Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 273 | Abril 2004



More Pacts or a Real National Dialogue?

The national crisis, tough enough to explain and harder yet to resolve given today’s political class, constantly amazes and often depresses onlookers. What new deal will the three power groups come up with this time to slow its pace?

Nitlápan-Envío team

A series of crises—or, to be more exact, successive symptoms of the same crisis, which has no short-term solution—still dominate the national stage. Last month we witnessed a few of its more spectacular expressions, and can already guess their probable outcome: either another round of the Sandinista-Liberal pact or, for a change of pace, one in which the government helps negotiate crucial aspects. Is there any space in all this for President Bolaños’ proposed national dialogue? While the idea has been bandied about in recent months, it seems unthinkable that any true dialogue, involving civil society and seeking genuine and serious national solutions, could materialize any time soon.

Alemán permanently
at the center of the storm

On February 25, a group of National Assembly legislators loyal to Constitutionalist Liberal Party (PLC) leader Arnoldo Alemán triggered the first of the most recent spectacles of the ongoing crisis when they bullied their way around all parliamentary procedures to forcibly introduce an amnesty decree favorable to their boss. On that occasion, the show didn’t go beyond shouting and angry pounding of tabletops, but it did paralyze the Assembly.
It also opened a lengthy period of feelers between Sandinista and pro-Bolaños legislators. Bolaños supporters claimed that the various illegalities would have to be corrected, while Sandinistas insisted that the Assembly leadership board would have to be changed, since the two Liberal benches banded together at the open insistence of US Ambassador in Managua Barbara Moore to exclude them from any post on the new board elected in January. It was an irresponsible idea on her part, and an equally irresponsible submission to her browbeating by the Bolaños and Alemán forces. No matter what any of the conspirators may think of the FSLN, it is a sizable party (38 of the 92 Assembly seats, for example) that if not taken into account has the clout and the will to impose itself one way or another.

Feelers were also put out between Bolaños and Alemán backers, in which the former tried to convince the latter to give their efforts to get Alemán out of prison a rest for a while. But Alemán doesn’t rest. Ever since President Enrique Bolaños took office over two years ago, his predecessor has been center stage in the ongoing political crisis. Alemán first hogged the limelight with provocative moves as National Assembly president, then as the subject of grave accusations of corruption, then by being stripped of his parliamentary immunity at the end of year one after a long and exhausting battle. That led to his indictment and house arrest on his hacienda, with a two-month spell in a special police cell on Ortega’s orders, until he was tried and sentenced to 20 years, again on his hacienda, at the end of year two. And through all of that, Alemán “is still king,” in the words of a famous Mexican ranchera. The crisis will continue to revolve around Alemán as long as he maintains control of the PLC—which he founded almost single-handedly 15 years ago—and as long as he remains a prisoner.

In the daily political poker game, Alemán’s fate—either freedom or definitive conviction with a firm sentence after all appeals, judicial and otherwise, have been exhausted—is the jackpot all three dominant power groups end up fighting over. The FSLN’s high card in this many-handed game of bluff is Judge Juana Méndez, who controls the two cases involving Alemán; she is such a loyal follower of Daniel Ortega that he can negotiate anything he wants and the Liberals know she will follow through on whatever political deal they cut. Bolaños’ stake in the game is that Alemán’s conviction is the greatest—if not only—trophy he has to show for his war on corruption, although it is a largely empty victory since it failed to achieve his main goal: to remove his Liberal rival from the political arena so Bolaños can lead the PLC into modernity. Meanwhile, all of the PLC leaders, who have been mired in increasingly tense disputes since Alemán’s arrest, are focusing their respective parliamentary, party, communications and even personal strategies on the future of the man they daily defer to as their “maximum leader.”

A ringside seat

The second spectacle of the current round took place on March 19. That night, Judge Méndez, wearing a bulletproof vest and flanked by riot police, showed up at El Chile, Alemán’s prison-hacienda, to accompany the former President to La Modelo, a maximum-security prison in Tipitapa that houses the country’s largest prison population.

The raid on Alemán’s hacienda lasted six hours and the surprising, powerful, sometimes laughable images were broadcast live on all national TV channels. Méndez had given the media a heads-up so they would accompany her, and the Alemán family let the camera crews broadcast their stunning performance. And indeed, a large part of the nation’s urban TV-owning population stayed up past bedtime, glued to the screen, switching channels to get the best images of a tumult that defies description in this brief text. Alemán’s wife and two daughters, screaming and pummeling the ominous body-armored police, held them off for more than half an hour while Alemán remained in his room “shielding” himself with his month-and-a-half-old daughter. The police finally kicked down the door and forced a clearly drunk Alemán to come out. That was the first night the former President would sleep in a real prison, though not a cell; a comfortable office had been fitted out just for him.

Daniel deals the hand

In the days preceding this spectacle, Sandinista judges from the appeals court had unleashed a “judicial” dispute around his case by ordering the transfer, undoubtedly to exert pressure on the bogged-down Ortega-PLC negotiations. Alemán fears nothing so much as having his movements restricted by prison. Liberal judges from another courtroom in the same tribunal immediately countered with a writ to prevent the transfer. With President Bolaños away on a visit to Sweden, the minister of government decided to duck and run rather than get involved in this “legal contradiction.” It is in the gov-ernment’s interest to have Alemán on his hacienda rather than in jail even though it is easier for him to direct the PLC from home; the tradeoff is that it placates his followers somewhat, making it a bit easier for Bolaños to get their support for his legislative initiatives.

All sides demanded respect for the country’s institutionality, legality and rule of law, but only ended up confirming what has been evident from the outset. Although Alemán is unquestionably guilty of cleaning out the state coffers, his punishment is constantly being reinterpreted according to the political interests and relative strength of each of the three political power groups, with institutionality, legality and the rule of law adjusted and re-adjusted accordingly. What remains to be seen is which of the three forces will ultimately prevail.
Judge Méndez made her move while everybody else was waiting for the Sandinista and Liberal justices on the Supreme Court to meet and decide on the legality of the protective writ. Again, she adjusted it to institu-tionality, legality and the rule of law, making it clear that she wasn’t interfering with Alemán’s conviction in what is known as the “guaca” case, for which he is serving his 20-year sentence at home because he is “valetudinarian” (decrepit and ill). She was simply executing the prison order she decreed over two years ago on the long-forgotten Channel 6 case, the first to surface in Bolaños’ 2001 war on corruption. When asked to explain why Alemán should be sentenced to prison for one crime and not for the other, the judge calmly explained that as she had received no documentary evidence that Alemán was ill in the Channel 6 case, she had finally decided to execute her sentence.
Ortega’s unanticipated and skillful move, implemented by Judge Méndez, left both wings of the PLC admittedly stunned. Once again, he had maneuvered himself into the position of the great arbiter, forcing President Bolaños to return early to Nicaragua. Alemán’s pathetic transfer and imprisonment opened another, even more exasperating round of feelers involving all three political groups.

Shock and awe

One of the first deals cut between the government and Alemán’s backers following Ortega’s “arbitrage” was an attempt to neutralize his gain. They agreed that on March 26, the Liberal and pro-government benches would present, debate and pass the version of the judicial career bill most strongly opposed by the FSLN. That morning the National Assembly was the scene of the third great spectacle of the month’s crisis, unprecedented even for the conflictive legislative hall. A group of Liberal activists physically turned on a delegation of judges and court workers who, after two days on strike against the bill’s contents, had come to present their case to the plenary. The floor of the Assembly turned into a wrestling ring, with two Liberal legislators becoming embroiled in a nose-to-nose screaming match with two Sandinista colleagues, while other members of the Liberal group focused their wrath on Sandinista Judge Ileana Pérez, beating, biting and scratching her and pulling her hair. The level of infantilism paled all previous examples. And of course, this self-discrediting display of politicians and politics, too, was broadcast to stupefied TV watchers.

Encounters of a third phase

The judicial career bill, needless to say, was not approved or even presented; the Assembly remained paralyzed at least through the end of the Easter Week recess, when this issue went to press. Crisis after crisis, and not a single law passed in the first three-and-a-half months of the legislative year.
Strange as it may seem, that day marked the acceleration of rapprochement among all possible pairs of the three political forces, in which the most feared contacts were those between Ortega’s group and Alemán’s group. Cardinal Obando was not left out of this flurry of activity. He was visited by the Sandinista judges opposed to the judicial career, and he in turn visited Alemán to bless him. Upon leaving the prison, Obando told the television cameras that Alemán was comforting his soul by reading the pious book, The Silence of María.
All Meso-American heads of state were in Managua to witness the parliamentary tumult on television, having come for a regional meeting the following day in which Mexico’s President Vicente Fox was scheduled to promote his Plan Puebla-Panama. For his part, President Bolaños opted to use the regional podium to propose a national dialogue.

Leaning toward the pact

With that, Easter Week arrived, during which the political class surely hammered out some new agreements at the beach over a couple of drinks, which is the characteristic way most Nicaraguans spend this holiest of Christian holidays. But since this issue of envío closed before the results could be known, we can only imagine the aces up the sleeves of the three groups responsible for the crisis in the first place.

Daniel Ortega still holds the strongest hand. One card is his solid 38 votes in the National Assembly, which can only be trumped by an agreement between the pro-Alemán and pro-Bolaños benches, which doesn’t happen very often. Another—perhaps his highest—is his control of the majority of the judicial branch structures, thanks particularly to the pact with Alemán, which reaped him 8 of the 17 seats on Supreme Court. (See “Nicaragua Briefs,” this issue, for Ortega’s latest maneuver, which seems to have gained him the support of a ninth justice.)
One of Ortega’s two immediate objectives is to prevent any judicial career legislation from altering that situation, which is so advantageous for both the political and economic interests of the FSLN’s upper echelons. The other is to change the correlation of forces on the National Assembly leadership body.

And, as has been the case for over a year, Ortega’s most important pressure mechanism on the PLC is the future of its maximum leader, Arnoldo Alemán. What price will have to be paid for his return to his comfortable hacienda, his eventual freedom, even his possible participation in the next elections, either directly or through a close relative such as his wife, María Fernanda? His most powerful pressure mechanism on Bolaños is the President’s own immediate political future, since Judge Méndez is also heading the electoral crimes case in which he and a number of other Liberals are embroiled.

The boomerang returns

When Judge Méndez indicted Alemán for money laundering in the “guaca” case in September 2002, her sentence left open a suit for electoral crimes committed by Alemán and a number of his high-level officials alleged to have helped finance the PLC’s 2001 electoral campaign with resources from that massive embezzlement. Méndez announced that these crimes would remain under her jurisdiction and that she would investigate them. As the electoral campaign in question was the one that brought Alemán’s Vice President Enrique Bolaños to power, he and many of his closest collaborators were also subject to investigation.

At that time, Bolaños boldly announced that he would renounce his immunity because he had done nothing wrong and had nothing to fear, but he never did. The investigation continued and Bolaños, seeing that taking Alemán to court was turning into a boomerang that brought him Daniel Ortega on its return course, took every measure he could to protect himself. He also protected his purported collaborators by naming them to posts that include immunity.
And now, at the peak of this latest chain of crises, Judge Méndez has announced that she is ready to decide the electoral crimes case. On March 27, in sync with that pronouncement, Daniel Ortega challenged Bolaños to shed his immunity as promised. With a cynicism only matched by the proverbial black pot, he referred to Bolaños several times as a “dictator,” accused him of lacking ethics and morality and charged him with being the “greatest destabilizer of the country’s institutions.”

How far is he prepred to go?

If Ortega takes this case to its ultimate consequences, Bolaños could find himself stripped of his immunity, impeached and replaced by other “clean” Liberals vetted by the FSLN. The municipal elections scheduled for this November could be suspended until the presidential elections in 2006, which might in turn be replaced by a Constituent Assembly that could end up installing the parliamentary system Daniel Ortega has recently been dreaming of...

To do all this, Ortega needs not only a conviction in the electoral crimes case, which he already has in the bag, but also the votes of the currently divided pro-Alemán PLC bench, although it is not clear into how many groups and just how savagely they are tearing each other apart. A good number of them hate Bolaños for what he did to Alemán and want revenge, but there is also considerable fear of embarking on such an adventure, as it could generate untenable problems with the international community.
For a good number of Alemán supporters, anything is negotiable if it will get Alemán back under house arrest or, better yet, freed. This political fixation leaves them particularly weak and vulnerable to extortion. How far is Ortega prepared to go with his actions and intimidations?

Bolaños’ only high card

As for Bolaños, his only high card is still the international community, which continues to applaud his administration and in this crisis has again backed him unconditionally, warning of the international costs of any new pact between the Sandinistas and pro-Alemán Liberals.

The Bush government’s “diplomacy” is especially comforting to Bolaños, but the US Ambassador to Nicaragua is such an anti-Sandinista fundamentalist that she does not hesitate to meddle openly in national politics. She even went so far as to order President Bolaños to exclude the FSLN from any power arena, make no agreements with the Sandinistas and unite all the Liberals against the FSLN. This is a risky and unviable recipe given the FSLN’s strength and the array of different Liberal fractions in today’s Nicaragua. Would this irresponsible pressure change if John Kerry were to win the US elections in November? There are no guarantees, but things could hardly get worse.

“A deal for Nicaragua”

President Bolaños proposed the national dialogue he’s dubbd a “deal for Nicaragua” fully aware of the boomerang that is now heading back at him bearing the electoral crimes case and other intimidations. He proposed seven points for its agenda, and set two pre-conditions, both legislative, for getting it started: immediate approval of the judicial career bill and the 2004 general budget reforms.

The judicial career bill. There are no fewer than five versions of this legislation, which in principle the entire nation considers essential to improving the way the judicial branch functions. The most controversial centerpiece of the President’s version—the one he sought to push through with Liberal support the day of the chaos—is the creation of a council that would only partially be under the judicial branch’s control. Some of its members would be named by the legislative branch and there would naturally be executive influence as well, a concept some consider unconstitutional because it would legalize the interference of other branches in the judiciary. Liberals loyal to both Alemán and Bolaños argue that this idea would remove any “party bias” from the judicial branch, which for them is a euphemism for Sandinista influence. The FSLN counters that the real objective is to give it a Bolaños bias or reassert its Alemán bias, depending on the Liberal group in question.

Another point of this bill that is inadmissible for the FSLN is the disposition that the new council would scrutinize the work and evaluate the professionalism of all judges and other judicial branch employees. This examination would have to take place within six months of the law’s approval, with the obvious risk that those who do not pass muster could lose their jobs. The FSLN and a majority of judges and justices argue that this would destabilize the judicial system because it is nothing more than a political screening mechanism and undermines the labor rights of judicial branch workers by not respecting their years of service and accumulated experience.

Nicaragua’s judicial system has to be reformed, among other reasons because it is riddled with corruption, which inevitably violates citizens’ rights. It is not a new idea, but beyond the intense, politically determined debate over how to do it, the government feels a fundamental economic urgency to get on with it because Bolaños claims that the current situation is inhibiting the proper functioning of the market economy and frightening off the foreign investments that he believes will solve all our problems. The government’s short and medium-run economic strategy is based on the National Development Plan and the regional free trade agreement with the United States (CAFTA), which will only be viable if this judicial reform happens.

The budget reform. Bolaños’ other pre-condition—immediate approval of the reforms to the 2004 budget—also has profound economic reasons. The most obvious one, naturally, is that the budget cannot legally be executed until it is duly approved. But the government has a greater urgency than that: to close the debate on the well-documented charge from independent economists and the Civil Coordinator that over a billion córdobas have been “hidden” within the budget.

In October last year, when the government submitted its budget bill to the National Assembly, it deliberately presented a tax collection figure for this year that was about a billion córdobas (approximately US$63.7 million) lower than the figure presented to the International Monetary Fund. One only has to check the Nicaragua section of the IMF’s web page to see the difference. The government initially reacted to civil society’s questioning by accepting that there was indeed a discrepancy, but only because the budget bill submitted to the National Assembly had been prepared earlier than the document for the IMF.
That attempt to downplay the issue is belied by what is actually at stake in hiding the real forecasted tax collection figure. The government constantly alleges that it has no resources to increase the paltry salaries of state workers—particularly those in the health, education and military/police sectors. Using even just a part of the sizable sum of money under discussion to up the income of these socially critical sectors could make a difference. Furthermore, a number of transfers to other budgets—municipal governments, universities and all branches of the government—are based on constitutionally fixed percentages of the year’s budget. Obviously, if less money can be shown to be coming into the state, less is transferred out.

So the government’s urgency in pushing the budget reforms through as quickly as possible is largely because it doesn’t want to give any more explanations about this concealed money. More to the point, it doesn’t want to be obliged to increase the transfers it has already worked out.

As important as that reason is to those who depend on such transfers, however, the government’s tenacity in sidestepping the issue and its lack of transparency has an even more basic and questionable motivation: Nicara-gua’s domestic debt. There is reason to believe that this “extra” money may be earmarked to pay it.

How can it be
politically justified?

The domestic debt, which earlier governments contracted largely with the country’s commercial banks, has two main origins: the bonds provided as compensation to people whose properties were confiscated by the Sandinista government, and those issued more recently to cover people affected by a series of bank collapses in 2000 and 2001, largely thanks to fraudulent practices. The first issue, known as Property Indemnification Bonds, or BPIs, represents a debt of over US$800 million and they start coming due next year. The CENIs, which are the bank bailout bonds, represent another US$600-700 million, for a grand total of US$1.5-1.6 billion, which is a tremendous burden on the country’s already shaky finances.

Unlike the foreign debt, there is no equivalent of the Paris Club to condone this domestic debt, and no Initiative for Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) to reduce it. Furthermore, it is owed to commercial banks that have never been known for any social consciousness beyond patronizing the arts. When the Civil Coordinator continued speaking out about the hiding of a billion córdobas and demanded to know the destination of all that money, the government finally answered that it was going to the Central Bank “to strengthen the reserves.” That circumstantial clue clears things up a bit, because it was the Central Bank that issued the CENIs. A more substantive clue is that the IMF web page shows the government projects reducing the stock of the domestic debt for 2004 and subsequent years by amounts that coincide with the unrecorded money.

There’s nothing economically wrong with reducing the domestic debt, but it is very difficult to justify politically. With the teacher’s union having postponed a wage-related strike in good faith, how can the government tell teachers who make the equivalent of about $50 in base salary that while it has no money for health and education, it is paying the banks—which everyone knows were illegally exonerated from paying taxes during the entire Alemán administration? In 2003, President Bolaños announced that he had concluded a “friendly negotiation” with the banks to restructure the CENI-related part of the domestic debt over a ten-year period, presumably in exchange for not forcing them to pay the back-due taxes. But Nicaraguan society has never been informed of the details of this supposed agreement, nor does it know how the government plans to pay the BPI holders. In many cases, in fact, the same banks bought up many of these bonds as well, after the original beneficiaries, who at that time understandably had little faith in a piece of paper that the Nicaraguan government told them would be redeemable in 10 years, placed them on the Nicaraguan securities exchange market. The government would do just about anything to avoid the quicksand of a debate on these issues, as one of its main goals is to do nothing to affect its relations with the IMF, which gives every indication of preferring to honor commitments to fat bankers than facilitate health and education for a beleaguered population.

The deal’s four
economic agenda points

If the two pre-conditions for discussing Bolaños’ “deal” have underlying economic motives, four of his seven agenda goals with the FSLN and the PLC are full-fledged economic issues: respect for fiscal equilibrium; agreement to five-year rather than single-year budgets; improved public workers’ salaries; and consensus on a scheme to sort out the country’s property problems once and for all.

Fiscal equilibrium. Since the FSLN and PLC benches together control 80 of the 92 votes in the National Assembly, the Bolaños administration needs them to respect all the IMF conditions for entry into the HIPC agreement. This includes a balanced macroeconomy and five-year budgets, which are two parts of a single tool aimed at guaranteeing the coun-try’s economic stability.
Five-year budgets. The government, which is so weak domestically that it doesn’t even have a governing party, doesn’t want to have to relive tense negotiations every year to get the legislators’ approval for a budget that the executive has been forced to draw up under the IMF’s watching eye. The only thing that made it possible for Bolaños to get the 2004 budget approved was the threat that we wouldn’t get into the HIPC initiative if the budget wasn’t approved pretty much as submitted. But now that we’re in, what can he do for encores during his final two years in office?
Public workers’ salaries. The third economic point on the government’s dialogue agenda is closely tied to these first two: a commitment by the two parties to design a strategy that will allow incremental increases in the low salaries received by teachers, health workers, soldiers and police officers, who make up the bulk of the public work force. A multi-annual budget—five years is the proposal—would allow these increases to be planned in an orderly manner. The government’s scheme is to condition the public sector salary improvement on an FSLN and PLC commitment to the fiscal program the government and IMF agreed to.

A new ministry to
untangle the property knots?

The final economic point returns the property issue to the negotiating table after a long absence from the political debate. It is rather novel that just as the government is emphasizing fiscal adjustment, it is also proposing to create a new ministry to untangle the innumerable pending property conflicts and close the issue for good. Bolaños proposes that the new Ministry of Property absorb the National Cadastre and the Property Registry, two institutions that currently function separately, with the former responding to the executive branch and the latter to the judicial branch. In the government’s proposal, the ministry would obviously be part of the executive branch.

Pulling this off won’t be easy. It assumes the executive branch negotiating with a judiciary totally controlled by the two opposition parties. Tensions have been building between Bolaños and the judicial branch ever since he took office and things are currently at a particular low due to the row over the judicial career legislation, unanimously rejected by magistrates as unconstitutional.

The huge mass of property problems undermines any development strategy, no matter what government is in office. All the measures taken over the past decade and a half to deal with the mess left by the Sandinista gov-ernment’s massive redistribution of property with virtually no legalization of the changes, have barely made a dent.
And this is only part of the problem. Independent of any continuing ownership disputes, many properties have not even been officially recorded with their exact perimeters or their value appraised for tax purposes. Just to give one example, none of Nicara-gua’s central and eastern area, which includes the departments of Matagalpa, Jinotega, the Segovias, Chontales, Boaco, Río San Juan, the RAAN and the RAAS, has been appraised.

Furthermore, vast parts of this same area are covered not by public deeds but by what are called supplemental titles, which the local judge grants after the boundaries have been verified, largely by witnesses from the community who testify as to what property a given person has. A trip to the Property Registry in Matagalpa or Jinotega often reveals that the “judicial” number of hectares in a given locale exceeds the physical number by three or four times. The knots that the new ministry will have to untangle stagger the imagination.

Despite the predictable difficulties, the government is insisting on putting this issue on its agenda, first because the multiple property laws that have been promulgated and all the political agreements reached since 1990 do not yet add up to a structural response. Second and no less crucial, closing the books on this issue is indispensable for the government’s economic project. The government will never create an attractive climate for foreign investment without clear rules on property and a solid institutional framework that guarantees property rights.
About five years ago, the World Bank financed a project aimed at updating the cadastre for all the national territory and then resolving any discrepancies between it and the Property Registry as a major step to resolving the property problems. But it was so disappointed with the failure to implement the project that this year it ordered the closure of the implementation unit it had helped set up in the Treasury Ministry and suspended all disbursements. Whether due to lack of political will or plain incompetence, the program never even got off the ground, and the multilateral lending agencies are putting increasing pressure on the government to deal with this issue more seriously. Nicaragua has acquired an international reputation for not respecting property rights, and that is not a bit good for business.

The three political points:
More pie in the sky?

The three political points on Bolaños’ discussion agenda are definitive single-term presidencies (the Constitution currently permits one reelection, but not immediately following the first term in office), purging the branches of government of party influences and turning the electoral branch back into a professional technical institution. It is unimaginable that any of these ultra-sensitive points would be acceptable to Ortega and Alemán, as they would effectively undo the pact the two caudillos hammered out together in 1999 and put an end to the wonderful dividends it has given them and their respective circles.

Any reissuing of the Ortega-Alemán pact, or forging of a new one involving the government to some degree, would necessarily follow the kind of short-term logic that always dominates in Nicaraguan national politics. At least the “deal for Nicaragua” has a more long-sighted logic. All of Bolaños’ proposals are tightly linked to the institutional reforms that this government wants to make in the context of the free trade agreement with the United States and to implement his own National Development Plan. Which logic will prevail?
President Bolaños and Ambassador Moore warned that if the FSLN and PLC renew their pact, the US Congress could exclude Nicaragua from the “Millennium Account,” a special aid program announced by President Bush to be divided among the 61 poorest countries if they comply with 16 indicators, one of which is to fight corruption and ensure democratic governance in their institutions. Fifteen countries will be selected the first year, based on their record, and each eill receive between $70 and $100 million over the next five years.

Although the Nicaraguan government is putting a lot of importance on this amount, it pales by comparison with the amount that comes into the country, especially to some of the poorest families, through family remittances from Nicaraguan emigrants. According to Inter-American Development Bank figures, these add up to $800 million annually, which exceeds not only Nicaragua’s export earnings but also its international aid and its foreign investment, which, with the arrival of so many maquilas, now represents nearly a third of Nicaragua’s gross domestic product.

To give society some role in the crisis, the President also announced that if the FSLN and PLC caudillos and their respective National Assembly representatives don’t respond to his proposed dialogue, he will hold a “civic consultation” alongside Novem-ber’s municipal elections so that the population can decide whether or not to endorse his agenda points. It remains to be seen whether this “plebiscite” will really mobilize Nicaragua’s society, which has become so confused and passive in response to both its sustained impoverishment and the unsustainable corruption of those who have impoverished it.

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