The Twelve Days that Shook Nicaragua
Nicaragua’s destiny can’t possibly be linked to Arnoldo
Alemán’s impunity, but his Liberal followers are doing just that.
Nor can it be linked to Daniel Ortega’s presidential aspirations,
but that’s what his Sandinista followers are aiming at.
And finally, its destiny simply must not be linked to US interests,
but the government of Enrique Bolaños is surely linking it.
This fatal triangle led to the nation’s latest great crisis.
For 12 long and tense days, from November 26 to December 7, Nicaragua’s seemingly interminable political crisis spiraled to spectacular heights. Complex events followed upon each other at a dizzying rate, with each of the three conflicting power groups—Alemán supporters in the Constitutionalist Liberal Party (PLC), Ortega supporters in the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) and Bolaños supporters in the government—making every effort to impose their immediate-term logic on the others. Leaving no signs of a quick solution, this display of self-serving immaturity threw the population, particularly the broader Sandinista population, into perplexity, uncertainty and indignation.
The center of this whirlwind of activity was the impending verdict against former President Alemán, accused of numerous counts of corruption. As has been becoming increasingly clear, the outcome of that case—which from the outset has been as political as it is judicial—would depend on the power correlation between these three political forces at the final moment. The most affected by a not guilty verdict would be Bolaños, and naturally the most benefited would be Alemán himself. That leaves Daniel Ortega the great tipper of balances, because he controls the judge.
November 26: It all began early in the morning on Wednesday, November 26, when former President Arnoldo Alemán, in jail awaiting the judge’s decision on the massive corruption case dubbed “la guaca” (the stash), was transferred back to his hacienda, where he had been under house arrest between December 2002 and mid-August of this year. The judicial order removing him from the special police jail where he had spent only a little over two months, granted him the highly unusual and questionable privilege of “municipal arrest,” allowing him free movement through the sizable municipality of El Crucero, in which his sprawling farm is located.
Alemán back home on the range
An interminable caravan of luxury vehicles carrying legisla-
tors, comptrollers, justices and politicians—current Vice President José Rizo among them—immediately sped out to congratulate Alemán. The ensuing party with loudspeakers, beer and fair awnings lasted for hours.
That sight and its cause left the country dumbfounded. It could only be a signal that Nicaragua’s grossest exponent of state pillage would be declared innocent and would return to the political stage with his impunity intact. Although Alemán was released by judicial order, no one with an ounce of brains doubted that Daniel Ortega was behind the decision since Juana Méndez, the judge handling the case, is a Sandinista who consistently does what her party’s boss asks of her. And Ortega had indeed decided it, in a deal cut with Alemán himself days earlier. Méndez’s job, as always, was, to package his decisions legally.
In this case, her “legal” justification was three medical findings submitted three months earlier establishing the former President’s “valetudinarian” condition due to numerous chronic ailments. These health problems, all but one of which are the result of his extreme weight caused by uncontrolled eating and drinking, had Alemán bordering on “a silent heart attack” in Méndez’s suddenly humanitarian judgment. So the only course of action was to preserve his right to life. Thus sickly, decrepit Alemán, unable to care for himself, was conveyed back home wearing his toothiest smile.
December 7: Bookending this event, the 12-day countdown ended, at least temporarily, with a spectacular U-turn following murky negotiations between two and sometimes all three of the power groups that involved advances, retreats, ruptures, pressures, fallacies, simulations, blows for effect, coup threats, half-truths, denials and a veritable mountain of economic and political interests.
Alemán sentenced to 20 years
At 4 pm on Sunday, December 7, the day of La Gritería, as most of the population was preparing to celebrate the Virgin Mary’s Immaculate Conception with the traditional singing and firecrackers in the streets starting at 6 o’clock sharp, Judge Méndez read her verdict before the media. She found Alemán guilty of money laundering, instigation and association to commit a crime, the embezzlement of public funds, fraud and graft, not to mention electoral crimes, and sentenced him to 20 years in prison. He was also decreed “politically and civilly dead” by suspending his civil and political rights for the duration of his sentence—plus three extra years. Even his guardianship rights over his three-year-old daughter were annulled. Ortega was also responsible for this harsh sentence—although it was fully deserved and legally based—after backing out of the rumored “re-pact” with Alemán.
It was the most drastic sentence imaginable. Unless overturned on appeal or some flagrant abuse of power takes place, he is out of the political game. The other mind-boggling decision was that Byron Jerez, the very person with whom Alemán was accused of associating and instigating to commit the crimes, was declared innocent of all charges, although he is still in prison serving an earlier sentence and has a couple more trials to go. This perplexing verdict and Jerez’s continuing utility would be key to the next step of the crisis.
A propitious momentAny thoroughgoing analysis of this crisis needs to examine it from various angles, including the timing and the international mood, both of which played a major role. The crisis blew just as Nicaragua was about to reach the culmination point in the initiative for Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) to pardon 80% of its huge foreign debt and soon after US Secretary of State Colin Powell came to whip President Bolaños and the anti-Sandi-nista political forces into shape and order the Nicaraguan Army to surrender.
Nicaragua has endured the devastating social consequences of 13 years of structural adjustment in order to finally reach this last stage of the HIPC initiative, scheduled for announcement on December 19. As the last condition, the International Monetary Fund and the international community had required Nicaragua’s legislators to pass two laws—one on the civil service and the other on public indebtedness—plus the 2004 budget within a fixed ceiling before the National Assembly session ended in mid-December. This tight calendar and the judicial calendar for the Alemán case, which also required sentencing before the year’s end, offered an excellent opportunity for the PLC legislators loyal to Alemán to cook up their own scenario in response to Ortega’s calculations.
Three haloed laws…As a priority for recovering Nicaragua’s international credibility, which is strategic for a country so dependent on international loans, donations and proj-ects, approval of these three laws and entry into the HIPC were fundamental not only to Nicaragua, but also to President Bolaños. Given that the rest of his administration, his prestige and even his ego were on the line, the bills were a perfect tool for both pro-Ortega and pro-Alemán legislators to pressure Bolaños, although “blackmail” was the word heard more often throughout November and into December. The three political forces threw ultimatums at each other and each group busied itself calculating, almost by the hour, where the other’s greatest pressure points were. In this barrage of confusing and constantly changing messages, even the population felt blackmailed.
As part of the game, the government propaganda presented the HIPC initiative as the door to paradise, due to its debt cancellation, but there’s no hiding the fact that the initiative officially admits Nicaragua into the club of the most miserable and insolvent countries on the planet; it is international recognition of a national tragedy. For all that, neither the Sandinista nor the Liberal bench wanted to bear the political cost of appearing responsible for not having approved the haloed “HIPC laws.” Nor do the two parties deem it convenient, in any of the scenarios that they sketch out for the aftermath of this or any future crisis, to have such a complex macroeconomic problem as the unpayable foreign debt still hanging over the country’s head.
It wasn’t easy reaching consensus on the three bills, but they seemed to have done it. The IMF mission that visited Nicaragua on November 20 was satisfied with what it saw and let it been known that everything was on track.
…and a fourth less haloedIt was all a front; the wheels of consensus would soon jump the track. If President Bolaños’ priority was approval of these three laws on time and within the limits set, the PLC bench’s priority was, as it has been for nearly a year, to secure freedom for its “maximum leader.” Perhaps because they owe him everything they have, they appeared hell bent on gambling it all on getting him declared innocent and out of jail with a clean record. As part of this calculation, the PLC bench tacked on a fourth bill to the three required ones. It was their own minority version of a judicial career bill, which contained an explosive article determining that justices, judges and judicial officials who had formerly belonged to “repressive bodies” (understood to mean the Sandinista government’s security forces) would have to resign, as would those who received goods for which the state had to compensate the original owners (understood to mean the Sandinista government’s property confiscations and the “piñata” that followed the 1990 elections).
The article had two objectives: sweep out the sizable number of Sandinista judges who fit one or both of these descriptions, which would surely paralyze the judicial branch for months, and in so doing force a negotiation with the FSLN that would lead to Alemán’s definitive liberation.
It is estimated that 80% of Nicaragua’s judges are of Sandinista origin, though it is unclear how many of them would be affected by passage of this law. What is clear is the control that Daniel Ortega and his group exercises from the Supreme Court all the way down to the district courts. And it isn’t just ideological control; a lot of money moves through the court system as well. As demonstrated, this control ensures Ortega favorable sentences and other “legal” moves in all cases that are strategic to the personal, political or economic interests of the group currently dominating the FSLN. If it were to lose control of the judicial branch, the FSLN would lose the greatest power it has managed to retain since losing the elections in 1990.
A kick in the gut and a stab in the backArguing that the law’s vengeful nature was destabilizing, Ortega ran in search of President Bolaños’ “shield.” He believed he could still count on it after a year of successful deals, including one on November 17, when following a tense four-hour meeting the two men backtracked on their original idea of suspending the municipal elections, albeit for different reasons. That meeting seemed to have concluded with a new FSLN-government agreement; in fact, whether badly advised, ingenuous, dull-witted, insensitive, inexperienced, or simply faking it, Bolaños had said on that occasion that the FSLN was playing “democratically.”
Nonetheless, the President began to support the explosive PLC bill, presumably because anti-Sandinista pressure from the United States prevailed over any other consideration. Ortega, feeling threatened, responded with threats. On Saturday, November 22, he met with Alemán’s daughter to design a game plan to free Alemán. The next day, in a party meeting with FSLN leaders in Estelí, Ortega called Bolaños “the gringos’ bootlicker.” After declaring that the President had first used him and was now ready “not only to kick us but also to stab us in the back,” he announced that the FSLN would establish a “national agreement” with the PLC. Although he did not get the backing of the majority of those present, Ortega justified the agreement by the need to struggle together against Yankee meddling. Breaking his previous alliance with President Bolaños, he opted for Alemán. Thus it was that on the 26th, Alemán went from being a prisoner awaiting sentence in a jail full of comforts to being Ortega’s hostage, directing the “re-pact” from his hacienda.
Ortega had already been feeling out the possibilities of such an in-depth negotiation with the PLC, and this move sealed it, leaving Bolaños no legal maneuvering room. Once again, the shadow of a pact between Ortega and Alemán hovered over the country. In Nicaraguans’ inimitable capacity for word play in the midst of chaos, it was immediately dubbed the “re-pact.” Even though its scope was unknown, everyone immediately assumed it would mean a new sharing of power, as had happened with the original pact, consummated in 2000.
Was Ortega’s only motivation his greed for power at any cost, the political madness of a power-sick caudillo? Or did his overtures to Alemán contain an element of angry nose thumbing at the Bush administration’s increasingly explicit anti-Sandinista project, sending yet another message of how powerless Bush’s man in Managua was without FSLN cooperation? Or, in a third hypothesis not exclusive of the second, did he hope to use the threat of a new pact as a bargaining chip to make Bolaños understand that he had to go back to “respecting” the FSLN and provide something of a shield from the Bush project?
Jerez: Just following ordersAlemán’s transfer back to his hacienda was not the only surprise in the “guaca” case, opened in August 2002 and involving the alleged embezzlement of over US$100 million. The trial was proceeding apace with one surprise after another, although public opinion had lost its capacity to react to them after all the political calculations the three political forces had woven into Bolaños’ “war on corruption.” What in the first months of 2002 had promised to be a school of moral teaching and of trust in change, was now seen as a poorly scripted grade B farce.
In mid-November, in one of the trial’s final scenes, Alemán’s defense attorney confidently asked Judge Méndez to subpoena 45 top Alemán government officials—some of whom were kept on by Bolaños—to answer whether they had ever received an improper order from President Alemán. With Bolaños, Alemán’s Vice President for the first four years of his term, in the lead, all except one declared that they had never received such an order and had never seen any irregularity of major significance.
The exception was Byron Jerez, former head of the government’s tax division, who surprisingly admitted everything. He said he had carried out all the operations revealed in the incriminating evidence against Alemán out of “obedience” to his boss’ orders. Was this uncharacteristic sincerity a sign of some plea-bargaining deal he had cut with somebody—Ortega? the US?—to sink Alemán in exchange for annulment of the charges against him in the same case? His declarations, which made him public enemy number one to Alemán’s followers, provided the basis for Méndez to find Alemán guilty of laundering public funds.
Alone to face the musicMany other former government officials from the Alemán administration had been accused of involvement in the “guaca” embezzlement, but all had fled the country. Only two had remained: Jerez, who had now turned state’s evidence, and Alemán, who continually displayed an excess of cockiness and a dearth of evidence in his own defense. The period for presenting evidence in the case expired on November 23, only three days before Ortega sprang him from jail to negotiate with him.
Alemán’s defense team had never attempted to demonstrate his innocence, but had interminably come up with new excuses to justify why he should not be imprisoned. In the closing days of the probatory period, it played the final cards of this strategy. After the parade of government witnesses, Alemán’s defense attorney and family, his wife María Fernanda in the lead, adduced that the testimony by 44 of the witnesses that they had seen, heard and knew nothing was proof that there is no proof. They totally disqualified Jerez’s declarations, and requested that Cardinal Obando appear to testify to Alemán’s good conduct, which he would willingly have done had the judge not deemed it unnecessary. They then requested an extension of the probatory period and persisted in their request that the whole process be dismissed on the grounds that, unlike US law, Nicaraguan law explicitly links money laundering to illicit drug-related activities alone and is thus inapplicable to defrauding of the state. As we have seen, the judge neither threw the case out nor employed the option of separating the money-laundering charge and sending the issue to a jury; she simply overrode the defense team’s interpretation of the law.
Threats and counter threatsThe deal Ortega reportedly offered Alemán upon his return to his hacienda was very attractive: he could go back to the political arena, the Constitution would be reformed, Bolaños’ term of office could be reduced… It is said that he told Alemán “everything can be negotiated.” This put Bolaños in a very tight corner, since he had barely eight National Assembly representatives on his side against the eighty that the PLC and FSLN could combine to legalize whatever agreements their respective caudillos negotiated.
Some opponents of any renewed pact urged the President to declare a State of Emergency and instigate a “Fujimorazo”—a takeover of the branches of government in the style of former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori. A larger number counseled, however, that dissolving the Assembly and the other branches would provide the President with a degree of representation of national interests that he can no longer claim to have. Furthermore, it would only bring more instability and chaos, which would favor the two caciques, already proven to be the best fishermen in the turbulent waters that they themselves have stirred up. From the very first moment, the army publicly stated that it would back the constitutional order.
Following Alemán’s release from jail, Ortega’s bearing was puffed up, defiant, self-assured. On Friday, November 28, he not only justified the reasons for the release but alleged with particular cynicism that he had played no role in the decision—which, of course, no one believed. He warned that Bolaños would rue any decision to declare an emergency. To make his point, he ordered Judge Méndez to dust off an August 2002 suit for electoral crimes, which they had shelved as a future blackmail chip (During earlier declarations in the “guaca” suit, Byron Jerez had included Bolaños in his long list of people allegedly involved in electoral crimes). Two days later, Ortega called Alemán “wily and crooked,” claiming that he had to review all agreements made with the former Liberal President “with tweezers.” At the same time, he reminded the population that, together, the Liberal and Sandinista benches could “change everything” in the country. Among other things, he again mentioned his confusing proposal to shift the current balance of power from the presidency to the parliament. He acted like the owner, director and lead actor of the political stage. So much power seemed to have gone to his head.
“Who said anything about fear?” This notable exhibition of power seems to have succeeded in intimidating the government and the entire international community, but with the pending re-pact leaving Bolaños no maneuvering room in the institutional crisis, Bolaños decided to make his own overtures to Alemán’s backers, under the insistent gaze of the United States. One sign of this attempted rapprochement was his untimely dismissal of Francisco Fiallos, head of the nation’s Office of Attorney General, with the unsatisfactory justification that there was a “lack of coordination” between Fiallos’ strategy in the fight against corruption and his own. Hours earlier, Fiallos had announced that his office had irrefutable evidence to charge Alemán’s wife and her father with money laundering as well. Bolaños sent his people to apologize to Alemán’s family.
In the first days of the crisis, the President seemed weak, indecisive, passive bordering on imprudent; he boasted of his capacity, his international prestige, but showed little concern about the worrying turn of events while desperately seeking direction and solutions from the international community. “Who said anything about fear?” was the slogan he brandished to project calm. It didn’t work.
The re-pact goes forwardThe first visible and concrete agreement to come out of the FSLN-PLC negotiation was the introduction of a constitutional reform bill to suspend the November 2004 municipal elections for two years and combine them with the general elections in November 2006. This initiative, fell apart when the pact did, but not before being widely challenged by the international community and diverse political and social sectors and minimized by Bolaños himself. It is discussed in more detail in the article “Why Two Petty Peddlers Wanted to Buy Electoral Time.”
The US government’s first reaction to the new negotiations between the PLC and the FSLN was to label Nicaragua’s judicial branch “corrupt” and Alemán’s release from jail a “manipulated political decision,” a view shared by the majority of the population. With the backers of both Alemán and Ortega united in an “anti-imperialist” position, their loyal Supreme Court justices called the US declaration “injurious, wrong and intrusive.” The US government next froze the funding to provide technical support, training and advice to the judicial institutions, privately warning Alemán’s followers that allying with the Sandi-nistas to damage Bolaños would personally net them and all their relatives cancelled US visas.
Accustomed by now to Nicaragua’s unpredictable, recurring and exhausting crises, the international community in general continued to gamble steadfastly on Bolaños’ leadership, considering him the only option that could guarantee halfway decent governance in such an unredeemed country. Ambassadors and international creditors warned in various tones that there would be economic consequences if Bolaños was touched, starting with the HIPC door closing on Nicaragua, responsibility for which was already being presented as synonymous with “treason against the country.” Alemán’s Liberals responded by visiting a number of embassies—the US one first—to assure the international community’s representatives and anyone else who wanted to listen that the pact with the FSLN was not aimed at undermining the HIPC initiative or reducing the country’s governability. In contrast, Daniel Ortega, undaunted, minimized the importance not only of international cooperation, but also of nongovernmental organizations, civil society and public opinion in general in his speeches and declarations, which reaped him a bumper crop of righteous and growing criticism and repudiation.
Meanwhile, the party teams kept negotiating. Among the items on their Christmas shopping list was the new composition of the Supreme Court, which has been without a president or defined chambers for over two months, as well as the new National Assembly leadership for next year, recomposition of the electoral branch, reforms to the electoral law, institutional reforms, etc., etc. Ortega’s ace in the hole was Alemán’s definitive freedom, while for the Liberals it was the bill to sweep Sandinistas out of the judicial branch altogether.
Bolaños’ harvestThe crisis revealed how much the President depends on outside backing, which is perfectly understandable in a country so dependent on the international community. It also revealed how much he is being affected by a loss of internal backing. His new party, the Grand Liberal Unity (GUL), tried to capitalize on the crisis, calling on Sandinistas fed up with Ortega’s attitude and Liberals sick of Alemán’s games to strengthen this new political alternative, to demonstrate in the streets, to reject those in the pact.
But they found no echo. The GUL didn’t grow and there were no street demonstrations, because there is no genuinely autonomous and credible leadership that could convoke them and channel the rejection of the whole political class. In fact, many of the communiqués from important figures published in the media pointed out the President’s own responsibility in the crisis. He was criticized for being excessively complacent in following orders and signals from the United States, for surrounding himself with an insensitive team of technocrats, for implementing economic proposals not rooted in the national reality and lacking social conscience, for being incoherent in his fight against corruption by focusing only on Alemán and Jerez for political reasons, for clinging to his highly criticized mega-salary and mega-pension... For the first time, the President was harvesting what he had sown with his ambiguous or badly thought out decisions in his two years in office.
A corruption “combo” In public opinion terms, the highest price for the crisis appears to have been paid by the FSLN, particularly Daniel and his followers. Even Sandinistas that have parted ways with the FSLN have been stained by Ortega’s unqualifiedly cynical attitude in negotiating with Alemán, the symbol of corruption and larceny, thus again betraying every principle of the revolution.
Worse still, Alemán’s release from jail occurred within a kind of “combo of judicial corruption” orchestrated by the Ortega clique, in which three things happened in the space of 72 hours. On the morning of day one, Judge Méndez sent Alemán home. That night, Ileana Pérez, another judge loyal to Ortega, declared Silvio Conrado, Ortega’s economic adviser, innocent of having repeatedly sexually abused poor girls in a Managua hotel, despite apparently ample evidence of his guilt. Two days later, Henry Ruiz, the legendary Comandante “Modesto,” and other members of the Augusto César Sandino Foundation’s (FACS’s) board of directors were sentenced to a year in jail on trumped-up charges; their real crime was having tried to defend the institutionality and transparency of Nicaragua’s largest NGO. (Ruiz himself speaks out more fully on this case in the article titled “The FACS: A Microcosm of National Ills” in this issue.)
Such a huge wave of indignation among Sandinistas has not been seen for a very long time. The sentence against “Modesto” caused the greatest commotion because he had confessed that the scope and nature of this latest crisis had reawakened his “passion” to return to the struggle after years of silence and political distancing.
Ortega backpedals The political cost that Daniel Ortega was paying for having shown the nation his complicity with Alemán and his total lack of principles grew higher by the day. The messages he used to defend his positions sat well with no one: he cynically denied any interference in the judicial branch and Judge Méndez’s decisions and justified his alliance with Alemán as “our duty to unite to stop Yankee interference and seek stability and profound changes to achieve a participatory democracy.” He threatened President Bolaños with prison and the nation with new changes to the country’s institutions, laws and even the Constitution by combining the votes of his discredited legislative representatives and those of the even more discredited PLC bench.
The irritation caused by the judicial sentence against Ruiz and the other FACS board members—a lot of money passes through the FACS, which the FSLN needs to indirectly bolster its electoral campaigns—began to alert Ortega to the danger. He even started to receive warnings from within his own iron circle in the party that he was risking too much and even putting his own candidacy at risk. His allies within the Convergence—the electoral alliance created for the 2001 presidential elections, which has remained remarkably intact—told him the same thing.
Things weren’t going as smoothly as Ortega would have liked in the negotiations with Alemán either. Although Ortega had assured him that everything was negotiable, Alemán wanted a sentence totally absolving him, which Ortega did not consider politically viable. The days ticked by and the two could not even agree on how to reestablish the Supreme Court, split the posts in the new National Assembly leadership or any other basic agreements beyond suspension of the elections. In this context, Ortega backpedaled. On November 5, flanked by politicians from the Convergence, he declared that “Alemán’s freedom is non-negotiable,” that “no one has taken the people into account” and that the only solution was to leave Alemán’s case to the courts and subject the institutional reforms to a plebiscite or referendum. The re-pact was de-pacted.
An exchange of messagesThree hours after Ortega disentangled himself from his own actions, President Bolaños responded in a message to the nation. Reflecting firmness for the first time in the crisis, and for the first time in a message of this type, he stood flanked by the army and police chiefs of staff. He scorned the “politicking” of the two caciques and claimed that he was on the people’s side. He also announced that next year he would introduce bills to reform both the judicial and electoral branches of government and that if they were shelved he would organize a “binding popular consultation” to approve them.
Half an hour after his speech, Judge Méndez announced that she would present her verdict in the Alemán trial in two more days, on the afternoon of the happiest day of Nicaragua’s calendar of festivities. That sentence effectively contained Ortega’s retort to both Bolaños and Alemán and his “solution” to the crisis. For Alemán: total rejection through the most drastic verdict imaginable. For Bolaños: a Damocles’ sword hanging over his head, because Judge Méndez did indeed tie the money laundering that had dissimulated the “stash” to electoral crimes allegedly involving Enrique Bolaños and a good number of his officials who had also been members of the Alemán government. Byron Jerez, the key witness in Alemán’s sentencing, could easily become the key witness in explaining to Judge Méndez how the money was allegedly laundered and used to bring Bolaños to power...
If Daniel Ortega initiated one strategy with Alemán’s release from jail, he initiated a new one with Jerez’s absolution in the guaca case that would make the Christmas and New Year celebrations a mere parenthesis. Some uncertainties were resolved as a result of the December 7 verdict, but many others were opened. The dizzying pace of the episodes in this crisis involving three political forces so eroded in public opinion would make for great theater of the absurd were they not so damaging. But, unfortunately, this is not theater, it is real life, and the crisis is not over. There is still no outcome in sight, if such a notion is even relevant in today’s Nicaragua. The crisis will continue to twist and turn in ways that are still unpredictable at this moment in which we have to put the final period on our effort to synthesize it.
The man who has always looked to the NorthThis crisis is not independent of previous periods of instability in a country in which the game rules have abruptly and frequently changed over the past 25 years without ever achieving genuine national consensus. And it has its logic. More exactly, it has several, each linked to the others. It is also a crisis for which many share responsibility.
The US government, for one, had enormous responsibility, and saying this is no slogan or cliché, no mere allusion to its historical responsibility for so much of what has happened in Nicaragua over past decades and centuries. It is much more recent. Many of those in positions of power in the current Bush government—plainly dominated by militarism, greed and an expansionist ideology that tramples the rights of all other peoples—also held important posts related to Central American policy in the eighties. They still long to avenge everything that Nicaragua’s revolution signified to them. They didn’t understand then and they haven’t forgotten now.
From the moment he took office in January 2002, President Bolaños and his team showed a determination to act as diligent administrators of US plans and priorities for Nicaragua and the rest of the region: the free trade agreement, reduction of the region’s military forces, arms control, the homogenization of national laws with those of the gringos, the “war on terrorism” with all its injustice, arbitrariness and extremely high quota of state terrorism...
The war on corruption was included in this package, as it was fundamentally aimed at satisfying US political, economic and national security needs rather than Nicaragua’s moral needs. Bolaños was proposed as Central America’s standard-bearer for all these causes, and once in the presidency, he set all his compasses with the needle facing North.
With no support in the state institutions controlled by Alemán and Ortega loyalists due to the pact, no support in the party on whose ticket he won the presidency because of this attempt to displace Alemán from his PLC leadership, and quickly losing popular support due to his social insensitivity and arrogance in the midst of an economic crisis, Bolaños, a man who had always looked North, put all his chips on being sustained from there.
The US strategic projectEven after the FSLN was voted out of office in 1990, the US has continued to prioritize the liquidation of Sandi-nismo in Nicaragua. The “hawks” who again dominate the government in Washington make no distinction between Sandinismo at large and the current FSLN leadership. They neither know how nor can be bothered, although the kidnapping of the FSLN by Daniel Ortega and his gang admittedly makes such distinctions difficult—and not only for the gringos. For the US administrations of the nineties, and now the current one, absolutely anything linked to Nicaragua of the eighties—leaders, party, army, social forces, organizations, individuals, movements, media, cultural expressions—tends to get thrown into the same sack to be sent to the trash bin of history.
The Bush administration’s strategic project in Nicaragua is to consolidate a viable and lasting anti-Sandinista force that can ensure its eradication. Given that immediate interests dominate the political world throughout the planet, the eradication must be quick, at the speed not of life but of technology.
Arnoldo Alemán earned his stripes as the kingpin of that force when he suddenly popped up as a key figure after being named mayor of Managua in 1990, before mayors were elected directly. From there he leapfrogged into the presidency with full US backing. He was already corrupt and working in cahoots with Byron Jerez, but all that mattered to the United States was his visceral anti-Sandinismo. But as often happens with similar love affairs—Manuel Noriega, Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein, to name only three—Alemán wiggled out from under the US thumb. He institutionalized such a degree of hyper-corruption that stable rules could not be guaranteed for global capitalism and US security was threatened. Worse yet, by entering into a pact with Daniel Ortega in 1999, the sharing out of the state institutions breathed new life into the FSLN.
A whole war against one corrupt manEnrique Bolaños was the alternative. A lifelong anti-Sandinista and an already “modernized” businessman known in US circles, Bolaños could handle the strategic mission. But this would involve shoving Alemán out of both his anti-Sandinista leadership role and his enormous, rock solid control within the PLC. His flagrant acts of corruption would be the grounds for this displacement, packaging the whole operation as a “war on corruption.”
That war, which we can now see was aimed at bringing down a single corrupt man, was the first mission assigned to Bolaños. From the outset, the case of the State vs. Arnoldo Alemán was as political as it was judicial. In addition to being a thief, Alemán was a political thorn in a major project designed in the North.
For its entire first year, the new Liberal government’s energies centered on the Bolaños-Alemán confrontation and the disputes generated within Liberalism by the judicial fence erected around Alemán. The net winner was the FSLN and the Ortega group, which saw their influence grow and with it the possibility of determining policies favorable to their interests. Bolaños needed them to confront his own party’s resistance to watching its “maximum leader” fall into disgrace. This flaunted Bolaños-Ortega alliance enraged the Liberals and worried the United States. It meant an even longer life expectancy for the FSLN.
A great school and its teachersA fundamental factor in understanding the current frustration of the majority population excluded by all three of the power groups is that, beyond the political aims of Bolaños and the United States, the way had already been prepared for the “war on corruption” by pioneers such as Mónica Baltodano and Agustín Jarquín and by untiring builders of civic consciousness in the media. This allowed the simultaneous opening of a great civic school, where Nicaraguans began to understand the collateral evils linked to the evil of corruption, including the country’s appalling levels of poverty.
Once enrolled in that novel school, people dared to dream of the power of justice, the value of the law, of recovering the stolen resources and putting them to good use; and also of punishment, fair punishment… The heroic emblems of that fight, an uncompromising and fearless prosecuting attorney named Alberto Novoa and a humble judge with the same qualities named Gertrudis Arias, allowed us a cautious glimpse at an unprecedented legal and judicial utopia. Later, the professionalism of Iván Lara, a young lawyer who was the state’s penal prosecutor in the “guaca” case, also showed a new generation paths of hope.
A broad sector of the population began to understand more clearly the link between the enrichment of those in government and the impoverishment of the governed. This new awareness is now affecting even Enrique Bolaños. He is perceived as corrupt not because he is pillaging the state treasury like his predecessor but because, in a country on the edge of ruin inhabited by a majority of impoverished people, he is enriching himself with a disproportionate presidential salary, topped off by a pension for having previously been Vice President, and defending both tooth and nail as legal and legitimate.
Misjudgements made calculations go awryThis year-end crisis can also be explained by the failure of several of the calculations made in Washington—and in Nicaragua—to ensure that Bolaños would win out over Alemán. In the first place, Nicaragua’s political culture has not evolved at the same rate as the laws and institutions proposed—and sometimes imposed—by the international community. Democracy now has a certain electoral expression in Nicaragua, but its institutional expressions are still very incipient. And such backwardness is even more pronounced in the democratic culture, which should begin at home, continue at school, take root in people’s consciousness and express itself in daily attitudes. Nonetheless, households are typically the most anti-democratic spaces in Nicaragua today.
Nicaragua’s shortsighted, macho and authoritarian political culture, dominated by the caudillo syndrome, is a very deep and very old well from which springs increasingly contaminated water. People still seem to need authoritarianism in the form of submission and of caciquek leaders to venerate and ask for favors. This includes the God that so many understand as the “Great Cacique in the sky,” to which religious services often attribute the same vices as bad politicians. Modernity has barely touched Nicaragua and in this climate, Alemán’s course, pugnacious, glad-handing, slang-spouting style and his benevolent but partisan generosity with state goods is very well received by the population. Alemán, with all that he represents, still enjoys notable support, both institutionally and at the grassroots level, as is also true with Ortega. It is a leadership that Bolaños could not match or substitute even if he wanted to.
Another error committed by both Washington strategists and Bolaños was to believe that Alemán would have less tenacity and fortitude than he has demonstrated, particularly given all the blows he has taken this year: legal harassment, losing his legislative post, vilification in the media, imprisonment, and on top of it all, the death of three of his closest family members, one after the other. This tenacity aggravated the crisis and ensured that more chapters will surely be writ. It is still a very good bet, for example, that Alemán will ultimately go free with his leadership virtually intact and possibly with increased moral stature. It could happen during the appeal process or the Supreme Court could annul the sentence, which would permit new maneuvers and negotiations with a good deal of money exchanged in the process.
They also miscalculated in thinking that PLC legislators who had colluded with Alemán would abandon their “maximum leader” and his PLC in favor of Bolaños’ GUL when it became obvious that the United States had given up on its previous darling. In the event, it was not enough to just pressure them while promising to forgive their known complicity in Alemán’s corruption.
This failure has permitted Daniel Ortega a lead role and augured more difficulties for President Bolaños, who in two years has been unable to pull away more than the half a dozen or so Liberal representatives who left the PLC bench to form the pro-Bolaños Blue and White bench. Nor did Bolaños have much success in creating the Grand Liberal Unity itself, which has so far spectacularly failed to live up its name. Its political test will come in next year’ s municipal elections and a lot will have to change in the political panorama for Bolaños’s Liberals to acquit themselves well.
The Powell effectPresident Bolaños’ political weakness, expressed in his continual need to ally with Ortega to stay on top of the Alemán case and push through the laws needed for his pro-US project, couldn’t last too long without seriously worrying the Bush administration’s Nicaragua desk.
The political scene began to change quickly after Colin Powell’s visit (November 3-4) and the peremptory political messages he left—Liberal unity to close all space to the FSLN, an end to the kind of government-FSLN alliances that breathe new life into the FSLN, “political surrender” of the army with the destruction of its surface-to-air missiles, and freedom for Alemán that lets him leave the country, albeit with a sentence hanging over him that prevents his return to politics.
The “Powell effect” on the crisis became evident as soon as the general’s plane left Managua airport. His messages, weighted down with the usual US presumptousness, left no one happy. Although the FSLN was the most affected of the three political forces, it wasn’t the only one bothered by the imperial arrogance. Letting Alemán go free, whether with a verdict of innocent or guilty, would be a serious setback for Bolaños’ prestige. And leaving the political stage by the back door was unacceptable not only to Alemán but also to the PLC itself, which had never stopped defending his innocence, his leadership and even his future presidential candidacy.
Two cocky roosters with wounded prideThe disgust and rejection was such that Dan Fisk, Powell’s assistant under-secretary of state for western hemisphere affairs, had to come back 15 days later to reiterate the orders. This time the main message was aimed directly at the PLC and, indirectly as before, at the FSLN. Fisk did not mince words, because he wanted to leave no room for doubt: “Just as Daniel Ortega is unacceptable to the United States, a Nicaraguan political future involving Arnoldo Alemán is equally unacceptable. The democratic forces [which in US lingo is any party—authoritarian or anti-democratic ones included—whether large or small, with roots or without, as long as it is opposed to the FSLN and to Sandinismo] need to understand that we are talking about building institutions. We are not talking about having a ‘counter-caudillo’ opposed to Daniel. Arnoldo is a political figure from Nicaragua’s past. Some day the Sandinistas will realize that Daniel is a figure from the past as well. The PLC legislators I’ve talked to clearly understand the position of the United States and clearly understand that the PLC must go through a leadership transition and that they have to do it by 2006 [presidential election year]. How are they going to achieve this? What they understand is that they have to make that transition.”
Arrogance often leads to crass errors, and this time was no exception. The message was unacceptable to the very people Fisk apparently thought had understood everything. If Alemán’s strength in his darkest personal and political moments was not included in the calculations, neither was the loyalty of his deputies. They closed ranks again. And in the always slippery ground of wounded pride, of macho posing to determine “who’s boss around here,” the one who speaks most forcefully, who can stand up to the toughest licks, who puffs out his chest the furthest is the cockiest rooster in the chicken coop. And thus it was that the two cocks disqualified by the United States found common ground: considering such foreign interference in Nicaragua’s internal affairs unacceptable—albeit for none-too altruistic reasons—and needing to show who gives orders and who doesn’t, they cooked up the re-pact.
They weren’t the only ones who were offended by such imperial arrogance, which lacks respect, doesn’t dialogue and thinks that a show of strength is all the right it needs. It offended the entire population’s political culture. It offended the followers of both caudillos—still the majority of the population—to hear their leaders disqualified, particularly because the message tried to enthrone Bolaños as the only alternative. But the greatest offense was because no one has ever given the United States the right to qualify or disqualify anyone’s actions inside their own country in the first place. This arrogant miscalculation by the US “diplomatic” messengers allowed the “re-pact”—which in fact had nothing to do with the nation and everything to do with personal and party-elite interests—to be draped in the anti-imperialist banner and and its makers to spout a nationalist discourse.
The FSLN’s ethical suicideEven before the FSLN lost office in 1990, several of its leaders who are currently part of that FSLN elite had already been perverting the revolutionary principles with all kinds of personal and institutional vices, from sexual abuse to the appropriation of state funds in forms not so different from the “laundering” for which Alemán was convicted. They enjoyed luxurious life styles that were just as offensive to such a poor country as Bolaños’ current salary. With the loss of the government this decomposition process accelerated and spread through the structures that maintain the greatest power within the party.
During the Chamorro government, the FSLN decided to make itself potable to the United States and the rest of the international community by supporting the “governability” demanded of Nicaragua, silencing or manipulating any grassroots mobilization that arose anywhere in the country in defense of a just cause.
Its rhetoric notwithstanding, this practice became even more acute after Alemán took office in 1997. Personal and group interests prevailed, and those ends justified any means. The FSLN succeeded in preserving a determinant degree of power in national politics by embedding the leaders most loyal to the Ortega group in the state institutions and becoming a party oriented exclusively to pulling votes in the elections to conserve those spaces.
It could still occasionally instigate a violent row in the center of Managua just to keep everyone on their toes, and it conserved its discourse “in favor of the poor,” which is why there is still great confusion among the Sandinista grass roots. Its anti-imperialist discourse is tucked away in a drawer to be pulled out and dusted off according to the occasion. Without principles, there can only be ends: money and quotas of power. This ambiguity, expressed very skillfully in the changing political moments of the past 13 years, has allowed the FSLN to remain on the political stage with a lot of power and still keep a good part of Sandinismo sequestered. But for many long years, blow by blow, betrayal by betrayal, abandonment by abandoment, day by day and case by case, the FSLN has been cutting loose from its base, from Sandinismo and from Sandino’s principles: social justice and national sovereignty.
The FSLN: No project, no strategy, no principlesThe party has reached this moment—of Bush and his military expansionism, of Bolaños and his pro-Americanism and general determination to get the Nicaraguan house in order—too corrupt and too spent after all the traps it has set to preserve a network of caudillos who in turn guarantee the major caudillo his power. The party has no project, no strategy and no principles. It has no capacity for genuine national leadership and has lost everything that made it unique in the years of the revolutionary utopia. It has no clean card left to play on this complex game board it helped create.
Following its ethical suicide in the nineties, in its current nakedness, with political time running out as next year’s municipal elections draw inexorably closer, it became evident that the only card left to Daniel Ortega’s FSLN was Arnoldo Alemán. The only possible survival strategy for Ortega, the party leadership and the party itself, riddled by corruption but still powerful on the national stage, was to ally with Alemán, guaranteeing him impunity and a political future. It was the only apparent way to stave off the enslaving US military and economic plans—reducing the army’s defensive weapons arsenal and getting rid of its top officials; installing a military base in Nicaragua; and using the “free trade” agreement to fill the country with assembly plants for export and imported agricultural products that would end up bankrupting the rural economy.
That was the FSLN’s apparent logic in the re-pact. And with that same logic and the same lack of principles, but now presumably a different strategy, Ortega bowed to pressure and dismantled the re-pact. We will leave for next year any attempt to analyze what he has in mind. Because for only 12 days, this proved more than enough for a tired nation to digest.
IN THEIR OWN WORDS...
On Arnoldo Alemán’s
removal from jail
“As the chronic ailments affecting Dr. José Arnoldo Alemán Lacayo have been duly illustrated, this authority considers that he can effectively be considered to be in a valetudinarian state, so it is ordered that Dr. Alemán Lacayo be taken under house arrest to the hacienda El Chile so his ailments can be properly treated and controlled and thus avoid risks that could endanger his life.” (Judge Juana Méndez’s judicial order for Alemán’s removal from the police jail, November 26).
“I hope, I believe, that the people of Nicaragua will understand this measure. The people of Nicaragua need some tranquility to resolve their problems.” (The judge’s political explanation of her judicial order, November 26)
On what Alemán’s
sentence should be
“From the technical point of view, three possible sentences could be handed down [on former President Arnoldo Alemán] on December 7. One is to nullify the whole trial, which would end everything. Two is to annul the crime of money laundering and send the other charges on to a jury trial. And, three, declare him guilty of all the crimes. I would give him the maximum penalty of 25 years, because it was all very coached, very intelligent, because they used the state’s power and resources for their own benefit. And not even with the maximum sentence would he and Byron Jerez repair all the damage they’ve done to Nicaragua. But from the point of view of law and history, the three possibilities will be intranscendent because the people who have fought against corruption aren’t going to feel the same joy as before. Whatever happens, this sentence was sullied by political deals. What is decided now won’t spark the same jubilation in the population as the first sentences because everything has been tarnished by the politicians who once again trampled justice by putting their own interests first.” (Commentaries just hours before the sentence was delivered by Alberto Novoa, the special prosecuting attorney in the first corruption case in which Alemán was charged, the Channel 6 Case).
On the judicial career bill
“At first glance, the minority report on the judicial career bill by the pro-Alemán Liberals would seem to be aimed at ending party control of the judicial branch.… But the truth is that it’s only an attempt to get the Sandinistas out of the courts to fill them with Liberals. Because if they had really wanted to ‘de-party’ it, they would have done so during the Alemán government when they had the votes and the power. But no, some dedicated themselves to making a pact and others to stealing, postponing the issue of institutionality. This law, which they say was drafted with outside advice, costing Nicaraguans who knows how much, is only going to be a smokescreen for continuing as before: under party control. At one moment in the hands of Sandinistas, at another in the hands of Liberals, but always partial because the original sin is in the court and this bill doesn’t touch it.…” (Commentary by La Prensa editor Eduardo Enríquez, November 22)
On putting Ortega out to pasture
“My adversaries realize that Daniel’s representativity in the FSLN is an accumulation that can’t be transferred. Leadership is not transferable. If we had gone to the last elections with another candidate, who knows if we would have reached 30% of the votes? That’s why our adversaries favor liquidating the figure of Daniel Ortega, because they realize that at this moment in history he is the binding force of Sandinismo, guaranteeing it the possibility of taking power again.… I have always been willing to engage in this battle [to be the presidential candidate] in any place and space. And I understand the role I am called upon to play in this stage of history. I have the historic responsibility to fight to carry the FSLN back into government. I believe the conditions are more favorable with every passing day. This situation we’re facing right now [Alemán’s removal from jail to reiniti-ate a pact with him] implies costs for us. I don’t deny it. Some comrades who fail to understand this could be affected by everything that’s happening now, above all by the weight of the campaign the government is promoting in the media.… We’re going to get past this moment, and we’re going to continue this process of accumulating forces.” (Interview with Daniel Ortega in La Prensa, November 30)
An international view
“We are very concerned. Nicaragua seems to be doing everything politically possible to avoid being helped or sustained. It is saddening to see how, for personalist reasons, a few politicians have set out to destroy the country’s potential. If former President Alemán goes free and aspires to a new candidacy, it would be as hard a blow for Nicaragua as if Ríos Montt had won the elections in Guatemala. The return of either Daniel Ortega or Arnoldo Alemán to the presidency would eliminate Nicaragua from the theater of discussion. They would be completely isolated in the region, and hopefully the world. We’re not going to finance these two gentlemen. We will erase Nicaragua from the map.” (Declarations from an unidentified diplomatic source—who sounds characteristically gringo—quoted in La Prensa, December 5)
A politician’s view
“Nothing has ended with the sentence against Alemán.... It has been quite plain during this whole period that Daniel Ortega has been trying to manipulate Alemán’s legal situation. The only thing Ortega has wanted is to maintain a lead role.... What we have seen in this crisis is that institutionality is still pending in Nicaragua. No effort has been made to establish a rule of law. You only have to look at when the two pacters decided to postpone the municipal elections; at the beginning even the government agreed, which demonstrates that institutionality isn’t valued. Until we defend it, we will continue listing violently, suffering more crises like this one.... The government believes more in economic aid, donations and loans than in institutionality.... When those governing have no clear vision about how to develop the country, we have no business saying we’re on the right path; all we can do is protect ourselves from the downpours. The HIPC is the result of the bad government management we’ve had, but nobody reflects on why this happened; they just look on the HIPC as a golden target. This is just deceiving people....” (Alberto Saborío, Conservative Party presidential candidate in the 2001 elections)
A poet’s view
“It’s Daniel Ortega who’s doing that, who destroyed the revolution, betrayed Sandino, betrayed himself, betrayed the people of Nicaragua and is now adding one more betrayal: he’s responsible for Alemán’s freedom. All the disasters we are seeing now are thanks to him.” (Declarations by Nicaraguan poet Ernesto Cardenal, minister of culture in the Sandinista government, November 29)
A writer’s view
“In the last analysis, the country has been sacrificed. In response, Ortega has declared that international cooperation is useless in any event and Nicaragua doesn’t need it, a statement that has only created more stupefaction. Ortega has proposed to get Alemán out of jail in an anti-imperialist alliance, although the idea of Arnoldo Alemán declaring himself an enemy to the death of the United States certainly raises a chuckle. But we have already seen too many absurdities becoming realities in a country where lead floats and corks sink. In any event, it would be the most incredible smokescreen ever raised in Nicaragua to hide the most formidable acts of corruption ever committed.” (Article in El Nuevo Diario by Nicaraguan writer Sergio Ramírez, Vice President during the second half of the Sandinista government)
The view of a poet/writer
“The sentence against Arnoldo Alemán has coincided with the celebration of the Immaculate Conception [Purísima]. What a great distance separates the fervent people singing the purity of Mary from their politicians!... The judicial sentences handed down during la Gritería [singing the praises of the Virgin Mary in the streets] are nothing more than the work of our Machiavellian Prince Daniel Ortega.... If we in our country do not dare take the steps necessary to annul the original pact and eliminate reelection from our electoral system forever, we will continue like a dog chasing its own tail.... Loving Nicaragua today means struggling to abrogate the 2000 pact and to bring about a constitutional reform, or at least a decree, that eliminates reelection.... A people that defeated tyrants, that faced down tanks and bombings, cannot allow itself to be intimidated by this fatal duo, Ortega and Alemán, that has us playing against a wall: unable to move, to laugh and more miserable and hopeless by the day. We need a “gritería por la Patria” [to “cry the beloved country”]. (Fragments of “The gritería we need,” a text by Nicaraguan poet/writer Gioconda Belli, published in El Nuevo Diario, December 10)
The view from the presidency
“Are these two political caciques going to harm the people and dash their hopes again? I say to all Nicaraguans: ‘No way!’ The most these two political caciques can do is postpone the municipal elections so they’re once more held with the presidential ones; they can’t do any more.… I know that Nicaraguans have faith in their President and in God to make Nicaragua a better country.… They want to blackmail us, to scare us.… We have resolved worse difficulties than this one. We Nicaraguans shouldn’t worry: nobody here said anything about fear.” (President Enrique Bolaños’ Message to the Nation, November 28)
“Now they’re entering into another pact to combine the elections again. That isn’t all that important for the country. It isn’t going to fall apart because the elections are all held on the same day…. I’ve won all the battles by playing on a team…. We have to stay calm. They can’t touch a hair on our head while Enrique Bolaños is President of Nicaragua, the most prestigious President in all of Latin America, as recognized in the capitals of Europe and Asia.” (Declarations by President Bolaños, December 2)
“The re-counterpact [sic] is repudiated for the great irresponsibility with which they have wanted to blackmail not Bolaños but Nicaragua.… These ringleaders [Ortega and Alemán] are the same ones who collapsed banks, swindling our people, who at the end of the day are paying the price of the damage inflicted. Now they’re joining together in the darkness of the night to ensure the mayors stay in their posts three years longer, without consulting the people.... I have faith that these caciques will not dare do anything to detain the cancellation of the foreign debt. If we don’t achieve the HIPC [debt-pardoning initiative for highly indebted poor countries], they will have killed the golden opportunity Nicaragua has been seeking for ten years. Neither the jailer nor the prisoner would dare go so far; the people wouldn’t tolerate it.” (Declarations by President Bolaños on December 3)
“What are this government’s great strengths? First, public opinion. They [Sandinistas and Liberals] have the votes in the Assembly, but they don’t have public opinion.... Second, this government has all the international backing that the HIPC will give. I don’t want to be misinterpreted, but the reality is that in Europe and in many other places, Japan, Asia... this government has the greatest prestige in the Americas. It is the most prestigious. The international community isn’t going to allow this kind of technical coup d’etat, which they could do legally because they have the votes.... They say that a previous president used three “p’s”: palo [stick] for the indifferent, plata [money] for friends and plomo [lead] for the enemy. My three “p’s” are: patience, prudence and perseverance.... I believe that I’m nearly there [referring to the desire expressed by Bolaños in his inaugural speech in January 2002 to go down in history as Nicaragua’s best President ever]. Those who don’t want to see it won’t, but only because they keep their eyes closed.” (Interview with President Bolaños in La Prensa, December 9)
On Bolaños: A critical view
“The ostrich strategy he’s employing has enabled President Bolaños not to lose any of the battles engaged in the exercise of his presidency, as he himself has stated. Effectively, Mr. Bolaños hasn’t lost a single battle because he hasn’t waged any. He didn’t use his vice presidency, at Arnoldo Alemán’s side, or his own electoral campaign to wage a genuine battle for transparency. He hasn’t faced off against the perverse politicians to gain full dominion of his presidency. He hasn’t succeeded in waging a real fight against corruption, since at this point all the accused are being absolved and it would seem their accusers are the ones who will end up in jail. He has only drawn his dueling pistols in the struggle for the HIPC, where he appears to be winning, but only in the context left open to him by those in the pact. He’ll lose that too, as the relief obtained from the foreign debt pardon will only be used to increase the perks that will surely be produced by the caciques’ new pact.” (Editorial in El Nuevo Diario, December 3)
On Bolaños: A favorable view
“Nicaraguans have suffered at the hands of leaders who are more concerned about a defeated dogma or personal enrichment than the welfare of their own people. I applaud the efforts being made by the Bolaños administration to confront those who robbed the people, to reform those institutions where corruption is blossoming, to lift the veil of secrecy protecting those who abuse their power.” (Words of President George W. Bush upon receiving the credentials of Nicaragua’s new ambassador in the United States, Salvador Stadthagen. The Bolaños government published this message in costly full-page ads in the two national newspapers on December 6)
A view from the citizenry
“The Nicaraguan people lack authentic political interlocutors to defend their interests. The political parties have succumbed to their leaders’ ambitions, corruption and personal needs. Far from acting as catalysts of the citizenry’s legiti-mate interests, in accord with their ideology, the parties have even ceased representing their own bases, which are excluded from the decisions of the party hierarchy and subjected to the hackneyed argument that dissent breaks unity, which is aimed at keeping them passive toward the outrages committed by the groups that control power.… The behavior of the elite members of the country’s two main parties has been marked in recent years by their caudillos’ reelection fever. Their attitude has subordinated their party’s legitimate interests to their own personal ones, deforming their political mission. We thus oppose presidential reelection in any period, since history shows that this is a way to prolong the political dictatorships of caudillos and corrode our society’s democratic underpinnings.… (Fragments of the Citizens’ Manifesto, which was read on Managua’s Radio La Primerísima on November 30 and subsequently supported by hundreds of signatures).