Tortilla con Sal.
The reactionary rich country elites are at once sinister, cynical, predictable and banal. Their various regional expressions in Asia, Africa or Latin America all apply exactly the same destabilizing tactics in every country. The vogue these days is political mimicry:
- take over a movement with more or less legitimate demands,
- make those demands impossible to meet (make sure to get the help of ultra-leftist and other extremist useful idiots to do that)
- then try to turn that struggle into a plebiscite about the progressive or radical government target of destabilization
- if possible, foment extremely violent polarization so as to provoke civil unrest or even war.
At its extreme, this pattern lead to NATO’s current proxy war against Syria. In Latin America, we have seen all this in recent years in Ecuador, Bolivia, Argentina. Over the last few days we have witnessed the same pattern in Brazil and now too we are seeing it in Nicaragua. This week, a movement of retired people demanding pensions decided to occupy the building of the Social Security Institute (INSS) – the entity that administers the pension funds.
The apparent spontaneity of the pensioners’ action is belied by the fact that their nationwide mobilization requires tens of thousands of dollars to fund transport, accommodation and food. Very clearly that funding comes not from the self-confessed impoverished pensioners but from the right wing groups that are so blatantly manipulating them. As has happened so often elsewhere, the cynical anti-Sandinista forces in Nicaragua have abused graphic images from other countries in support of false accusations of violence and repression by the government here.
This tactic has been used flagrantly by corporate media for as long as anyone can remember to smear target governments everywhere. The latest example here in Nicaragua is of the right wing Chamorro family owned newspaper Hoy. On the Internet, they deceitfully used a photograph of an elderly woman beaten up up the Colombian security forces to suggest non-existent violence by Nicaraguan police against vulnerable elderly citizens.
The background to the pensioners protest action is that some 45.000 people of retirement age in Nicaragua have insufficient contributions to the system to receive the full pension. The government accepts their argument that they are entitled to a reduced pension based proportionately on their lifetime contributions. No one questions their right to a minimum pension – which also is established in the law – the problem is that the pension fund cannot meet their demand without collapsing.
A large part of their contributions have vanished into thin air. People working prior to 1979 have suffered because the dictator Anastasio Somoza stole their money when he fled Nicaragua during the revolution back in 1979. Between 1990 and 2006, pensioners lost out because their contributions were squandered by the Liberal governments in power during that period. In fact, one of the first actions of the Violeta Chamorro government was to abolish by decree the provision for a reduced pension.
Subsequently, Violeta Chamorro and her parliamentary allies reformed the Constitution to so as to strip the President of the power to modify the Social Security law. Now, many of the same people responsible for that change falsely accuse President Ortega of failing to act to assist the legitimate demands of retired people who would qualify for a reduced pension. These are the same right wing politicians who argue that the system needs to be reformed, which is code for reducing benefits, because it is under funded.
In fact, since 2007, the Sandinista government led by President Daniel Ortega has practically doubled the number of affiliated workers to 674.000 and dramatically increased the number of registered employers to almost 26.000. The size of the contributions has also increased considerably. But the system still cannot afford to give the pensionless seniors what they have contributed in the past, amounting on some estimates to about 2.3 billion cordobas. The pension fund would go bankrupt!
The only solution to the problem is to increase the base of contributors to the system by expanding the number of people in formal employment contributing to the social security fund. About 70% of Nicaragua’s workers are not part of the system because neoliberal policies deliberately promoted an informal free market economy with strong disincentives for creating fully-insured jobs. It is that structural neoliberalism the Sandinista government inherited in 2007 and which it has substantially changed while at the same time constantly emphasizing medium and long term sustainability.
For that reason, the government has been negotiating with the pensioners organizations during all these years. About 8.000 of them receive the Government’s solidarity bonus of about 45 dollars each month, and some 200.000 food packages have been delivered. Older people benefit especially from the government’s improvements to the health system and initiatives like Misión Milagro which overwhelmingly serve older people who have problems with their vision.
Right-wing politicians, the network of toxic NGOs of the so-called “civil society” plus CIA-trained groups of middle class youths have fooled some of the seniors into believing that the state must pay them regardless of the effect on the other programs that benefit them such as the generously subsidized public transport, water and electricity services or free health care.
Last week, a hundred or so pensioners “occupied” the Social Security building. They promptly were surrounded by the police which already knew what the right-wing instigators had in mind. None of the elderly people were touched, not even with the petal of a rose, and they were offered help to leave the premises. Furthermore, bus transportation already had been ordered, as well as medical check-ups, food and so on.
Faced with the failure of their plan to provoke police violence, hundreds of right-wing activists tried to join the occupation and attempted to break through the the barrier of unarmed policemen who for several hours had to patiently stand facing the right-wingers insults, blows, stones and bottles. Six policemen were seriously injured. The right-wing TV, the newspaper La Prensa and the Corporacion radio station broadcast the “event” live all day.
Now phony progressives, ex-Sandinistas and their right wing allies make absurdly false accusations that the FSLN authorities have attacked peaceful demonstrating senior citizens. On Monday, the Sandinistas will flood the streets of Managua in order to set the record straight and remind the opposition that no “Nicaraguan right-wing Spring” will take place here. Thanks to the Sandinista government, in Nicaragua, the Spring started years ago when President Daniel Ortega took office in January 2007.