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  Number 107 | Junio 1990
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UNO's Balance of Power—On a Tight Rope

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The internal workings and struggles of UNO are a labyrinth of political interests, ideological differences and personal rivalries. At times, the different factions have maintained the appearance of unity, and at times they have degenerated to public mud-slinging, or even fist fighting. The divisions were evident long before the February 25 election but came to a head as real power has been distributed in the new administration.

Within 48 hours of Violeta Chamorro's inauguration, the Political Council of the 14-party UNO coalition had already semi-officially split in two. That was Friday morning. By the following Monday, UNO leaders stated that a split might not be necessary—the coalition would simply purge the most independent-minded elements. Then, silence. The next official statement issued by the Political Council was in unanimous support of the President's handling of the mid-May workers' strikes.

Clearly unity worked to the opposition's advantage in the February elections. Parties that did not join the UNO coalition were left with virtually nothing. The traditionally strong Conservative Democrats (PCD) took the greatest fall—from 14 National Assembly representatives, after winning second place in the 1984 elections, to none. The only parties that won seats in Parliament—each obtaining one representative—besides UNO and the FSLN, were the United Revolutionary Movement (MUR) and the Social Christian Party (PSC), the latter only because it gave its Atlantic Coast candidacies to the Miskito group Yatama.

UNO's precarious unity is based on three important factors: a fundamental rightwing capitalist ideology as expressed in its fairly general government platform; US pressure and financial support; and opposition to the FSLN. But significant areas of internal conflict remain, complicated by the presence of the contras on one side and the Sandinistas on the other. This creates a difficult framework from which to predict future policy decisions or which tendency within the alliance will win out over the long term. This article gives an overview of the major interest groups represented in the UNO coalition and provides examples of some of the factors at play behind the scenes.

The tendencies

There are three main tendencies within the UNO coalition. While their differences are not always well defined, they have become clearer as each has taken a certain quota of power in the new administration. In some cases, individuals wear more than one hat or switch tendencies depending on the particular issue. Often, personal animosity is more important than ideological differences. And while UNO has, at times, let conflicts become public, backroom negotiations have also taken place that smooth over differences out of the public eye.

The two groups that have become the most important politically are the UNO Political Council, or Godoy faction, led by Chamorro's Vice President, Virgilio Godoy, and the Chamorro faction, led by President Chamorro herself and her closest advisors. The Superior Council of Private Enterprise (COSEP), the conservative association of business elite, represents the third.

The Godoy Faction. The UNO Political Council is made up of representatives of each of the 14 political parties or fractions of parties that joined the alliance last year. It is the governing body that officially made decisions on behalf of the coalition during the campaign period. It’s members elected the Chamorro-Godoy ticket, negotiated amongst themselves the National Assembly and Municipal Council candidates and agreed on UNO's campaign platform and government program.

The Political Council as a whole represents the political interests of the parties in the new government. It is fundamentally a group of politicians who want political power and now virtually control the legislative branch—UNO's 51 National Assembly seats. The Political Council is equated with the Godoy faction because its majority firmly backs Vice President Virgilio Godoy. But a significant minority, more than enough to swing the parliamentary majority, backs Chamorro. When the Council is divided, therefore, the faction that could ally with the FSLN's important 38-member voting block controls the vote.

The Chamorro Faction. The Chamorro faction includes the President, the “advisory team” she set up to run her campaign, most of whom were since appointed to important Cabinet posts, and the minority parties from the Political Council that have sided with her. This faction is made up primarily of people who, like the President herself, are without political parties or political trajectory. Key members are relatives of the Chamorro clan such as her son-in-law, Minister of the Presidency Antonio Lacayo; Minister of Government Carlos Hurtado; and Lacayo's brother-in-law, Assembly Secretary Alfredo César, leader of the Social Democratic Party (PSD). Four of the people the President relies on most are founders of the Commission for the Recovery and Development of Nicaragua (CORDENIC)—Lacayo again, Central Bank President Francisco Mayorga, Foreign Minister Enrique Dreyfus and Labor Minister Francisco Rosales, none of whom are tied to a political party.

Eight dissident COSEP members formed CORDENIC in 1988 in order to work toward a negotiated economic “peace” with the Sandinista government. It was created as an alternative to COSEP, which functions practically as a political party, to work primarily as a pressure group for the economic interests of the business class. Its Statement of Principles says it was formed “without pretensions of a political nature.” Paradoxically, CORDENIC founders now control key political positions.

As a political force, the Chamorro faction clearly controls the executive branch of government. The fundamental goal of its members is to maintain that control, which requires carefully balancing all other important political forces around them.

COSEP. In spite of COSEP's heavy involvement in politics under the Sandinista government—at the forefront of the opposition movement until last year—its interests are fundamentally economic. COSEP is the business association of bourgeois producers, with various chambers representing branches of agriculture, industry and commerce. Since the end of 1981, its political arm has been the "Coordinadora," which included several small rightwing parties that are now members of UNO and two rightwing unions. The Coordinadora parties abstained from the 1984 elections to try to delegitimize them and always maintained close ties to the contras. Last year COSEP developed “The Blue and White Plan of National Salvation,” 71 pages outlining, basically, the complete reversal of all revolutionary programs—a return to Somocismo.

Within UNO, however, COSEP lost its role as opposition leader when Chamorro and Godoy defeated its candidate, former COSEP president Enrique Bolaños, for the presidential ticket. Nor did the Blue and White Plan become the UNO program.

COSEP's primary interest now is getting the guarantees necessary for investment and production. Many have lost land and other property to Sandinista government confiscations over the last ten years and now want them back. As a political force, COSEP members were given no important Cabinet positions, but the four Coordinadora parties that firmly backed Bolaños' candidacy now control a significant block of 18 National Assembly seats. For the time being, with the Godoy and Chamorro factions dominating the political scenario, those representatives have gravitated toward one or the other of those two factions.

It would be surprising not to find ideological differences in a coalition made up of 14 political parties that represent at least five different political tendencies Conservative, Liberal, Social Christian, Social Democratic and Marxist. (The historical roots of the current political parties are fully described in the October 1989 issue of envío,). Two of the smaller parties do not have legal status; and one is not even a party; it is nothing more than a handful of members of the Popular Social Christian Party (PPSC) who remained with UNO after the PPSC officially withdrew from the coalition. Some of the parties abstained from the 1984 elections; some participated; and some were formed so recently that they did not even exist in 1984.

In the National Assembly, UNO is represented by what can generally be categorized as 14 Conservatives, 13 Liberals, 10 Social Christians, 8 Social Democrats and 6 Communists and Socialists, a total of 51 delegates. This alone is grounds for a shaky unity. Though the parties agree on a fundamental rightwing ideology, they will not necessarily agree on more specific issues that could arise in the future.

For example, the Communist Party (PCdeN), which believes this is a necessary “transitory stage" toward the real “bourgeois democratic revolution,” may not support all of the coalition's economic and labor policies. Though PCdeN leader Elí Altamirano is, ironically, Godoy’s most loyal backer, Emilio Márquez Acuña, Assembly alternate to Communist representative and union leader Roberto Moreno, said “We aren't in alliance with anybody... There are simply points of coincidence.” The PCdeN, said Márquez, “definitively” is not obligated to vote with the alliance. “We want our hands free.”

The Communist Party is fervently opposed to COSEP and its Blue and White Plan, which some COSEP leaders alluded to during the February 25 to April 25 transition period as UNO's government plan. Last year the Communists threatened to leave the coalition if Bolaños was selected as a candidate on the presidential ticket. Sociologist, economist and author Oscar René Vargas, however, suggests that Altamirano is too closely tied to Godoy to allow the PCdeN's three representatives to break with the coalition vote, even over policies that impinge on workers' rights.

Some analysts have predicted that the three Socialist Party (PSN) representatives, led by Assembly Vice President Luis Sánchez, might also oppose future UNO economic or labor policies and break from the 51-member voting bloc. But Sánchez has become a Chamorro loyalist, and the PSN in general has moved to a much more social democratic than socialist ideology over the past year. Sánchez himself simply said, “As long as the FSLN maintains a confrontational attitude toward the government, insisting on ‘governing from below,’ the UNO will vote as a single bloc in the Assembly.”

A vote for the past, or a peaceful future?

The primary ideological differences between the Godoy and Chamorro factions have to do with the interpretation of the February vote. Both believe that the people voted for a change, but the Godoy faction believes that “change” means a total change, an immediate reversal of all revolutionary programs, a return to Somocismo without Somoza, irrespective of the consequences of social upheaval or civil war that might mean. The Chamorro camp, however, which has been called the “modernizing” faction, believes, at least for practical reasons, that revolutionary programs cannot completely be reversed, that, for example, not all properties can be returned to their former owners. Like it or not, the FSLN is a formidable opponent that must be reckoned with.

CORDENIC separated itself from COSEP (which, ideologically, aligns with the Godoy camp) by responding to the Sandinista government's calls last year for a national “concertation”—an economic pact between the business sector, the government and the working class to bring the country out of its economic decline. CORDENIC was created, according to its Statement of Principles, “to offer an independent vision about the nation's strategic options for confronting the crucial challenges of the economy’s reconstruction and reactivation.” With the coming of peace, it continues, it is time for a "change of attitudes and rethinking of responsibilities and roles of all sectors of society." CORDENIC calls for "cooperation to overcome a tradition of confrontation and distrust... to work together for the common goal of economic and social progress."

CORDENIC wrote this statement when the FSLN was in power and was expected to be in power for several more years. Reversing Sandinismo was not an option at that time. According to Oscar René Vargas, the most important ideological difference between CORDENIC and COSEP is that the latter would return to the past, to the same traditional agrarian structures, while CORDENIC supports the “modernization of capital.” Both want Sandinismo, as a social project, to be destroyed, says Vargas.

How to destroy the FSLN—quietly, or with a vengeance?More fundamental than ideological differences between CORDENIC, the Godoy faction and COSEP is simply a difference in methodology—different means, with different time frames, but similar ends. CORDENIC's call for cooperation and negotiation is what differentiates Chamorro's camp from the other two. It is a difference that is as visceral as it is philosophical.

Both the Political Council and COSEP have firmly opposed any negotiation or concessions to the FSLN since the beginning of the transition period. The signing of the Transition Protocol marked the first major post-election dispute within UNO. The agreement, signed by Antonio Lacayo for the incoming government and General Humberto Ortega for the Sandinistas, emphasized national reconciliation and promises to respect the Constitution and the constitutionality of the armed forces. The UNO government also agreed to respect the property rights of those who received confiscated properties up until February 25, 1990, and guaranteed job security for state officials and the constitutional rights of unions and other associations.

All of these guarantees went far beyond the desires of the other two factions within the coalition, who would not choose to recognize even the fundamental legal framework—the Constitution—they inherited, and would replace the Sandinista Popular Army with a contra army that would, presumably, put an end to the Sandinistas once and for all. These two factions see even negotiation with the “enemy” as treason and have consistently criticized the Chamorro faction, directing most of their animosity at Lacayo and Alfredo César, for making secret “pacts" with the Sandinistas.

As the new government was being inaugurated, the conflict over concessions to the outgoing FSLN carne to a head when Chamorro announced her decision to retain Humberto Ortega as head of the armed forces until the June 10 deadline for contra demobilization. Two important COSEP members refused their new Cabinet posts in protest, and Godoy and newly-elected National Assembly president and Godoy backer Miriam Argüello left Chamorro as lone representative of the new government at the diplomatic inaugural reception that night.

But the Chamorro faction's willingness to negotiate with the FSLN does not mean it recognizes the Sandinistas as a political force it must simply accept or that its “more moderate” goals are a centrist “coalition government,” as the far Right accuses in order to dissuade any further negotiation. Its goals are ultimately very similar to those of the other factions—to put an end to the FSLN as a social and political force. But whereas the extremists would risk civil war—or perhaps even desire it—to eliminate the FSLN, the President's pragmatists prefer to move more slowly, within the given legal framework, dismantling the revolution one piece at a time to avoid chaos. Says Oscar René Vargas, both factions are counterrevolutionary, but “[the Chamorro faction] wants to domesticate Sandinismo, wants it to serve as a counterweight to the right; the others want to eliminate it so they can rise up and return to the past.”

Godoy himself has become known as a rash extremist. His Independent Liberal Party (PLI) participated in a coalition with the Sandinistas until 1984 and was historically a centrist progressive party. After Bolaños lost the vice presidential candidacy to Godoy, COSEP-allied radio stations launched an all-out attack on Godoy for two days, calling him a traitor, opportunist and untrustworthy politician for his past alliance with the Sandinistas.

But Godoy had taken a sharp turn to the right even by the 1984 elections, causing divisions within his own party but finally winning COSEP's support in recent months. Party members who left the PLI have called Godoy totalitarian and dictatorial. He made memorable statements before and after the elections, like calling Chamorro a “worthless bag of bones” before she was chosen as UNO's presidential candidate; just before election day, he called on supporters to go to polling places and “watch over” the vote count on election night—clearly attempting to incite violence; and after UNO's victory, he threatened to throw all international solidarity workers out of the country after the inauguration. A member of one of the international missions called Godoy a “very embittered” man, who “would do anything to get rid of the Sandinistas.”

Politicians, parties and power

Many of the conflicts and divisions within the UNO coalition are based on politics and power struggles. Internal negotiations during the campaign were often based on who got how much of the pie. The older COSEP parties were angry that new, small parties got an equal vote within the Political Council. Nicaraguan journalist Guillermo Cortés Domínguez, in his book La Lucha por el Poder, quotes National Conservative Party leader Dr. Julio Icaza Tijerino as stating that “it was a serious error to give equal conditions to very small parties.” Tijerino says the Central American Integrationist Party has only three members, the National Conservative Alliance two, and calls César’s PSD and Sánchez’s PSN just “letterhead.” These parties generally took a smaller cut of power in terms of National Assembly representatives and probably in other ways. It is important to note that all four are currently aligned with Chamorro.

Cortés writes that it was César who maneuvered the votes to guarantee a Chamorro-Godoy ticket, in order to displace COSEP from its traditional role as leader of the opposition to the Sandinistas. As a “consolation prize,” says Cortés, COSEP parties were given three out of five positions on UNO's campaign committee, with the other two going to Godoys party and César himself. “But in practice it is Alfredo César, the man who manages [Chamorro],” writes Cortés, “who has control.”

The Political Council spent a large part of the campaign and transition periods fighting for a role in Chamorro's decision making, furious that “non-politicians” like Lacayo and “opportunists” who had been out of the country for several years like César were dominating the political limelight.

The controversy over César carne to light in November, while both Chamorro and César were out of the country. Communist leader Elí Altamirano led a campaign to oust César from his position in the UNO Campaign Committee, supported by the Political Council in a 12-2 vote. The stated reason was “technical restructuring,” while César, upon his return, criticized the Council for giving in to Sandinista propaganda denouncing him for his former role in the contra directorate.

The real reason had to do with the intense dislike by Altamirano and many of the other politicians of the ambitious César, who does not hide his desire for power. They resent his taking center stage upon his return to Nicaragua after several years outside the country.

Cortés quotes Altamirano as saying that while it is fine for contras to come back and participate in the electoral process, they should not try to “elbow out the original leaders of the civic movement to opportunistically occupy undeserved positions...”

The controversy heightened when Chamorro, immediately upon her return, appointed César her top personal political adviser and began to surround herself with a trusted team of “experts.” (Those experts, like Lacayo and Mayorga, now make up her Cabinet.) She and her advisers proceeded to ignore the Political Council's authority throughout the campaign and most of the way through the transition period, exacerbating tensions between the two groups.

As inauguration day approached, the Political Council began to voice concern that COSEP members would be appointed to all the important Cabinet positions and the Council would not be consulted. Roberto Moreno, Assembly delegate for the Communist Party, told the PPSC weekly newspaper La Crónica, “We think the only advice that [Violeta] should listen to is that of the Political Council, and in no way should it be that of COSEP or of the transition team.” He had complained in an earlier La Crónica interview that "Antonio Lacayo is promising ministries and making decisions that correspond only to doña Violeta, in consultation with the Political Council." Moreno warned, “If the Council is marginalized, the government will take office with its hands tied, because the alliance would move to the opposition.”

In another swing at César, the Political Council sent an official request to Chamorro that no former contras be allowed to receive political appointments and that people holding assembly positions not be permitted to hold Cabinet posts as well.

Chamorro did, in fact, meet with the Political Council to discuss Cabinet positions, perhaps the first of many calculated moves to ease tensions in a delicate balancing act that will characterize her presidency. As it turned out, neither Council nor COSEP members took important positions in Chamorro's Cabinet, nor was César appointed to a ministry post. Whatever other dissatisfaction there was with the appointments was overshadowed by the controversy over Humberto Ortega.

The National Assembly struggle

The most important public power struggle between the factions took place in the National Assembly the night before the inauguration of the new government. It and Ortega's military position almost led to a permanent division in UNO and, therefore, the end of the coalition within 48 hours of Chamorro’s taking power.

UNO's National Assembly delegates had already chosen between two slates of candidates for the parliamentary leadership. One was proposed by the Godoy faction; the other by Alfredo César. The Godoy slate, headed by Miriam Argüello, won, and the delegates agreed to vote as a bloc for the winning slate in the first full Assembly session on April 24. But in that first session, the Chamorro faction, which supported the César slate, allied with the Sandinista voting bloc for a leadership with only one Godoy faction member (Argüello as president). Of the remaining six seats, four went to Chamorro supporters and two went to Sandinistas. César took the important position of first secretary, whose responsibilities include making final decisions on the Assembly's agenda.

Two Political Council members accused Godoy of having threatened them with reprisals if they did not vote for his candidates: he had told them he would be president within the year and “would make them pay.” A crisis in the coalition ensued. Chamorro's La Prensa launched a campaign against Godoy; Godoy launched a campaign against Lacayo and César. Two days after the inauguration, the Political Council announced that it had splsit in two, the “group of eight,” supporting Godoy, and the “group of six,” supporting Chamorro. Chamorro had locked Godoy out of the Presidential Offices that morning, refusing even to give him office space.

A Tentative Cease-fire

Three days later, PLI leader Jaime Bonilla announced that a split would not be necessary; that leaders of all but two or three parties, though not all members with Assembly positions, were willing to follow the decisions of the majority in the Political Council. Certain parties, too loyal to Chamorro, would be expelled, and party leaders would try to reign in their errant members. (La Crónica reported before the Governing Council vote that at least three parties were divided internally over which slate, or faction, to support.)

No expulsions ever occurred, and there were no further public outbursts. Two weeks later, the Council spoke again as one united voice in support of the executive's handling of the state workers' strikes. But the divisions were, and still are, real. So what happened?

It is impossible to tell what negotiations took place behind the scenes, but several factors played a role. Most importantly, UNO must have recognized that a split in the coalition only worked in the FSLN’s favor, and neither faction wants to give power to the FSLN.

Second, the US exerted pressure on Chamorro to reverse her decision to retain Ortega as head of the armed forces, which she did not. Ortega was probably not the only topic of discussion. Clearly, the objection to Ortega's retention relates to a more fundamental US opposition to concessions or alliances with the FSLN.

Third, the new government had just been inaugurated and had not made any policy decisions yet. Within days, the President issued decrees suspending the Civil Service Law, reviewing property confiscations and allowing private rental of state lands. In its first official session, UNO National Assembly representatives voted as a single bloc on changes in the Civil Service Law and the Labor Code. All these issues represent points of ideological unity.

Unity temporarily won center stage, held there by the state workers' strike, which the coalition claimed was organized and directed by the FSLN National Directorate. But the tensions between the Chamorro and Godoy factions run too deep to simply disappear.

COSEP, meanwhile, seems to have backed out of the political arena as a faction for the moment. It is possible that the group will return to its pre-1980 role as simply a powerful economic interest group; because of its economic importance to the new government, it can count on policy decisions largely in its favor. But most political analysts do not see COSEP giving up politics. Vargas suggests that its economic interests will continually return to one fundamental political interest—that the only sufficient guarantee for investment will be liquidation of the Sandinistas.

Influencing the balance

Another element to consider in looking toward the future balance of power is the grassroots support base of the different factions. So far the population at large has generally not taken sides in UNO's internal battles, at least not in any organized fashion. The vast majority of people who voted UNO voted for Violeta Chamorro and not for a particular political party or program. They voted for peace and economic security, not vengeance. Polls early in the campaign showed that UNO as a whole, united behind Chamorro, was much stronger than the sum of its individual political parts. It was probably this fact that made Chamorro and her advisers secure in separating themselves from the Political Council before the elections.

But the parties that back Chamorro are generally small, new and without the infrastructure necessary to organize the grass roots. Godoy’s PLI and the other parties behind him have the infrastructure and a more politicized rightwing political base, but it is small. Godoy also has the support of the contras, who have constantly coincided with the Godoy and COSEP factions' criticisms of Chamorro's decision to negotiate with the Sandinistas and respect the integrity of the Sandinista Popular Army (EPS).

With respect to the contras, Chamorro appears, again, to be playing a balancing game. On the one hand, they are a threat to her—they have sided with Godoy, demanded the removal of Cabinet members like Lacayo and Minister of Government Carlos Hurtado (his ministry oversees the army and police) and periodically threaten to renew the war. The return to violent conflict would favor the Godoy extremists. On the other hand, the contras provide the counterweight to the EPS, which the Chamorro faction also wants to control. Chamorro has continued to negotiate with the contras, refusing to take a hard-line stance even though they have not honored the intent of any of the accords they already signed. The plan to set up “development poles,” which would clearly allow for the reorganization and reactivation of the contra army on short notice, also indicates the government's willingness to keep them on hand.

There are other important influences on President Chamorro herself. Because of her non-political and avidly religious orientation, she is probably more swayed by people “outside” the UNO coalition, like Cardinal Obando y Bravo and old friend Venezuelan President Carlos Andrés Pérez, than by politicians within it. She will also undoubtedly be strongly influenced by the new US ambassador, Harry Schlaudeman.

The United States has played with and discarded each faction as necessary. COSEP used to be the Nicaraguan arm of the State Department. But Chamorro, not Bolaños, was “Washington’s candidate” and César was the US government's actor this time. The contras are still on the sidelines. Will the US discard Chamorro in favor of the harder-line Godoy? Logically, one would expect the US to support peaceful cooptation—war is expensive and stability is good for business. But no option has been rejected; all the cards are on the table, waiting to be played if and when needed.

A pendulum presidency

So what does all of this mean in terms of predicting the future of UNO and government policy? While powerful influences keep the UNO coalition together, the playing field is too complex for the Presidency to simply unite with the hard-line Godoyists. In order to stay in power, the Chamorro faction has to balance a myriad of different elements, not just UNO and the FSLN. Her followers, with Lacayo and César in the lead, will be forced to play the different factions off against each other, constantly calculating and maneuvering behind the scenes. They will be operating more on the defensive than promoting a political project of their own.

Says Oscar René Vargas, “This government is like a pendulum. Suddenly it’ll be over here, similar to the FSLN but not the FSLN; then suddenly it'll move to the center, then—bang!—to the right. It'll be there a while then back again. Its own survival depends on it.”

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