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  Number 184 | Noviembre 1996
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Nicaragua

Mariano Fiallos: I Accepted Because It's a Crucial Election

In August, the FSLN nominated an exceptional man as Nicaragua's next foreign minister, if its presidential candidate Daniel Ortega wins. That man is Mariano Fiallos, 12 year president of the Supreme Electoral Council until his resignation in February 1996. With the elections almost upon us, Fiallos shared the following reflections with envío.

Mariano Fiallos

Burdens on the CSE

The proximity of the elections is putting politicians, interested citizens and electoral officials in an increasingly tense situation. The media, true to their style, are reporting mainly on the conflictive aspects of the process, those that represent or could represent a disaster. The possible is presented as probable, and the probable as highly likely. Naturally it's possible that the electoral process could fail totally. Thousands of other disagreeable things could also possibly happen. But normal, not paranoid, men and women should work with what will probably happen rather than with what may possibly happen. Because anything is possible, even that tomorrow could be the end of the world, although it is not likely and we should continue working as if it weren't. The probability is that the electoral process will successfully reach its culmination--the voting on October 20.

The electoral process has had to deal with a lot of problems. For many months, the National Assembly acted on the basis of a series of political deals whose goal was not necessarily to improve this process. The reforms to the Constitution, which were the departure point for many of the problems that the process faces today, had very specific goals.

The move to reform the Constitution must be understood by understanding its origins. At the time of the change of government in 1990, this country didn't have an opposition as such, nor was the reality one of an opposition vs. government. What existed was opposition among the varying oppositions. And this was being reflected increasingly strongly within the National Assembly. Each consitutional reform was achieved only after a complex transaction by some groups with others. In the end, the collection of reforms was a summing up of interests, at times mutually contradictory, among these different groups.

The reforms to the Constitution took a long time to discuss and approve, and did not go into effect until July 4, 1995, after causing serious conflict between the executive and legislative branches. There is no question but that the Assembly had the executive branch, and Minister of the Presidency Antonio Lacayo in particular, in its sights.

Understanding why this was the case also requires going back to the origins. Starting in 1990 and over the succeeding years, what was functioning was not a presidentialist system, but rather a mixed parliamentary and presidential system, in which the role of the President of the Republic was as head of state--the king's role in a constitutional monarchy, the role of the King of Spain or the Queen of England--while the role Lacayo played was that of head of government, or prime minister--Felipe González's role in Spain before and that of Aznar now. The main difference was that in such a system, the person who has the role Lacayo played in Nicaragua is answerable to Parliament, whereas in Nicaragua he wasn't answerable to anyone.

With the reforms, the National Assembly was aiming at the president of government, directly at Lacayo. It couldn't make any political case against him, because in a parliamentary system, such a serious summons by Parliament against the Prime Minister obliges him to resign and brings about new elections. Since this couldn't be done in Nicaragua, the Assembly opted to make constitutional reforms, some of which were aimed exclusively at him--like the one disqualifying him as a presidential candidate.

To this political particularity must be added another, which was that the group in government had no party to which the Assembly could turn. The government never had a party and still doesn't. In previous historic stages everything was very clear. The Conservatives and others were against Somoza. The UNO and others were against the Sandinistas. But who was against this government? In reality they all were. And who was in favor of the government in this conflict? We can't even say who.

All this essential conflict meant that the reforms came out very late and also delayed the reforms to the Electoral Law, which seriously jeopardized the electoral process. The constitutional reforms, however good they may have been, however much we may agree or disagree with them, affected the elections because they changed the rules of the electoral game very soon before the election itself. In my judgment, all this also affected the reforms that were made to the Electoral Law, itself a long process that finished very late.

An electoral process has two major sets of actors who go before the nation, and they must both be identified very clearly. One set is the candidates and the other is the voters. Both identification processes--of candidates and of electors--got seriously delayed. Barely two months ago, some candidates ceased being candidates, even though they were already registered. And that happened not only with presidential candidates, but also with some of those for mayor. The constitutional disposition even had to be overridden, extending the time period in which those who entered the race could resign from the position of mayor.

There have been many delays. More salt was put on the wound by publishing the rewritten Electoral Law in La Gaceta of January 22, but with a January 9 date. The mysterious reason the law was held back by the Ministry of the Presidency all those days is still not known.

The other process, that of identifying the voters, has also faced major obstacles. It is necessary to know who has the right to vote and to make a list of them: this is the job of drawing up the electoral rolls. Afterward, it is necessary to divide these citizens into polling places. The first obstacle that tripped us up here was extremely serious. Because the 1995 census was faulty, it ended up undercounting the population. It said we had 4.3 million Nicaraguans, in round numbers, but in reality we have many more. What may have been the motives behind this difference in the figures? We don't know.

Previous estimates by the Census Office itself spoke of just over 4.5 million inhabitants. And that's the amount that the Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) workers and people from the Ministry of Health have found in the field.

The National Assembly established that a polling station (JRV) had to be created for each 400 voters. Again virtually on the eve of the elections the CSE has had to organize new JRVs. Each one of these JRVs means a three person staff for the table plus their three alternates. And with the reforms to the electoral law, the CSE doesn't name these people directly; it must ask the political parties for lists from which to choose them. This decision, made by the Assembly and reflected in the reformed Electoral Law, also increased the number of CSE offices around the country from 9 regional ones to 17 departmental ones. That obliged the CSE to chose 102 new officials, again from lists presented by the parties, causing another serious problem. All this happened in April, alongside the processing of the new ID voter cards, which was already way behind.

With the elections so near, and faced with so many obstacles, the CSE rightly decided that the only way to deal with these problems was to keep on many of these former regional CSE officials, who are technicians with many years of experience in their work. They were [assigned to head the ID card field offices, which are still legal defined by region and] requested to work closely with those chosen to head the new departmental CSE structures, who had no experience in electoral techniques. That's the only way the ID card process has been able to go forward, since it's a very complex and strictly technical task.

The situation that the Supreme Electoral Council has had to deal with has been truly hard. I believe, and I say this with all my heart, that it has been an extraordinary labor, and it will know how to conclude this labor. By "it" I mean not only the Council as a collegial body--the five magistrates and their five alternates--but also the Council as an executive body, with its large number of technicians who were successfully kept on to guarantee these elections. The first intention of a sector of the Assembly was to get rid of every last one of these technicians, because they were "contaminated with Sandinismo," as they expressed it--and as I heard it, because I was there in the Assembly, like one more legislative representative, representative 93, for all the discussions about the reforms to the Electoral Law.

I sincerely believe that, despite so many difficulties, which were foreseen, warned about and in the end happened, the election on October 20 will be successful.

The Track Is Now Clear

As the elections have drawn closer, the political track has been clearing out. Only a few months ago the political options seemed extremely complex and now the front runners are totally clear.

In 1923 the so called Dodd Law was passed in Nicaragua. That electoral law was implemented in 1928 by the US Marine infantry forces, with General McCoy as president of the Supreme Council, 14 US colonels in charge of the departmental councils and an even larger number of sergeants in charge of the electoral tables. Between that time and 1978, no party participated in any election except the Liberals and Conservatives, or perhaps a fraction of one or the other. Virtually no other party could ever even run.

Starting in 1979, there was a pendular reaction. In the 1984 elections 10 parties participated; in 1990 there were 21 parties; in the 1994 elections on the coast there were already some 26; and now, in 1996, 35. In the end only 33 remained in effect and, after the alliances were made, there were finally 24 presidential candidates.

Once the polls began coming out, one on top of another, the field began increasingly to clear out. Polls have a relatively low credibility level in a country like ours--and not because a "güegüense" is hidden behind each person polled; that seems to me more a literary resource than an analytical element. No, it's for the simple reason that there are no valid census data. Choosing a good sample is based on having exact census data: where do people live, who lives there, how many... Our polls, however well they may have been done, suffer from the problem of a lack of census data. But the probability of error that this leads to diminishes insofar as the gap between the two realities being predicted expands more. If we want to predict results in which both have 50%, the probability of getting it right is very low. But if the contrast is between 90% and 10%, the probability of error is infinitely less. If we try to measure the intention to vote between Liberals and Sandinistas there is greater probability of being wrong than there is if we try to measure the distance between these two candidates and all the other 22 parties or alliances. In the latter case the probability of being wrong is minimal; it must be around 4 5%.

The polls and time itself have been making it extremely clear, with virtually no margin of error, that the 22 parties other than the Liberal Alliance and the FSLN have no pro bability of winning the presidency. And in a country with a presidentialist political culture, the presidency is important. Unless something totally unexpected happens, there are only two alternatives: the Liberal Alliance and the Sandinista Front.

Right up to the end there were attemps to form alliances that would depolarize the situation, but it couldn't be done. In the current circumstances, the center as an entity does not exist for enough voters to be significant.

Unfortunately, although for others it will be fortunate, there is no center in Nicaragua with significant representation. Our voters have been polarizing and the intention to vote for this theoretical "center" has been dropping. We must keep in mind that the other 22 candidates don't actually represent a center either politically or ideologically, because all tendencies are represented among them.

There are really only two alternatives. Nicaraguan citizens are faced with two programs, two candidates, two groups. You look on one side and you find the Liberal Alliance, which--putting it in literary terms--threatens with hellfire and brimstone. You look on the other and you find the Sandinista Front, which speaks of a "government for all" and sends out signals in this direction.

Are the Candidates Credible?

What signals is the Sandinista Front giving? It officially says that it won't name General Humberto Ortega as Minister of Defense, that it won't name Tomás Borge as Minister of the Interior, that it won't name Jaime Wheelock as Minister of Agrarian Reform. It named as its vice presidential candidate a producer who isn't a Sandinista and was expropriated. It states that it will consult with Cardinal Obando and CEPAD and other organizations about naming some ministers.

I was of course present in the meeting with Cardinal Obando and the CEPAD leaders, since I had already been nominated as foreign minister. Some have said that Comandante Ortega told the cardinal that he would name whoever the cardinal said as the ministers. That's not true. What Daniel sald was that he wouldn't consult anyone for certain ministries, such as that of Dr. Fiallos, but that there are other ministries that he believes should be discussed, one of which is Education, which he said he would consult with the churches and other organizations. He didn't mention which others. Two days later we were in a similar meeting with CEPAD and various associations of Protestant churches and leaders. And he told them the same thing. We're talking about consultation, not about putting these appointments in anyone's hands.

There are also other signs. There's the alliance signed with representatives of over four thousand former contra combatants, as a centerpiece of a reconciliation policy. A policy of reconciliation with friends is easy, but it's with one's enemies that one must reconcile. And the former contras and their families are the ones who have suffered most deeply due to the war. The only way not to return to this war is to reconcile. It seems to me that this alliance, which has also been criticized--among other things due to the presence in it of Comandante "Mack"--was a correct decision because it favors peace and reconciliation.

What can citizens do in the face of what they see in the campaign? Believe the Liberal Alliance? Believe its threats, believe that it's going to "settle accounts," like it says? There are voters who like that: give it to them good! Wipe out Sandinismo! In fact, Alemán dropped in the first polls when he stopped talking tough like that. But there's a limit to the number of sympathizers one gets with that. There are other voters who don't believe his threats and say: No, that's pure electoral rhetoric; I know Arnoldo... And they decide to vote for him. Then there are still others who do believe what he says, are shocked and won't vote for him.

In Daniel's case as well, the issue beyond the FSLN's fixed vote is credibility. Do we believe him? Do we believe that all these signs that we're seeing announce a government for all? As a Nicaraguan citizen I saw myself faced with these two options and I decided to believe in the FSLN.

Who Will Attract Capital?

There are those who say that a victory by Daniel would send foreign investment running in the other direction, and that this wouldn't be the case with an Alemán victory . It is also said that national capital will flee the country if the FSLN wins, whereas it won't with an Alemán victory, that with him, a lot of national capital will in fact return to the country. The issue of attracting capital into Nicaragua was bandied about a lot in the 1990 electoral campaign. But the truth is that after the UNO victory Nicaraguan capital didn't return and foreign capital didn't arrive in anything like the hoped for quantities. The Nicas who came from abroad returned only to recover their properties and see how to sell them or get compensation, so that afterward they could return to where they were living.

The massive aid expected from the United States didn't come either. And the $17 billion suit that Nicaragua had filed in the International Court at The Hague was not negotiated. By that time the Court had already handed down its verdict: the United States had to indemnify Nicaragua. And it had said: I give you six months to negotiate between yourselves what the indemnification amount should be; if you haven't negotiated within six months, the Court itself will set the amount through a special procedure. Nicaragua abandoned the suit as a way of expressing its good will to the United States, which in exchange helped a lot, but never in proportion to the amount that this indemnification would have represented.

It seems to me that the current tendency of Nicaraguan capitalists living in Nicaragua is to distrust both Arnoldo and Daniel. They wanted to promote other candidates from other parties that did inspire their confidence, so were forced to contrive this mythical "center" that never gelled. The attitude prevailing among them now, is mistrust. In these last days, many national capitalists have been thinking about this mistrust in relation to what it would mean to have a Liberal Alliance government, but they don't have any confidence in the FSLN's government of all either.

There are a lot of areas of mistrust, but we have to elect someone. Do we vote or don't we? And which of the two alternatives do we vote for? I made my decision and here I am. I will be Nicaragua's foreign minister if the "government of all" wins the elections.

The FSLN's Foreign Policy

In this government of all, the FSLN proposes a non confrontation policy toward the United States. This means a policy of not creating any problems that don't already exist, trying to resolve the existing ones and not confronting. This will be the policy starting next January 10. It remains to be seen what the policy of the United States toward Nicaragua will be, because there are elections there too.

If Clinton wins those elections and the Democrats recover the majority in both houses of Congress, that may not be excellent news for Nicaragua, but it will certainly be good news, since things have been worse for us in recent years with Republican governments.

The idea by naming me is to send a signal to the US government that we're going to avoid confrontations and conflicts. After speaking at length with Daniel about this, we reached the conclusion that it was important to send this kind of message to the United States. Daniel said that I was the appropriate person to be that signal, and I accepted. In the political chess game we find ourselves in, Arnoldo named Emilio Alvarez Montalván, a very esteemed person, as his potential foreign minister a week later. Arnoldo responded to a gambit by Daniel with another of his own. I hope that ours has been the stronger signal.

The foreign policy priority of the government of all will be to avoid confrontation, respect international law, use dialogue to solve any problem that comes up, deepen relations with all countries of the world, pragmatically examine the current problems to provide a solution to them and not proceed ex abrupto in any case, avoiding clashes or confrontations. This is the fundamental line of what our foreign policy would be.

With respect to certain countries such as Iraq and Libya, with which Nicaragua currently has diplomatic relations, the policy will be neither to break these relations nor to do anything that could be interpreted as provoking the United States. The policy will have to be pragmatic in this case and in others such as the two Chinas, the continental one and the island one. It would be absurd to ask the government of all to break relations with Libya or Iraq, since the Chamorro government has maintained diplomatic relations with these countries. In the case of Cuba, Nicaragua has maintained its relations, but this government has obviously cooled them. The government of all would strengthen cultural, social and all other kinds of relations with Cuba, except never--that is the intention--military and security ones.

Starting on January 10, 1997, the new government of Nicaragua will face huge problems, which have not only remained unresolved but have even been aggravated in these years. The new government's ability to maneuver will be very small. There's the foreign debt; an already approved budget for this new government--or, to be more exact, one already presented to the National Assembly by [Minister of Finances] Emilio Pereira; the International Monetary Fund and the other international financial institutions that have already imposed a series of commitments on us; the globalization--which is a reality and makes it very hard to act independently, and in our case orients us toward the United States...

And if Alemán Wins?

What will happen if the Liberal Alliance wins and puts its program into practice? In my judgement this will bring a high level of turmoil, of destabilization. And everything that the current government--mainly the presidency--has done with respect to reconciliation will be lost. It will all disappear with a President--now both head of state and head of government at the same time--who will have a program of attack to get rid not only of Sandinista leaders but also of a large part of the population that received benefits from the population. It's easy to say in the electoral campaign: we're going to respect those benefits, but not even this government has respected them.

And that's what's coming. The "change" that Arnoldo is announcing will mean a third change for the country. Yet another? We've had so many problems in the past 25 years: the earthquake, the corruption generated after the earthquake with all the donations that came; the popular insurrection, which was destructive, as all war is; the revolution, which was a change to a new system with new managers and leaders in all fields; in 1990 a change in reverse, with more corruption as signified by the Sandinista piñata and the corruption of the current government's piñata, which isn't called piñata because it's called privatization. And now, another change? A return to the 1970s? I believe that this would be disastrous.

The alternative to this is what the Sandinista Front is presenting us with a government of all, which offers reconciliation, peace, no surprises, no confrontation. Faced with this crucial dilemma, some of us feel a duty as citizens: What am I going to do? Am I going to keep quiet now, not do anything and then start crying on January 10? Isn't it better to see what I can do to prevent from actually happening what I think shouldn't happen? These were the reflections that I went through.

It seems to me--and I began saying this in many meetings starting in July--that one has to see how to avert a disaster. How to avoid having a candidate of the Liberal Alliance in power next year. And how to have in power a government of all.

What risk do we run? I believe that, in life, we run risks all the time. If someone asks me: And you, can you give me the guarantee that the FSLN is completely sincere? I will respond that I have decided by acting on faith. But it must be remembered that faith moves mountains. And even on the political plane, it must be recalled that if one wants to influence events one has to participate in them. If one wants to change the goals, the only way to do it is to participate in the actions that lead to those goals. That's my point of view. I also believe that today, given the two alternatives being presented to Nicaragua, many Nicaraguan citizens share this same point of view, and will decide in an identical way in this crucial moment.


*****

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