Among the many things I learned yesterday - and what a lot I learned and what a lot there is left to learn - I find myself ruminating about an apparently relatively recent bit of news. Daniel Ortega, the ruler of this country, the leader of a profoundly democratic and well thought out revolution that exploited longstanding internal divisions between the ruling powers to create a voice for the oppressed poor majority in this country; a voice that he still believes he is articulating, despite the fact that he has subverted the democratic ideals that propelled him to office; this man has been publicly accused by his daughter of committing incest. Not only has he been accused, he has been taken to court, where he promoted the judge who ruled that the statute of limitations has expired on his incestuous crimes, thus freeing him from penalty, but not from guilt, to the supreme court immediately after that ruling. He has publicly reconciled with his daughter, but it is a broadly known "truth" that the leader of this country is what we would call an incest perpetrator in our country and it is not hard to connect the dots that the checks and balances in this country are owned by one man - a man who, despite his one time ideals and vision, has become a despot.
Now, are sexual peccadilloes an anomaly among politicians? Of course not. Our own president Clinton is a public example of sexually inappropriate behavior that is likely wide spread among those drawn to the combination of power and human engagement that politics offers. But is there something to be learned from the perspective of the particular sexual actions of a country's leader?
Incest has been a taboo since at least the time of Oedipus. Freud famously suggested that this was because of the powerful incestuous wishes of the infant and the need to guard against those. Of course he has also been pilloried for this because, as revolutionary and unsettling as this idea is, it has been seen to be a way of denying the incestuous wishes and actions of parents, something that others have argued Freud never denied - he simply shifted his focus. In any case, the power of Freud's contribution continues to be that incest needs to be guarded against because it is so powerfully desired. But it also needs to be guarded against because it is destructive.
In our culture, incest offenders fall into three large groups. There are those, a relatively small subgroup, who are truly and primarily attracted to children. This is a small subset and their treatment involves helping them, essentially, to swear off sex. A difficult but important behavioral change. Another small group are elderly offenders - generally grandparents - whose age related decrements in inhibition have caused them to engage in behaviors they feel contrite about and have no intention of continuing. For them, helping them to figure out how to safely be with their grandchildren - to always have supervision and to avoid stimulating physical contact - is the primary treatment.
The majority of offenders are what we term "regressed" offenders. They are individuals whose primary sexual interest objects are adults and who, usually under some kind of powerful psychological strain, turn to an available - and loved - object as a means of sexual but also emotional gratification. This heterogenous group of individuals use a variety of means to justify their behaviors - to themselves and to their children. They know that what they are doing is wrong - they work hard to keep it hidden and, at least in our culture, they feel deeply guilty or ashamed of their behavior. They generally don't seek treatment, but, when remanded for treatment, they greatly appreciate it and respond remarkably well to it.
You may be somewhat surprised by the last comment - I know that when my internship director told me that everyone on the internship had to work with sex offenders I was skeptical. He said that most interns initially objected but that, by the end of the year, the interns found offenders to be among the most gratifying populations to work with. My experience was consistent with this - the individuals in the group that I worked with were genuinely hungry to change. They were, like all patients, resistant to such change, but they were generally deeply hurt people themselves who frequently convinced themselves that they were offering their children - usually their daughters - a kind of closeness they had never had and craved. Treatment offered them a psychological closeness and understanding - they were able to learn to empathize more authentically with themselves, to discover what they were emotionally hungry for and how to satiate that through mature relationships, which led them, in turn, to more authentically empathize with others, including their children, and they learned to connect with their children - to realize that what they did was harmful and to seek some sort of reconciliation.
I do not pretend to know what motivates a political leader who is attempting to redress the concerns of the poor and oppressed in his country to have sex with his daughter on a regular basis across a number of years. Nor can I, as an outside observer, understand the impact on the collective psyche of a country to know that their leader has been accused, but never acknowledged, owned, or made reparations for his actions. He has used his power to attack the women's groups who questioned him and his behavior. I do also know that 15% or so of accusations in our culture end up being fabrications and I cannot know of his guilt. But I do know that in a culture where the rights of women have been subjugated to the goals of the revolution, a violation of this magnitude that was dismissed by the courts on a technicality must shape and reflect the very soul of this place.
I think that this particular piece of news, by the way, resonated so strongly because I have been very much taken by the story of the revolution in Nicaragua. The army here - which is all but invisible (something not seen in the rest of central America) is the only army in Latin America - besides Cuba - that is not trained by the US army. And I think because of this, the military - and the police - function from an emic -meaning within the culture - rather than an etic - outside the culture - perspective. The military (and the police) function to protect the people rather than to suppress them - therefore there are far fewer of them and there is much less violence in this country than in the rest of Latin American (with the exception of Cuba, which is, apparently, similarly non violent).
This Sandinista movement, headed by Ortega, as the first order of business after the revolution and securing power, shut the schools and took all the literate people to the mountains for five months to teach those who were illiterate. The illiteracy rate went from 50% to about 12 % - in Ortega's first year of office! (That said, I think this figure is based on the Spanish heritage half of the country on the Pacific side. The indigenous people's to the east, who live a more agrarian lifestyle on the other side of those mountains, were not, I think, included in this census).
I so want to embrace this movement, this country, and this man, but the tolerance of his behavior - the failure to examine and, if appropriate, to address his behavior, is beyond me.
To access a narrative description of other posts on this site, link here. For a subject based index, link here.
Additional posts about this trip to Nicaragua can be found here:
Anticipating Travel to a Third World Country Preparing for Nicaragua
Fear and Loathing in Nicaragua First day in Nicaragua
Mass in Nicaragua Day three in Nicaragua
Dora Maria Tellez Day four in Nicaragua
Talking with Peasants about Birth Control Day Five in Nicaragua
Talking Business in Nicaragua Day Six in Nicaragua
Nicaragua on the Couch Processing the trip as a whole