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  Number 177 | Abril 1996
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Nicaragua

The Election Labyrinth

What will be the outcome of the coming elections? The parties and many potential voters keep trying to find the “center”. Meanwhile, the intricated technical maze of the elections is challenge for all of us.

Nitlápan-Envío team

The path to the October 20 elections is getting more labyrinthian the fure ther both voters and candidates travel down it. "There is no government," say those who know what's going on behind the scenes in the executive branch; "there's just a campaign." And several National Assembly representatives are already complaining that "legislators are no longer legislating; they're all in their campaigns." As the clock ticks on, the electoral landscape is getting both more defined and more complicated. Everything is happening at once, and nothing is yet certain.

Meanwhile, after another of its semi annual visits to the country, the International Monetary Fund mission decided to use its instruments of macroeconomic engineering to build a bridge over the "bridge plan" it designed last September. This will allow the IMF, now habitually tolerant toward Nicaragua, to avoid an in depth evaluation of the government's shortfall in meeting the conditions of the Enhanced Structural Adjustment Facility. (See "Bridging the Bridge," this issue, for an analysis of the IMF visit.) Since this will likely lead to more and even tighter economic restrictions, the elections will probably occur in yet another year of stagnation and recession, with very few opportunities for the traditional squandering of resources to attract votes that characterizes electoral years anywhere in the world.

No Going Back This Time

On February 13, barely two weeks after his unconsummated attempt at the end of January, Mariano Fiallos, president of the Supreme Electoral Council (CSE), again announced that he was resigning his post at the helm of the upcoming elections this time "irrevocably" and "irretrievably." His decision was as unexpected the second time as it had been the first. In his letter of resignation, Fiallos referred to the "uncertainties" about his presidency created with the earlier attempt and, in keeping with his personality, offered an extremely elegant version of what had happened. "Any explanation that I could try to give about the issue would instead just tend to obscure it," he wrote, "since in my judgment it has to do with an evident manifestation of the human fallibility of the undersigned."

In later declarations, he admitted that the major reason for his decision was the same one he had been insisting on for some time: "I do not consider the rules of the new Electoral Law to be compatible with my conception of how the position of Electoral Council president should be exercised, particularly those rules referring to the structuring of the Supreme Council and Departmental Councils and to the termination of the term of those positions five days after the inauguration. Since I came to the conclusion that I, Mariano Fiallos, cannot successfully exercise the post, I am therefore withdrawing from it."

On another occasion he said, "I hope, I desire and I recommend that the Electoral Law be reformed, and will be sorry if it is not." Fiallos sees the new law, hastily passed at the end of last year, as "a stumbling block in the path of a good electoral process." Even though the executive branch sent the National Assembly legislation reforming the 15 articles that Fiallos and the other CSE magistrates demanded immediately after his first resignation, its passage requires a series of steps that probably cannot be taken before the elections. It also requires an absolute majority vote in the Assembly, which simply isn't there right now.

Fiallos' definitive departure sparked a new round of rumors: that he left because the Supreme Court had thrown him the hot potato of deciding whether or not Antonio Lacayo (a relative of his as well as of President Chamorro) could run for President; that he was offended by the attitude of some legislators toward his first attempt to resign; even that Oscar Santamaría, head of the Organization of American States' mission of electoral observers had put pressure on him immediately after arriving in Managua on February 11. Santamaría, a Salvadoran, was Minister of the Presidency during Cristiani's term and headed the peace negotiations with the FMLN for years.

As Fiallos himself observed, "the best way to hide the truth in Nicaragua is to tell it, because no one believes what anybody says." Why not believe him? Why not assume that some articles of the new Electoral Law could indeed open the door to serious uncertainties about an electoral campaign that is already surrounded by them?

From his seat at the pinnacle of the electoral branch of government, Fiallos has been able to appreciate the national panorama like few of the country's leaders. He has watched the evolution of contradictions; the great tears in the social fabric and the fabric of political leadership; the pollution of the ethical atmosphere; the weaknesses and the vacuums; the legal, political, and moral maze in which the elections must be held. From that vantage point, he recognized that the new electoral law could confuse things even more if not reformed. Only time will tell whether his protest resignation was not perhaps the most patriotic contribution he could make at this difficult juncture.

A Technical Maze, Too

If elections are to be open, fair and honest, they need an elaborate technical legal armature. That, in turn, requires time, people and technology, which translate into money. Upon tallying up the multiple requirements of good elections, one is tempted to think that electoral democracy is a luxury in countries as impoverished as Nicaragua.

The Supreme Electoral Council is today the only state institution that can measure the whole range of this affair. Certainly the political class isn't interested in doing it, for one reason or another. It may be the politicians' myopia, their short term interests, which are dominating everything; they demand that the elections be held with full guarantees yet minimize how costly these guarantees are.

It may also be their inveterate underrating of the technical aspects of politics. Legislator Alfredo César, currently head of the Democratic National Party, brushed off the new electoral law's many substantial imprecisions with the banal justification that the law is "big." José Castillo Osejo, who competed unsuccessfully for the Conservative National Party's presidential candidacy, glibly accused the CSE of preparing the elections "at the pace of a rheumatic turtle." And Arnoldo Alemán, presidential candidate of the Liberal Alliance, flat out told a group of Nicaraguans in Miami that there will be fraud in October. Such irresponsible rhetoric comes a lot easier to politicians than trying to get a real grip on the technical aspects of elections. Feeling one's way through that labyrinth is not as attractive as jumping up onto the political stage, but it is necessary.

Registration: The Backbone

At the end of February, the CSE magistrates unanimously decided that the approximately half million Nicaraguans living abroad mainly in the United States and Costa Rica could not cast absentee ballots because the CSE cannot guarantee "the same conditions of purity, equality, openness, control, vigilance and verification as in the national territory," largely due to budget constraints. An absentee ballot for President and Vice President only was approved in the new law, but it was left to the CSE to decide whether enough human and financial resources were available to organize it. No citizen of any other Central American country who lives abroad has the right to vote.

While this decision caused something of a stir, the biggest public opinion debate has to do with registration inside the country. Or, to be more exact, it has to do with the issuance of ID cards for a variety of purposes, of which voting is one. It is a key issue because voter registration is the backbone of honest elections. The CSE is being accused of everything from slowness to political favoritism.

The following data provide signposts to this technical labyrinth through which the electoral process is now trying to find its way.

@SIN SANGRIA = In 1989, when the FSLN was still in office, the parties making up the UNO electoral coalition agreed to move the 1990 elections up from November to February. As one of a number of electoral guarantees, they also agreed that identification cards should be issued to all Nicaraguans, which they could use to vote. At the time, no such universal document existed. It was impossible to verify identification and issue the cards for the 1990 elections, so the initiative remained as a political commitment for the new government to assume. But after the UNO was elected, this complex and costly commitment was relegated to the CSE as a mere technical task that could be done without much ado. This change of focus is at the root of many of the limitations the ID process is facing now, six years later.

* The CSE discovered that the political commitment had evaporated when it began urging the National Assembly to approve a simple change to the existing electoral law that would give the ID voter registration cards legal validity in time to be used for the February 1994 elections for new autonomous governments on the Atlantic Coast. Since the Assembly was too caught up in its own political games, the CSE had to go through yet another expensive voter registration process good for one time only. Between those elections and the passage of the whole new controversial law in December 1995, the legislators were busy fighting, first among themselves and then with the executive branch, over the even more controversial constitutional reforms. This time, however, the CSE decided not to wait around. It dedicated much of its effort and virtually all of its own budget to starting the ID process even without passage of the reform. That brought it to another crucial crossroads and another reason for Fiallos to tender his first resignation: unless the executive branch made a greater effort to secure funding for the elections, the CSE would be out of funds by July of this year. As usual, the government acted only when put up against the wall: between Fiallos' first and second resignations, President Chamorro announced that donors had pledged nearly $12 million.

* Nicaragua's underdevelopment is also expressed in its primitive data system, and even more, in its dearth of essential information. When the CSE began the ID process, it decided to start with the data in the Civil Registry. That has uncovered untold problems. It turns out that some 40% of Nicaraguans do not even have birth certificates and a large majority of those who do are registered with different names and surnames than those appearing in other documents for the same person.

Some CSE technicians think that, in addition to getting people their ID cards, the process will also serve as "a massive literacy campaign about basic personal data." Upon registering for their documents, thousands of puzzled and often disgruntled people have discovered that their parents never acknowledged them, that their last name wasn't what they always thought it was, etc. Thousands who went to the CSE office to pick up their card came out having discovered remote and unknown family linkages. One extreme case was that of a municipality in which one thousand of its three thousand inhabitants had been registered with the registrar's surname. Untangling this maze has further complicated an already complex process and caused major delays.

* The registry is the most expensive part of any electoral process. Just the computer and the program to set up the registry cost the CSE $500,000. From that registry comes the electoral roll of the 400 citizens who will vote in each of the over 7,200 polling centers known by their Spanish initials as JRVs that are to be set up around the country. Each set of maps locating these JRVs which all of the now nearly 40 parties are demanding so they can detect any irregularity costs $28,000.

The central government has never assumed this expense. The whole registration ID process, which will cost an estimated $11 million, is being financed by foreign donations. Even with that, the amount assigned to the CSE in the national budget is not enough to cover the election costs. It is calculated that the vote of each citizen in the Pacific will cost the country $40 and in the Atlantic $60. The CSE's overall election bill will be $35 million if some presidential candidate gets at least 45% of the vote, and about $44 million if two rounds are required.

After all this effort to correct the registry, issue the cards, and on that basis pull the rolls, an article in the new electoral law establishes that the chair of each JRV can decide whether a voter who shows up and is not on the roll, or whose name on it is different from the one appearing on his or her ID card, can vote there or not. Why make such an effort at technical precision if the politicians just turn around and open this legal loophole to irregularities, even to fraud? The repeal of this article is one of the changes that Fiallos and the other CSE officers demanded.

Politicizing vs. Professionalizing

Notwithstanding these and many other technical pitfalls, the essence of the legal labyrinth is political. The key contradiction that led Fiallos to resign is that the new law makes it harder to professionalize the electoral branch and even politicizes it by taking away from the CSE president the faculty to directly name those in charge of the regional and departmental electoral councils according to his or her professional, technical and administrative criteria. The new law establishes that the CSE must fill these posts from lists sent by the parties; in other words, from lists drawn up according to the criteria of the political class.

Twelve years of efforts to professionalize the CSE could go up in smoke with this disposition. Or, if not with this one, then with the one that closes those local electoral offices only days after the newly elected officials take office. How many experienced professionals will be available for a job that only exists for roughly one year out of every five? Except in Costa Rica, which has an "electoral career," the politicization and party bias of electoral bodies in the Central American countries mean that all such posts change every four or five years as a result of the election seesaw. With that, all accumulated professional experience is thrown out. Underdevelopment is also measured by an inability to accumulate experience.

All these and many other unresolved legal and technical elements, some larger than others, combine to create a breeding ground for electoral fraud. The red flag about possible fraud is not out of line, but the electoral technicians argue that it should not be waved only at the CSE. It should be pointed at all the political and social sectors that, either by commission or omission, are encouraging problems and technical limitations that could leave us all participating in a fraud.

Supply and Demand: A Few Numbers

As we wend our way through the maze, some numerical data are beginning to gell. According to the CSE, there will be 2.2 million potential voters in October. At the current rhythm of the registration process, which is difficult to speed up, only 1.1 million will be able to vote with ID cards. Of the rest, 700,000 will receive temporary ID cards and the other 400,000 will vote according to the old procedure: they will have to register near election time, and will be given a card good only for voting and only for one time. (This double process also means far greater expense for the CSE.)

When voters get to their JRV on October 20, they will be given six ballots (or at best five, if it is decided to combine the 20 representatives to the Central American Parliament and the 20 new at large National Assembly legislators on one). These ballots will respectively list the party or coalition candidates for president and vice president, departmental legislators, municipal mayor and vice mayor, municipal councilors, national (or at large) legislators and Central American Parliament representatives. With 17 departments (including the two Atlantic Coast autonomous regions) and 143 municipalities, each with different candidates and even different numbers of candidates for the legislative and municipal posts, over 300 separate ballots are required.

That's the demand. And the supply? February ended with 35 legally registered parties, having filled all the requisites that involves, and another 7 whose requests are pending approval. How does one explain such a glut of parties on the political market?

It evidently reflects the dearth of political leadership, dispersion of proposals and weak social representation affecting the country. Another all too evident factor is that the Electoral Law encourages elections to be seen as a good business. The CSE is required to share out 15% of the electoral budget a minimum of $6 million among the parties for their campaigns. Although new accounting requirements control the money and any party that does not win even one seat is required to return its share, the policy still makes campaigning one of the few money making ventures in these times of recession and unemployment.

It is also evident that a good number of these parties are entering the race to jockey for the "center" slot or climb aboard whatever party or coalition gets it. In Nicaragua's confusing political landscape, polls repeatedly show that over half of those who say they plan to vote are split between anti Liberal Sandinistas (+20%) and anti Sandinista Liberals (+30%), while the other half long for a depolarized, unifying center. Some of the major players in the diplomatic corps are now rumored to be pushing for a "third way" on the grounds that potential investors are getting tired of waiting for the country to politically stabilize.

The Grand "Center" Enigma

There won't be as many columns on the ballots as there are parties, since most parties have already formed electoral alliances or are negotiating them now. Some observers insist that there will only be two real choices in October: continue the model begun in 1990 of restoring the oligarchy, with more, less or virtually no change depending on who get elected to head that project; or discontinue that model in favor of a rightwing populist one headed by Alemán's Liberals. If that is true and some say that the powers that be in the world of finances would not let even Alemán stray too far away from the model key issues of the two alternatives would be how each would handle the conflictive and still unresolved property problem and the "two "piñatas" (the Sandinista one of 1990 and the Chamorro one over the six years of her term).

Others locate the grand enigma of this election's political labyrinth in the attempt to forge a political and economic "center." While both FSLN leaders and Constitutionalist Liberal Party (PLC) leaders offer proposals that are far from centrist, at least in their speeches, the other political groupings are all painstakingly seeking leadership, proposals, alliances and candidates that fill the vacuum at the center, at least at the image level. Antonio Lacayo's National Project (PRONAL) was the first to situate itself there, brandishing as its guarantee the reconciliation between extremes that the Chamorro administration achieved with the end of the war, when Lacayo was Minister of the Presidency. Edén Pastora's Authentic Democratic Party is contesting this center slot by appealing to the memory of the early "tercerista" current in the FSLN. While all are running around their own mazes in search of like minded allies and of the key that would open the center to them, this past month of the still de facto campaign (it doesn't begin legally until August 2) brought some important new elements in both Conservative and Sandinista ranks.

Some months ago, a political analyst with Conservative roots described what he saw as the main problem of the five separate Conservative parties: there were enough faithful to make a procession, but there was still no "saint." They lack a solid national leader who can unify them in the same way that Alemán has unified all but one of the equal number of Liberal parties, and who can forge them into a real option against both Sandinistas and Liberals.

At the end of 1995, a costly and effective TV propaganda campaign placed the saint's halo on Noel Vidaurre, a young lawyer from the Conservative National Party (PNC), President Chamorro's nephew and a high level official in her administration until he resigned alleging corruption. His chief opponent for the PNC candidacy was José Castillo Osejo, who has been waving the Conservatives' green banner for 40 years and speaking on Radio Corporación for almost as long. The two candidates were, respectively, the rural roots and the urban foliage of this Conservative trunk party.

After a tense race, Vidaurre won in the PNC's February 25 national convention with cotton farmer Nicolás Bolaños as his running mate. All parties are now beginning to hold conventions, often with publicized disputes, to elect their presidential candidates, since all candidacies, as well as parties and/or alliances, must register with the CSE by mid May. The new element in the Conservative maze was that an unexpected saint emerged three days before the convention. Granada's Conservative oligarchy where most of Nicaragua's large capital, with its important links to global capital, is concentrated came out in favor of the candidacy of 83 year old poet, writer and La Prensa board member Pablo Antonio Cuadra. In proposing PAC, as he is fondly known, the cream of Granada's elite called for a "Commitment to Nicaragua." They were partly trying to cool down the fight between candidates before the convention, but their far grander goal was to spark the creation of a proposal of national consensus and salvation around a notable Nicaraguan, one who could forge a center with all the parties seeking it and thus depolarize the country's anti Sandinista/Sandinista extremes.

Various ideas can be imagined behind this proposal of the big capitalists. The most obvious one is that no force either exists or is likely to emerge that could singlehandedly defeat Alemán, the only project of "rupture." (In its current state, the FSLN is viewed as a sure ally of the current oligarchic project.) Given PAC's prestige, his intellectual weight and the halo that his venerability gives him, he is the only one who could upset Alemán, both by pulling together the many dispersed forces and by neutralizing Alemán's support from certain sectors with social power.

This "Commitment to Nicaragua" is an effort to repeat the 1989 game of all against one. In that case it was the UNO coalition, which brought together 14 parties of varying sizes "from Conservatives to Communists" as then President Reagan was so fond of saying around a national symbol: the silver haired Violeta Barrios de Chamorro, widow of slain La Prensa editor Pedro Joaquín Chamorro, member of the governing junta together with Sandinistas in the first year after Somoza was overthrown, and mother with such reconciliatory skills that she could get her Sandinista and anti Sandinista children and other relatives to sit down together at her traditional Sunday lunches.

But that experience was very frustrating for the parties in UNO, which were never allowed to govern and soon fell to fighting among themselves again. Once burned, twice wary. With the Granada elite's "commitment to Nicaragua," they are wary that the economic interests of big money will again outweigh the political perspectives and interests of the parties. Top PNC leader Adolfo Calero, who did not put himself forward for his party's presidential candidacy due to his contra leadership position during the war, said on the eve of the convention that "accepting PAC would affect all political schemes."

The announcement of PAC's candidacy, whether or not it takes off, shows how intricately the economic power center is studying the current panorama. PAC is their last resource, their golden key to open the way out of the multiple twists and turns of the national labyrinth.

FSLN Seeks the "People's Choice"

Another big event in February was the FSLN's sui generis primary elections, held on Sunday, February 18. What it called a Popular Consultation was open to all candidates and voters, even if they were not Sandinistas. This pluralist opening gave the FSLN primary its undisputable originality, certainly in Latin America if not the whole world.

The primary had several major objectives: assure new and good candidates with the consensus of their constituencies; democratize the FSLN by electing from below rather than appointing from above; reactivate the party structures and awaken interest in October's elections, over which hovers the specter of significant abstention; generate a process of civic education by teaching people to compete in friendly and respectful fashion, elect thoughtfully, and both win and lose gracefully.

The FSLN had the capacity to set up nearly five thousand voting centers around the country and get a reported 415,566 Nicaraguans some seventy thousand of them not Sandinistas out to vote. Since the FSLN's national candidates, including for President and Vice President, must be chosen by the party congress scheduled for the end of April, the vote for these posts in the primary was understood to be just an opinion survey and the "ballots" for them were thus left open for write in suggestions. According to the official figures, some 57% of the voters chose Daniel Ortega for President, 10% preferred jurist and human rights defender Vilma Núñez and most of the remaining third did not put anyone. Protestant pastor Miguel Angel Casco, who was the only candidate to actively campaign for the vice presidential slot, pulled 33% of the vote. Again, the other voters had no suggestions.

No other party or even alliance would even dream of making such an effort, much less imagine such a turnout. But the FSLN's achievement ended up being quantitative one of numbers more than qualitative, since it was riddled with political and ethical flaws.

The Worst Sins

The major objectives were accomplished in virtually all of the small municipalities, but problems emerged in many of the large ones that tarnished such a formidable initiative, perhaps irremediably. The worst sin was that, in many voting centers, personal interests or those of small groups prevailed over party and national interests in the postulating, participation and election of candidates, even in the scrutiny of the ballot count. This was no worse than what happens in other parties, but it was aggravated by the fact that the FSLN, by triumphantly publicizing such an ambitious project all over the nation, ended up with its dirty underwear out on the line for all to see.

The major error at the outset was that many leaders of the party structures whose leadership stature has been seriously eroded over the past few years put themselves forward as candidates. The educational process thus had fewer teachers than competitors often unfair ones at that. A later error was that the FSLN's Electoral Commission, which had designed an extremely complicated procedure, trusted too much in a revolutionary mystique that no longer exists, failing to recognize the many irregularities that surrounded both the casting and counting of votes.

One FSLN National Directorate member said openly, "We never imagined that there could be such a level of decomposition among us." Another Sandinista leader spoke of "electoral lust." When, after eight days of rumors, complaints and accusations, the recounts seemed interminable, William Grigsby, a Sandinista of proven honesty, said on his radio station La Primerísima that "we have real possibilities of winning the elections but, if this is what we're like, it would be better not to win in October because we'd do worse things than this government."

The final results of the FSLN's four ballots (again multiplied by all the departments and municipalities) were not made public until March 5, when they had been officially promised within 24 hours of the primary. Given the sheer volume of irregularities, it can be said that the real results may never be known.

The most heated case both before and after the primary was created by the candidacy of Carlos Guadamuz, director of Radio Ya, who won the nomination for mayor of Managua. Both the image problems and the real ones that Guadamuz has created for Sandinistas with his confrontational radio rhetoric led FSLN structures to use all mechanisms at their reach to keep him from winning. The fact that they failed shows that a large number of both Sandinistas and non Sandinistas are comfortable in a polarized climate and that he carries a lot of weight in it. National polls taken after the primary show Guadamuz in second place with 23.6% of those who intend to vote, almost neck and neck with the 24% of front runner Pedro Solórzano, a businessman who is campaigning on a platform of municipal progress, efficiency and other depolarizing promises.

Since the FSLN Congress makes the final decision on all candidates, the election of representatives to it is now becoming charged. The Congress must ratify those nominated in the primary for municipal mayor, vice mayor, municipal councilors and departmental representatives to the National Assembly, but party by laws determine that it must choose all national candidates: for the 20 at large seats in the National Assembly and 20 representatives to the Central American Parliament as well as for President and Vice President.

The toughest case for the FSLN structures is Vilma Núñez, who challenged Daniel Ortega's symbolic leadership by running against him for the presidential candidacy in the primary. Despite the obviously unlevel playing field, there is speculation that Núñez may have pulled a significantly higher percentage of votes than the 10% credited to her. Núñez herself claims that at least 30% of those who voted chose her for President. If that is true, it could mean that a number of Sandinistas may want to see new FSLN leadership, more credible with the nation as a whole and more honest inside the party, or, alternatively, that they still view Ortega as the best person for FSLN secretary general, but not as the presidential candidate most likely to win.

On February 27, a week before the official results were finally announced, Núñez wrote an open letter to all those who had voted for her, whether Sandinista or not, announcing that she would maintain her candidacy until the congress makes its decision. "I am continuing," she wrote, "because, as I expressed several times in my short pre consultation campaign, I did not participate only to win, but above all to contribute to internal democratization, reactivation and the rescue of credibility that the FSLN needs."

In designing its electoral strategy, the FSLN, which is still the most organized party in this disorganized country, should thoroughly analyze the meaning of these votes before selecting its candidates. If instead it tries to sweep them under the rug, obvious questions emerge: does the FSLN aspire to win the elections, or only conserve the quota of power it has already won and assure it with the next government, even if it is only a continuation of the present one? What direction will the FSLN's alliances take? Many eyes, including international ones, are fixed on the FSLN this year, since it seems lost in its own labyrinth of very ambiguous interests.

What's Behind Arriba Nicaragua?

The last great novelty of the month is the continuing climb of the Arriba Nicaragua Movement, headed by Alvaro Robelo, a middle class Lions Club member who has lived in Italy since the 1960s and was the Chamorro Government's ambassador in Rome for a year and a half. Robelo has now returned to Nicaragua claiming to have become a millionaire and to have good contacts with the largest business leaders of Japan and all of Europe "due to having always being in the right place at the right time."

In the barely 50 days of his unofficial campaign, his new party's name is already ringing in everyone's ears given the amount of resources he is throwing around. He has drawn huge crowds to demonstrations with promises of "one pounder nacatamales" and has offered sizable salaries to those working in his campaign centers (by the end of February he already had 10 member boards in 110 of the country's 143 municipalities). He has also mounted a more expensive radio and TV campaign than that of all the other parties combined. What or who is behind Arriba Nicaragua? Or underneath it? Or on top of it? This is one of the most talked about enigmas of the current labyrinth.

On March 1, the day before Robelo officially announced his candidacy, he filed suit in Managua's Court of Appeals against the Minister and Vice Minister of Government, charging them with being in the pay of Antonio Lacayo's PRONAL for organizing a persecution campaign linking him to international criminals. Robelo declared that he would take his charges against PRONAL, which he accuses of being a "party state," all the way to Amnesty International, the Organization of American States and even the Vatican.

On February 9, L'Espresso of Milan reportedly linked Robelo to Francesco Cardella, in turn linked to Socialist Bettino Craxi, the former President of Italy who is accused of major corruption and is today a fugitive of Italian justice. This information opened the floodgates of speculation. From that day forward to the close of this edition of envío, Robelo has been the subject of speculation in all the Nicaraguan media.

Robelo has not taken the accusations lying down. He has ably responded with evidence, denials and promises. Are we witnessing a well organized international money laundering operation, one that cannot be stolen much less effectively stopped by the weak national institutions? (The National Assembly's Economic Affairs Commission announced that a General Banking Law, which, among other things, will establish procedures to avoid money laundering in Nicaragua, will be ready by July. Right now, such operations are perfectly feasible and hardly detectable.) Or is it simply a political fireworks show, a flash in the pan marketing operation destined to quickly burn itself out in a country that still makes political decisions in traditional fashion and not based on images and personal charisma? While Nicaraguans wait for this enigma to clear up, Arriba Nicaragua is captivating many with its almost magical promises of million dollar investments by powerful investors who are already on their way bearing employment and happiness for all.

To clear up all doubts, Alvaro Robelo announced that he would open his personal accounts, as well as those of his businesses and his campaign expenses 70% of which he claims comes out of his own pocket to an international audit and will turn the results of this investigation over to Cardinal Obando y Bravo. "Whoever wants to review my accounts," he said, "should request permission from the cardinal, the country's maximum authority." It was a perfect gesture, given both the trend toward corruption in the past couple of years and the fact that he placed that authority at the center of the labyrinth.

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