“This Crisis Began in the FSLN, With an Unethical Pact”
Víctor Hugo Tinoco is serving as campaign coordinator
for Herty Lewites’ presidential bid. A sector of Sandinistas have organized the Movement to Rescue Sandinismo around the campaign, and Tinoco shared the Movement’s analysis of the current national political situation with envío.
Victor Hugo Tinoco
Nicaragua continues to suffer from an ongoing, chronic crisis, a crisis of poverty and backward-ness, of government incapacity, and of the incapacity of all of us as a society to respond to the population’s most deeply felt problems. In addition to these objective problems, we’ve also been caught up in an institutional crisis for the past several years. In recent months, this political-institutional crisis, which has been progressively robbing society of its entire legal, judicial and institutional framework, has reached unprecedented levels. During the Somoza dictatorship and the counterrevolutionary war, people’s lives were at risk.
Now the conflict is different, it’s superstructural, but it’s having a greater impact on people’s lives with each passing day. We’re no longer using weapons to wage war; instead the state institutions are being used as weapons to attack and defend, in a conflict that creates greater instability and greater uncertainty all the time. Just one example: because of the current “judicialization” of politics, caused by the use and abuse of the judicial branch as a weapon by the two groups involved in the pact, Herty Lewites is currently facing 28 charges, which will be resolved according to the maneuvers both groups decide to make.
The crisis grew out of the 1998 pactI believe that Nicaragua’s current political and institutional crisis grew out of an authoritarian political concept that began to form in the FSLN in 1998. In June 1998, we first heard the news of a political agreement between the FSLN leadership and then-President Arnoldo Alemán. More specifically, and more accurately, it was between Daniel Ortega and Alemán, because at the time I was a member of the FSLN’s National Directorate and neither I nor other members of the Directorate knew anything about it.
This crisis began seven years ago. They told us they were trying to depolarize the country. At first, many of us weren’t clear about the significance of the agreement. Our first concerns were ethical. How could the FSLN, an organization with values, with principles, be making a political pact with Arnoldo Alemán, someone who in the public eye as well as in reality was incredibly corrupt? We’d known about Alemán’s corruption ever since he was mayor of Managua, when FSLN city councilmember Mónica Baltodano began to denounce it and present the proof.
Questioning the pact andWe first publicly questioned the pact in June 1998. At that time, our only concerns were ethical. Alemán was corrupt and we felt that this accord could further contaminate the FSLN with corruption. This was the first big conflict between a certain sector of the FSLN and the traditional leadership under Daniel Ortega. We questioned the pact for a second time after analyzing its political design. It was basically authoritarian in nature, and sought to impose a two-party system on Nicaragua—by force. The pact’s authoritarian nature was reflected in the new Electoral Law, which was completely exclusionary. All the rules of the electoral game were designed to do away with political pluralism and close down any independent political action.
the damage it has done
The questions raised about the pact split the FSLN, and were answered by attempts to discredit or exclude those asking them. It’s worth recalling that there was no questioning of the Ortega-Alemán pact in the PLC. The Sandinistas were the only ones who criticized it. At the time, however, we still weren’t aware that the authoritarian logic they were using to impose an exclusionary two-party system was also going to fuel corruption in the FSLN, to create a thirst for perks and sinecures—a grasping for position, for “juicy bones,” for public posts above and beyond all other values. It also led people to think “politically” in the pettiest sense of the word: you were no longer in the FSLN because you believed in certain values and principles, but rather because you were making a political career of it and if you wanted to have a future, you had to agree with the boss. The pact and its logic led to a deformation of values, attitudes, and practices. This was soon followed by business deals and other, more hidden affairs between the Liberals and Sandinistas who made the pact.
As we began to realize all this we became increasingly concerned, but it took even longer to see that the pact with Alemán was going to exacerbate other problems. The anti-democratic authoritarianism was not only reflected in the two-party straitjacket imposed through the Electoral Law. They went further, imposing the two-party system as a way of divvying up all the powers of the state. With each passing year, in every branch of government, public institutions have been losing their remaining vestiges of and limited capacity for independence, until in the end they have become nothing more than faithful instruments of the two party bosses and their groups. Not of the parties, however. People talk about the politicization of public institutions along party lines, but it’s more appropriate to talk about the factionalization, since it’s no longer the two parties but rather factions within them that have taken over the institutions. In the FSLN’s case, not one of the appointments to public office in the last four years was discussed by the FSLN Directorate. All were named by Daniel Ortega. And what mattered in all of these nominations? Personal loyalty, not party loyalty. Some of the people named may believe they’re loyal to the party, but all were chosen because of their personal loyalty. All signs of internal democracy have been suppressed in the party, as it’s lost its capacity as a forum for debate, discussion, positions and projects.
Damaging state institutions and the FSLNThere’s no economic democracy in Nicaragua. And the institutional, electoral, and formal aspects of political democracy have been eroded and deformed by the logic of the pact. All of the institutions have been coopted by this logic and are now solidly divided up between Daniel’s group and Arnoldo’s group; the people in them are faithful to their leaders and will always defend the interests of their group. I must insist on differentiating between Danielismo and Sandinismo. Of all those selected for positions in state institutions, there’s not a single one who’s made the slightest criticism or is “fickle” enough to think that the law matters. The only people working in these institutions are faithful to their boss and believe in discipline at all costs. And from their strongholds in these institutions, the two bosses defend themselves and watch each other’s backs.
This logic in which positions are granted in return for personal loyalty has led to increased corruption. For example, many of the judges chosen because of their personal loyalties are doing good business with their verdicts. Now you have to pay for verdicts. And, more often than we’d like to believe, the courts decide in favor of who pays the most. This is one of the realities created by the logic behind the pact. What else could we have expected? The alliance with Alemán meant and continues to mean allying ourselves with the most direct heirs of Somocista practice, which consists in authoritarianism plus corruption, in an anti-democratic, clientelist practice.
The pact not only damaged the state powers, however. It seriously damaged the FSLN. We didn’t expect this either, at the start. The pact’s logic meant the end of democracy in the FSLN. Since the pact was never popular and the Sandinista rank and file was always against it, Daniel Ortega had to put a tremendous amount of effort into convincing the Sandinista Assembly and Congress to support his alliance with Alemán. There was a natural resistance on the part of the people. And since there was so much opposition, the authoritarian current gained ground and eventually won out. There have always been two currents in the FSLN: the authoritarian and the democratic. And as the authoritarian current gained ground, authoritarian practices and attitudes began to take root. This was expressed in a lack of debate and the strict imposition of discipline understood in military terms, without criticism or opinions, where anyone who opposes a policy or even raises questions is thrown out. This has been the tendency and the history of the past seven years in the FSLN.
The 2004 pact:The pact that began in 1998 gave rise to the “re-pact” with Alemán in November 2004, which has led to the current crisis. This new phase has done away with a democratic practice that the FSLN introduced to Nicaragua: primary elections to choose candidates for public office. In 1996, Vilma Núñez ran against Daniel Ortega for the FSLN’s presidential nomination. She knew she wasn’t going to win, but wanted to open up the possibility, to establish a practice, to legitimize the right to dissent and compete. And that’s why I supported her. In 2001, Alejandro Martínez Cuenca and I also ran for presidential candidate in the FSLN’s primary elections, knowing that it would be hard to win and that even if we won they’d find some way to keep us out. But we felt we had to try, because that’s the way to open up possibilities. So the FSLN held primaries for the 1996 and 2001 elections. But nearly two years before the 2006 elections, in a final anti-democratic spasm, Daniel Ortega announced the suspension of the FSLN’s primary elections and that he would be the sole candidate. He made this announcement in Matagalpa, with the “support” and “approval” of some 400 previously selected people, 95% of whom are party or municipal workers, and all of whom have salaries of $2,000-$3,000 a month and are not going to dare to dissent and risk their personal economic prospects. In this way, Daniel Ortega and 400 others decided that the other 600,000 Sandinistas do not have the right to an opinion or to elect their chosen candidate.
Further restricting democracy
At the same time, something similar was happening in the PLC. Seven years on, the logic behind the pact has led to the closing down of democracy in the country and in these two parties. It was a pact between the far Right and the far Left, between two extremes that joined together—by the Left that once was the FSLN and a Right that, although not the traditional oligarchic Right, is just as right-wing and neoliberal as any other, and criminal to boot.
What has the pact ever done for Nicaragua?Some defend the PLC-FSLN agreement as anti-oligarchic and anti-imperialist. I ask you: when did Arnoldo Alemán become anti-imperialist? The pact was born when Alemán was President. As a result he co-governed with Daniel Ortega for four years, during which they freely passed all the measures demanded by the neoliberal model and carried out all the privatizations, while the pact demobilized the FSLN. Some say the pact has prevented the FSLN’s extinction. When we questioned the pact in 1998 and 1999, they argued—Tomás Borge used this argument a lot—that the pact would allow us to win the elections, because one of Alemán’s concessions was to lower the percentage of votes necessary to win on the first round to 35%. I disagreed, arguing that winning an election is not only a question of percentages, but rather of winning people’s hearts and minds. If we couldn’t do that, the rules were worthless. In any case, we topped 35% in the 2001 elections, but still lost by 14%—a greater percentage than in the two previous elections.
The other argument was pragmatic: that power is exercised from state institutions, and if we didn’t have the executive branch, at least we’d have a place in the institutions and other state powers. But for the FSLN to have a place in the institutions, we had to give Alemán’s people a place there as well. In the end, this pragmatic logic began to undermine democracy and the country’s governability, affecting the FSLN and the whole nation. We accumulated power, but this power has destroyed ethics, values and democracy itself, to the point of closing down all democratic spaces in the party and in society.
What did the pact do? Did it slow the advance of neoliberalism? Did it block any privatizations? In what way have the people benefited from the pact? Is there less poverty now? Perhaps the only thing we can say in its favor is that in the past six months it has produced a spasm of anti-imperialism among Alemán’s supporters. But this is the same kind of anti-imperialism we saw in Anastasio Somoza Debayle after the gringos abandoned him when they no longer considered him useful—because Somoza fell without the support of the United States which, naturally, wanted the right-wing solution of Somocismo without Somoza, though things didn’t turn out that way. Somoza’s last book was called “Nicaragua Betrayed,” which is exactly what Alemán is saying today. “Betrayed” by the gringos. It’s what capitalists or gangsters or corrupt stooges feel after they’ve worked for years as agents of imperialism only to get kicked out after all the favors they’ve done. They feel betrayed.
A Herty Lewites government would guarantee an anti-imperialist position in practice, in action and in policies. A dignified relationship with the United States is assured. This anti-imperialism won’t be mere discourse, as is Daniel Ortega’s wont. Every time in recent years he was preparing to strike another blow to the FSLN’s internal democracy, every time he was going to negotiate a new stage in the pact with Alemán, he upped his anti-imperialist rhetoric.
The pact has served to create the current institutional crisis. True to its authoritarian and anti-democratic nature, in this new stage the two strongmen decided to make constitutional reforms that significantly modified the balance of state powers and the political system, and they have done this without consulting anyone, without negotiating with society, without consensus.
We need to change people’s way of thinkingThe situation created by the pact is very complex, and a great deal of maturity will be needed to begin to find solutions. International factors have little bearing on this crisis. We might get a bit of aid, to help us progress in some direction. But any solutions to the crisis will be found within the country, within our society, and will only appear as the result of changes in the correlation of forces, which will depend on the extent to which we can change people’s way of thinking.
I believe that this change is beginning to happen. And I’m counting on this change of awareness. The mobilization against the pact has begun to happen because people—many people—are beginning to think that this political model, which didn’t seem so bad a few years ago, is starting to have destructive consequences for all of society. And people are beginning to feel the need to express themselves, to mobilize and act. Something happened on June 16 that hadn’t happened since 1978-79, when the nation came together against the Somoza dictatorship and the whole political spectrum united, from the Sandinistas—who had hegemony at the time, as the armed wing of the struggle—to all the organized forces in society, including the Church and the business sector. There are differences now, of course, because each historical moment is distinct, but in a similar, natural and I believe unstoppable way, the nation is beginning to come together to challenge the pact’s anti-democratic effects on society. Political and social forces and significant sectors of civil society are beginning to realize that, even though the country’s economic and social problems are serious and urgent, there will be no way to resolve them if our political and institutional structures continue to deteriorate, crushing whatever democracy is still left or might be developed in them. People are becoming aware that it is essential to stabilize these structures in order to thoroughly address, with a sense of nation, the extremely serious problems of poverty, marginalization, and exclusion.
United against electoral fraudAs in 1979, people are beginning to realize that the way things are going, this institutional crisis will lead to electoral fraud in the next elections. And if such fraud takes place, there will very likely be a return to violence. When people strongly disagree with something, they’ll always look for solutions. They’ll turn first to the electoral process, but if the electoral process is closed... In meetings with people from various sectors, some of whom I haven’t seen in decades, I’ve noticed that they’re coming to the conclusion that we have to focus on the fight to keep politics open, which in the short term means opening up the elections. A great union has thus been developing quite naturally among all of the political forces, from critical Sandinistas to right-wing groups—Liberals, Conservatives, business people—all suffering from the same anti-democratic pressures. What was expressed in the June 16 march was not a political union or electoral alliance, but rather a broad range of sectors united in action. We have agreed only to stop fraudulent practices in the upcoming elections, which would bring us very close to a very dangerous abyss. The union aims simply to prevent more damage. We’re united at least to prevent the pact from leading to electoral fraud, even if we can’t totally dismantle it.
Although the pact has been anti-democratic in nature ever since its conception in 1998, this wasn’t felt and didn’t lead to a crisis in society because at that time the electorate was lined up behind one or other of the two political forces involved in the pact: Alemán’s PLC and Daniel Ortega’s FSLN. Outside of these two forces was a minority that amounted to no more than 20%. That situation has now changed. All the surveys now show that 70% of voters do not feel represented by the two groups in the pact. They also show that the same 70% of voters distrust those administering the Supreme Electoral Council: three Danielistas and three Arnoldistas, with the Danielistas ensuring that the Arnoldistas don’t steal the elections from them and vice versa. But who will ensure that no one steals the elections from this 70% of the population? This new situation has to do with an evolution in people’s political awareness, an awareness that didn’t yet exist in the 2001 elections. This awareness is also exacerbating the crisis, making it an urgent priority to resolve the political-electoral situation.
Guaranteeing free and fair elections:The Movement to Rescue Sandinismo, which aims to recover Sandinista values as guidelines for both political practice and personal attitudes—and that also aims to bring about a Sandinista victory in the upcoming elections—came together to promote Herty Lewites as the FSLN’s presidential candidate. Everything that has happened in recent months has made us aware that first and foremost we have to promote free elections. What’s the point of promoting an alternative candidate if they’re not going to let him run under the election laws established by the pact? It’s necessary first to create the right conditions to modify the election laws and the arbiters of the electoral process, so that we have at least a minimal guarantee that the elections will be free and open. We’re now focusing our efforts on this objective.
The key to keeping the crisis in check
There have been many initiatives aimed at solving this crisis: holding the elections early, calling a constituent assembly, holding a referendum... We support the idea of a thorough reform of the Constitution through a constituent assembly or other means. But we’re still not clear about when would be the best time. What we are clear about is that if the crisis gets any worse, we might not make it to election day in November 2006. The social and economic crisis is getting worse, and if we add the political crisis on top of that, the whole situation could become unmanageable. In this context, it might perhaps be desirable to shorten President Bolaños’ term in office, depending on the circumstances. But, prior to any proposal in one direction or another—and we’re open to all of them—it’s necessary to define the rules of the electoral game. Why move up the date of the elections if the arbiters of those elections are partial? Why have a constituent assembly if those who are going to prepare the elections and be elected are the very ones responsible for this crisis? Why have a referendum, which is Bolaños’ idea, with these same arbiters?
I believe that all of these initiatives are worth considering and can be discussed, but the most urgent thing is to establish a broad, patriotic dialogue, which in addition to addressing the country’s economic and social problems, examines the rules of the electoral game to guarantee free and transparent elections. This requires revising the make-up of the Supreme Electoral Council. What can we do to ensure that the arbiters are credible? It also requires revising the Electoral Law. What can we do to suppress its exclusionary aspects that shut the door on democratic participation? Once we define these two things, we can begin to talk about other proposals. A broad dialogue means that, in addition to the government and the two parties involved in the pact, civil society and the emerging political forces should also be represented—unless one thinks that these forces don’t exist and are illusory. But they are a reality. Discussing the political-electoral issue necessarily involves taking into account those who don’t have confidence in the election process as it’s going. No one should be excluded.
Guarantees of free and fair elections are now the key to ensuring that the crisis doesn’t escalate to unmanageable proportions as the result of an electoral fraud. This is the strategy, since the elections are one of the ways we can begin to find a solution. And to guarantee that this door is opened honestly, we have to engage in a broad dialogue with the participation of the emerging political forces that are not currently represented in either the PLC or the FSLN. This would include our movement and Eduardo Montealegre’s.
The importance of the unity in actionThe only thing that unites all of the sectors in the country that are outside the pact is the goal of pushing for democratic, transparent elections. Just as in the fight against Somoza, the only thing that united us was the goal of getting rid of Somoza. The political alliances were formed around this single point. At the time there were “three Sandinista Fronts,” with those in the Prolonged Popular War tendency resisting the arguments of the “Terceristas,” led by Daniel Ortega, who was seen as having a more democratic aura at the time, while Henry Ruiz inspired fear because he was seen as extremely left wing. But experience demonstrated that the Terceristas’ strategy of alliances was politically correct and made it possible to unite the whole nation against Somoza. While those of us in the other two Sandinista Fronts doubted and distrusted this national unity, this broad alliance, the Group of Twelve—because they were intellectuals, people with money, people with light skins—the Terceristas adopted the right strategy and pushed for national unity. They had the right vision; they realized that if we wanted to overthrow Somoza, we weren’t going to do it alone, no matter how many weapons we had. In addition, we wouldn’t have any weapons if we didn’t unite. Where did the FSLN’s weapons come from? Except for Cuba, most came from the governments of Costa Rica, Panama, Venezuela and Mexico, which weren’t leftist. And the Terceristas received a greater number of the weapons because they inspired the most confidence. Daniel Ortega became president of the Government Junta and then President of the Republic because he was considered “centrist.” That’s the truth. We must reflect on that today, in order to overcome class resentments that stop us from seeing that, above and beyond our class differences and conflicts, we have to unite behind a common national objective. Today, the objective is to stop the deterioration of the political situation by guaranteeing free elections in the short term.
expressed on June 16
It wasn’t easy for those of us in the Movement to Rescue Sandinismo, an FSLN group critical of Danielismo, to understand and accept the unity in action that was expressed in the June 16 march. Some felt it was a right-wing “trick,” since it was the Sandinistas who had the hegemony in 1979 and now it’s the Right. But in 1979 the Sandinistas had the hegemony because it was defined by who had the weapons, by military control. And this is why the Sandinistas could push things in the direction we wanted. Who defines the hegemony now? In the current situation, hegemony will be defined by the voters. We’ll know who has the hegemony if after this effort to unite for free elections the voters choose Herty Lewites or Eduardo Montealegre or José Rizo for the PLC—I don’t see that Daniel Ortega has any chance of winning. That’s when it will be defined. We can’t talk about hegemony now, nor does it depend on who goes first or last in a march through the streets or who speaks or doesn’t speak at the end of the march. In this first united march we were together, united in diversity, each with our own banners, all demanding free elections, all demanding an end to the pact.
Siding with the poor and guaranteeing democracy I have never been a personal friend of Herty Lewites. I didn’t talk to him a single time during the five years he served as mayor. But analyzing the current situation, I came to the conclusion, along with other long-time Sandinista leaders, that the right thing was to create a movement to support his presidential bid. Herty is not the most revolutionary Sandinista, but you don’t choose a candidate on those grounds, but rather according to who is likely to win the most votes. And it is obvious that Herty is a political-electoral phenomenon. Also, although he’s not the most revolutionary and has the reputation of being a bit watered down, he’s been an FSLN activist for 35 years and did a good job in the revolutionary government for 11 years and as mayor of Managua for 5 years; plus he’s accumulated a lot of political capital and has a special kind of charisma. In the six months I’ve been working with him I’ve become convinced that he is sensitive to social issues. For all of these reasons, I’ve given him my vote of confidence. I believe that with him, we can offer Nicaragua a good government program. What Nicaragua needs at the head of the executive branch is a man who is sensitive to social issues and can unite the nation and implement an inclusive economic program to benefit the majority of the population. I believe that Herty guarantees this. By supporting Herty we’re also helping to restore democracy in the FSLN and in the country. We can’t work with exclusionary suspicions based on people’s class purity or political-ideological purity. We have to work according to political agreements, commitments to social and economic programs, and according to specific lines of action, goals, and targets.
Danielismo tries to use economic and social causes as a smoke screen to avoid addressing the problem of democracy. But we have to side with the poor and defend democracy at the same time. In the short term, guaranteeing democratic elections is both an urgent and a strategic task, as is fighting in favor of the poor.
Does Daniel Ortega have the advantage?Some say that Daniel Ortega is the best prepared for the upcoming elections, with anti-Sandinistas so divided and his party machinery ready to go. The FSLN’s machinery is impressive, and that’s worth a lot. But a lot also depends on subjective factors. We’re betting on a change in the way people think. We believe that the objective and subjective conditions needed to bring about a change in the social consciousness have already been established in society. We believe that this conciousness can be activated by an alternative and popular candidate with Sandinista roots. And machinery can’t do much against consciousness. In 1990 we controlled everything. But the economic and social conditions led to a change in people’s way of thinking, and doña Violeta (Chamorro), who didn’t have any machinery or fill any plazas, won the elections. There were many other circumstances, all very important, but the most decisive one was that the majority of the Nicaraguan people became aware that it was in their own interests, and those of their family and country, to vote against the FSLN.
Ways of thinking and political divisions can change
The division among the anti-Sandinistas, the division of the PLC, does favor Daniel Ortega. But it could also favor Herty Lewites. Will the anti-Sandinista right still be divided at the end of the year? The gringos are working hard to bring the PLC together and unite the right. The only point of dispute is where Arnoldo Alemán fits into all of this. The only thing currently dividing Montealegre’s group and Alemán’s group is the role that Alemán will play: whether he’s the mastermind and leader or is left relegated.
When Arnoldo Alemán agrees to remain behind the scenes, the right wing will come together for the elections. The United States has been working on this plan for some time now. Why did Eduardo Montealegre’s group decide to leave their red flags behind on June 16? So as not to offend Alemán’s group, with which they’re trying to form an alliance. And President Bolaños is also very careful now when he mentions the PLC and Alemán in his speeches. They’re all working towards this unity.
Against Daniel Ortega and the Right:But despite this, the polls and even common sense suggest that Herty is currently most likely to win the presidential elections. This is a strong Sandinista alternative. Our problem isn’t winning more percentage points, but simply not losing the ones we already have. This is the statistical, political reality: the surveys show time and again that if the elections were held today, Herty would win on the first round. The problem is to hold onto this position.
Where will Herty’s support come from?
How will Sandinistas vote when the elections come around? Daniel Ortega has always been able to count on a faithful 20%, but he’s never had a Sandinista competitor. Will his share of the vote increase to 35%? Or will that extra 15% and part of his 20% go over to Lewites? In any case, Daniel Ortega is betting that it won’t matter if he loses the presidency as long as he retains significant power in the public institutions and the Assembly. It wouldn’t be a disaster for him if he loses with 25% of the vote, rather than the 40% achieved in the most recent elections, as long as he continues to be a decisive actor on the political stage. He was also banking on this when he decided to be the party’s candidate. That’s why he said, “We prefer to remain a few” when he announced his candidacy, and some of his supporters said, “We’d rather lose with Daniel Ortega than win with another candidate.”
There is no possibility of an alliance between Herty Lewites and Eduardo Montealegre. If Montealegre and Herty are allowed to run, we’ll have an election between four groups: those two, Arnoldismo with José Rizo, and Danielismo with Daniel Ortega. If the Right unites, the elections will take place among three groups. The businesspeople in COSEP are never going to support Herty Lewites. The Pellas family is never going to support him. The United States is pushing for anti-Sandinista unity and will support Montealegre or whoever emerges from an understanding with Alemán. The bankers, the oligarchs, the businesspeople are going to support the right-wing option, be it Montealegre, Rizo or someone else, and their support will only be stronger if the right unites.
Herty’s support can be found in the sector of Sandinistas who are convinced that we have to look for an alternative and want to win the elections—experience has shown us that this sector is very broad. It also lies in the broad sector of people who don’t belong to a particular party or are independent, whether Sandinistas, Liberals, or of any other color. According to the opinion polls, Herty is ahead of Montealegre among independents.
Given the current crisis—the socio-economic crisis and the political-institutional crisis—the only solution is to build a Sandinista alternative for Nicaragua that stops the anti-democratic tendency and really changes things. I believe that this time we can do it.