This is really just to try it out, but a lot more should be coming henceforth. I’m running around Nicaragua with this really nifty camera/microphone combination, and although I have some 13h of footage, the editing situation has been pretty crummy and I have had to put the various bits and pieces of software together myself to get a working toolchain.
However, this ended up being used in Nicaraguan national TV by two stations. It’s some footage I took the other day, when a political party, the Movimiento Renovador Sandinista and the students at the UNAN university clashed together here in Leon the other day. For the MRS, the militant Dora María Telléz had planned to speak at the university that day, and simultaneously the students decided to take over the university for the day in protest against the late payment of scholarships. The MRS recently lost its license to run in the upcoming local elections, and have therefore been calling the country a dictatorship. When students blocked the entrance on June 29th, they again expected for the president and his FSLN-party to be behind it all.
Sandinismo in Nicaragua is a wide term. That doesn’t mean it’s content-less, certainly there are some boundaries as to what can still be counted as Sandinism and what is outside of it. But it certainly is so wast that it’s not enough for one political party.
Currently, the other Sandinista party, the Movimiento Renovador Sandinista (MRS), is about to loose its “juridical person” which generally means their license to participate in the upcoming elections this fall. For the next ones, in 2011, they will likely be able to get it back again. Although the decision to do so is made by the Corte Supremo Electoral ad not by the president, the FSLN, the Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional is generally quite positive towards taking away their chance to run.
But who are the MRS? Already in the 1970s did the FSLN split up into various fractions. The members of the Guerra Prolungada group believed that a revolution had to be won by organizing the peasantry and to organize the peasantry before everything else. Those adhering to the view of the Proletariana fraction stayed in the cities, trying to organize the working class. The last group, the terceristas, tried out a combination of making fronts against the Somoza dictatorship together with dissatisfied sections of the bourgeoisie and flexible insurrections/actions wherever most convenient ad with the greatest effect.
Daniel Ortega was a tercerista. And so, it is said where most of those who later on became members of the MRS. But back in the 1970s, they all held together, in spite of their differences. Maybe it was exactly because of their different strategies that they won. Until 1990, the country was largely ruled by the FSLN-leadership, in which each of the three fractions had three representatives.
The background of the FSLN was always universitarian, like so many social movements. But not everybody was so focused on the universities. After their election defeat, the differences clearly showed and a major opposition force left the party and founded the MRS in 1994. The difference in opinion/criticism was based on several factors. Generally, the long term of “presidentialism” without a proper constitution up until 1987 was criticized. Secondly, the redistribution of land had meant that people had been given land who “didn’t know how to exploit it.” And thirdly, a war had been started and elections been lost. Also, in the very end of the presidential term after the elections were lost, a lot of property had changed hands very rapidly. Also this was criticized.
However, it is fair to ask what exactly the problem with presidentialism is, if their is a high level of citizen participation in everyday politics and generally democratic and democratizing structures. After all, the 1984 elections were the most democratic the country had seen hitherto. And the redistribution of land to those without would by definition mean that land would be handed over to people without initial knowledge of how to cultivate it.
Governing from below
However, the min complaint the MRS-founders had with the other Sandinistas was the way they behaved after election defeat. Because instead of just giving up all power and waiting for the next elections, Ortega & co. continued what they called to “govern from below.” That meant that they gave up all state institutions to the new government, but didn’t give up organizing the people. A lot of the state structure had simply become so closely linked to Sandinismo, that it wouldn’t operate under a right-wing government. This was everything from organized citizenship groups, labor/trade unions to youth movements.
The FSLN had with this taken a dual approach of a Marxist-Leninst party model of well-educated and schooled cadres with an inclusive approach towards the general citizenship by providing a whole range of organization that were directly incorporated into the state apparatus and who had formal rights of active participation in the decision-making process. In terms of reaching lots of people this worked quite successfully — for example the Comitees de Defensa Sandinista (CDS) organized some 500,000 Nicaraguans at one point (total Nicaraguan population: somewhere in the 5,000,000 range)
The later founders of the MRS now called to change all this and instead to use a social-democratic party model in which anyone who wants can just join the main party and one recruits to the main party only, and to have a clear distinction between state and party.
So in 1994, the MRS parted ways with the FSLN. The majority of the MPs switched to the new party, but at the next general eletions they received only some 1.33% of the vote and got 1 of 91 MPs. Rather ironically, this group that caled for the establishment of a mass party can hardly ever have been called a mass party nor has ever had any succes in challenging the FSLN on this issue. 2001-2006, they again joined the MRS in the form of a alliance, but when their candidate for president lost internally, they left and allied themselves instead with a number of smaller progressive parties. When the question of whether abortions in case that the life of the woman involved was threatened came up fall 2006, it was the MRS who was the only clear outspoken group going against illegalization.
The MRS now
The way I got to know the MRS first was through my contacts to students. The one area in which the MRS has proven to be capable of gaining support is the student body. However not exactly this time around.
At local demonstrations they hold here in León, hardly more than their own 20-30 members show up. And generally they have been more comfortable with speaking to the right-wing opposition than to the FSLN. The other guy in the video who speaks besides Tellez, is Alejandro Bolaños Davis — ex deputy for the conservative party who lost his seat because he held US citizenship besides the Nicaraguan one and people with dual citizenship are not allowed to run in Nicaraguan elections. So no matter what, this guy should not be able to run. Yet, these images are meant for the international media, and such factor are just too complicated to explain there, so they let him just protest with them there.
I must admit, after having hung around with the MRS for the past month or so — of course I do not agree with them losing their license to run, but the level of corruption, of un-professionalism and just generally their political outlook (which pretty much is reducible to more liberal trade) are not something I could ever personally support.