|Central American University - UCA
Number 216 | Julio 1999
The Pact’s Roots Go Deep And its Fruits are Rotten
The pact's roots are economic,
and can be found in the uneasy realigning of economic groups in Nicaragua.
Its fruits are both perplexing and infuriating a dispersed society
that has not yet shaken off past ideologies and myths.
The challenge that not enough are taking up
is to envision and work for a better
future for the nation.
July 19: twenty years have passed since the Somoza dictatorship was over-thrown and a revolution triumphed that would change Nicaraguan and Central American history and inspire many people throughout the world for many years. Have these twenty years meant “nothing,” to quote the nostalgia-laden tango? In fact they have meant a lot. They brought enthusiasm, pride, burdens, decisions and grief. But in these days of bittersweet commemoration, pain and grief predominate. This symbolic anniversary finds a good number of FSLN leaders—the very ones who headed that revolution—negotiating their personal interests as a new economic group with a corrupt and discredited government that is a direct heir to the vices of the system they brought down in 1979. It also finds a sizable segment of FSLN members, Sandinistas who have left the party and non-Sandinista society in general perplexed and in open dissent.
An “institutional Mitch” is forecastThe visible fruits of the negotiation between the Constitutionalist Liberal Party (PLC) of Nicaragua's President Arnoldo Alemán and the FSLN under secretary general Daniel Ortega will be fundamental reforms to the electoral law and the Constitution that will change the structure and nature of state institutions. Several political analysts have referred to this bipartisan pact as an “institutional Mitch,” referring to the devastating hurricane that battered the country last year. The changes are envisioned not to benefit the nation but to favor the upper echelons of the two parties. They have been shaped over more than a year of closed-door discussions to which only the circles closest to Alemán and Ortega have had access.
Even though it has long been an open secret that such negotiations are going on and that the essence of the agreement has already been forged, both parties just named formal “negotiating commissions” in early June of this year. They have been meeting twice a week, but only to tie up loose ends and begin releasing to the public the list of accords being produced from an agenda drawn up much earlier by the two political bosses.
Only at the end of this long and tense process will these “done deals” make their way to the National Assembly floor to be voted into laws and reforms of laws. That, in contrast, will be a pure formality, perhaps embellished with a few showy debates, since the combined votes of the Liberal and Sandinista benches are more than sufficient to guarantee automatic rubber-stamping of the bills. The only unknown quantity of any interest will be whether the handful of FSLN legislators who have consistently and publicly rejected important aspects of these agreements actually break discipline and vote against them.
As soon as President Alemán returned from the international donors meeting in Stockholm, he and Ortega began to refer openly to their negotiations—which both had previously denied, minimized or obfuscated with ambiguous comments. Their first explicit declarations came during a two-hour phone hookup between the pro-Daniel radio station Radio Ya and the state TV channel. In that exchange, Ortega commented that he “wouldn't go so far as to call this a pact, because a pact is when one has a rapprochement with a dictatorship to gain personal benefit, as occurred in the past… President Alemán is a democratic President, who was elected civilly and his government is of a civil stripe. Alemán isn't Somoza.” The President returned the compliment, remarking with a magnanimous show of satisfaction that Ortega “has evolved enormously; he is a sensible man.”
Each side justifies the pactOn the FSLN side, Ortega and other party leaders repeatedly offer two arguments for negotiating with Alemán, their supposed archenemy. One is very general: negotiating is essential in politics and the FSLN has a long history of doing so pragmatically and successfully. The other is probably just wishful thinking: the FSLN has to negotiate today to guarantee electoral victory tomorrow.
Armed with these self-serving excuses, the concrete agreements that the FSLN wants out of the pact smack of political pornography. Among the most concrete and most lucrative is the divvying up of the highest-paying state posts—magistrates in the electoral and judicial branches, CEOs in state-run enterprises, ministers in the Cabinet, etc.—among the elite of each party, independent of whether the party is in office or in the opposition. Pro-pact FSLN leaders interpret this as a “right” even though the posts would be assigned according to the criterion of party loyalty and not of professional capacity.
An early taste of this aspect of the pact came on June 17 when, after two years of procrastination and alternative proposals, the National Assembly finally elected lawyer and Liberal parliamentarian Benjamín Pérez to the post of Human Rights Ombudsman, and educator Julián Corrales, a deputy minister during the Sandinista government, as his deputy. The political foot-dragging had begun to spark annoyance and increased pressure from the national and international community, which peaked during the Stockholm meeting in May. Nonetheless, diverse sectors of public opinion strongly criticized the irregularities committed in the election process. One such irregularity is that neither man has any experience in the defense and promotion of human rights, a requirement specifically stated in the law creating this new institution. The office should be functioning by October, and will enjoy an initial budget of $5 million.
On the governing party's side, the public justification for negotiating with the Sandinista leadership is “the good of the country,” the need to free the country of upheavals, violence and armed protest—in a word, “governability.” In this context, there are strong indications that followers of both Alemán and Ortega cooked up the street violence that erupted in the student protests and transport strike just before the pact began to be unveiled. At times, the chaotic participation of the Managua-based neighborhood gangs that both sides drew into the fray nearly got out of hand, but the aim was to produce a “planned ungovernability” that would make the populace more likely to accept the need for a pact.
The Liberals' own lack of decorum has bordered on the obscene. They shamelessly defend Alemán's idea that he should automatically and permanently hold a parliamentary seat upon leaving presidential office so that the National Assembly can benefit from his “experience.” This would also, of course, guarantee him life-long parliamentary immunity.
They also propose annulling or at least neutralizing the comptroller general's work, converting his institution into a collegial body consisting of various comptrollers—elected from among the FSLN and the PLC, of course—so as to “modernize and strengthen the institution.” And they insist on postponing the municipal elections to “save such a poor country unnecessary expenses.” They are unashamedly presenting these and other arguments publicly and the Sandinista leaders are validating them with equal aplomb.
The Left of the FSLNThe FSLN appears to be at a clear disadvantage in the pact negotiations, giving up much more than it is getting. It would almost seem that its leaders have decided to weaken their own party and strengthen their adversary, even though it is a government in crisis that finds itself increasingly out of favor both nationally and internationally. Such “politics of the absurd” has deeply disconcerted and angered an important grassroots segment of the FSLN and of independent Sandinistas. Human rights activist and Sandinista member Vilma Núñez de Escorcia, one of the most consistent and vocal opponents of the pact, has repeatedly condemned it as “capitulation.”
The party's “Democratic Left,” a sector that has already attracted a respectable number of well-known historic FSLN leaders and heads of the party structures across the country, counters the arguments of both sides in the pact. Part of its analysis is succinctly contained in the following statement: “The PLC needs to negotiate with the FSLN to impose the policies of hunger ordained by the financial institutions of world capitalism; it needs to control the social movement and neutralize revolutionary political opinion, thereby obtaining governability, which is crucial if it is to fully impose the capitalist system. For imperialism and Somocismo, governability is simply the confiscation of people's rebellion against the implacable economic dictatorship that we Nicaraguans are suffering.”
It also disagrees with the electoral argument that dominates the FSLN, insisting that “the Liberals need the reforms to the Constitution, not the Sandinistas. The FSLN has no overriding need to reform the Constitution to win elections. We Sandinistas can win if we can figure out how to propose to society a platform of government able to resolve people's main problems, if we are wise enough to select the best candidates for public posts, and if we know how to organize to defend the vote.”
Electoral law under the gunThe negotiations include major reforms to the electoral law that governed the October 1996 general elections, a law that the FSLN has repeatedly argued is “no good” and must be totally revamped. The FSLN also claims that the CSE magistrates—particularly its president, a Sandinista who left the FSLN at the time of the 1994 split—are “no good” either and should resign “out of patriotism.” The PLC logically does not trade much in these particular arguments, since it won on the first round in 1996 with that law and that CSE.
In all fairness, the law indeed should be reformed. National Assembly representatives had drafted it in mid-December 1995 amid major political tensions and in a great hurry because both the electoral calendar and the closure of the year's legislative session were bearing down on them. The result was riddled with problems; experts counted some sixty irregularities and/or ambiguous articles, and stated that at least a quarter of them were so fundamental that they would have to be reformed to ensure a healthy electoral process. Most electoral authorities agreed, arguing that these problems would open the way to an avalanche of “inconsistencies,” to use the most generous description of the electoral process that brought Arnoldo Alemán to the presidency months later. Mariano Fiallos, then president of the Supreme Electoral Council (CSE), even resigned in early 1996 when he became convinced that there was no real interest in repairing the damage before the elections.
One of the most commonly criticized changes, and certainly the one that most upset Fiallos, politicized the CSE along party lines. Concretely, it stripped the CSE of the ability to directly appoint its own electoral officials at all levels, forcing it instead to choose them from lists presented by the political parties. In a country as politically polarized and unaccustomed to impartial civil service as Nicaragua, the lists became the perfect opportunity for patronage, thus not only politicizing the electoral branch of government but also undermining its longstanding professionalism. A number of appointees from the submitted lists exhibited such strong party loyalties and/or professional-technical deficiencies that they caused enormous disruptions in the 1996 process at all levels, and then went on to become the major catalysts of a chain of additional problems. The arbitrariness and inconsistencies were so rife that, right up until his recent statement that Alemán had been “elected civilly,” Daniel Ortega was insisting that he had been cheated out of victory by electoral fraud.
Against political pluralism and As a result of the pact, 86 of the electoral law's 208 articles will be eliminated and 70 rewritten. The 1995 law is itself the product of eleventh-hour reforms to the 1984 law. Thanks to a widely criticized deal between the FSLN and the PLC, the new law was in turn modified on a one-time ad hoc basis in 1997 for the autonomous government elections on the Atlantic Coast the following year. Some of those 1997 changes will now be institutionalized for all elections even though the FSLN got fewer seats with them in the coast elections of 1988 than it had without them in 1994. It appears that the FSLN has yet to catch on that ethical problems, which generate mistrust and lack of credibility, are what cost it votes, not legal constraints.
for new “historic parallels”
But if the most synthetic overall critique of the 1996 elections is that the reforms conspired against their transparency and impartiality by politicizing and de-professionalizing the electoral entities, several of the reforms currently contemplated will only worsen that fundamental problem. Now, instead of multi-party politicized participation, power will gravitate precipitously toward two parties. For example, the presidents of the 17 Departmental Electoral Councils created in 1996 and the 145 Municipal Electoral Councils to be set up under the current reform, not to mention all the thousands of polling places around the country, must now always alternate between the FSLN and the PLC, though lists from other parties will still be considered for their remaining members.
Many aspects of the 1984 electoral law spawned an excess of political pluralism that by 1996 had turned the elections into a hyper-pluralist grab bag in which 27 tiny parties or electoral alliances offered presidential candidates. Some of the reforms growing out of the pact are ostensibly aimed at correcting this undeniably negative feature of the political scene, product of the country's deep-rooted caudillo culture and its still incipient democratic culture. But how can we believe in the well-meaning intent of legislation that quickly shifts to the other extreme: a mechanically pre-defined two-party system that stifles independent political expressions, aborts any possibility of third-party alternatives and even makes it hard for a third party to have any weight in the political process?
One reform, for example, eliminates independent mayoral candidacies by popular petition (thus squelching municipal decentralization and the emergence of new local leaders). Another puts up major hurdles to the creation of electoral alliances. Another establishes that parties must choose candidates from their own membership, thus annulling what has been an admirable tendency of the FSLN to pick the strongest local candidates willing to run on its slate, whether party affiliated or not. Yet another reform strengthens the increasingly questioned disposition that candidates can only be elected from pre-selected party slates, which limits representative democracy by forcing voters to accept the party's hierarchy of candidate choices. (Admittedly, those who advocate direct candidate selection by voters have yet to suggest how that would work in a country with 30% illiteracy, where party emblems and colors play a key role in identifying preferences.)
At a time when societies around the world are intensely questioning the role of political parties and seeking alternative routes to effective participation, this new legislation in Nicaragua is a backward step that torpedoes the “institutional” political pluralism proposed in the Constitution. It will now be guaranteed only through parties and the smaller ones will be so constrained that the majority of them will disappear—as is precisely the intent.
This proposal is causing no end of bewilderment to those who remember that breaking up what were termed the “historic parallels”—that closed system of Conservatives and Liberals with their strangulating set of pacts—was what gave birth to the Sandinista movement in the first place. It also perplexes those who have not forgotten that promoting political pluralism was one of the FSLN's main banners when it was in office, despite all the risks and challenges it implied in a country that had never experienced pluralism.
A current within the FSLN that calls itself the Sandinista Initiative has criticized the pact in a document titled “The Pact is the Beginning of the End of the FSLN.” They assesses this aspect of the pact as follows: “To join in the pact is to establish alternability in power between the FSLN and PLC elite to the exclusion of all other active political forces of the nation and the organized forces of civil society. It is to deny the minorities the right of expression and above all the right to exist; it is to create a breeding ground for new political violence and insurrections within the next ten or twenty years.”
Even the other, more technical-political electoral reforms that are being developed undermine pluralism. One, for example, deals with the formula for establishing vote quotients to elect legislative representatives and municipal councilors and for assigning the residual votes of each party that do not make up a full quotient. Another deals with absentee balloting, another would enforce the “right” to vote via a penalty, and yet another establishes new regulations for media use and state financing of party campaigning that will naturally favor the two “big parties” and allow for campaign financing with foreign sources.
All of the reforms are geared to forcing Nicaraguans into one of only two lanes, thus institutionalizing the 1996 election scenario, in which 80% of the votes went to either the PLC (mainly for its anti-Sandinista leanings) or the FSLN (out of loyalty and ideological fixation on the myth of the revolution and its leaders). The aim, in other words, is to freeze in time a reality that should be put behind us, to abort any “third force” that might be gestating in the womb of today's general disillusionment with the performance of both the PLC and the FSLN. For that very reason, the proposal is itself a disappointment, because it totally turns its back on the country's need for an education in democracy if it is ever to develop.
Which reforms are essential to whom?Other agreements that are now surfacing—increasing the number of Supreme Court justices from 12 to 16 (9 PLC and 7 FSLN) and of CSE magistrates from 5 to 7 (4 PLC and 3 FSLN)—are aimed at ensuring power to top officials of the two privileged parties via high-salary posts, numerous perks and privileged business opportunities, no matter which one wins the elections. This is so evident that it raises the disturbing question of whether with these negotiations the FSLN is preparing to win the upcoming elections or lose them again.
The constitutional reforms, many of which are directly related to the electoral process, are the centerpiece of the pact. The majority of these reforms are PLC priorities, including substantial changes to the Constitution's preamble, which is laced with Sandinista symbology and revolutionary allusions. Many, however, simply add high-ticket fat to the state bureaucracy with all the new magistrates, the full complement of senators required for the talked-about second legislative chamber, and even alternates to all Supreme Court judges. The most essential constitutional reform for the PLC is repeal of the article prohibiting anybody who has renounced his or her Nicaraguan nationality in order to acquire citizenship in another country from running for President. Several top-level PLC leaders tipped to receive President Alemán's blessing for the 2001 presidential elections are “foreigners” of this stripe. The FSLN appears to have ceded the PLC this desire.
The constitutional reform most essential to the FSLN is the repeal of the article requiring a second round of voting for President if no candidate receives at least 45% on the first round. The reason for this is that Ortega's group believes—or at least wants his followers to believe—that he could pull more votes than any other candidate, including Alemán's successor, in the first round, while a combined anti-Sandinista vote would almost certainly thwart him in a head-to-head second round.
The PLC is reluctant to concede this reform to the FSLN, not so much because it shares this analysis, but rather because Ortega's dogged belief in it—or perhaps in the image it offers—gives the PLC lots of leverage to pressure for other concessions. The same is true of the sexual abuse charge hanging over Ortega's head, which is proving useful to both Alemán and the pro-pact faction within the FSLN. Though virtually no one wants to admit it, the charge is a concealed weapon that keeps the weakened FSLN chief under constant pressure.
Evidence of mutual weaknessThe FSLN's insistence on reforming the Constitution's two-round voting stipulation at all cost suggests that it does not believe it can add much to its approximately 30% captive vote. It is also a tacit confession of its unwillingness to negotiate a broad-based alliance that could offer a national alternative.
In fact, the FSLN's electoral pool has been progressively drying up. The justifiable anti-Sandinista sentiments in society—not all of which come from the right by a long shot—seem insurmountable as long as even the critical sectors remaining within the FSLN do not take a more creative look at the new realities. A more open attitude would not hurt the center right either, along with dropping its opportunist anti-Sandinista posture. Nicaragua needs Sandinismo if it is to resolve the current crisis.
In the other corner of the ring, Alemán's willingness to engage in a pact is recognition that he cannot govern alone and needs allies, even when they are as discredited as the FSLN. He also appears to recognize that the irrational anti-Sandinista posturing that helped win him the presidential office is not viable at this point, if only because the FSLN's pro-Ortega sector still has the capacity to occasionally destabilize his government with calculated acts of violence, manipulating authentic popular protests or creating them artificially.
Machista and counterrevolutionaryAt the end of the day, the only justification that the PLC and FSLN have for their package of constitutional reforms is their self-defined right as the parties that dominated the 1996 elections to do and to undo. The leaders of both parties are not at all uncomfortable with the idea that “votes at the poll equal a blank check in office.” They are oblivious to any need to harmonize ideas or consult with anyone else, or even to interpret intelligently and democratically the public opinion gathered in polls, the media or other social expressions.
The pact thus has a strong skew toward bullying arrogance and intolerant authoritarianism—in short, a macho skew. It goes against the major efforts that are beginning to be made in Nicaragua to build a more reconciled and inclusive society that knows how to negotiate and to exercise representative and participatory democracy.
To this must be added a few of the pact's other negative factors. For example, there is no reference whatever among the pact's stated motives to a genuinely strategic and national proposal, nor is any agreement related to the extremely serious social and economic problems battering the majority of Nicaraguans—including the hundreds of thousands devastated by Mitch. From the Sandinista sidelines, it would not be hard to call this negotiation “counterrevolutionary,” since it makes no pretense of positively transforming the country's reality, and in fact will consolidate its most negative traits.
No to a referendumOne group of jurists suggested that, as the proposed changes to the Constitution would be so substantial, a Constituent National Assembly should be set up, but the proposal was pooh-poohed. This is of no interest to the two parties; they want something quick and dirty within a closed bipartisan scheme.
Another suggestion, this time from various social and political groups, some from within the FSLN itself, was to submit the negotiated constitutional reforms to a national referendum. Both Alemán and Ortega were quick to say that this was not only unnecessary, but would also be very costly. Within Alemán's group it was also argued that “the people already gave us the green light when they voted us in.” For his part, Daniel Ortega has repeatedly stated that “99.9% of Sandinistas” support what he is negotiating, ignoring the confusion and clear rejections and even rebellions being increasingly expressed in the party's institutions and by its grassroots sympathizers, whether organized or dispersed.
After a year of repeated media leaks and speculation regarding the pact's advancing details and fine-tuning, its concrete content is by now pretty clear. Some public opinion polls have tried to sound out the population's view of these agreements. IDESO-envío conducted the groundbreaking effort in September last year (published in no. 206, September 1998). According to that poll, 73% of the population in the capital disagreed with the idea that Nicaraguans who have renounced their citizenship be allowed to run for President; 79% opposed assigning state posts on party merits; and 63% rejected the bipartisan organization of the country's political system. Of the 13 questions, these 3 most accurately expressed the contents of the pact now virtually agreed upon by the PLC and the FSLN. At that initial moment of sheer rumors, when both Alemán and Ortega were denying all media speculation about the existence and contents of the pact, envío concluded that it would turn out to be a “pact without people.”
And so it is. The grassroots Sandinistas who back it are the most fanatic supporters of the historical leaders—especially Daniel Ortega—and their promise that the pact will win the FSLN the next elections and “everything will change.” They believe that what is being hammered out will result in an automatic and magical end to their suffering, promises just like those in the massive evangelical radio campaigns that bombard them daily.
Although today's FSLN no longer represents the poor nor could represent the nation, a very poor sector of the population, particularly in the countryside, recalls with pride and nostalgia how much dignity they felt during the revolution. They still believe in that, and Ortega is very good at reminding them of it.
The Liberals who back the pact believe equally blindly in Alemán. They also have faith that “everything will change.” These people are less thoughtful and less belligerent than grassroots Sandinistas, or else they are people whose survival depends on their state jobs. The line that they have swallowed to accept what is happening is that, finally, Alemán has convinced Ortega to give up building barricades and burning tires in the streets. Even though social rebellion has not depended on the FSLN's own organizational capacity for some time and the FSLN has little ability to promote or control genuine social protests, the PLC needs people to go on believing that it is still the case.
The test of the Comptroller General's OfficeThe litmus test of the ambiguities and cynicism surrounding the PLC-FSLN agreements is the reform that will affect the Office of Comptroller General (CGR), which has been engaged in a frontal battle against corruption for the past three years. The PLC's public proposal is to replace the current CGR structure with a collegial one, in which the five new executive comptrollers would be elected from among FSLN and PLC loyalists. Doing so with the FSLN's blessings would allow Alemán to shuck off Agustín Jarquín, the pesky comptroller general, in a manner that is just as expeditious as his first idea—to try Jarquín on trumped-up charges and then fire him—but is subtler and carries far fewer political costs. The FSLN leaders are perfectly happy to get rid of Jarquín too, particularly at the low price of simply rubber-stamping somebody else's method. There is no way the FSLN's upper echelons can be expected to take on the fight against corruption, given their own ongoing tradition in such activities.
Even though several FSLN leaders insisted over the past few months that they would never negotiate Jarquín's head with the PLC, the number of voices suggesting the contrary have multiplied since June. Arguments range from an opportunistic “Sandinistas cannot allow Jarquín to monopolize the banner against corruption” to the more honest “Jarquín is our political enemy; we're not going to support him.” For the FSLN, the collegial executive scheme not only solves its own dilemmas regarding the comptroller but even provides a few more top posts for its loyal supporters.
Jarquín threatens to resignIn an astute move, Agustín Jarquín, who legally holds his post until April 2002, announced that he would resign and return to politics—he headed the moderate-right Social Christian Party during the 1980s—“if any essential changes denaturalize the conception of the Office of Comptroller General through its structural transformation.” It is reasonable to assume that the planned transformation of the executive structure would do precisely that, by politicizing the results of the institution's audits and other technical investigations. Jarquín was even more explicit, stating that he would spearhead a political project “of a national and ecumenical nature, which must be broad-based and currently does not exist.” In this political alternative, Jarquín hopes to draw together all honest people whether they worked with the Somocista system, the Sandinista project or the current Liberal regime.
Given the international backing that Jarquín received in Stockholm, his announced resignation represents a very strong critique of the Liberal-Sandinista pact and not-insignificant pressure on those engaged in it. Another of the bottom-line questions floating around these days, then, is: where would the FSLN-PLC negotiators prefer Jarquín to be? Heading up a comptroller's office riddled with limitations even without Alemán's harassment, or loose in the political arena with his political project, where he could become a dangerous rival?
The roots that are never discussedThe bitter fruits of this pact didn't fall from the sky. Nor did they sprout from some “bad political moment,” some ideological deviation by one side or the other, some transitory caving in to temptation, or some obfuscation engendered by the neoliberal atmosphere. Least of all have they come from some well-meaning but misguided desire to reconstruct the country. Any benevolent analysis that attempts to explain the pact as the product of a national convergence to put an end to polarization, attract investment and achieve much-needed governability and stability is wishful thinking. So is any analysis that defines the pact as a necessary stage in Nicaragua's long road of “democratic transition.” The most ingenuous analysis would be an ideologized one that interprets the pact as a momentary and reversible lapse by the FSLN and its top leaders or as a crafty trap into which the PLC has lured its weakened and/or unsuspecting rojinegro adversary. All of these analyses have been heard at one point or another in the confusing scenario of these months, and they are all way off the mark.
There is no confusion among the leaders of either the FSLN or the PLC about what they are doing, and no amount of anti-pact pressure from the Liberals' anti-Sandinista base or the Sandinistas' anti-Liberal base will reverse this “error.” The FSLN's pact with the PLC is the last stage, the finishing touch, the logical conclusion, the prize at the end of a long trek the FSLN set off on a decade ago.
The roots of the pact are economic. They can be found in the uneasy but hurried realignment of economic groups throughout the country, the most visible expression of which is the reconcentration of land into some new and some old hands in this eminently agricultural country. The pact's roots are wound deeply and inextricably around the property ownership problems, so when the FSLN in particular invokes the pact as a way to provide “stability” to ownership, it is nothing but a euphemism for “stabilizing” the property of its new leader-entrepreneur-landowners, who have voraciously been buying up land for some years.
Let's not forget that the first concrete signs of today's pact could be seen in many of the articles of the property law hammered out by the PLC and the FSLN in the same secretive way at the end of 1997. That law has still not been fully applied, because it was crafted in a much less propitious political moment than the current one. Now the pact will be completed in several ways. The FSLN leaders who most favor the negotiation with the PLC have occasionally made reference to a “secret pact” between officials of the Chamorro government and those of its successor, the current Liberal government, to “cover up for each other.” The FSLN now seems to be officially throwing its chips into this game as well (if indeed it didn't invent the game with the incoming Chamorro government in 1990), in which the only rule is “one hand washes the other.”
Landed estates are back; Twenty years after the overthrow of the land-grabbing Somocista regime, it is painful to see that the great landed estates again reign supreme in Nicaragua's countryside. Even more painful is the evidence that among the few hands into which this land has fallen are former officials of the Sandinista agrarian reform, alongside former Chamorro government officials and even current Liberal ones. Competing with them in the land grab are the confiscated former owners of some of these properties and both current and retired army officers. And each group counts on its respective foreign and “globalized” partners. All are buying and all need the legal situation of the not-yet-bought properties to be “stabilized” through the pact.
RIP to the revolution
Of the 3,800 cooperatives that existed at the end of the Sandinista government, no more than 400 still exist today. The “workers' businesses” that grew out of the 1991 negotiated agreement between the FSLN's social organizations and the Chamorro government have been “piñata-ed” and pillaged by the former Sandinista government functionaries, asphyxiated by the lack of credits during the Chamorro government, drowned in old lease-with-an-option debt right up to today. The only thing most cooperative members are waiting for now is that, as the bitter fruit of the pact, they will finally get their titles so they can sell their shares to the many eager buyers buzzing around. These lands will be purchased through financial consortiums and sizable export operations of murky origins, just as others have been bought before and just as the whole country is being bought and sold. The only visible difference is that the group in power admits that it is buying while the other groups prefer not to talk about it.
Thus, in this heady climate, where the new culture of fear and the traditional culture of impunity are coming out into the open, one of the most important achievements of the revolution has now been almost totally rolled back: the democratization of land tenure.
The pact of corruptionThese are the roots of the pact, nourished in the terrain of corruption that characterizes the political culture of those who come to power and cannot curb their ambition to make free with public goods. The pact simply establishes “new rules” in the traditional impunities-immunities game.
A group calling itself Citizen Action has been specifically linking corruption to the pact and its struggle against corruption to the next electoral campaign. Those participating in this group include the huge Emergency Relief and Reconstruction Coalition, which came together after Mitch, the Sandinista Renovator Movement (MRS), and over fifty other social organizations and economic guilds, most of which are part of that sizable Sandinista cauldron that grew out of the FSLN, but have since separated from the party. According to Citizen Action, it is “not an electoral movement, but we want to see the fight against corruption become an integral part of the electoral debate and encourage the Nicaraguan people, when it comes to electing their authorities, to select those who will make sure a genuine struggle is waged against corruption and poverty.” According to this group, the pact “imposes the dictatorship of two caudillos, consolidates corruption, increases poverty, institutionalizes impunity and confiscates the people's sovereignty.” For that reason, it adds, “the struggle against the pact and against corruption are one and the same thing.”
In a similar effort to quash the pact by denouncing corruption, the Sandinista National Forum, another dissident FSLN current, states that “the parties' obfuscation of the aberrant nature of such a political deal, which denies the rights and most urgent needs of the impoverished population, means that, at bottom, the negotiations are being undertaken to protect the economic interests of the emerging capital of a minority of both parties.” The Emergency Relief and Reconstruction Coalition, which represented civil society as part of the official Nicaraguan delegation at the Stockholm donors' meeting, adds another dimension to this same view: “It seems to us worrying and incoherent that, after Stockholm, the FSLN and the PLC have enmeshed themselves in an exclusionary negotiation that is not plugged into the national priorities, that not only closes the door to potential political and institutional participation but also ignores the demands and interests of broad sectors committed to the present and future of our country.”
Meanwhile, Citizen Action, together with the Patriotic Movement, which groups together six center-right parties, organized a demonstration on July 8 in protest against the FSLN-PLC pact. Two days before the march, the MRS and several of the dissident FSLN currents and former members had also created the Committee of Sandinista Unity Against the Pact. Despite the potential drawing power of these forces, only some three thousand people marched through Managua's streets, which was significantly smaller than an anti-corruption march organized rather spontaneously a few months earlier. Several explanations were offered for the disappointing turnout. One is that FSLN leaders reportedly leaned very successfully on at least one of the party-linked social organizations to withdraw its planned participation. The absence of that significant bloc within the FSLN that opposes the pact exacerbated another factor mentioned: the number of people in the already-shrunken march carrying Conservative Party and MRS flags gave it a preponderant political flavor that was much more diffused in the earlier march.
A New RevolutionOnly with a very aware and organized society, one that is well informed and encouraged by responsible media, that is able to demand, propose, participate and debate, and that is guided by political leaders committed to personal honesty, public responsibility and social sensitivity, will Nicaragua move forward. Are there any such leaders who can show society the way?
Only nation-building visionaries can begin to construct such an alternative, and it won't happen overnight. But will dawn ever break on this seemingly endless night? Will there be time? Constructing that alternative out of Nicaragua's current difficult circumstances in today's difficult global situation would be nothing short of a new revolution.