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  Number 248 | Marzo 2002
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Nicaragua

Dilemmas in the Fight against the Cancer of Corruption

How far will Alemán’s hunger for power drive him? How far might Bolaños’ desire for change take him? How much pressure is the United States prepared to exert? Corruption is a cancer and Bolaños’ "New Era" is up against many complex obstacles in treating it.

Nitlápan-Envío team

The initial expectations of economic improvement and political peace sparked by last November’s electoral results are being hit daily by intense bursts of uncertainty, like the sudden summer dust storms that blow filth through even the tiniest crack. The growing anxiety is fully justified, since so much is at stake for Nicaragua’s powerful untouchables after having spent years creating nets of complicity that weave not only through the state institutions but through the whole of society. There is not enough political experience or ethical will to undo all the knots in these nets. Where to begin and how far can it go?

Like cancer

They say that in international congresses on political issues corruption is compared to cancer, where just as in body tissue, some cells may begin to multiply faster than others, growing out of control, unable to resist the genetic tendency to reproduce. This uncontainable growth appears to be an inevitable tendency in the social body, as public officials and other figures forget the common good and opt to endlessly multiply their personal benefits.

The conclusion these international congresses usually reach after making this comparison is that it is impossible to totally eradicate the tendency, to extirpate the cancer once metastasized, and that the most effective therapy known for combating the tumors is to zap them with the harsh spotlight of publicity. Hence, the profoundly important role assigned to the mass media, especially if investigation is coordinated with the constant work of institutions willing to act transparently and apply the laws.

Surgery, chemotherapy
or controlled maintenance?

Nicaragua is suffering from a nearly interminable list of tumors, a mere glance at which generates as much a feeling of powerlessness as it does indignation. The therapy of media publicity has been applied in heavy doses for some years now, focusing on many of the tumors. Naturally, spotlighting already sick tissue is not enough. Preventive therapy must also be applied, putting budgets, bids, lawsuits and projects under public x-ray both to make them less appealing to avarice and corruption and to be able to track any such disease more effectively later and target it with publicity convincingly.
Since President Enrique Bolaños took office, his new government has revealed to the newspapers, radio and television case after case of corruption during the administration of Arnoldo Alemán—in which, we must not forget, Bolaños himself served as vice president until leaving to run for the highest office. This corruption, while rooted in the malignant tendency present in human nature, was encouraged by the fusion-confusion between the state, which belongs to all Nicaraguans, and the government party, which Alemán controls. And as easily happens in societies as underdeveloped as ours, it was goaded on by the disorder and inefficiency that grows out of age-old backwardness.

Some of the tumors detected

A hardly exhaustive summary of what has been discovered—or at least publicized—and documented since Bolaños took office on January 10 gives some idea of the extent of the illness. Massive theft of medications in the Ministry of Health. Millions spent by the Ministry of Education on scholarships granted to students in the private Catholic University without legal basis or criteria. Outrageous tax evasion by the honorable representatives to the National Assembly, many of whom also went years without paying taxes. Murky deals between the Ministry of the Treasury and the state bank BANIC, whose privatization and later bankruptcy remains a monument to murkiness. A Supreme Electoral Council in the red due to millions spent on conspicuous consumption having nothing to do with electoral tasks. Hidden deals between the government’s Tax and Customs Divisions. Import tax exonerations estimated at some US$800 million, including on 15,000 vehicles, most of them luxury SUVs, plus yachts, helicopters and executive jets for the enjoyment of top government officials and powerful private entrepreneurs. Millions more in debts for administrative and operational costs of La Noticia, the pro-Alemán propaganda rag, but charged to the state’s Social Security Institute. The bankruptcy of the Olof Palme Convention Center due to the accumulated unpaid debts of celebrations by the governing Constitutionalist Liberal Party (PLC). The bankruptcy of the state television channel due to a gigantic fraud in which Arnoldo Alemán’s frontline business partners are implicated.

The list continues to grow as new tumors of various sizes and degrees of malignancy are revealed on a daily basis, suggesting that the metastasis has spread to all government institutions and dependencies.

Diagnosis

Rafael Córdova, in charge of probity in the Office of Comptroller General in 1999, when Agustín Jarquín was still its head, told envío that what occurred during the five years of the Alemán government has put Nicaragua into an "advanced state of habitual corruption." He defines this state, which he calls "hyper-corruption," as "a situation in which corruption is promoted, expedited and protected from the highest state levels, in this case the presidency itself, and from the different fiefdoms controlled by President Alemán’s cronies."
On March 1, President Bolaños acknowledged that the process of turning the Alemán administration over to his people had been long and "disagreeable surprises and certain commitments that cannot be met" had been found. The only example he gave of this was an insignificant case of a state institution with US$250,000 of debts due to unjustified publicity expenses. Bolaños announced that when the transfer and investigation are complete, he will report on everything that has been uncovered.
The new President used far more benign metaphors to refer to the cancer, speaking of "disagreeable surprises" and referring to the corruption committed by public officials as "mischief." Enrique Bolaños, whom we remember as a businessman who passionately locked horns with the Sandinista government in the 80s, is avoiding both verbal and nonverbal confrontation with the corruption his immediate predecessor and boss left behind. The "business principle" on which he is basing his decision is that confrontation scares off foreign investment, which is precisely what his plan for getting the Nicaraguan economy off the ground depends on.

Confront or wait?

But corruption scares off investment too. Córdova referred to a recent survey of 1,000 companies that came to Central America between 1995 and 2000. Only 100 of them decided to invest in Nicaragua and the other 900 claimed that the reason they didn’t was the high corruption rate.
The truth is that, after the first appreciable signs of economic improvement encouraged by the elections, there is again stagnation as justifiable uncertainty has invaded different sectors of the country regarding whether the runway is really being cleared for the country to finally take off with more clearly defined goals. One reason for the uncertainty is this trail of institutionalized hyper-corruption left by former President Alemán and another is his determination to perpetuate it from his new power base, the National Assembly, where his control over nearly 50 PLC legislators is based largely on the corruption they shared with him. A third reason is the damage the Alemán-Ortega pact did to all state institutions. It cannot be forgotten that what allows Alemán to hang on to so much power and try to subjugate the country from his new position in the National Assembly is that pact, which is rooted in the corruption and impunity shared by the two caudillos’ political and economic power groups.

Just as it is evident that the hyper-corruption and its promoter are now the greatest political and economic obstacles to the "new era" announced by Bolaños, it also appears evident that Bolaños fears a head-on confrontation with Alemán. Or could it be that his years have taught him the science of patience, have taught him to wait wisely until conditions mature? Yet another possibility is that he is satisfied—and not without some reason—with the US$5 million that he announced his new administration had saved so far this year by carving the hidden fat out of executive branch salaries and "slashing the extravagant spending."

In crisis and under observation

Alemán’s leadership in the PLC has been built and continually expanded over the past 10 years from his public posts—first as mayor of Managua and then as President of Nicaragua—through a calculated mix of tireless work, obstinate anti-Sandinismo and the granting of flagrant privileges. This leadership is currently under observation, even by his most loyal cohorts. Without control of the state, the perquisites and promises of perquisites are shrinking. They will dwindle even more if the person at the head of the executive branch truly favors transparency, rationality and professionalism. Enrique Bolaños appears to fit that description and is making an effort to send out signals in all three directions.

Alemán reduced his anti-Sandinista venom to periodic explosions of cheap rhetoric following his pact with Daniel Ortega, from which he squeezed all possible advantages, including his lifelong non-elected legislative seat. But the anti-Sandinista and even non-Sandinista segments of the population trust Bolaños more than they do Alemán to "put the FSLN in its place"; it was a large part of why they voted for him. And in fact, despite Alemán’s pressures to draw the FSLN into a new pact, the FSLN has been shown its place, not through ethical remorse but through cost-benefit pragmatism. Almost everything suggests that the FSLN now sees the pact as a major miscalculation and grasps that it must switch sides if it doesn’t want to dig its grave as a party even deeper and expose some of its leaders to anti-corruption measures.

Thrusts…

As in the presidency, Alemán is showing workaholic tendencies from his position as president of the National Assembly. Not only is he demanding punctuality, daily sessions and full work hours, which is not only reasonable but laudable, he is also hard at work on a confrontational and destabilizing legislative strategy that has already reaped some successes. And on those occasions that it fails, he promptly picks himself up and charges again.

He appeared undaunted by the shelving of his first confrontational, destabilizing bills—control of the television media, a 14th month bonus for workers (on top of an extra month at Christmas), changes to the 6% budget allocation to universities and abolition of July 19 (the anniversary of the overthrow of Somoza) as a legal holiday. In February, he presented a "monstrous" bill that indicates the power over the state he intends to have and to hold from the National Assembly. Called the Law for Removing Public Officials from Office, it would establish that the top state posts—electoral branch magistrates, Supreme Court justices, comptrollers general, banking superintendents, etc.—elected by a two-thirds vote of the legislators could be dismissed by a simple majority vote of the quorum. In other words, 55 votes to get elected and only 24 to get fired.

…and parries?

All sectors challenged the bill and some called it a coup d’état because it would mean that Alemán, as president of the Assembly and controller of nearly twice the votes needed to do so, could sluff off any top official who crosses him. The avalanche of criticisms forced Alemán to holster his bill for a couple of weeks, but at the beginning of March, when he was feeling trapped, he pulled it back out, since his strategy includes the notion that offense is the best defense.
Why was he feeling trapped just then? One reason is that after having spent a month successfully preventing the National Assembly from voting on President Bolaños’ reforms to the Penal Code, pressure from the international community finally forced him to cave in. On March 5, both Liberal and Sandinista representatives approved the reforms, which standardize the definition and penalties for new crimes of corruption. This bill was part of a larger legislative package for which Bolaños had requested expeditious passage because it was a condition for negotiating a new agreement with the IMF and World Bank that would eventually lead to Nicaragua’s entry into a foreign debt reduction initiative and assure new loans.

Sandinistas claimed they had improved Bolaños’ proposal by adding the crimes of corruption in private business, while the Liberals pointed to their yes votes as "proof" of their support for the new President. The dissident Liberals of the new Blue and White bench, however, called the final language "a step backward in the fight against corruption" because it reduced punishments and made definitions less precise than in the version Bolaños had sent to the Assembly. For example, the minimum sanction for illicit enrichment was reduced from 6 to 4 years in prison and was established only for officials who could not justify a "significantly excessive increase" in their patrimony, without establishing precise means for determining what constitutes "significantly excessive."

Has he gone too far?

On March 2, feeling corralled by the media and limited in his power, Alemán called a street demonstration in his own support. Surrounded by loyal PLC supporters, he declared that "being an ingrate is worse than being a murderer" and railed against the Liberal ingrates serving in the new government for "biting the hand that fed them." The implicit reference to Bolaños’ handpicked Cabinet, in which Liberal dissidents predominate, could not have been clearer. What condemns them in Alemán’s book is that they are acting with a technocratic rationality that requires them to both forswear the old perquisites and set aside their anti-Sandinista bias enough to stop excluding capable professionals from state posts simply because they have a Sandinista record. The day after Alemán’s rally, Liberals who wanted to demonstrate their pro-Alemán credentials were inclined to comment to any who would listen that "the first ingrate on the list is Bolaños himself." It caused more than a few acid retorts.

On March 7, Alemán claimed to have an overriding reason for feeling hemmed in: he charged "before the whole nation" that plans were afoot to assassinate him and that he suspected this ambition of coming, indistinctly, "from all sectors." While such accusations smack of paranoia, his feeling of isolation is not without foundation. The list of those he has alienated or offended is growing ever longer.

It is known that the Blue and White legislative bench formed by "dissident" Liberal representatives will not stop at the four founders; and other prominent Liberal leaders are pulling away from the caudillo as well, publicly calling him a liar. His post as "non-elected legislator" is being openly challenged from any number of offices, tribunes and microphones. He is being asked to resign, go home, even get out of the country.

The Miskito Council of Elders has declared him "persona non grata" in the North Atlantic Autonomous Region for having "pillaged the coast’s resources through the companies he controls" and being "a bad example for the children" of the area. The Office of Comptroller General has unanimously decided to audit the probity declaration he presented upon leaving office as President and investigate how he was able to amass such admitted wealth over the past decade. The Office of Attorney General announced that it would request the National Assembly to remove him for having violated the Law of Moral Integrity of Officials by under-reporting properties and goods in that same probity declaration.

In a Proclamation to the Nation, former Sandinista commander and later contra leader Edén Pastora declared Alemán a "tyrant meriting execution" and gave the legislators 90 days—which ends May 12—to "throw Alemán" out of the National Assembly. If they fail to do so, he claimed he would take charge of this "patriotic mission" himself.

As for the media, most of them never backed Alemán even when he was President. He now, however, no longer enjoys even the belligerently unconditional support of Radio Corporación, the only station with a mass audience that backed him in those years. And since he continually offended the journalists who covered his weekly press conferences, they decided to stop attending, forcing him to suspend the briefings altogether. The only media that continue to act as his mouthpiece are those paid by him, but they are irrelevant to the forming of public opinion.

How radical the surgery?

Alemán is alone, his leadership under scrutiny and in crisis. The only thing that could still save him is his tireless capacity for work. He is tenacious, like a cancer cell knowing no other meaning in life than to conquer new terrain. Having laid low for a few days in late January after the US cancelled the entry visa of Byron Jerez, head of his government’s General Tax Division (DGI) and his main business partner since they schemed together in the Managua mayor’s office, Alemán threw caution to the wind again.

By canceling Jerez’s visa for laundering through US banks dirty money amassed in Nicaragua, the United States picked its moment well: the elections were over and the FSLN had lost, not without some shameless help from the US State Department itself. It also made a good symbolic choice in that Jerez is one of the top Alemán administration officials most pegged for acts of corruption, some proven although never punished and others based on well-founded suspicions. In addition, by tapping Jerez, the Bush administration sent a signal not only to Alemán but also to his pact with Ortega. It was not for nothing that Ortega, clothing his words in concern about "national sovereignty," came to Jerez’ defense, referring to him as a "prominent Nicaraguan citizen." It is indeed regrettable that the US government has had to move in to prompt the national institutions to begin to act, but the message it sent at the beginning of this "New Era" was important: support to Bolaños and a brake on Alemán.

The US government made it clear that the task of investigating Jerez corresponds to the Bolaños government, but the investigation got underway only after February 8, when the US Ambassador in Nicaragua, accompanied by a consular official and two FBI agents, met with Nicaragua’s foreign minister, attorney general, minister of government, chief of police and attorney general, among others, to "orient them." The United States offered the Nicaraguan government all the support it might need and President Bolaños assured days later that he would get to the bottom of this case. After this convulsive kick-off to the investigation, which did not take it far, the Sandinistas and Liberals who head the Office of Comptroller General unanimously decided to investigate not only the notorious "check scam" case, but everything the DGI had done over the four years (1997-2000) that Jerez was heading it. Sure enough, on March 8, new check frauds—on top of the 157 already documented—began to be turned up. The new evidence involves Jerez in corrupt activities benefiting his personal companies to the tune of at least 46 million córdobas (some US$3.3 million).

So far, so good, but what happens for encores? If Bolaños keeps acting cautiously, seeking to avoid confrontation, and Alemán does not put a stop to his tendencies or is not stopped, how far is the United States willing to go? Will it zap the father cancer cell, Arnoldo Alemán himself?

Radiation therapy

The answer to this question will be crucial, because the new government’s international orientation in no way smacks of a "new era." The "spiritual dependency" on the US government that has always characterized Nicaragua’s political class, with the notable exception of the Sandinista era, is alive and well in the Bolaños administration.
From day one, the new government declared alignment with the United States in its war with no quarter on terrorism and in its foreign policy, currently exhibiting an antidemocratic military and economic hegemony beyond all precedent. The superior will of the United States is what really decides, influences and determines in Nicaragua, and it is understood that doing and saying what the government to the North does and says is politically correct. This historical tendency flows as smoothly through the Bolaños government as water on its natural course. Hence, whatever the US government does in the Jerez case, and in any other, will be the defining thrust.
Nicaragua’s hyper-corruption is intolerable for the globalized economic body that the planet is becoming. Without dealing with this cancer, Nicaragua is not viable from the perspective not only of the United States, but also of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. In January, responding to the Bush administration’s orientation, Nicaragua signed the 1998 Inter-American Convention against Corruption. The US government is now monitoring the degree to which each signatory complies with this convention, including collaboration among the countries’ institutions to investigate and prosecute acts of corruption and the adoption of laws with similar characterizations and sanctions for the various crimes.

The objective is to start creating reliable areas for the globalized market, in which national corruption levels must be reduced to a minimum. The term "national corruption" must be used to be clear, because it cannot be forgotten how much corruption exists and is tolerated in the United States and how much "international corruption" exists and is tolerated, even promoted, by the lead companies of globalization. The recent ENRON case in the United States revealed a tumor that is millions of light years beyond the Jerez case, but is made of the same stuff. It, too, is cancer.

Will this be the final hour?

If the signal sent against Jerez was obvious and strong, the prosecution initiated by the state against the Centeno Roque brothers in February, after they enjoyed nearly two years of total impunity, was as well. It, too, is born of outside orientations.

On February 7, the National Police formally accused Alex, Albin and Saúl Centeno Roque of embezzlement, fraud, association to commit a crime, improper use of names and falsification of public documents, all of which had led to the collapse of Interbank in August 2000. Included in the accusation were six former directors of that bank, linked to capital of FSLN leaders. A week later, Judge Sabino Hernández issued a second arrest warrant against Saúl and Alex Centeno plus 11 other individuals regarding another case discovered the same month Interbank went under. The "rice husk caper" case, being called the greatest swindle in the country’s history, involved half a million warehoused sacks supposedly filled with coffee ready for export but actually stuffed with rice husks, which were used as collateral for loans never repaid. This scam, together with the bank bailout, cost the state nearly US$300 million.

Originally poor peasants from Quilalí who inexplicably became millionaires in the nineties, the Centeno brothers were cleared of all charges after a brief court appearance in 2001 and continued being received "with honors" and without scruples by the country’s real and institutional powers until the recent arrest warrant went out. The Police distributed "Wanted" posters with their photos all over the country and offered—for the first time in its history—a reward of 100,000 córdobas for any information on their whereabouts. Even with that, police investigators reported that the people who hid them until they could flee the country belong "to all social sectors," a euphemism for the fact that their accomplices include "people with pedigrees." It is now assumed that the Centenos have indeed left the country.
President Bolaños declared "satisfaction" with these measures, while Cardinal Obando referred to the case in his Sunday homily in a manner untypical of his reaction to other corruption cases: "Let us hope that the authorities have enough information and try to be just and upright and act with justice." On numerous occasions, Obando has denied accusations of receiving millions of córdobas from the Centenos since the scandals involving them first broke.

It is not clear in either this or the Jerez case how far this radiation therapy will go. Is the issue to catch these individuals, investigate them, bring them to justice, sentence and punish them, or just make it abundantly clear through symbolic skirmishes that may not even end in real sanctions that the party at which so many have danced is over. Will others be touched, and if so who and in what order? Or, following the metaphor of Jesus of Nazareth when speaking of the end of the world: in this "final hour," who will be taken and who will be left?

Terminally ill

The US government’s worst nightmare is the FSLN’s return to power—not because it suspects any real desire for social change among the party’s current leaders, but because it cannot control them as intimately as it can the other power groups. For this reason, it would seem that Arnoldo Alemán, with his vituperative anti-Sandinismo, could still be useful. In reality, if the Alemán-Ortega pact popped the cork of hyper-corruption, it also ensured the FSLN’s final decomposition. Despite the favorable electoral conditions it offered the FSLN, the pact ended up proving that the FSLN could not win. The return to power of the party as it stands today looks like an increasingly impossible political ambition.

The US government also owes Arnoldo Alemán one for having definitively hooked the FSLN into the electoral game and its rewards. It is now a parliamentary party that bases its decisions on cynical pragmatism, just like so many others in the world. Only its red and black banner, names, slogans, memories and yellowing photographs link it to a history of heroism, commitment to social revolution, ethics, mystique and solidarity.

Epi-crisis

The FSLN will be holding its regular congress on March 16-17. Retired Sandinista Army major and dissident FSLN militant Guillermo Pérez Leiva forecasted this meeting for envío as follows: "The absence of any climate of debate, the fact that the grass roots knows nothing of the congress documents, the moving up of the event’s date, the correlation of forces unfavorable to change and the orthodox sector’s near-total control of the structure are enough to allow one to assume that the FSLN leadership and participating congress members will be unable to re-forge the FSLN with a new ethic, culture and political mentality. They will not abandon vanguardism or dismantle the underpinnings of the pact they made with Alemán to turn themselves into a genuine opposition. The FSLN will not be able to move beyond that rare mix of economic neoliberalism and political caudillismo to concede spaces to democracy and pass the baton to a new generation capable of formulating an effective strategy for connecting with the people and, from there, winning back the government."
Pérez Leiva’s explanation of the FSLN’s crisis in these years also conjures up a cancer image: "Sandinismo has been supplanted by Danielismo in the FSLN, and once this new ism established near total control of the party, it struck out to gain control of the state, to reorganize it in line with its own economic needs and keep using it as the main source of capital accumulation. It is this strategy that led Daniel to pact with Alemán’s emerging economic group." That "rare mix" that Pérez Leiva says exists in the FSLN today "has led to a situation in which not even the Nicaraguan oligarchs feel threatened by the FSLN leaders’ political thinking anymore. What they are beginning to fear is their voracious urge to accumulate."

The medical team

Enrique Bolaños has a ministerial team that, to the immediate good of Nicaragua, is made up of professionals with a decent track record who are now dedicating themselves to put order in the disorder and create an efficient administration. For starters, they are reviewing all the papers and numbers, pen in hand. The team’s objective is to break up the state-party marriage, which has not only brought terrible political consequences, but also the state’s generalized economic bankruptcy. Attaining that divorce would mean drying up one of the main sources of the cancer’s propagation. Every step taken in that direction is triggering a confrontation with Arnoldo Alemán and his closest circle, and will continue to do so.

But having a good Cabinet is not enough in the struggle against cancer, nor is publicity. Institutions and laws such as the ones Bolaños wants to get past Alemán are needed, and even laws have no effect if the national institutions that must fight corruption do not act, either because their muscles are atrophied or because they too are riddled by hyper-corruption.

Bad chemistry?

In the Byron Jerez case, after the first investigative impulse, the Office of Comptroller General went to audit the DGI, Jerez’s base of operations. As was to be expected, it found none of the documents it was looking for. When the media decided to go after them, they filmed the utter disarray that had been created in the DGI warehouses to hide these documents and any other "evidence" in sacks heaped chaotically amidst the dust.
The tensions generated around this timid first step at investigation and work done by the Jerez "mafia" resulted in Nelly Castro’s dismissal as the new DGI director, although she is still working at the institution. Despite all the speculation in a sea of possibilities, no explanations of her removal were convincing. Bolaños, for example, limited himself to explaining the crisis as "bad chemistry" between Castro and her superior, none other than the treasury minister.
What happened in the National Police, an institution fundamental to a successful confrontation with corruption, is also worrying. Bolaños used the same questionable chemistry metaphor to explain the premature retirement on February 28 of Pedro Aguilar, head of the Anti-Drug Division, who had been investigating the Jerez case. His departure follows on the heels of police chiefs Eduardo Cuadra and Javier Palacios, who were put out to pasture in the last months of Alemán’s administration because they were conducting investigations affecting his interests. This accumulation of setbacks is seriously undermining confidence in Nicaragua’s new President, making one wonder if our new "chief oncologist" is made of stern-enough stuff to wield the scalpel as well as the banner in his proclaimed fight against the cancer of corruption.

Evidence, hope and exhaustion

A poll done by Borge & Assoc. in Managua in mid-February on behalf of President Bolaños revealed that 72% of the population polled wants the government to dig to the bottom of the Jerez case and 81% feels the same about the Centeno case. Enrique Bolaños so far enjoys huge support from the population, which expects him to be firm. This backing, based somewhat on evidence but even more on hope and on exhaustion with the battering the country has been taking, recalls the early days of the Violeta Chamorro government.

Doubts about Bolaños exist, but as yet no aversion or rejection. Confidence predominates that the "old man" wants to do things well, is trying to do just that and will achieve good results. This confidence is also based on emotions strong enough to pull together very dispersed energies, but not yet on the social organization or civic participation that the country requires to put right so many things that have gone wrong.

How far will it all go and
how much will we be told?

Is time favoring the cancer or the medical team? There are many questions and many uncertainties. Naturally, the uncertainty felt by those who haven’t participated in the hyper-corruption for all these years is different from that felt by those who have—whose members must be sought not only in the state but also in private enterprise and throughout society.

Three other questions appear to be shared by both the haven’t and the have groups. These questions are: How far will Alemán’s hunger for power go? How far will Bolaños’ desire for change take him? And how much pressure will the United States apply?
There ought to be another big question: What is big private business prepared to do? Will it agree to level with the public about its earnings and the benefits it enjoyed in the shadow of various governments through influence peddling, unjustified exonerations and tax evasion? Because that is cancerous too and must be cured if Nicaragua is to get better. How far will big business be willing to go in the Crusade against Corruption? These are questions the media usually don’t look at too closely and they are even less likely to name names, because the ads from big business pay their bills.

No aspirin, no morphine

Finally, how much capacity can civil society muster today, with its leadership and causes so dispersed? Will it go on putting its confidence and its hopes in Bolaños or will it decide to act in an organized manner and pressure the new government with more specific objectives?
The twists and turns that this new period takes will depend on the answers to all these questions. For the moment, it appears that it could become increasingly unstable, but what is abundantly clear is that there is no place for aspirin and Band-Aids. Even if a daily dose of morphine would ease the pain, the cancer is still there, a destructive reality that demands clarity, commitment and action from everyone.

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