Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 274 | Mayo 2004



“There’s no short-term solution”

This respected jurist and astute Liberal writer shares with envío his “pessimistic” observations on the “irresolvable” national crisis, to use his words.

León Núñez

No matter who you meet on the street these days, the inevitable question is, “When is all this going to be resolved?” I reply, “What do you mean by ‘this’? What is it that has to be resolved?” “The crisis,” they tell me. “What crisis,” I say? We have to recognize that crisis is a permanent state of affairs in Nicaragua. We’re experiencing the theory of permanent crisis. The crisis goes on, and will continue to go on. It’s not resolved and won’t be resolved in the short term.

Nicaragua has a
“partyocracy,” not a democracy

“This,” the crisis, has to do among other things with the fact that Nicaragua does not have a democracy but rather a partyocracy, with two parties dominating all of the country’s institutions, and two party bosses dominating those two parties and holding politics hostage. As long as the crisis isn’t resolved, as long as we don’t have political stability and clear rules of the game in economic, legal and property relations, the social problems won’t be resolved, Nicaragua will continue to be “a false country” and people will continue to be impoverished, with no hope of finding a solution in the near future.

Until a “third way” emerges and consolidates with a leadership and political organization able to overcome this situation, the crisis will go on. Politics will remain hostage to top PLC and FSLN leaders who stubbornly refuse to cede the illegitimate arenas of power they hold and aspire to maintain in all the institutions. For the FSLN this is especially true in the judicial branch, through which it governs Nicaragua, a point about which no one should have any doubt. Holding onto its power in the Supreme Court is the cornerstone of the FSLN’s strategy. This power guarantees the economic power of the army, the police and the FSLN’s top leaders, though not of most Sandinistas, who are virtually all poor and with no apparent future. Economic considerations are determining the FSLN’s political decisions. And because of the ongoing negotiations between the FSLN and the PLC within the judicial branch, the Supreme Court also guarantees the well-known economic interests of other sectors, obviously behind the people’s back.

The importance of non-reelection

I believe that President Enrique Bolaños is right, and has good intentions; he’s not involved in the traditional political hustle because his age doesn’t allow it and his personality is not at all like that of our political strongmen. He’s under the boot of the two caudillos, as it were, but for all that he’s done something, he’s done what he could.

Many of President Bolaños’ proposals have been right. He was right to launch the fight against corruption, which has had repercussions outside of Nicaragua, restoring some of the country’s prestige. Another point in his favor is that public administration is now less corrupt than ever before. The President is also right in his firm opposition to reelection, insisting that those who have been President should never again hold that post; that once their term in office comes to an end, so should their role in politics.

In Nicaragua, with its patrimonial conception of power, establishing the principle of non-reelection would be a very important step towards freeing us from the rule of party strongmen and many of its evils. Non-reelection is one of the many pieces needed to transform the concept of power that exists in Nicaragua.

Non-reelection is a very healthy proposal, especially in this crisis. Why does such an important political sector in Nicaragua, particularly but not exclusively a large number of PLC representatives, continue to support Alemán? Because they still believe that he might go free and become the PLC’s next presidential candidate. And they are equally sure that if he is the PLC candidate in the 2006 elections and Daniel Ortega is the FSLN candidate, as he himself has already announced, Alemán will win.

Largesse breeds loyalty

The liberal grass roots do not support Alemán for this reason alone. Arnoldo Alemán’s economic maneuverings had four main objectives. He illicitly appropriated public funds to pay extra salaries “under the table” to top public officials. But they weren’t the only ones who received them; he also paid many people who weren’t public officials. During his government, a long line of people who didn’t work in the government would show up each month at the President’s office to collect their checks. A lot of loyalty grew out of this, not only among those who received the money but also their wives, children and other relatives. This process had a striking multiplier effect.

Alemán would also go around illegally giving away state funds all over the country. For example, he would go to Chontales, where I’m from, and people would line up to ask for “libres,” money for medicine, a taxi, an operation, a trip or whatever, and he would respond to all these petitions by peeling off bills from a wad he had taken from the state coffers. He paid for all sorts of things this way, with the taxpayers’ money; even open-heart surgery for several people. Despite the damage to the state, he even granted exemptions so people could import vehicles tax-free. In five years, Alemán gave the Catholic Church 120 tax exemptions to import vehicles. He also gave them all-expense-paid trips to the Vatican and reservations in five star hotels whenever they asked...

Public funds were also used to make sure that whichever corner of Nicaragua Alemán went to visit—and he went everywhere—mounds of food and cases of rum would arrive at the same time. With a deft mind for this sort of thing, he would also call many of the people who came by name. These parties left many people feeling very satisfied: they ate, drank and received money and affection. As to be expected, it also made them feel very loyal.

Alemán also took state money to maintain the PLC’s structures all around the country, including the most distant towns. And finally, of course, he stole for himself, for his own benefit.

On several occasions I’ve proposed that a list of all people who received tax exemptions to import vehicles during Alemán’s government should be published, but this idea hasn’t found any supporters in the current government. Could it be that many of the people who received them are now among the most passionate critics of corruption? Highly likely, since so many people were involved.
Alemán isn’t the only one who’s corrupt; much of the country’s political elite participated in the corruption. Nicaraguan society, we ourselves, have the right to know who imported vehicles, who received cash, who had heart operations, who signed checks during Alemán’s government, in sort, who the people are who participated in its corruption.

Political forecasting

November’s municipal elections will not substantially change the political scenario we see before us. I think the PLC will win in Managua with Pedro Joaquín Chamorro. And I believe that Alemán will continue to lose influence with each passing day. Nonetheless, he cannot be released from prison until 2007, after the 2006 general elections. If he’s released before then, he won’t hesitate to try to enter the presidential race. And if he does, there’s no doubt but that he would win against Daniel Ortega. The fear factor that is so decisive in Nicaraguan elections, this fear that Ortega and his crowd trigger among most voters, would once again operate. This is why Ortega will ensure that Alemán stays in prison, to prevent his reelection. In any case, Alemán should continue to be punished as an example to future generations.

I believe that Alemán’s leadership will continue to deteriorate and more Liberals will distance themselves from him the slimmer his chances of getting out of jail appear. Several have already taken these steps. David Castillo, Oscar Moncada, René Herrera, Wilfredo Navarro... Oscar Moncada, for example, has declared that politically he doesn’t consort with “either cadavers or people on their way to the grave.” Furthermore, a group in the PLC led by Wilfredo Navarro aspires to succeed Alemán in the PLC leadership, but it is up against Jamileth Bonilla and “the three Marías”; Alemán’s wife and two daughters. This group acts according to the changing daily circumstances, but because of the personal interests of its members, it has set its sights on one goal: to make sure that in the end, Eduardo Montealegre becomes the PLC’s presidential candidate.
Will the 2006 general elections change anything? It looks to me that Montealegre is widely accepted within the PLC, but all his supporters were purged from their posts on Alemán’s orders in the last reorganization during the PLC’s party convention. Even from prison, Alemán still controls the party and thus dominated its convention. He dominates all the party’s delegates and from there the party’s local and departmental boards all over the country.
In case he can’t be the party’s presidential candidate, Alemán already has two other people “in mind”: Francisco Aguirre Sacasa and Iván Escobar Fornos. He’s already told them he’s “thinking about them.” Others such as José Antonio Alvarado could emerge as presidential candidates for the Grand Liberal Union (GUL), which would run in alliance with the Conservative Party, but even though they have a lot of support among Liberals, they would lose. If this happens, if Escobar Fornos or Aguirre Sacasa runs for the PLC and Montealegre or Alvarado for the GUL and the Conservatives, the FSLN would inevitably win the elections. On the other hand, Montealegre would win as the PLC candidate, and the PLC would only win if Montealegre were its candidate rather than the GUL’s.

The FSLN has 900,000 virtually sure votes, but the only chance Daniel Ortega has of winning the presidency is competing against Liberals split into two parties, each with its presidential candidate. The candidate named by Alemán would have the PLC’s organizational structures behind him, which would ensure a large number of votes. And the GUL would continue to attract a sector of the electorate. This division would mean victory for Daniel Ortega. I am not certain, however, that he will be the FSLN’s candidate. I think that if the anti-Danielista movement within the FSLN grows stronger, he will have to give in.

Without some drastic change, and independent of the result of the presidential election, the next general elections will leave us with a National Assembly dominated by the Sandinista Front and the Liberal Constitutionalist Party, the same interests and virtually the same faces, thus continuing the drama we are living through now.

Little chance for new leadership

A surprise could only come from new leadership, a party with people independent of the PLC and the FSLN. Perhaps a “cross-over” vote could work: Montealegre for President and legislators that do not take their orders from either Alemán or Ortega...
But I’m pessimistic; I doubt this will happen anytime soon. You go to any corner of Nicaragua, any small town, and you’ll find Alemán’s backers in PLC and Ortega’s loyalists in the FSLN organizing there. The rest don’t exist. The GUL? It has no future, no prospects. I don’t think even President Bolaños believes in it. In some departments, GUL leaders go out to meet with their purported members, who are all public officials—tax collectors, the Ministry of Health representative, the Agrarian Reform Institute representative—but when the leaders return to Managua the “members” go on just as before. They’re all Arnoldistas!
In Managua, there are “center” groups that meet for breakfast, lunch or dinner in expensive hotels and any number of analysts who discuss the “centrist alternative” on television every day. But what actually exists in the country’s organizational and political reality, in the structures of party power, is the monolithically structured Sandinista Front and the Liberal Constitutionalist Party, and they are organized even in the smallest towns. This is the case all over Nicaragua. The other “organizations” are static: ten, twelve people who meet to talk about the dramatic situation in Nicaragua, always making the same points and telling the same stories.

Can democracy overrule greed?

Some intellectuals in Latin America have expressed profound concern over the fact that democracy isn’t resolving our countries’ problems. They are concerned that elections, which determine changes in democracy, do not lead to the solution of the real problems. Nicaragua is a magnificent example. One of Latin America’s biggest problems is the lack of solidarity on the part of the ruling class. This is true in Nicaragua. Money is god here. The voracious desire found in the dominant core of Nicaraguan political and economic life—including Liberals, Sandinistas and Conservatives alike—to make fast and easy money impedes democracy. The greed that prevails in this symbiosis of the country’s elites prevents democracy in Nicaragua.

It will have to begin with
the education of the children

I’m pessimistic about the short term. A lot of time, a lot, will have to pass for “this” to change. As Pericles explained to those who asked him in awe how the “invention” of democracy had come about, the appearance of the sophists, the birth of a new way of thinking in philosophy during that brilliant period of the Greek Enlightenment were all possible because “the education of children” had begun fifty years earlier. Beyond any ideology, only a project that allows all Nicaraguan children to become educated, to gain access to knowledge and scientific information through a university education, to acquire the technical training that will allow them to become skilled workers —only this will bring democracy and development to Nicaragua.

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