Nicaragua: the Sandinista government represses the workers

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At the beginning of the summer some international media outlets published, in the margins, information about the struggle of retired workers in Nicaragua for their pensions and the repression that they suffered from the Sandinista government[1]. The headlines affirm that: "The Sandinista government represses the old folks"[2]. The Sandinistas under Ortega obviously defended themselves from this charge. On this subject we are publishing below an article sent by the Nucleus of Internationalist Discussion of Costa Rica, a group close to the ICC. The article denounces the trap laid by the bourgeoisie aimed at confining the struggle of the pensioners and turning it into a simple political campaign, a fight between bourgeois factions. At the same time this article defends the spontaneous and proletarian nature of this conflict which has shown the brutality of official repression by Sandinista "commandos". In the opposing bourgeois camp this struggle is cynically used in the hope of removing the Sandinistas from government and taking their place. The text compares the struggle itself to the demonstrations in Brazil and Turkey by noting that in these two countries we saw above all the reaction of the youth, whereas in Nicaragua it was the retired who expressed their dissatisfaction. But in both cases it is the same proletarian struggle. We are in agreement with this insistence, beyond the particularities underlined, such as the massive numbers involved. The explosions of the "indignant" in Spain or the movements which have unfolded in Brazil because of the price of public transport, or those in Turkey, have mobilised many more people, hundreds of thousands. But despite the scale of these movements, it was evident that the working class was taking part in the struggle alongside other sectors of the population; and even if its initiatives and traditions of struggle impregnated these movements, particularly the assemblies in Spain and the expressions of solidarity in Turkey and Brazil, the working class didn’t acquire the confidence to take the lead in the overall social movement, to put forward its own demands on a class basis and evolve a perspective for the struggle.

The struggle of the “old folks” in Nicaragua was much less massive than the movements in these countries. But for all its undeniable weaknesses it was a real expression of the working class.

The Sandinista government represses workers demonstrating against miserable pensions

As everywhere throughout the world, capitalism and its crisis is attacking the working class more and more. Misery can only increase, along with a brutal repression faced with any will to struggle. The Sandinista government, which historically has been sold as a "socialist" alternative, has once again shown its real face, as part of the world's bourgeoisie and an arm of repression against the working class. It's in this context that we understand the protests of the retired of Nicaragua, in the framework of struggles which are developing here and there throughout the world, with a working class which refuses to sacrifice what little it has on the altar of enriching a minority of capitalists, which can no longer bear the weight of a system which has been rotten and decadent for a long time. The Sandinista government has not been backward in making its exploited pay for the crisis. Even if these demonstrations haven't reached the numbers of more recent struggles in Turkey and Brazil, they are part of the whole struggle of the world proletariat. The struggles of these old people do not concern themselves alone but also youth and the entire class, because the attack on the retired is done in the same way as the attack on the living conditions on the whole of the working class and other exploited layers.

An attack coordinated between police and Sandinista sympathisers

Last June a group of retired workers occupied the offices of Nicaragua's social security (INSS) for some days in order to demand a minimum pension for workers who had not completed the minimum contributions of 750 parts in order to qualify for a pension. What they asked for was a pension based on a minimum salary of $140 and some possibilities of medical care. Only 8000 of the 54,000 workers fulfilled the conditions to receive a "solidarity ticket" of $50, an amount on which they could hardly survive. The remainder received nothing at all!

According to information from the INSS, 71,658 persons, of whom 54,872 are still alive, have contributions between 250 and 750 parts. The response of the INSS authorities was the following: "there's no money!", "Anastasio Somaza took it in 1979!"[3].

Repression fell on the "old folks" from two sides: the Sandinista militias and the police. During the occupation, the police barred access to the families and friends who brought provisions to the occupants, some of whom said that they were prevented from getting a drink. Some days later, young sympathisers joined the protests. On its side the government let loose its shock-troops that it disguised as "a spontaneous, popular organisation" that the police let pass in order to undertake a much more aggressive repression, more aggressive than the police themselves. Nobody could make a complaint since no-one had seen anything and no aggressor was arrested. Finally, the forces of order proceeded to a strong-arm eviction under the pretext "of taking the old people for medical check-ups", whereas it was the police themselves that had prevented the provision of food and drink, thus putting these people in danger. And further, the occupiers were accused of having "caused devastation" to the installations.

Some days afterwards, the authorities called for a "counter-demonstration" in order to show "solidarity with the government". These mobilisations were sponsored by the Sandinista government which set up the logistical means at its disposal, including making municipal transport available, to guarantee the success of its appeal.

The speeches of the Nicaraguan opposition, and that of the international bourgeoisie, were always the same: "The left government of Nicaragua represses the old", whereas, on the other side, the Sandinista government affirmed that "The right wants to manipulate our old folks". That's what you can read in the media of the international bourgeoisie and those of the Sandinistas. This is the game whose aim is to fool our class and give the impression that there's a difference between one and the other side, whereas they are all part of the same exploiting class.

These old folks were perfectly justified in wanting to struggle for their retirement pensions and we must defend them. We must denounce the repression of the government against a fraction of the working class which is living in misery, as is the case of these workers with too few contributions. The fact of having too few to qualify is above all due to the precarious work undertaken by these workers without counting those that went to Costa Rica and returned without any contributions at all due to their situation of illegal work.

The speeches of the Ortega government appeal to a pseudo-socialist patriotism which divides the working class. They say that it is the "right" that is behind these struggles and, at the international level, the "left" is accused of being behind the measures against the "old folks". Whatever excuses are put forward: "There's no money because of Somoza" for some, or "it is really the left which represses the retired" for the others, one sees very well that the left and the right do the same thing. All their talk only serves to obscure the fact that they both have the same politics: the oppression of the working class by capital whatever its form

It's important to unmask this false dualism which only serves to divide the working class. We must show what's hidden behind the left of capital with its so-called "socialism of the 21st century" which is only the same capitalism and the same exploitation that exists everywhere.

A future is possible

The political road of the “indignant” in Turkey and Brazil, where there's been the beginning of a more general struggle against capitalism, shows that the sole alternative for the working class is to struggle on a united basis. This requires a confrontation with the unions who only divide the class into isolated struggles of the sector or the corporation. It's the vision of unity which allows the evolution of consciousness through concrete struggles which stand up for common interests. Capitalism in its present crisis is revealing its true face and confirming that only a new society can bring humanity back from the edge of the abyss. There is no other outcome to the crisis than the destruction of capitalism and the defeat of all governments, including those that call themselves "socialist". It is only a united working class that can provide a future to humanity and stop the destruction of the planet.

Nucleo de Discusion Internacionalista en Costa Rica (July 2013)

Managua, June 2013


[1]What has been written by the ICC on the Sandinistas in Nicaragua can be found here and there in different articles, but can be summed up in this quote: "Even if they wanted to establish a 'socialist revolutionary-type government', it is only, concretely on the ground, the same scenario that was written by the Sandinistas in Nicaragua: the pure and simple defence of a bourgeois regime and of the national economy", from an article talking about elections in neighbouring El Salvador (‘Elections in Salvador: the FMLM, from Stalinist guerillas to government’). In Spanish Revolucion Mundial no. 96 (2007) carries an article entitled ‘Nicaragua: regresan los sandinistas al gobierno para dar coninuidad a la explotacion y opresion’).

[2]"Viejito", old folks: this term is neither contemptuous nor condescending in Latin America, but an affectionate description of pensioners.

[3] This Somoza was part of a family of dictators which held power in Nicaragua since the 1930's with the most brutal methods. They were supported by the United States for whom this sort of government was a guarantee against any sort of advance by the opposing bloc (the USSR) into the countries of Latin America, above all following the Castro victory in Cuba. Founded in the 1960's, a guerrilla group called the Sandinista Front was supported by the Russian bloc and ended up overthrowing Somoza. The present Sandinista government in Nicaragua has the support of Venezuelan Chavism but above all, being a very poor and very indebted economy, of various international organs. All this is wrapped up in a national-socialist type verbiage with concessions to Catholicism and decorated with anti-Americanism.