The Sandinistas first came to power battling an enemy. Then, after vanquishing the American-backed Somoza dictatorship, they almost immediately found themselves in a civil war with the American-backed Contras. From the organization’s foundation in the 60’s until 1989, they had a constant, clear, present, and visible enemy. Revolution was alive.
Then came the peace resolution in ’89 and the elections of ’90 where the Sandinistas lost the Presidency. Until 2006 they were the opposition party. Again, the “enemy” was clear and present. In 2006, when Ortega took up the presidential reins again, the enemy disappeared. Reagan was dying if not dead and the United States was looking forward to free trade with Nicaragua and all of Central America, not a Cold War style proxy war. The opposition parties in Nicaragua were weak and disorganized. There was no longer an enemy.
Now of course, long before 2006 the Sandinistas ceased truly being the guardians of the Revolution. The ideals of the Revolution were certainly virtuous. The Somoza Dictatorship had basically made Nicaragua into the private colony of the Somoza family and their acolytes. The Revolution was premised on justice and opportunity for all. However, many of the reform policies, particularly the agricultural land reforms, were not successful. The Sandinistas have implicitly acknowledged this reality by whole-heartedly embracing capitalism upon their return in ’06. However, as the 80’s dragged on, with a war alla in the campo, but with the comandantes enjoying relative comfort in their confiscated villas in Managua, their idealistic Revolutionary fervor mutated into downright corruption. At first a few of them must have convinced themselves that the sacrifices they made during the Revolution deserve repayment by the People. So they took a swing or two at the piñata to extract a little extra for themselves and their family. But over time this entitlement turned to greed and downright corruption. The Revolution became a farce, only truly standing for the personal gain and interest of the comandantes. Today, many of the leading revolutionaries are the wealthiest people in the country, controlling the largest industries, enjoying monopoly protection, and gatekeeping the export/import sector.
However, this is ancillary to the story and matter at hand. No matter the principles of the “Revolution,” it existed in the minds of the Sandinistas and needed to be there to perpetuate their own existence. No revolutionary party can exist without their (ongoing) revolution. Without the revolutionary pathos they lose their essence and the enthusiasm of the People. So to keep the Revolution alive and the party in power they needed an enemy. And when no enemy is clear and present, the party did what all revolutionary parties do in that situation: they turned the People into their enemy. The only way that the Revolution could die; the only way for the party to lose power, was if the People turned against them. So the People became the clear and present danger.
Of course the Sandinistas could not openly express this sentiment. They had to pretend that there were other enemies out there. Ortega never let the people forget that the Yanquis still lurked just to the north. Party propaganda also gives away who the “enemies” became. “Socialist, Christian, Solidarity” just screams, ‘down with American imperialists, the Catholic Church, and the opposition.’ In fact, none of these institutions posed a true threat to Nicaragua. The Contras had been replaced by the Peace Corps (although admittedly, the embassy and USAID remain meddlesome in Nicaraguan politics). The Catholic Church continued with promulgating its asinine doctrines, but none of its propaganda was truly anti-Sandinista anymore (there’s a whole lot of intrigue in this story, stemming right from Chelsea Manning, but that is a story for another article/diatribe), and the opposition party, as disorganized as it had become, at its best wanted nothing other than the betterment of Nicaragua, and at its worse was no more corrupt than the Sandinistas.
So with this facade of the non-existent enemy, the Sandinistas instigated a clandestine war against their new enemy: the People. The main weapon that the Sandinistas continue to wield in this war is ignorance. By keeping the People ignorant the Sandinistas keep convincing them to vote “2,” the Sandinista’s ticket on the ballot.
The main battlefield where the Sandinistas bomb their people with ignorance is the classroom. The entire educational system has been subsumed into the government propaganda machine. Education is nationally administered top-down. Ministry of Education leaders at the regional and local levels are “Delegates.” They have been delegated power. Their experience, knowledge, and expertise in the field of education lend them no power of their own. The Sandinistas mandate what the masses ought to know, and teachers are expected to adhere to this mandate. The entire system makes a farce of itself. If what is to be taught is written down, and teachers are only expected to transmit this information to students, it marginalizes the need for teachers in the first place. One could imagine students countrywide sitting in classrooms with loudspeakers mounted on the wall, and one person sitting in an air-conditioned office in Managua transmitting the day’s “learning” to every loudspeaker in the country, as the students copy the information into their notebooks.
Nicaragua, a land where inanimate notebooks are more knowledgeable than its own people.
The loudspeaker system would not be good “optics,” so an alternative needs to be found. Enter the Matrix. Teachers are, in fact, employed, and occasionally paid too! Rumor has it that a college degree is a prerequisite, but in practice being able to communicate isn’t even a prerequisite. The only true requirement is toeing the line. To make sure that the teachers keep taking their red pills every morning, an elaborate pedagogical system has been introduced. The last Friday of every month classes are cancelled for teacher planning. In practice, this takes the form of teachers copying down a month’s worth of an official outline of the curriculum. What the unit and themes are, what dates they will teach them, what the content is, and what the achievement indicators are. They copy directly from the government stamped official outline on to special planning sheets that are handed around the morning of the planning sessions. These plans are then photocopied (which is ironic, since the plans themselves are handwritten copies) and then handed in to principals. However, by manufacturing a class structure that they believe to be made by their own hands (hence the needs for them to copy the plans down) they don’t realize that they themselves are the loudspeakers in the loudspeakers system.
Genuine thought is absent in the profession of teaching, so it should come as no surprise that they foster no genuine thought in any of their students. Plus, teachers are not allowed to discipline students, since doing so would take away a student’s right to a free education. Stepping out of line can easily land a teacher in hot water. Delegates and teachers can be, and in fact are frequently, fired for not meeting these expectations. The result is easy to predict: teachers toe the line and never stir the pot (the pot of thought, the pot of critical thinking, the pot of intellectualism) so that they can keep their jobs and put food on their tables. The system is not designed to create thinkers. It is designed to create voters. Voters for the Sandinistas, specifically.
A number of other measures have been taken to reinforce the effectiveness of the loudspeaker education system. First, the voting age was lowered to 16. This increased the incentive to keep the student masses happy – an incentive often times at odds with best practices in education. Classes are frequently cancelled for menial circumstances. If students aren’t being pulled out of school for political marches around town, class is getting cancelled for Barcelona soccer matches, the World Cup, Mothers’ Day, Fathers’ Day, Teachers’ Day, Students’ Day, impending rain, and spraying for mosquitoes.
Passing vs. failing, in practice, is set at 60%. If you get a 60, you pass. Otherwise, you fail. However, in practice, nearly everyone passes. The Ministry of Education only allows tests to be administered in very few circumstances. Teachers who are complained about by students will often find themselves being told by principals to ease up. In classes, other than math and Spanish, teachers are not allowed to give below a 60 anyway. The grades of all schools are compared against each other, and schools with low marks are told to improve grades by the Ministry. You would expect that principals would then counsel teachers on improving their teaching and evaluation methods, but instead, they usually just inflate grades. Plus, many grades are fictitious. Teachers have to accumulate 100 points every quarter. Not 99, not 101, but 100. So if they are nearing the end of the marking period and find themselves short, it is not uncommon for them to start giving out points for students who bring in cleaning supplies, join the marching band, or teachers will assign a disproportionate amount of points to menial assignments.
The results of this system are numerous. Students, pleased with a system that seldom leaves them frustrated or challenged, will vote to keep that very system in power. More insidiously, the students, lacking any semblance of critical thinking at graduation, will fail to question their positions in life and the power structure of society, further entrenching the power of the ruling party. Ignorance is a weapon of mass pacification.
“Any situation in which some men prevent others from engaging in the process of inquiry is one of violence; … to alienate humans from their own decision making is to change them into objects.”
― Paulo Freire
This begs the question, is the entire government apparatus really in cahoots to keep the People ignorant? I certainly do not think that is the case. Certainly there are not that many crony people in Nicaragua in the first place. Rather, I think that only at the very top is the priority of ignorance explicit. With government workers, rather than fighting the war of ignorance with conventional weapons of propaganda and mis-education, the government uses biological warfare. They infect their employees with the cronyism virus so that these people, without even being conscious of their own infection or the battles they are fighting, use the weapons of ignorance to fight against liberation in every department and municipality of their country. Rather than sending a minion from Managua to rein ignorance down upon the people of a region, the Sandinistas employ their delegates whom are aware that their job security hinges on the satisfaction of their superiors. In a country with few stable options for employment outside of the public sector, being a crony is one of the few sure measures one can take to be sure to provide for her or his family.
Every society can be defined in relation to a revolution: Pre-Revolutionary, Revolutionary, Counter-Revolutionary, and Post-Revolutionary. And the history of revolution is cyclical, not linear. Post-Revolutionary societies bleed into Pre-Revolution, and the line is very fuzzy. To achieve success, to truly break out of the cycle of revolution and liberate the oppressed, the revolution itself must eventually become a part of the past, not the present. Prior to Revolution, the desire for one is understandable in the presence of oppression. During the Revolution its existence validates itself. After it is achieved, the Revolution can still be present during the Counter-Revolution to preserve the successes that were achieved (assuming that they truly were virtuous). Once the Revolution has truly succeeded and the enemy has been defeated, the Revolution itself too must become a thing of the past. When the Revolution is still an element of the present in a post-revolutionary society, the people are converted into the enemy, and the cycle begins anew with a Pre-Revolutionary dawn.