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  Number 365 | Diciembre 2011
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Nicaragua

One of the most competent Sandinistas, and one of those closest to Daniel Ortega for many years, shares his opinions and his appraisal of the recent elections and the country’s future.

Dionisio Marenco

Nicaragua’s history has been plagued by ongoing political conflicts. Even though all have had economic and social causal factors, they were all struggles for power and were political in nature. Some say this is normal, that it also happens in other parts of the world, but I think it’s worse in Nicaragua. No country in Central America, this region we live in, compares to Nicaragua in the number of conflicts during a given time period. Historical anthropologists can study the cause of these conflicts, but what we all know is that there are cycles of stability that last no more than 30 years, ended by conflicts its protagonists call “revolutions,” which soon herald a new “pax romana” for a period of time, but they also end in a new conflict, and on it goes. We must imagine what moment of these cycles we’re in today. Since the eighties, albeit with ups and downs, elections have broken the cyclical nature that always led us to resolve our political problems through violent means.

My first election experience
was very intense

I’d like to start by recalling my first electoral experience. The first ones I remember were the 1963 elections, but I wasn’t old enough to vote then. The choice was between a man by the name of Amador, from Matagalpa, and René Schick Gutiérrez, a puppet of Somoza.

I lived the next elections, the ones in 1967, very intensely. By then I was an engineering student and was president of the University Center at the Central American University (UCA). General Anastasio Somoza Debayle was running for President for the first time in those elections. His father, Anastasio Somoza García, and his brother, Luis Somoza Debayle, had already been Presidents. He would be the third in the Somoza dynasty to hold power.

We organized a movement against the continuation of the Somoza dictatorship in the UCA’s University Center (CEUUCA) and UNAN`s University Center (CUUN) in León—there were only two universities in Nicaragua then. Our motto was “No more Somoza,” and with it we started a great campaign to create a single opposition front against Somoza, the National Opposition Union (UNO). That year, the UCA student body president was Casimiro Sorelo, who was studying law, and I was secretary. In León, the president was Duilio Baltodano and the secretary was Horacio Lobo. The four of us students comprised the leadership that directed all the opposition political parties in the search for a unified front against Somoza’s candidacy.

During that time the principal opposition force was the Conservative Party, led by Doctor Fernando Agüero Rocha, who just recently passed away. Agüero had developed an important level of leadership among the masses, and had a significant following. Other smaller parties included the Independent Liberal Party—under whose flag Fabio Gadea ran in this year’s elections—as well as the Social Christian Party, the Socialist Party, the Republican Mobilization Party and a party led by Alejandro Pérez Arévalo.

In those times the leftwing parties had an irrelevant number of political activists and the Conservatives never sst down to talk with what it dismissed as “communists.” As Agüero Rocha was the main opposition candidate, he wasn’t interested in joining with other smaller players, but for us students it was an important political strategy to unite all forces to confront the dictatorship. By early 1966 we had virtually forced the creation of a unity coalition. Agüero accepted the PLI and the Social Christians in this coalition, but none of the “communists.”

On October 28 of that year, 30 of us students from the UCA and the UNAN decided to launch our campaign by crashing the inaugural game of the professional baseball league in the national stadium. It was a very upbeat ceremony, with marching bands. The stadium was full, with 20 thousand people, including the President of the Republic at the time, Lorenzo Guerrero, and all the government employees. We went in two by two and once we were on the field we unfurled a huge banner that read “No more Somoza – University Centers.” We kept going forward with the banner and yelling slogans, but when we were at about center field the National Guard blocked our path. I thought they were only going to evict us, but no, their plan was to arrest us. In the end, they got eight of us, including one of the seven women in the group—María Teresa García Zeledón. We were brutally beaten, then taken to the transit police office in the same stadium. The officer who received us there was Lieutenant Fulgencio Largaespada, the same officer who surrendered the National Guard to the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) in July 1979. From there we were moved to the jail at El Hormiguero and then to the jail of the infamous National Security Office (OSN).

The massacre of January 22, 1967

On January 22, 1967, the electoral campaign was winding down in anticipation of the elections a week later. These were the first elections I would vote in, and I was also to be a monitor at one of the electoral tables.

As university students we were organized in Civic Committees for Electoral Vigilance and Defense of the Vote (CIVES). On that day, CIVES was heading the march that was ending the campaign against Somoza. There were tens of thousands of people, and National Guardsmen everywhere. We had been told that the opposition leadership had been negotiating with Guard officers to marginalize Somoza, neutralize President Guerrero and form a civic-military junta that would organize fair elections, because there was a similar discussion to the one we have today about elections without guarantees...

We were on the streets, elated at seeing that sea of people. With me were 110 others from CIVES. As it was getting dark, a tanker arrived to hose us with water and disperse us. All of the sudden someone shot and killed Sixto Pineda, the official coming towards us with the hose. We don’t know who shot him, but the Guardsmen immediately began to fire at us at close range. I don’t know how many died that day, but I jumped off the truck I was on, and had to jump over arms, heads, legs, pools of blood… a carpet of dead bodies. We fought the National Guard off with rocks for about 20 minutes. I had to spend several weeks in hiding, so couldn’t vote. Those elections were full of pain, tragedy, many dead and a lot of violence. They were elections literally bathed in blood, not comparable at all to the current circumstances. I couldn’t ever vote again. My first time voting was in 1990, when I was 44 years. That was my first time, and my candidate, Daniel Ortega, lost. As you can see, I have a pretty traumatic history with elections.

Why run in elections
you consider illegitimate?

I’d like to share some personal impressions of the elections that have just taken place. President Daniel Ortega’s candidacy was strongly criticized on the grounds that he was violating the constitutional mandate against reelection, and used a legal ruse to be able to participate. If the opposition parties believed that, why did they participate in the elections? Because by doing so, they in fact legitimized them. I think that was a big mistake by the so-called opposition. If I want to run in elections but see that I have no guarantee of participating in equal conditions, I don’t participate. And if I do participate and lose, I don’t complain, because I knew what I was getting into. The alternative to participating in such conditions is to prepare for other types of political struggle.

Nicaragua’s elections are held at 13,000 voting tables. It’s not really one election, but rather 13,000 elections. Any party that doesn’t organize itself to deal with 13,000 elections in 13,000 different places isn’t well prepared. So if the opposition candidates know this, and know they don’t have 13,000 table monitors, why didn’t they prepare themselves? They say some of their electoral monitors were kicked out of the voting centers. Well, why didn’t they immediately protest this anomaly? And what about the 10 people they had to have to back up each monitor? These are questions I ask myself.

Thoughts on resolving
the doubts about these elections

Given the situation we’re left with after these elections, I think the results should be presented table by table. And a citizens’ audit should also be done of some tables that had obvious inconsistencies. They should bring out all those ballots, which were packed up and stored, and put together a group of interested citizens to count them all over again. And for the future we need to look for more efficient control mechanisms, ones more in line with modern technology, so we won’t be in the conflict we’re in today.

If the FSLN won the elections, as I believe it really did, all the more reason to sweep away all the doubts its political adversaries are trying to impute to it. Let’s hope there’s a change of attitude. And that climate change doesn’t come first and find us still fighting among ourselves, because then we’d have no time to change anything.

Thoughts on our territorial voting model

You have to bear in mind that Nicaragua’s electoral design is territorial. This means that each voting table has to be close to 400 voters, and when it gets above 400 you have to create another table. It’s a model that seeks to make it easier for the population, but it also makes it easier for the participating parties to anticipate the results, to know who will vote and for whom.

It’s logical that there’ll be tensions in the voting in a system based on suspicion and distrust. But with only 400 voters at each table and given that there’s now an electoral history, which everyone knows, you know how people vote at each table. There are tables where the FSLN has always won. And there are tables where it’s never won. And of course there are tables where the results are always very close, depending on the political dynamic of the moment. So, any post-electoral analysis or audit of the process only has to study the trends and verify the most drastic changes.

During the eighties and nineties I worked for the FSLN in what was known as Territory 33. We did a door-to-door census in that territory. We knew where everyone lived, who belonged to each family, who were Sandinistas, who were Liberals, who were against us, who were for us, who had jobs, who were unemployed…The political work we did was one on one. And because of it, we already knew with a good deal of security what the results would look like before the elections.

I think this model of territorial voting centers so close to the voter needs to be reviewed and studied to see if it’s the best one. Maybe new barrios have been formed; maybe it’s a good idea to revise some districts. And even analyze whether it wouldn’t be more appropriate to change to a non-territorial system, with only 1,000 voting tables instead of 13,000, grouping all those who live in a given zone into larger voting centers, with more tables. That’s how it is in El Salvador and in many parts of the world.

Thoughts on the partisan nature of the model

The current electoral design, which is partisan in nature, establishes that two local authorities will preside over each election table. The first one is chosen from the party that had the most votes in the previous general election, and the second from the party that came in second. This was established through the famous and vilified pact between the FSLN and Arnoldo Aleman, in which I participated in from start to finish.

When we began negotiating, the FSLN had no one in the Supreme Electoral Council (CSE), not one magistrate or other authority. I was among those who told Daniel Ortega: “Don’t even think about going to another election without having a presence in the Council. It would be stupidity, because they’ll steal it from you.” Convinced of that, we negotiated until we arrived at the current situation.

When we started the political negotiations now called the pact, the FSLN was in the freezer, below zero. At that moment, when we decided to come to an agreement with President Alemán, we were only interested in how to break the barrier, to create a presence in the electoral process, to take care of and ensure our votes. It seems a reasonable demand to me, particularly given what had just happened in the 1996 elections.

Some might say that ours is a totally party-run electoral process. But if those competing in the elections are political parties, why shouldn’t they be represented in the CSE? Some think it’s better for the electoral apparatus to be an independent institution, and it’s not a bad idea. In Mexico, there’s a small institute with professional officials and when the elections roll around a representative is incorporated into it from each of the political parties that plan to run. That political college functions only for the elections. It seems like a good model to me. I think we need a new Electoral Council model, one that’s either a government ministry dependent or a small and professional entity like Mexico’s, which at election time incorporates representatives of the political parties that are going to participate so they can act as monitors there.

Thoughts on the ID/voter card problem

I think there’s a discussion to be had about whether or not the current organization of the CSE is right or what organization would be better, but for me that’s less relevant. I think the procedures, the processes are the real problem. This Supreme Electoral Council and the little departmental and municipal Electoral Councils are like small factories that only work every five years and are idle the rest of the time. They aren’t like a soap or shoe or shirt factory that maintains a constant production line. These “factories” spend four years inactive and only begin to work in the last year, then suddenly at the last minute they have to produce and count 3 million votes in 24 hours. If that’s how it is, and that’s how I see it, we have to have a machine that’s perfectly ready so that these votes come in and go out without any slipups. It’s simple. What does that factory produce? It produces votes. And what is its raw material? The citizens who come out to vote.

If the citizens are the “raw material,” they all have to be duly identified. Ensuring that requires all the intelligence and efficiency possible. Only in Nicaragua is it a problem to get an ID card, when it should be something you can get off of Internet or in any office; they should even send it to your door. As advanced as technology now is, that’s possible, even in Nicaragua. The issuing of ID cards has to function quickly and routinely, ensuring that everyone gets it easily. And only when the citizen loses it should there be a charge to replace it. The problem with the issuing of the ID/voter cards in this election was huge, truly tedious and stupid.

Thoughts on the voting process

I look at it as if it were an industrial engineering problem, as if I were hired to design a production process. We’re going to produce 2-3 million votes; some 3 million people could come out to vote, and I want the results as quickly as possible… Do it! In order to get it done, I’d have to design the space, the flows, the paper… In these elections, for example, the single ballot was established. I have no doubt that doing so made the process faster, but who knows how much confusion that single ballot caused at ballot-counting time…

When I talk about the processes we need to review and improve, I’m talking mainly about the ballot counting process, the scrutiny. Shortly after the elections here I was watching the elections in Spain. I saw that the tables closed at 6 pm and by 7 pm there was Rubalcaba admitting defeat and Rajoy speaking to the nation. Closer to us, the last election in Peru was hard fought, but the same thing happened: by 7 at night the whole thing was resolved and clear. Even closer, there were elections in Guatemala on the same day as ours, November 6. During the process 45 people were killed in electoral violence, but that night they counted the votes, everything was in order, and General Otto Pérez Molina is now the President-elect. Yet in Nicaragua, we’re still in the same debate with the same doubts a month later. If the counting procedure and presentation of the results aren’t expeditious and quick, it adds an overdose of doubt and distrust to the whole electoral process.

Thoughts on streamlining voting

I also think we have to move toward electronic voting. How is it possible that today we’re able to talk to a friend in Taipei, another in France and another in Jalapa with an I-Pad or some other little phone apparatus, yet even though we know how to use these media we’re still voting with such an outmoded method? It has to be possible for the voter to get a piece of paper or some kind of coded receipt to verify his or her vote, in case of some protest. In France, they send the ballot to your house by mail, you fill it out, vote and send it back by mail. Here we have a totally antiquated system.

And since we don’t trust anything or anybody, we even ink the voter’s thumb so it stays stained and the person can’t vote a second time anywhere else or do it more than once in the same place. Here we are in the 21st century and it seems to me an antediluvian practice, a symbol of our backwardness. Furthermore, it’s a useless measure, because if you want to commit fraud you can use some inks that wash off and others that are truly indelible. In fact, if you really want to commit fraud and you control all the table members, somebody can even come in with his or her whole hand inked up and you’ll let them vote …

In a situation like this one, we have to review everything and move toward any measure that helps streamline the process so we can get the results faster. I’m imagining a system that permits an instant count, in real time, with the voting tables all plugged into a network so you can call up a screen anywhere to see how the voting is going and one can get on that web page from each house to check the vote count at any moment, see how the votes are falling. And if you see something going badly at some table you’re monitoring, you denounce it immediately.

Thoughts on absentee voting

I also think that Nicaraguans who live abroad should be able to vote by Internet. So many Nicaraguans live abroad and they have a decisive weight in the economy. Family remittances are now our largest export income, with the exception of coffee, which has reached very high international prices this year.

Why can’t all those people who contribute so much money to our country vote? Out of fear of their ideology? But if you go to Miami today, you find all kinds: anti-Sandinistas and Sandinistas alike. The majority of our emigrants leaving today go in search of jobs; they emigrate out of economic need. The same in Costa Rica; they emigrate to survive. More than 300,000 Nicaraguans now live in San José. It’s not possible that they’re all anti-Sandinistas. There have to be a lot of Sandinistas among them too. In fact, more people have emigrated in the period after the revolution than those who took political exile back then.

Thoughts on whether Ortega really won

We still don’t have information on the results per table for the elections we just had. We have no evidence to indicate or demonstrate how many votes were robbed in what table. How is it possible that we’re still in this situation? I know there was a tremendous lack of control in managing certain electoral tables, but I’m no position to say what really happened. Nonetheless, in my judgment, all the errors committed aren’t enough to change the final result

All the polls and opinion studies indicated that Daniel Ortega was going to win. No poll or study has any definitive explanation for why, but there is one very important control question. The polls also asked: “Which candidate would you never vote for?” In the polls five years ago we were seeing that 45% of the electorate said it would never vote for Daniel. Yet in the latest Cid Gallup poll this year only 11% gave that answer to the same question. Are the polls false or is there a need to do a better study of what he did to change the population? When people were asked this year: “How do you think the country is going?” 75% said it was going well. On election day itself we saw the reports of the European Union, the Organization of American States and the National Council of Universities—the latter accused of being partisan—and while they agreed that there were no PLI monitors in certain tables, all their quick counts showed that the FSLN had won.

Thoughts on “charity” vs.
solving people’s basic problems

I believe Daniel Ortega’s image and his projection in this election, the enormous majority he got, was due to all the things he gave people, things that had a big impact. I worked for La Chureca garbage dump for many years. When I took office as mayor of Managua, my first act, even before being sworn in, was to go have breakfast at the dump. Each year I threw a party for the children there and the project that Spain now has in La Chureca began when I was mayor.

One day I went to La Chureca with a very important political analyst. While there we saw a woman who lived with her son in the cardboard box from a refrigerator. That box was her house. The woman asked me to help her with a little house. What I did immediately was to go buy two meters of black plastic to wrap that huge box in, then I put a sheet of zinc roofing over it and cut open a hole in the side of the carton as a window. The woman was happy. I promised I’d solve her problem with something a bit better as soon as I could, but at least with that change she wasn’t going to get wet in the rain. Right up to today my great friend Arturo Cruz, the analyst who accompanied me that day, remembers that story as an example of the intensity of our poverty and the value of immediate solutions. Right now they’re building 220 houses in La Cureca with Spain’s generosity.

With the sheets of zinc roofing this government has given out through the Roof Plan, those benefited would build a monument to you. I can’t say whether that roofing was given to buy people’s vote or not. But what I can say is that it’s resolving one of people’s basic problems. I think we need to make a distinction between charity and what it means to resolve people’s basic needs.

Thoughts on the importance
of changing the magistrates

Some propose changing all the Supreme Electoral Council magistrates. I think it’s a mistake to present things like that; it oversimplifies the problem. No one can guarantee that getting rid of these nine people and putting in nine others won’t bring us the same problems or worse ones, because the quid of the issue is in the systems, the processes.

A lot is said about the period in which Mariano Fiallos Oyanguren headed the Supreme Electoral Council. He was a Sandinista; he was decorated with the maximum Sandinista order, the Carlos Fonseca Order. In fact, back in that time all Council magistrates were Sandinistas, yet we lost the 1990 elections. So it’s not about having a party-based Council that determines whether you win or lose. Other circum¬stances come into play. The electoral officials of that time were Sandinistas because all government officials were. We never thought we’d lose the 1990 elections, and we weren’t prepared. That’s why it happened. It was a huge error, caused by an enormous blind spot on our side, which kept us from seeing how things were evolving in the country.

Nothing will change if we don’t change the procedure, particularly living in a country in which the parties want to put in people loyal to them. I can vouch for the fact that four magistrates in this Supreme Electoral Council we have today were highly trusted PLC militants and leaders and that’s why they were put there, yet today they’re accused of being Sandinistas, of wearing a black and red kerchief around their neck. We all know that the presence of a distinguished independent is sought for the Council, to be the tie breaker between Sandinistas and Liberals, a neutral person who serves to delimit the forces of the parties in dispute. We all know who that person is on this Council; he virtually represents the maximum Catholic authority. Yet what’s happening now? There isn’t a single denigrating term he hasn’t been labeled with, to the point of nearly destroying him.

Thoughts on the crisis of values

Why won’t changing the nine magistrates change anything? Because our problem here in Nicaragua is one of values. But it’s something no one ever discusses. No one defends the value of honesty, of respect for the citizenry, of civic coexistence. If we were truly struggling to achieve a society in which everyone could live together and have a country that’s a little better than the one we have today, we’d surely pick the road on which we’ll one day find the solution. But no, the whole discussion is about whom to put in what post. It’s all about horse trading: if I give you one in the Council I want one in the Supreme Court. This lack of values is our most serious problem today. The famous institutionality has turned into a divvying up of perks and favors to maintain the status quo.

Emphasizing the value of honesty, of telling the truth and not lying, of respecting all citizens, are all easy things, but they’re so important that it’s where many of our problems would be resolved. Because once this whole electoral crisis is past, whether these elections are annulled, others are held, everything stays the way it is, with this Council or a different one, we’ll still have to resolve the most profound part: the values we’ve lost. I’m in full agreement with the saying that social revolutions have to start at the bottom and ethical revolutions have to start at the top. That’s why I say that it’s not enough to change the CSE magistrates, unless we change the values that made possible what’s happening to us today.

Many things need changing in Nicaragua. I think there’s a lack of democracy in the FSLN and in all the other parties as well. It’s a symptomatic problem in our whole society. We have come out of a totalitarian society. The dictatorship was totalitarian. And we ousted it in the most traumatic way possible: at gunpoint. And over the cadaver of the dictatorship we built a military regime. That was the FSLN’s regime in the eighties, and it had to be to defend against the foreign aggression imposed on us by US President Ronald Reagan. The FSLN comes from a military die, not a democratic one, because it was our lot to confront the dictatorship militarily, and many of the military features in the FSLN of that time haven’t changed. I don’t know how many years will have to pass before we can little by little cut another die.

Thoughts on the end justifying any means

So what happened in these elections? Did the principle of “anything goes” prevail? That idea was formulated over 500 years ago by Niccolò Machiavelli when he talked about the end justifying the means, a principle that has dominated the world ever since. I think that introducing into the masses the idea that we have to win at all cost is fine, but if those masses go to the extreme and not only say “we won,” but “we whipped them, we wiped the floor with them!,” we’ve gone too far. It should always be: we won, now let’s shake the loser’s hand and from here on we’ll sit down together and dialogue and work together. But if the feeling that gets imposed is that we have to do whatever it takes to blow the adversary away, then we’re following Machiavelli’s lead, a philosophy followed by the entire the world. A whole period was built with that thinking, in fact. It’s a philosophy that works just fine until it gets applied against you. Because even if you’re strong, there will always be someone stronger, and they’ll apply it to you.

Were there doubts in the FSLN that they might lose the elections? I’m a Sandinista and I voted for Daniel Ortega, but I’m not within the FSLN’s political and electoral apparatus, so I don’t know what calculations were made. It could be that there wasn’t total confidence, and that may have led them to take more precautions than normal. Who knows?

Thoughts on the importance of elections

The whole system, the whole process we’ve been using for the elections has to be subject to an in-depth review and very good engineering, making use of the best technology possible. This is a very big responsibility. And why? Because elections are the best way to avoid war. They are a way of saying among ourselves, No, let’s not kill each other, let’s use another way to choose the path we want, be it socialism; conservatism; social Christianity; the Christian, socialist and solidarity model; communism; anarchism; the greens; Sandinismo… Whatever path, but chosen in a civic and peaceful way. If we lose that path, if that path becomes violent, it’ll lead us back into cycles of confrontation. If we have clear procedures, we’ll at least eliminate one huge obstacle, although not all of them. But if on top of our backwardness, of all the problems we have in Nicaragua, we also have a murky electoral process, you can be sure we’re headed down the road toward a violent solution and hence toward more poverty.

And that will only set us further back. We’ve already paid a high price for those cycles of violent confrontation. Nicaragua is now the second poorest country in Latin America. Our country’s in a pathetic state. I’ll give you just one fact about this: when I was a student, Honduras was seen as a backward, very poor country. Now, leaving aside whether the distribution of wealth in Honduras is equitable or not, our neighbors produce twice the wealth we produce in Nicaragua. Honduras’ per-capita gross domestic product is $2,000 while Nicaragua’s is only $1,100. Where each Nicaraguan has one peso, each Honduran has two. It’s just that simple. For Nicaragua to reach the levels Honduras has today, we’d need another 20 years at our current growth rate, which is a good one. And it’s quite likely that I’m not going to see that change, considering that Honduras will also keep growing. And I’m not even talking about comparing us to Costa Rica, or El Salvador, or Guatemala... Nicaragua is very backward and very fragile. What we have most of is water, but regrettably we’re contaminating it more with every passing minute. And when it rains, our main ally becomes our worst enemy.

Thoughts on where we want to go as a nation

We’ve reached a point at which we should stop and think calmly, without fighting more. I think it’s time to sit down with the government and ask it: Where do you want to go? Do you want to go it alone? Do you prefer not to take into account the 800,000 votes Fabio Gadea won? That’s 800,000 people! The government has to take them seriously into account. By force it has to. I consider the attacks and confrontations between Sandinistas [FSLN and MRS] regrettable. The government has the obligation to build, together with everybody, a country that permits us all to live together and build it up the best we can.

Our level of backwardness is too huge. The challenge in education is probably the greatest challenge we have. I’ll give you another figure: the number of India’s high school students who get top grades—those who graduate with a 10, the excellent ones—now total more than the entire high school student body in the United States. Imagine all that potential India has today!

And Nicaragua? Here our very best students can’t even pass the Engineering University’s admission exam in math. Not 10% pass that exam. That’s dramatic. It’s enough to make you cry. Surmounting that backwardness requires an enormous investment in infrastructure, resources and training, above all for primary school teachers, to raise the academic standard and make our children competitive, at least with Costa Ricans and Mexicans, never mind Chinese or Indians. We have to launch a massive education campaign to try to whittle away such a technological backlog.

In such a discouraging panorama, our scarcities and our tiny size are actually what give me hope. Because competing to be a good doctor in China, where there are millions of good doctors, must be very hard. Here you have possibilities of standing out if you’re a good student and you’re intelligent; and with a little bit of luck you can get ahead. But for that to work, we’d have to cast off all the hobbles the setting is putting on us; all the institutional hobbles, all the free-for-all fights we get into.

Thoughts on the uncertainty in Venezuela

Right now the government is in a moment of enormous inertia of motion, with a lot of strength and a triumphal spirit. But that can change at any moment. In Nicaragua we’re capable of entering into an economic crisis from one moment to the next if Venezuela’s political conditions change. One thing is Nicaragua with Venezuela and a whole other is Nicaragua without Venezuela. It would be two completely different countries. And I’m not saying just the FSLN government without Venezuela, but all of Nicaragua. If Venezuelan cooperation, the oil agreement, ends, the next meeting we have won’t be in here; it’ll have to be in the yard because there won’t be any lights. The solidarity cooperation ALBA provides us is greater than all the cooperation the United States and the European Union give us combined. It’s that simple. The petroleum we need would cost about US$1 billion, which is a billion dollars Nicaragua doesn’t have. Furthermore, big industry and the business elite are happy with the opening of the Venezuelan market. They couldn’t have found a better market than that one.

We get ten million barrels of oil a year from Venezuela. The United States consumes three million barrels from Venezuela a day. Our annual consumption is equal to what Venezuela supplies the United States for a little over three days. So while we aren’t a big investment for Venezuela, if things don’t stay the way they are today in that country politically, and they cut us off from the oil deal, where is Nicaragua going to get $1 billion to pay for oil at today’s prices? We simply don’t have it. It would be a catastrophe. Nicaragua’s political panorama would change immediately, the very day the next oil tanker from Venezuela doesn’t come. That should have been a debate issue in the electoral campaign, but nobody raised it. Who’s discussing Nicaragua’s economic future, the material progress we have to make? Nobody! Not even the FSLN. What Daniel Ortega says is that he’s going to go on doing the same thing he’s been doing. And his opponents? What have they proposed? An energy project? An inter-oceanic canal? A project to irrigate the entire Pacific northeast? What will Nicaragua live on? We all need to get together and hammer out a productive national plan. That’s the key to everything. But all we do is play at politics.

The only completely certain thing at this moment is that the FSLN has accumulated all the political power and he had better be prepared to use it well. I’m hoping for the best. I’m hoping Daniel will have the wisdom and the humility to unite the nation and cope with the future so we can all climb to the sky… or at least as far as we can.

Dionisio is an FSLN militant, was a government employee in the eighties, and the popular elected mayor of Managua between 2004 and 2008.

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