Nicaragua's Caribbean Coast: New Government, Old Problems
Scars and hatreds inherited from the war, divisions among ethnic groups, personal interests, the humiliating intrusion of Managua – all of these were present in the election of the new Coast authorities.
Exactly one century after the military occupation of Bluefields led by Gen. Rigoberto Cabezas a maneuver ordered by Liberal President Santos Zelaya to put an end to the relative autonomy on Nicaragua's Caribbean coast the Liberals have again invaded the area, this time taking the electoral route. As on that first occasion, and others later, it would appear that the decisions are still being made in Managua.
Many chapters in the narrative of these 100 years read like a Gabriel García Márquez novel, but few of them more than the one just written. It deals with the elections held February 27 for the second autonomous government in the two coastal regions, and the negotiations that followed to control the key positions in those governments. As in the unfolding history of Macondo, García Márquez's fictitious town, the events on the coast in these past weeks also serve as symbols for the social, cultural and political dynamics behind the apparent reality.
Interpreting the Electoral ResultsThe elections were not won or lost on the basis of the contenders' public platforms. During the two month campaign, all had pledged to improve the economy, defend autonomy and urge President Chamorro to sign the regulatory by laws that would permit effective interpretation and implementation of the existing Autonomy Statute. (A detailed proposal for such regulations, drafted and approved by both Regional Councils in June 1993, has been "sleeping the sleep of the just in one of President Chamorro's desk drawers" ever since, as outgoing Sandinista councilor Johnny Hodgson, phrased it.)
Apart from the strongly anti Sandinista speeches of the ultra rightist Constitutionalist Liberal Party (PLC), the campaign was much less confrontational than in 1990. The FSLN in the South Atlantic Autonomous Region (RAAS), for example, offered a constructive and concrete three point program: attack unemployment, consolidate peace and develop a series of social projects.
But as Ray Hooker, FSLN National Assembly representative from the RAAS, points out, the electorate today is made up of three basic sectors: "Sandinistas to the death, militant anti Sandinistas, and the undecided." The second group, perhaps 50% larger than the first, ranges from ex National Guardsmen, demobilized members of the Resistance and those whose properties were confiscated, to otherwise sympathetic middle class people who suffered from the hyperinflation in the latter years of the Sandinista government. The third group is a wide ranging and always important sector embracing young people whose ideologies have not yet solidified, apolitical adults and/or those with doubts but a relatively open mind.
The election results show that, relative to 1990, the FSLN lost access to its sympathizers in the outlying areas where armed conflict still prevails, but recovered the vote of some undecided particularly among the ethnic communities who are now nostalgically beginning to recall, four years after the war, that the Sandinista government was better than the current one with respect to social services and jobs, and that the Sandinistas were the ones who pushed through the autonomy project.
The FSLN's Achilles heel with most of the undecided, however, is the memory of the military service. It was not enough that all the Sandinista candidates, plus national leaders who came to the coast at the end of the campaign, endlessly repeated that we no longer need the draft because we are not at war, that the FSLN wants to reform the Constitution to abolish it, that these are regional elections and military service is not even at issue... The problem is that the draft is merely the visible tip of the iceberg. Many people reason that the United States would never tolerate another Sandinista government, so if the FSLN were to come to power it would bring another war with it ipso facto.
The Game to the Highest BidderAnother important factor is that the endemic poverty and current unemployment in the two autonomous regions lend themselves to a situation in which the one with the most chips wins the game. Only the PLC had them in abundance. It had enough to build an electoral machine from nothing in two years, enough to campaign throughout the mining regions and in Tortuguero and La Cruz, despite their distance and difficult access, and enough to give away a bag of food to the crowds that congregated each noon around its campaign headquarters in Bluefields. Many also report unofficially, due to fear that it had enough to buy voter registration cards off of poor voters in areas where it felt weaker than the FSLN. It is assumed that the PLC financed its campaign partly with donations from Somocistas and Cubans in Miami, but the Supreme Electoral Council says that only ADECO, the electoral organization put together by outgoing Regional Coordinator Alvin Guthrie, reported receiving any foreign donations, as the law stipulates. In a radio interview in Managua after the elections, however, PLC head Arnoldo Alemán assured that the Cubans will come to the coast, that "the coast's friends will save it," adding that he was meeting with "el exilio" in Miami the next day.
Sandinistas on the coast complain that FSLN leaders in Managua did not give their campaign the attention it merited, even though it was included among the justifications for postponing the party's extraordinary congress until mid May. After long discussions, they finally convinced the National Directorate of the elections' importance, and several top leaders toured the two regions, but it was too late. Those on the coast had needed technical and economic support, and from the beginning, not only in the last lap. According to William Schwartz, FSLN political secretary in the RAAS, "The FSLN in the Pacific couldn't gauge the importance of the regional elections. In addition, the personal interests of some in both currents prevailed to put the congress ahead of our elections." The public debate between Daniel Ortega and Sergio Ramírez, which heated up parallel to the campaign, not only eclipsed it, says Schwartz, but damaged it to some degree in the regional capitals, the only areas on the coast with access to national news.
The FSLN democratized its internal election process in the RAAS, with open primaries in each electoral district. According to Ray Hooker, it is the first party primary in Nicaraguan history. Angélica Brown, a new Sandinista councilor in Bluefields, explained that two assemblies were held in each district. In the first, members and sympathizers nominated five or six pre candidates, who then had to campaign to be elected in a second assembly as one of the three finalists on the district slate. She says that she and Nelly Brown, another female candidate, won over men who were otherwise well qualified but did not take this process seriously enough and did not work as hard as they did.
Ray Hooker says that the final candidates worked tooth and nail, despite Managua's disinterest and the fi nancial restrictions: "Considering those limitations, the surprise is how many seats we won," commented Hooker, adding that the bulk of the unemployed in the RAAS are Sandinistas. For most of the campaign, the local FSLN had little more than the state financing shared out among all the competing groups by the Supreme Electoral Council, which is intended only to defray some costs of a campaign. According to the Electoral Law's formula for divvying up this contribution, national parties are favored over local associations with petition candidates, and parties that won seats in the previous election over those that did not participate or did not win seats. Under this formula, the FSLN in the two regions received about 33% of the 1.15 million cordobas (under $200,000) distributed, and UNO about 20% (the three parties in this alliance that ran alone this time divided another 16% that would have otherwise gone to UNO).
The clear discrimination against local associations is shown by the fact that Yapti Tasba Masraka Nani Aslatakanka, the Miskito organization known as YATAMA, only received a bit over 4%, even though in 1990 it won three more seats than UNO in the two regions combined. YATAMA does not meet the conditions necessary to register as a national party according to the Council of Political Parties, but it is also not a come and go electoral grouping such as typifies popular petition associations.
The other candidates who represented national parties surely enjoyed some support from their Managua headquarters, but to no effect; they did not win a single seat. It is also rumored that Minister of the Presidency Antonio Lacayo provided $220,000 to ADECO in the south and a similar amount to YATAMA in the north to stop the PLC campaign. (Ray Hooker jokes that the one ADECO candidate who won is "the most expensive councilor in Nicaragua.") If this rumor is true, it was a bad investment. Like UNO, to which Guthrie belonged until late last year, these two organizations lost due to their identification with corrupt and ineffective regional governments (and the national one), none of which defended the three most important coast issues: natural resources, the economy and autonomy. If Lacayo did not want his rival Alemán to have an open field, he should have attended to these three issues from much earlier on, as his costeño allies had advised.
During the campaign, the PLC underplayed its "Constitutionalist" adjective so as to appeal to the "Liberal tradition" of coastal mestizos whose parents or grandparents from the Pacific historically voted Liberal. But apart from a handful of such families, this "tradition" amounts to little more than a collective memory of relatively better times on the coast, where the National Guard did not have the iron fisted reputation it did in the Pacific.
In the end, many costeños voted for the PLC hoping it might pump some life into the moribund economy. More sophisticated voters also relied on the 1996 national elections to put a brake on any tendency by the PLC to pillage what is left of the region's resources. They wager that for the next two years it will want to show off nationally with an effective administration that brings investments and employment to the region.
But this hope is not immune to skepticism. The Sandinista analysis, for example, is that the PLC will not invest much in the coast because over 90% of the 1996 electorate is in the Pacific, and that it already got all it wanted with its relative electoral victory. They further think that the Lacayo Alemán rivalry, if genuine, could cause problems for a PLC government. This is one of the reasons that the FSLN wanted a government of consensus in the two regions.
YATAMA shares both fears. As Eustice Flores, a YATAMA representative in the RAAS, says, "The PLC could make things worse, because it won't have even the relative support from Lacayo that Guthrie enjoyed. The PLC will suck out all our resources to give them to the Somocistas and the 'Cubeans' so it can get their support for 1996."
Negotiating the Key PostsNo electoral force got an absolute majority of seats in either the RAAS or the RAAN (the North Atlantic). In the latter, YATAMA found itself in the position of giving its eight votes to whichever of the two other winning parties (PLC or FSLN) offered it the best conditions. The most public condition it wanted was that Alfonso Smith, its National Assembly representative, be given the job of Regional Coordinator (popularly called governor). The FSLN seemed willing to accept this as the lesser of evils, although doing so put it in an awkward position. Smith had already been functioning as governor since the end of 1992, when his predecessor Leonel Pantin of YATAMA at the time and now PLC chief in the RAAN was voted out for corruption, but Smith was no better. In exchange for its 20 votes, the FSLN wanted Alta Hooker Blandford, the only Sandinista councilor who won reelection, as president of the Regional Council's board of directors. Regional Ministry of Health delegate during the previous government, Hooker was elected as the board's second secretary in 1990, and moved to first secretary when a new board was elected in 1992. She is capable, dedicated and respected for her good working relations with YATAMA in the Regional Council.
It should have been fairly easy to create a government of at least a respectable majority, if not consensus. But it was not easy at all. Stedman Fagoth, the mercurial YATAMA leader elected on the PLC ticket, wanted to be governor in the worst way, but he was short six votes. Switching back out of his dubious self defined role in recent years as head of YATAMA's "reconciliation current" in opposition to Brooklyn Rivera's "revanchist anti Sandinista" current, Fagoth used all his considerable guile to pull councilors elected on the YATAMA ticket (Rivera faction) over to "his" side (the PLC side). Fagoth even claimed at one point that several Sandinista councilors had promised to vote for him. Rivera charged that the PLC offered 30,000 córdobas to each YATAMA councilor who would vote for it in the two regions.
If the rancorous competition between these two Miskito leaders and the uncontrolled personal interests of both complicated the picture in the RAAN, the three dimensional negotiations for the key posts in the RAAS showed even more clearly the Macondo esque features of political life on the coast, both historically and now. As in the RAAN, these features include the age old meddling of Managua, the scars and hatreds bequeathed by the recent war, the ethnic and intra ethnic divisions, the personal interests and the power of even small players to call the bets if they have an ace in their hand all of which validates the common coastal refrain that "the kingdom of God is sacred, and the kingdom of politics profane" and makes people apathetic toward dirty politicians. But the RAAS also shows this time the classic disadvantages of a good man with scruples who gets involved in the political world, tensions between the "establishment" of Creole elites and the "black maverick," and, finally, the tendency to play off all these elements at the expense of the coast's wellbeing and future as if they were not profoundly at stake. Most of these features are hardly unique to the coast, but they shone at this moment with a hard edged splendor rarely seen outside of stereotypical Hollywood films.
The first element needed to comprehend the complexity of the negotiations in the RAAS is that, unlike in the RAAN, no group got enough votes to win any of the key posts without the cooperation of at least two others. (To be exact, only the extremely unlikely alliance of the PLC and FSLN could have done it without a third.) This opened up infinite possibilities of multiple alliances of groups or individuals, whether long term and formal or merely for the moment. Every permutation was attempted.
Another important element to keep in mind is the importance of each of the key posts. Obviously the position of greatest power is regional coordinator or governor, a power that becomes almost absolute if the governor's own bench also dominates the board and has the majority in the Regional Council. Governor Guthrie had the first condition and lacked the second by only one vote, but enough of the other councilors were so docile and unskilled at their new task that it amounted to the same thing. And when the Sandinista bench finally managed to light a fire under them, the board president simply did not call the monthly sessions of the Council. The Council only met 33 times in four years, and most of those in the first two.
In this regard, the president of the board of directors is another pivotal position of power not to execute but to maneuver in favor of either the coordinator or the Council. As determined by the autonomy statute, the board calls (or does not call) all ordinary and extraordinary sessions, sets the agenda for those sessions, coordinates the activities of the autonomous government bodies with state officials in the region, names commissions to analyze and report their findings on administrative affairs in the region and handles "all initiatives for the interest, wellbeing and development of the coast."
The third key position is the board's first vice president. As one person aptly put it, "he handles the money." In other words, the job is essentially that of treasurer. The final post of interest is the first secretary, who knows just about everything that goes on.
Both the regional coordinator and the seven board members are nominated by and from among the councilors themselves, and are ratified by a simple majority of the Council quorum. The board serves for two years and the coordinator for the full four (unless removed beforehand by a vote of the absolute majority).
One of the two most talked about candidates for governor of the RAAS was Rayfield Hodgson Bobb, a pentecostal pastor in Bluefields known as "Brother Ray." He is the black maverick intelligent, charismatic, quick witted, de magogic and populist, a man of catchy phrases and sweet words, accused of corruption and opportunism but a popular figure nonetheless, a Schindler like idea man who is useless at detailed follow up. Mayor of the Bluefields municipality for a couple of years during the Sandinista government, he ran for councilor on the PLC slate after talking with Alemán's friends in Miami late last year. Like Fagoth, he wanted to be governor with all his heart, and the PLC supported his wish despite his brief but impassioned flirtation with the FSLN.
The other top candidate was Faran Dometz Hebbert, a Moravian pastor from Pearl Lagoon who was director of the prestigious Moravian High School in Bluefields for many years. He represents the Creole establishment, and the newly created electoral association to which he belongs the Authentic Costeño Autonomy Movement (MAAC) attracted many individuals of that elite as candidates and advisers. Dometz is a man of impeccable behavior and reputation, well educated, backed by the Moravian Church and respected by all, including many in the PLC. In sum, he is not made of the stuff of slick politicians. He is not a lesser of evils but perhaps the only possible candidate with the qualities necessary to overcome the polarizations in the RAAS and govern from a position of major consensus. At the same time, however, some wondered if he could hold his own in the backroom dealing for votes or if he even wanted to enough. He had spent the last several years studying theology in the United States preparatory to assuming directorship of the new Moravian Bible Institute being built in Puerto Cabezas.
His organization only got two councilors, but the FSLN told him early on that it would give him its 15 votes unconditionally if he could pull together the other seven needed as a minimum. At the beginning Dometz also counted on the 5 votes of YATAMA, but that organization decided to try fishing in more turbulent waters when the PLC sent signals that it wanted to talk. YATAMA's price was the board presidency, because, as Eustice Flores explained, "The board belongs to the Council and the legislative should control the executive, not vice versa; and because we defend the interests of the coast while the PLC has national interests."
After two weeks, the talks broke down. "The PLC wants everything or nothing," complained Flores. Mainly, it wanted one of its own Augusto César de la Rocha de la Rocha running the board. The squat, silver haired PLC chief in the RAAS is a native of Granada (traditional Liberal headquarters), formerly an astute lawyer for Somoza's National Guard with a very shady reputation. He was imprisoned and finally pardoned by the Sandinista government, whereupon he fled to Bluefields and married into the mestizo establishment, those from "good families" who settled on the coast generations ago. He is said to be an embarrassment to this elite, which has largely adopted the genteel style of its Creole counterpart, abandoning the caudillo brashness of the Pacific. Hated by some, feared by many, friend of none, De la Rocha does not enhance these mestizos' self image. With few exceptions, the PLC candidates he chose were not of their caste. No one in Bluefields is unaware of the fact that if the FSLN had gotten just two more votes in the district of the city where it ran against De la Rocha, it would have won a second set and UNO the third, leaving De la Rocha on the sidelines.
According to Flores, YATAMA went back to talking with MAAC. It also approached UNO or at least a few of its councilors with a costeño perspective to see if they would join a vote against the PLC. (The PLC had just pulled out of UNO temporarily due to its reticence to support the PLC's candidates in the RAAS.) YATAMA also wanted UNO to act as intermediary with the FSLN since its own councilors elected in anti Sandinista Miskito communities did not want to burn themselves. The problem, said Flores, was that four of the UNO councilors were from the Independent Liberal Party and one was a Social Democrat, and they could not agree among themselves.
All in all, by April 28, less than a week before the inaugural session of the new governments, the negotiations in Bluefields appeared to have reached an impasse. But that same day the rightwing daily La Tribuna arrived bearing front page news that the PLC and UNO had signed an agreement in Managua to "form a democratic and honest government that will strengthen regional autonomy" in the RAAS, in the words of Alfredo César, coordinator of the UNO political council. Once readers of the article had digested the bile provoked by this meddling arrogance, they realized that something was missing. Even supposing that the accord would be supported by all the local PLC UNO councilors, that was only 23 votes, one short of enough to elect anyone.
That unleashed an unending round of speculations on street corners, in bars, on front porches during the long sultry evenings without electricity. "What about ADECO? Will it go with the MAAC Frente or the PLC UNO? They're being very quiet." ..."And the five from UNO, might one or two have enough costeño pride to break ranks with this Managua maneuver?" ..."What about YATAMA? I heard they still aren't sure what to do"....
Then, suddenly, another salvo from Managua over the costeño bow: a news report that the central government had appointed Kenneth Bushey a Rivera man, Ministry of Government delegate in the RAAN and newly elected YATAMA councilor as the future presidential delegate in that region. There were strong rumors that Maxwell Atily, Guthrie's alternate in the National Assembly, would be Bushey's counterpart in the RAAS. Local analysts speculated that these delegates would handle the central budget for the coast and monopolize decision making. If the newborn autonomous governments fought for four years to take their first breath in the asphyxiating shadow of the central government's new Institute for the Development of the Autonomous Regions (INDERA), the new ones will have to struggle to take their first steps in the ensnaring shadow of the presidential delegates. It is Lacayo's answer both to Alemán's pretensions and to autonomy. Two bothersome birds with one stone.
This new method of keeping control over the coast is more sophisticated than INDERA was in 1990, because it is in line with the Autonomy Statute. When President Chamorro publicly announced the creation of INDERA in her inaugural speech, she did so without having consulted, or even advised, the new autonomous governments, thus violating both the letter and spirit of that law. But the law itself recognizes the President's right to name a delegate in each region.
During the debate over the autonomy bill in the Multiethnic Assembly in Puerto Cabezas in April 1987, Autonomy Commission president Tomás Borge had recalled this presidential prerogative. A heated discussion ensued about the pros and cons of insisting that the President automatically accept the regional coordinators as his/her delegates in the autonomous regions. In the end, all agreed to simply leave it in the President's hands, and note in the statute that the two posts "are compatible." Any other solution would have meant changing the Constitution. The issue was forgotten after the 1990 elections and the creation of INDERA as the central government's body in the autonomous regions. The fight against INDERA and its minister Brooklyn Rivera has been virtually the only point of unity among all forces of both regions in these four years, followed more recently by the struggle to get the autonomy by laws passed.
Who Won?In the end, despite appeals to the coast's higher good, backroom deals and rumored bribes, the population of both the RAAS and the RAAN went to bed the night of May 3 without knowing who would be sworn into the various posts of their new government the following day. But the lobbying went on until late in the night, as each side tried to pin down wavering councilors. Brooklyn Rivera later claimed that, in the RAAN, the PLC put its councilors under lock and key 48 hours before the inauguration.
The next morning, Mariano Fiallos Oyanguren, president of the Supreme Electoral Council (CSE), opened the nominations for board president in the ceremony in Puerto Cabezas. The FSLN candidate, Alta Hooker, won with 19 of her party's 20 votes, 6 of YATAMA's 8 plus that of Modesto Rener, a YATAMA member who had won on the PLC slate. (The other YATAMA councilors abstained and the Sandinista voted for Jaime Chow, the PLC's candidate, after all caved in to the PLC's financial offers.) Rener was then elected first vice president by the same 29 19 vote, leading the PLC bench to walk out of the ceremony with Arnoldo Alemán in the lead. Rener, however, took his seat at the presiding table, beside his new colleagues: three from YATAMA and three from the FSLN. For reasons internal to YATAMA, Marcos Hoppington Scott Brooklyn Rivera's second in command during the war and a man with a reputation for being more serious than Alfonso Smith was elected governor unopposed. Fagoth had been so sure he would be elected that he had brought all his relatives living in the States to witness it.
Both the FSLN and YATAMA had publicly pledged to work for a non exclusionary government, but found the PLC closed to what it slurringly calls a "co government." The PLC takes great pride in claiming that it negotiated no positions with anyone, as if wanting to monopolize them all and even without having the majority were a virtue. As in the RAAS, it wanted all or nothing, but in the RAAN, as Brooklyn Rivera noted at the end of the voting, "it ended up with nothing."
In the afternoon, the pattern was repeated in the RAAS, but in reverse. First the FSLN, claiming threats against the councilors, moved to elect the posts by secret vote. Rosa Marina Zelaya, CSE general secretary, counted 24 hands in favor of the PLC's argument for a "public and democratic vote." The die was cast. Both ADECO councilors had joined the PLC UNO alliance while one UNO councilor (the PSD member) abstained. De la Rocha won the board presidency with the same 24 votes to 22 for René Anderson Dixon, YATAMA councilor in Pearl Lagoon. Then Eric Alvarez Ramírez (UNO) got first vice president, at which point the FSLN MAAC YATAMA electoral bloc stopped proposing candidates or voting. Abelardo McRea John (PLC), second vice president; Laurence Agota Omier (PLC), a Creole, first secretary; Felix Sinclair (ADECO), a Garífona, second secretary...
All was going well for this rightwing alliance when it suddenly lost its grip. According to the Autonomy Statute, the board must include at least one member of each ethnic group that lives in the respective region. Neither a Miskito nor a Sumu had yet been elected, and they were down to the last two posts the lowest ones, of course. But the PLC UNO ADECO bloc had none to nominate because all three groups had lost in the districts where the majority of these peoples live. They nominated Leoncio Knight Julián, YATAMA's Sumu councilor from the mouth of the Río Grande as the first member at large. He declined. Pause. Eddy Bendlis, Miskito YATAMA councilor in El Bluff. He declined too. Another pause, longer. Clearly desperate, they nominated María Cruz Quintero, PLC councilor for La Cruz. No pause this time. A Miskito FSLN councilor leaped angrily to his feet and threw a question at her in Miskito, which she could not understand, much less answer.
The sideshow that followed revealed one of the many weaknesses of the unregulated autonomy statute. The candidate tried to defend herself, claiming that she "could be" of Miskito descendence because her mother was born in Puerto Cabezas. While the FSLN protested in a noisy chorus, Fiallos consulted with the other CSE members and Supreme Court magistrates present. He had little choice but to fall back on article 12. chapter III, of the Autonomy Statute, which states that "the members of the Communities of the Atlantic Coast have the right to define and decide their own ethnic identity" (even if only for the moment). The shelved by law proposal corrects this opportunity to mock ethnic identity, a loophole virtually every group but the FSLN has used in both elections.
Even the PLC didn't dare do it twice. When Fiallos asked for nominations for the other member at large, no hand went up. One Sandinista councilor leaned over to another and asked in a stage whisper, "What's the matter? Can't they fabricate a Sumu?" The post remained unfilled and the new board of only six members took charge of the table, an anomaly that the Sandinista bench head promised to challenge before the CSE. With that, the FSLN MAAC YATAMA councilors irately filed out of the hall, leaving Brother Ray to be elected governor by the unanimous vote of those still present. Brooklyn Rivera, who had come from the session in Puerto Cabezas, left as well. "We will struggle to the end to rectify this injustice," he told journalists, visibly shaken by this insult to his people's identity.
When the remaining councilors left the building later with Arnoldo Alemán and Alfredo César in the lead, some 600 Bluefields residents were silently lining the park wall across the street, none of them sporting any of the caps or t shirts the PLC had given out during the campaign. The applause was lukewarm, and only a hundred or so joined the PLC's triumphant march through the city streets.
Where Now?Immediately after the debacle, the FSLN in the RAAS had to turn its energies to its local party congress, set for May 7 8. Although it had decided to postpone discussion of its strategy for the next few years until seeing the results of its efforts to create a consensus government, one militant said he was sure they would give the new government a chance. "We will support any action that benefits the region," he said. Another added that "we can fight for autonomy in or out of government."
This wait and see position is not shared by those who lost in the RAAN. Stedman Fagoth and the PLC leaders acted more like the losers of a Nicaraguan beauty contest. Rather than try to calm the political and ethnic rancor, they are inciting it. In a press conference, Arnoldo Alemán said with obvious glee that the Council of Elders in the RAAN was getting ready to tour all the indigenous communities to spread the word "about YATAMA's betrayal by allying with the Sandinistas," adding that the PLC councilors would maintain a position of "critical" opposition (read: "unconstructive"). He also expressed his intention to distribute the "development aid" he has lined up through his own councilors, leaving it between the lines that they would skirt the new Regional Council.
Even with the good political will that seems to exist within the new government in the RAAN, and the desired but unlikely will in the RAAS, the autonomous governments will find their hands tied if no by laws to the Autonomy Statute are signed. And many Sandinistas in the RAAS doubt that they will be during the remainder of President Chamorro's term in office. "She can't sign them," reasoned Johnny Hodgson, one of the main drafters of the joint regional government proposal, "because they remove the central government's right to continue handing out fishing licenses and other concessions to her relatives and foreign friends. Besides, there are international pressures. ESAF [the recently signed accord with the International Monetary Fund] says that the mines, fishing and forestry operations must be privatized, which is antithetical to the by laws, so she can't sign both."
That pessimistic analysis, however, does not take away the coast's energy to keep fighting. With support from FADCANIC, a regional NGO, and accompaniment by the Nicaraguan Human Rights Center (CENIDH) and the Human Rights Commission of Honduras (CODEH), a Commission of Human, Citizen's and Autonomous Rights (CEDEHCA) was founded in the two regions last month. Its main focus will be to defend autonomy in general and the regulation of the statute in particular.
In the final analysis, if the central government does not allow autonomy to be the solution, the coast people may stop believing in it. But they will not stop believing that there is a solution. They could even seek a more radical one. For the first time in decades, one now hears open talk about the need for a separatist struggle. For the moment, they are just spontaneous words of rage, of frustration, unpreceded by any reflection about the consequences. But many civic leaders from the churches, from parties, from NGOs think that this uncultivated seed could grow a tap root nourished from the depths of costeño culture.
A DETAILED LOOK AT THE ELECTORAL RESULTS
We mentioned the big winners and losers in the April issue of envío, but it is worth analyzing in more detail the notable changes in the vote between 1990 and 1994 in some electoral districts.
In this region, YATAMA lost 15 of the 22 seats it had won in 1990. In that year, for example, it lost only one of the nine seats in the three Río Coco districts to the FSLN. In 1994, on the other hand, the FSLN won 2 and the PLC 76, leaving YATAMA
with just 1. This was not too surprising, since the PLC had gotten over Stedman Fagoth, charismatic leader of one YATAMA faction and Río Coco native, as its lead candidate. The surprise was Puerto Cabezas, which also has a mainly Miskito population. In 1990, YATAMA won 6 seats and the FSLN 3. This time, the FSLN got 5, the PLC 1 and YATAMA 3.
Despite the FSLN's modest gain in the ethnic vote, this did not translate into a net advance at the regional level, since it lost 6 of the 15 seats it won in 1990 in Siuna, Bonanza and Rosita. Apart from the danger Sandinista candidates ran campaigning in these mining zones due to the presence of recontras, the electorate's ideological balance had also changed with the return of anti Sandinista refugees and former Resistance members.
(In this sense, another loser was the Nicaraguan Resistance Party, which got less than 7% of the regional vote even in the mining region itself and thus no seats or national projection.)
According to costeño Sandinistas, they also have serious internal problems in the mines a lack of leadership; the party divisions, which affect this largely mestizo zone more than others in the coast; and the fact that the candidates chosen there were not the ones the people wanted, and did not campaign. The strong campaign in 1990 was directed by leaders from the Pacific, who returned home after the national defeat, leaving the party in the RAAN without skilled local people.
In this region, UNO was the big loser. The majority of its seats passed to the PLC, and it also lost 1 to ADECO, 1 to the MAAC, 1 to YATAMA and 2 to the FSLN (both in Bluefields)
Similar to the RAAN, this FSLN advance in Bluefields was more than outweighed by the absolute loss of two districts that it had won overwhelmingly in 1990 La Cruz and Tortuguero. The explanation is not the same as in the mines, in that it did not lose areas where it historically had a social base, but rather ones it had dominated militarily in 1990. But there are similarities. RAAS political seretary William Schwartz says the FSLN no longer has many professional politicians. The cadres in these two outlying zones are local people without much experience, and the party does not have the resources necessary to support them (it takes three barrels of diesel to get there and back from Bluefields). Even more important was the presence of armed groups, which let the PLC enter but made Sandinista campaigning impossible in the rural areas outside of town where many peasants have resettled. The danger is so great that even
PRORAAS, a multi million dollar municipal program of the United Nations Development Program in Tortuguero had to pull out its personnel in July of last year. There are neither police nor army in these zones; the only state presence is the Ministry of Health.
LIMITATIONS OF THE ELECTORAL PROCESS IN THE COAST
Given that these were the first coast elections independent of a national one, some problems showed up in the Electoral Law and in the functioning of the Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) that either did not exist or were overshadowed in 1990. They merit mention to create awareness about their possible solutions, even though observers praised the elections as clean and well organized by the CSE and their Regional Electoral Councils (CRE) despite the multiple difficulties on the coast. Even the report of the US National Republican Institute, which sent observers, was very positive.
The problems were enumerated by CRE presidents Cyril Omier in the RAAS and Ronaldo Siu in the RAAN, and are complemented by the opinions that Rosa Marina Zelaya, CSE general secretary, and Cyril Omier offered to envío to resolve them.
Discrimination against local organizations. Zelaya acknowledges this problem detailed in the text, and suggests reforming the Electoral Law so that any organization participating in two consecutive elections would receive equal treatment according to the financial formula.
Non representative Ethnic Districts. According to the Electoral law, one of the 15 electoral districts in each region is designated to each ethnic group living in that region; the candidate heading each slate in these districts must belong to the respective group so that at least one gets onto the Regional Council. When the districts were drawn up in 1988, an effort was made to encompass all communities of the smallest groups within their own districts so as not to divide their vote.
Since the return of the refugees, however, the Rama district in the RAAS and the Sumu district in both regions have considerable mestizo populations. This has created two opposing problems. In the Sumu zone in the RAAN, two Sumus were elected, so the mestizos living there do not feel represented. In the Rama zone, the mestizo vote was greater than the Rama one, so the Ramas themselves do not feel represented. The solution suggested by Cyril Omier is to redraw these districts to make them more ethnically homogeneous.
Ethnic Identification. To avoid candidates skirting the spirit of the law as illustrated in the text, the CRE presidents recommended to the CSE that the identity cards now being prepared, which will be used as voter registration cards for future elections, include the person's ethnic identity. Agreeing that each individual should have the right to ethnic self identification, they argue that it should be once and for all.
The CSE rejected their proposal as discriminatory, but the CRE presidents and many others say this perception is outdated. Before the 1980s, many people changed their ethnic identity like clothing according to the political climate of the period, but most are now openly proud of their identity.
Civic Education. There was a lot of confusion among the electorate, mainly due to the abundance of organizations on the ballots. In addition, many party overseers at the ballot tables
could not even name the party they represented. (The CSE pays their expenses, and some parties did favors for economically needy needy friends without paying much attention to their qualifica tions.) Some think the CSE should have made more effort to educate people and assure the resources necessary to get printed materials to the outlying areas.
The CSE trained its own personnel in snowball fashion, all the way to each polling place, and the party officials responsible for their overseers only at the regional level, leaving it to them to train their own people. It also prepared civic materials in the coast's four written languages, but acknowledges limited distribution to distant areas because these elections received less international financing than the general ones in 1990.
Cyril Omier says that even the comic book style literature was no help for those who cannot read, so volunteers were sent by helicopter and boat to explain the procedures to people house by house in some areas, but costs prevented this from being done throughout the region. In the end, all three electoral officials agree that what is not taught from primary school on up cannot be corrected in a short electoral period.
CSE Emphasis on national media. The civic education spots in the media were impressive at a national level, but some complain that it was at the cost of attention at the local level and represent a failure to understand conditions on the coast, where the few transmitters do not receive national signals well and do not themselves cover the whole coast. In Bluefields, furthermore, electricity is rationed each night by sector. As Johnny Hodgson explains, "To listen to the radio, you need light in three key places: where the radio station is, where its transmitter is, and in your own house. This doesn't happen very often."
The CSE made the national effort to raise consciousness about the elections and to encourage costeños living temporarily in the Pacific to go home and vote. It chose three national stations (La Primerísima, la Voz de Nicaragua and Radio Corporación), both for their different points on the political spectrum and because
their signal can be heard on the coast. They also used the few local stations, plus multilingual posters, and the house to house visits where economically feasible.
Results announced only in Managua. Each voting station sent its results to the TELCOR offices in Bluefields and Puerto Cabezas, which immediately telegrammed them to the CSE in Managua. There
they were officially announced to the congregated journalists. But Cyril Omier says that TELCOR let the CRE copies accumulate instead of sending them on so they could be announced locally at the same time. Costeños became very irritated by being unable to hear the radio broadcasts from Managua and having no access to the results in their own region. Zelaya says the CSE was unaware of the problem, but can resolve it in the future by faxing the results to the respective CRE the minute it receives them from TELCOR.
She agreed that the CSE should try to resolve these problems, but said that the limitation was money, not imagination or willingness. After a thoughtful pause, she added, "We should also learn how to lose, not only to win," recalling that even in Nicaragua's beauty contests, those who supported losers accuse the winner of fraud instead of accepting their loss gracefully.
COSTEÑO SANDINISTAS AND THE FSLN CONGRESS
If the elections on the coast took a back seat in the minds of Sandinistas from the Pacific due to their preoccupation with the
upcoming Extraordinary Congress, the opposite happened in the coast. Sandinistas in Bluefields postponed their local congress to May 7 so their attention would not be divided.
Asked about the various points of contention within their party, Sandinistas in the RAAS offered diverse opinions, but all say they will accept the line that wins the majority in the Congress. As William Schwartz said, "We could line up behind either current, because they have many points in common." Unity is the most important thing to them a position shared with many other regions outside of the Capital. They are very concerned about how much the national debate has become personalized.
Asked if the points at issue are the same in the Pacific and the coast, the answer was yes and no. There are few strong opinions
about the national/electoral strategy debate, but a lot of interest in renovating the party democratizing it, allowing more participation by women and the new generation of youth and ending the situation by which the "sacred cows put out the line." But their concept of democratization goes further. Delegates of both the RAAS and the RAAN will fight for an "autonomous" party in the coast. Those in the RAAS say that they already make their own decisions, which are generally respected in Managua, but they want to formalize this autonomy, and manage their own budget. They also want their own economic base, since they have learned firsthand, through the larger autonomy struggle in the coast, that this is the only way to make their autonomy real.
Schwartz stressed the importance of autonomy eloquently when he said that "we will regret it if a costeño isn't elected to the new leadership, but will resent it if our autonomy isn't
approved." They are proud that several other regions have nominated costeños to their suggested lists for the new national leadership. Schwartz does not want to see a sectoralized new leadership body, and says that both Ray Hooker and Lumberto Campbell could represent a coast perspective without losing sight of national interests.
The fact that Hooker represents the Sergio Ramírez current and Campbell the Daniel Ortega current is "a bit of a dilemma for us," says Schwartz with a grin. "But either one would be acceptable. Both are highly respected here." Angélica Brown, one of three councilwomen on the Sandinista bench, agrees. She says that, in the local congress, they will tell both costeño leaders that they do not want divisions.
According to Brown, some central points in the congress documents such as property and the FSLN posture toward the United States do not have the same importance on the coast. She explained that most of the important confiscated properties have already been returned. Nor is the piñata issue important because, as Ray Hooker confirmed, the regional government was handed over intact after the elections, with the funds in the bank and all in order.
One important issue echoed on the coast is women's participation. The RAAN congress decided to request that 50% of the national and departmental leaders to be elected be women. (The FSLN in the RAAN is noted for its number of strong female FSLN leaders). Brown says that the documents of the group known as "self convoked women" will be discussed and enriched in the local congress. She feels that they are too vague, that it is not enough just to say that women should have more participation. The rights to be defended should be prioritized, such as economic rights, among them the right to credits and to own their own land, and above all rights for single mothers.
Brown says that 40% of the party membership in the RAAS is female, but that they only participate in the lower levels. All
seven members of the regional committee are men, and the women want a percentage to be women, as they do the delegates to the Congress. There are now five men and two women, and the FSLN has told both the RAAS and the RAAN that they can send two more, without vote. The women want one to be a woman.
Brown says that another national issue of major importance on the coast is privatization. Two years ago, two big fishing companies in the RAAS plus the shipyard in El Bluff were leased to foreign and national investors for three years under an accord with CORNAP in which 50% of the rent would go to the regional government. Johnny Hodgson, a member of the fishing board formed at that time, says new negotiations are underway because these investors want to extend their contracts for eight to ten years more.
One sticking point in these talks, says Hodgson, is that the autonomous government only began receiving its 50% at the start
of this year. (Alvin Taylor, administrator of the outgoing government, explains that for the first two years the payment was sent directly to the Central Bank to pay off a $800,000 loan used to provide severance pay to the workers who were all laid off and cancel the companies' outstanding debts. Hodgson considers this a central government problem, not a regional government one.)
But there is an even bigger stumbling block in the negotiations: one condition of the ESAF agreement is that these companies and others in the region based on national resources be completely privatized. Everyone agrees that ESAF, signed without consulting the supposedly autonomous governments, will have a profound effect on the coast.