Daniel Ortega: "Everything Depends on Our Ability to Fight Back"
On April 12, the former President of Nicaragua, Daniel Ortega,
met with the envío editorial team, contributors and friends.
In the interview, Ortega touches on several of the more
controversial issues of Nicaragua's ever-changing
political and economic scene.
envío: During the early months of 1991, there seemed to be great confusion among the Sandinista rank and file and a lack of guidance from the leadership. How would you evaluate that perception?
Ortega: Both in the transition period from February to April 1990, as well as two months later in the assembly at El Crucero, we made important decisions within the FSLN. But applying those decisions in practice has resulted in much discussion among our ranks. Sandinistas have different interpretations of the country's complex reality; there's a huge range of opinions inside the party, including very diverse and even contradictory positions. For this reason we've recently been involved in an internal discussion process with the Sandinista membership in all different sectors, as well as inside the National Directorate itself. We've already reached unity in the Directorate.
Independent of how each of us evaluates this complex situation we're living through, we saw that we needed to reach some common ground. The first step towards this was to accept the current government. Although it isn't our government, it is the government of Nicaragua and therefore our obligation is to pressure it not only to make commitments to the people but also to keep those promises. Only if the government does so will the political, economic and social processes that began with the revolution be strengthened. But just because the government takes on certain commitments and then complies with them doesn't change the government's nature. We shouldn't confuse the nature of this government with the commitments it's forced to take on. This government has its own project, which is neither popular nor revolutionary. It’s a government that came from the US interventionist policy; that can’t be denied, that’s its history. To better understand this government's character, it bears remembering that when it took power on April 25, its first important decision, despite agreements it had already made, was to issue Decree 11-90, which violated both the Transition Protocol and the Constitution. In other words, from its first moments in office, the government tried to dismantle revolutionary gains, which had their foundations in the transformations made in the country's property structure.
So, we shouldn't waste too much time discussing what kind of government this is. It has a project; its class instinct is to favor the same minority that has historically been privileged in Nicaragua. It is very sensitive to US political pressure as well, and if all confiscated property could be returned to its former owners, Somocista or not, this government would do so. In manipulating the symbol of the blue and white national flag, it is trying to kill Sandino, who defended the country's sovereignty with his red and black flag. The fact that the government has had to reach accords favorable to the people due to the people's struggle in no way means it is losing its character of siding with the rich minority. We must not be misled—it’s not a vanguard political force, it hasn't changed ideologically or altered its class project. But it has shown itself to be intelligent enough to seek negotiations with a revolutionary reality. And that must be recognized.
envío: Both the Right and the Left are saying that the stability that has been achieved is the expression of a "co-government."
Ortega: No, there is no co-government. A co-government is not something we're pushing for, nor are they. There’s a commitment to reach stability in this country. And up to now the government has shown the intelligence to comprehend that stability depends on respecting the revolution's fundamental achievements. This intelligence doesn't mean that we can afford to let up our pressure on them. It's our duty to try to persuade them in our discussions with them and in the different negotiations underway. And we must also accompany this pressure and persuasion with action from the base, which should be pressuring along the same lines. This very complex situation can’t be seen in black and white terms. And there are Sandinistas—both intellectuals and among the base—who think that way, in black and white.
A co-government is not on the agenda; conditions for it don't exist. But nor have we called for either toppling or destabilizing this government. We have to bring it down the same way we were defeated, at the polls. Simply put, we want this government to continue the economic, social and political processes that the revolution began, even though it’s not our government. We have to be clear that it would be of no use to us to win the 1996 elections in a country where the revolution’s structural gains have been dismantled.
Whether or not we can achieve this, which is what the FSLN is calling for, will be determined by our capacity to struggle at the grassroots level. And that logically brings us into confrontation with the government over the measures it’s taking.
envío: The most recent economic measures seem to have brought confusion, silence and ambiguity among the FSLN.
Ortega: In February and March, with the implementation of new structural adjustment measures, a new crisis set in. First were the monetary adjustments [devaluations] and they had to be responded to. And we had to prepare to continue the battle against the adjustments still to come, which will determine this country's future. Either we return to the past with a neo-Somocista model or we continue to build on the revolution's basic achievements.
The monetary adjustment was necessary; it's indisputable that the government had to take that step. We made public our position on this in a communiqué issued March 6, where we spoke very clearly about the need for the measures, at the same time as we demanded certain corrections to the plan, which we enumerated. In other words, we did not give the government unconditional support for its plan. Before the government's announcement, we had tried to make it see that such a brutal adjustment plan was not advisable in a context in which the property structure had yet to be defined. There are unresolved and very strong tensions about property and land, about factories, about the homes that the revolution turned into state property or gave to thousands of new property owners. We thought it advisable to close this chapter before other things were done, because otherwise the country would face tremendous instability. The monetary measures were taken with this issue still in the air, and thus we think they won't achieve the stability they’re aiming for.
The government is under a great deal of pressure. Although it has said that the orders to return property to former owners do not necessarily mean that land must be returned, the government's decision to maintain Decree 11-90 encourages the former owners in practice. They show up at [their former] farms and look for legal advice or go to one of the urban settlements to demand their land back and put pressure on people. And this is an element of ongoing instability. This is what you sense when you talk to people: what do we do?, they say. They're coming to evict us, how do we respond? Some people feel defenseless; others fight back. And the fact is that these struggles are what make the government go one way or another. The bottom line is that right now everything depends on our ability to fight back. Because if we limit ourselves to pronouncements, legal or administrative details or signing accords, we'll never get anywhere. Our ability to struggle will determine the road the government takes.
We should be clear that property is what has really been in dispute since April 25. Forces are emerging from the past with the intention to go back in time and take control of all property. Defending property in such a complex situation is difficult. We've stated very clearly that we’ll defend the privatization of state enterprises to the workers. And we defend the workers' rights to keep lands and properties that were capitalized by the revolutionary government, which are the best and most productive lands: in coffee, 6,300 hectares of the best coffee lands, where yield is around 14 hundredweights per ha; as well as in cotton, where we're fighting for 8,000 hectares of the most productive cotton lands. We're in the decisive phase right now—the discussion about the future of property in this country. We propose that a high percentage of both state lands and enterprises remain in the workers’ hands. And the government is proposing the contrary; it hopes to reduce workers' participation and ownership as much as possible.
envío: What do you see, in the best of cases, for the properties that stay in workers’ hands?
Ortega: It's in the long term that things start to look more difficult, since this is the moment of defining a new system of property. The first battle is to make sure that property stays in the hands of workers and peasants. Because if we lose the land, how will we strengthen those economic groups that support the revolutionary project? In the long term, we face a great challenge. We have to see that these properties are developed and that they reproduce capital. There's the risk that these properties will be dismantled, that economic projects won't work given natural economic problems, especially with a government that's not helping the grassroots sectors. There's a risk that the peasants will be forced to sell their lands or the bank will foreclose on them and the lands will go to a huge landowner. This is the challenge, and it's an enormous one because these are the FSLN’s strategic investments. We live in a country where the base for reproduction of capital is in the export sector, in coffee, cotton and cattle lands—which at this moment may stay and are staying in the hands of the workers. These lands hold the future of our ability to build capital, the key to strengthening our revolutionary project.
This all has to be discussed. A debate about how to develop an economic strategy based on this property has to take place; it's a question of how to develop a revolutionary economic group. Economic groups in this country did not disappear during the revolution. The Lacayo group, for example, developed extensively under the Sandinista administration. Other groups are coming now, hoping to get involved in this new situation, looking to insert themselves. These family economic groups reproduce both capital and ideology and then they support certain electoral options. At this point, we have the challenge of developing an economic group that will strengthen the revolutionary project, so that the revolution will have its own economic group.
We can count on the forces that UNAG will be able to develop and the forces of the workers in industry and commerce. They are key to the revolution’s future. But, at the same time that they’re generating their own economic capacity, much political and ideological work needs to be done, or it could all blow up in our faces. We're in an unprecedented situation for a revolutionary movement that began as an armed group, then governed for more than 10 years and has now passed to the opposition as the most organized political party in the country. We face an enormous challenge. For the first time we're organizing our own economic group. While we were in power, we developed the Area of People's Property, owned by the state. We organized it, capitalized it, put resources into it so that the country would be supported socially by it. At the same time, our policy was to protect private production, whatever the owners' ideology. A number of producers opposing the revolution were economically benefited by our government's actions. But, as a government, we never organized our own economic group; we didn't organize businesses. The truth is that the party functioned as one more ministry, although I don't think we should be ashamed of that, because the 3,400 compañeros we had working in this "ministry" weren't just fulfilling party tasks, they were working for the good of the nation. They were at the forefront of many different tasks—picking coffee, responding to the hurricane, vaccinating children, recruiting for the draft, doing civil defense work, everything. They were poorly paid employees who worked selflessly, without time clocks, who sacrificed the chance for personal development in both cultural and professional terms.
For lack of resources, these 3,400 were cut back to some 200 after the electoral defeat. The party now needs to generate its own resources. We can't call it illegitimate for the FSLN to have an important economic force working with it, or to need the most developed enterprises to stay in Sandinista hands. That's what we would like, to have more resources. If the enterprises and lands with the most potential to develop are in enemy hands, then we should prepare ourselves, because how would we change that kind of situation? Armed struggle is out of the question at this point. It’s thus legitimate and necessary for the FSLN, and its members or friends, to get involved in commercial activity. It’s very controversial to discuss this in a country where the majority of people are in such dire economic straits that, but it has to be talked about.
These new economic groups—developed, profitable and successful—will give us the basis to continue influencing Nicaragua's social, political and economic processes from the opposition, although always with tremendous risks. It's not the same to organize the property system from the government as it is to confront a government of this nature, which has weapons at its disposal such as credit and financing to favor some and impoverish others, to distort situations, to weaken the revolutionary proposal economically and also ideologicallyto promote contradictions among us.
envío: It would seem that the FSLN is counting on the traditional base of capital accumulation, the big enterprises, the "modern" ones. But those who generate most of the country's agricultural wealth are the small and medium peasants. That's true in the industrial sector as well, where artisans and small and medium manufacturers account for a significant part of national production. It doesn't seem that the FSLN recognized this when it was in power nor does it seem now to offer an original proposal to respond to this reality.
Ortega: The fact is that we have to fight for the cotton lands, the coffee lands and organize these economic groups, while at the same time promoting the participation in production of poor peasants who are pressuring the government for preferential credit. We can't simply leave the large enterprises to one side. What should we do with it all, with the coffee and cotton infrastructure, which is very modern by Nicaraguan standards? What's most logical? Is it to our advantage to continue to develop them? They're already developed; they've proven that they're productive. They have a degree of technological concentration that we should make use of.
But it's true that beyond this decision, we lack our own economic project, an alternative. When we say that governments don't do what they want to do, but rather what people allow them to do, we're not speaking defensively. But, yes, I must recognize that we're on the defensive in economic terms, and what we've carried out to date is a containment policy only aimed at assuring that the government be less harsh. We've only made it to that point. For the moment, now that this country's property system is on the table, our alternative is to make sure that a large chunk of property passes to the hands of the workers. But this is only the beginning; it's not a proposal.
It's good to promote initiatives in this regard; there's a lot of reflection about what to do to articulate our own economic alternative. We need to take up this reflection ourselves and not simply wait for others to do it. For the moment, we've gained the space that will allow us to move in this direction. But we don't have a proposal right now and that's why it can be said that we're on the defensive in economic terms.
envío: And having this alternative economic proposal in hand, what do you think could be done?
Ortega: It would be ideal if the government were receptive to our proposal; naturally, receptive as a result of persuasion and pressure. We'll have to struggle to impose our own economic proposal. I repeat, we have to be clear that if we leave the decision about the course of events to the will of the government, to its class instinct, it won't take us in the direction of the people. And no matter how many accords there are, we can’t give up political-ideological debate. In that debate, we need to distinguish between this government's class character and the accords that it is forced by reality and our struggle to sign.
We have to make sure that the agreements the government makes move in the direction of truly benefiting national interests, the country's national stability and the interests of the majority. This government, which is a rightwing one, can be moved towards the center by our strength from the left, and we should even try and tip it towards the left. It's a long battle, one we can't give up, one that must be fought as every new situation arises. We support the workers independent of the forms of struggle they adopt. At the same time, we support the government's efforts to seek international financial resources. That’s what we've done and it's what we'll continue to do. Naturally, after the resources get here, we'll fight to make sure that they don't go to benefit only a minority, a small capitalist group, but rather that they are redistributed equitably. That is our struggle.
In this new economic era, we’re also trying to clarify to our people that if we had won the elections, we would have had to adopt similar economic measures, although in the context of a different project and with more sensitivity. This government has no social sensitivity, that's how it is. When both the health workers' strike and the customs strike were going on, immediately after the economic measures were announced, the government was only concerned about the customs strike. They were worried because it threatened the stability of the economic plan, and threw off their estimates about the flow of goods. But with the hospital strike, they were "saving" with the closure of hospitals—people's health didn't really matter to them. I think we have an obligation to change this insensitivity on the government's part. We can't give up the fight, since they say they're here to work for the poor. We're trying to clarify this.
Moreover, we also would have had to give back some properties even if we’d won, and, in fact, had already begun to do that before the elections. We were also planning to call for a national economic concertation after the elections. While we were in government, we could never really achieve such a negotiated agreement. What took place was ongoing sabotage of our economic and political efforts, both domestically and internationally. If we were governing now, we would be applying similar measures, in general terms, but with social sensitivity, so the cost of the adjustment would be less because the revolution was able to generate solidarity. It came from the unions, the neighborhoods, from all sides. There was solidarity among ministries, assistance from one state institution to another. And all that disappeared with this new government.
So the measures have had a greater impact, because this government is not sensitive to social issues. This government's measures should have had less impact, because they have more international resources than we did when we had to apply our adjustment program. But since they're not sensitive to people, they use all those resources to cover the deficit and don't touch a cent of it, even for medicines. They’re trying to impress the international financial institutions by applying a strict plan. Of course, they don't have as many resources as they say they do, and we've told them they're being irresponsible in suggesting that they do. A speech like Lacayo's on March 2 had only been seen under Somoza and in the first months of the revolution, when we promised to fill the country with houses, schools and roads. But our line soon changed and we began to talk of sacrifice. Lacayo was a great communicator on March 2, but he falsified reality. He played irresponsibly with people's hopes. Being clear about all these different issues has to help us unite our positions in the context of the very complex problems we're now facing. [On March 2, Minister of the Presidency Antonio Lacayo went on television to prepare people for the following day's announcement of the new monetary adjustment, which was presented in glowing terms.]
envío: Similar confusion has arisen with regard to the army's position, and more specifically that of General Ortega.
Ortega: The army's position is to stick very closely to the Constitution, not to identify itself with FSLN's political proposals. Logically, the FSLN's position cannot be the same as the army's. But, in the final analysis, a position like the one held by the army is a basic element of national stability and security for everyone. Security for all of us, Sandinistas and government alike. Naturally, when Humberto makes statements like those in his most recent interview in Mexico, it causes a stir among certain sectors. It's not easy to separate Humberto from his earlier political experience and look at him strictly in terms of his institutional role. He is currently a government official who’s defending the army’s constitutional role. I think the US has begun to realize that the army is promoting stability and is also convinced that Central America's stability depends in large part on Nicaragua's stability. Of course, even though it's convinced of this, it will continue to look for ways to gain more space for its own interests—which are clearly not revolutionary ones.
envío: The ethics issue has come to play an important role in the current political debate among Sandinistas. How are you dealing with or resolving this issue?
Ortega: Ethics is certainly very much an issue right now, and I think that we enter into a rather complex area in dealing with it. During the struggle against the Somocista dictatorship, we Sandinistas renounced all that we had and became militants, sustained by other party members, who were always a very small group. Those of us who survived such difficult and austere conditions were called on to govern, and once in government we made the mistake of never defining the status of Sandinista militants' property. I refer to this because the property issue has become very controversial when the question of ethics comes up, which is natural.
There is also the other aspect, the question of individual behavior. And concerning those two aspects, there are many criticisms of all of us, from the National Directorate members down to the last militant. I would say that the leader of any collective is the object of greater scrutiny by the collective. This scrutiny always occurs, whether it's in a political or a religious movement, in any group or collective.
So, regulating the behavior of a leader is not a matter of defining mandates, but is rather a problem of the relationships within the collective. In any revolutionary collective, the mechanism of criticism and self-criticism, which permits these issues to be dealt with and points out errors to the compañeros, including the leaders, must exist. We've been able to maintain this practice in the National Directorate.
This has generated tensions of all kinds and, logically, individual characteristics that cannot be collectivized must be taken into account. There's an environment of basic respect for each person's behavior that depends on the space each leaves to the others, because without this we risk imposing our individual perspective on others—the idea that if they aren't like me, it's not okay. There are compañeros who neither smoke nor drink and think that everyone else should do the same.
The area of individual behavior is extremely delicate. There are compañeros who are very efficient in their work and have weaknesses in their individual behavior. And there are others whose individual behavior qualifies them as saints but who are totally inadequate in their work. It's not an issue of putting one thing before another; it's about creating a collective of men and women who assume certain political commitments and do their work. They also have to be watchful of their individual behavior to avoid creating political problems and try to remedy this if it occurs. This is a very sensitive matter. On the one hand, we could fall into a policy of centralized requirements, or, on the other, a degree of tolerance that leads to weakness. We could fall into either extreme.
I also think that the force with which the ethics issue has been raised is one of the results of the electoral defeat. To look for someone to blame for what happened is a very human reaction. In any neighborhood we visit, people have already targeted someone. But, speaking as a Christian, I say that he who is free of sin should throw the first stone. The challenge that faces us now as women and men is to take on a commitment to the revolutionary struggle in these new circumstances and sustain that commitment always. We have to be glad that there are more and more of us, taking into account that we all have virtues and weaknesses. It’s impossible for everyone in the world to have the same behavior. A lot depends on the kind of education one has had, on one's cultural development, on training. There are weaknesses that depend very much on the capacity of a leader, at whatever level, to relate to and communicate with other compañeros.
envío: But the question of properties, of money, of the "piñata," have generated distrust among Sandinistas and this has political consequences...
Ortega: I repeat that we made the error, once we were in government, of never getting around to defining the question of Sandinista militants' property. We never defined if it was correct for militants who had joined before the triumph to own the houses we were living in. Until we came into the government, whatever properties, houses, businesses or land [a party member] had, had to be turned over to the collective But once we were in government, producers, merchants and property owners of all levels began to join the FSLN little by little and it became much broader; there were Sandinistas of all social classes. Of course, the rich ranchers or businessman who came to the party knew they had to struggle for national interests, putting the interests of the workers and national sovereignty and self determination in first place. It was a new situation. Before the triumph, the FSLN had broadened its base of support, its collaborators. When we had a collaborator with a car we were happy, and if he or she lived in a rich neighborhood we were even happier because it would be a safe house where the National Guard would never come look for us. The makeup of our military nucleus, though, was completely different back then from what we were after the triumph of the revolution, when we never defined if it was legitimate or not to own property.
When the electoral defeat occurred, we tried to protect many people, both Sandinistas and non-Sandinistas. When the campaign about the "piñata" heated up against us, I said that both the party and I took responsibility for it, because we felt obliged to protect our militants, who in most cases didn’t even have a house guaranteed after ten years. We had a responsibility when a counterrevolutionary government—as this government truly is—was coming. We had the obligation to protect many people and we turned over as many houses as we could and gave vehicles to cooperatives, to transport workers, to our employees, to the popular sectors. We gave away trucks and cars; we forgave debts; we gave away all the construction materials we had in warehouses; we gave away as much money as we could to families of the fallen, to families of the demobilized. Naturally, there was not enough to give to everyone—to Sandinistas, to sympathizers and the grassroots sectors. We gave away what we could and thus protected an important part of the population and an important sector of the Sandinista party. And we looked for ways to return properties and farms to those compañeros who had given them to us, because it was absurd for property that had been given to a revolutionary government to end up in the hands of a counterrevolutionary government.
At the time of the defeat, we saw clearly that we, as the FSLN, had never been able to organize a system of enterprises as all parties in the world do to finance themselves. The only thing we had was the party as one more "ministry," in which Sandinistas were very poorly paid employees who didn't have anything. In fact, the amount of dues that militants paid was totally symbolic and wasn't covering anything. There was a lot of carelessness in organizing our resources. Everyone knew that.
But now, with the defeat, we've gone to the other extreme, [with accusations] that the Sandinistas have this and that, that we have everything. In reality, every population sector, whether Sandinista or not, assumes that we who had government responsibilities came out as millionaires. Even if we swore on our knees that we're not millionaires, that the FSLN doesn't have millionaire enterprises or anything of the kind, no one would believe it. Because the main argument is this: if they're not millionaires, they're idiots, because everyone who governs comes out a millionaire. But the real, legitimate issue is that we should have organized our resources better. We weren't prepared for the defeat because we hadn't organized our own resources. That's the truth.
Underneath it all, many of the complaints we've been hearing because of the piñata are the product of a very human reaction: Why to him and not me? Sandinistas' complaints focus more on injustice than on unethical behavior. In the end, the most common reasoning is: Why didn't they give something to everyone? What we're doing now is inventorying all the productive property that was distributed, because we're going to ask for a quota from each one.
Since now we Sandinistas are all one big family and we're no longer in power, we have even bigger problems, in the area of ethics as well as others. But the truth is that many of these tensions over ethics are because we're in the midst of an internal political struggle. And when an internal struggle follows an electoral defeat and it's understood that preserving our unity and our cohesion is essential, it's very logical that there will be greater tensions and a tendency for some people to manipulate them in their favor within that legitimate internal political struggle.
envío: Is there a risk that ethical questions will divide the FSLN?
Ortega: If we're careless, we fall into the trap of beginning to fight among ourselves, not only over ethical questions, but over more burning questions about the tense economic situation. In UNAG, for example, there are contradictions between members who are big producers and those who are medium-sized or small farmers or who are in cooperatives. Logically, the UNAG member who exports meat or coffee, who has a good farm, is satisfied with the latest economic measures, because they are meant to favor only the large agroexporters. But small producers can't be content because these measures have hurt them. They had already sold their coffee, so they ended up decapitalized. And that doesn't even include the impact of these measures on basic grains producers who are also affiliated with UNAG. In this situation, there’s a great risk that contradictions will be stimulated among sectors who are strategic for the revolutionary process, like the producers.
We can't forget that the government's plan is to find a way to divide us, to weaken us, to generate distrust. That danger is greatest today around the contradiction are trying to create between the police and the workers. On the other hand, the Sandinista media also exercise pressure on the police, accusing them of being repressive, when it's the government that’s ordering them to repress; it's the government, not the police, that must be forcefully denounced. And then, in the immediate circumstances, where the contradiction between the police and the workers is expressed concretely and sharply, there are workers who don't help at all, who shout at the police that they’re already like the National Guard, as if they were dealing with an enemy police force. The police begin to lose control and small fights break out where the police are attacked with words and blows. Then come the media, who begin to speculate without any basis that the government has already brought in former National Guardsmen and contras. Really that's false, because up to now there's not a single contra or Guardsman in the police force.
All these situations aggravate a contradiction that, if it gets worse, will favor the government and its anti-popular project. Because the police also get tired; right now, theirs is the most difficult task. It's a very serious problem, the most serious one we have now, because with the deepening economic crisis, with this plan, these confrontations are going to continue. How can we make sure the police don't get worn down? If the police tire of this ongoing contradiction and quit and the police force becomes diluted, the government will reorganize it, and it really will be repressive.
So, ethics divides. But other complex matters also divide and we face the challenge of preventing them from dividing us. If issues as delicate as ethics can divide us, we must treat them with great care.
envío: The challenge then is to maintain Sandinista unity at all costs?
Ortega: The other great challenge in these months is how to achieve really broad participation in the discussions to prepare for the July Congress. Problems have come up in some places where Sandinista compañeros had created their own structure and think that if they open it to broader participation, they are going to be rejected when it comes to an election. Ideological problems play a role in this, a fear of the FSLN opening itself up more, thinking that the party has to save itself with an ideological proposal of this or that stripe, that if so-and-so participates and gives his or her opinion, the FSLN will be lost. There are cases in which closed attitudes aren't due to the defense of personal interests but simply to problems of ideological formation, which are sharpened in such moments of crisis.
In other cases, this closed attitude is an expression of a battle for political power. We're not going to deny that there's a vigorous struggle for political power within the party now that the elections and the Congress are coming. There's also a struggle for power when they elect the Pope, isn't there? The battle for political power, I repeat, is going on at all levels. What we have to do is find a way to break down some leaders' defensive mechanisms—be they ideological or political—without destroying Sandinista unity. That's the challenge. The Directorate is also in the spotlight and is involved in these problems; everybody knows that.
With regard to leadership, we consider that the current Directorate, which arose in the months before the revolutionary triumph and was consolidated during the years of government, is of great value. We came to know each other with the triumph of the revolution because we didn't all know each other before. Over the years, we got to know each other and developed our relationships; we came together. And we developed a collective leadership body, with contradictions, but able to become increasingly cohesive. This leadership was never elected; it came out of the struggle. Neither is it an old leadership; it can't be said that we're old folks and have to retire now. In fact, there isn’t even much age distance between the Directorate and the cadre who follow. We think that, with all our mistakes, this Directorate achieved a leadership capacity in the final stage of the struggle against the dictatorship, then later, during the confrontation with US aggression and, finally, it remained unified in the face of the electoral defeat and has demonstrated leadership capacity in times as critical as those we're living through now. We think, therefore, that, at least in the first years of this new stage we're entering, this Directorate should go on playing a transition role. These are very critical times and we must guarantee unity. We believe that the only way the FSLN could be divided would be by a split in the National Directorate. There can be many debates, but as long as the leadership we know remains unified, the unity of the FSLN is guaranteed.
envío: Only the seven current members of the National Directorate?
Ortega: No, there's no problem with adding more compañeros to the Directorate. All that must be discussed, but what seems important to us is that this Directorate be ratified as a leadership group. In the end, the positions and lines of action voted on by the party will determine its actions. In reality, the practical, operative and organizational aspects of the party are changing. The leadership we will have is already different because we’ll need an executive commission, a secretariat. The National Directorate will have an important role, but we're going to have an elected Sandinista Assembly that will have greater weight than it has had until now, and we're also going to have a Congress. I think that when all these organizational changes are ratified, they will make profound changes at the leadership level.
The electoral defeat has led us to totally change the FSLN, and we still haven't finished adapting ourselves to the new kind of organization we're assuming. We can no longer count on the large quantity of party professionals we once had, nor can the party be the same small group we were during the struggle against Somocismo. It must be a new organization. It's still going to take us some time to organize ourselves to be effective revolutionaries in this new stage Nicaragua's going through. What's already clear is that we have the capacity to influence the government’s conduct effectively from the grass roots, and that is what's meant by governing from below.