Gustavo Espinoza, Nuestra Bandera, La Mula, August 9th 2018
A conversation with Carlos Fonseca Terán, Vice Secretary for International Relations of Nicaragua’s Sandinista Front for National Liberation
“The best way to be ready for new destabilizaton attempts is to deepen the model of popular participation in decision taking…”
Managua, July 20th 2018
Compañero Carlos, how do you assess what’s going on right now in Nicaragua? How do yu describe it or evaluate it? What’s your opinion with regard to the process your country is living through in the days?
Well, what we are living though in Nicaragua is the application of the regime change format for governments not allied to the United States, which has been applied in many parts of the world, in Ukraine, in Arab countries, in Venezuela. A format which has certain characteristics for each reality. In our case it has had different phases.
The first of these was generalized chaos. Later, the coup attempt combined mass calls to action and peaceful demonstrations with acts of violence, attacks against Sandinistas and destruction of public buildings, private houses and also the dismantling of symbolic structures like the Trees of Life in Managua.
So that combination was the departure point for the following stage which was terrorism. They prepared politically for the stage of terrorism after applying a formula because in the stage of the combination of peaceful demonstrations with acts of vandalism and violence, they developed a formula to create false massacres. That formula consisted of attacking Sandinistas with armed groups and then presenting the deaths from both sides without distinction, the product of a confrontations started by them but as if the dead were all victims of a massacre carried out by police and paramilitaries.
That is the formula they applied to make the whole world think that here was a genocidal government that killed civilians. As time has gone by, the reality has managed to come to light in more detail. And more and more people are realizing the deceit of all this manipulation.
After this stage, as I was saying, came the stage of terrorism in which the modus operandi of the attempted coup was to install roadblocks on highways and barricades in the cities. In the latter case, the role of the right-wing media was to generate collective hysteria by means of false news about fictitious confrontations, fictitious attacks, such that many people, lacking information, set up barricades not because they were against the government but because they wanted to prevent the block where they lived being a scene of confrontation, as a form of self-defense.
Also the right wing media achieved a higher television audience because they were permanently presenting false news. When people sought out the government media and found other things, not news of what was going on, or rather there was also news of what was happening but it was as things happened with real news. While in the right wing media they repeated the same news all day, mostly false events. So people thought that if they watched the right wing media they’d be better informed. It was a self-deceiving way of feeling informed, which is a natural need. So that allowed the right wing media to increase the number of people viewing them. That contributed a lot to the psychological warfare by means of which people are lied to so as to encourage hatred and to assign blame, be they Sandinista or opposition supporters, and from there springs fear.
And the fear manifests as aggression in the case of the opposition supporters while among Sandinista supporters it manifests as a mental state of low self-esteem among other things. At least, that was what the coup promoters had in mind and in the end it didn’t work out for them. Because, for example in that stage of terrorism, by means of the roadblocks they managed to capture Sandinistas and they severely tortured them, they murdered them, raped women and furthermore filmed what they were doing so as to intimidate Sandinistas as part of the psychological war. It was by no means spontaneous.
They did so deliberately because they had previously prepared public opinion so that people would think when they saw those acts of barbarism that it was ordinary people taking the law into their own hands and, if one can put it this way, punishing people responsible for genocide. But it didn’t work out like that . They didn’t intimidate Sandinista opinion. Instead they inflamed it. And people generally didn’t view things as the coup promoters expected. Instead they began to give us the benefit of the doubt. The people who had believed we were murdering peacefully demonstrating civilians began to give us the benefit of the doubt based on the broadcasting of those images by the coup promoters themselves. One of the best ways of seeing the falsity of the accusations of massacres is that during the stage where political demonstrations were combined with violence, the middle classes demonstrated in Managua’s big roundabouts and got together quite large numbers of people and nobody bothered them. At that time the police were off the streets in their stations at the request of the coup promoters themselves. The objective was to be able to move on to the stage of terrorism.
With the police off the streets, they were able to take over various cities that later on were retaken by the police and rescued from the extortion into which they had fallen at the hands of the forces supporting the coup who were then losing room for maneuver in every sense. because people began to open their eyes. Some people at east giving us the benefit of the doubt and other people realizing they had been fooled. But it’s a fact that it’s easier to deceive people than t help them see they have been deceived because if you make them see they have been fooled you are hurting their self-esteem. That is a process that takes more time while deceiving people takes a matter of minutes by means of well thought out techniques of manipulation.
So then began the offensive stage seeing that in the National Dialogue these people did not show the least disposition to get things back to normal. They started by asking the President to resign, then they asked for elections to be brought forward, and we can say that’s where they have stuck, because the issue of social security reform, the pretext of social protest then turned out as self-evidently a political maneuver aimed at overthrowing the government and it’s important to point out that these people promoting the coup wanted to use the dialogue as a mechanism of extortion.
So they created their false massacres and that served them as a pretext to suspend the dialogue. To whom exactly? To the false mediators who were in fact on the side of the opposition. That became absolutely clear when they asked the President of the Republic to reply within 48 hours on the issue of bringing forward the elections with a fixed date. So progress was made once that stage pf terrorism ended and the urban centers were retaken such that the coup promoters had no cities under their control, no roadblocks, no barricades and no people either because people were resisting by then. The coup promoters could no longer call on the number of people they had at the start, fewer and fewer people turned out for them, precisely because people realized they had been fooled and other people who hadn’t reached that point were doubting that we really had committed the genocide we were accused of. Yet other people, among supporters of the coup themselves, continued to believe their lies but were afraid. In other words, fear took hold of them too and affected them more than us.
The campaign of fear blew back on them. They didn’t intimidate Sandinistas and they ended up generating fear among their own supporters. And that is more or less how things have been working out in our case where a soft coup has been tried, which has nothing soft about it. According to the analysis that’s been done, it’s very clear that there are similar numbers of dead on our side to the dead on their side. In part that’s explained by the fact that we were on the defensive for most of this maneuver, because the orders to Sandinistas were to defend themselves but not to attack, so as to avoid contributing to a growing spiral of violence.
In fact that reached a limit during the stage of terrorism when the decision was taken to go on the offensive because the situation that had come about was unsustainable. They went so far as to lay siege to the police in their stations and Masaya was the most emblematic case where the police were for a long time under siege by the terrorist groups and the police, with the armament they had, could perfectly well have broken the siege with blood and fire but they didn’t, precisely so as to avoid unnecessary deaths.
So really things were the reverse of what the right wing media have presented. The responsibility, the level of restraint, of respect for life on the part of the Sandinista government I think has no historical precedent. A government that accepts taking its police force off the streets so as to remove pretexts for the opposition that says we are massacring people, that concedes everything while the opposition concede absolutely nothing. That is a demonstration of incredible restraint, of responsibility and care for people lives, in this case on the part of the government and the police.
The damage caused to the country by these terrorist groups are immeasurable, did you never suspect they were preparing actions of this kind? Did you never think of preparing the population to confront this type of action? Or did you think it cud never happen because Sandinista policies had done enough to merit the people’s acceptance and support?
Well, to understand the effect that can be produced by the manipulative capability of psychological warfare techniques used in the war imposed upon us, one thing is to be well aware that the plan is ready to be put into action and another thing is to confront its concrete results. So, although we knew that the imperialist enemy and its subordinate forces or the forces the enemy has inside our country were ready to carry out that maneuver to overthrow the government, it’s not until the moment they implemented it that we were able to begin addressing the situation.
There’s something important to bear in mind. One thing is support for the government, or rather, the number of people in agreement with the government, content with the government, who think the government is doing a good job. Quite another thing are the people who support the government because they identify with the political, social, economic project under way, who feel it belongs to them, which is always a smaller number than the people who are content with the government.
But the people who are happy with the government in very many cases do not have enough information nor are they psychologically prepared to manage to resist a psychological warfare offensive of the kind that has been implemented in Nicaragua. So they readily change their minds and can turn against the government from one moment to the next, thanks to the kind of manipulation we have had in this case. Furthermore, in this situation for our part we had not yet developed the antibodies to address this kind of warfare, because it is very new and very difficult to confront for the first time. But now we have faced it, we have developed the means to address it, which we didn’t have to begin with
On another point, this has also helped us become aware of the need to strengthen the political model of popular participation in government decision making, because without that mechanism that we have created, the model collapses. If we had developed that model more and earlier, institutionalized it, deepened it, then his situation would not have occurred. Because the reforms to the social security system, for example, would have been produced by popular participation and people would have had ownership of them and been sufficiently well informed, and that’s without including the organic structures of the Sandinista Front, and would have been fully convinced of the need for those reforms and so the manipulation that took place, misrepresenting the reforms as the opposite of what they were, would not have been possible.
But they were presented back to front, using some easy to misrepresent elements of the reforms to do so. And since people were misinformed, that created the perfect situation enabling space for the opposition to create the initial confrontations. And via a series of maneuvers present a situation in which they portrayed us as massacring students, which is absolutely false. But that is what was believed initially by a number of people, which in turn set off the crisis in which afterwards we were all affected.
Another thing is the need to strengthen the content of our political work in the organic structures of the FSLN as a party. That is another need being argued. And this kind of situation makes us aware of the need to use methods of political leadership and styles of work that allow us sufficient strength in our ranks to be able to achieve the aim of strengthening the model of popular political leadership in the government’s decision making so as to prevent opportunities for the enemy to carry out his kind of maneuver, generating this kind of crisis and prevent them from managing to apply this format for overthrowing governments.
From that point of view, let’s say the enemy wanted to create a political crisis and overthrow the government. They won’t achieve that but nor is imperialism going to give up the idea of liquidating the Sandinista process. Things will happen that have been more or less announced. One is external pressure. The OAS resolution is a step in that direction. The Lima Group is demanding sanctions against Nicaragua. Some governments in the region will take action in that regard. External pressure is going to be felt in various ways. That means they’ll try to block access to credit and foreign investment to try and promote under supply of goods, provoke economic crisis so as to create disturbances and then they’ll start talking about a humanitarian crisis in Nicaragua to see if they can bring about a more serious intervention. A third element it seems to me is that they are going to try and stoke internal convulsions, social unrest, because there are always internal conflicts that are difficult to resolve, above all in relation to workers’ incomes or class confrontation. For example, I understand labor organization is weak among Nicaraguan workers. So that offers employers the chance to attack workers more easily and that could provoke a reaction by organized labor or workers against the employers and that gives rise to even sharper class confrontation. ¿How do you think those challenges should be met?
Well, as I said earlier, the best way to be prepared for these new attempts at destabilization is to deepen the model of popular participation in government decision making and to strengthen the organic structure of the Sandinista Front. That will allow us to do the things we didn’t do before. for example, when it was decided to reform the Social Security system, the private business sector employers’ organization COSEP was totally opposed to it and that signaled the breakdown of the model of consensus we had successfully promoted for ten years between workers, private sector employers and the government. As a result of that model we had managed to achieve a minimum wage much greater than the increase in the minimum wage under previous governments over a longer period of time, such that this consensus was beneficial for workers and its results were also approved by the private business employers. When the employers broke with the consensus and when it became clear something might happen because no previous decision had ever led to that kind of breakdown , we should have had a comprehensive political, organizational contingency plan…people’s assemblies, for example, a series of things that would have allowed us better political and organizational conditions to be able to address this kind of situation.
As they have already put us on guard and created the antibodies we need, the defense mechanisms against this kind of situation that I agree with you they are in effect going to use to continue trying to destabilize the country, they are going to have to deal with a Sandinista movement much more politically well prepared and one which, despite all the weaknesses I mentioned, was able to overcome a coup attempt which even President Nicolas Maduro has said was worse than the one used against Venezuela.
And really the levels of violence, the cruelty, the versatility of the model, the simultaneous ways it was put into action here, made it perhaps the best application yet of attempts at regime change to date. Even so we were able to confront and defeat the attempt at regime change. As I said earlier, first they wanted immediate capitulation, then they resorted to demanding early elections. What happened? This kind of model is designed for the short term. if it doesn’t work in the short term it doesn’t work at all.
But, even though they haven’t got what they wanted in the short term, they are betting that they have managed to hurt and politically weaken the Sandinista movement so that it may be possible that elections will not give us a favorable result. That is why they want to bring forward the elections. They think the sooner the better because it will not give the Sandinista movement time to regroup and roll back the obvious exhaustion this whole situation represents. But, as time goes by, what they have done will become more and more obvious and that increases our chances of winning the next elections.
So they are betting that the coup attempt was strong enough politically to stop the Sandinista Front winning the next elections while of course for them to get what they want they are going to continue to promote destabilization using a whole series of measures as you have correctly pointed out.
Faced with that, we are much better prepared now than we were before the crisis So for example those kinds of things we mentioned they were already promoting. What they are now going to do, for example the Nica Act and suchlike, they were already promoting that. We were less prepared to successfully address that than we are now. That means that not only are we ready to face the use of this regime change format but also we are better prepared to face successfully what they had already begun preparing against us and which now, of course, they are going to intensify because they have more space internationally and there, among a whole series of other things, they have hurt the economy. So they have more favorable conditions to apply more effectively the policy of attrition they had been applying before, but for out part too we are better prepared to successfully face down that strategy.
Well, Compañero, you are here in Peru and have visited the Casa Mariategui and you know what Mariategui thought about Sandino and his struggle at the time. What message can you give people in Peru who get the enemy’s information via the big communciations media and have a distorted vision of what’s happening in Nicaragua, which contrasts somewhat with the work we do to inform people better. What ideas can you give people in Peru about this current situation?
Well we think it’s fundamental to argue the need for solidarity, which is vital for us. And in our efforts towards that objective we need to achieve increasingly more solidarity with the Sandinista Revolution against these regime change attempts cooked up by US imperialism. And it’s fundamental that we manage to reinstate common sense, because common sense is among the first casualties in psychological warfare.
For example, we see situations here like, when the National Dialogue was being used by our adversaries to apply political extortion against the government, we had great difficulty reactivating the talks. And when we managed to do so and there was even a moment when we not only managed to reactivate the talks but it was even agreed to remove the roadblocks, then at that point the mediators suspended the talks. And every time we managed to reactivate the talks the cup promoters faked a violent attack supposedly by us, massacring people.
Common sense tells you that is absurd. It’s absurd the idea that after we have achieved significant progress in the talks that a few hours later we are going to turn up and machine gun a demonstration or burn someone’s house down. It’s just absurd, because the first question one asks when investigating a crime is “who benefits from this?” and in this case, obviously, the people who benefit from these crimes were the people promoting the coup. So it’s ridiculous to think we would do such things when something even our enemies have to acknowledge is that we are not known for being stupid. So we are certainly not going to do something so stupid.
Common sense tells you that. But in psychological warfare common sense disappears. So at an international level this case does have to do with common sense and so it follows that people who think it is true that we have massacred people and committed barbaric crimes, they should take the trouble to listen to what we have to say. They should give us the benefit of the doubt and listen to our version of events.
Because, why should they believe what right wing news media say about us if they are our adversaries? After all, it’s our enemies who are making these accusations. If you listen to something about someone that their enemies say it’s hardly what you might call objective evidence. Right? For that reason it’s important to listen to the other side as well, the side that is being accused.
On that score, spreading reliable information is very important, for example the videos of the tortures they practiced, all the crimes they committed. They themselves decided to leave evidence of the barbaric things they did, of the real nature of what they did. And that too has helped us with many people managing to realize the reality of what we have been going through.
Many thanks and a warm embrace to the people of Peru.