Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 205 | Agosto 1998



Re-election: Centerpiece of the Pact

The crisis with Costa Rica over the Río San Juan has not completely overshadowed the PLC-FSLN pact, which is moving forward by careful calculation to provide the turbulent political waters an exclusively two-party outlet.

Nitlápan-Envío team

Nationalism unites, mobilizes and motivates peoples, even those who have not yet forged true nations. This happened in Nicaragua in recent weeks to such a degree that it overshadowed virtually everything else. In this case, "nationalism" arose to defend Nicaraguan sovereignty against Costa Rican "expansionism" in the waters of the Río San Juan, which defines the southeastern border between the two countries. Then, with tensions already high, the Alemán government managed to further exacerbate the situation by committing a new and unbelievable error.

Such expenditure of emotion over national sovereignty, however, did not sap the energy needed by Alemán's Liberal Constitutionalist Party (PLC) and the FSLN, both with their eyes on the electoral horizon, to continue carefully and cautiously forging a bilateral pact that would consolidate a two-party power structure. Although permitting Arnoldo Alemán to run for re-election is a possibility that is never mentioned publicly, it could end up as part of the pact.

The Turbulent Waters of the Río San Juan

Nicaragua's history over the past 500 years cannot be properly understood without considering the importance of the country's geographical suitability for an inter-oceanic canal that would cut across the immense Lake Cocibolca (also known as Lake Nicaragua) and down the Río San Juan, which flows out to the Caribbean Sea. Nor can relations between Nicaragua and Costa Rica be understood without taking into account Costa Rica's repeated efforts since independence to expand its northern border. One of its biggest ambitions has been to appropriate the rich and strategically located Río San Juan for itself.

The 1858 Jerez-Cañas Treaty put an end to a war between the two countries by establishing Nicaragua's sovereignty over the entire river in exchange for a concession to Costa Rica of more than 10,000 square kilometers of Guanacaste and Nicoya, then Nicaragua's southernmost territories on the Pacific side. That treaty has not, however, prevented the occasional flare-up of tensions and even clashes between the two countries over their shared 320-kilometer border.

With the change of government in Costa Rica in May of this year, the new public security minister, Juan Rafael Lizano, unilaterally decided that Costa Rica's Civil Guard should be able to travel the river armed with regulation weaponry. His stated justification was to allow a more rapid and comfortable supply to and rotation of guards in the border posts on the Costa Rican side of the river. The hidden intention was to alter the river's legal status in Costa Rica's favor. Nicaragua's army was not even notified much less consulted, even though such activity openly violates Nicaraguan sovereignty and the treaty, which only grants Costa Rica "perpetual rights of free navigation" on the river with "objects of commerce."
With President Alemán's backing, General Joaquín Cuadra, head of the army, prohibited the Costa Ricans from continuing this practice in mid-July, reminding them that, according to the old treaty, they can only use these waters if they travel unarmed and accompanied by Nicaraguan naval forces. Since then, declarations by each side—and particularly the Costa Ricans' attitude toward the Nicaraguans, which is tinged with arrogance even in the best of times—have kept the calm waters of the San Juan stirred up.

"The Río San Juan Is Nica!"

With Nicaraguan nationalism bristling, walls in Managua and bumper stickers on vehicles soon sported the phrase "The Río San Juan Is Nica!" On July 27 and again the next day, President Alemán, riding the crest of this sentiment, evoked Sandino's famous line, "The sovereignty of a people is not discussed, it is defended weapons in hand." But two days after that, to everyone's astonishment, he backed an agreement, signed amid smiles and mutual back-slapping by Lizano and Jaime Cuadra, Alemán's defense minister, authorizing the Costa Ricans to do what they had previously been doing illegally.

Indignant epithets against the text of the Cuadra-Lizano accord rained down on the government from all quarters: "capitulating," "humiliating," "unconstitutional," "damaging to national interests," "stupid." Never in the year and a half of Alemán's administration has there been such national unanimity over any other issue. Nor has any other of the government's many errors, some of which have seriously discredited it both inside the country and abroad, tarred so many with the same brush. The government was left standing alone, gripping its unconstitutional communiqué. The only explanation for this crass error is the current government's now-typical professional incapacity in handling affairs of state.

Null and Non-Existent

Within 48 hours the avalanche of criticisms had forced Nicaraguan Foreign Minister Emilio Alvarez Montalván to declare the July 30 agreement "incomplete" and "conjunctural." Over the next few days two Nicaraguan opinion-makers staked out positions that were particularly significant. In his mass on August 9, Cardinal Obando y Bravo firmly demanded that the government annul the agreement. Two days later, 48 legislators from different benches, Liberals included, declared it annulled by legislative resolution. By the next day, the government had backed off completely, calling the agreement "null and non-existent," since it violated the Constitution. Like the signing of the agreement, the announcement of its annulment was abrupt, creating even more tensions in the bilateral relations.

With good reason, the Costa Ricans criticized the Nicaraguan government, but they didn't stop there. Their own government launched a legal and diplomatic offensive to nail down "their rights" over the river, questioning Nicaragua's rights in its old territorial dispute with Colombia while at it. It was a low blow to the spirit that should be guiding Central American integration.

Then on August 16, just as envío was going to press, Costa Rica's foreign minister proposed the creation of a mediating commission to settle the dispute once and for all. He suggested two former Presidents—Daniel Ortega and Violeta Chamorro—as possible mediators for the Nicaraguan side, and former President and Nobel Peace Prize winner Oscar Areas and—somewhat curiously—retired head of the Sandinista Popular Army Humberto Ortega, Daniel's brother, for the Costa Rican side. The rationale for suggesting Ortega is that he is married to a Costa Rican and has a residence, major businesses and influential friends in Costa Rica as well as in Nicaragua.

The incident, which has opened a new chapter of political-diplomatic friction between the two countries, will be used and probably even abused by Nicaragua's Liberal government to try to shake off its crisis of legitimacy with the population. When Vice President Enrique Bolaños announced the agreement's annulment on August 12, he made reference to the immediate preparation of a binational development project to benefit the ecology and the population of the Río San Juan basin. Whether or not that comes to pass, there have already been some positive outcomes for the society. Absolutely all sectors closed ranks around this issue. The experience of everyone reaffirming something that belongs to all of them created a space of legitimate collective pride. And for many there was a certain triumph in seeing the government back off as a result of the pressure, the arguments and the law. At this moment in Nicaragua, with all the fractures, humiliations and retreats, it was something of a luxury to taste unity, power and dignity for a change.

What Can Be Done?

For this experience to become more solid and enduring, shortsighted rhetoric and actions need to be put aside. In a seminar held in Managua's Central American University (UCA) on August 13, several far-reaching proposals were offered. Carlos Argüello, dean of the UCA Law School and an expert on international law, made the following comments from a legal perspective: "When the sovereign—in this case Nicaragua—has exclusive dominion, it also has the faculty to revoke any title that could exist over its territory. That includes a concession of free navigation—which Costa Rica has in this case—since it is not a title of sovereignty, but a simple economic right, similar to what a concessionaire would have. Without going so far as to cancel or suspend Costa Rica's rights, the Government of Nicaragua could and should take various measures in the exercise of its exclusive sovereignty over the Río San Juan.
"It could require the pilots and captains who run boats in the Río San Juan to carry a license that guarantees their skill to pilot boats in these waters. It could require a visa to enter our territory. Freedom of navigation does not necessarily exclude the requisite of a visa. The free navigation conceded in 1858 does not exclude the possibility since visas didn't even exist in that period. The only thing it guarantees is Costa Rica's right to navigate the river, but the conditions for doing so and for entering that Nicaraguan territory—the river itself—would be set by Nicaragua.

"Nicaragua could inspect Costa Rican boats to verify that they are effectively traveling with objects of commerce and could require the showing of invoices for those objects. It could apply national law to boats plying the river that exercise activities contrary to what is permitted by the instruments governing our border relations. If that were the case, tourists would simply be illegal immigrants found traveling through our national territory and boats dedicated to fishing would be boats pillaging our natural resources."
Augusto Zamora, also an expert in international law, who gained important experience dealing with Nicaragua's territorial conflicts during his work in the Foreign Ministry in the 1980s, suggested that a Territorial Affairs Commission be created in the National Assembly with its own budget. Its basic long-term mission would be to study and present concrete strategies to resolve Nicaragua's still-open disputes in the Río San Juan, the Gulf of Fonseca and the controversy with Colombia over land, marine and submarine areas in the Caribbean Sea. This would avoid territorial conflicts being manipulated by particular governments and favor a policy that would defend and consolidate Nicaragua's interests.

Liberal Convention: All Sewn Up

The PLC convention was celebrated on July 11, the anniversary of José Santos Zelaya's Liberal revolution at the end of last century. Since the 11th was before the conflict over the Río San Juan blew up, the event was spared all the nationalist rhetoric that later flowed like the waters of the river itself. The PLC's interests as the party in office totally dominated the agenda of the meeting, which had been preceded by departmental and municipal conventions full of mutual bad-mouthing and even tumultuous brawls spawned by the system of perks distributed by the party-state.

Just like in the FSLN congress in May, there was no debate on the serious national problems in the Liberal convention, nor were any new proposals even offered. Another similarity is that everything was dominated by the election of party posts, which, also similarly, offered no surprises. The only difference was that the PLC elected its authorities by ovation, whereas a sector of the FSLN had managed to impose a secret vote into its congress.

The new directive board "elected" by the PLC convention is completely pledged to Arnoldo Alemán's determination to be re-elected, according to Eliseo Núñez, who heads the group of PLC dissident legislative representatives. Núñez, who was in the "belly of the monster" until very recently and boasts of knowing it well, sees the convention, which he did not attend, as "a great circus" that represented "the confirmation and consolidation of autocracy, caudillismo and state-party fusion."

PLC Presidential Hopefuls All Require a Reform

The new president of the PLC board is Leopoldo Navarro, an octogenarian doctor, party founder and personal adviser to Alemán. He is not the slightest bit interested in overshadowing Alemán, and has no presidential aspirations. Other relevant figures on the new party board are Managua Mayor Roberto Cedeño as second vice president, and José Antonio Alvarado as secretary general. Alvarado is currently Alemán's minister of government but is being transferred to head up the new super-Ministry of Education, Culture and Sports as of September 1.

Alvarado and Cedeño are among the most likely figures to replace Alemán as presidential candidate in the 2001 elections if negotiations with the FSLN for a constitutional reform to permit presidential re-election fall through. Cedeño is up there because he is mayor of Managua, the post from which Alemán projected himself before becoming President, but, as Alemán's main protégé, Alvarado is in a much better position.

Alvarado could play the same role as René Schick during the Somoza era. Schick was Luis Somoza's minister of education and became the family's presidential candidate in 1963, a post he exercised totally under the thumb of the Somoza family. This scheme lends some logic to the Cabinet reshuffle decided by Alemán. As head of Education, Alvarado would have an ideal platform to acquire a more populist and less repressive image than the one he has earned so far with the accumulation of one violent conflict after another at the head of the police forces. (Humberto Belli, who has been education minister for the past eight years with the unconditional endorsement of the World Bank, will take on the new and highly controversial Ministry of the Family.)
Alvarado's presidential candidacy would also require a constitutional reform, though different than the one required by Alemán. Alvarado has US citizenship, which constitutionally should even have impeded him from becoming a minister. Alemán's violation of that constitutional provision—giving high posts in his government to Nicas who have renounced their Nicaraguan citizenship—has been denounced repeatedly, but none of those mentioned has yet resigned or been removed. This reform to the Constitution has already been discussed openly and would perhaps be "easier" to cut a deal for since a reform permitting a President to run for re-election is burdened with the memory of the 47-year Somoza family dynasty. In case anyone had doubts about the President's support for a reform lifting the citizenship qualification, Alemán spoke in the Liberal convention of the need to "get rid of the limitations and inhibitions [in the Constitution] that are both unjust and aberrant, which penalize many compatriots, turning them into second-class citizens."

"Parasitic Micro-Organisms"

In his speech to the convention, President Alemán lashed out against the Violeta Chamorro administration and against the work of Comptroller General Agustín Jarquín, Alemán's nemesis. He also emphasized the FSLN's relevance as the PLC's only political rival, and rudely dismissed all the country's other political parties, referring to their leaders as "elements without grassroots support, who proclaim themselves leaders of fictitious ideological tendencies or positions according to the way the wind of opportunities blows for their own benefit." He called their small parties "bogus parties that persist in continuing to thrive on democracy like parasitic micro-organisms." Never before had Alemán been so vitriolic toward these parties, some of which are now involved in various initiatives to create alliances or other forms of unification to present a "third force" and impede the consolidation of another exclusive two-party system.

Alemán also alluded to the crisis into which his government has fallen, with its cases of corruption, diplomatic errors, and the narcojet scandal, to name but a few of the most notorious. But his words carried not the slightest hint of mea culpa. He brought up the issue only to expend some of his excess vitriol on denying that there even is a crisis. "We energetically reject false and calumnious imputations which are gratuitous, irresponsible, malicious and frivolous, aimed at tarnishing personal honor and even the country's image, at creating tempests in their highball glasses and conjuring up crises in the air-conditioned comfort of their bedrooms, as they drown in the solitary nights of their insomnia."

"Owners" of 90% of the Electorate

At the beginning of August, Alemán called all parties with parliamentary representation—and only them this time—to an ambiguous meeting to "dialogue about" a second phase of the National Dialogue, whose first phase was held a year ago. He spoke to the party representatives not as President but as a representative of the interests of his own Constitutionalist Liberal Party.

As various Liberal leaders were leaving, they praised the positions defended by Daniel Ortega in the meeting. There is every indication that the fundamental aim of this second phase of the Dialogue is simply to give an appropriate institutional framework to the PLC-FSLN pact to share institutional spaces of power and push through constitutional reforms such as the one lifting the ban on incumbent Presidents running for re-election. If that sounds cynical, it must be recalled that the Dialogue's first phase—whose sessions the FSLN refused to attend—was to calm a very unstable national scene while the upper echelons of the PLC and FSLN negotiated and signed a property accord with no input from Dialogue participants.

Alemán noted in his speech to the Liberal Convention that "between them, the FSLN and the PLC got more than 90% of the votes in the last elections." His implicit suggestion was that these two parties have the popular mandate to bipartisanly define the course of the country, a view oft-repeated by FSLN leaders in almost the same exact words. In this context, the National Dialogue will be nothing more than an attempt to put a democratic and pluralistic gloss on the PLC-FSLN pact.

The Pact's Electoral Sphere

The first public signs of an eventual PLC-FSLN pact were the reiterated declarations by leaders of both parties supporting a reform to the Electoral Law that would mirror the reforms their two parliamentary benches had pushed through in March specifically for the Atlantic Coast elections. In a total about-face from the FSLN's electoral policy in the 1980s, which encouraged equal participation by smaller parties, the 1996 reforms established clear privileges for the two majority parties, openly marginalizing all other political groupings.

For their part, Ortega supporters within the FSLN have been insisting for over a year that all Supreme Electoral Council magistrates must be changed. They indiscriminately accuse all five of being accomplices in what they continue to insist was an electoral fraud that supposedly wrested victory from the FSLN at the ballot box in the October 1996 elections.

Ortega and Alemán share a style of exercising power that is authoritarian, caudillista and disparaging of institutionality, but that is not a sufficient basis for such a far-reaching pact. Many non-public indicators suggest that negotiations over the pact are already very advanced and that the pro-Daniel positions that currently dominate the weakened FSLN structures are prepared to take the risky step of accepting Alemán's desire to run for re-election. It is even known that Ortega wants to take the still riskier one of running against Alemán in 2001, thus repeating the tense political-electoral scene of 1996. What is not known is how many party members back the idea of their secretary general becoming a possible three-time loser in the electoral ring.

Political Suicide?

Grassroots Sandinistas will end up very confused by the true extent of the pact between the FSLN and the PLC, if they aren't already. Sandinistas who are more deeply inside the circles of informed discussion are divided about whether the reform to the constitutional article prohibiting the re-election of an incumbent President is negotiable or not.

The left of the party considers that, under the current circumstances, a pact with the PLC—even without that variant—is political suicide. As one Sandinista of this tendency explains, "It would castrate the FSLN's moral authority to be the opposition and is totally unsuitable in a moment such as this one, when the FSLN is so weakened. Daniel is hard-hit by his daughter-in-law Zoilamérica's accusations of sexual abuse, the grassroots is atomized and confused, and the intermediary leaders are discredited."
The fraction that supports Daniel, and which also controls most of the FSLN structures, argues that Alemán is even more debilitated. This, they believe, will permit the FSLN to wring economic and political advantages out of him in an agreement, since right now Alemán is willing to concede almost anything to buy governability and stability and clear the way to his re-election. This "almost anything" could include the agreement not to strip Ortega of his parliamentary immunity from standing trial in Zoilamérica's suit against him. At the Liberal convention, however, Alemán came out against "immunities and impunities," in a clear reference to the case. It could be that he is being forced not to orient the Liberal legislators' vote in any direction in this controversial and emblematic case. It also could be that Alemán is doing some of his own saber rattling, to keep the battlefield of negotiations even. This at least will be known fairly soon, since the National Assembly resumes deliberations on August 18, after more than a month's vacation, and the petition by Zoilamérica requesting revocation of Daniel's immunity will have to be publicly debated before too much time passes.

All Power to Alemán

Alemán's Liberals have been carefully preparing for the various political possibilities that could result from negotiations with the FSLN leadership. Everything is already under control in the PLC structures, and at mid-year the National Assembly also passed without much difficulty the law reforming the organization of the executive branch, which favors Alemán's re-election project.

This reform, whose objective is to centralize the executive branch's key functions in the offices of the Presidency, was originally designed during the Chamorro government and enjoyed the support of the international financial agencies. The technocratic vision of those agencies fits better with presidentialist governments since centralization streamlines contacts, decisions and, of course, pressure.

For Antonio Lacayo, Violeta Chamorro's minister of the presidency, the reform was the best way to sidestep legislative controls, which were reinforced by the constitutional reforms passed in late 1995. At that time Lacayo was preparing for his own election as President, an aspiration he had to abandon when the Supreme Electoral Council ruled that those same constitutional reforms inhibited him from running due to close family ties with the incumbent (he is married to one of Violeta Chamorro's daughters).

The reorganization of the executive branch has been a masterstroke within Alemán's project. He has created a mini-government within the government by putting all institutions with massive social projection under the direct control of his offices. This includes social compensations channeled through the Emergency Social Investment Fund (FISE); what is left of the soon-to-disappear Ministry of Social Action (MAS); the social security funds controlled by INSS; the municipal projects that pass through the Institute for Municipal Promotion (INIFOM); and the rural development projects that the new Institute of Rural Development is beginning to manage with funds provided by international cooperation. Also now under presidential control are all the public services being privatized: electricity (ENEL), water (INAA) and telecommunications (ENITEL).

This new structure has weakened ministries such as Agriculture and Livestock (MAG), which has been robbed of its mission to promote the country's rural development. "Development" of the countryside, managed from the presidency, will now put the emphasis, as we have already begun to see, on the construction of highways and feeder roads.

By the same token, with the disappearance of the MAS, the possibility of articulating an effective program to reduce the acute poverty afflicting the majority of Nicaraguans is lost. The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) had invested millions of dollars in drawing up a national poverty map, with the goal of providing coherence and efficacy to the international cooperation funds coming into the country through the MAS for that purpose. It was a laudable effort whose potential will not be realized. The fight against poverty, as managed from the presidency, will have no greater ambition than pure and simple social compensation projects—Band-Aids to stanch massive hemorrhaging.

And finally, the management of foreign cooperation and coordination of governmental economic policy has come under the direct control of the presidency. From the perspective of Alemán's political project, one of the most important aspects of all these organizational changes is that they allow the President far more expeditious use of the social and rural development programs' foreign funds to build up a political-electoral clientele. Another, equally important aspect is that they permit him to control the privatization of the public utilities. These utilities are among the priorities of Liberal capital, which is involved in a hammer-and-tongs dispute over them with traditional oligarchic capital and new San-dinista capital.

Changing Faces in the Cabinet

With all these changes, President Alemán has shuffled some of the faces in his Cabinet as well. On July 23, in a surprise move that lacked logic from a state perspective but abounded in party logic, Alemán rotated six ministers to new posts, and named ten new high-level officials. He also announced the resignation of Emilio Alvarez Montalván as foreign minister, and his replacement by Eduardo Montealegre, until now secretary of the presidency. All changes go into effect on September 1.

The two most significant moves are the already-mentioned shifting of Minister of Education Humberto Belli and Minister of Government Antonio Alvarado. Perhaps equally important, Luis Durán, economic adviser to the President and former International Monetary Fund official, has formally assumed the role of economic policy coordinator, a task he had already been carrying out in all the negotiations with the international financing institutions.

It is significant that Durán's main rival in these waters, Central Bank president Noel Ramírez, will join the new PLC board as the party's secretary of planning. Ramírez has made the Central Bank a virtual extension of the party, purging all those who have or ever had any Sandinista links, establishing short-term hiring contracts that are renewable based only on political loyalty, and even installing a "political commissariat" within the bank in order to control the functionaries. All this violates this institution's technocratic tradition, which goes back to its founding during the Somoza dictatorship.

Nineteen Years After The Revolution

Eight days after the Liberal convention, the FSLN commemorated the 19th anniversary of the Sandinista revolution. Daniel's supporters used the celebration to begin preparing their base for an eventual pact with the party in power. It had been repeatedly announced that Daniel Ortega would use his speech at the Plaza of the Revolution to make public the basis for his long-proposed National Accord, which then would be discussed with the Sandinista grassroots, all political parties and civil society. This had created expectations about the proposal's contents, but as has often happened before nothing was announced and expectations dissolved like salt in water, with no convincing explanation for the silence.

This year's celebration was without doubt the worst organized in recent years, and it was more evident than in previous years that those who filled the plaza were from the most impoverished rural and urban strata. They are the ones most affected by the neoliberal economic model begun by the Chamorro government and continued, with the same toughness and even more corruption, by the Liberal government.

After an exceptionally long delay, Daniel Ortega finally appeared on stage with his wife Rosario Murillo and all their many children (all, that is, except Zoilamérica, Rosario's oldest daughter, by another father). At the end of his long speech, Daniel introduced the children one by one with a show of warmth and tenderness, a first in all these 19 years surely aimed at projecting the image of a united family. In his speech, he referred to how much the revolution had done for the rights of women. It was his only allusion to the ethical and political problem he has been battling—or better said, eluding—since March, when Zoilamérica charged him with having sexually abused her throughout her adolescence in the 1980s.

Some 25,000 people in the plaza heard Ortega once again combine pacifist rhetoric in his call for a National Accord with saber-rattling demagogy about the possibility of another armed revolution. He warned the government that Sandinistas are prepared to revive the "guerrilla squadrons and commandos" with which they fought Somocismo. The deceptive message that listeners took from this speech was that both a pact with the Liberals and armed struggle against them would have the single, justifiable objective of defending the properties that the revolution had provided to the poor. After the FSLN's highly respectable ability to call out supporters from other social sectors for the electoral campaign rallies in 1996, the rapid loss of this capacity in only a year and a half is notable.

What's the Tradeoff?

Certain FSLN leaders are more interested in other concessions from Alemán in the pact than they are in whether or not Ortega retains his diplomatic unity. They want guaranteed spaces of power with good salaries on the boards of the public service companies and in the banking system, the judicial branch and the Supreme Electoral Council. There is also talk that the FSLN would accept the creation of a second legislative chamber and the establishment of permanent senate seats and lifetime pensions for former Presidents of the Republic. The FSLN is more than just a little interested in a tax break for the businesses with Sandinista capital and a more definitive solution for important cases of "worker-owned" properties that some Sandinista businessmen/leaders have had an eye on.

The conflicts over some specific valuable properties are still unresolved and every day Nicaraguans living in the United States and only now obtaining US citizenship claim some other piece of property that had been confiscated in the 1980s. Rather than negotiate a definitive solution to this problem with the US government, for example by agreeing to a statute of limitations for such claims, the Liberal government has opted to drive the country deeper into debt by compensating these Nicaraguans. The country's public debt has risen more than US$50 million since Alemán came to power, largely as a result of indemnifying 479 citizens of the United States, most of them of Nicaraguan origin.

Electoral Scenario For 2001

President Alemán's economic concessions to FSLN leaders and a possible agreement not to strip Daniel Ortega of his immunity are still not the full explanation of why the FSLN would be willing to permit Alemán's eventual re-election bid. Behind this gamble is also a political calculation about the possible electoral outcome in the year 2001. In it, Alemán would be unable to get the same percentage of votes as in the 1996 elections because there would be at least one candidate who would pull a major share of the votes of the national oligarchy, thus taking rightwing votes away from the PLC.

That powerful sector of the right would be loath to support Alemán's re-election because he has openly and crudely used state power to fight over economic spaces and favor the accumulation of Liberal capital. Today, when the dispute is fierce in all fields—both clean and dirty—of the economy, whoever controls the state can gain strategic advantages over its rivals. An important segment of the better-educated population that voted for Alemán in 1996 will undoubtedly oppose his continuation in office as well. In this vision, the FSLN would have a better shot at winning with the anti-Sandinista vote divided, particularly if it can hold onto the proportion of votes that it won in 1996.

As the left wing of the FSLN sees it, however, no explanation to the Sandinista base could justify the FSLN clearing the way for Alemán's re-election. Worse yet, if Alemán really managed to get re-elected, it would mean the liquidation of the FSLN. And his re-election is not at all improbable in a context in which many voters suffering acute impoverishment and the rollback of even minimal education levels would be tempted by the millions in state funds that the PLC party-government would happily squander on electoral populism during its campaign.

The FSLN's left wing believes that Liberalism is a sure loser without Alemán, since he is the only figure capable of providing cohesion to the heterogeneous set of forces that made up the Liberal Alliance in 1996. It, too, calculates that the right won't go to the elections unified because the Liberals and the oligarchy could never agree on a common candidate. But in this scenario, the FSLN could take advantage of the right's division and recover state power by putting new faces on its presidential ticket. A decision of this type could be a point of convergence between the left group and the business group in the FSLN, since they both mainly seem to agree that Daniel Ortega's candidacy would be disastrous in electoral terms. For many reasons, not necessarily even including the ethical one, a convergence could arise around the political need to get Daniel Ortega out of the party leader post, to try to halt the deterioration in which the party seems to be interminably trapped.

Violeta Chamorro Again?
The reality is that Arnoldo Alemán is busy paving the way for his re-election and there appears to be no political force willing or able to stop him. It has been insistently rumored for some time that Violeta Chamorro would be willing to run for President again, and the likely result of that has Arnoldo Alemán and the rest of the PLC seriously worried. Is she the only one who could pull together such dispersed, dissenting and desperate voters? Perhaps.

The elections are still a long way off (the end of 2001), even though it feels like Alemán has been in office forever. The daily turbulence of a country with such clumsy people at the helm tends to bring the election date closer to mind, even if that date is already deeply marked with uncertainty.

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