Theses Doctoral

‘Love is stronger than hate’: authoritarian populism and political passions in post-revolutionary Nicaragua

Chamorro Elizondo, Luciana Fernanda

In 2007, revolutionary commander Daniel Ortega returned to power in Nicaragua, claiming to enact the “second phase” of the Sandinista Popular Revolution (1979-1990). However, this was not a return to revolution as Nicaraguans had come to know it. The Ortega regime established timely alliances with former adversaries, including the leadership of the Catholic Church as well as the nation’s business elites. Moreover, Sandinismo was recast from the figures of revolutionary militancy and the disciplined party-state to a personalistic vision of the loving patriarch, disseminating a kitsch-ified, religiously inflected doctrine of ‘love’ to the neoliberalized masses. Though Ortega was elected without a majoritarian mandate, his regime quickly grew in popularity while also consolidating an authoritarian political project that dismantled incipient liberal-democratic institutions and constitutional guarantees in the name of ‘the people.’

Based on 24 months of participant-observation research between 2014 and 2018 in the peripheries of a city located in the urban pacific of Nicaragua, a traditional Sandinista stronghold, this dissertation investigates the Ortega regime’s capacity to hail Nicaraguans into relation with Sandinismo and the FSLN party in the post-revolutionary moment. I argue that the material exchanges that are most often taken to explain the mobilizing capacities of authoritarian populism must be analyzed in conjunction with the economy of affects that circulate in and through exchanges, which issue powerful forms of identification that help sustain people’s attachments to the FSLN even when redistributive politics fades away.

For historical militants and other Sandinistas that lived through the 1980’s, attachments to the FSLN are structured by way of a ‘revolutionary a structure of feelings’ that continues to be reproduced in the contemporary moment. For my interlocutors, the gift of being a Sandinista, narrated as a political birth, brought with it an unpayable debt that produces obligations to Sandinismo. It is this very structure of feeling that enables militants to cope with multiple injuries to which the party routinely subjects them, which I argue come to be experienced as sacrifices on Sandinismo’s behalf. Moreover I suggest that being wounded by the FSLN itself might afford pleasure, and that it might be the site of production of a victimized identity, one dependent on attachment to that which injures.

Finally, I argue that for a younger generation, Sandinismo has also produced strong forms of identification in the absence of historically structured attachments. This time, attachments are predicated not on the notion of a revolutionary inheritance, but on Sandinismo as a patriarchal family which rewards its members with a sense of mediatized recognition, righteousness, and power in exchange not for sacrifices, but for following the injunction to ‘produce prosperity’ as good neoliberal subjects aspiring to gain access to a range of consumer pleasures. It is these affective excesses that sharpen the boundaries of the political community and invest it with a vibrance it could not otherwise achieve, inviting and enabling those that are part of it to the often violent, permanent defense of Sandinismo.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Morris, Rosalind C.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
October 5, 2020