Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 215 | Junio 1999



After Stockholm and Before the Pact

Nicaragua's political reality lies somewhere between the sweet fruits pledged in Stockholm and the certainly bitter fruits of the Alemán-Ortega pact. The contents of that pact go against all the socio-political and institutional presuppositions that Nicaragua's transformation requires, and on which the international community put so much emphasis in Stockholm.

Nitlápan-Envío team

The meeting in Stockholm between delegations of the Central American countries' governments and civil societies and representatives of the donor countries and multilateral organizations that make up the Consultative Group finally rolled around on May 25-28 after months of government hype. The country's critical situation—unpayable debt, severe unemployment, outrageous poverty levels, major hurricane damage—was enough to stir up interest in the diplomatic-financial event among Nicaraguan public opinion for months prior. But the Alemán government saw the upcoming meeting as a good vehicle for propping up the President's flagging popularity ratings; it spent a lot of money to gild the event with excessive expectations. The result—which one person referred to as a "gigantic political disinformation campaign"—was quite out of place and mainly served to trigger typically irreverent Nicaraguan word plays on Estocolmo, the name in Spanish of Sweden's capital, based on the verb colmar (to lavish) or the noun colmo (the last straw). In a CID-Gallup poll done at the end of April, 71% of the Nicaraguans surveyed said they knew absolutely nothing about the meaning of the Stockholm meeting, thus showing the futility of the campaign only a couple of weeks before its culmination.

Will there be any transformation?

The backdrop to the Stockholm meeting was the destruction left by Hurricane Mitch, which is destined to be an important factor in the regional dynamic for a good while to come. Other word players now refer to Central America a.m. and p.m., in which the m in our historical clock stands for the fateful Mitch.

Was the tragedy turned into an opportunity, as the slogan heard frequently prior to Stockholm urged? Can one really speak of an "ante" that was worse and a "post" that could be better, of real perspectives for transformation? Skepticism toward any affirmative response is well warranted. Hours after the curtain dropped on Stockholm, the most lamentable scene of the pre-hurricane script was being played out again: the Alemán-Ortega pact, forcibly shelved by Mitch's passage, was back on stage. The content of this pact goes against all the socio-political and institutional presuppositions that Nicaragua's transformation requires, and about which so much was said in Stockholm.

Polls, manipulations and washouts

The pre-Stockholm publicity campaign peaked on May 14 with an outdoor evening mass organized by the government and presided over by Cardinal Miguel Obando, who concelebrated with all the bishops. The liturgical act ended with a prayer for the government's success in Stockholm. The government packed the site with public employees, students from state schools and young people from the poorest Managua neighborhoods, who were given 10 córdobas and a free bus trip for their trouble.

Although the Stockholm meeting was clearly important, virtually everything that would happen there was known beforehand. Its script had been written and rehearsed down to the tiniest detail, leaving no uncertainty or concern to merit such spectacular clamor or public prayers. The government was merely manipulating people's faith and hopes. Even given the occasion and motive of the mass, however, it was still curious—and a little embarrassing—to hear the President of the Republic recite the following words from the prophet Isaiah in the reading of the mass: "Men rejoice when they divide the spoil."
In the days leading up to Stockholm, the season's first rains spoke louder than either polls or prayers. Even though not unusually strong, the downpours caused new disasters in many of the "rehabilitation" and "reconstruction" works done right after Mitch's passage, including some of the highly-praised constructions in the north of the country built by the powerfully equipped US army engineers. The rains washed out the supposedly repaired roads and several of the provisional bridges that had been built, thus leaving several communities incommunicado. If our vulnerability was one of the central themes in the Stockholm meeting, the first rain showed just how hard it would be to achieve even a minimum degree of invulnerability.

I won't go, don't ask me¼

At the last minute the FSLN decided not to send a representative to Stockholm. The decision further embittered the intense debate that is shaking up the FSLN, over whether to liquidate or transform the party. The way the decision was made and played out was one more illustration of the unequal, disrespectful fight between the top Sandinista leadership and the rank-and-file still present in the party's rigid structures.
The latter proposed not going to Stockholm, as an ethical testimonial gesture to avoid endorsing what nearly half of those polled in envío's April survey consider the "most corrupt government in Nicaragua's history." A Sandinista Assembly meeting approved the proposal on May 16, but when the party leadership announced the decision, it gave pragmatic rather than ethical reasons: Daniel Ortega had already made his views on the foreign debt and economic policy known to the International Monetary Fund's director, and besides, Bayardo Arce had attended the December 1998 post-Mitch meeting in Washington.

The FSLN thus skirted any criticism of the government for its ostentatious corruption. While that was one of the first signs that the pact is back off the shelf, the FSLN's absence from the predefined meeting in Sweden was indeed as irrelevant as its presence would have been.

The meeting's characteristics, expectations, conditions and limits

In Stockholm over 50 representatives of the countries making up the Consultative Group met with the Central Americans to learn about their proposed projects—not to approve them, and even less to turn over the money needed to implement them. Approval of the projects presented will come later, in bilateral forums such as in situ dialogues between government representatives of each donor country and each Central American country and then in the donor country's legislature, which must approve the final aid amounts pledged, taking into account their cooperation strategies for the coming years.
Although the Mitch tragedy awakened new willingness and interest, international cooperation with Nicaragua has been dropping steadily since 1990. In the world of neoliberal globalization, where money speaks and the manufacture of poor people is a growth industry, the Consultative Group countries have limitations they cannot hide. Their governments are fighting growing fiscal deficits at home and are interested in providing cooperation to new impoverished countries, especially those of Europe itself. The pie is smaller and the number seeking a slice keeps growing; the first newcomers were the result of the Eastern European crisis and the latest have come from Kosovo.

Prior to the Stockolm meeting, Carmelo Angulo, the United Nations Development Program representative in Nicaragua, defined donor fatigue as a limitation on international cooperation. He described three contributing factors: "fatigue because international cooperation has fewer resources available than a few years ago, fatigue because it has doubts about the credibility of the aid mechanisms, and fatigue because it thinks things could be done differently."
Done differently how? In exchange for its resources, donors are asking for good governance from the countries to which they provide aid under the new post-Cold War criteria. In the globalized argot of cooperation, good governance should result from three ingredients: a healthy macroeconomic policy (reduction of deficits, financial balances), efficient and transparent resource use, and the active participation of civil society in projects.

Sweden's cooperation has unquestionably been the most generous, consistent and loyal of all aid that Nicaragua has received over its recent history. As hosts of the event, the Swedes went into it nursing disappointments accumulated over the months of preparation. For one thing, the government-civil society convergence it expected in the Central American countries did not happen. For another, there was no genuine regional focus to the projects to promote much-needed Central American integration. And for a third, European cooperation itself did not succeed in creatively distancing itself from the approach centered in the dubious structural adjustment programs, which the powerful United States always imposes. This approach views those excluded by the adjustment as simple objects of social compensation, even when they are not hurricane victims. By the end of the meeting, however, the content of some of the documents emanating from it and the Central American and European NGOs' high profile in the meeting had injected new enthusiasm into the Swedish hosts.

The "project" portfolio: In English and full of holes

After tensions about who would get to be part of the sizable Nicaraguan delegation that went to Stockholm—Sweden's midnight sun tempted many—11 NGO representatives ended up participating. They took their own documents and were only given copies of the government's official proposals at the very last minute, and then in English. The NGOs criticized the government proposals as vague, imprecise, full of holes and lacking mechanisms for either implementation or follow-up. Their essential criticism, however, was the same one made by all the specialists: the government took only a "menu" of projects that were not part of any kind of medium-term strategy.
Nicaragua's delegation had no capacity to present genuine projects in Sweden. Economist Néstor Avendaño, adviser to the Ministry of Foreign Cooperation during the Chamorro government, said as much in a meeting with envío when he explained the reality of the "project portfolio" offered for the donor countries' consideration: "The projects the government took were first presented over a year ago, well before Mitch. Some were even left over from the Chamorro government. They just reshuffled the papers after the hurricane. But what's most striking is that the documents we took were not even projects; they were project profiles, sheets and ideas, except for the Ministry of Transport and Infrastructure, which did take genuine projects for roadway reconstruction."
"There is also very limited capacity in Nicaragua to formulate investment projects that are truly profitable, ones that international cooperation would finance," Avendaño added. "Both the public and private sectors share this weakness. And on top of this, there's a weak capacity to implement projects. There are various reasons for this: the limits of the construction sector, which has very little machinery, and above all institutional limits. Not many people from the institutions in Nicaragua know how to manage, contract and disburse financing for projects. And, to boot, they don't take advantage of those who do. Every government has begun its administration with a broom, cleaning house. Those who know the labyrinths of international cooperation are fired with great glee; the experience accumulated in previous governments is disparaged; skilled human resources aren't used; and ministers and general managers with no experience in the area to which they are posted just wing it. All these changes not only weaken the institutions, but also bolster the triumphalism of the new officials who arrive to fill the posts left by those `swept out.' International cooperation is fully aware of these limits in Nicaragua; they know us very well."
Other analysts recalled at the time of the meeting in Sweden that the paucity of skilled labor also helps explain the weak ability to implement investment projects in Nicaragua. Furthermore, with the growing illiteracy and malnutrition, no project defined in an office can be implemented on the ground.

According to Avendaño, Nicaragua managed to implement no more than US$350 million in projects financed with international aid between 1990 and 1998; other economists estimate the ceiling as only $250 million. And 1998 was apparently the low point of the decade: $207.6 million. A high-level World Bank official who was in Stockholm and whom envío later consulted in Washington about the Nicaraguan government's project portfolio agreed fully with Avendaño's assessment.

Low implementation, high representation

In circumstances like those in Nicaragua, technicians either take a back seat or turn into politicians or politickers. Stockholm encouraged a marriage of the two functions, and tourist as well. The World Bank official did not hide his disagreement with the choice of Stockholm as a site to discuss Central America's problems. He believes that the meeting should have been held somewhere in Central America, both to lower the event's costs drastically and to prevent happy Central American globetrotters from turning a work meeting—at which only small and highly qualified delegations were needed—into a pleasure trip for a lot of government fat cats. While the official did not personalize, Nicaragua fits the description, since it had the biggest delegation of all, with 69 people. And of the 47 "official" delegates, advisers and government guests, only 5 were going to speak on behalf of Nicaragua to present the country's projects.

Fantasies and false images

Nicaragua took a list of 300 projects for which it was requesting US$1.3 billion. Of this amount, 77% was earmarked for projects to reconstruct the road network destroyed by Mitch, but the government also tucked in projects to improve other roadways that would be useful for the economic development of its allies.

Although no country would receive cash funds in Stockholm, just pledges of money for specific projects, Nicaragua's government suggested to public opinion that the purpose of the trip was to "collect" aid and that, once back with it, things would get a lot better for the battered country and its poor majority. To add to the confusion, President Alemán and several of his high-level officials also sought, whether through irresponsibility or calculated disinformation, to make Nicaraguans believe that the country's entire foreign debt was going to be written off right there in the Stockholm meeting.

The Liberal government's popularity was at such a low point that creating these fantasies seemed to be an urgent task, like emergency rehabilitation measures after the hurricane of governmental corruption uncovered in the months following October's storm. But they could backfire against the government, and relatively soon. The promised aid will not begin to arrive until next year and the construction projects cannot begin with a rainy season that is forecast to be abundant and destructive. As a result, the surest best is that 1999 will close with an even deeper economic crisis, in which the empty pockets and stomachs of the majority will shatter the fantasies.

From Geneva to Stockholm—What resources were obtained?

Nicaragua attended its first Consultative Group meeting in 1995 in Paris, during the Chamorro government. It could do so because in 1991 it had initiated—albeit with results full of ups and downs—the structural adjustment program that the countries in the Consultative Group had set as a condition for financing projects in the countries of the South. Nicaragua attended a similar meeting in Washington the following year, before the end of the Chamorro administration, and in April 1998 the new Liberal government participated in another one in Geneva. Returning from the Geneva meeting Alemán had announced with great pomp and circumstance that his government had "received" $1.8 billion from the international community, downplaying the fact that the aid would be spread over three years and would still have to be negotiated bilaterally project by project. He spoke euphorically of "before Geneva" and "after Geneva," but reality soon demonstrated that there wasn't a whole lot of difference between the two.

As Stockholm approached, the government never made clear whether or not the $1.3 billion it was requesting would come out of the part of that already pledged $1.8 billion that had not yet been approved and/or disbursed. Economists agree that the two amounts overlapped, taking into account the schedules and the donors' willingness to extend the funds from one administration to another to facilitate the transition and consolidation of the state. Only when returning from Stockholm did the government declare, with a previously unknown seriousness far removed from the gleeful irresponsibility shown at departure time, that 52% of the amount pledged in Stockholm was not new, but had already been defined a year earlier in Geneva.
Notwithstanding such official confusion about or manipulation of the figures, the international community in Stockholm gave Nicaragua some additional support over the $1.8 billion originally pledged in soft loans and donations for a three-year period. The total support for the next three to four years is $2.5 billion and breaks down as follows: $300 million in relief from interest payments on the foreign debt (both the multilateral debt and the debt with the Paris Club countries); $500 million from the World Bank for reconstruction projects; $500-$600 million from the Inter-American Development Bank for projects and another $400 million to finance the partial write-off of Nicaragua's foreign debt; and bilateral support from friendly countries totaling over $700 million for a variety of projects.
In the amount earmarked for projects, 65% is to be applied to social programs (health, education and low-cost housing) and only 35% to infrastructure projects. The overall support to Central America was $9 billion, of which Nicaragua will receive almost 30%. Spain pledged the greatest bilateral contribution of any single country, offering Nicaragua $243.5 million for various projects over the next three years.

A major theme of the meeting: Transparency vs. corruption

Money for projects was not the only item discussed in Stockholm. Major political, social and institutional issues laced through the whole meeting. Agustín Jarquín, Nicaragua's comptroller general, who was there to represent the umbrella organization of auditing institutions in the Central American and Caribbean countries, compared the 1999 Stockholm meeting to the 1987 Esquipulas one, in the sense that the international community came together to back the Central Americans' joint effort. "In Esquipulas," he said, "the international community supported our effort to bring peace; in Stockholm it is supporting our development." Jarquín looked upon Stockholm as a sort of "last chance" that the international community is giving us, and summarized the four priorities that the world is expecting of the Central American countries in return for its help: citizen participation, municipal power, transparency and regional focuses.

Transparency, warned Sweden's former ambassador to Nicaragua, "is the theme that most worries donors." In that atmosphere, all participants liberally sprinkled the word transparency through their speeches, whether they were donors or recipients, of proven probity or suspected corruption. In his main speech, President Alemán, who belongs to the latter part of both equations, tried to woo the donors with achievements, including several he had unwillingly inherited rather than initiated: "To make Nicaragua into a country attractive to international cooperation, we have strengthened `institutional transparency' in public resource management through the following mechanisms. First, we have established clear and stable administrative rules by eliminating the discretionality of public officials. Businesspeople no longer need to visit ministers much less the President to clear the way for their economic activities. Second, we have established greater transparency in the management of economic policy and state resources.
"My government has been the first in over two decades to incorporate all of the income that comes into the state into the National Budget of the Republic. Third, we have effectively established the principle of equity. Those who have more should contribute more and support to the poor should be targeted. This principle led us to close the system's largest state bank since it was not supporting small peasant farmers and was only generating fiscal losses." For good measure he also referred to the five most important economic measures carried out by his government. Among them he mentioned the reform of the state which, he said, "has done away with four ministries and has been accompanied by strong austerity measures."
President Alemán spoke about transparency because he had to. But his government's record was not easy to present, and not because proven corruption cases in the emergency aid sent from abroad in the first post-Mitch months could be laid at the government's door. In fact, the evidence suggests much more inefficiency, lack of coordination and petty political favoritism than acts of outright self-enriching corruption with this aid—part of which is still inexplicably sitting in warehouses, undistributed.
President Alemán's less than savory history has basically to do with scandals that occurred in Nicaragua starting well before the Stockholm meeting. The most important of these are the evidence provided by the Office of Comptroller General (CGR) of Alemán's rapid and excessive increase in wealth since occupying public office—about which a summary process still hangs over his head—and his vitriolic campaign to discredit and disregard the CGR itself, the institution with the duty and the right to monitor the use of public goods and the activities of the government and its officials. With the shameful accumulation of case after case, attack after attack, scandal after scandal, the donor governments appear sufficiently informed. So informed, in fact, that some of them threatened to definitively withdraw their economic contributions if they receive any fresh news of government irregularities in the use of international aid. The countries most critical of the Nicaraguan government seem to have been Germany and Canada.
Shortly before the meeting in Stockholm, a delegation of three German parliamentarians (two Social Democrats and a Green) had made a four-day trip to Nicaragua to check on the progress of post-Mitch social reconstruction projects financed by Germany. In a press conference they called upon completing their inspection, they were uncompromising.

Their justified criticisms and the obviously genuine feelings behind them left the German ambassador with an awkward fence-mending task. The politicians, particularly moved by the neglect still being suffered by the Posoltega victims, described themselves as "indignant" and "stunned" by what they had seen. They made some hard-hitting declarations before leaving the country: "President Alemán is very good at using the terminology that donor countries want to hear, terms such as transparency, overcoming poverty and sustainable development, but no results are seen in practice." And: "Alemán calls himself a Catholic but this seems hypocritical to us, because if Christian and Catholic doctrine were taken seriously, the problem of land ownership for the homeless of Posoltega would have long since been resolved." And, more cynically: "We have the impression the government intentionally postponed the solution to the Posoltega problem so he could use it to argue for more financing." They ended with the following warning: "We will speak in Stockholm against any aid being assigned to the government of Nicaragua."

Alemán's initiative not seconded

Despite his pitiful record, President Alemán decided to lead with his weak suit: he proposed to the Stockholm meeting the creation of a new Central American superstructure to audit international post-Mitch aid which would leave the already existing auditing institutions on the outside looking in. He called it a "higher and independent body" and proposed that it "provide very close follow-up and monitor, inspect, supervise and guarantee to the full satisfaction of all parties that the resources from donors that originate in this meeting are correctly used." He was referring to the same "independent" body that he had already announced plans to set up in Nicaragua, and for which he had already personally selected the "independent" supervisors. In Sweden he gave it a regional scope so it could "compete" with the proposal that Comptroller Agustín Jarquín presented to the forum in the name of Central America.

President Alemán's proposal fell flat. Though he presented it as regional, it was not in sync with the legislation of each country, and its formulation was imprecise. Worst of all, it was tarred with the brush of its promoter. The prevailing opinion among the international community representatives was to bolster the existing auditing entities in each country with greater financial and administrative independence. In Nicaragua, that meant strengthening President Alemán's nemesis, the Office of Comptroller General.

As a result of the meeting, various mechanisms were created to assure effective and transparent use of the aid. The specific deal for Nicaragua is that the use of the aid will be monitored by a body that must include representatives of Nicaraguan civil society and of five of the cooperating countries: Spain, Canada, United States, Germany and Sweden.

Jarquín proposes ten moves

Jarquín proposed the adoption of ten actions to guarantee transparency in each Central American country, a presentation received enthusiastically in the forum. In synthesis, the moves that he suggested were to: 1) get the state institutions to operate transparently by drawing up clear proposals about the origin and destiny of the funds, putting into force laws that permit citizens easy access to public information and developing integrated systems of financial management and auditing in public accounting; 2) modernize the state entities' purchasing systems, ensuring equitable competition among those who sell to the state; 3) continue the decentralization process, transferring resources and facilities to local governments; 4) improve the citizenry's participation by promoting community auditing of projects; 5) strengthen the national auditing institutions; 6) improve juridical security, the independence of the state branches and the strength of the institutions; 7) establish systems by which an individual or organization can bring a case against the state to court; 8) promote public campaigns to disseminate ethical values; 9) put more teeth into the laws that monitor the honesty of public officials, define such things as influence peddling, illicit enrichment and bribery as criminal acts, and establish severe penalties for these crimes; and 10) establish the civil service career so that job stability is based on professionalism and not on political loyalties.

Reviving the war

All of the news reports sent back to Nicaragua stressed that Comptroller Jarquin came out ahead when Alemán's ongoing confrontation with him was moved to Stockholm. And once back in Nicaragua? "Just let them try to control me!" was Alemán's war cry to the hundreds of supporters who cheered him at the airport, as his officials took out paid newspapers ads to greet him that urged him on.
Anyone who thought that Stockholm would put a damper on President Alemán's campaign against the comptroller general quickly realized it was a pipe dream. Representatives from several countries questioned Alemán in Stockholm about his institutional "war" with the CGR, but the sum effect was probably only to make it harder now for Alemán to get rid of Jarquín because the political cost would be immense internationally as well as domestically. But the war goes on. Tactics will change, but the strategy won't because its essence is simply to ensure that no one control either him or his men as they rejoice dividing the state spoil.

The idea is to disparage Jarquín to the utmost, both to eclipse his work and to tarnish his image should it occur to him to run for the presidency in 2001, which he insists he has no intention of doing. But the objective is not only the man; it is also the institution. The ultimate goal is to neutralize the CGR, transforming its current structure into a group-managed institution with six other comptrollers "controlling" Jarquín. The sector of the FSLN that supports the pact with Alemán's Constitutionalist Liberal Party (PLC) would also support this endeavor, so that the total of nine comptrollers would be elected from the PLC and the FSLN. FSLN general secretary Daniel Ortega and his circle have already openly affirmed their support for this objective.
Once back from Stockholm, the President renewed his war all fronts and enlisted his cronies in the attacks: there have been a stream of stories about Jarquín's "corruption" and cuts in the CGR budget that will make its work more difficult, while the bill for the collegial comptroller's office is now a priority in the National Assembly. Given this determination and such an imbroglio of "domestic affairs," the international community representatives will find the effectiveness of continuing to question the President increasingly limited. Even international meddling still respects some frontiers.

After Stockholm, the pact

Discouragement, optimism and more desire for progress than concrete steps forward were the real mix of ingredients that characterized Stockholm. Once back in Nicaragua, everything remains to be done, to be rehabilitated, to be rebuilt. All the projects will have to be brought down to earth, with time against us and in a terrain that is increasingly complex and strewn with mines, as illustrated by the emblematic case of Posoltega, which we look at in another article in this issue.

But the events that immediately followed Stockholm have clouded the prospects for these projects. As was feared, the Ortega-Alemán pact hadn't been scrapped; it was just on hold. Now, it is moving forward again unabashedly, even ostentatiously. One sector of the FSLN elite, with Daniel Ortega at its head, announced that it would negotiate a broad set of constitutional reforms and legal and institutional changes with the Alemán government, all of which are aimed at guaranteeing both parties the most favorable correlation of forces possible in the economic and political realms, independent of which one wins the elections. As a side "benefit" of these agreements, competition from other parties or leadership groups would be excluded, as would the real debate the country needs, the unified project it is demanding, and any opportunities for those who decide not to side with either party in this closed bipartisan scheme.
This is the plan both sides are working toward. Both have announced it with the arrogance that stems from their conviction that they are irrevocably "majority" forces, identifying "institutionality" with the consolidation of their two parties. This is the challenge that now lies before a society indignant in the face of so much corruption and cynicism, but still too weak, too impoverished and too caught within the ideological labyrinths of its recent history. The pact is setting up yet another ethical challenge for a society in crisis.

Time and the people: On whose side?

The two sets of negotiators got back to their agendas immediately after Stockholm. The items on it are very worrisome: expanding the state bureaucracy; divvying up government posts by party; legitimizing past, present and future corruption; guaranteeing impunities and immunities; stifling the country's very recent pluralism; disrespecting any small party based strictly on size and eradicating any conditions that would let it grow; reducing political democracy to the exercise of elections; bolstering the political boss culture; consolidating economic groups with obscure origins; destroying the incipient growth of local government autonomy; manipulating the law; and in general, imposing a bipartisan corset that would choke the breath out of the whole nation. All this, totally opposed to the decentralization, participation and transparency proposed in Stockholm, is hidden—when not paraded immodestly—behind the cascade of proposals that the two groups began to make public.

The two party strongmen, Ortega and Alemán, are in something of a rush, since time is ticking away. Any reforms to the Constitution require passage by two consecutive legislatures, so they have to be introduced now if they are to affect the presidential elections in 2001. The electoral reform is pressured by the municipal elections scheduled for next year, at least so far. Will the two parties decide to put them off so as to guarantee that the pact's components are securely in place first? Meanwhile, opposition to the pact—and, for that matter, to the two steamroller parties forging it—is growing apace. In poll after poll, survey after survey, the majority of Nicaraguans say they do not feel represented by either the PLC or the FSLN, and would vote for neither Alemán nor Ortega. But one of many problems attending this otherwise encouraging phenomenon is that it is not a zero-sum game. There are no winners in the switch away from the two big parties, unless perhaps apathy and cynicism, which is not to the benefit of either the country or its population.
Daniel Ortega has imperturbably insisted, without a shadow of shame, that the majority of Sandinistas support his rapprochement with the government and the pact he expects to get out of it. But that is a twisted interpretation of the views expressed in various party forums. Alemán has the same trouble finding backing among his Liberals for the idea of getting in bed with the likes of Daniel Ortega, not the least because Ortega is increasingly discredited within his party, in society and also in the international sphere.
But then the Liberal government and its chief representative, President Alemán, are not exactly riding the crest of prestige any more either. Speaking at the beginning of May on the topic of "democratic governance," well-known businessman Manuel Ignacio Lacayo wrote off the current government with these words: "Today the opinion that we do not have a capable, austere, modern, honest, receptive, prudent or rational government is almost unanimous. Corruption scandals are so frequent that we're getting used to them. There is so much inefficiency that the best-paid public posts have become a recompense for friends, relatives and party faithful. Resources are not allocated based on the laws of the market; rather there is influence peddling, and a realignment of privileges and the privileged."
And then there is the extensive document that appeared in a Managua newspaper on May 11, titled "Reflections on the PLC Crisis." Signed by Sergio García Quintero, PLC representative to the Central American Parliament and a well-known Liberal jurist, it offers 16 reasons for the rapid decline in the popularity of both President Alemán and his party. Among them are these two: "The fact that the PLC does not behave like a serious political party, but like a mercantile organization at the service of the private interests of a big boss and his highly questionable clique" and "the fact that the President of the Republic has gotten into bed with Comandante Daniel Ortega, totally against the desires of the Liberal people, with no other objectives than to get that Sandinista faction's complicity in the reforms to the Political Constitution and the Electoral Law and the promulgation of new laws, which in turn have no other ends than to favor the personal, political and other interests of Arnoldo Alemán and his main cronies." Later, when the contents of the Alemán-Ortega pact were unveiled, García Quintero called on society to initiate a civil disobedience campaign and demonstrations to stop the accord between the PLC and the FSLN.

This is the government that is entering into a pact. And this is the government with which the party that led the revolution is prepared to sign on the dotted line. Although nothing assures that all problems will be solved if the pact is called off, something has to be done, and done with ethical principles and ends.

All the evils with us today have very deep roots in the country's history, its political culture and its economic backwardness. There isn't the slightest chance that the results of Stockholm, however good, will even get close to those roots. The way things are right now, they could even dig in deeper. Even halting the pact, there is no way we can eradicate such ancient evils. But the hurricane of the pact could sweep us back to situations that we thought we had irreversibly left behind, leaving us even worse off than before.
And so we return from the temperate midnight sun to this "damned country"—as it was known in the times of that honest, upright man named Sandino—to come to terms with the fact that it is under "Satan's sun" that our society will have to respond to so many intense challenges.

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After Stockholm and Before the Pact

El Salvador
A Tough New Government And a Lost Opposition

Society and Parties on Diverging Paths

Electoral Results: All in the Same Boat


Posoltega: Where the Land Burns

América Latina
Violence against Women: A Centuries-Old Plague
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