National Dialogue or Liberal Monologue?
What is the government’s objective in the National Dialogue? What is the FSLN’s objective with its street protests? Nicaragua is more in need of realities than of images; it needs concrete commitments and spaces where all can participate.
In June, the FSLN spoke of a latent possibility of "bringing down" the government, while other sectors sought only to curb the government's authoritarian tendency. Both approaches, while quite different from each other, grew out of the spreading sensation that the implacable march of time could allow the anti-democratic proposal of President Arnoldo Alemán's brand of Liberalism to become institutionalized.
A poll done in May by Borge and Associates, the same pollsters who predicted the Liberal Alliance's electoral victory last October, indicates that if Nicaraguans returned to the ballot boxes today, only 31% would vote for Alemán. That is a 20% drop in only four months of government.
In this context, what might we expect from the National Dialogue that President Alemán proposed on June 9?
A National Dialogue: Strategy or Tactic?In a strictly protocol ceremony on June 30, the government inaugurated the forum it's calling a National Dialogue. It has issued an invitation to participate to both political parties and an array of representatives from civil society. Neither the Sandinistas of the MRS nor those of the FSLN and its affiliated grassroots organizations attended the inauguration. Former President Violeta Chamorro and the National Army were also conspicuous by their absence.
There were only three presentations. In a prayer-reflection, Cardinal Obando compared the dialogue to the "alternating current" that circulates "within the Holy Trinity." President Alemán stressed that the government's role in it would be as "just one more" participant. Roberto Calderón, executive director of the year-old national electoral observation organization Ethics and Transparency, which the government hired to moderate the dialogue, announced that he would immediately begin consultations to establish the methodology of the forum, which would itself get to work sometime in July.
When President Alemán first convoked the participants to the National Dialogue, its profile seemed hazy since the bilateral talks, known as "work tables," between the government and unions and other social organizations largely linked to the FSLN had just fallen apart. With no outside observers at those tables, the public has still not been offered an objective explanation of why they collapsed. All the public could see was that the President's purported willingness to discuss and ultimately hammer out agreements on four major themes following the national protests in April had evolved into increasingly tense encounters at all four tables. In the end nothing was signed or even agreed to. Vice President Enrique Bolaños, who had faced off with FSLN leader Bayardo Arce at the table dealing with the property issue, haughtily shrugged off the failure with the explanation that the government had gone only to listen, not to negotiate.
Once it appeared that the crisis of those dialogues was irreversible, the FSLN leaders began threatening to kick off a second phase of April's protest. They rejected both the government's policies and its absence of policies.
It was against that backdrop that President Alemán called for the National Dialogue. It sounded like an improvised decision, but many still hoped that it represented a desire of the government to open up the difficult bilateral dialogue with the FSLN to a broader spectrum of interlocutors, including Sandinismo, and seek some sort of genuine national accord. It seemed a plausible hope, and a healthy way to avoid the economic and political erosion resulting from each new outburst of protest.
Had this been the government's strategy, Alemán would have indeed fulfilled his electoral slogan: "Let's make the change together." The dialogue seemed an opportunity to begin to rectify the authoritarian, intolerant and confrontational course that had characterized Alemán's administration ever since his inauguration in January.
Why Not Go?From the outset, the FSLN expressed skepticism toward the announcement with a good objective reason: the government's credibility was already significantly eroded-and not only with Sandinistas, as the Borge & Assoc. poll showed. There were also political considerations, however: the announcement of the dialogue demobilized the new protests that the Sandinistas were preparing, and the multilateral character of the dialogue would dilute the FSLN's leadership role as opposition.
FSLN secretary general Daniel Ortega posed a series of preconditions to the FSLN's participation, which, while hardly unreasonable, were read as signs that it was unwilling to attend. The first of these was that the dialogue's "when, how, with whom and about what" should be the fruit of consultations, not the government's unilateral decision, as had in fact been the case. The dialogue had been announced without even any prior pulse-taking or other courtesy to the potential participants, or, to use Ortega's description, "in a hasty and abusive manner."
The worst of this imposition was the government's apparent assumption that it could unilaterally decide the contents of the dialogue. Some governmental sources spoke of a "maximum agenda" that the government would take to the encounter, which would have seven points: jobs, production and investment, natural resources, public security, education, governability and reform of the state, and property. But a few days later, President Alemán was forced to back off. When he visited Ethics and Transparency to contract it as moderator of the dialogue, "ET," the observation organization insisted that its job also include drafting the agenda on the basis of consultations.
Another precondition Daniel Ortega insisted on was that the government halt further implementation of its announced plan to lay off thousands more state workers. In a lengthy interview on Carlos Fernando Chamorro's Sunday morning TV program "Esta Semana," the former Barricada director asked Ortega if state layoffs were not more appropriately a point for the dialogue itself than a precondition. The question reflected suspicions that the FSLN was simply seeking excuses not to participate. Ortega agreed that indeed it was an issue to be decided in the dialogue, but that it would be a moot one if all the workers had already been fired before a decision was reached. "Someone who's being stabbed to death right now doesn't really care if the penalty for homicide is going to be debated next month," argued Ortega.
Various political forces challenged the Sandinistas' skeptical stance and urged them to participate. Trying to get non-Sandinistas to shake off their own doubts as well, these same forces naturally emphasized the importance of the dialogue as the only reasonable way to resolve Nicaragua's grave problems together. Even the most anti-dialogue politicians usually won't turn their back on a proposal to dialogue.
In a meeting with envío, the respected Conservative leader Miriam Argüello, National Assembly president during part of the Chamorro administration, laid out her view on the Sandinistas' reservations about the dialogue as follows: "At times one is summoned to a dialogue and doesn't see much reason to go. But you go. I remind you of that dialogue in 1988 to which the FSLN called 14 opposition parties, some of them from the Democratic Coordinator. `Why should we go?' we asked ourselves, but we went. Some of us didn't even know each other, but there we were, sitting together, and we began to discover that we were capable of finding common viewpoints. Those common positions ended up sketched out in 17 reforms to the Constitution that we demanded be made. The Sandinistas said to us: "If you want reforms, win the elections." That dialogue lasted a month and its main fruit was an unexpected one: the 14 parties continued meeting, reflecting and making plans together until we finally formed what was later known as the UNO. And at the end, that cost the FSLN the elections. That's why I say that the FSLN should go; even though its expectations, and those of many of us, are low, who knows what might come out of that dialogue in the end? It could lead to something like in '88."
Two weeks later, Miriam Argüello was no longer thinking that way. She no longer saw an open opportunity in the President's call for a dialogue, but rather just simple governmental opportunism to improve an image seriously damaged by erroneous and erratic policies. "The government is the one that has been devaluing the very dialogue that it convoked," she told us in a worried tone.
Who Is Going?With each passing day, President Alemán deflated the real significance of the dialogue more as he sought to puff up the significance of its image. At first he said he would invite representatives of all organizations of civil society, which would have created genuine chaos if the over one thousand nongovernmental organizations in the country all attended. This possibility evaporated almost immediately; from civil society, it was learned, he would now only invite representatives of the unions recognized by the ILO, the business chambers of COSEP, two state universities and two private ones, the Catholic Church, CEPAD and the Evangelical Alliance. He also issued a limited number of general invitations to whole sectors or movements, which had to decide on who would represent them if they opted to attend.
As for the political parties, the President first announced that he would invite all those who had retained their legal standing by winning enough votes in the elections; there are over 30 such parties. But that invitation, too, began to dwindle by virtue of a new criterion: now it would only be those with legislative representatives. That reduced the number to 11, of which almost all are tied to Alemán's Liberal project one way or another, including by blackmail and bribery. The National Assembly is the branch of the state that should be-but isn't-the first and best institutional space for an ongoing national dialogue.
A Dangerous InterpretationThe government's initial concept of the dialogue committed the sin not only of unilateralism but also of incoherence. This was made evident when Vice President Enrique Bolaños declared that what the government was calling for was not a dialogue, whose necessary end point is a signed agreement, but a simple conversation, an exchange of criteria. With this he repeated once again an idea rooted in the minds of the highest government officials, tainting all their attitudes and decisions. "The dialogue," said Bolaños, "already happened, and it was with the people who voted on October 20."
Governability-which is being discussed a lot as the ideal to be reached-is not democracy. A country can be governable and not be democratic. The inverse relationship, however, is much more causal: countries with a solid base of democracy tend also to be more solidly and positively governable. In the case of today's Nicaragua, Vice President Bolaños, President Alemán himself, and so many other functionaries interpret the 50.9% of the votes the Liberal Alliance received-or at least that were accounted for-at the polls as a carte blanche that allows them to sidestep the search for consensus. These attitudes are distancing the country from democracy because in such a search one must listen and make concessions. The Liberals' blind anti-Sandinista attitudes also lead them to interpret the electoral results as unconditional permission to raise intolerance to absolute levels. This intolerance is making Nicaragua not only undemocratic, but also ungovernable.
Only a Moral Commitment?The government put the final touches on cheapening its dialogue with a full-page paid aid published in the newspapers on June 23 in which its own vaporous explanation of the purpose and contents of the dialogue was set down in print for all to see: "The Government of the Republic has issued an invitation to a national dialogue in which, through a free exchange of suggestions and recommendations, to set the terms of the National Agenda. The central objective of this national dialogue is to learn the opinions of the most varied political leaders and personalities of organized civil society with respect to the identification of and solution to the national problems of today and tomorrow.... The dialogue will produce a consensus about the country that we desire and its results will consist of a sum of recommendations for achieving it, making way for a national commitment to face its future successfully.... The results of the dialogue will not be measured by the signing of documents or particular commitments. In the recommendations we will all assume the moral commitment to give our country a viable channel for well-being and progress...."
This official announcement led many sectors, among them the Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS), to publicly join ranks with the FSLN's doubts, criticisms and objections to the government proposal, while still keeping their distance from the FSLN itself. Why a free exchange of suggestions and recommendations instead of concrete commitments and signed agreements? At this stage of the national crisis, what is the point of meeting just to learn the opinions of leaders and personalities when these opinions are made public every single day? At this stage, isn't it time to move beyond just identifying problems and start solving them? At this stage, why consult about generalities and assume only moral commitments when the concrete problems are so urgent and the commitments should be so specific?
No Pulling TogetherIf Nicaragua had the leadership that it so seriously lacks today, the best response to the vagueness of the President's announcement would have been for all those invited to the Dialogue to come together before the event and send the President the Minimum Agenda that only eight months ago virtually all of civil society had discussed, refined and ultimately supported, and that all political party leaders had then signed-with the sole exception of Arnoldo Alemán himself. He ostentatiously refused to sign the document on the grounds that one of the three steering committee members was a Sandinista (the other two were Cardinal Obando and Vice President Julia Mena).
That National Agenda was the closest thing Nicaragua has had to a national consensus in a very long time: it was a relatively detailed identification of problems and an aggregate of suggestions to set the terms of the national agenda. (See envío, October 1996, for a translation of that document.)
But no one joined together and no one sent it. Did anyone propose doing so? Did anyone even think of it? Nicaragua has neither the leadership nor a common objective that could pull together the signers of yesterday to present a unified position to the government of today.
Provocation on the Eve of a DialogueIf a vacuum of leadership and no shared vision are grave problems of the opposition, the government has contributed some pretty serious problems of its own, including the contradictory steps it took on the eve of the dialogue. First of all, the National Assembly board, which President Alemán blatantly controls, decided to submit Alemán's March veto of a law on the perennially controversial 6% for the universities to a yes-no vote on June 26, just four days before the dialogue's inaugural ceremony. This particular law ratifies that the constitutionally mandated 6% of the national budget for the state universities includes both ordinary and extraordinary income. His veto thus amounted to a "reform" of the Constitution and in practice represented a 51-million córdoba cut (about US$5 million) from what the universities would have received.
With a 20,000-strong student protest going on outside, the Liberal Alliance pushed through approval of the veto by a 47-42 vote (all 36 Sandinistas plus 6 independents opposed it). Even though defections have slightly shrunk the Liberal Alliance bench from its original 42 members, Alemán economically and politically nailed down enough votes from non-Liberal parties to back his veto.
Alemán can now count on a fixed number of independents who will always vote with him, and a handful of others who fluctuate depending on the issue. "Now representatives don't sell their vote, they rent it," is an oft-heard comment in political circles. Alemán had already "rented" enough votes for the election of Assembly board members, the new and comprehensive tax law and the 1997 budget itself, in fact for all controversial legislation except the 6% bill.
Two votes in favor of the veto and one abstention from the four-member Christian Way bench tipped the balance back from the opposition's only legislative victory in six months of Liberal government. Days later, FSLN representative Bayardo Arce detailed the economic blackmail to which these religious legislators, who originally voted for the 6%, had been subjected.
Why Throw Kindling On Red-Hot Coals?Approving the presidential veto in the National Assembly was like throwing kindling on smoldering coals. That same night student protests exploded on the streets, and they were angrier and lasted longer than in previous years. For weeks after that various points of Managua and other cities were battlegrounds for confrontations between students and anti-riot police.
The students and their supporters blocked the main thoroughfare running by one of the universities for days at a time by burning tires and erecting shoulder-high barricades out of Managua's now famous cement street blocks. While most of the time the protests were peaceful, they sometimes erupted into violence, with the students throwing rocks and homemade mortars and the police shooting rubber bullets, swinging sticks and lobbing tear gas canisters. In early July, the anti-riot police violated the autonomy of one university in Managua, and were seen on the news that night beating a professor who was already down. Over the weeks the police arrested dozens of students, not only at the protest sites, but also in their own neighborhoods.
The student reaction was to be expected, but the crudeness of the government in calling for approval of the veto when it did was hard to understand in the first place. The presidential office had announced the National Dialogue with great fanfare as formal proof of its will to reach consensus, and that image was now in tatters. Prudence, political savvy and simple intelligence dictated that the President put off the Assembly vote on his veto, if the dialogue was really conceived of as a strategic move in favor of peace and coming together. Better yet would have been to withdraw the veto and negotiate with the universities in good faith. But instead of pouring sand over the coals, President Alemán threw kindling on them.
If on the other hand the dialogue was a simple tactical maneuver to pull the rug out from under the FSLN and isolate forces sympathetic to it, it might have succeeded had it been handled well. As it was, the street protests unleashed by the approval of Alemán's veto largely had the opposite effect: it gave the Sandinistas a new protagonist impetus.
These provocations by Alemán are becoming customary. His inflexibility, accompanied by sarcastic declarations and duplicitous smiles, are now routine. In addition to having an authoritarian and intolerant tendency, the government doesn't even try to hide it. It prefers to provoke. Is this political thick-headedness or a calculated attitude? Is it a roughshod style that inadvertently steps on toes or a conscious testing of strength to find out who will resist the authoritarian pressure and who won't? In their first steps, all dictators dedicate some time to this taking of the political pulse, this calculated test of strength as part of their strategy.
Bring Down the Government?Important sectors of the FSLN wanted the spark of the 6% to explode into flame, because it is one of those that burns the brightest. Wrapped in the flag of the 6%, they were gambling on igniting "a popular insurrection," on deepening the instability, capitalizing on the discontent sown by the Alemán government in its first six months.
The FSLN wants to find a way to give a massive street protest form to the daily protests triggered by the arbitrary actions of the executive office within the legislative branch. In decision after decision, Alemán has turned the National Assembly into a wholly owned subsidiary, fashioning a governing style that is not only presidentialist but enslaving and authoritarian, and thus provokes instability.
But the President's loss of popularity does not automatically mean support for making the instability even worse. There is a general rejection of street protest methods as a way of struggling for social and political demands. The rejection seems to have as its variables tiredness, skepticism, disillusionment about politics and politicians, the certain knowledge that the damage costs of violence and tumult will be charged to the already poor, and a short fuse for violence that seems rooted in some level of unresolved war trauma, even in the cities that haven't known war since the 1978-79 insurrection.
This became unequivocally clear in a poll done by the Institute of Nicaraguan Studies (IEN) in April. Between 70% and 80% of those polled "totally disapprove" of such forms of protest as the invasion of private property, the closing of streets and highways, and the taking of factories, buildings and offices. Just under 78% said they "disapprove totally of people who participate in groups to bring down the elected government."
Where Do We Go From Here?In summary, the parliamentary dialogue has turned into a monologue among Alemán's Liberals, the FSLN is still not dialoguing honestly with the rest of the opposition to Liberalism, and the rest of the opposition isn't dialoguing with the FSLN at all because many of its leaders have lost credibility. In this context, the National Dialogue could end up being a Liberal monologue too.
The Chamorro government years did little to reduce the extreme polarization of a decade of war fought on home ground while doing a lot to enrich a few and impoverish a great many. In its first six months, the new Liberal President and other members of his government are intentionally exacerbating the polarization, doing all they can to whip up an anti-Sandinista atmosphere.
The National Dialogue began in a dramatic environment of physical altercations in the street and verbal altercations in the media over the 6%. President Alemán declared that "the Sandinistas aren't going to the dialogue since they're more interested in crying for us to give them a martyr, because that's what all members of the left like: to be carrying caskets." FSLN leader Ortega shot back that Alemán was a "two-faced liar," and admitted in the TV interview with Carlos Fernando Chamorro that "bringing down the government is an issue that is being raised" among Sandinistas.
Ortega also got into a verbal duel with Cardinal Miguel Obando preceding the dialogue. When President Alemán paid a visit to the cardinal to ask him to inaugurate the Dialogue with a prayer, Ortega said in a speech that it was logical, since the cardinal was "the chaplain of Somocismo," a "hypocrite," a "whitewashed sepulcher, and, more than that, a reddened one" (for the color of the Liberals). In the Mass that same Sunday, the Cardinal referred to Ortega as a "non-pacified person," adding that such people are like "a serpent, that lives, kills and dies spitting blood." Days later, Ortega stated, "I believe in Christ and not in those who sully his word." The exchange of insults was played up in the national media.
While the polarization widens, the national economy is acquiring a dramatic urgency that can't wait for any dialogue. The government is not revealing its economic plan, and no one even knows yet whether it in fact has one. The one thing the government is making public is its insistence on rebuilding the capital of those who were "shipwrecked" in 1979. The IMF has already discarded the idea of signing the new Enhanced Structural Adjustment Facility (ESAF) agreement, which would allow new cash resources to come into the country, before 1998. But meanwhile, Nicaragua will continue getting deeper in debt, paying an intolerable debt service of some $250 million, which represents a third of its gross domestic product.
Are We Becoming Africanized?Where are we heading? According to the most recent political language, a country "africanizes" when malnutrition becomes a permanent feature of the population and the desert a permanent feature of its land. A quarter of Nicaragua's children are suffering severe malnutrition, according to UNICEF sources. Another United Nations organization, the Economic Commission on Latin America (ECLA), warned in the recent Earth Summit that Central America, particularly Nicaragua, is going to become an immense desert within only 20-30 years.
A country becomes like Somalia mainly when the interests of the different social sectors and political parties that could deal with these tragedies become so estranged that the nation is "tribalized," making consensus impossible, annulling leadership, imposing a destructive competitiveness on any form of cooperation. When everyone becomes accustomed to coexisting with a "culture" of opportunism and immediate interests. This is already happening to Haiti and is on its way to happening to Nicaragua. _________________________________________________________________________________________
A Brief Historic Rundown of the 6% Struggle
The problem of the 6% for the universities is certainly financial, but it is also economic, political, legal and social. On top of all that, it is a symbol, since the struggle for 6% goes as far back as Somoza's time.
In the past five years, it has been the most controversial of the numerous financial issues that have been dominating the economic debate. It is also the one that has mobilized the youth in sometimes creative, sometimes simply militant demonstrations, for extended periods year after year.
While the energy that pours into these protests consistently surprises and consternates some people, not the least those in the upper echelons of the government, it is quite logical. In a country as impoverished as this one and with such an uncertain future, one of the most real and legitimate "dreams" for thousands and thousands of poor families is that their children get a good education "so that they can live better than us." Implicit in that wish for their children is the only form of social security to which poor parents can aspire: that their children will live sufficiently better that they can support the parents in their old age.
The pinnacle of this striving is to go to college; it's like gaining entrance to a kind of promised land. But the only university the poor can get into is the state subsidized public university, and even then they have to hope for a scholarship. Since the university is seen as the cutting edge between another generation of grinding poverty and at least a shot at something a little better, it is no wonder that the students are intransigent or that they have the support of their own families and of their social milieu in general.
The current debate thus cannot be analyzed with figures alone. It requires going back, yet again, to the first aspects of this debate, summarizing some of the ideas in the analysis we published in "The Month" in our February-March 1996 issue of envío. It means looking at the evolution of the legislation, the arguments put forward by both the Chamorro and Alemán governments opposing the 6%, and other maneuvers used to sidestep the strong pressures in favor of it, even when the political, to say nothing of economic, costs of doing so become dangerously high.
The Legal BattleIn August 1992, the National Assembly passed Law 151, defined as the "authentic interpretation of the law of autonomy of the institutions of higher education," which was Law 89, passed in April 1990, during the last days of the outgoing Sandinista government. The interpretation in Law 151 established that the state's contribution to the university could not be less than 6% of the national income budget and "should be calculated on the total of ordinary and extraordinary income independent of the origin of this income."
The legislators who voted in favor of this law did so fully aware that it had virtually no chance of being applied. The first obstacle was the limited resources available to the country; second was the pressure on those resources exercised by the international financial institutions; and third was the excessive power invested in the executive branch by the Constitution, which meant that the National Assembly had no effective control over the national budget or even the possibility of seeing precise and detailed figures for it.
In the budgets submitted to the National Assembly for its rubber stamp approval prior to the constitutional reforms at the end of 1995, the Ministry of Finances used the real economic difficulty of providing so much money to the universities as an excuse to under-represent the income that would be actually implemented. Even with that, the executive branch annually balked at even formally accepting that the 6% should include extraordinary income such as donations tied to specific other programs and projects, credit lines and the like.
With the constitutional reforms, Law 89 and, consequently, its "authentic interpretation" in Law 151 acquired constitutional rank. Another result of the reforms was that the Assembly finally began to exercise real control over the budget.
A third new factor was that the International Monetary Fund, after years of institutionally expressing its annoyance at the government's manipulated annual budget figures, finally demanded that the government present a real and transparent budget. The IMF, lest there be any confusion, was no more in favor of the 6% to the universities than the Chamorro government was; it wanted the accounts to be clear so it could apply the structural adjustment measures better.
Debatable ArgumentsWith its financial cover blown, the Chamorro administration reverted to frontal opposition to turning over the 6% for the universities in its last year. And in fact, it managed to avoid doing so, just as it had in previous years, despite still another round of mobilizations by university students, faculties and even administrative heads.
The Alemán government has shown the same resistance. It has also used arguments similar to those of the Chamorro government, which is not surprising since both the IMF and Humberto Belli, Minister of Education under the Chamorro government, are still in place. The main argument is that university education yields less ("only 20 of every 100 who enter graduate," says one current government ad opposing the 6%) and tries to present higher education as "elitist." The latter argument echoes the ideologues of the international financial institutions, who have been trying to sell it all over Latin America by framing it as a zero sum financial game between a handful of privileged university students and a nation full of underprivileged primary school children.
Nicaragua's Liberals add still other arguments, with theirnever-missing anti-Sandinista twist: the students who are demanding the 6% are "bums and Sandinista agitators" and therectors of the state universities, which are "FSLN redouts," "lead a great life" by "squandering" the 6%. They also present the proliferation of private universities in Nicaragua as "better," "more serious" and "more income-yielding" than the public universities. Some of the at least 14 private universities that are functioning without authorization from the National Council of Universities are closely linked to the upper echelons of Liberalism.
The argument most used by both the last and the current governments to reduce the actual amount of the 6% by removing the "extraordinary income" category is especially demagogic: "How, if the government of a friendly country donates money to us for a hospital, are we going to take it away from sick people and give it to the university? How, if they give us a credit for classroom desk chairs, are we going to take it away from those little children, who have nowhere to sit, to give it to the universities?"
Nicaragua has had to listen to this fallacy for years. Of course foreign resources appear in the budget that are tied to concrete projects, just as there are other forms of foreign cooperation: transfers, donations, loans, etc. But given what specialists call the "fungibility," or interchangeability, of foreign aid, the fact that international cooperation ("extraordinary income") finances a given public project allows Nicaragua to use its own "ordinary" income-that which comes in as taxes, for example-for expenses that such aid couldn't cover.
Since foreign aid indirectly finances any public activity or expense, the issue is thus not that it "can't be touched," as former Finance Minister Emilio Pereira often insisted and President Alemán today reiterates. They want the population to believe that a government budget uses the same primitive accounting method used in their own limited family budget, in which "dipping into the food money" means there simply isn't enough to feed the family at the end of the week. In fact, the issue is really where to assign any income freed up by foreign aid, who decides and by what criteria. Both the National Assembly and the population itself want a say in that, while both the government and the IMF want to decide it without any such troublesome input from "outside."