The Urgent Need for A Social Contract
Anti-Sandinismo and anti-Somocismo are two “familiar demons” for Nicaraguans. Overcoming these demons is the first step for reaching consensus on a social contract that will remove us from crisis and launch us towards the future.
It is hard to be constructive in evaluating the first 100 days of the new government; offering proposals seems an impossible task. We'll make the effort from an ethical perspective, in which the drama of the majority of our people, of the unemployed and excluded, the women and children, is the fundamental motivation.
Alemán Is not the Symbol That Violeta Chamorro WasThe Liberal Alliance came to power after a hard-run electoral race and intensely challenged electoral procedures, backed by political alliances with more anti-Sandinista than pro-Liberal interests and with strong commitments that condition the character of the alliance itself. Despite these hobbles, it must be recognized that Arnoldo Alemán's government is a legitimate one. It is the government of Nicaragua and should be given the chance to be part of the solution to the national crisis.
The two poles of national political confrontation that persisted throughout the Chamorro government still exist today. This situation is aggravated by the fact that President Alemán is not the symbol of national reconciliation that President Chamorro made huge efforts to be and was. What made Arnoldo Alemán popular in the elections and allowed him to pull a substantial majority of the vote was his anti-Sandinista position. Today it is the main limitation on his ability to govern.
The Liberal Alliance got the clear support of the Catholic Church hierarchy, which played an important role in the decisive moments of the electoral process. The Alliance also became the favored political group of the US Embassy, not because the United States trusts the Liberals as a political alternative, but because it is still pushing an anti-Sandinista policy toward Nicaragua, thus abusing its repeated pledge to maintain "constructive neutrality."
The Alemán government began its term with a conciliatory inaugural speech, full of offers and promises which have today turned into part of the "disappointment," the "disillusionment," the "bitter taste" of the "end of the honeymoon" that runs through the evaluation of its first 100 days. The property dialogue initiated with the FSLN leadership demonstrated an image of political will toward reconciliation that created expectations that spaces for consensus could open up despite the inherited polarization and the FSLN's angry questioning of the electoral process.
These positive expectations and images of the first weeks of government turned into even greater disenchantment due to their lack of consistency and failure to be backed by clear proposals. They were accompanied by signs of arbitrariness that caused tension even with like-minded groups and even with members of the Liberal Alliance itself.
Multiple contradictions became the breeding ground for the street protest that capped the first 100 days to try to halt what seemed to be a steamrolling and dictatorial style of government. "Our patience has been pushed beyond the limit," declared one member of the FSLN leadership. The "crisis of the barricades" that partially paralyzed the country and triggered tensions that began to move beyond the control of both the government and the FSLN itself had been predictable since March. Despite the unpopular arm-twisting methods of struggle of some Sandinista groups, what happened revealed once again that, in the political situation we are facing, administering the contradictions is not enough. A solution must be found to their causes.
Our "Family Demons"The major conclusion of these first 100 days is that, even though opposition to the Sandinistas could be a useful political option for winning office, it's not a useful option for governing and rebuilding Nicaragua. It is the task of our religious leaders to exorcise this anti-Sandinista "demon." It is the task of all to push it aside to make way for national proposals, proposals for the future and political projects more geared to constructing a great national social contract than to beating the other side out in a confrontation.
Something similar could be said of anti-Somocismo, not only that of the Sandinistas but also of a broad majority of the population. Eradicating it is even more difficult, because anti-Somocista roots run very deep and the wounds are still open. Anti-Somocismo is also part of a patriotic consciousness and history that triggered one of the most massive and important national insurrections in Latin American history. Despite all this, it too should be shoved aside to be able to find a national project.
It will take a long time to get past these two "family demons" and it won't be easy, but it is indispensable. Otherwise they will destroy any effort to reconstruct the country and reweave the social fabric. They will prevent the coexistence of the citizenry, as well as the cultural of tolerance in political, economic and even cultural life. This task is the main psychic obstacle to finding and reaching a great national accord.
Other Social Contracts In other CrisesThere is nothing magic or utopian in the proposal for a national social contract. Rousseau made such a proposal in the middle of the French Revolution, in that epochal change in which it was necessary to reconstruct French civil society. More recently, in the 1930s, a social contract was carried out in Sweden. It was a major pact that allowed the consolidation of a project for the future of the Swedish people and was for many years considered a world model of the shared welfare society. The "New Deal" promoted by Roosevelt in the United States also assumed a great national accord to overcome the crisis and polarization. Spain's transition from the Franco dictatorship to democracy, and even more recently, the Chilean transition out of the Pinochet dictatorship, reflect national accords that allow grave national crisis to be surmounted.
In the Chilean case, that great national contract in which two thirds of the population and of the political class are committed to the reconstruction, reactivation and creation of a genuine democracy in Chile, has meant a 7% annual growth of the gross domestic product over the past 10 years. The government of the Chilean national coalition is made up not only of the parties that support Christian Democracy but a broad coalition that includes the Socialist Party itself and even individuals from its more radical left line the Revolutionary Left Movement (MIR). Chilean President Patricio Alwin will go down in Latin American history as a unique end-of-century figure who was able to overcome serious internal contradictions and cauterize deep and historic wounds with a great national accord.
None of these examples is applicable to or imitable by Nicaragua, but they do offer inspiration and indicate possibilities of how to move past such a deep and major crisis as ours.
Arnoldo Alemán: Bonapartist StyleBuilding democracy in situations of paralyzing polarization, like Nicaragua is suffering, require the government and the opposition to articulate the design that any democracy needs to achieve the consensus that will permit that democracy to consolidate. "Politics is the art of the possible," underscored Karl Marx for both those who abominate it and those who invoke it.
The term "populist caudillo," applied to Arnoldo Alemán by one of the clearest ministers in his Cabinet, Foreign Minister Emilio Alvarez Montalván, cannot hide the fragility of the Liberal Alliance. President Alemán's ability has been in administering contradictions, maintaining contradictions, and even generating new contradictions, to buttress his own personal political power, his authority and his centralization of the government around a group of personal advisers who make up a kind of "shadow Cabinet" with respect to the official and public one.
In the social sciences, such a government style has been referred to as Bonapartist. It is the style of the strong leader who, in Napoleonic fashion, manages the pacts, the alliances and the contradictions in such a way that he can stay above them without having to resolve them. A good example of this style is Alemán's refusal in October 1996, when he was still a candidate, to endorse the Minimum Agenda drawn up by a broad representation of civil society organizations and signed by all the other presidential candidates. Alemán refused to sign it because it assumed accepting some multi-party commitments, and his Bonapartist style seeks only pinpointed and bilateral agreements that allow him to administer the contradictions with each of the sectors, avoiding any multilateral harmonizing of interests.
Realism toward the Economic TragedyBonapartism is the style of a Velasco Alvarado in Peru or a General Omar Torrijos in Panama, both in the late 1960s. Torrijos made pacts with sectors of capital and the Party of the People (Communist), at the same time that he organized the peasants and the grassroots forces into a nationalist alliance in order to be able to negotiate a new canal treat with the United States from a strongly backed position. Torrijos' Bonapartism allowed him to expand internationally through the Nonaligned Movement and pull together a great mobilization of Latin American consciousness to recover Panama's national space, where Bolivar considered that the capital of the continent ought to be.
Bonapartism can be a precarious but useful government style, when a national project exists that can agglutinate the main national forces around a figure or a party, putting aside or surmounting their economic and political contradictions. Nicaragua doesn't enjoy any of those preconditions: There is no agreed upon national project, or even the minimum consensus necessary to hammer out a national accord. Accomplishing such an accord requires going to the very profound and painful roots of what is polarizing and paralyzing the country. Without attacking those roots, neither stable governability nor sufficient economic reactivation to recover within a decade the historic levels that Nicaragua reached in the mid-1970s will be possible.
This is Nicaragua's tragic and crude economic reality: it is the only country in the world that has collapsed and today has the same per capital levels that it had 50 years ago. With this baggage and such a high population growth rate-one of the highest in the world-Nicaragua will not be able to recover its best economic levels from the past for many, many years, even if it achieves economic growth rates that are double the 5% reached in 1996.
The realism of this national tragedy should be faced honestly by those who are governing and also by all the citizenry, so that no one continues to get distracted by dialogues and partial accords that don't deal with the profound causes of the crisis.
A Proposal for a Social Contract in NicaraguaWith fear and trembling I offer the outline of a proposal for the great national social contract that we need. Let me start by proposing four main focal points for this national social contract:
* Consolidation of the institutions.
* A definitive solution to the property problems.
* A national accord on education.
* The consolidation of civil society's own autonomous space.
These four tasks aren't independent, but interrelated. They also require adequate time:
* The short term of 1997 to initiate the four processes and to agree on the procedures required to achieve consensus on each of them.
* A medium term that lasts the duration of this government administration to implement the social contract. This should continue to be deepened in the subsequent administrations.
* A long term of some 10 more years, which will cover the two following administrations, permitting the time needed to consolidate the social contract, surmounting differences and consolidating areas of consensus.
In Nicaragua, together with Panama the country that has been militarily intervened the most in Latin America, it is fundamental that this domestic process and the accords that grow out of it-which should have the support of at least two-thirds of the national population-be accompanied by international support from:
* The government of the United States
* The international community, basically from the group of countries known as the Friends of Nicaragua (Sweden, Canada, Spain, Holland and Mexico);
* The multilateral organizations.
Consolidation of the InstitutionsIt's not possible to build democracy without consolidating the autonomy of the branches of state. It's fundamentally necessary to recover and defend the National Assembly's own space, that of the Supreme Court and of the Comptroller General, not only so that democracy can function, but so that the market can function.
In the asymmetry and polarization existing in Nicaragua, the market has only created-and will continue to create-an economic dualism that is turning our country into a mixture of Somalia and Taiwan. We are increasingly moving toward a "Somalization" of the majority of the population, condemned to poverty, unemployment and exclusion. At the same time we are moving toward small modernizing enclaves for certain sectors of capital that can successfully insert themselves into the regional or international market.
If this dual dynamic is maintained in economic terms, the survival of anti-Sandinista and anti-Somocista sentiments will continue to be fostered in political terms. Only the consolidation of institutions that assure a genuine rule of law can get beyond the economic dualism and political polarization to which Nicaragua is condemned today.
Definitive Solution to the Property ProblemsThe property problems awaken the "family devils" and influence the Somali-Taiwan dualism of our country. The property theme is complex and difficult, and has been influenced by the determined intervention of the United States in the past and without whose participation in the present, impartially and respecting national interests, it will be difficult to resolve. A bold pragmatism is required to make use of the agreements and consensus reflected in Law 209, passed at the end of 1995. It is evident that these agreements were not enough, but it is also obvious that they cannot be cornered. The Government-FSLN commission created in February of this year to definitively resolve the property problems is the first that should give an example of getting past anti-Sandinista and anti-Somocista stereotypes, since there is no possibility of coming to any agreement under these implicit or explicit schemes.
The priority is to solve the problems that affect the property of social benefit, especially the farm properties in which this agricultural cycle will be won or lost. The conflicts around the larger properties, the pending indemnifications and the privatizations of CORNAP, the state holding company, should enter into a more institutional and laid back process. The differentiated time factor for resolving the specific problems is fundamental to such a complex and diverse set of problems.
Educational Accord and Spaces for Civil SocietyIn a country with nearly 60% of the population under 20 years of age, education is a national priority, given the percentage of the population involved in the educational system and for democratic reasons. We are talking about the majority of Nicaraguans: children and youth.
A great educational national accord is urgently needed in which the state, the family, the churches, business and, naturally, the whole educational system put together a National Education Council and promote a National Education Law in the near future that could be improved upon as the integration of the educational system progresses.
A premise is required: all the educational institutions would have to accept that the implicit or explicit suggestions of anti-Sandinismo and anti-Somocismo must be eradicated. In the short run, a fundamental element along these lines should be consensual and flexible management of the 6% of the budget for the universities, avoiding by all means recreating the unnecessary and sterile conflicts of recent years.
The establishment of an educational plan for the next four years of the current government, with perspectives and proposals agreed to for the next two administrations such that an educational process until the year 2010 is established, is a strategic step toward achieving the necessary culture of to-lerance among Nicaraguans. Defining attitudes and master lines for the recovery of university autonomy, the consolidation of a quality university reform and the integration of the university together with the three basic educational subsystems-primary, secondary and technical-are urgent tasks.
The consolidation and autonomy of civil society in relation to the state and the parties, independent of the political commitment of their participants, is one of the elements that could help consolidate institutionalization, resolve the property issue and, above all, push for a national educational project. The Women's Coalition, the Initiative for Nicaragua and the Minimum Agenda have been important steps in the direction of a more protagonistic civil society.
The Timeframes of the Social ContractIn the immediate future, the most urgent task is to guarantee the agricultural cycle, and to receive the International Monetary Fund in May since it is coming with an agenda full of conditionalities. The government's negotiating capacity with the IMF will basically depend on whether or not it has made progress toward a national social contract.
The fundamental task in the medium run is to guarantee the negotiating capacity with the international community, the United States and the multilateral organizations, prima-rily to renegotiate the foreign debt service payment. This capacity has cracks in it due to the government's inconsistent and authoritarian style, which has created enemies out of a number of national sectors. It is indispensible to rebuild some kind of consensus and majority national support, at the very least.
Many more items are pending over the long haul. In the economic forum held by the multilateral organizations in the Olof Palme convention center in October 1993, Minister of the Presidency Antonio Lacayo proposed a project that would forge national agreements that would reach beyond the Chamorro government's term. Unfortunately that proposal, well received by the international community and by broad sectors of the country in principle, was never formulated, much less implemented. It is still a pending task.
Today the international community is fed up with the waste of resources invested in Nicaragua with scant results, and is perplexed by the arbitrariness of the new government, which has displaced so many of the technicians and professionals working in the state who were trained with foreign cooperation and replaced them with relatives and friends of the government top brass.
It will be difficult to recover credibility with the international community, even with the countries in the "Group of Friends," which have been repeatedly marginalized, despite their good intentions and attempts to cooperate in solving the ongoing Nicaraguan crises. It will be hard to reestablish the old links and the amounts of cooperation if no project of agreement and national pact is presented that can attract the international community, perhaps giving us one last opportunity, with new and significant support for rebuilding Nicaragua and integrating it into Central America. The latter theme is permanently absent from the agenda of all the protagonists of the national conflict, and should be incorporated into it.
It is fundamental to recover international community support with an agreement that gets Nicaragua off the map of crisis and onto the map of the future. It is also fundamental to forge a Nicaragua in which at least two thirds of all Nicaraguans support a social contract that guarantees us a future. It is not an easy task. The first step is to shake off our "family demons," looking more toward tomorrow than back at yesterday.