Civic struggles are eroding the power of authoritarian and unpopular regimes. From Hong Kong to Sudan, from Algeria to Moscow, from Puerto Rico to Nicaragua, all have in common the predominance of mobilizations of the population demanding political change. In some, such as Sudan, Algeria and Puerto Rico, they cast out rulers who became power remnants and are in the process of building transitional government options.
In others— including Hong Kong, Russia and Nicaragua—the struggle continues despite the fierce repression they face. In all, the civic struggle continues to walk on the edge of the abyss of an unbridled violence, especially in countries like ours with a cyclical tradition of civil wars or easy recourse to arms.
For a few years talking about the advantages of non-violent struggle against the violent one makes it obligatory to mention the work of Maria Stephan and Erica Chenoweth, “Why civil resistance works: the strategic logic of nonviolent conflicts.” The work makes a historical review of 323 resistance movements between 1900 and 2006, in which it compares the results achieved either by violent (armed) or non-violent (civic) ways.
Roughly speaking, the central theses are that the commitment with nonviolent methods of civic struggle strengthens their national and international legitimacy and encourages broader social participation in the resistance. Both factors become a major pressure against the oppressors. But not only that; regimes have more and more problems each time to quell non-violent demonstrations, and repressive measures become increasingly counterproductive to themselves.
Some data at hand, both authors conclude that in 53% of the cases of nonviolent struggles reached their objectives, while only 26% of violent options achieved it. And although nonviolent protests seem to be twice as successful as violent protests, it can also be said that 47% of the first failed.
Without going beyond the norm, Nicaragua presents some peculiarities, either because of its history, or because of the characteristics of the blocks in conflict, government and rebellious population. As is well known, the history of Nicaragua is a chain of conflicts that derived easily into armed movements; an ocean of civil wars with small islets of peaceful coexistence.
Historian Antonio Esgueva documents that between 1821 and 1979, a total of 16 heads of state abandoned their position by force of arms. In other words, in 158 years of republican life, a chief of State was overthrown by armed movements—not including attempts—an average of every 10 years. This means that the history of Nicaragua demonstrates that armed actions has had a high degree of effectiveness.
But in 2018 a link in the chain of armed movements against authoritarian regimes was broken. That of Ortega, who seemed unstoppable in the consolidation of his hegemony got stuck, his model of consensus with big capital collapsed, and he was forced to remove the mask of dialogue to put on the paramilitary balaclava.
On the other hand, despite the clearly armed response of the regime, the side of the rebellion opted predominantly for civic demonstrations. I underline predominantly because it cannot be ignored that some people resorted to weapons, short and long caliber, to defend themselves or to avenge the deaths caused by the repressors. However, neither in the terms of violent struggle raised by Stephan and Chenoweth, nor in the comparative aspect can it be affirmed that there was a proportional confrontation between two armed groups. The protest movement against the dictatorship, although it has used homemade mortars, stones and barricades, cannot be described as violent.
For reasons that it are not yet possible to identify clearly, in the opinion of the people who took to the streets permeated the spirit of nonviolence, and the danger of hurling ourselves into a new civil war was conjured. The immediate consequences were the same as both researchers pointed out: a growing legitimacy within the country and overwhelming outside the borders, and a broad and heterogeneous participation of the population that recognized itself as rebellious.
In the absence of a guiding leadership and, why not say it, without sources of support to promote a generalized armed uprising, the discourse of the civic route was imposed in the middle of the spontaneity, voluntarism and lack of control that accompanied the self-organized initiatives. There was no nonviolence strategy formulated by the various sectors and territories that rose up, although there were renowned voices calling to avoid a civil war.
It could be affirmed that the need to contain state repression with bare hands became virtue (and creativity). The option for de facto non-violence prevailed, more intuitive than calculated that its main vehicle was the massive demonstrations, but also its moralizing factor.
However, the escalation of repression and especially the prohibition of marches have called into question the validity of the civic route, in the same direction that the dictatorship tries to continue pushing every day with selective murders in rural areas, with the shameless harassment to the former political prisoners and those that have come back (from exile), and with its campaigns that try to sell uselessly an official truth of what happened presenting the insurgents as terrorists.
To this civic discouragement has also contributed the prolongation of the conflict and its direct repercussion, the frustration of the most triumphant expectations that saw an imminent fall of El Carmen [the presidential bunker]. And frustration is the worst advisor to keep the bow in the direction of nonviolent solutions.
Faced with such precariousness, it is worth asking what will happen in the next repressive onslaught of the dictatorship? Will the imprint of history prevail or will the new non-violent tendencies in the political struggle be sustained despite its recent and weak foothold? For the latter to happen and not be hostages of our history, we have to renew our unarmed proposals, and reconstruct the discourse(s) with the arguments and proposals in favor of the nonviolent end of a regime as criminal and despicable as “Ortega-Murillo’s.”
Experiences inside and outside Nicaragua show that there are no lasting changes possible against the majority wishes of the population certified in a fair and transparent manner. Before that, freedom will have to be restored and guarantee the safe return of the exiles. Truth and justice will come latter.
Only in this way will we prevent our struggle from falling into the 47% void that ends in failure. Neither the memory of those killed, nor the repair of so much damage caused by torture, injuries and forced exile deserve less, even if the path of nonviolence is arduous and complex.