlier had been happy enough with Ortega until quite recently. U.S. organizations such as USAID and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), and no doubt the CIA had for decades, of course, worked in Nicaragua as they do everywhere in the world. It would take a few months, however, before President Donald J. Trump’s State Department began to see the rebellion against Ortega as an opportunity perhaps to establish an even more pliant government, though it did so gradually and cautiously.

In May, messaging on Twitter, Vice-President Mike Pence condemned the Nicaraguan government’s violence, but only demanded that the Ortega government protect its citizens and their rights. (5) Speaking at the Organization of American States on June 4, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said:

In Nicaragua police and government-controlled armed groups have killed dozens, merely for peacefully protesting. I echo what Vice President Pence said in this very building on May 7th: “We join with nations around the world in demanding that Ortega Government [respond] to the Nicaraguan people’s demands for the democratic reform and hold accountable those responsible for violence.” The United States supports the work of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and what it is doing in Nicaragua, and strongly urges the Nicaraguan Government to implement the recommendations issued by the commission this past May 21st. (6)

Still there was no general condemnation of the Ortega government, only a call for reform. The United States appeared to support the call made by Nicaraguan business and the Church for early elections.

Ironically the Trump administration behaves as if it were a defender of democracy and freedom. Trump's government issued a general condemnation of the regime did not come until late July, and even thensimply called for an end to violence, for dialogue, and for fair elections:

The United States strongly condemns the ongoing violence in Nicaragua and human rights abuses committed by the Ortega regime in response to protests. After years of fraudulent elections and the regime’s manipulation of Nicaraguan law – as well as the suppression of civil society, opposition parties, and independent media – the Nicaraguan people have taken to the streets to call for democratic reforms. These demands have been met with indiscriminate violence, with more than 350 dead, thousands injured, and hundreds of citizens falsely labeled “coup-mongers” and “terrorists” who have been jailed, tortured, or who have gone missing. President Ortega and Vice President Murillo are ultimately responsible for the pro-government parapolice that have brutalized their own people.

The United States stands with the people of Nicaragua, including members of the Sandinista party, who are calling for democratic reforms and an end to the violence. Free, fair, and transparent elections are the only avenue toward restoring democracy in Nicaragua. We support the Catholic Church-led National Dialogue process for good faith negotiations. (7)

The Trump administration limited sanctions to personal sanctions against Ortega, Murillo, and Francisco Díaz, head of the national police, (8) and to a revocation of the visas of Nicaraguan government officials and their families. (9)

While the Trump administration’s public statements remained mild, there is no doubt that the U.S. State Department, Republican Senators and Representatives, and rightwing organizations were deepening their contacts with conservative elements in Nicaragua and exploring political alternatives to the continued rule of Ortega. The Republicans put forward and the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution criticizing the Ortega government. (10) Republican members of Congress invited Nicaraguan students to meet with them in Washington while the students were there to speak before international organizations and human rights groups. All of this is, of course, standard practice of the U.S. government, which works everywhere in the Americas (and for that matter throughout the world) to shape international developments, even if it did not initiate them and cannot control them.

In response to the U.S. government’s pressure, Daniel Ortega gave an interview to Fox News, the one TV channel that Donald Trump always watches, no doubt with the goal of speaking directly to the U.S. president. (11) Ortega denied that the government had been violently repressing its citizens and claimed that on the contrary it was the popular rebellion that had unleashed the violence and attacked “Sandinista families.” Historian Alejandro Bendaña suggested that Ortega’s goal was to convince Trump that if his government fell there would be chaos in Nicaragua and possibly more migrants to the United Staes. Trump, however, did not tweet any response to Ortega. (12)

The Organization of American States (OAS) debated Nicaragua and passed a resolution, sponsored by the United States and several Latin American nations, that similarly called on the government to protect its citizens, to enter into dialogue, and to hold early elections. (13) The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights issued on July 17 a very strong condemnation of the Nicaraguan government together with specific details of human rights violations and demanded that the government follow international law and protect its citizens. (I urge readers to consult the statement via the link in the footnotes). (14) Members of the European Parliament passed a non-legislative resolution on May 31 denouncing “the decline in democracy and the rule of law in Nicaragua over the last decade, as well as increased corruption, often involving relatives of President Daniel Ortega.” The resolution passed by 536 votes to 39, with 53 abstentions. (15)

The United States worked to coordinate the international responses to the Nicaraguan crisis, but it appeared to aim principally at a gradual transition through early elections. (16) Early elections would give the United States time to work with conservative parties and business groups in Nicaragua to construct a political coalition and find a conservative candidate for president who would serve U.S. interests. The aims of the Nicaraguan business class, the Church hierarchy, and the United States government happen to coincide, but they do not represent the interests of the students, pensioners, farmers, environmentalists and feminists, and working people fighting for democracy.

The Popular Rebellion and the Left

The Nicaraguan popular rebellion has been the subject of a debate between the democratic left, which has supported it, and the neo-Stalinist left, which has backed the dictator Ortega. Kevin Zeese and Max Blumenthal wrote many articles, sent many tweets, and gave many interviews in which they alleged that the United States had orchestrated an attempted coup in Nicaragua. They and other authors like them offered as evidence the historical record of U.S. imperialism in Latin America (which is indisputable) and the long-term and well-known role of U.S. agencies such as USAID and NED in attempting to strengthen conservative forces, and they quoted the words or rightwing Republican representatives and suggested with no actual proof the existence of a CIA plot. What they did not do was discuss the actual nature of the Ortega government and its authoritarian and conservative policies; in fact they seemed to know little about recent Nicaraguan developments. (17)

Many of my generation, the generation of 1968, who supported the Nicaraguan revolution of 1979 (as I did), may have found these arguments appealing, reflecting as they did the situation forty years ago, but not only do they have little factual or logical merit, but they are based on a specious reasoning that denigrates ordinary people and idolizes strongmen. Such arguments are based upon three fundamental suppositions:

1) Nicaraguans and other Latin Americans cannot have legitimate grievances against the “Leftists” governments and would any case be incapable of creating their own movement, so they must be manipulated by some other force;

2) the United States masterminds and controls all political developments in Latin America from Argentina and Brazil to Venezuela and Nicaragua, and it is the real force behind any apparent popular opposition;

3) existing “anti-imperialist” governments (Russia, Syria, Nicaragua), whatever their character, must be supported against the world’s only imperialist nation, the United States.

These arguments can only appeal to those who have no understanding of the complexity of international political developments, of a world where, for example, people can organize themselves, a left can develop critical of a so-called leftist government, and the United States, powerful as it is, cannot always call the shots. That these authors provide shameful support for an authoritarian, capitalist government murdering hundreds and wounding thousands of its citizens is not surprising, given their support for Vladimir Putin’s regime in Russia, Iran’s theocratic dictatorship, and Assad’s dictatorship in Syria. Zeese and Blumenthal represent what writer Rohini Hensman has called a neo-Stalinist current that came out of the left but now has little that is even vaguely leftists about it. (18)   

Fortunately, the international democratic left has rallied in defense of the Nicaraguan people’s rebellion. Noam Chomsky spoke out against Ortega’s “authoritarian” government on Democracy Now. (19) Dozens of leftist intellectuals and political activists  principally from Europe and Latin America signed a statement strongly condemning the Ortega governments and containing these demands:

The unconditional release of all political prisoners; the transfer of information from the authorities to human rights organizations about the real situation of the persons declared missing; disarmament of the paramilitary army organized by Ortega and his government; an independent international investigation into the various forms and facets of repression, with appropriate sanctions; the constitution of a transitional government — with a limited mandate, — leading to free elections; and the end of the Ortega-Murillo government. (20)

The international democratic and revolutionary left by and large shares the view presented in this article, that Nicaragua has experienced a popular rebellion against a dictator, and that the Ortega government should be condemned and the popular movement supported.


While the popular rebellion developed in their homeland, many Nicaraguans rallied to support it, but now some fear that that solidarity with their compatriots may put them in danger. There are 5,300 Nicaraguans living in the United States who have Temporary Protective Status (TPS), which provides them with temporary residence and work authorization. The Trump administration plans to end TPS for Nicaraguans in January 2019. If Nicaraguans return to their country in January 2019, all of them will face a potentially dangerous situation, Some who have been supporting the rebellion from here may also face reprisals when they return, which, based on recent experience, might include imprisonment, torture, or worse. We as socialists should support the Nicaraguan community in the United States should it call for an extension of Nicaraguan TPS.

The first stage of the Nicaraguan popular rebellion of 2018 has ended, and whether or not there will be a second stage depends upon many factors: Ortega’s ability to keep the movement down, the ability of the movement to regroup and reorganize, the role of the U.S. government in attempting to shape a new government to its liking, and our ability to show solidarity with the Nicaraguan popular movement. Our positions should be clear:

Ortega must go. The U.S. must keep out. The popular movement must be supported.

This article appeared fist on the New Politics website on August 1, 2018.


  1. Reports of the repression can be found at the Nicaraguan Human Rights Center at: https://www.cenidh.org/; at the Amnesty International site searching Nicaragua: https://www.amnestyusa.org/search/Nicaragua/;  at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) at: http://www.oas.org/en/iachr/reports/pdfs/Nicaragua2018-en.pdf
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  2. Lucia Navas, “Oscar René Vargas: regimen pasa “a fase pinochetista” contra protesta,” La Prensa, https://www.laprensa.com.ni/2018/07/27/politica/2453383-oscar-rene-vargas-regimen-pasa-fase-pinochetista-contra-protesta
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  3. Lori Hanson and Miguel Gomez, “Deciphering the Nicaraguan Student Uprising/ Descifrando el levantamiento estudiantil nicaragüense,” NACLA (website), at: https://nacla.org/news/2018/07/03/deciphering-nicaraguan-student-uprising-descifrando-el-levantamiento-estudiantil
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  4. I have discussed this in other articles–http://newpol.org/content/support-popular-rebellion-nicaragua-%E2%80%93-oppose-us-intervention and http://newpol.org/content/nicaragua-where-rebellion-going and http://newpol.org/content/are-we-eve-another-nicaraguan-revolution–and most important in this article which is a kind of summary of my book: http://newpol.org/content/daniel-ortega-nicaraguas-nov-6-election-and-betrayal-revolution
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  5. Pence on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/vp/status/1002312027598217216?lang=en
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  6. U.S. State Department, “Remarks at the General Assembly of the OAS,” at: https://www.state.gov/secretary/remarks/2018/06/282938.htm
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  7. “Statement of the Press Secretary on Nicaragua, at: https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefings-statements/statement-press-secretary-nicaragua-2/
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  8. Catie Edmondson, “U.S. Imposes Sanctions on 3 Top Nicaraguan Officials After Violent Crackdown,” New York Times, at: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/05/us/politics/us-nicaragua-sanctions.html
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  9. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-nicaragua-protests-usa/us-revokes-visas-of-nicaragua-officials-over-violence-against-protesters-idUSKBN1KK1OW
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  10. House Foreign Affairs Committee, “House Condemns Ortega Regime’s Violence in Nicaragua,” at: https://foreignaffairs.house.gov/press-release/house-condemns-ortega-regimes-violence-in-nicaragua/
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  11. “Daniel Ortega on Fox News” at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y7Oxprcai-g
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  12. Alejandro Bendaña on Esta Noche, at: https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/#search/fred+murphy+watch/164d2a13cd9c3a5b?projector=1
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  13. OAS statement on Nicargua at; http://www.oas.org/en/media_center/press_release.asp?sCodigo=E-048/18 This was the vote: The resolution was approved with 21 votes in favor (Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, United States, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Dominican Republic, Saint Lucia, Uruguay, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, The Bahamas, Brazil, Canada, Chile), 3 against (Nicaragua, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Venezuela), 7 abstentions (El Salvador, Grenada, Haiti, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, Belize) and three absences (Dominica, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Bolivia).
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  14. UN High Commissioner for Hunan Rights statement on Nicaragua at: https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=23383&LangID=E
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  15. EU Parliament News, “Nicaragua: MEPs condemn brutal repression and demand elections,” at: http://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/press-room/20180524IPR04239/nicaragua-meps-condemn-brutal-repression-and-demand-elections
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  16. “U.S. Calls for Early elections in Nicaragua,” at: https://www.univision.com/univision-news/latin-america/us-calls-for-early-elections-in-nicaragua-as-national-dialogue-awaits-ortegas-response
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  17. Zeese and Blumenthal’s articles, interviews, and tweets can be found by searching their last names together with Nicaragua in Google.
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  18. Rohini Hensman, Indefensible: Democracy, Counterrevolution, and the Rhetoric of Anti-Imperialism (Chicago: Haymarket, 2018).
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  19. Chomsky, Democracy Now, at: https://www.democracynow.org/2018/7/27/chomsky_criticizes_autocratic_nicaraguan_government_urges
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  20. “Standing Against State Violence in Nicaragua,” Socialist Worker, July 30, at: https://socialistworker.org/2018/07/30/standing-against-state-violence-in-nicaragua
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Two articles on Honduras

Vicki Cervantes

We round out our set of articles on Central America with two articles on Honduras by Vicki Cervantes from Against the Current, Honduras: U.S. Support for Repression & Fraud and Honduras Since the 2009 Coup. Vicki Cervantes is coordinator in North America for the Honduras Solidarity Network.

Tegucigalpa protest, December 2, 2017
Vicki Cervantes

Honduras: U.S. Support for Repression & Fraud

RIGHT-WING HONDURAN PRESIDENT Juan Orlando Hernandez (JOH) was inaugurated in a January 7, 2018 ceremony in a nearly empty National Stadium in the capital Tegucigalpa. Since the stolen election of November 26, 2017, the country had been totally militarized to protect his fraudulent victory — with a death toll of more than 34 killed by military and police.

The anti-dictatorship movement and organizations declared a civic insurrection, vowing that Honduras would be ungovernable. Hernandez’s authority will not be recognized by the citizenry.

Not surprisingly, the fraudulent election and subsequent repression were ignored by the U.S. government. The Trump Administration congratulated Hernandez for his “election victory,” confirming Washington’s support for the dictatorship. Hernandez is especially close to the Southern Command of the U.S. Military, to Donald Trump’s White House Chief of Staff General John F. Kelly, and to far rightwing forces in the United States and Latin America….

Honduras Since the 2009 Coup

ON NOVEMBER 26, 2017 national and local elections are scheduled in Honduras. This will be the third election since the U.S.-supported coup of June 28, 2009. Although more than eight years have passed, both resistance and repression continue. In fact the current coup regime led by President Juan Orlando Hernandez has hardened and tried to institutionalize dictatorship.

As this is being written, news arrives of arrests and serious charges filed against 14 community members of a poor area of Choluteca for opposing land grabs to build a solar energy plant; 28 small farmers in the northern Agujn Valley criminalized for trying to keep and work their land; and 31 university students and three human rights defenders facing jail after government attacks on student protests in Tegucigalpa.

This is not unusual, as repression and even violence including assassinations are a weekly if not daily occurrence….