Roundtable - Late-Breaking
Reviewed by: AAA Late-Breaking Review Committee
Of interest to: Practicing and Applied Anthropologists, Teachers of Anthropology in Community Colleges, Students
Primary Theme: Human rights
Secondary Theme: Migration and displacement
From Daniel Ortega’s return to the presidency of Nicaragua in 2007 until the beginning of this year, Nicaragua displayed all of the quantitative signs of an emerging social democratic state. Gross domestic product grew at an average annual rate of 4.1 percent, government programs slashed the poverty rate from 42.5 percent to 24.9 percent, the Gini coefficient fell, the government reinstated universal education and healthcare, and the national electrical grid went to 50 percent renewables. Ortega’s Sandinista government was recognized for these developments by organizations as varied as the Venezuela-led ALBA, the IMF, and the UN’s Green Climate Fund. Yet this quantitatively evident political stability, sustainable development, and reduction in inequality was belied by evidence of the government’s expansion of its predecessors’ conservative, neoliberal program, including a massive increase in maquila labor, a growing mining industry, a pact with the Catholic Church that resulted in a total ban on abortion and repression toward sexual and gender diversity, an alliance with the Nicaraguan oligarchy, the privatization of Venezuelan aid by Ortega’s family and close allies, and tacit government support for the colonization and deforestation of Indigenous and Afrodescendant lands.
In this panel, anthropologists with decades of collective experience working in Nicaragua analyze the underlying crisis that led up to—and emerged from—the explosion of violence in the country, with over 400 people killed since the first protestor was shot to death on April 19. After a prelude of protests and government repression related to a massive forest fire in the Indio-Maíz Biological Reserve and overlapping Rama-Kriol Territory in early April, the current crisis began with repression of protests against social security cuts. Police and government-aligned paramilitaries have been accused of hundreds of murders, forced disappearances, arbitrary detentions, rape, and torture. Around two dozen police and government supporters have also been killed. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of Nicaraguans have applied for asylum in Costa Rica, reflecting a flow of migrants motivated by violence, political repression, and the resulting economic crisis.
In addition to sharing their accounts of the crisis, panelists will contemplate core components of the current situation in Nicaragua that speak to broader phenomena of interest to anthropologists in the region and globally. In the first place, the panel will consider the meaning of this crisis for anti-capitalist politics in Latin America and the initial promise of a turn toward postneoliberal possibilities among the ‘pink tide’ governments (Escobar 2010; Postero 2010). This comes amid a string of defeats for leftist governments in the region over the last decade by means of elections, impeachment, and a coup d’état. Second, panelists will discuss the growing phenomenon of state challenges to facticity and deployment of uncertainty against human rights agencies and NGOs (see Wedeen, forthcoming). Third, panelists who work in Nicaragua’s Indigenous and Afrodescendant communities will contextualize the crisis in the ongoing, violent colonization of those communities’ lands and discuss the implications of the national crisis for them. This articulates with a new anthropological focus on settler capitalism in Latin America (Speed 2017; Loperena 2017).