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  Number 243 | Octubre 2001
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Nicaragua

The Armageddon Effect: The Final Test

Zero hour, New York. Is it zero hour for Nicaragua too? How will the "new world" born on September 11 influence our country?

Nitlápan-Envío team

As Nicaragua’s electoral campaign was plodding through its interminable final weeks with only the usual ephemeral surprises provided by the national context and the intolerable levity of our particular phantasms, an utterly unimaginable new factor suddenly came into play on September 11. The ruthless terrorist attack on New York’s World Trade Center towers and on the Pentagon in Washington, followed by the equally ruthless war unleashed against Afghanistan only weeks later, will have diverse and prolonged repercussions all over the planet. The aftershocks are already being felt in Nicaragua, and will probably not even spare the results of the forthcoming elections.

The "end of the world"

ARMAGEDDON was the banner headline chosen by Nicaraguan newspaper La Prensa the next day. For many people, particularly those in the targeted country, the unimaginable and singular tragedy of September 11 surely felt like the end of the world. But in Nicaragua, which lived its own Armageddon in excruciating slow motion for over a decade in the late seventies and all of the eighties and is now submerged in its dismal aftermath, the headline was overkill. Nicaragua experiences the end of the world nearly every day, only to wake up and find itself still alive the next day. It is hard for the fear of dying in a chemical or bacteriological war to get much of a foothold here, where another kind of death lurks around every corner: the devastating death that comes from malnutrition and its retinue of terrorist ills.
The act and its nightmare images triggered stupor. At this moment in which a world ended, Nicaragua’s official voice was inaudible, while the complexity of the situation left organized society bereft of any constructive way to think about it. Few national voices analyzed the attack and none with eloquence, beyond the obligatory condolences to the people and government of the United States. On the street, where one might have expected a vindictive undertone from the many Nicaraguans who harbor deep bitterness about the destruction the US government has repeatedly wreaked on this country and its people, most rose above such sentiments, at least publicly and at least at the beginning.

On October 11, vehicles with loudspeakers went through Managua’s streets informing people of a 30-day mass in their local church for the Americans who had died in the attack. It caused one to wonder if there was ever a church service in the United States for the thousands of Nicaraguan civilians who died in the war financed illegally by the Reagan administration. And when President Bush spoke of waging war on countries that shelter terrorists, some recalled the illegal camps that Reagan and Bush’s own father had "sheltered" in the southeastern United States in the early eighties, where contras and American soldiers of fortune trained to make war on Nicaragua. Was that war, which the United States propped up long after it should have ended and in which so many civilians were targeted, not also a form of terrorism?

For now, surrounded by the alienating spectacle of Nicaragua’s electoral campaign, it is difficult to move beyond such flashbacks that illustrate the self-serving hypocrisy of US foreign policy to analyze the September 11 events in greater depth from the country’s own perspective. It is, however, possible to lay out some initial understandings of what lies ahead of us.

The "terrorist" label has
replaced the "communist" one

The US government’s declaration of war against terrorism was perhaps explicable in the first moments of shock and consternation, but the enormous dangers of such a declaration by a government dominated by a military-industrial complex began to emerge in the succeeding days. Essentially, the victim of a terrorist act set itself up as the lone arbiter of who the terrorists are and how they will be punished.

Whatever perceptions the populations of any other country may have about what constitutes terrorism and who are terrorists, perceptions born of their own historical experience and culture, we have entered a stage of unpredictable duration and cruelty in which what the US says will go. The weaker, more dependent on international aid and less significant a country’s economy is on the globalized map and the more servile its government and power groups seek to be with the now humiliated but far from humbled hegemonic power of the North, the more US criteria will prevail.

There is no doubt that this new planetary geopolitical situation will affect Nicaragua’s future. For years now, the country has been on a US government list of 60 countries suspected of "sheltering terrorists." Top Washington officials were quick to mention this list in the hours following the attacks and Bush Jr. referred to it in his fundamentalist message to the US Congress.

Nicaragua owes its appearance on this list to events, individuals and symbols from the revolutionary eighties. Those were the years when the FSLN hymn included the line "We fight against the Yankee, enemy of humanity" and President Reagan referred to the Nicaraguan paramilitary force it was financing as "freedom fighters." In one of those ironic twists of history, it was the same name the Reagan-Bush government gave another group it was financing that same decade to fight its cold war enemies, in that case in the arid mountains of Afghanistan: Osama bin Laden and the Mujahedin.

In that geopolitical era, so long ago and yet so recent, the war was against "communism" and the United States—then as now the sole arbiter of the Western world—decided who to label as such and how to punish them. In Latin America, after the carrot of the Alliance for Progress failed to attract grassroots movements away from leftist alternatives as a possible way out of their poverty and powerlessness, the United States turned to the stick to batter all that it saw as "communism." In the last decades of the cold war, the US government not only encouraged and financed the state terrorism practiced by the Latin American governments it supported—many of them the most cold-blooded rightwing military regimes imaginable—but even trained their operatives. In Latin America alone, the result was tens of thousands tortured, maimed, "disappeared" and killed.

The difficult nineties

After the FSLN’s electoral defeat in 1990, the revolution’s leaders were not annihilated, forced into exile or even purged from the army as desired by the "hawks" dominating the Reagan-Bush government, some of whom are back in high posts now. It was illogical to think that either the Sandinista National Liberation Front or Sandinismo, which are no longer one and the same, could simply be erased from Nicaragua’s contemporary or future reality. Their power and their presence are too embedded. In fact, the Sandinista leaders retained their quotas of economic power, institutional spaces and international links, providing them with a whole arsenal of power tools.

Thus, Nicaragua remained on the list although it no longer had a "communist" government. In fact, the specter of communism has vanished following the disintegration of the USSR; in his speech to Congress, Bush Jr. did not even mention it as one of "the killer ideologies of the 20th century." Nonetheless, various occurrences in the convulsive and difficult nineties encouraged the US perception that Nicaragua was still a terrorist shelter. The proven presence in the country of sympathizers and activists from Italy’s Red Brigades, the Basque ETA and various Latin American guerrilla groups, or what is left of them, as well as the institutional skirmishes around the deportation, nationalization or presence and public declarations of these people, kept it on the list.

One of the most widely reported cases was precisely the "Nicaraguan connection" discovered after the explosion of a car bomb in the basement of the World Trade Center in 1993. FBI investigations into that terrorist act—now attributed to Bin Laden followers—found five forged Nicaraguan passports with Arab names in the house of an Egyptian fundamentalist. It was later discovered that one of the passport holders was directly involved in the attack.

The US government threatened to cut off economic aid to the Chamorro government if the connection were not investigated in depth. In the end, three Nicaraguan travel agents were imprisoned for falsifying signatures to create the passports. At that time, a norm was established that any foreigner wanting Nicaraguan nationality must first undergo an Interpol investigation. Was this norm strictly adhered to? It seems unlikely, given recent accusations against Liberal government officials of passport trafficking. Nicaragua’s name remained on the list.

"Dangerous liaisons"

Washington also viewed the international relations maintained for various reasons by the FSLN, and particularly by former President Daniel Ortega, after his 1990 electoral defeat as a reason to keep Nicaragua on the list. The concern about the "Sandinistas’ friends" is still so uppermost in State Department thinking that in early June, three months before the fateful events of September 11, Undersecretary of State for the Western Hemisphere Lino Gutiérrez, warned about them during a visit to Managua.
In a talk to business leaders, Gutiérrez, until just two years ago the US Ambassador in Nicaragua, claimed that the United States would have "excellent relations" with Nicaragua’s next government if it met six conditions. The last of these was "if it avoids contact with states that constitute a threat to the world and support terrorism, or that do not share the values of the world community in other ways."

Leaving no room for interpretation, he added, "In today’s world, it surprises me that anyone claiming to be democratic could still see Fidel Castro as ‘the bright light in the hemisphere.’ How can anyone believe in freedom and still pay homage to Qaddafi, who has a record of supporting international terrorists who have killed so many people? No living, breathing person who believes in democracy could in any way sustain these beliefs."

Gutiérrez’s admonishing sermon, which exceeded the bounds even of US diplomatic discourtesy, was only preached to the faithful. With much of the rest of the population, it had a boomerang effect. Its obvious meddling offended the bulk of the national media and infuriated Sandinistas, Ortega’s critics included. It even made some independent Sandinistas decide to vote for the FSLN.

For all that, polls show that most Nicaraguans hope for good relations between the United States and Nicaragua, mainly because they have not forgotten the determining role played by the United States in the war of the eighties. Polls also repeatedly show the PLC pulling a far higher percentage than the FSLN on any question related to Nicaraguan perceptions of how best to guarantee those good relations.

After the September 11 attack, the US government wasted little time before pointing its heavy weaponry at Osama bin Laden and his support network. Independent of who is being singled out as guilty for the September 11 tragedy and/or who is actually responsible, however, the US government is not above opportunistically tarring other enemies with the same brush. It has not yet mentioned either Muammar el-Qaddafi, who said it was his "duty to offer condolences to the North American people despite the political struggle with the United States," or Fidel Castro, who offered both condolences and his country’s vast experience in tracking down attackers. But Secretary of State Colin Powell was not too busy getting support for sending Afghanistan even further back into the stone age to meet with Nicaraguan Foreign Minister Francisco Aguirre in Washington on October 4, exactly a month before Nicaragua’s elections.

That very same day, John F. Keane, interim Under Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere spoke about Nicaragua’s elections at the University of Pittsburgh. After strongly criticizing the biparty polarization of the Supreme Electoral Council, he turned his guns on the FSLN, reiterating the Bush government’s "serious reservations" about an Ortega-FSLN victory and adding a new concept: "We cannot forget that Nicaragua ended up a refuge for violent political extremists from the Middle East, Europe and Latin America. We are reminded of it daily by the continuing presence of some members of the FSLN leadership, including some very close to candidate Ortega, such as Tomás Borge, Lenín Cerna and Álvaro Baltodano, who perpetrated many of these abominations. Given their past record, why should we believe their statements that they have changed if they have done nothing concrete to demonstrate it…? We are confident that the Nicaraguan people will reflect on the nature and history of the candidates and choose wisely."

The next day, the State Department issued a statement that it would "respect" the results of free and fair elections while contradictorily warning of its "grave reservations about [the FSLN’s] history of trampling civil liberties, violating human rights, seizing people’s property without compensation, destroying the economy, and maintaining ties with supporters of terrorism.’’ Reporting on the statement on October 6, The Miami Herald noted—historically incorrectly in Nicaragua’s case—that the State Department is "normally loathe to appear partisan before presidential elections in foreign countries, so the remarks are a clear signal of distress over a possible Sandinista victory." It added that a US official, speaking off the record, said the statement "was looked at pretty carefully."
Daniel Ortega at first brushed off the State Department declaration, implying that it was issued in response to a request made by Nicaragua’s foreign minister during his visit. He then veered towards his former hostility toward US imperialism by counseling that the United States "shouldn’t get involved. We are Nicaraguans and we are voting in Nicaragua, not the United States." Recovering, he returned to the campaign’s "love, not hate" approach: "I think these reservations will be surmounted when we win the elections, come to government and put to the test the will of both governments…to work for Nicaragua’s peace and development."

This will surely not be the last saber rattling by US officials before the elections. The State Department made the exact same warning during the 1996 elections, which ended up getting the job done with a little help from Cardinal Obando. Ortega, whom polls showed neck and neck with Alemán right up to the end in those elections, lost by some 10 percentage points. We can expect the last days of the electoral campaign this year to be hit hard by fallout from the collapsed towers.

The new fear

Even without such help from its friends in the State Department, it became a campaign obligation for the incumbent Constitutionalist Liberal Party (PLC) to manipulate the September 11 events for its own ends since at least the urban electorate had been horrified armchair spectators as the events unfolded. Before September 11, the PLC campaign had been based on fear of the Sandinista past. Now Enrique Bolaños, his running mate, the PLC National Assembly candidates, and, of course, President Alemán himself gleefully added fear of a Sandinista future. More precisely, they focused on the negative consequences for Nicaragua of electing a government that is a "friend of terrorists" and even more pointedly on fear of possible US reprisals against a Nicaragua again in the hands of "Sandinista terrorists."

For hours on September 11, Liberal sympathizers, ironically from the former contra National Resistance Party, held a huge banner aloft on one of Managua’s largest traffic circles with the following words: "Nicaragua does not want a President who is a friend of terrorists." Over the next few days, Liberal candidates tried to frighten voters by warning that Nicaraguans would be refused visas to travel to the States to see relatives, family remittances would be suspended and foreign investments would dry up. President Alemán took great glee in reminding voters how Daniel Ortega "bragged" of his friendship with Qaddafi and Saddam Hussein. Photos of Ortega with Qaddafi appeared in the press and on TV news programs. The height of simplistic opportunism came when Bolaños, ignoring all the urgent national issues, proposed international terrorism as the main theme of a televised debate with Ortega—which never took place and probably never will.

Unfamiliar with the structure of Arab names, which facilitates an abundance of homonyms, the PLC claimed that one of the plane kidnappers, Mohamed Atta, had been granted Nicaraguan citizenship during the Sandinista government. Learning that it had erred, there were no retractions or apologies; after all, what was one Atta more or less in the whirlwind of electoral misinformation? And thus it was that provincial Nicaraguan politicians, who like the rest of the country have always referred to the billion Muslims in the conflict-torn Arab world simply and flatly as "Turks," got a crash course in the geography of the Middle East and South Asia as they tried to get the drop on each other.

As events continued to unfold and the Liberals found their stride, some went so far as to perfectly copy the style and colors of the FSLN’s ubiquitous rose pink street banners. While the real ones bear this year’s campaign slogan: "Love is better than hate," one of the look-alikes proclaimed that "DOS [Daniel Ortega Saavedra] is our Taliban" and another "Yankee, enemy of humanity!" The FSLN complained to the Supreme Electoral Council, which again did nothing.

The FSLN’s unmanageable issue

Daniel Ortega was on a stopover in Mexico on the way to Spain the day the planes sliced into the Pentagon and the twin towers. Thrown totally off balance by the attack, his campaign team drafted a condolence text, the first to appear in the Nicaraguan media. It sidestepped the FSLN’s characteristic geopolitical reflections or references to the country’s own history, opting instead for the rose-colored hue and mystical language chosen for this year’s whole campaign. Appealing to the "planetary citizenry," it set as an aim "the evolution of each of us toward understanding the integrating world reality." One worried Sandinista activist, however, confessed that "it’s an unmanageable issue."

When it was learned that Saudi millionaire Osama bin Laden was suspected of being the brains behind the attacks, Sandinista media and leaders hurriedly slapped together a counterattack. They referred to Bin Laden as a "contra" linked to the financing channeled to top Nicaraguan Resistance leaders at the time of the Iran-Contragate scandal. Businessman Adolfo Calero, one such leader and now a Bolaños backer, immediately denied any link with the Saudi, clarifying that the support was channeled through the Sultanate of Brunei.

Ortega picked up the Bin Laden-contra thread when he returned to Nicaragua, seemingly forgetting that a grassroots sector of the National Resistance, once known as "contras," is now in an electoral alliance with the FSLN. Ortega assured the press that he did not know Bin Laden and mentioned that his campaign team had organized a focus group that indicated that the attack in the United States had not affected the voting intentions of Nicaraguans, particularly those who had decided to vote Sandinista. The FSLN demanded that the Supreme Electoral Council make President Alemán retract his declarations linking Ortega to international terrorism. Alemán not only failed to do so; he went right on repeating them.

The "Libyan connection"

Of all the Sandinista candidate’s "suspicious" relations, the best known and most commented on in Nicaragua for many years are his personal—more than diplomatic or institutional—links with Qaddafi. It is also known that Ortega and the FSLN belong to the Libyan sister organization World Mathaba, which fights against American imperialism. Ortega’s annual trips to visit Qaddafi in Libya are public knowledge as they are always officially announced by the FSLN itself. As in 1996, it has been widely reported this year that the FSLN’s campaign is heavily reliant on Libyan financing. Ortega’s admission to a TV news interviewer in 2000 that he "survives" on "remittances" sent by this friend has not been forgotten. Nonetheless, the FSLN is remaining cautiously silent on the Ortega-Qaddafi relationship, not to mention international terrorism or any other issue of international politics.

Libya first established relations with Nicaragua in 1972, when an earthquake destroyed Managua and that country decided to offer aid for the reconstruction of the capital. Diplomatic and trade relations between the two countries thus date back to the Somoza dictatorship. The fact that the US government’s worldwide combing for suspects has not turned up Qaddafi’s name has taken some of the wind out of the Liberals’ manipulation of the Qaddafi-Ortega friendship, but has not stopped them from constantly trying to make waves with the international terrorism theme.

The battle of the lists

The FSLN apparently decided that attack was the best form of defense against the Liberals’ crass manipulations. A week after the attack on the United States, the pro-Sandinista media trained their microphones on a man whose face was never shown and who claimed to have worked with a highly organized network set up in Nicaragua to traffic in undocumented emigrants. He said that Nicaraguan passports had been provided to at least 600 Arabs who were then illegally transported toward the United States. Offering abundant details, including the price of falsified passports, places of "work" and which nationalities were the most expensive, the coyote reported that the network had ramifications in various institutions of the Alemán government. According to him, it was headed by José Rivas, until a few months ago the Alemán government’s director of migration. He was relieved of his position in response to pressure from the US consul in Managua, who also charged, without offering public evidence, that Rivas had been trafficking in migrants.
Rivas charged the faceless informant—who quickly disappeared from the scene—with libel but the government opened an investigation and ordered Rivas’ arrest. While his lawyers were busy alleging that he still had immunity, Rivas disappeared as well. It is a good bet that as with so many other cases involving top government officials, at least some of which probably include actors of another political stripe, the national institutions will never get to the bottom of this particular plot. Will the FBI, which is reportedly skulking around inside Nicaragua, manage to decipher it?

The next skirmish came when none other than Liberal candidate Enrique Bolaños appeared before the media with his own list of 894 foreigners who received Nicaraguan citizenship during the FSLN’s lame duck period of February-April 1990. These people tended to be individuals attracted by the revolution who had made their lives here and feared expulsion by an incoming rightwing government. Bolaños called the procedure a "piñata of nationalizations" and announced that he would investigate all who appeared on the list to weed out the terrorists among them. With the country’s institutionality in a shambles due to corruption and the pact, such a hasty investigation for purely electoral motives would be a highly arbitrary affair.



Only one way to think

Even before President Bush gave the world his arrogant and peremptory ultimatum, "All nations in every region must now decide: you are either with us or you are with the terrorists," the weak Central American governments had already decided. Meeting in a hasty "summit" in El Zamorano, Honduras, on September 19, the region’s Presidents, so dependent on international cooperation and always looking to the colossus to the north before taking their decisions, offered troops for "humanitarian tasks" in the new war to be commanded by the United States.

The final declaration signed by the Presidents of Costa Rica, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras and Belize was titled "Central America United Against Terrorism" and contained eight coordinated control and vigilance measures. They are summarized as follows: 1) Improve and streamline mechanisms for exchanging information on terrorism among the countries and with the US, 2) Strengthen security in the region’s borders, ports and airports, 3) Exercise maximum control and observation over the migratory flows to Central America, 4) Coordinate actions so that Central American territory is not used by terrorist groups of any origin or ideology, 5) Strengthen penal legislation to criminalize association with terrorist groups or individuals and authorize the freezing and confiscating of the financial resources of such individuals and groups, 6) Condemn any links between Central American groups and international terrorism, 7) Urge the legislative and judicial systems to set norms for sanctions against terrorism and prompt extradition of terrorists to those states that so require, 8) Ensure the full effect of the relevant legal instruments [the document cites various regional and international agreements issued between 1963 and 1979].

Depending on how these measures are implemented, they could obviously have a very negative effect on Central American lives. With such fragile institutions and so many authoritarian and exclusionary tendencies amok in our region, such actions could lead to human rights violations and restrictions of the civil and political liberties for which Nicaraguans and other Central Americans have paid such a very high price in recent years.

In their Declaration, the Central American heads of state also demanded that all political organizations that maintain relations with terrorist structures suspend them immediately, fearing that such relations aim at legitimizing international terrorism and could lead to the use of Central America territory as a base for terrorist activities. The satisfaction at having been able to include this "signed" allusion to disqualify both the FMLN and the FSLN for simple electoral reasons was evident in later statements made to journalists by the Presidents of both El Salvador and Nicaragua.

Everything that is happening and everything foreseeable makes it a safe bet that those who were called revolutionaries because they took up arms at a time when state terrorism was killing, torturing, forcing disappearances and closing all political spaces will now be reclassified as terrorists. What else could we expect from an underdeveloped Central American version of the "single-think" mandate brought down on us by the overturning of history on September 11?

Regrettably, the world crisis generated by the terrorist attacks in the United States did not bestow much wisdom or sensitivity on national politics. Sandinista leaders ducked for cover, stringing together generic words that said nothing about what had happened, fearful of any slip if they opted for the coherent alternative discourse that is so desperately needed if we are to understand the world’s complexity beyond the extraordinarily dangerous oversimplifications of monolithic thinking. Meanwhile the Liberal leaders polarized their anti-Sandinista discourse even more crassly, abusing the geopolitical ignorance of the majority of the Nicaraguan population, which lacks any access to world maps or world history.

Economic ramifications of Bush’s "long campaign"

According to the media, only two Nicaraguans died in the twin towers, but like all countries in the area, Nicaragua will suffer more human loss in the war against terrorism, which according to Bush will be "a long campaign unlike any other we have ever seen." Miami’s Committee of Poor Nicaraguans in Exile estimates that some fifteen hundred Nicaraguans called to the ranks of the US Army could fight, and die, in this long campaign.

But the most widespread effects will be economic. For example, our already fragile economy would be severely affected by rising or unstable petroleum prices. An equally devastating example is family remittances. Around 400,000 Nicaraguans live and work in the United States and many of them sustain their families in Nicaragua with small monthly remittances. Adding up to some US$800 million a year, family remittances from both the United States and Costa Rica have become so important that they are now Nicaragua’s main source of hard currency income. The 40% reduction in remittances observed by the Central Bank in the first three weeks following the terrorist attack alone makes it easy to imagine the effect this will have on Nicaraguan lives over the course of such a previously unseen campaign.

The main problem the new President elected on November 4 will have to resolve is unemployment; 47% of those recently polled by the Central American University’s Institute of Polls and Public Opinion Surveys (IDESO) put it at the top of their list even before the recent events. Some 45,000 Nicaraguans, most of them women, work in maquiladoras—assembly plants that re-export the assembled product, mainly garments, to the United States—but demand there is already dropping. There have already been new layoffs—supposedly only temporarily—in the Sébaco assembly plant. And the unemployment problem is not just confined to Nicaragua; recession was hitting the United States even before the attack. Any rise in layoffs there could force some unemployed Nicaraguans to return home
Over a third of all Nicaraguan exports go to the United States, and they could either increase or fall, depending on the type of product. Tourism has been hard hit around the world, and Nicaragua’s incipient tourist industry—with an annual income of only US$130 million—is already displaying the symptoms of crisis due to the drop in visitors from the United States. Making matters worse, the international cooperation on which Nicaragua is utterly dependent has already been shifting to other impoverished, conflictive parts of the world, but will surely shrink further and come with new conditions attached. And finally, on a more petty scale, but one that will affect numerous people’s lives, Nicaraguans living here and in the United States who are personally dependent on US good will for the issuing of residency permits, visas, scholarships and the like could see their personal lives affected.

Election polls before and after

Five election polls were done in late August and early September, all of them before the attack on the United States. Give or take a point, all five confirmed the trend of recent months: a technical tie between the FSLN and the PLC, with Sandinista presidential candidate Daniel Ortega a couple of points ahead of Liberal candidate Enrique Bolaños, and a slower rate of undecided voters getting off the fence. Abstention and indecision have nearly settled in at Nicaragua’s normal 15-20%. The Conservative Party (PC) has bogged down with insignificant percentages following an abrupt drop in the intention to vote for this "alternative" after both original members of its presidential ticket resigned a few months ago. The IDESO poll conducted between September 1 and 4 expressed the technical tie between the two front runners at 39.2% for Ortega and 36.8% for Bolaños, with only 5% opting for the PC’s Alberto Saborío and a combination of abstainers, undecideds and non-responders accounting for the remaining 19% of those surveyed.

Will fear rule?

In December 1989, just weeks before the historic Nicaraguan elections of 1990, the government of George Bush Sr. ordered the invasion of Panama, a military operation that bombed civilian neighborhoods and killed thousands of Panamanians just to flush out a single man, Manuel Noriega. Was that not state terrorism? The fear inspired by that response, reported here as it was happening, but not until later to the American public, decided many Nicaraguan votes against the FSLN. This year, although not contemplated in the electoral script that began to be drafted in 2000, Nicaragua’s elections will be set in a climate of world war with all the justified fears that any war generates.

Twelve years later, what will carry more weight among a mainly young electorate that knows little of wars and geopolitics: national fears or international ones? Fear of the continuation of hunger and national misgovernment or fear of new international pressures? On the national stage, these elections were already permeated by fears of a continuation of the Alemán corruption or a rerun of the top-down Sandinismo of the eighties—and the pact effectively left us to choose the lesser of the two evils. On the international one, fear is also being used to force us to decide between two evils—war and terrorism.

The roar of the wounded giant, currently in an all-out war against a faceless enemy that could be anywhere and everywhere, cannot fail to generate concern, anxiety, prudence and fear, a range of feelings that could very well be expressed in Nicaragua’s polling booths, favoring the PLC at the last minute. Will it be the Armageddon effect that breaks the technical tie on November 4? If so, it would be yet more proof, as if proof were needed, of how the power of the United States continues to determine Nicaragua’s history.

A woman’s voice

A great solution in the midst of such international uncertainty and national exhaustion would be if all the honest politicians campaigning in the three parties plus the honest ones who are sitting this election out met, united, reached an agreement and stole the elections as write-ins. Pure utopia.

One of the most frightening aspects of the world conflict triggered by the collapse of the World Trade Center towers is the excess of male politicians everywhere one looks, deciding with their risk-riddled masculine arrogance who God is, whose side "he" is on and what humanity’s fate will be. They say that a woman changes when she goes into politics, but that politics will only change when women go into politics. Let us hope that happens, because if it does there will surely be fewer wars, more respect for life and fewer innocent deaths.

In the meantime, on October 8, while her male colleague in the United States was launching bombs against Afghanistan’s impoverished cities, former Nicaraguan President Violeta Barrios de Chamorro launched a Message to the Nation. The message of this woman who is as strong as she is popular seems particularly well adapted to Nicaragua’s closed reality, compassionately analyzing our national situation and proposing the only thing that seems possible and sensible at this moment. Whether her ideas come from her conservatism or her sensibilities as a woman whose only stake in the outcome is that life itself continue, we translate them here as a gateway to our next issue, which, all other things remaining relatively equal, will bring you the election results.

A single strategy

I offer these words with my unending affection for all of you, conscious of the dramatic moments the world is living through since the terrorist attack on the United States on September 11, of the military operations already initiated in Afghanistan and of the enormous importance of the upcoming elections for the future of our country. I am not happy about what we have seen over the past years. You know my way of thinking. The democracy that cost us so much to build has been weakened by the consequences of a pact that was made without thinking about the nation, and by the corruption promoted from the Presidency of the Republic itself.

The abyss into which we have fallen is so deep that I feel we cannot now accept the statement that the party in office represents democracy much less the sad argument that if we do not support it we will get a worse one. Nor do I agree with what was done in the eighties. That is why I withdrew from the government junta and why I agreed to be the UNO candidate ten years later, to come back to try to build the democracy that my husband Pedro Joaquín so longed for.

In these precious moments, world stability is so uncertain, the coffee situation so hard, the moral crisis so profound and the state of the international reserves so fragile that none of the three parties can presume to have the capacity to take the country forward based on its forces and ideas alone.

Only united, as a single nation, can we go forward. Only accepting that the Conservatives have as much right to win as the Sandinistas or the Liberals are we going to be able to accept the results of these elections with the tranquility necessary to then dedicate ourselves to working with hope for our future. We must trust our democratic vocation. The National Reconciliation that was forged during my government, which is still plainly evident, must now be turned into Unity of Nation.

The next government, whichever one wins the elections, must govern for all, based on the ideas that unite us and on Policies of State. And it must do so respecting a Government Program based on the sincere search for a Vision of Nation shared by winners and losers alike, and for a great National Plan or Project of Nation for our country’s future. To be the most representative possible, the next government must set aside party interests and seek the involvement of capable and honest citizens, even if they are from other political tendencies.

Only with a single strategy, a national agreement, a program for everyone and a representative government will we be able to put our democracy in order, strengthen the institutions, reaffirm the rule of law, attract important investments, generate productive employment, increase our production and live as brothers and sisters in a sustainable reconciliation.

The three commitments

Wanting to make her own small contribution, Violeta Chamorro invited the three presidential candidates to visit her and accept a triple commitment.

1) that the winning party abstain from victory celebrations before the results are made known;
2) that the President-elect promptly and "formally invite the other two candidates and the newly elected legislators to hammer out a long-term National Strategy before Christmas that will include the new Program of Government that will govern this presidential term";
3) that the President-elect begin the transition period by writing to the President of the United States "stating that the new government of Nicaragua will be with his country, with the democracies of the world and with all governments that want to help in the struggle against terrorism and against international drug trafficking."
She ended her message saying, "To hear these three commitments from the candidates will fill us with energy to exercise our right to vote because we will know that, no matter who wins, there will be a nation and prosperity for all, a friendly government and a world that is safer for humanity."

Some know when to show dignity… and some don’t

Is it also utopian to think that the world’s and our own tense situation might finally bring us to our knees, not before the wounded giant, but before our own embattled little country, forcing us to humbly acknowledge that we all need each other if we are to go forward? FSLN candidate Daniel Ortega visited Chamorro the day after she issued her message to accept the three commitments. In a separate visit on the same day, Conservative candidate Alberto Saborío did likewise.

Liberal candidate Enrique Bolaños accepted the commitments before the media and in his own Message to the Nation said that "it is essential that doña Violeta commit Comandante Ortega to specific actions before the elections, since his word is not enough; simply asking forgiveness is not enough. He should return all his ill-gotten goods; present a declaration of probity to convince us of the legitimacy of his enrichment; present proof that he has paid the taxes that correspond to him since 1979; not shield himself behind his immunity and face the suit his daughter [sic] has brought against him." Lest anyone still think Bolaños might sit down and hammer anything out with Ortega, win or lose, he added that "it is imperative that Comandante Ortega, alluded to in various official US pronouncements, seriously address the grave reservations expressed over his record of human rights violations."

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