Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 224 | Marzo 2000



Dora María Téllez: A New Option for the Left

The Alemán-Ortega pact has led to the birth of an unprecedented center-left political alliance in Nicaragua. What is a sector of the Sandinista movement doing in it? What are its proposals for the short and medium term? And what are its prospects? These are just some of the points explained to envío in a talk by Dora María Téllez, president of the Sandinista Renovation Movement and one of the most enthusiastic figures behind this new alliance.

Dora María Téllez

One of Arnoldo Alemán’s major objectives in the pact with the FSLN was to buy off the organized opposition. He correctly calculated that only the FSLN could put up any organized opposition to him in a crisis. The FSLN sold out to Alemán through the pact, and it sold out cheap. With the organized opposition in his pocket, Alemán has reduced his internal problems. The rest of the opposition is less organized and one of the pact’s aims is to make it even harder for it to get organized. Now the Liberal government has only to face a dispersed opposition, one concealed within the conscience of the people.

All electoral processes help organize people politically. The pact was consummated just as we are going into an electoral period and one of its basic components is a series of reforms to the Electoral Law. The people who made the pact knew that the opposition was getting organized and sought to block this process by imposing as many obstacles as possible through the new Electoral Law.

Their goal for the November 2000 municipal elections is to block the organization of any third option at all costs, to prevent any candidates who might offer an alternative to the PLC and the FSLN. Pedro Solórzano’s disqualification as candidate for mayor of Managua demonstrates the exclusionary nature of the pact that has been forged: it’s not a case of them throwing the stone and pretending they didn’t but rather throwing the stone and laughing in our faces about it. The pact seeks to exclude and to instill fear, which is why popular reaction represents one of its few limits. If there’s no reaction, those behind the pact will go on doing what they want with increasing brazenness and impunity.

The new norms created by the Electoral Law reforms aim to exclude, frighten, obstruct the emergence of new parties and kill off most of the existing ones. Let’s look at a few of these norms.

* All parties, even if they’re already legally recognized, are obliged to collect 75,000 signatures if they want to present candidates in the municipal elections, and they only have 45 days to do so.

* All parties that want to survive have to present candidates in 80% of the country’s 150 municipalities.

* If two parties want to join in an alliance, they have to present 150,000 signatures; if three parties want to, they need 225,000 signatures, and so on.

* A party going it alone has to pull 4% of the total votes to keep its legal status, while an alliance of two parties has to pull 8%, and so on.

In other words, they want to make life as difficult as possible for electoral alliances. Consequently, the more parties that join up, the harder things get, while it also gets harder when fewer parties join up. As socialist politician Domingo Sánchez put it, "it’s forbidden to spit and forbidden to swallow the saliva."
* All new parties have to have committees in all 150 municipalities, which must be elected and installed in each municipality in the presence of a Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) delegate. In the best of cases, if the CSE provides one delegate a week, it’ll take 150 weeks to create a new party. Meanwhile, if an existing party doesn’t participate in the municipal elections, it disappears automatically.

* The possibility of running as an independent under popular subscription has been eliminated altogether.

* If a party changes its name or emblem, it is considered to be forming a new party.

These are just some of the new norms. As I said, the objective of the new Electoral Law, administrated by the new Supreme Electoral Council, is to put as many obstacles as possible in the way of any promising alternatives and thus hinder their chances of appearing on the electoral ballot. And just in case they do make it onto the ballot, the objective becomes to prepare an electoral fraud.

So what can we do in the immediate future to challenge this closed political scenario? Political leadership should have the capacity to tackle problems, come up with different alternatives and draw up proposals in bad times as well as good. To respond to this situation, the first thing is to be clear that we are involved in a life or death struggle in the wake of the pact. Either the pact is imposed, destroying the country politically, economically and socially and sinking Nicaragua into another crisis, or the country takes a new course. For the latter to happen, the first step is to participate fully in the municipal elections. And that’s what we’ve decided to do.

In November, before the pact was consummated, representatives from a group of parties that were convinced it would be consummated on the worst possible terms began meeting to find an alternative to the two-party system—or, more accurately, the one-party Liberalism guaranteed by FSLN complicity—that the pact sought to impose. Aware that the pact created a do-or-die situation, we decided to form an alliance. At the moment, this third way alliance is made up of both parties and prominent individuals: the Nicaraguan Democratic Movement (MDN); the Social Christian Unity; the Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS); the National Project (PRONAL), founded by Antonio Lacayo; the We Can Movement, founded by businessman Manuel Ignacio Lacayo when the pact was consummated; the Conservative Popular Alliance (APC), headed by Miriam Argüello; the Revolutionary Unity Movement (MUR); independent businesswoman Lucía Salvo; and former Supreme Electoral Council president Mariano Fiallos, who although an FSLN militant, joined the alliance as an independent political figure. The correlation of forces varies in each particular department or municipality.

The first thing we asked ourselves when we decided to form the alliance was what we were going to give up. What were we willing to lose as parties in order to win as a country? The first thing we decided to give up was the individual legal status of each of our parties so we could run as a single party. In addition to renouncing our legal status, we decided to assume the name and flag of the party with the least ideological connotations and the one that would be easiest for everyone to assimilate. Thus, we chose the MDN and simplified it to Democratic Movement. That movement now provides a political roof for all the parties and groups involved in the alliance. This decision means that we only have to collect 75,000 signatures, though it automatically kills off the legal status of the rest of our individual parties. If we don’t succeed in changing things during the elections, we could be dead for a long time, but we took this step with one overriding conviction: why would we want legal status if we’re entering into such a political crisis with the pact? We prefer to have real political strength, even without the required legal papers.

Why did we decide on the MDN? The MDN has never participated alone in any elections, its red and white flag has few symbolic connotations, and it has a name that expresses what we all want: a movement for democracy. Therefore, it seemed to us to be the best option for this particular moment.

Having decided on the alliance and made such important sacrifices, we then reached a number of minimum agreements. First, the MDN pledged to all of the groups within the alliance that collective decisions would be honored. Second, if we win the 2001 presidential elections, each party could recover its legal status. It would be better if we stayed together, as happened in the Chilean Concertation, but even then, each party would have its own legal status. Third, we’re going to wage a joint and complementary campaign throughout the country. Fourth, there will be no power quotas for each party when it comes to choosing candidates, because we’re not sharing out a cake. Rather, it’s a case of finding the best, most honest candidates with the greatest popular backing then proposing them to the population, regardless of which of the alliance’s parties they belong to, or whether they belong to any party at all. And fifth, the alliance has no presidential candidate, just aspiring candidates. Only in December 2000 will the actual candidate be chosen, through either a primary election or a poll carried out by a board of pollsters.

We will honor the whole legal process set out by the Electoral Law to get ourselves on the ballot for the municipal elections. We’re going to collect 100,000 signatures supporting us all over the country. And if they use some excuse to try to stop us from getting on the ballot, we’ll take our case onto the streets and to every national and international forum to defend our right to participate. When the elections come around, we’ll have party monitors at all polling stations, and will also ask for international observers to be placed at all of the stations to avoid the possibility of fraud.

The alliance is open to all political and social forces, civil society organizations, individuals and national figures. We’re talking to evangelical groups, indigenous organizations, Christian base communities, small and medium producers, anyone who approaches us and wants to participate. There’s room for everyone. This is not an alliance of political hegemonies because there are no quotas. We’re also going to draw up a code of ethics to regulate the basic characteristics of the candidates chosen and the actions taken by the alliance, because one of the key problems in the current national crisis is the loss of ethical boundaries in all areas.

Our initial political objective is to join forces around several basic points. The first of these is to reestablish the minimum conditions of democracy and establish truly democratic institutions. We feel that the nation’s institutionality has been destroyed and that in practice the Constitution is skewed to serve the interests of an authoritarian government. This means we’ll have to implement a profound institutional reform that will make it impossible for anyone ever again to create an autocratic, authoritarian and dictatorial government like the current one based on the prevailing institutional structure. The country is crying out for profound structural changes in all of its institutions, changes that would make it impossible, for example, for legislative representatives to be the unconditional servants of the political bosses who control power, incapable of really debating the most important problems affecting the country.

We also have to reestablish transparency in the Supreme Electoral Council, the Office of Comptroller and the Supreme Court. We have to build a solid institutional framework that does not rely on the will of any one person so that citizens are not left defenseless. The rule of law, institutionality, the distribution of power and the decentralization and independence of the apparatuses of power must become a reality, thus making the defense of each citizen’s human rights a reality.

Our second objective is to fight to eradicate poverty: 80% of Nicaraguans are poor, 50% are living in misery and we have 800,000 emigrants. Poverty is increasing and the number of poor is increasing as well. Anything else we might say on top of these figures is pure decoration. Extreme poverty is the main problem in Nicaragua. We have to design and implement a strategy that seeks drastic, immediate and conclusive solutions to the problem of extreme poverty. The country currently has no strategy for tackling poverty or for economic development. All that the parties involved in the pact have to offer is a strategy for appropriating the centers of economic power.

The third objective is to fight corruption and impunity. Corruption is breaking down the whole of our society; it has been enveloping everyone, creating circuits that affect us all, that dissolve our standards of reference and turn compliance with the law into a problem rather than a solution. Corruption is linked to the impunity of those with power. The only ones who go unpunished are those who can, not those who should. The justice system must be reestablished because it has serious historical problems that will only deepen with the outcome of the pact and the exclusive two-party institutions it has created. The delays in justice are very serious indeed. Nicaraguans who have no power remain in jail for an average of six months before being declared innocent or guilty, while those who have power don’t even have to appear in court: they act with impunity. There’s no justice in Nicaragua. This country needs honest judges who can settle society’s conflicts impartially.

The fourth objective is to create the right conditions for national economic growth. Nicaragua is one of the last places in Latin America where investors choose to invest, largely due to corruption, to the bribes that have to be paid up front and in cash to a long line of officials that finally ends in the President’s own office. What security is offered to a would-be investor when faced with such levels of poverty, a judicial system dominated by judges serving the interest of the bosses of two political parties, and unclear game rules?
The investors don’t come and the poorest Nicaraguans go. How much longer can we bear this migratory blood loss? How much longer can we withstand such levels of corruption and poverty? Thousands and thousands of young people without work, studies or opportunities take refuge in crack. The decomposition process has to be halted and it will take a firm political will to do so.

These are the basic objectives that we share in the Democratic Movement, in the third way, objectives that we will turn into a long-term program and strategy for the country. We are going to ensure that all our candidates implement all of the programmatic decisions we make jointly, that our program isn’t just a list of nice promises that will be used to attract people’s votes and then forgotten.

The alliance is against the pact, but that’s only a circumstantial definition. We’re looking both to reestablish and to extend democracy, and this implies civic participation in the decision-making processes of the organs of power. The MRS has in fact proposed replacing the municipal town hall forums, in which citizens only have the right to present complaints, with "civic parliaments," which would consist of representatives elected by the community who would have decision-making power. We hope that this proposal will be accepted as part of the Democratic Movement’s municipal program.

This third way is based on a program, not an ideology. Those of us who have formed the alliance are not agreeing on or even discussing ideological positions, because the real problem in Nicaragua—the ever-growing mass of poor people—is not ideological, but rather highly practical and urgent. We have to come up with a strategy that tackles this problem of poverty. And to do that we want to discuss a strategy for rural development, issues linked to economic development, civic participation, gender-related issues, the definitive resolution of property-related problems, the communal property of indigenous peoples and environmental issues.

A great many Sandinistas have expressed a desire to join the Democratic Movement and have started to participate. The strength of Sandinismo within the alliance will grow according to the development of the internal correlation of forces, and that correlation will improve according to the level of participation. We can increase the weight of Sandinismo within the alliance by contributing more, working more, organizing more, by having a clear project and knowing how to present and defend it.

Are people ready for a third way that rejects the PLC and the FSLN? I believe that people are more ready for an initiative of this kind than we might think. People have been calling on us politicians to get organized and unite behind a common alternative for some time now. The population understands the proposal being offered by the third way, because it’s giving them a different message, one of balance, of shedding polarization, of a new direction that could bring stability to the country. People see different interests represented in the third way and they like that. That’s what it’s all about: the representation of different interests, including big businesspeople, former guerrilla fighters, former contra leaders, Sandinistas and a former army chief. In short, many different colors are represented in the alliance.

Alemán and Daniel want to turn the next elections into a contest between Sandinismo and anti-Sandinismo. That historical polarization suits them both because it frightens people. But the current situation has created a new and different kind of polarization, one between pact and anti-pact, or between pact and democracy. This will be the dilemma facing voters during the next elections.

I believe that the third way will win over an important number of Sandinista votes, and will also pull a good number of the floating votes away from the Liberals, votes that were key to Alemán’s victory in 1996. I would stick my neck out and say that the PLC and the FSLN are going to suffer a formidable defeat in the municipal elections.

The pact has further fragmented the Sandinista movement. The majority of people who consider themselves Sandinistas no longer rely on disciplined subordination to Danielismo; they have their own political criteria. They’re looking for an option consistent with their principles, one that defends the interests of the poor, national sovereignty and democracy. There are also other sectors that oppose the pact and want to strengthen the democratic institutions, that want to eliminate corruption and see clear game rules and understand that poverty is the country’s basic problem.

A leftist force should make alliances with other groups, but only with the aim of building democracy and fighting for the poor. That was not the aim of the FSLN’s alliance with the PLC, the pact. Nothing is further removed from Sandinismo than a two-party system. Sandino himself set out a third option, an option of the poor in opposition to the two oligarchic options. And what does the pact offer us? Two political and economic oligarchies sharing Nicaragua out between them. The sad thing is that one of those oligarchies sports the red and black colors of Sandinismo, and uses symbols that cost us so much and for which so many laid down their lives. They are playing with these symbols and will continue to do so for as long as we let them get away with it.

The Sandinista movement is no longer contained within a single party, as it was in the 1980s. In addition to the fact that there are now two Sandinista parties, Sandinismo also has other forms and very different manifestations: it has a political leadership, a social leadership and a media leadership, none of which are under FSLN control anymore. The essential characteristic of the Sandinista movement right now is its majority opposition the pact and its search for a programmatic identity that responds to the current national and international situation.

It’s time to make decisions. The MRS decided to join this third way and work within it. Many Sandinistas outside the FSLN want to join us in the alliance and every day I get calls from people who want to do something. Many Sandinistas from the generation that carried out the Literacy Campaign are looking at how to support this effort. This is very encouraging because it means that a generation of young people who have been politically inactive and didn’t know what to do are becoming active again. Consequently, this third way could serve to reunite a large part of Sandinismo.

In Nicaragua’s current political reality, we on the left only have two options: either we buy into the Sandinismo-anti-Sandinismo polarization, or we don’t. The people behind the pact want to make us swallow it and believe that It’s equivalent to the contradiction between left and right. This is the game that Alemán and Ortega are playing. But do Daniel Ortega, the FSLN top leadership and the FSLN in general represent the Nicaraguan left? Are they acting like a leftist opposition?
What has happened to make a Sandinista like Mariano Fiallos—who was almost the FSLN’s presidential candidate in 1996 and would have been its foreign minister had the FSLN won that year—throw in his lot with the third way? Quite simply, he’s seen enough to understand that there’s not much to be done in a post-pact FSLN. What is it that makes a Sandinista like Joaquín Cuadra declare that the pact represents the plundering of Nicaraguan citizens, and place himself in clear opposition to the FSLN-government pact and in support of a third way just 24 hours after retiring as head of the army?
The Sandinista movement has to seek convergence around a new programmatic identity and the construction of a new leadership that, in line with the principles of Sandinismo, is able to unite society around a project for the country’s future and turn Sandinismo into a force that helps unite all Nicaraguans.

The third way proposes trying to reunite and exploit the human reserves left in Nicaragua in search of a democratic path for the country. Such an effort is an appropriate response to the country’s dramatic situation and I’m confident that it’s going to work. I’m confident that if we can get on the electoral ballot for the municipal elections we’re going to win the vast majority of municipal governments. And we’re going to bring new hope to Nicaragua.

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