The reforms to the Nicaraguan Institute of Social Security (INSS) law imposed by President Daniel Ortega, substantially increasing employer and employee contributions, and applying an illegal pension tax on current retirees and a decrease in future pensions, has generated a wave of unexpected protests.
For a decade, Ortega has imposed an institutional dictatorship, a State-Party-Family regime that concentrates all the powers of the State, including the Army and the Police, and promises a social order, combining economic stability with selective repression and co-opting.
The absolute control of power, which he only shares with his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, has allowed him to quell political demands over electoral fraud and peasant protests against the unsuccessful interoceanic canal megaproject.
One of the pillars of support of the regime is its alliance with the big business sector to whom it grants investment opportunities, in a scheme of co-government in the economic aspects, without transparency or democracy. The other has been the discretionary use of the Venezuelan assistance totaling more than 4 billion US dollars, granted by Chavismo [the governments of Hugo Chavez and Nicolas Maduro] -the greatest and most blatant act of corruption in Nicaraguan history-, which began to diminish two years ago.
When the years of “fat cows” ended, the announced fiscal crisis arrived. Last Wednesday Ortega approved, without calculating the consequences, a package of measures to extract more than 250 million dollars -1.5% of the Gross Domestic Product-, to avoid the bankruptcy of social security, which has been aggravated by the corruption of his Government.
The business organizations rejected the measures warning that by imposing the reform measures unilaterally, the government broke the mechanism of “dialogue and consensus”, with contractionary policies that will generate unemployment, loss of competitiveness, and economic instability. The demand raises new questions about the future of this relationship, which has been crucial in granting legitimacy to an authoritarian regime, which eliminated any counterweight of the political opposition.
The magnitude of the popular reaction came without warning, when a group of young university students and dozens of elderly called, on their own, a peaceful protest against the blow to the population’s finances. The brutality of the repression unleashed by the government’s shock forces, protected by the police, generated a state of indignation, fueled by the images of wounded youth and adults, and journalists beaten and robbed of their equipment.
Although it controls most of the television channels, the regime imposed censorship and suspended the signal in the cable service of channel 100% Noticias [and its live coverage of events]. A day later, new protests erupted at several universities that used to be political bastion of the Ortega regime, and spread to Masaya, Esteli, Matagalpa, Leon, Chinandega and other cities across the country.
The protest without visible leaders or organizations that summon it, has left at least 19 dead, among them a policeman, and scores of injured. The initial rejection of the social security reform took on the accumulated political grievances against the regime: authoritarianism, repression, and corruption that the presidential couple symbolizes.
The general slogan “we are not afraid” and the destruction of the omnipresent symbols of the regime – the First Lady’s huge metallic trees and the mega billboards that worship the personality of Ortega and Murillo – clearly define the banners of this protest in demand for freedom, democracy, and political participation to end a dictatorship.
In five days of spontaneous popular rebellion, Ortega and his backers lost the monopoly of control of the streets, and showed that the regime can only be sustained in power through criminal repression. His political system of authoritarian control, including the alliance with Cosep (Private Enterprise Council) to negotiate behind closed doors all the country’s economic and social issues, has been questioned from the root, by a new popular and national legitimacy, dyed with the blood of victims innocent.
The call of the private sector organizations Cosep, Amcham, Conimipyme, to a peaceful march on Monday in rejection of violence, is a necessary but insufficient step to promote a way out of the national crisis. To dialogue, not behind closed doors, but in an inclusive national debate with international witnesses and guarantors, at least four prerequisites are required:
– The immediate cessation of paramilitary and police repression and the punishment of those responsible for the repression.
– The dismissal of the Police Chief Aminta Granera and the de-facto director of the Police, Francisco Diaz.
– The repeal of presidential decree reforming the Social Security laws.
-The separation of Dr. Roberto Lopez from his position as executive president of the INSS.
Only after meeting these minimum requirements will there be conditions for the installation of a national dialogue, never again the closed-door negotiations with Cosep, to restore the right of all actors in society to participate in a national debate, which must begin with the integral reform of the INSS and the restitution of its autonomy, and end with political and electoral reform.
It is useless to try to predict the outcome of this crisis if the government continues to resort to repression, the only sure thing, for now, is that after the announced Social Security reforms there will be a Before and After, a true watershed in the relations between the Ortega dictatorship and Nicaraguan society.