As good as it gets? The new Sandinismo and the co-option of emancipatory rural politics in Nicaragua

17 Marzo 2018

What has Ortega's victory meant for progressive environmental and social policies in Nicaragua?

Daniel Ortega’s electoral victory in 2006 brought hope that the re-vamped Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional (FSLN) party would reverse neoliberal policies in rural Nicaragua. Yet, 11 years on, with the new FSLN firmly in power, such a reversal has not materialised. There is higher investment in agriculture and a deeper role for the State in creating safety nets for the poor, yet the economy remains virtually the same: an export-led, agricultural commodity-based, free-trade economy open to foreign direct investment and imports. A dominant media presence and the co-option of electoral institutions have allowed for Ortega to be re-elected, but it is the alliance with past military, political and economic adversaries that cements the governments’ power, together with significant public support.

Contradictions are emerging between the public socialist and anti-imperialist rhetoric and progressive environmental and social legislation; and on the other hand, the realities of wealth accumulation, land evictions and environmental destruction. Protests and dissent, even from within the ranks of the FSLN are met with increased authoritarianism, either through direct or indirect violence, bureaucratic control or political and social ostracism. In rural areas, the FSLN have engaged in agrarian populism, obscuring class divisions in rural areas in their discourse. Some public investments reach poor and small-scale farmers, but government funds, tax incentives and credit are biased towards extractives (mining and wood) and large-scale commodity production and trade (coffee, sugar cane, grains). A change of party in government would do little to change these policies, and change from within is a challenge. Emancipatory action in Nicaragua should take the form of a grassroots social platform that makes the FSLN accountable to their historic constituencies: showing that not all agriculturalists are the same, breaking down the categories within ‘rural people’; and proposing progressive policies that resonate with and mobilise the poorest citizens.

This paper was presented at the Emancipatory Rural Politics Initiative (ERPI) 2018 Conference: "Authoritarian Populism and the Rural World"