Talks? Horse-trading? A shady deal? A pact? A national dialogue?
What should we call the political opposition’s bid to the government?
Both those who are proposing it and those who are publicly
criticizing and rejecting it have given it various labels.
Meanwhile, the government’s waiting and watching,
opting to forswear its normal name-calling.
We won’t know how to name what’s going on
until the process unfolds a little further,
and above all until we see the results.
After the initial indignation of anti-Sandinista voters, the organized opposition and even many Sandinistas following the alleged electoral fraud last November, the government seemed to have succeeded in imposing resigned acceptance in the country. Is it just appearances? The governing Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) is aware of its international legitimacy problems and of the major uncertainties ahead in the very near future. Given those weak flanks, what’s the opposition up to? Is it trying to figure out how to make the FSLN pay for its illegitimacy or just trying to smooth everything over and put the crisis to rest so it can get on with political and economic business as usual?
Scenario of the dialogueWhile maintaining an iron grip and an imposed silence on its party rank-and-file, the government insists on two aspects in its current discourse. First of all, it boasts of the country’s macroeconomic progress. Exports hit a record high last year, largely thanks to good international prices for some production categories, particularly traditional ones, although the categories also showed significant volume increases. It was also a record year for foreign investment, although in cases such as the energy projects, they had limited influence on job creation. Given the absence of specific information on the Venezuelan cooperation projects, there’s no way of knowing what weight they carried in this record.
Secondly, the official propaganda stresses the harmony reigning in the country, which it describes as one with Christian roots, socialist ideals and solidarity practices. It constantly provides figures on the social programs financed with Venezuelan cooperation: Zero Usury credits, Zero Hunger productive bonds, solidarity bonuses, food packets, the Roof Plan, Houses for the People…
Such a positive discourse, however, is generating expectations the government can’t satisfy (“Let’s see what else they’ll give us,” “Let’s see what it’s our turn to get”). It also sidesteps completely the harshness of the country’s problems: unemployment, continual cost-of-living increases due to the weekly rise in fuel prices, the ever more limited purchasing power of wages, a boom in crime with the jails filled to overflowing, increased drug use and unstanchable emigration.
This discourse has begun to fray around the edges with the emergence of social conflicts: highways and roads barricaded to demand the unmet social services such as water and roads, protests in free trade zones, land takeovers, rebellions by interurban transportation users against fare rises by providers who in turn are affected by the high cost of gas and diesel… Furthermore, a growing number of people feel defenseless vis-à-vis the state institutions and see obvious evidence of the inequalities between those who live under the government’s protective shade and those toiling to survive like raisins in the sun.
The scenario in which a sector of the opposition to the government is taking its stand, in short, is one of a crisis of political institutionality and of still virtually mute but increasingly uttered social malaise.
Three important election datesThere are three other issues that neither the government nor the opposition can ignore in any negotiation, whatever the scope it acquires. All have to do with elections, and the way they unfold will soon begin to weigh on what happens or fails to happen in talks inside Nicaragua.
The first is Venezuela’s presidential elections on Sunday, October 7. They will be held in a tense environment generated by President Hugo Chávez’s delicate health and the fact that for the first time his opposition is united behind a single candidate, Henrique Capriles. A good many things in Nicaragua depend on how and whether Chávez goes into those elections—his own statements suggest that he knows how long he’s expected to live—and on whether he or his designated successor wins.
The second is Nicaragua’s own municipal elections, scheduled for Sunday, November 4, which follow three allegedly fraudulent elections in a row (2008, 2009 and 2011). If the Ortega government has any interest in recovering lost legitimacy either inside the country or out and keeping the upcoming elections from adding more fuel to the fire, it will have to rectify the problems noted by the national and international electoral observers (in the latter case the Organization of American States and European Union) about how all three elections, particularly the most recent one, were run. Is there still enough time to discuss and decide which of their many recommendations for in-depth adjustments can be implemented to make the upcoming elections acceptable? Might the elections be postponed? Can the fact that no official announcements about the election calendar have yet been made be a sign that the government and the opposition will try to negotiate their postponement?
The third is the US presidential and legislative elections, which will be held on November 6. Latin America hasn’t been a priority during Barack Obama’s first term and Nicaragua has been irrelevant to Washington for even longer, although there is growing concern about the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of America (ALBA), to which Nicaragua belongs.
In contrast, the Republicans’ most outspoken and farthest right congressional representatives—several of whom, not coincidently, are Cuban-Americans—are watching Nicaragua’s institutional and electoral crisis very carefully. They have sent repeated signals of their eagerness to sanction the Ortega government both rhetorically and economically and have backing for their hardline positions from some Democratic Senators and Representatives.
In December, following strong Republican criticism of the Nicaraguan elections the previous month, the Obama administration was reported to be consulting other Latin American nations about a response but apparently nothing ever came of it. In January, less than a week after Germany decided to cut its aid due to the accusations of electoral fraud and what Germany’s foreign cooperation minister called an “increasingly autocratic form of government,” the rightwing Washington think tank Freedom House removed Nicaragua from its list of 117 electoral democracies. As for the Republican presidential candidates, frontrunner Mitt Romney has yet to mention Nicaragua, but the ultra-conservative Rick Santorum, not known for a sophisticated grasp of foreign policy issues, claimed Nicaragua was part of a “growing network of folks working with jihadists.”
Ortega without Chávez What interest might President Ortega have in negotiating with the PLI Alliance, now the largest politically organized opposition group? A sector of that alliance put the issue of dialogue on the national agenda with no public sign from Ortega, who wields enormous power and control inside the country. It could be argued, however, that he has significant reasons for sitting down with the opposition. One would be to recover some legitimacy and another may be anticipation of the critical situation that could arise for him with a United States under Republican reins and/or a Venezuela without Chávez and therefore a Nicaragua without the oil deal with soft payment facilities that has provided Ortega so many advantages. Even if Obama wins a second term, the uncertainty about Venezuela looms the largest and is virtually at the door.
Venezuelan economist José Toro Hardy, who until 1999 headed the board of PDVSA, Venezuela’s state-run oil company, has been stressing the company’s “unprecedented indebtedness” (US$35 billion), the “sad” state of its extraction infrastructure, its lack of investments and its corruption cases.
Given this assessment, Toro Hardy recently said that if Capriles wins, he’ll go over the Petrocaribe regional energy alliance with a fine tooth comb, specifically mentioning Chávez’s oil agreement with Nicaragua as an example of what would have to be revised: “We must not go on selling oil to Nicaragua with a 25-year payment deadline and two years of grace, even in exchange for heifers, which are affecting the development of our cattle.”
The priorities Because the majority of Nicaragua’s population is paying close attention to the high cost of living and urgent daily problems, it’s informed about politics, but disinterested in its avatars. And as Ortega was sending out no signals about wanting to dialogue, those who analyze or envision national political life for the media offered their own pros and cons day after day of possible talks between the opposition and the government. They looked at them from every angle, but just couldn’t decide what to call them: negotiations, horse-trading, an agreement, a deal, or the most heinous word of all: a new pact...
They all agree that the most immediate and urgent objective of any talks would have to be the National Assembly appointing replacements for the 35 top government officials who have remained in their posts even after their terms ended, some as long as two years ago. Those officials have been protected during that time by an illegal decree promulgated by President Ortega in January 2010 to avoid having to negotiate their replacement with the opposition forces at the time.
Now, however, government spokespeople have spoken of wanting to reach that “consensus,” which would obviously give the State’s eroded institutionality some legitimacy. Heading the list of officials who must be replaced are the seven Supreme Electoral Council magistrates, not only because the terms of a number of them have expired, but more importantly because of their responsibility for the three consecutive electoral manipulations.
There’s also agreement that any talk must prioritize the collapsed electoral system itself. Given the complexity of reforming the Electoral Law, which has constitutional rank, one idea mentioned is to change at least enough aspects of the system to guarantee its autonomy from party dictates and allow the municipal elections to regain their lost credibility.
The Electoral Reforms Promotion Group (GPRE), which has existed for some years now and includes more than a dozen Nicaraguan social organizations, added its voice to the view that any dialogue with the government must necessarily include a reform to the electoral system. Like other national organizations, it argues the need to achieve “Supreme Electoral Council independence through a total change of the de facto electoral authorities,” replacing them with new ones characterized by “impartiality, professionalism and independence.”
Among the GPRE’s proposals are to “make the 2011 national elections transparent [in retrospect] by publishing their results voting table by voting table, as the Electoral Law mandates,” prepare an electoral calendar for November’s municipal elections “by consensus, consulting it with the political parties,” ensure equitable representation in all electoral structures from the voting tables up through all levels of the electoral councils, allow “unrestricted” electoral observation, issue ID/voter cards to the population “without exclusion or party bias,” purge the electoral rolls and respect the political parties’ “right to monitor” the electoral process.
Three positions Beyond these objectives, which are electoral and could be “resolved” in the National Assembly with constructive agreements between the FSLN’s majority bench and the PLI Alliance’s minority bench (62 vs. 26), the most conspicuous promoters of the talks raised the stakes by talking about a direct dialogue with Ortega that would go much further, declaring such ambitious objectives as “setting the country’s course toward democracy,” “achieving a consensual vision for the nation,” “recovering the country’s institutionalization” and even “refounding the nation,” all aimed at “responding to what the grass roots is clamoring for.”
in the PLI alliance
Three positions regarding an eventual negotiation are expressed in the PLI Alliance, which is now the opposition’s major parliamentary representation even given the number of legislative seats it insists it lost through the fraud. These three positions reflect the different and even contradictory interests of those who cobbled together the alliance barely a year and a half ago, and the varied options and reactions triggered among the opposition’s social, political, religious and union/guild sectors by the idea of negotiating with the government.
At one end is the position of Eduardo Montealegre, leader of the We’re Going with Eduardo Movement (MVE), which has a comfortable 20 of the PLI Alliance’s 26 legislative seats. At the other is the position of the Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS), which only ended up with 2 seats on the alliance’s legislative bench. Holding a curious middle position is the conservative and old-fashioned Fabio Gadea, the alliance’s presidential candidate, who came in second in a five-candidate race.
Montealegre, the “negotiator” Following his delicate open-heart surgery in the United States in early February, some thought the 56-year-old Montealegre would be benched from the political game for some months. In his absence, FSLN spokespeople declared that the party would wait for his return to negotiate naming the pending government posts, a sign that the governing party just wants to negotiate with him, once he’s back “in charge” of his political movement.
After only three weeks of recovery, Montealegre returned to the country raring to go. He came back with so much vigor that it was his arrival that sparked the proposal for something like a “national dialogue.”
In early 2006 Montealegre split from the Constitutionalist Liberal Party (PLC) and created the Nicaraguan Liberal Alliance (ALN) with a group of likeminded Liberals who opposed the corrupt, iron-handed way President Arnoldo Alemán was running the party. As the Wikileaks cables revealed, he got funding from the United States to challenge the PLC’s presidential candidate, an Alemán loyalist, in that year’s elections. In a more open show of support from Washington, the US Embassy exhorted Nicaragua’s Liberals to drop Alemán and join forces to beat the FSLN’s perennial candidate Daniel Ortega. While Ortega won those elections with 38% precisely because the Liberals didn’t heed the Embassy’s advice, the ALN beat out the PLC for second place. Montealegre’s campaign and those results validated him as a strong representative of the segment of the Right actively engaged in a political modernization process.
In 2008, after the CSE despoiled him of his official ALN leadership in the hope of preventing him from threatening the FSLN’s victory in the municipal elections that year, Montealegre, backed by many from the ALN who, as the MVE name implies, followed him, negotiated an alliance with Alemán, who agreed to let him run for the mayor of Managua. The CSE allegedly adjudicated to the FSLN some 40 mayoral posts supposedly won by MVE candidates—including Monte¬alegre—in what was angrily denounced as FSLN election fraud with PLC complicity. That obviously exacerbated the Alemán-Montealegre rift.
In 2011 Montealegre hooked up his MVE, which didn’t have a prayer of obtaining its own party status from the CSE, with the long-waning Independent Liberal Party (PLI), and breathing new life into it with his financial resources and his people. Although admitting that he aspired to the presidency, he convinced the popular elderly radio entrepreneur Fabio Gadea to run this time, remaining in the wings for the “next one” in 2016. Now primed to negotiate with Ortega after the PLC’s 6% showing in the 2011 presidential elections appears to have been the last nail on its coffin, Montealegre is already paving the way for his 2016 candidacy.
The PLC’s debacle The reiterated prediction by government spokespeople that last year’s elections would be a confrontation between the FSLN and the PLC, as had been the case in all elections from 1996 through 2001, couldn’t have been further from the truth. The election results couldn’t hide the PLC’s debacle even despite what many believe were myriad fraudulent maneuvers against the PLI Alliance by the governing party, with the CSE at best turning a blind eye. Gadea’s candidacy clearly pulled a large part of the PLC’s traditional grassroots voters.
The PLC’s internal crisis runs deep. Alemán has shelved a proposal to “retool” the party, which began to circulate even before the electoral disaster. Clinging to a leadership that seems finally to have reached its end, he prefers to pretend not to realize what happened.
Between February and March, such important PLC leaders as Francisco Aguirre Sacasa, José Pallais and Carlos Noguera publicly urged Alemán to give up his leadership of the party and facilitate its renovation for the good of both the PLC and the country. These dissidents appear alongside departmental leaders at the head of a movement they’re calling Committed to the Democratic Change of the PLC. The two opposing PLC tendencies will meet in a showdown at the party convention on April 29.
The end of the Another result of the November elections, then, is the end of the FSLN-PLC pact. Ortega no longer needs Alemán as an interlocutor or to consolidate his power in the state institutions or even to simulate an opposition with which to negotiate and legitimate himself. That roll now falls to Montealegre, who finally seems to have won the cup away from Alemán.
When speaking of possible negotiations with Ortega, Montealegre totally discards any participation by Alemán—and whatever part of the PLC remains in his hands. Meanwhile, the Liberals of the PLI and the MVE are traveling the country seeking alliances with local PLC rank-and-file to participate as a united Liberal force in the November elections. Alemán’s and Montealegre’s Liberals have both already announced that they want to participate and have even prepared their electoral candidate lists.
Grandiloquent and pragmatic In all his rhetorical, ambiguous declarations referring to the positive intent of the talks with Ortega, Montealegre is building his image as an “indisputable leader” of the opposition to Ortega and his project. To ratchet up the importance of his mission he sometimes talks about his objectives in the dialogue. He claims that everything he’s doing is “for Nicaragua,” speaks of “recasting the [Alemán-Ortega] pact and recasting the nation,” insists that he’s maintaining “nonnegotiable principles” and projects his representation in the royal third person: “When Eduardo speaks he does not do so personally.”
On other occasions, he shifts from grandiloquence to the crudest sort of pragmatism, for example arguing that it’s more worthwhile to get one or two magistrates [from his own group] on the Supreme Electoral Council than not to have any. He declares that, had this already been the case, “another rooster would have crowed” and the fraud would have been impossible. He also aims to place some “good Nicaraguans” [again, of course, from his group] in the other branches of State…
It’s no surprise that Eduardo Montealegre’s proclaimed pragmatism and his ambition to open spaces in the institutions largely evokes Alemán’s 1999 pact with Ortega, despite the distances between that political moment and now. At that time as well, the grandiloquence of seeking “stability” and “governability” “for the good of Nicaragua” translated into divvying up top posts in all state institutions among the most loyal followers of both caudillos.
The economic elite’s recipeThose who have most enthusiastically responded to Montealegre’s proposal and leadership, whether in the form of a broader negotiation or an agreement for certain appointments, are the representatives of the business elite grouped in the Superior Council of Private Enterprise (COSEP) and the American Nicaraguan Chamber of Commerce (AMCHAM).
Big private enterprise has been insisting for some time—and more belligerently since the electoral fraud and Ortega’s resulting loss of national and international legitimacy—that the macroeconomic indicators touted so enthusiastically by the government are insufficient. Carlos Pellas, the maximum representative of big capital, put his finger on it: “The macro-economy is clear; where we have problems is in the country’s institutionality, and we have to work on that.”
With more or less salt in their mix of ingredients, that has been the recipe his colleagues have constantly suggested to Ortega: macroeconomic stability backed by the IMF, with “corporate social responsibility” pro-vided by us (as long as it doesn’t involve more taxes) and democratic institutionality and credible elections guaranteed by you.
The dream of A good business climate, a priority for both the national business elites and the transnational corporations to which they are increasingly linked, requires stable institutions, clear rules and legal security, aspects increasingly eroded by the governing party. While Ortega has maintained an ongoing dialogue and a clear alliance with the economic power group in all five years of his last term, it wants more for this new period. It would like something similar to what the Salvadoran business elite has built and enjoys in the National Republican Alliance (ARENA) party: a political vehicle that guarantees its economic interests and knows how to negotiate them with governments of whatever stripe, as it has now proven with the administration of Mauricio Funes.
the business class
Although ARENA’s roots are of criminal anti-communist fanaticism, it has been modernizing. It now has a well-structured party machine and allied think tanks through which it can make economic proposals, holds internal primary elections and is underpinned by a loyal, well-organized rank-and-file in all areas of society. The Nicaraguan Right has never had anything like that.
A representative or interlocutor of the US?The Nicaraguan Economic and Social Development Foundation (FUNIDES), generously financed by the US Agency for International Development, has been projecting itself ever more clearly, with interesting and pertinent research and skilled media propaganda. It is angling to play a role similar to what the Salvadoran Economic and Social Development Foundation (FUSADES) plays for ARENA in El Salvador. Together with the Harvard-linked INCAE, a business school for the big business class, FUNIDES aspires to modernize Nicaragua, at least to the point that it acquires higher international standards.
Because of his class origins as part of the financial business elite, Eduardo Montealegre is in complete sync with this objective and the business elite’s other interests. He not only aspires to head up the new political grouping, but is also angling to be the opposition’s political interlocutor with the United States, no matter which party wins. He’s banking on becoming the one to launch the “new political architecture” being talked about by INCAE professor Arturo Cruz, Ortega’s ambassador to the US between 2007 and 2009.
Montealegre certainly represents Nicaraguan big capital’s project, but it will probably be hard to get the business elite’s endorsement as lead interlocutor with the United States because they have doubts about his political charisma. He has learned a lot over the last few years, but his style, his way of talking and the substance of what he says doesn’t much appeal to the grass roots or even quite convince the business leaders. Montealegre isn’t a popular sports announcer like Salvadoran President Tony Saca (2004-09) or an astute politician like Saca’s predecessor Alfredo Cristiani (1989-94), nor did his role as a top financial official in the governments of both Arnoldo Alemán and Enrique Bolaños turn him into anything like Norman Quijano, the popular and recently reelected mayor of San Salvador, to mention a few ARENA members who have been reshaping the party.
The stench of the pact Interestingly enough, the FSLN and Ortega have decided to recognize Montealegre as the opposition leader, presumably because they feel comfortable with him. They know his personality weaknesses and, as with Alemán, they control pending legal-political problems hanging over his head, particularly his alleged involvement in the scandal of bonds issued to cover bank failures during the Alemán and Bolaños governments. They also control a pending administrative litigation with the PLI, the party Montealegre and his MVE adopted after losing the ALN. That dispute is officially in the CSE’s hands, but that’s the same as saying it will be resolved when and how Ortega wants it resolved.
After delaying the dialogue and obliging Montealegre to beg for it to wear down his prestige, another tactic would be to remove that Damocles sword from over his head by definitively granting him the PLI seals, freeing him of his judicial baggage and agreeing to maintain his immunity as a legislator. Doing so would make Montealegre even more vulnerable because he would find himself indebted to them, which would heighten the fears of many that any new “governability and democratization agreement” smells of a pact, as happened in the diverse stages of the one Ortega made with Alemán.
By attracting Montealegre and his group, the governing party is also seeking to divide the opposition fragilely united in the PLI Alliance; burn Montealegre, the artless protagonist of that rapprochement; and delegitimize the entire opposition by showing that the only thing they’re after are “bones” (read posts in the different branches of State).
Humberto Ortega’s All this made the reappearance of former Army Chief Humberto Ortega even more interesting than his occasional presence usually is. Any time the political situation involving his brother Daniel gets complex enough, Humberto Ortega, now a wealthy businessman, materializes to offer his opinion publicly, typically contradicting his brother’s stance. This time he didn’t contribute any new ideas but reiterated the one he voiced prior to the February 1990 elections, when he insisted that the pending task to put an end to the war he had militarily brought under control was a “major national concertation.”
back on the scene
History never repeats itself exactly, but it’s noteworthy that more than 20 years later, now in peacetime, retired General Ortega still sees the search for conciliation as a “pending task.” To again insist, at such a different moment, on the need for what he calls the “great economic-social effort of a major national concertation, with the consensus of the whole nation, which would give new breath to the sectors hardest hit by the crisis now beating down on us” leads one to think his reasons are the same: to legitimate the government and forge non-conflictive relations with the United States.
MRS: “This isn’t the time”The firmest and most radical opposi¬tion to a possible dialogue, understanding, pact or other shady deal with Ortega is expressed by the Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS). It sees it as only serving the short-term business interests of both the governing party and Montealegre, and is putting its own energy into a more long-term future.
The MRS leaders insist that “it’s a trap to discuss whether or not there’s an opening for dialogue right now when the important issue is why, how and when to dialogue.” According to the MRS, it isn’t yet time to dialogue with Ortega. The right moment will be “when Ortega has no other choice but to negotiate.”
The MRS laid out its position in a statement dated March 20. It recalled that the PLI Alliance was created at an electoral moment, but not “as a mere opposition unity” given that all its members pledged to “reestablish democracy” and “promote inclusive social and economic development,” recognizing this as “a long-term objective because the authoritarian structures of Ortega’s project are deeply encrusted in the state apparatus.”
It also recalled that all Alliance members identified Ortega as “moving from an authoritarian government to a clearly dictatorial model.” Based on this analysis, it warns that “you don’t negotiate” with a dictatorship.
Ortega and business want aThe MRS statement points out that the government “has given no sign of any interest in constructive negotiations about the fundamental aspects of reestablishing democracy in Nicaragua, and there are no credible reasons to think it wishes to do so.” Differing with the media analysts mentioned above, the MRS thus sees the first step for any negotiation as a total change of CSE magistrates (“changing two or three and maintaining Ortega’s control would be a simple makeup job”) and adoption of the recommendations of the European Union and OAS electoral observation missions. “Any negotiation of posts in other branches of the State without having first resolved the impartiality of the electoral arbiter,” it continues, “is equivalent to legiti¬mizing the de facto government.”
“pact of the upper echelons”
Referring implicitly to the business elite’s support for Montealegre’s negotiations with Ortega, the MRS sees “the most moneyed economic groups in the country” as protagonists of a “pact of upper echelons” with Ortega, who is governing “in favor of their major interests.”
The MRS ends by saying it “will not accept the results of any negotiation” if the conditions it lists are not met, will “not promote the candidacy of any of its members to occupy the public posts that are to be appointed,” and “will dedicate all its energies to promoting, organizing and accompanying citizen mobilization.”
Jarquín on a tightropeWhen the MRS laid out this position, Edmundo Jarquín, the PLI Alliance’s vice presidential candidate and coordinator of what was the MRS Alliance at the time of the 2006 elections, had to do a balancing act to explain his open and frank support of Montealegre. He spoke of the “need and opportunity” represented by negotiating with Ortega in the current conditions, while admitting the “risk” and the image of “excessively solicitous unilateralism” being sent out. He continued trying to walk the same tightrope with his explanation that “there are differences, but not splits” in the PLI Alliance.
Jarquín’s leadership has and presumably will continue to have greater echo in the opposition population than Montealegre’s. He argues better, relates to people better, and is more skilled at moving in the Nicaraguan “arena” to which the business elites aspire. But those elites distrust him, seeing him as a member of the Chamorro clan. They have always had and seem still to have differences with the political positions of Jarquín’s martyred father-in-law Pedro Joaquín Chamorro, which were always more open to the Left and which Jarquín shares.
Is the PLI Alliance A group of Liberals headed by former legislator and former Resistance combatant Maximino Rodríguez split from the PLC and Alemán to support Gadea. The group calls itself Liberals with a Vision of the Nation and its members either fought with the Resistance or live in areas that were battlefields during the war of the eighties. Their anti-Sandinista views thus run deep. Like the MRS, this group is represented on the PLI Alliance’s political council, its top deliberating and decision-making body, and holds the remaining four seats on the Liberal Alliance’s parlia¬mentary bench. Rodríguez’s reaction was to strongly reject Montealegre’s negotiating pretentions, calling them “bilateral and skimpy.” He icily said “We strongly oppose a dialogue that’s apparently aimed at being allowed a share of the carrion.”
Also on the political council is the Citizen Union for Democracy (UCD), which represents 17 civil society organizations. Its stated position is that no negotiation must give legitimacy to Ortega, but rather must be based on an agenda that “must contain the problems that diverse sectors of national life have been pointing out for years and that last November’s fraudulent elections only aggravated…. It must concentrate on rescuing the democratic institutions and, as a priority, create the conditions to return credibility to the electoral system and recover the citizenry’s confidence in elections.”
Gadea the mediator? In this contradictory situation, which could shatter the incipient PLI Alliance, Fabio Gadea has opted to take a middle position. During his electoral campaign last year, a large part of the population that had previously only known him as a radio entrepreneur and story teller saw him as a coherent politician and a popular leader of the rural population. He played a decisive role in uniting the diverse members of the PLI Alliance and appealing to the population’s discontent in a way they expressed at the polls last November 6.
For five consecutive months since the electoral fraud, Radio Corporación, which Gadea both owns and directs, has aired radio spots several times a day in which he personally exhorts listeners not to recognize the election results or Daniel Ortega’s government and calls on them to maintain “civic protest.”
Another spot, this one not in his own voice, asks Nicaraguans “not to participate in another electoral fraud,” referring to the municipal elections, unless there is a profound change in the electoral system. Both messages fully coincide with the MRS position and are largely shared by Rodríguez’s group and the UCD.
Fabio Gadea’s attempt to mediate among all positions has a very difficult goal: to keep the PLI Alliance he heads as a united political and electoral option for as long as possible. “The dignity and the principles we’ve demonstrated are the guarantee that this dialogue will not turn into a pact,” he assures, referring to a project that is only barely beginning to acquire an identity.
Gadea’s own positions are the best demonstration of what he’s promising. His declarations also make clear that, while he is more open than the MRS to negotiating now, he doesn’t agree with doing so at any cost or legitimizing Ortega. As a result, he doesn’t think Montealegre and his group should go into this negotiation alone, but should include social, union and religious sectors. He further insists that it must result in mechanisms that can provide follow-up to verify that whatever is agreed to is actually done.
While it’s a difficult mediation, Gadea wants to avoid the talks ending up in surrender, given such unequal circumstances for the opposition he wants to continue leading and representing.
What shall we call it? By the conclusion of the long Holy Week vacations, days in which the Nicaraguan political class traditionally takes off for some beach house or other to “sacrifice itself for the homeland” by nailing down agreements over drinks, it wasn’t yet clear who will be strengthened and who disparaged, who will get a facelift and who will be legitimized or delegitimized. Nor was it clear how this rapprochement might unfold, what concretely will be negotiated, what posts and how many will be given out to whom, and what face this creature will have. In short, we still don’t know what name to give it.