|Central American University - UCA
Number 324 | Julio 2008
The reflections of a former guerrilla commander
a week after concluding a 13-day hunger strike
under a plastic tent in the center of Managua
demanding “democracy and gallopinto.”
Dora María Téllez
The Supreme Electoral Council took away the legal status of the Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS) to prevent us from participating in November’s municipal elections. It also tried to prevent us from running in the 2001 presidential elections. It wants to erase us from the political map. But the MRS doesn’t depend on papers certified by the Supreme Electoral Council. We don’t lose any sleep over those papers. What we lose sleep over is the loss of freedoms in Nicaragua, the harm being done to democracy and the miserable condition in which the majority of Nicaraguans live. All of that does keep us awake at night. And it is all a consequence of the Alemán-Ortega pact and the Ortega-Alemán government.
The Alemán-Ortega pact This year is the 10th anniversary of the pact between Daniel Ortega and Arnoldo Alemán, which began when Alemán was President and has now resulted in the Ortega-Alemán government. We can’t forget the pact, because it has brought about major changes in Nicaragua’s political system and institutional structures and in the mentality of a large part of Nicaragua’s political elite.
has tainted everything
The current electoral law, pushed through by the FSLN and Alemán’s PLC in 2000, was one of the pact’s major products. It’s a draconian law, whose first step was to eliminate the possibility of independent candidates running for municipal office. Neither the PLC nor the FSLN wanted municipal candidates outside their two political parties, so one of the first agreements between Alemán and Ortega was to block any political organization that wasn’t a party. It was the first major violation of Nicaraguans’ right to political pluralism, guaranteed by the Constitution’s clear statement that we Nicaraguans have the right to participate in the management of public affairs and in national politics through “political organizations.” It doesn’t limit our participation to “political parties.” This means that “political pluralism” isn’t just pluri-partyism. The pluralism guaranteed by the Constitution implies that people can associate in grassroots organizations and present municipal candidates. So the pact’s first political blow was to reduce pluralism to pluri-partyism.
The 2000 electoral law also changed the electoral math, and through that change, your vote has more weight if you cast it for the party that places first or second than if you vote for other parties. In the 2006 elections, for example, the MRS got 8% of the national vote, but it doesn’t have 8% of the legislative representatives. We should have had 7 or 8 representatives, but the way votes are counted now, according to the pact’s electoral law, parties in first and second place are always favored. Thus, after eliminating political pluralism, they sought to force a bipartite system through the vote count and distribution of National Assembly seats. Most people believe all votes have the same value, but they don’t; some are worth more than others. The two parties to the pact designed the electoral law so they would get the lion’s share and even the people who voted for someone else would end up adding to their totals.
The pact also increased the number of top posts in state institutions so they could be shared out among Alemán’s and Ortega’s unconditional supporters. That’s how they divvied up the Supreme Electoral Council, the Comptroller General’s Office, the Supreme Court, then the appeals courts—in Managua one court answers to Alemán and the other to Daniel Ortega, and it’s the same in the country’s other departments. Next, as if it weren’t enough to control the appeals courts, small claims courts, civil judges and criminal judges were divided up between the two of them as well. So Alemán and Ortega protect each other and their loyal backers, their tethered pets, giving them a free hand to commit all manner of criminal acts. They also divvied up the Office of Human Rights Ombudsman, the Public Prosecutor’s Office, and other autonomous and public service institutions. By now not a single space remains in which Nicaraguan citizens can defend themselves when, one way or another, they come up against Ortega or Alemán. The pact has been stripping them of the means to do so.
With the pact came a wave of corruptionAfter they finished dealing out government posts they divvied up businesses, contracts, bids, mega-salaries and all kinds of illegitimate privileges. Alemán realized that many of those who made revolutionary speeches were vulnerable to easy money. That kicked off the wave of corruption that came in the wake of the Alemán-Ortega pact. And with the pact, the government and its institutions came to be seen as booty, with posts going to the relatives, advisers and intimate friends of the pact’s authors. We’re surrounded by power structures in which people name family members to important posts or find them other jobs. It’s happening not only in the capital, but also out in the departments and municipalities.
Today this corruption, which has been spreading throughout the state, is being fed by the Venezuelan funds. We’re talking about US$520 million, according to President Ortega’s own statements. Where’s that money? If it were being used to pave streets, the entire country would be paved by now. If it were being used to build schools, Nicaragua would be full of schools. Where’s all that money going, who’s administering it and how? Can we presume some theft is going on? We have every right to. Why is it being administered in a secretive way? There’s got to be a reason, and we’re beginning to see it. It’s in bids and contracts to businesses whose owners are linked to President Ortega, his family, his party officials and Alemán’s cohorts. But what about the Comptroller General’s Office, what’s it doing? Nothing, because it’s subordinated to Ortega and Alemán. The Public Prosecutor’s Office isn’t investigating anything either. The media are taking the lid off of corruption cases on a daily basis, but the institutions in charge aren’t fulfilling their responsibility.
And this is happening all over the country. The situation is really bad in the Caribbean region, where there are so many natural resources. There the kinglet anointed by Daniel Ortega is Yatama leader Brooklyn Rivera, who’s giving away huge swaths of land to profit from the lumber and mining concessions, and perhaps eventual oil concessions. He’s also encouraging confrontation between Miskitus and Mayangnas in Awas Tingni to wrest away the Mayangnas’ territories. He’s replacing the communities’ elected authorities and trying to buy off journalists and social leaders, all of which is leaving people on the coast defenseless. And now he’s stimulating micro-uprisings, mini-riots against his own government to avoid holding municipal elections in January 2009, already postponed from November. They don’t want elections because if there were clean elections in the coast, they’d lose. People left homeless by Hurricane Felix in the northern Caribbean are still living in plastic tents and many don’t have enough to eat. Where has the aid gone? Into the pockets of Brooklyn’s people.
The pact has strangled The pact has destroyed the institutions. What creditability does any institution have with the people today? The pact has also strangled democracy, and now has done away with the legitimacy of the electoral process. The MRS’s legal status was already annulled once by the Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) in 2000. That year I ran for mayor of Managua but after the first poll, those same CSE magistrates gave us the boot. We filed a writ of protection, which ended up in some Supreme Court drawer for three years, until they had to resolve it and gave us back our legal status. Now they’re trying to do the same thing to the new writ we filed.
credibility and electoral democracy
The pact now has control of the whole electoral apparatus, from CSE top decision-makers right down to the last voting booth. Already in the 2006 elections several people who digitized the vote count in a number of departments warned us that they had been ordered to eliminate MRS votes and give them to the FSLN. That’s why the Supreme Electoral Council didn’t authorize our monitors to supervise the digitizers directly. In Managua we discovered an electronic connection to manipulate the electoral information. And we know there was a whole operation to weed out votes in those elections. The CSE still hasn’t given the definitive figures for those elections, even after all this time. Thanks to one Liberal CSE magistrate, we now know that Daniel Ortega really got only 29% of the vote, and that the magistrates added the rest, which brought him up to 38%. With no shame whatever, that same Liberal magistrate bragged to several people that they had stolen National Assembly seats away from political parties outside the pact.
With such a history, who can believe in this year’s municipal elections, where only the PLC, Danielismo and his satellite parties are running, and with all the Municipal Electoral Councils and voting booths under their control? It’s abundantly clear that votes will be stolen; indeed, the votes of the MRS and Conservative Party already have been. As part of their most recent arrangements, Alemán and Ortega already agreed on which of them would win which municipality, no matter how many votes each one actually gets. The two have ensured quotas of power. We already know that the FSLN’s candidate in Managua, Alexis Argüello, is going to win. These are fraudulent, non-competitive and thus illegitimate elections. Because of this, the MRS is going to continue defending and demanding its right to participate in the municipal elections up until the last day, and we’re not going to make any alliance with any party, force or candidate that offers to let us run on their ticket. Nor will we vote for any party in the pact or its satellites.
Freedom of expression and The basic freedoms of expression and organization are under threat from the Ortega-Alemán government. Article 29 of the Constitution says: “All people have the right to freedom of conscience, of thought, of professing a religion or not,” and “no one can be the object of coercive actions aimed at reducing those rights.” The Constitution is unequivocal: “Nicaraguans have the right to express their thoughts in public and in private, individually or collectively.” That freedom of opinion is being threatened today. Any government or state worker who opens his or her mouth to say they don’t agree with what’s happening is dismissed. There’s also repression against the media. Anyone who doesn’t line up behind this government and the Ortega-Alemán pact is threatened and punished.
organization are under threat
The government is destroying freedom of organization and the right to civic participation by establishing that the only mechanisms of participation are the Councils of Citizens’ Power, a decision that is unconstitutional. Its policy has been to dismantle the Municipal Development Committees, although some are still active. They also killed the Council for Social and Economic Participation (CONPES). If in the Bolaños era it was a mere mouthpiece for government policies, now it isn’t even that. It’s really dead.
Exercising power In addition to undermining institutions and fostering corruption, the Ortega-Alemán government is exercising power through fear. As it can’t do this through consensus, through the majority or through a search for political agreements for the good of the country, it has to do it by infusing fear. It either buys people or frightens them, just as Somoza García did with his policy of the “three Ps.”: money (plata) for his friends, lead (plomo) for his enemies and the stick (palo) for the indifferent. The money has begun to flow and the stick is being brandished against all who consider opposing him. Hopefully it won’t get to the point of using lead, although murders like those of journalists Carlos Guadamuz and María José Bravo can only be attributed to the creation of an environment hostile to journalists and the media by those who control power.
through fear and repression
The pact also uses repression. We remember how Arnoldo Alemán began to repress nongovernmental organizations when he was President. Well, the Ortega government is now doing the same. Its spokespeople are saying that NGOs are agents of Yankee imperialism conspiring against his government. And this endangers not only the legal status of the NGOs, but also the very lives of the people who work in them. The Danielista activist who killed Carlos Guadamuz declared that he did it because he was annoyed by what Guadamuz was saying. Ortega’s declarations, accusations and appeals to hatred endanger the life of all those who do social work through civil society organizations, because what they say and do annoys the pact.
“Danielismo” has now emerged with all clarity. When we were on our hunger strike there were people who passed us shouting “Viva Daniel!” They didn’t say “Viva the FSLN!” because the party no longer exists either. What exists is Danielismo, nothing more. Sandino’s thinking and Carlos Fonseca’s legacy have been utterly betrayed. Danielismo is a corrupt faction of Sandinismo, which will collapse under the weight of genuine Sandinistas.
We have to recognize that this government-by-pact has now passed to the state of repression. It intimidates and represses anyone not aligned with it. All these statements that the media and the NGOs are traitors paid by imperialism are threats. To what tribunal can we turn to defend ourselves? We in the MRS have decided not to bother trying to defend ourselves in the pact’s tribunals. They want to condemn us? We’re condemned. They want to throw us in prison? So be it. We’re not even going to look for lawyers to defend us. Because we’re not going to help make it look like this is a country in which we can defend ourselves. Everyone in this country knows ahead of time which side of any issue the judges will take.
Impunity for the powerful and One of the pact’s most tragic results is that the generalized corruption and impunity has left the majority of Nicaraguans to their fate. This pact of power and corruption has created a situation in which the corrupt who steal millions are in the streets and in public posts and those who steal a chicken to eat are rotting in jail. That’s the nature of this model of power.
no defense for the poor
Which white-collar thief who steals from the budget and the public coffers is in prison or standing trial today? None. Is Byron Jerez in prison? Is the mayor of Chinandega, who used municipal funds to repair the houses of his brother and his brother-in-law and sold the scrap-metal belonging to the mayor’s office? Is the current FSLN candidate in Jinotega, Leónidas Centeno, who gave his relatives the 400,000 córdobas assigned to National Assembly members for social projects? All these upstanding FSLN members are President Ortega’s “brothers”—that’s what he always calls them: “my brothers.” We’re clear what kind of brotherhood that is: it’s a mafia brotherhood, a brotherhood of criminals who have sucked the country dry of the money that belongs to all of us, especially the poorest.
A lot of Nicaraguans would love to have the jail sentence Arnoldo Alemán has today. He freely goes to parties and restaurants and was even a special invited guest at President Ortega’s inauguration.
Corruption has invaded everything, reaching such a level that the corrupt don’t even hide what they steal. It’s like when Somoza told Cornelio Hüeck, after the latter built himself a huge mansion: “You stole the hen and didn’t even hide the feathers!” That’s what’s happening now: they’re rubbing their corruption in our faces. The thieves circulate freely wherever they want; they kneel at all altars, they parade around with what they’ve stolen from us believing we’re incapable of raising our voices.
The pact has taken everything and now it’s trying to annihilate all arenas of participation through fear, repression the use of state institutions. Some UNAN Managua professors told me there are university students who want to come out against all this, but are afraid they’ll be smashed, pulled out of the university. Some leaders of UNEN, the university student union, are trying to figure out how to expel Roger Arias, the university student who joined me for all 12 days of the hunger strike. So what has happened to the right of opinion, university autonomy or freedom of expression? What did Roger, with his hunger strike, do to those who run that university, or to the UNEN leaders, who are also wrapped in a cloud of corruption after milking the 6% of the national budget allocated to universities for years? To what level have we fallen?
Democracy with gallopintoWe waged our hunger strike to demand democracy, but “democracy with gallopinto.” We talk about gallopinto [rice and red beans, a Nicaraguan diet staple] because gallopinto is the bottom line, the only difference between extreme poverty and dying of hunger. Nicaraguans who can’t even afford to eat gallopinto once a day are in the worst shape of all. And the amount of gallopinto people could buy a year ago was double what they can buy now. They can only buy half the beans, half the rice, half the cooking oil and half the salt that they could a year ago.
Seven of every ten Nicaraguans earn less than 40 córdobas a day. There are people who don’t even light up the cooking fire anymore. They just go buy a cup of cooked beans in the neighborhood, the cup they’re going to eat for their next meal. They don’t even buy three cups for the whole day, because they can’t afford to. We all know what it means when people don’t start up the cooking fire. But where’s the government’s sensitivity to this tragedy? What’s the government doing to assure that at least gallopinto is available to all families? What would it cost this government to make a solidarity pact with the little shops in each neighborhood, going barrio by barrio to supply them with reasonably-priced rice, beans, oil and salt, so the owners of those shops can sell it at list prices and survive too? Because everybody has to live.
Will there be more bean production? Only if peasant farmers are provided seeds. During the strike I talked with small farmers from at least 10 different parts of the country and they told me there are no seeds; that they aren’t getting any; that they’re being given to people close to the FSLN’s political secretary; that they only go to people in the CPCs. One guy from Carazo told me that a pound of seeds costs him a dollar and that he has to buy 28 pounds to plant a quarter of a hectare, but since he can’t buy the seed at that price, he can’t plant. Furthermore the urea from “Venezuelan collaboration” is selling at the same price as commercial urea. And credit doesn’t get to the genuinely poor farmers either, only to the power groups that control the government.
The government also has an agreement with Unión Fenosa, which is raising electricity rates every month. And the INAA director has warned that they’re going to have to raise the water rates as well. And of course oil prices keep going up too. So with diesel prices so high, the fishermen from Corn Island can’t go out to fish. And even if they do go out, nobody buys their catch at the price they have to charge. And now the government is telling the transport sector that when the subsidy ends the price is going to go up more—and even the subsidy is already being eaten up with the constantly rising prices of gas and diesel. Who will these rates hit hardest? The poor, obviously. And are salaries going up? No, they’re frozen.
We need a national dialogue to find solutionsWhen we went on the hunger strike we also demanded that the government organize a national dialogue to discuss how we can all pull together to deal with the high cost of living. The idea is to sit the businesspeople, nongovernmental organizations, political parties, social organizations and churches down together to discuss this. Nicaragua needs a solidarity pact.
Economist Adolfo Acevedo identified a list of seven basic products—rice, beans, salt, sugar, milk, oil and maize—and calculated that a married couple on two teachers’ salaries doesn’t earn enough even to buy these seven products anymore. We’re no longer talking about the “basic basket” of fifty-some products and services, which is now way out of reach. We’re talking about hunger, serious hunger. We need to come together in a national dialogue to discuss these seven products, plus gas and kerosene to cook with. We should discuss a wage increase; we should reach a major price and wage agreement such as those that already exist in other Latin American countries.
The weakest—children and the elderly—will pay the ultimate price if we keep going the way we’re going. They will die of hunger if we don’t act soon, because all this is happening in a country where malnutrition in children has long been above 25%.
Why is it taking the government so long to understand what’s going on? Do people have to go out and raid the ENABAS silos? A Nicaraguan businessman recently said in an international news interview that the business sector is getting along fine with the government and has decided not get involved in party politics. But this isn’t party politics; this is food. Businesspeople are in this boat as well. Do they think they can make money while the rest become even more impoverished? Anyone who thinks he can make millions here while others don’t even have enough to eat gallopinto is crazy. If the boat goes down, we all drown with it. When are they going to wake up? When people begin to loot supermarkets, when they begin to hold up delivery trucks carrying basic products coming into the communities? We can’t let it get to that point; we have to react now. Now! Otherwise the country will keep heading down the road to social dissolution and conflict, because we’re talking about food. And because we’re talking about a government that’s deaf, insensitive and apparently incapable.
A critical moment for the Army and PoliceThe reason we talk about an institutional dictatorship and not a military one is that this dictatorship doesn’t have an army or police. Its firing squad is the Supreme Electoral Council and the Supreme Court of Justice. For different reasons, that’s where everybody meets their end.
The strategic plan of both the government and the Ortega-Alemán pact is this: reach an understanding with big capital, neutralize the Army and Police, and threaten and attack those who don’t submit. That makes this a critical moment for the Army and Police. It’s no secret that President Ortega is trying to make changes in the National Police (PN) that he believes will give him a favorable correlation within the institution; he’s already done it to some degree. Both Bolaños and Alemán did the same thing, and so did Violeta Chamorro. The PN has been one of the institutions most abused by all of our governments, and it continues to be mistreated. Each change of government sweeps out a few of the old cadres, so that little by little the institution has lost a number of capable, qualified people who are young enough to continue making a contribution. It is being left without experienced chiefs, which could cause problems in the future.
Ortega’s trying to align the PN behind him, giving it orders to go here and not there, to take this and bring that, according to his every whim. He’s giving that same message to the Army, but the Army’s a stronger institution and resists these assaults better than the Police. The PN has been a more fragile institution, precisely because each President has made it pay whatever price suits him or her.
It’s time to make choicesWe have to realize that as a society we’re in a critical situation. If we don’t do something and do it now, the country will continue hemorrhaging across its borders, with Nicaraguans continuing to leave for the United States, Costa Rica, Spain, anywhere other than their own homeland. If we don’t do anything, we’ll be condemning the next generations to take arms against what is establishing itself as an institutional dictatorship heading up a mafia of corrupt, unscrupulous people without the slightest sensitivity to the poor. If things go on as they are, people who can’t find even minimum living conditions will rise up spontaneously and without organization, taking justice into their own hands.
It’s time to make choices. The line is clearly drawn: the poor can’t get much poorer or more desperate, the thieves can’t get much better off and the government can’t get much more separated from the national reality, closed within its bubble of corruption.
We propose peaceful civic struggleOur position is that if the institutionality is corrupt, if the institutions aren’t responding to people’s interests, we have to organize into civic assemblies all over the country. Civic assemblies of young people in the neighborhoods, the communities; civic assemblies of women, artists, small manufacturers and small merchants all over the country to defend democracy, to fight against corruption and the impossibly high cost of living. We’re saying “civic” assemblies because we’re convinced that a peaceful civic struggle in which everyone is engaged is what will get us out of all this. If an institutional dictatorship has been established from above, we have to respond with democracy from below.
in which everyone is engaged
These civic assemblies must be profoundly democratic, because if we don’t oppose this institutional dictatorship with democracy we’re all going to end up as in the period of the Somoza dictatorship, believing that authoritarianism, imposition and repression are correct. The only way is for masses of people to engage in huge national protests so they’ll be forced to listen, because otherwise the power of the Ortega-Alemán pact is deaf.
This powerful group is completely deafened by its own ambition for power and money so we have to pound on its door loudly. We can only confront it with large national protests. If those of us who are better able to raise our voices don’t do it, the poor will become increasingly poor and the fearful will only become more afraid. The more imposing power from above becomes, the louder we who are below have to talk. We have to make strong protests. That is the obligation of all of us who have some level of leadership in the country, in a community or neighborhood, even in the family nucleus.
We have to raise our heads. We rose up to expel a savage dictatorship that had reigned for over 40 years, and it cost us thousands of lives. And after that came a war with the Resistance that took thousands more on both sides. There’s a sea of blood beneath us. We have to recognize that this country is at the end of its tether and we have to act with the sense of urgency and forcefulness that befits such a drastic situation. This is what obliged me to go on the hunger strike.
It’s the moment to put our We believe that this is the moment for Nicaragua, and we understand that it’s going to be difficult, because dividing us is part of the Ortega-Alemán government’s strategy. It has the advantage that Nicaragua’s culture of tolerance is low. We always insist on our differences and forget our points of agreement. This is a moment in which we have to put our agreements first, while recognizing and respecting our differences. Is the MRS different from the Conservative Party? Unquestionably! We have huge differences with the Conservatives, and with other movements and parties, but we believe that this is the moment for Nicaragua, the moment to stress our fundamental points of agreement with each other.
agreements before our differences
The worst thing that could happen today is to get locked into debating differences. As a society, we have to learn to work with our agreements and respect our disagreements. It’s the moment to draw the line: either with the pact or against it. The MRS has to be in that struggle making concrete alliances with everyone who wants democracy and is prepared to fight for democracy, against corruption and against the high cost of living. These are our three key banners today and we want to invite the majority of Nicaraguans to join us. What for? To change the country, to make a civic revolution.
Which points of agreement do we want to underscore today? In the first place, defense of freedom of opinion and expression, which are fundamental, constitutional rights. We have reached a stage in which the Constitution is no longer a starting point; it’s something we have to strive for, because we’re even losing the basic rights it protects. We agree on the struggle for democracy, freedom of organization and freedom of opinion. We also agree on the struggle against corruption—against all corruption, not just corrupt individuals from one group or the other; it doesn’t matter what side the corrupt person is on. We also need to agree on the struggle to keep the poor from suffering more from these critical national and international prices. And we have to struggle to get all of Nicaragua to undertake this just fight.
In this moment for Nicaragua we have no reason to be ashamed of agreeing with others on Nicaraguans’ basic rights. Quite the contrary. The worst thing that could happen to us would be to turn into a sect, closing ourselves off. The MRS is going to fight, together with others, for Nicaraguans’ basic rights, because if we don’t fight for that, we certainly won’t be able to fight for the social transformations the MRS wants for this society. Right now they’re demolishing our most basic rights. So here we are once again, fighting for elemental things, and we’ll fight alongside anyone willing to engage in that struggle, no matter whether they sympathize with us or not, whether they belong to another party, or no party.
The civic assemblies we’re proposing have to be pluralist, which is what makes them civic. And they’re not just the MRS’s, which makes them democratic. They have to include everyone from a given community, barrio, or university; people with different positions, different ways of thinking, different religions, different political options—or none for that matter. They just have to be willing to defend the basic issues I mentioned above: freedom of opinion, of expression, of organization, of civic participation, of electing and being elected; the struggle against corruption, and against the high cost of living. Can we agree on that? If so, then let’s go! People can wear t-shirts of whatever party color they want, as long as they grab the Nicaraguan flag, because that’s the party we can all join. And with that flag we have to struggle to save Nicaragua from the claws of the Ortega-Alemán pact.
What would be our ideal?As a party our ideal goes beyond those issues. Our ideal would be for this struggle to make everyone aware of the need to construct a country not only with democracy and transparency instead of corruption, but also with genuine social justice. Not with crumbs, pennies, or perks, and not by giving out little mirrors and beads to the poor and having your picture taken with them, but by providing real opportunities for them. Not seeing the poor with a beggar’s face, as this and other governments have done, because being poor doesn’t mean being a beggar looking for handouts. People are poor because they don’t have opportunities, because they haven’t been given opportunities, because the system denies them opportunities.
But for the moment our struggle is really a constitutional one, because a government that isn’t interested in constitutionality, in legality, is leaving our constitutional rights by the wayside. And that’s very dangerous terrain.
The youth have to go first…In these circumstances, this country’s youth must play a crucial role. I think that if young people take over the street, the pact will be finished, because young people are harder to convert into political clientele. They have less to lose and are more generous with their energies.
I’m appealing to the youth. They have to take the lead. Their generation has to decide. Our generation will have done nothing if another generation has to go through what we did. We had combatants of 14, 15, 16 years old, incredibly brave young people who gave their all. That’s why we’re opting for peaceful civic struggle in the streets, but it has to be forceful, because if it isn’t we won’t move that mass of corrupt power known as the Ortega-Alemán pact.
…but my generation is also crucialBut I also particularly appeal to my generation, which took up arms so we would never get to this point again. It frightens me to think that we could leave the next generation of young people the same thing we had to live through. My generation can’t permit the generations of young peole coming after us to have friends, brothers and sisters killed or maimed, to have them sacrifice their youth. We can’t let that happen.
My generation still has some strength left, and knows what we’re going through. A lot of former combatants came from all over to visit us during the hunger strike. There were 50-year-old veterans who actually cried, lamenting “everything we lost along the way to come to this…” But we can’t just keep crying. If we toppled one who was larger and worse, we can topple these. Our challenge now is to do it peacefully, through the civic path. There in the hunger strike compañeros came to offer to form a sabotage squadron: “We’re ready,” they said. But I told them that now isn’t the time for that; we have to make a civic, peaceful struggle.
My generation has to go out into the streets to stop another generation from going through the same thing we did. The generation of the Patriotic Military Service, those who joined the Resistance, they all have to go out into the streets to prevent others from having to take the same road. The young have to go out into the streets because this is their country, and they have to go not only for their future, but for their present, their today.
We have to stop the limitless ambition for powerIf we don’t halt the pact, it will go on. It still has at least one key move: the constitutional reform that would permit Daniel Ortega to be reelected, to remain in power without the need to hold a general election. Anyone who reads the polls knows he can’t win the next general elections—at least not cleanly—so the pact has to ensure his continuation in power without need for elections. That’s why they’re talking about changing the political system.
Ortega and Alemán have limitless ambition. They both want to be in power until they die then will it to their family, their children. We’re facing a family, dynastic mafioso power scheme, with kings, queens and hereditary princes. Just like during the Somozas’ time. Nobody does as much to destroy public freedoms as we’ve seen them do just to be in government for five years, then be subjected to periodic elections. It’s silly to think so. Arnoldo Alemán is in total agreement with Daniel Ortega and the two are politically and economically bound to each other through their joint businesses, including shady ones.
If we don’t deal with the pact and destroy it, it won’t end. Now Daniel Ortega is talking about socialism. He wants to wrap the constitutional reform in socialism, thinking he’ll put us on the defensive. What does he think we’re going to do, argue with them over who’s really on the left, them or us? That’s a trap we have no intention of falling into. The state radio stations are now using an ideologimeter to declare who’s Left and who isn’t. They’re a gang of mafiosos, of thieves, who have overturned the revolution’s victories with respect to political liberties, completely abandoned the poor and are only interested in their power and their money. What does that have in common with the Left?
They began to call us traitors, social democrats, in the pay of the CIA when we first questioned “Danielismo” in the early nineties. They’ve declared me a CIA agent at least a hundred times and paid by imperialism another hundred. We don’t waste time discussing labels and epithets. We want another discussion, a very concrete one: Nicaraguans have the right to democracy, to eat at least their gallopinto and to receive the benefits of their money, the people’s money, which can’t be the booty of the corrupt.
We also have to reclaim The only question I answered during the hunger strike was whether I was eating or not. And I did it for a very simple reason: because Danielismo has undermined the moral dimension of politics; it has cheapened it, sold it. So people have every reason not to believe in politicians. So I responded, saying: Those who sold their soul to the devil believe everyone else has sold theirs. And those who have lost their morality believe everyone else has also lost theirs. When the official radio programs repeated that I was eating during the hunger strike, what they were really saying is that they’re incapable of making even a minimum sacrifice for democracy, for the Nicaraguan people, in the struggle against corruption.
the moral dimension of politics
None of them is capable of believing in something that doesn’t have strings attached, something gratuitous. None of them can understand that those who were in the strike with me all day long were there voluntarily, because none of them volunteers for anything. They’re all paid, and then re-paid within the mass of generalized corruption. For them politics and morality don’t go together. They don’t believe in sacrificing for anyone. Today we also have to reclaim the moral dimension of politics. There’s no reason politics has to be immoral, amoral, dirty and corrupt. Political agreements don’t have to be “tit for tat.” They can be made to better the national reality, the country, the poor, people in general.
The calculation of the Ortega-Alemán pact is that by taking away the MRS’s legal status we’ll turn to Daniel Ortega instead. Big mistake. They don’t have the money to buy us and we don’t have a price they can pay. And that’s strange in Nicaraguan politics, where there are those who advertise their price on their forehead. If our position means that the Supreme Court doesn’t allow our participation in the municipal elections in time, so be it. We’re not going to stop struggling. The MRS will continue struggling without papers, with papers, with more papers, with fewer papers, in the electoral struggle and outside of it. Sooner or later, they’ll have to return the legal status they confiscated from us.
We only have two choices: Some have told me I have an unbreakable spirit, but it’s not true. I have to make a huge effort every day to stay on point. I’d love to be at home in a hammock reading and would love it if Nicaragua didn’t have so many problems. But I can’t be at peace with myself when I see what’s happening. I can’t look back at my life or look forward without acting.
Either we act or we don’t
Somebody asked me during the hunger strike how I was dealing with it. I told them I was doing it like Alcoholics Anonymous: one day at a time. Nobody goes into a hunger strike thinking: I’m going to go 30 days without eating. The effort was hour by hour, day by day, and I’m doing the same thing now. I know we have a whole lot of questions ahead of us: what are we going to do; how are we going to do it; are the youth apathetic or not and if so, how are we going to wake them up; will we be able to mobilize people; how will those civic assemblies get organized… All these questions have to be dealt with, but we only have two choices: either we act or we don’t. We’ll have to answer those questions in action.
Being a middle-class intellectualThere are also those who disqualify us saying we’re middle class. But at least 200,000 people voted for the MRS, for all these things we’re saying and demanding today, and there aren’t 200,000 middle-class people in Nicaragua. Would that there were. There were 100,000 votes for the MRS in Managua, and there aren’t 100,000 middle-class people in Managua. Would that there were. It needs to be recognized that the middle-class sectors exercise leadership over society. My guerrilla column in the Northern Front was made up mainly of middle-class people, along with some peasant farmers and a few workers. I got into the revolution from the middle class, and that doesn’t embarrass me. What would embarrass me would be to be middle class and not think of Nicaragua and of the poor. That would make me terribly ashamed. The middle class in Nicaragua has a leadership role in society and has to exercise it to build a country in which the poor have opportunities.
is nothing to be ashamed of
Am I an intellectual? Absolutely and completely. I never did manual work, I was never a laborer in construction or anything else; I never worked in a free trade zone; I never wielded a machete or worked in a field hands’ kitchen. I was a student, and if that was good enough to make a revolution, why isn’t it good enough now? Why are the professionals who got involved to make the revolution bad now? And why are the poets, like Ernesto Cardenal, who got involved to make the revolution seen as bad now? And the musicians like the Mejía Godoy brothers? And why are the small business people, the women who have a little shop in their living room, the owners of food stalls in the market seen as bad now but were good when they had to die, when they gave everything they had? What would make me ashamed would be having gotten out of a poor house only to become a corrupt thief, a nouveau riche with no sensitivity for people.
This is a difficult time and we have to find strength in our frailty. And we don’t have to wait for anybody to tell us to organize. We have to trust ourselves, what we can do as people, our capacities and strength as a people and the strength we can find in our frailties as a people.
The MRS wants to be a The MRS is a Sandinista party that comes from way back in the struggle within the Sandinista movement. It isn’t a sector nor does it want to be. It wants to be a Sandinista party of the 21st century, and that means assuming the challenges of this century for Nicaragua. Sandino assumed the challenges of the first half of the 20th century and Carlos Fonseca assumed those of the second half. Now we have to assume today’s challenges with the Sandinista spirit and logic: national sovereignty, national dignity, democracy, honor, the option for the poor and the construction of a national option.
21st-century Sandinista party
Who says minorities can’t The struggle within the Sandinista movement has been very hard. The MRS began as a very small group, accused of being intellectuals, middle class, traitors, sell-outs, agents of imperialism. Sandino also began with just a few—don’t we sing “There were 30 with him”? One can’t wait to be millions before beginning to struggle. Do they see us as a minority? It doesn’t matter. And who ever said that minorities can’t achieve enormous changes? Didn’t the struggle of black people in the United States start with a minority? Didn’t the opposition to the Vietnam war begin with a minority? Didn’t the student revolution in France begin with a minority? And didn’t the revolutionary struggle in Nicaragua begin with a minority?
achieve enormous changes?
The other day Sergio Ramírez and I were recalling when the October 1978 offensive began; there were only 67 of us in all the fronts, including the northern front, the southern front and the people in Managua. And all 67 of us believed that we were going to defeat the dictatorship in that October offensive. We didn’t throw any food in our backpacks because we said we were going to eat nacatamales in Ocotal… In the end we went a week without eating anything. We were a minority, prepared to die. What we had were morality, decision, commitment and conviction. And many of those compañeros did die, while others of us survived. Some of those survivors accompanied me in the hunger strike, while others regrettably have turned to Somocismo.
There are no limits to the exercise of power in the Ortega-Alemán pact. There’s a profound sectarianism in this government, which is the Danielista dogma. Dictatorships begin by circling the wagons around themselves, eliminating freedoms, isolating themselves within the country and internationally. These political attitudes always tend to get worse, and this is what we have to struggle against, never surrendering. Authoritarian power is never satisfied. We have to stop them with everyone’s help, with what each person can contribute. Many people came to the hunger strike with what they had: they talked, they asked questions, they prayed for us. All those words and prayers are part of the positive energy each person can put into this struggle. One person brought me a Bible with all the passages that talked about fasting marked with an orange highlighter. [Orange is the MRS color.] There I read that the fast that God wants is the struggle against injustices.
We have to speak for the poorThe most important lesson I took from the hunger strike is that this is the time for Nicaragua. It’s not the time for us as individuals. It’s not even the time for the MRS as a party. What we have to do is for Nicaragua; Nicaragua is asking us to do it, and we must all do it together so the country will change. If the MRS has to promote this moment for Nicaragua, that’s its role right now as a political party: to take the Nicaraguan flag and put it in its place, because it is being dragged like a rag through the corruption of the vile people who do the Ortega-Alemán pact’s bidding. The MRS’s role right now is to put both the flag and the Constitution of the Republic in their rightful place. Our role is also what a little 95-year-old lady who came to see me during the hunger strike said to me: “You are the voice of the poor,” she said. “Nobody listens to the poor. We poor have mouths but no tongues. You have to speak for us.” We have to raise the flag of Nicaragua and speak for the poor, and we’re going to do it.