Elites in Search of a National Project?
The governing class of Nicaragua is showing itself to be incapable of lucidity, efficiency, generosity or austerity. These elites are today the country’s principal problem.
These times we're living in are very strange. With more opportunities opening up for Nicaragua than in previous years, the country's leaders, politicians, heads of labor and business associations in other words all those usually grouped under the term "elite" have never shown less interest in taking the bull by the horns.
The "bulls" of poverty, institutional inefficiency, corruption, insufficient human capital and ecological deterioration all the things that economists call "structural hobbles on development" are in the arena, snorting and pawing the ground, but no one is in there with them, red cape and dagger in hand.
Opportunities of 1994The war that had been devastating the country since 1983 came to an end in 1990, and the following year stabilization measures brought the macro-economy under control. But throughout 1992 3 domestic political tensions, aggravated by the US pressures and aid blackmail, set back the beginnings of Nicaragua's economic recovery and its difficult social stabilization process.
Now, in 1994, the international financial institutions have approved structural loans for the next three years and the Clinton administration is engaged in a new "hands off" policy. The way is thus cleared for new and better relations with the international community, on which Nicaragua depends so heavily to a rise from its post war prostration.
The loans themselves are clearly not the key that will open the door to development, and the commitments taken on to obtain them do not guarantee the authentic adjustment that Nicaragua needs. But these commitments are at least a sign to the donor countries and international community in general that Nicaragua is willing to make efforts to correct its huge macroeconomic imbalances.
This year thus is or could be one of great opportunities. Many of the necessary elements are in place to launch an ambitious national emergency and reconstruction plan, draw up an overall strategy to deal with the foreign debt problem and mobilize the country's forces to reduce poverty and address all the serious social problems.
So What Are the Elites Doing?How are the elites using this opportunity to legitimize their economic, political and cultural leadership? The answer is, hardly at all. While the country's hinterland is racked by a crime wave that the police budget is too small to grapple with, the wealthy in Managua ride in luxurious bullet proof vehicles and hire one of the many new private protection companies to safeguard their possessions. "Some politicians in this country think that Nicaragua ends in Sébaco," said Estelí's Bishop Abelardo Mata, with critical precision.
Meanwhile, the people are offered neither bread nor circus, as illustrated by the 32nd World Amateur Baseball Championship, held in Nicaragua this year, during the first half of August. The contrast between the packed high ticket boxes and the empty bleachers in the beating sun whose under $2 price tag was too much for few poor fans was shameful. And, given the continuing four hour energy cuts, few could even follow the games on TV or radio.
The only thing the elites are doing about the social polarization is helping it grow. Personally untouched by the country's real problems, many of them prefer to attend to their own businesses and political affairs, thus indirectly contributing to the instability that has the whole nation blocked. Or, worse yet, they are doing something, but with the me first mentality that has been permeating all layers of society the past few years. They are treating Nicaragua like an old fashioned corner market about to go out of business, grabbing up for themselves all the mark downs still on the shelves. These elites seem to be backing the neoliberal economists' creed better to have less state than a costly and efficient one mainly so they can get a piece of what is being sloughed off for their own personal gain. They are using the mechanisms of their political and cultural leadership not to propose solutions to the nation's mounting problems, but only to consolidate their own political careers and even increase their personal wealth.
The Electoral Race Only for the Trophy?At the very moment in which the nation needs so urgently to deal with the challenges of the future, the political class is going into the electoral contest (still over two years off) just like the teams went into the soccer playoffs. They act as if is about winning a trophy, not assuming a responsibility to the nation. Do they really see the exercise of political power only as a means for personal and family gain? But who would want to lead a country with no other perspective than chaos?
No party can win the elections with only the votes of its closest followers who also hope to get richer off of politics but party "leaders" are offering nothing to promote progress for the majorities whose vote they need. Instead, they are trying to cultivate personal aspirations around themselves, seducing the majorities with images, glittering promises and handouts in the hope of assuring their loyalty.
The race for the presidency in the "official country" has already begun to occupy center stage and grab media attention. Meanwhile, the real country is fighting for its life, submerged in the huge problems of the drought, crime, corruption and the rapacious monopolies.
Each of these four problems puts in high relief not only the government's inefficiency and the inadequacies of the civil organizations, but also the apparent inability of bilateral donors and the multilateral agencies to learn from their own past errors. For the last 15 years, these "aid" agencies have been promoting structural adjustment policies that fail again and again, always for the same reason: adjustment philosophy assumes that, even before accomplishing the transformations, the economic actors will behave as these agencies would like them to do.
Deadly MedicineStructural adjustment policies are not designed as a process of transition from one economy to another. Economic science today is not capable of thinking through the transitions, so it inevitably falls into an idealism that has no relation to reality. The essential question is not whether the economic structure must be changed to improve it reducing its imbalances, increasing its effectiveness, etc. This must be done. The problem is how.
It is urgent to put this problem on the table, and develop alternative proposals. In the few systematic studies of the issue, the obvious jumps out. Everyone confirms that the crisis of societies in the process of "structural adjustment" has extremely drastic consequences for their social fabric, tightening the very structural hobbles the adjustment aims to shed. Yet this adjustment "medicine" continues to be applied with few modifications in each and every country, and it is making the illness worse everywhere it is administered. In Africa, it is virtually killing the patient.
And what are the symptoms? Income concentration is increasing; financial and speculative activities dominate over production; the strength of pressure groups over ever weaker states is growing; and national priorities are subordinated to the logic of the economic war between the giant countries or the transnationals. The economy increasingly functions for the exclusive benefit of a hoarding "vampire," the only sector that comes out ahead with the structural adjustment. Not the theoretical adjustment but the one actually affecting people on the ground.
An Institutional DivorceIf the market were perfect, all rational individuals would go out and plant coffee, now that international prices are up. But real life lacks the "magic" of the market in the manuals. Many individuals have neither the financial capital nor the land to plant coffee. They are not irrational. The irrational ones are the neoliberals who glibly insist the market is perfect. Unless this is the expression of a clear desire to deceive, one must assume that politicians not only sell images, but end up believing their own myths about their dramatic economic policy.
Those in Nicaragua can believe them because of a serious institutional problem. The autocratic presidentialist legacy of all previous regimes, and its roots in the tradition of nepotism, has consolidated an institutional separation between politicians and technical experts.
The technocrats have the power to deceive the politicians by providing the images they want to see and the flattering figures they need to hear. What these technical experts cannot do is open the eyes and ears of the politicians, who are easily protected from what they do not want to see or hear. All the politicians have to do is stay within the confines of their mansions or offices, and the meetings where they always repeat the same thing to each other.
This institutional divorce within the country's leadership class prevents it from basing itself in a lucid, efficient and generous technostructure. The absence of democratic checks and balances between the legislative and the executive branches is another of many by products of this problem.
To reduce it would require limiting the executive's discretionary ability to transfer funds from one budget line to another. It would also require allowing open debates about the need to reduce military spending lines and use the savings to strengthen urban and rural security. There would have to be disclosure about the processes by which public bids are adjudicated and private interests blessed with one public investment or another.
All this presupposes politicians and technicians listening seriously to each other, which in turn presupposes a huge revolution in the institutions and mentalities of a country battered by centuries of oligarchic nepotism.
The Kings of the JungleOpening up markets, making the economy more "flexible," and ceasing to intervene all bring "social costs" in order to achieve hypothetical future benefits. Such costs are normal; the main problem is how to share them. But there is a far bigger problem: all these changes, with their expected costs, have never produced successful results in any country where they have been implemented. They even have a perverse effect: they weaken the mechanisms as ineffective as they may be by which society regulates itself, without replacing them with others. This provokes forms of social decomposition that are closer to the law of the jungle than to the fundamental social contract that should underlie any human society.
The "kings of the jungle" those groups of individuals who are most advantageously positioned, most powerful and most endowed with economic, political and cultural capital when the adjustment is initiated know very well how to take advantage of this situation. This may be natural, but it is also inhuman.
Insulting OptimismThis attitude is essentially why the adjustment fails and feeds the concerns of some nongovernmental organizations. The success of the economic reforms requires a political leadership able to forge broad social consensus and maintain it beyond the next elections, in which the myopic goal is only to get elected or reelected without thinking much about how to use that power or for what.
Nicaragua is no exception to this drama faced by today's world, particularly by the nations of the periphery. While the real country sinks deeper into its problems the most scandalous manifestation of which is truly massive unemployment and the increased impoverishment of the already poor masses the government lapses into ostentatious optimism day after day.
One would have to be blind to the country's social and economic reality to squander so much optimism in the midst of so much hunger. By the same token, one has to be totally ignorant of the agricultural reality to declare as Minister of Agriculture Roberto Rondón did that, because of the continuing drought, "the agricultural sector will only grow 16% and not 20%." This misplaced optimism turned into gross cynicism when he added that the basic grains losses in some regions "are compensated for" by the success of other crops in other regions.
Compensation for the DroughtThe drought's macroeconomic impact is indeed not very big in aggregate terms. According to official information, 42.2% of the expected yield of the first sowing of beans and 33.5% of the first corn crop were lost in 60 municipalities, mainly in the already dry areas of the northeast. This will mean only about 1% less growth in the Gross Domestic Product, assuming it begins to rain soon and the second planting of the agricultural cycle goes well.
Adding the even more important effects of the electricity cuts, it is reasonable to expect that even the timid 2.5% growth programmed for this year will not be reached. The upswing in international coffee prices and the rising tendency in the price of raw materials expected from now to the end of the century are good news, but their impact will not begin to be felt until 1995.
In any case, the loss of the first planting by poor peasant families whose food and income depend on their own grain crops cannot be expected to feel "compensated" by the higher prices for export products, no matter what macroeconomic effects these prices have. Those who will be hungrier, who may even see their ability to go on being producers affected, are hardly pleased to learn that the price of coffee will benefit others more fortunate than they.
The government has a responsibility to implement adequate mechanisms to make this "compensation" it raves about effective by transferring resources to the sectors affected by the drought. It should do so not just to hush the little capacity these sectors have to pressure, but because this situation jeopardizes the country as a whole. As the forgotten ones of history that they are, the affected sectors will stay, with or without a harvest or compensation of any kind.
So far, the government has only offered half of the 45,000 affected families (300,000 people) a rotating assistance program in the form of "work for food." In exchange for 15 days of backbreaking labor opening new roads with a pick and shovel, each head of a 6 member family will receive two pounds each of rice and corn, one of beans, half a liter of cooking oil and four ounces of sugar. The government also requested $10 million from the international community for emergency agricultural projects in the affected zones.
Independent of the drought, agriculture faces a more essential problem: no program of action for the whole sector has been drawn up to respond to its possibilities and to the macroeconomic objectives. There is no plan to progressively reduce the limits to growth, none that also constitutes a regulatory framework approved by the whole private sector and which could only be effective with such a consensus.
To announce an idealistic plan such as "we will plant 50,000 manzanas of sesame the first year" or "we will grow 20%" flies in the face of practical logic, not to mention reality. It doesn't even fit the neoliberal discourse, in which the state "does not intervene." Is it pure demagoguery, even electoral demagoguery? Of course it is. But it is even worse than that. When the government does intervene concretely, it only responds to created and very particular interests. A good example of this is the support it is giving to the shrimp farms in the northwest estuaries; for them there is no scrimping of state resources for roads, bridges and the like.
Unpunished ScandalA still more obvious example of the fine line between the government and certain economic groups came to light in July, when a private distribution company got hold of an important Japanese fertilizer donation. The act was scandalous, but the person responsible the minister of agriculture was not sanctioned despite the hue and cry from the National Union of Farmers and Ranchers (UNAG), the largest organization of agricultural producers. In Nicaragua, being the majority obviously isn't enough.
The operation was even more serious than a shameless problem of corruption. Those who came out ahead in it partners in ANIFODA, an association of agrochemical formulators and distributors kept the donated fertilizer off the market so their own sales price would not drop. We are talking here about a clear monopoly practice.
All monopolies are damaging to an economy, particularly when the aim is for the market to regulate economic activity. But the agrochemical distributors' monopoly is one of the most dangerous to Nicaragua's economic health, since the country's production and exports fundamentally depend on this sector.
And what is the government doing to assume its role in a social market economy beyond trying to increase our exports' competitiveness with foreign exchange measures which have so far been futile? The answer is, nothing. Is it clipping the monopolies' wings? Not a bit. In fact, by favoring the monopolies with flagrant mechanisms of privilege and corruption, it is clearing their flight path.
Five Year Planning?For some months the executive has been talking about "five year planning." If planning is understood as consensus building and not the top down execution of a plan, this effort would be commendable. But draft programs with voluntaristic goals keep emerging, with no sign of any effort to involve the professional associations, unions and other leading organizations in jointly drawing up the goals of this five year plan or the means to achieve them. Lacking this, the government's efforts are doomed to bureaucratic sterility.
Some essential conditions for good planning at this juncture for the nation appear to be going unobserved:
* Everything is being wagered on private investment, but without creating the conditions to attract it. One such condition would be to demonstrate to the workers that it is in their own interest to cooperate. Without this, they are being asked for a gratuitous act of faith.
* There is no clear recognition of the importance of the foreign debt issue and the opportunity Nicaragua has right now to propose an overall strategy to shed some of this ballast. This lack of clarity impedes making use of the opportunity to mobilize civil society and reduces much of the sense of any medium term growth plan. The debt issue should be a point of departure, especially given its direct relationship to private investment.
* There is also no clear definition of the costs and benefits of regional integration or of Central America's eventual entry into the North American Free Trade Agreement, despite the impact both will have on the profitability of the nation's activities and on the economic policy instruments that are applied in the future.
* There is no glimpse of the inter institutional cooperation mechanisms needed within the government itself to make planning function effectively in a market economy.
Fiddling 'Mid the FlamesPlanning that links sectoral dynamics and limitations to macroeconomic goals is indispensable in Nicaragua. It would be a powerful instrument to compensate for the de structuring effects of an adjustment implemented by a government that is comfortably following the neoliberal recipe to the letter. The ingredients of this recipe market opening, flexibility, etc. must be accompanied by a management mechanism centered in the state to make the transition politically and economically viable.
The problems are extremely complex. There are macroeconomic and microeconomic ones, structural and transitory ones, those of the nation and those of the majority of its citizens. But the political elites, in clear violation of the mandate conferred on them by representative democracy, are working not for the people who already elected them but to produce the images they think the people who will reelect them need.
While the drought wreaks havoc on the poor growers, while rural crime paralyzes economic activity, while the donor countries critically watch what is happening in Nicaragua and contemplate revising their cooperation policy, the political class has become obsessed with the electoral game. As Rome burns, they fiddle.
With this premature kick off of the electoral race, three political blocs can already be distinguished among the over two dozen political parties officially registered in Nicaragua. It is time to begin looking behind the images that each of the three is trying to feed the electorate. Since none of the blocs has yet put forward a program, the only way to get behind the images is by picking through them and examining the pieces.
The "New" LiberalsAn Independent Liberal Party (PLI) proposal made in early July to reunite Nicaragua's five Liberal factions was accepted with some modifications by Arnoldo Alemán's Constitutionalist Liberal Party (PLC), the most organized of the Liberal groupings. Alemán announced that the PLI, PLC, Authentic Liberal Party (PALI), Liberal Party for National Unity (PLIUN), and the National Liberal Party (PLN) of the Somocista exiles in Miami would forge themselves back into a single party to run in the 1996 elections. He called on the PLN activists to return to Nicaragua to participate in political activity.
The Liberals' social roots, a legacy of the historic two party political structure, go deep and are fertilized with political patronage. Reuniting the Liberal parties would strengthen these roots, since, among its various party expressions, this political force has intellectual cadres, grassroots leaders and a solid and geographically well organized party structure.
A proposed electoral law reform to allow Nicaraguan citizens living abroad to cast absentee ballots would, if passed, increase the vote by about 100,000. It is estimated that a large number of those exiles sympathize with Alemán, a front-running Liberal pre candidate.
Like the other blocs, the Liberals do not yet have a program. The marrow of their proposal to the nation is radical opposition to Sandinismo, wedded, at least rhetorically, to economic populism. "Ten manzanas [17 acres] of land for each Nicaraguan family" was the economic democratization proposal put forward by Liberal stalwart and new newspaper owner Haroldo Montealegre in his speech commemorating the 101st anniversary of President José Santos Zelaya's liberal revolution.
Since the unification of the Liberals is still in the talking stage and none of the parties have put forward a clear strategy for dealing with the nation's problems beyond what is implicit in their statues, it is too early to comment on this bloc's potential. The one political advantage it already has over the other two blocs the Sandinistas and Antonio Lacayo's ephemeral "center" is that it can bill itself as "the good still to be known" in contrast to the other two "known evils."
The Sandinistas are burdened with the still recent specter of war and all the errors of their recent administration, while Lacayo is saddled with the sad privilege of being responsible for the adjustment with an inhuman face that the country is currently suffering. Admittedly, the degree to which the united Liberals' image of untested "newness" remains an advantage will depend, first, on the success of the counteracting images by the other two blocs; second, on how many economic rabbits Lacayo can pull out of his governmental hat in the next two years; and, third, on whether or not the electorate's historic memory is as short in Nicaragua as in the United States. Somoza was, after all, a Liberal too.
Lacayo's "Center"History abounds in examples of the limited strength of political ideas in a world in which a political career is seen above all as a way to acquire or buttress family capital. UNO's brief time on earth is a good example on this long list. In that strange electoral alliance put together in 1990, with its wide spectrum of political ideas united by the single objective of unseating the Sandinistas, the "center could not hold" and the alliance fell apart. But its legacy remains: a bunch of small, unrepresentative political parties got far more seats in the National Assembly than they merited.
The post electoral reality led some parties in UNO to redefine themselves as "centrists," understood as equidistant from the Sandinistas and their radically anti Sandinista former alliance mates. This group is far from being the flagbearer of a centrist, social democratic type of program; in fact it has no clear program of any stripe. For Antonio Lacayo, born into the Conservative oligarchic clan, this "center," despite all its weaknesses, represents his only political underpinnings and offers the moderate image he needs for his electoral campaign. It remains to be seen, however, if this polarized country is ready to embrace moderation.
Lacayo is basing his campaign on yet another iffy assumption: that his government can successfully do "more of the same," making some gains in the economic sphere (due to signing the IMF's Enhanced Structural Adjustment Facility) without reaching an irreversible breaking point in the social one (which, if reached, will also be due largely to ESAF). Lacayo is forging ahead, secure that he and this "center" will win the elections, even though he currently heads an executive branch known for very unequal levels of ability and probity which he either cannot or has not wanted to clean up by appointing new people for the most sensitive portfolios.
As is to be expected, he is making the most of any positive image available to him as a top official in the incumbent government: the upturn in coffee prices (even though its benefits will have a very unequal impact on society), the US State Department's decision to waive the González Helms amendment in Nicaragua's case, the World Amateur Baseball games in Nicaragua, and any "work of progress" built in nearby or remote parts of the country.
SandinismoThe 60,000 people most of them young who crowded into Managua's Plaza of the Revolution to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the revolutionary triumph demonstrated that the FSLN leadership still has the power to convoke and mobilize people. Even though full plazas are no guarantee of full ballot boxes, this political and symbolic fact must be taken into account.
In his speech, Daniel Ortega evoked three errors made by the FSLN while in government: it lost touch with the people, it tried to control the markets and thus sparked a negative response among producers, and it made unjust confiscations. While a full interpretation of what took place between the government and society in the 1980s is still pending, the only interpretations being made of that history by one side or another for now are just political weapons in the electoral contest. Each side pulls from the footlocker of history what it deems useful either as a model or as something to be discarded. The truth has little place in this game. For all that, the FSLN's admission of these three past errors reveals much about its real strategy today.
If communication with the people has been lost, it must be recovered, by preparing the images the people expect. This presupposes, first of all, knowing the people's expectations and how to respond to them. Communication is a two way street, but with politics today reduced to merchandise similar to that in commercial advertising, it tends to be a one way street that goes from the top down. To what kind of communication with the people was Ortega referring? Did he mean listening to the majorities' demands, debating in depth the government programs' implications for the nation? Or did he only mean taking the temperature of popular sentiments to guarantee electoral goals?
Recognizing the error of trying to control the markets and the effect this had on production should be read as a clear signal that the FSLN is now defending the free market. But something essential is missing. The FSLN is saying nothing about what kind of market the country needs, about the need for producer and consumer associations to intervene and control to avoid the appearance of monopolies or, to be more exact, to avoid state monopolies simply turning into private ones. It is saying nothing about the regulatory framework that a future Sandinista government should establish to favor majority interests and not those of narrow pressure groups.
By recognizing that there were illegitimate confiscations, the FSLN wants to send a positive signal to both old and new landowners at this moment in which the property debate has become the central issue of political confrontation and the fundamental condition for the stability all desire. The issue has become so central, in fact, that even World Bank officials are going around reminding everyone that the poverty and deficient basic social services are also conditioning the country's stability.
Self Criticism is No AlternativeThe FSLN lost a good opportunity on July 19 to reflect on the redistribution of the ownership of the means of production as a basic condition and legitimate means of economic democracy. Perhaps it forgot because the philosophy of the agrarian transformations made in the 1980s was not to democratize the means of production as a basis for more equitable growth. It grew out of a desire to control and distribute the surplus through the state so as to improve the living standard of the people understood as consumers and particularly that of the strata linked to the political, state and military apparatus.
It is a giant step from expressing some self criticism to having an alternative program. A real program is needed, not just objectives like "we're going to grow" or "we must reduce poverty." What is needed is a clear definition of how, in the economic transition Nicaragua is going through, the state and nongovernmental organizations can intervene to make the adjustment viable and guarantee that, beyond all the painful costs, a road can be found to more socially and environmentally sustainable development. In other words, a development that is basically less exclusionary.
Create More Chaos?In commemorative speeches in Jinotepe and Matagalpa on July 19, FSLN leaders Bayardo Arce and Tomás Borge both stated that the Sandinistas would go into clandestinity and reinitiate the war if Managua mayor Arnoldo Alemán wins the presidency in 1996. Their declarations sparked severe criticisms among different national sectors.
If the FSLN's proposal for mobilizing action is not about an alternative and is limited to creating more chaos, riding the expressions of grassroots content to pressure the government, this immediately raises various questions.
"Outbreaks" arise when there is grassroots fervor, a strong spontaneous motivation that mobilizes ordinary people, not just already convinced party members. Major mobilizing opportunities have been missed in the past few years the defense of redistributed property with social criteria, the social and productive reinsertion of the demobilized from both armies or Nicaragua's just claim in the World Court. It seems doubtful that the struggles of Sandinista "islands" such as the TELCOR workers that are still afloat in the formal economy could spark a grassroots mobilization now. Formal unemployment is too massive and the limitations of all sorts found in the informal economy are too serious.
Could peasants' demands be used in this way? Not likely. The FSLN lost its legitimacy and leadership in the countryside a long time ago. Utilizing the Sandinista "islands" in the rural areas mainly, the cooperative poles to create chaos/pressure would only bring about greater rural polarization, prejudicial to both rural businesses and the peasant sectors. It would also damage the economy as a whole.
From the Base? Or With It?What cadres could the FSLN leadership use to implement a strategy of chaos/pressure? There is doubtless enough unemployment among the middle classes that there would be no shortage of people willing to "go out into the mountains" as a means of survival. But it is another giant step between that and constituting a strata of cadres politically able to do constructive grassroots mobilizing work, based on the real interests of the small and medium producers in the cities and countryside.
The most militant and organized Sandinistas the National Workers' Front in the city or the Revolutionary Peasants and Workers Front in the countryside have ended up very weakened by the confrontations of these years and by the absence of any improvements for the population resulting from the struggles they have undertaken.
By making no reference to the struggles for survival that already exist or to the attempts to respond to problems of health, education and even security in neighborhoods, districts and municipalities, one can read between the lines that the FSLN's communication style has not changed. The party does not appear to be trying to govern with the base, favorably orienting those of its actions that aim to promote development and wellbeing, but to govern from the base for the interests of the party elite.
Divisions in the FSLNIt is impossible to speculate about what the FSLN's current strategy is building a program with the base and promoting its fulfillment from the party structures vs. using the demands of the base to promote chaos without referring to the divisions at the center of the party. The calls for unity implicitly recognize that these divisions exist, which it would be absurd to deny even though doing so would have its rationale. The leaders on each side who aspire to end up with the whole party apparatus find it useful to make the other side appear as simply divisionist individuals without any support.
In mid July the FSLN launched a new process by which district, municipal and departmental party leaders will be directly elected over the course of August and September. This will be the first time the FSLN has engaged in this democratic practice across the whole country, although leaders of some departmental committees particularly on the Atlantic Coast have already been chosen in the past by local vote rather than selected from above. An estimated 50,000 Sandinista militants, affiliates and sympathizers will take part in this new process. The first phase is an educational campaign at the local level to inform voters about how the process will function, and assure that it will be open and above reproach, followed by a door to door effort to get past and present party members and sympathizers to register to vote.
If these internal elections had occurred before the May Congress instead of after, perhaps a real and relevant debate about programmatic content would have taken place. Since the debate is still laden with suspicions and superficial disqualifiers about specific personalities and there is as yet no in depth discussion, at least outside of party leadership circles, any reflection becomes more difficult.
There is no doubt that the current debate about whether Barricada should be a party newspaper or one at the service of an alternative political culture in general is a visible reflection of internal discussions. The fight for control of such an important means of power as a newspaper obviously reflects the internal tensions regarding the role the party structure should play in society. Should it reflect the people and promote their political culture or serve a small group in power?
It cannot yet be seen clearly that the new FSLN leadership or any of its currents has an adequate alternative proposal to the "vampire elites" who have taken over Nicaragua, leading it to the abyss to benefit an economic minority. Neither lucid political leadership nor national consensus has emerged. Will the slogan, "We're going to struggle," chorused again and again by the Sandinistas who filled the plaza on July 19, shake up the business groups in the FSLN's upper echelons that are seeking an accommodation with neoliberalism despite their radical sounding criticisms?
Presidentitis"There is unquestionably presidentitis, a desire to be president, here in Nicaragua", declared Cardinal Obando y Bravo. It is also unquestionable that Nicaragua's elites are polarizing the country more and preventing the building of the stability needed for economic progress and to satisfy the population's basic needs.
Church leaders, particularly some in the Catholic Church, and even more particularly the bishops of the dioceses most affected by the poverty, are the ones who are today making the clearest statements about the nation's real problems. Although the churches cannot directly affect economic policy or convince those who could do so with a national consciousness, they do have the only institutional framework, even in the most remote areas, that could achieve a national relaxation of tensions.
If today's political leaders want to look good in future history books, they had best stop their childish competition very soon and take the bull by the horns. If they do not, none will go down in history with the glorious trophy all are vying for. They will simply be written off as corrupt, irresponsible and nepotistic.