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  Number 357 | Abril 2011
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Nicaragua

The Five Slots on November’s Ballot

Things are starting to get defined for the November 6 general elections. We now know we have five presidential candidates, but we don’t know much more than that because of the pervasive uncertainty surrounding this year’s electoral process.

Envío team

Meeting the deadline of the electoral calendar prepared by the Supreme Electoral Council, which continues to be headed by magistrates occupying their posts even though their terms ended months ago, the 19 legally registered parties came together into four alliances with one party running alone, and registered their presidential tickets. In another month they must register their candidate slates for national and departmental National Assembly representatives and the Central American Parliament (Parlacen).

The five registered
alliances or parties

The governing Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) added Yatama, the Caribbean Coast regional indigenous party, to its United Nicaragua Triumphs alliance, the same name it used in 2006. Also participating in that alliance, albeit with less presence and importance, are the fraction of the Resistance Party that controls its official seals but not the majority of former contras; the Somocista Nationalist Liberal Party (PLN); the Christian Democrats (UDC) and three small parties of Evangelical origins: Christian Way, Alternative for Change and the Christian Unity Movement (MUC). Its ticket is President Daniel Ortega and General Omar Halleslevens, who headed the Army of Nicaragua until he rotated out at the end of his five-year term a year ago.

The Constitutionalist Liberal Party (PLC) added the age-old Conservative Party and the Caribbean Coast’s small Multiethnic Indigenous Party (PIM). Its ticket is former President Arnoldo Alemán and current PLC legislator and former Foreign Minister Francisco Aguirre Sacasa.

The Independent Liberal Party (PLI) is heading up an alliance called Nicaraguan Unity for Hope (UNE) in which the structures, leaders and base of the We’re Going with Eduardo Movement (MVE) and the Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS) are participating, together with the small Party for Citizen Action (PAC), and the Coast’s Union Movement Party (PAMUC), plus various dissident individuals from other political currents. Its ticket is radio entrepreneur Fabio Gadea Mantilla and his running mate Edmundo Jarquín, who was the MRS Alliance candidate in 2006 following the death of Herty Lewites.

The Alliance Party for the Republic (APRE) pulled in the tiny Central American Unionist Party (PUCA) and Neo-Liberal Party (PALI). Its candidates are Miguel Ángel García, education minister during the Bolaños government, and Elizabeth de Rojas, leader of the Assembly of God denominations in Nicaragua.

The Nicaraguan Liberal Alliance (ALN) ended up running alone. Its ticket is headed by ALN legislative bench chief Enrique Quiñónez, with PLC representative to the Central American Parliament Diana Urbina as his running mate.

The FSLN enjoys a solid vote, goodies, membership cards…

FSLN candidate Daniel Ortega won in 2006 with only 38% of the vote after three consecutive defeats starting in 1990. The governing party is counting on putting this minimalist percentage behind it with a “comfortable” victory that will give it at the least the simple majority of legislative representatives it lacked this term, and hopefully the qualified majority (55 out of the 91 legislators) needed for certain legislation.

Ortega was favored in 2006 by the divided Liberal opposition, which is being repeated in this race. The FSLN also has the advantage of being an incumbent party with discretionary administration of hundreds of millions in Venezuelan cooperation resources and open access to state resources at the municipal as well as central level, given that the FSLN holds the majority of the country’s main mayoral posts.

The incumbency also gives Daniel Ortega the advantage of wearing two hats over the coming months: in public acts, how do we distinguish between the President of the Republic, with his state responsibilities, and the presi¬dential candidate, with his electoral aspirations? The identification of state interests with those of the governing party—one of the most criticized characteristics of the Ortega admini¬stration both now and in the eighties—is reaching a dangerous climax with this symbiosis.

Its history and trajectory provides the FSLN the advantage of organizational capacity and discipline among its rank-and-file and thus a solid bloc of faithful voters that is the envy of other parties. While Ortega is keeping this vote loyal through the use and abuse of symbols of the eighties, he’s also trying to attract the disaffected or those not moved by these symbols with the benefits of the government’s social programs (cows, pigs, seeds, credits, zinc roofing…) and a miscellany of gifts: beds, mattresses, flat-screen TVs, houses, food, medicines, state jobs, school backpacks stuffed with necessary materials…

Will these gifts translate into votes? It remains to be seen, but it didn’t in the 2008 municipal elections. In addition, tens of thousands of state workers have been given FSLN membership since 2007. Will these massive and not always voluntary affiliations translate into votes?

…and the burden of illegality

The opposition to the FSLN has consistently questioned Daniel Ortega’s candidacy based on the constitutional prohibition of both successive reelection and a third presidential term. The FSLN’s argument that the Supreme Court overturned this is unacceptable to the opposition on the grounds that only the National Assembly can change the Constitution, and only with a qualified majority of votes in two successive legislatures. The Supreme Court is no exception to that constitutional determination.

In addition to the juridical, constitutional and legal arguments against Ortega’s candidacy presented repeatedly for months, there’s also the fresh argument alluded to by six retired officers of the Sandinista Popular Army (a colonel, two lieutenant colonels, a major, a captain and a first lieutenant) in a letter to the nation: “It is inconceivable that the Sandinista National Liberation Front, as a party with a long trajectory, does not have the men in its ranks and the inclusive procedures in its institutionality to name a candidate who can represent it, there being numerous men and women with a distinguished trajectory, prestige and successes in the country’s public life.”

Ortega’s registration for reelection was challenged before the Supreme Electoral Council by three of the four opposition tickets, with no success. The unconstitutionality of his candidacy will surely be a heated topic throughout the electoral campaign and will accompany Ortega’s new term in office if he wins at the polls.

The FSLN is running
with one of its own

Daniel Ortega elected as his running mate Omar Halleslevens, head of the army until February of last year. Ortega has been the FSLN’s only candidate in the five electoral races it has participated in after taking power in 1979. Aware that his party was not a front-runner in the last three, he sought running mates outside of the Sandinista camp to give his ticket added value and attract votes beyond party borders.

In 1990, Ortega pulled 40.8% of the vote running with Sergio Ramírez, his Vice President for the previous six years, 13.9 points behind Violeta Chamorro. In 1996, he surprised many by choosing Juan Manuel Caldera, a little known cattle rancher whose property had been confiscated in the eighties. The idea was to send a message of national reconciliation, as well as a message of goodwill to small and medium rural farmers, who had been a social base of the armed counterrevolution. While most observers considered that election disastrously chaotic and slothfully run, the FSLN insists to this day that it was fraudulent, without ever offering evidence of how fraud alone could account for the 13% gap between its 38% of the vote and the PLC’s 51%.

In 2001 Ortega ran with Social Christian Agustín Jarquín, who had previously paid for his boldness as comptroller general during the Alemán administration with a jail sentence, earning him pioneer leadership in the struggle against corruption. Ortega chose him to project a clean image after his scurrilous deal with President Alemán that materialized into a pact to reform the electoral law and the Constitution in their mutual favor. In that election, considered clean, the FSLN pulled 42% and the PLC 56%, an even greater margin than in 1996.

The running mate Ortega chose for the 2006 elections was the one his party faithful found the hardest to swallow: Liberal businessman, former civilian counterrevolutionary leader and the contras’ chief negotiator, Jaime Morales Carazo. The message sent with that pairing was a repetition of national reconciliation plus better relations with big national capital, with which Morales Carazo is on first-name terms. As mentioned, Ortega won that election with only 38%, having previously cut a deal with Alemán to reduce toi 35% the vote needed to win on the first round as long as it’s 5 points ahead of the runner-up. It was the first year the Liberal opposition ran divided.

This year, Ortega didn’t fish outside of party waters, an apparent sign that he no longer needs to make sacrifices, that he’s sure of the results.

What’s behind the choice
of a military officer?

The FSLN base, especially the historical one that has been displaced during this period by young activists with little spirit of commitment, recognizes Halleslevens as an FSLN militant since his university years and a member of the commando unit in the legendary assault on Chema Castillo’s house in 1974. As head of the army he earned the appreciation of his subordinates and of society. Halleslevens has no desire to overshadow Ortega; a farmer and cattle rancher from Chontales, he’s considered straightforward, easy-going and unpretentious. Chontales society, mainly opposed to the FSLN, will now have “one of their own” to vote for.

But another importance element in his selection is that for 17 years the now-retired general was head of military counterintelligence in what was originally the Sandinista Popular Army. He belongs to that conspiratorial matrix in which the governing party was born, developed and continues acting. Conspiring to vanquish, and both analyzing and responding to any divergence as if it were a conspiracy are characteristics that have prevented the FSLN from becoming a democratic party.

Given President Ortega’s almost total institutional control as head of the executive branch, the choice of a running mate who was previously the army chief obviously unleashed a volley of analyses. Some jurists and even some of Halleslevens former companions in arms, now distanced from the governing party, see his agreeing to run with Ortega as making him an accomplice to Ortega’ illegal push for reelection.

Does choosing him indicate that the State-Party fusion promoted by Ortega is now evolving toward something even more dangerous: State-Party-Army? The armed forces high command has insisted that Halleslevens’ decision is personal and in no way compromises the institutional body. It’s impossible, however, not to weave hypotheses laden with concern over a possible further hardening of the government.

Some share the opinion that no matter what, Halleslevens’ selection will affect the army, which is the national institution with the greatest credibility, survey after survey, year after year. Others have wondered whether he was chosen to intimidate the population about “what could happen.” Halleslevens’ successor responded to this fear by stating that the Army of Nicaragua “is not a repressive army.”

The governing party has already put five retired generals and eight retired colonels at the head of state institutions and of businesses set up with funds from Venezuela’s Bolivarian Alternative for the Peoples of America (ALBA). Retired Colonel Carlos Brenes, who opposes Ortega’s reelection, underscored this aspect: “We need to take into account the phenomenon of retired officers occupying posts in the party and its businesses. Now it’s Halleslevens. The message is that loyalty is rewarded.”

The PLC is running
with the “fat man”…

The PLC is appearing on the electoral stage this year with the slogan “The Fat Man for President—Change Now.” Arnoldo Alemán, more svelte after the strict diet required by the gastric band he’s using, has controlled the PLC since its founding. He’s been the most active and vociferous voice of the anti-Sandinista crowd since 1990, when he was chosen to be mayor of Managua by the other Municipal Council members. He won the presidency in 1996 by waving that same anti-Sandinista banner, even more vituperously.

Both as mayor and as President, Alemán left behind ample evidence of the corruption he institutionalized in his government retinue, helping him develop his political leadership in the Somocista Liberal style, by buying loyal followers with cushy jobs and other perks. This style made him a renowned representative of that characteristic of Nicaraguan political philistinism that conceives of the State as booty; he became the very symbol of corrupt Latin American leaders. Even after an Ortega-controlled Supreme Court absolved him of the main corruption case for which he had been sentenced to 20 years, Arnoldo Alemán is still prohibited from entering the United States or the European Union countries of the Shengen area for that reason. The Wikileaks cables include him among the ten most corrupt rulers in the world.

Given the significant tolerance in the country’s unhealthy political culture for those who steal from the state coffers, however, the eroded image currently burdening Alemán’s presidential candidacy is mainly due to the pact he hammered out with Ortega while President (1997-2001). It facilitated Ortega’s return to office and appropriation of the key state institutions in one deal after another that Ortega ultimately got the best of, while Alemán mainly sought short-term perks.

If the banner of ideological anti-Sandinismo was Alemán’s great advantage in 1996 and still in 2001, the Liberal dissidents headed by banker Eduardo Montealegre altered that by taking second place in the 2006 elections after only a year or two in existence with a modernizing focus that didn’t demonize the FSLN. Given how Alemán has acted with Ortega back in government, the PLC’s continuing anti-Sandinista diatribe has a hollow ring.

Even with all this, Alemán is still surrounded by the aura of slick-talking caudillos and the PLC enjoys the advantage of an organized base and a proven electoral machine. The question in these elections will be how much of this apparatus is still intact. Many of its elements have left the PLC, convinced that Alemán doesn’t represent a genuine opposition and is competing with Ortega only so he can go on being a minority partner in a pact that divvies up government posts.

Two options headed by candidates who have left the PLC—Quiñónez for the ALN and Fabio Gadea for the PLI—are battling over Alemán’s PLC base: Quiñónez with the traditional anti-Sandinista banner and Gadea eschewing it.

…and with the Conservatives

The PLC is going into the elections in an alliance called GANA (an acronym that as a word means win in Spanish) that mixes the Liberal red with the green of the Conservative Party (PC). The leaders of both parties value having resuscitated in this strange pairing the traditional strength of what are known in Nicaragua as the “historical parallels.” Liberals and Conservatives controlled national politics from Independence until 1979, with their differences over that century and a half motivating a string of civil wars and their pacts filling the country’s history books. Medium-sized capitalists have traditionally grouped around the PLC while the PC leadership has always attracted representatives of big Nicaraguan capital.

Alemán’s running
mate is an antidote

There was speculation for weeks about which Conservative leader would be Alemán’s running mate, but just before the selection was announced, Alemán advised that it would be another Liberal. The choice was PLC legislative representative PLC Francisco Aguirre Sacasa.

Alemán defines Aguirre Sacasa as “a gentleman through and through.” The kind of gentleman who, as Alemán’s chancellor, inaugurated the new Foreign Ministry building, donated by Taiwan, astride a spirited steed. It was a strange scene.

Alemán chose him hoping to revitalize the PLC and above all to retain its voter base, although Aguirre Sacasa isn’t exactly a leader who’s close to the people. The PC was rewarded for its alliance with representation on the alliance’s slate of National Assembly candidates, and it is with them that the PLC hopes to capture votes in traditionally Conservative areas such as Granada, Boaco and Chontales.

Aguirre Sacasa will act as an antidote to the venom Liberals have rained down on Alemán for his pact with Ortega. It will also give Alemán’s image a facelift internationally, especially in the United States, since Aguirre Sacasa knows the North’s political scene very well. And after working 28 years in the World Bank he’s very familiar with international politics in general. His candidacy should improve Alemán’s national image as well, particularly with big national capital. With him, Alemán will try to lure back those who have considered him out of the game for years given his unpresentable political record. The VP candidate’s own image is one of deliberation, sagacity and even noble ancestry.

The ALN is running under
a cloud of suspicions

The Nicaraguan Liberal Alliance was thecreation of former PLC member Eduardo Montealegre, who organized, bankrolled and projected it as a modernized alternative to the PLC. He clearly did something right, because after just two years, the ALN pushed the PLC into third place in the 2006 elections. That feat consecrated it as an attractive political option with growth potential among both the PLC base and other disaffected Liberals and previous Liberal splits.

Because its impressive showing threatened the bipartite pact between Alemán and Ortega, they got the Supreme Electoral Council to issue an arbitrary decision the following year disqualifying Montealegre as head of the ALN and turning the party over to Liberal allies of the FSLN. In a chain reaction, most of the legislative representatives elected on the ALN slate in 2006 switched their loyalties to Montealegre in his new We’re Going with Eduardo Movement. The few who stayed with the ALN soon became the most discredited parliamentarians, always hawking their votes in the market into which Ortega has turned this branch of government over the years.

Enrique Quiñónez, the presidential candidate of what remains of the ALN, is a fiery, crude-spoken politician who was once a cadet in the Somoza National Guard’s feared elite unit known as EEBI, then a combatant in the counterrevolution, following which he cozied up to Alemán for years only to more recently trash him consistently and harshly. He was a promoter of Montealegre’s presidential candidacy and a legislator on his bench until he assumed leadership of the ALN last year in a strange political move that raised all manner of suspicions, with no one sure who he’s working for.

Before registering as a presidential candidate, Quiñónez tried to get the ALN into the alliance with Fabio Gadea Mantilla’s emerging group by backing his candidacy, but the effort failed because Gadea’s political council had every reason to wonder who he takes his orders from. Quiñónez complained for a while then named himself the ALN candidate and sought as a running mate a representative of the Pentecostal sectors, but was also unable to convince anyone. Finally, Diana Urbina, an ardent anti-Sandinista and now PLC deserter, agreed to run with him.

The ALN’s first and best political conquest is José Rizo, honorary PLC president and its presidential candi¬date in 2006, who has now also abandoned his long-time party. His turncoat decision adds new wariness about for whom and for what the ALN is working.

The ALN’s advantages
and disadvantages

The ALN has one great advantage, which grows out of a legality created by the Ortega-Alemán pact. Assuming that the FSLN and the PLC would always take the top two places, the two men redesigned the electoral law to give the first two seats on each voting table and in the three-person Municipal and Departmental Electoral Council boards to the two front-running parties in order of their vote strength in the previous presidential elections. Since the ALN surprised the pact-makers by coming in second in 2006, it got the second seats, the victorious FSLN got the presidential seats and the third ones were divvied up among the also-rans, of which the PLC was one. Given that Nicaragua’s electoral model is based on mutual distrust, assuming that “everyone steals ballots,” “he who blinks loses” and this year’s electoral process will be held under the dark cloud of the fraud committed in 2008, those who control ballot counting at the polling places and on the validity of any challenges filed at them on election day enjoy an enormous advantage.

The great novelty that this ambiguous political group is bringing to this year’s electoral process—which some see as an advantage—is its campaign chief: Álvaro Somoza Urcuyo, grandson of “Tacho Viejo” (Anastasio Somoza García, the first Somoza family dictator), nephew of “Tachito” (Anastasio Somoza Debayle, the last Somoza dictator) and son of Luis, the middle ruler of the three. This third-generation member of the old Somoza dynasty went into exile in 1979 when he was 28. He returned in the late nineties and is now visible in the electoral race, anteing up his important economic resources on the electoral gaming table. Anybody know who he’s working for?

Somoza Urcuyo has called Alemán “a traitor to the homeland” and Daniel Ortega a “killer” who “is moving toward a dictatorship.” Despite such harsh condemnations, the suspicions surrounding the ALN’s objectives also surround this Somoza. He backed José Rizo’s presidential candidacy on the PLC ticket in 2006 and is now going into the competition with greater projection. In addition to economically bolstering the ALN’s campaign, he aspires to recover a political leadership that could vindicate the family name that marks him.

That surname evokes the anti-Sandinismo that Alemán monopolized for 20 years: this ALN could thus pull votes away from the PLC again, albeit for different reasons than in 2006, in any event dividing the opposition to Ortega even more. And as hard as it is to believe, his name is still attractive to many older voters, not because of the human rights abuses, corruption, monopolizing of power or inequality of income, but for the memory of that period’s social order and economic boom, even if they only got crumbs from the table.

The PLI’s running
with a pluralist group

After anxiously checking out the parties that still have legal status and therefore a ballot slot, the UNE Alliance finally chose the PLI, fearful right up to the last moment that the Supreme Electoral Council would block its participation.

The launching of Fabio Gadea, a personality who’s no stranger to politics but was an unanticipated presidential candidate, was the suggestion of Eduardo Montealegre, who offered resources and his MVE activists to project him. Gadea hoped to group the entire opposition to Ortega’s project around his candidacy. While that didn’t happen, the novelty represented by his bursting onto the scene and the explicit sense of his candidacy—opposed specifically to Ortega and Alemán and their pact—appealed to a quite varied group: many dissidents from the PLC structures in a number of municipalities; disaffected Conservatives and Social Christians: leaders of the Resistance Party, which had hoped to attract all the former contras after the war but never did; and the entire Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS). He also has the support of many of the civil society social movements that have emerged in opposition to the Ortega-Alemán pact over the years.

The heterogeneity of Gadea’s support group expresses a willingness to encompass the pluralism that’s missing in the three other opposition alliances—the PLC, ALN and APRE. Nonetheless this political and ideological mix is as much a problem and a disadvantage as it is a virtue. Achieving consensus in such a varied group on the selection of legislative candidates, the program they’ll present to the country and the messages in their campaign speeches is its greatest challenge. Another sizable one is finding the resources to sustain the campaign.

Its ticket is complementary

As his running mate Gadea selected Edmundo Jarquín, of the “Chamorro clan” by his marriage to former President Violeta Chamorro’s daughter Claudia, a revolutionary government official during the eighties. Jarquín himself was an ambassador for the revolutionary government in both Spain and Mexico, and now collaborates with La Prensa’s director, Pedro Joaquín Chamorro (Claudia’s uncle). He went to work for the Inter-American Bank in Washington in 1992, then retired in 2005 and returned to be Herty Lewites’ running mate for the 2006 elections on the MRS Alliance ticket. With Lewites’ death in 2006, Jarquín was moved to the top slot, pulling 6.3% of the votes to come in fourth in a five-candidate race. He reportedly resigned his post on the MRS National Coordination to accept Gadea’s offer.

His selection expresses this group’s pluralist vocation and also gives it color beyond its Liberal strength, distancing it somewhat from both the PLC and the MVE. The coupling of Gadea and Jarquín has sparked tensions and susceptibilities among Liberals who have eaten and drunk anti-Sandinismo over many years in the PLC and are nervous about the political consequences it could have.

Despite his nearly 80 years, Gadea demonstrates impressive energy. The support he’s pulling in rural areas due to the power of his Radio Corporación and 50 years of radio stories built around “Pancho Madrigal,” his emblematic fictitious creation, seems to be even increasing that energy.

Jarquín is accompanying him on his rural tours. Both men have voices with radio broadcasting quality and complement each other. Gadea narrates and Jarquín analyzes; Gadea speaks to a rural public, Jarquín to an urban one. Gadea plays with emotional symbols and Jarquín appeals to arguments and reason. Gadea has a tested anti-FSLN track record and Jarquín comes from the FSLN. Gadea is provincial, Jarquín cosmopolitan.

This group’s declared aspiration is to unify the independent vote and the dispersed discontent and thus polarize the election between it and Ortega, sidelining the other three options by election day. This would allow it to generate massive participation that would put the brakes on electoral fraud or at least force the governing party into the trap of committing it in a way that leaves unequivocal evidence this time.

Bringing messages of
more than stale opposition

The opposition to the governing party abounds in trite, excessively repeated messages. Some of Gadea’s speeches, however, are among the most concrete of any that are beginning to appear.

This alliance is defined by its specific opposition to the Ortega-Alemán pact. Gadea’s son is married to one of Alemán’s daughters and Gadea was the PLC’s elected represen¬tative to Parlacen for three terms. Before registering his candidacy on the PLI ballot slot, he clarified that he had resigned his “militancy in the PLC of Dr. Alemán, but not in the PLC of the Constitutionalist Liberals, the immense majority of Constitutionalist Liberals. I am, continue to be and will go on being a Constitutionalist Liberal. What I am not is a follower of either Ortega or Alemán. The Ortega-Alemán pact has forced me to take this step.”

Gadea is the only candidate who has offered, albeit still timidly, a position regarding the social programs that Ortega has made insignias of his government and with which he’s trying to attract the vote of the poorest population. “I promise,” Gadea has said, “that the governmental support programs to the poorest will be both continued and extended, without party bias, without anybody having to sell their dignity and freedom of thought in exchange. If there is sheet metal roofing it will be for all; if there are calves and pigs, they will be for all who need them. Nobody will have to say, ‘I’m with Fabio’ to access the productive bond, credits or technical assistance.”

He has also said that his government’s priority will be education, although he’s not yet presenting a government program or explaining how he’ll respond to this priority. For example, he has yet to say whether he will do it by implementing a fiscal reform. The country urgently needs such a reform to narrow the ever-growing inequity gap between both the old rich who don’t pay taxes and the new rich promoting the ALBA businesses who don’t pay either, on the one hand; and on the other both the poor who are benefiting from the government’s social programs and the rest of the poor majority who are abandoned to their fate, without jobs or opportunities.

APRE is running
with divine providence

APRE was a party “created” with more than a little help from President Bolaños in 2002 in an attempt to counteract the fact that while he had run on the PLC ticket, Alemán still controlled the party even after he was convicted for corruption. That left Bolaños with no party support in the National Assembly or anywhere else. APRE was made up of dissidents from PLC-monopolized Liberalism. Following its irrelevant participation or complete absence from the next two municipal elections (2004 and 2008) and the 2006 national one, it was assumed that APRE had lost its legal status, in accord with the law. Nonetheless, it will participate in this November’s elections.

Its presidential candidate, former Education Minister Miguel Ángel García, confesses that God guided his acceptance of this candidacy and is assuring him he will win with the backing of a million votes.

“God will provide,” is his answer when asked who will finance his campaign. His faith, which is in the Catholic tradition, is reinforced by his vice presidential running mate, Pentecostal pastor Elizabeth de Rojas, who believes it will be enough to “push a button” for all the Assemblies of God faithful to participate in and finance APRE’s campaign and vote for its ticket.

With this faith, APRE’s slogan is “With Miguel Daniel trembles,” although with his well-known sense of humor, García admits that the President’s first tremors will be of laughter at seeing him, of all people, challenging with such confidence in his victory.

Confident or fearful?

Are the representatives of these four options authentic alternatives to the project of Ortega and today’s FSLN? The governing party insists it’s sure of winning at the polls in November. But its stubborn refusal to permit national election observers, the campaign it organized to get its youth activists and state employees to repudiate electoral observation as a synonym for foreign meddling and the disproportionate, intolerant and repressive response to the April 2 civil society march rejecting Ortega’s unconstitutional presidential candidacy indicate that it’s not all that sure, wants to run no risk with observers and will use the National Police to further Ortega’s interests. The party seems a prisoner of the fear that the discontent generated by governmental authoritarianism will not only be expressed freely, but will organize and grow.

Cairo in Managua?

For some time now, the governing party has been counting on both national passivity and resignation toward its consummated acts and international tolerance toward it as the lesser evil. Will this gamble pan out?

Internationally the world context is being severely modified by the insurrections in the Arab world. President Ortega must be following what’s happening in these countries with more than a little anxiety, perplexity and concern. Official Ortega spokespeople justify the restrictions his government is imposing on the opposition because “intelligence information” indicates a “conspiracy” to bring down the government by provoking something in Managua similar to what happened in Cairo’s Tahrir Square.

Egypt isn’t Nicaragua and both the government and the opposition know it. The fanciful interpretation that brings Cairo to Managua is a cover-up for what must really be worrying the government: the crisis of the Libyan model, an African version of Chávez’s model in Venezuela.

The leaders of oil-producing Venezuela and Libya have centered their respective projects on using oil profits to improve the living standard of their populations. Today, Libya is the Arab country with the highest per-capita income and best education and health services. Nonetheless, the concentration of power in a single person and his family, the iron social control and the falsity of the Jamahiriya (the “State of the Masses”) as an expression of “popular power” have ignited the clamor for freedom.

It’s evident that Venezuela isn’t Libya. But the crisis of the Libyan model casts shadows on the course of both Chávez’s model and ALBA, which is feeding the concentration of power and social control that characterizes Ortega’s government of “citizen power” and “people as President” in Nicaragua. Ortega also knows that the Venezuelan context is being modified: when Ortega took office in 2007, Chávez and ALBA both had a solidity they no longer have in 2011.

The crisis of the Libyan model

The crisis of the Libyan model is worrying Nicaragua’s governing party. It’s, a mirror in which they can see themselves reflected, and it’s scaring them. That may explain the President’s reiterated unconditional support for Colonel Gaddafi, which in March reached the extreme of offering him Father Miguel D’Escoto—Nicaragua’s foreign minister in the eighties, now Ortega’s foreign policy adviser and president of the UN’s 63rd General Assembly in 2008-2009—to name as Gaddafi’s UN representative after his two Libyan choices apparently defected. That rash and irrational measure and D’Escoto’s eccentric behavior when he arrived at the UN headquarters brandishing Gaddafi’s name showed Nicaragua to the rest of the world as an isolated country, cut adrift by the irresponsibility of its helmsman.

The confusion of Ortega’s personal commitments to Gaddafi—to whom he certainly owes many favors—with his responsibility as the ruler of a small and fragile country like Nicaragua is eroding the international tolerance Ortega is counting on to impose himself in a new period and provide inter¬national legitimacy. The departure of European cooperation—first Sweden, then Finland, Norway, Denmark, Austria and now Holland—is a very bad omen for Nicaragua.

Nationally, banking on passivity and resignation is a bad calculation. Nothing is consummated yet. Much water is still to pass under the bridge before election day and uncertainties about what will happen in the meantime, on that date and the “day after” must be considered in any analysis, including this one. We’re forced into the humility of waiting… and hoping.

April 2 Opposition March
The following text is extracted from the pronouncement at the end of the national march held in Managua on April 2 protesting Daniel Ortega’s reelection and promoting freedom, jobs and peace, which was repressed and broken up by the National Police:

“The threats, the campaign of fear, the carnivals and the taking of plazas by people paid with money from Chávez or stolen from the Nicaraguan people; the manipulation, the party politicizing of the National Police, the lies of Daniel Ortega to prevent us from taking to the streets to express our repulsion of his unconstitutional reelection have not worked at all. The Nicaraguan citizenry has demonstrated yet again that it’s capable of defeating fear and difficulties and that there’s no power capable of silencing it. Ortega won’t clean the stain of his illegitimate and illegal candidacy with these actions; he won’t hide the dirty laundry of a corrupt Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) occupied by usurpers and mercenaries at his service. The only thing Daniel Ortega has demonstrated with his bullying and irresponsibility is that he’s terrified of the Nicaraguan people, who today more than ever are determined to put an end to his dictatorial pretensions….

“The current crossroads has great similarities with the history we Nicaraguans lived through in 1990. While citizen’s votes then represented a peaceful way out of the infernal labyrinth of war, an opportunity for peace and the reconstruction of a country destroyed by fratricidal hatred, the elections that will take place this November 6 represent the last opportunity to save democracy and with it the civilized path to construct coexistence and find appropriate ways of escaping poverty and misery….

If all the arbitrariness and irregularities committed by the CSE in this electoral process indicate to us that a colossal fraud is being prepared for November 6, it is with even more reason that we must go deposit our vote against an authoritarian and dictatorial government, to make that mountain of votes a resounding and irrefutable proof of the fraud…

“Starting now, let’s call on the international community not to recognize any government produced by fraud. The message to Ortega must be clear: if the elections are stolen, he will be condemned to international isolation and the responsibility for leading the country to disaster will fall on his shoulders.”

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