UNO Politics: Thunder on the Right
“Dr. Godoy, are you in the government?” a Time reporter asked Vice President Virgilio Godoy in an August 1 Managua press conference. It was a good question. Barely on speaking terms with President Chamorro since well before the elections, the Vice President was not assigned an office in the presidential building and does not participate in Cabinet meetings. Godoy, however, has not been inactive. He is busy building his own power base.
The already public rift between Chamorro and Godoy was formalized during the second series of strikes following the inauguration. On July 10, at the height of the strike, furious that the new government did not use sufficient force to remove strike supporters from workplaces and from behind barricades, Godoy announced the formation of a “National Salvation Commission” to reestablish law and order. The Commission, headed up by Godoy, includes other prominent UNO hardliners, such as National President Miriam Argüello, COSEP business leader Gilberto Cuadra, political leaders Agustín Jarquín) and Elí Altamirano and union leaders Carlos Huembes (secretary general of the CTN) and Roberto Moreno (secretary general of CAUS).
Chamorro denounced the organization the same day, rejecting “the formation of any extra-governmental commission that proposes to assume functions pertaining exclusively to the constitutional government of Nicaragua.”
Behind the rift Behind the Godoy-Chamorro rift lie both a bitter personal power struggle and a fundamental disagreement about how to govern Nicaragua. Godoy and his followers in the UNO Political Council are professional politicians who feel cheated of their turn in the limelight by technocratic newcomers like Chamorro's personal advisers—her son-in-law Antonio Lacayo and former contra leader Alfredo César. Since the campaign, Godoy and other members of the Political Council have complained that Chamorro excludes them from decision-making and relies only on her close circle of advisers.
On a political level, the Godoy faction criticizes Chamorro for “making a pact with the Sandinistas.” Specifically, they attack her for retaining General Humberto Ortega as head of the army and not cracking down on the strikers. The difference is less one of policy than of tactics; all sectors within the UNO leadership coincide on a basic platform of privatization, monetarist economic reforms and support for the private sector. Chamorro and her circle of advisers, however, at least publicly declare this will take place within a framework of national reconciliation. Given the balance of forces within Nicaragua, this implies a minimum of negotiation with Sandinista trade unions, popular organizations and party members, and respect for the army's institutional structure and constitutional definition.
To the Godoy faction, this amounts to betrayal of the UNO platform. Despite the FSLN’s nearly 41% of the popular vote and 39 seats in the National Assembly, members of the Godoy faction see no need to negotiate with the Sandinistas and are far more willing to approve the use of force. This extremist stance is, of course, far easier for them to maintain since they have no responsibility for governing. In fact, many members of the Godoy faction seem already to have slipped back into the more comfortable role of perpetual opposition, despite their alliance with the winning coalition.
Speaking for the Godoy faction, COSEP leader Gilberto Cuadra harshly criticizes Chamorro for losing credibility by not acting “firmly” and not seeking support from the political sectors who backed her candidacy. Warns Cuadra, “If she follows the 'Government Plan' [drawn up by UNO], she will have the support of the independent [pro-UNO] unions, the political parties of UNO, and the private sector. To the extent that she doesn't base herself in these three groups, she's not going to govern.”
Interviewed on the state television program “Democracia en Marcha” (presented in this issue), Minister of the Presidency Antonio Lacayo pinpointed the difference between the two UNO factions in their attitude towards reconciliation. “There are people who have never believed in national reconciliation, who... prefer more drastic solutions; there are people—among them Dr. Godoy—who for some reason believe that reconciliation isn't feasible or desirable.”
Alfredo César, who heads the Chamorro faction of the UNO bench in the National Assembly, commented on Godoy: “In any part of the civilized world, the Vice President of the Republic owes loyalty to the President.... Only in Nicaragua can you see cases in which the Vice President, who accepted this role subordinate to the President, promotes actions against the will of the government.”
An announcement that appeared at the International Press Club in Managua, signed by the “General Command of the Civic National Salvation Brigades,” provides a revealing interpretation of what reconciliation entails to the Godoy faction. The announcement, placed anonymously, states that Chamorro has “betrayed the noble and generous people of Nicaragua” by signing a secret pact with “the Sandinista mafia.” Reconciliation, the notice asserts, implies that “Sandinista delinquents” should “repent and convert themselves into good Nicaraguans"; reconciliation does not mean “complacency and tolerance... for crimes committed against the people.”
Behind the mike at Radio Corporacion The activities of armed rightwing groups during the second strike provides a forewarning of what the National Salvation Commission's network may be planning. During the strike, armed groups of pro-UNO men attacked strike supporters in Managua and in the countryside. Many were drawn from the CTN and CAUS unions, and small numbers of excontras were also involved. The incidents occurring around Radio Corporacion provide one example of what these emerging rightwing paramilitary groups did and could do in the future.
Broadcasting from the extreme rightwing Radio Corporacion, speakers announced the formation of the National Salvation Commission and called on people all over Nicaragua to form “National Salvation Brigades” to dislodge strikers from workplaces and barricades. In call-in shows during the strike, callers demanded that Godoy replace Violeta Chamorro and invited foreign intervention to restore order. Corporación announcers alerted listeners that the station was under attack by Sandinista sympathizers and appealed for protection. Some hundred armed men surrounded the station, including several recognized by journalists as former contras. According to a witness who remained anonymous for her own protection, a truck from the Managua mayor's office arrived bearing armed ex-contras. According to this and other sources, these men stopped army jeeps, confiscating arms and vehicles; burned jeeps and Soviet-made Lada cars, a symbol of the previous government; placed snipers on the roof of the station; seriously wounded a soldier; built barricades; raided neighboring houses; burned photos in a local shrine devoted to those killed in the war; and sent out armed groups to other hot spots in the city.
After two days, government and army representatives negotiated a withdrawal of the armed men from Corporacion to a Catholic seminary on the outskirts of Managua. Agustín Jarquín, a member of the National Salvation Commission who was present at the negotiations, stated that members of the armed group were almost all linked to UNO political parties, “although perhaps some were former members of the Resistance.” At the August 1 press conference, Godoy admitted that he then personally transported a number of the men from the seminary to their homes.
Unknown assailants later blew up the Radio Corporacion’s transmitter, located near Xiloá Lake, a deed condemned by both government and Sandinista media. While Ministry of Government investigators detained five suspects, including two members of the army, Minister Carlos Hurtado said only days later that there was insufficient evidence to hold them.
Brigades, committees or death squads? Following the strike, opposition media began to pick up the theme of the National Salvation Commission, the brigades and their links to the formation of nascent death squads. The media claimed connections between the brigades and scattered attacks on individual Sandinista activists, takeovers of cooperatives and attacks by armed rightwing groups against Sandinista strikers, peasant activists occupying state lands and students occupying schools.
In the August 1 press conference responding to this media campaign, Godoy disavowed any connection between the National Salvation Commission and any “brigades.” He did agree, however, that the Commission was forming a network of “National Salvation Committees” in every town and village to “protect constitutional order.” These committees, said Godoy, will create an information network “for the next time something like [the strike] happens.” When asked what he would have done differently than Chamorro in the last strike, Godoy replied, “I would have asked people to take to the streets to demonstrate,” to see who they really supported.
Adán Fletes, a Godoy supporter in the National Assembly, said that the National Salvation Commission was needed because “the government lacks a social base,” and “we are going to enter into intense work in Managua and the departments to create social structures that defend the government.” Chamorro, however, continues to disavow the commission.
In fact the committees do appear to be behind some of the disturbances taking place throughout the country. envío recently investigated one instance, a series of land takeovers of cooperatives near La Concha, a small town in the Masaya area. While Godoy denied any involvement in the takeovers, envío found a series of circumstances that strongly imply the Godoy faction's involvement (see story in Update, this issue).
The US angle It is widely rumored in Managua, but nowhere proved, that the new US Ambassador, Harry Shlaudeman, favors the Vice President over Chamorro and is actively maneuvering for her replacement. The most alarming story was broadcast on William Grigsby's popular nighttime radio talk show, “Sin Fronteras,” on La Primerisima on July 27.
Grigsby, who did not reveal his sources, maintained that during the second strike Shlaudeman twice asked Chamorro to resign, offering her the graceful “out” that her health and age did not allow her to lead her country in an effective manner toward democracy. She refused, and instead publicly asserted that her country's problems would be solved by Nicaraguans.
Grigsby claimed that Godoy, certain UNO members, pro-UNO union leaders, two members of the Catholic hierarchy, and former contra leaders are involved in a plot to replace Chamorro with Godoy. The plan, alleged to be advised by the US Embassy, involves former contra leader “Franklin” arranging for groups of ex-contras to infiltrate Managua, so that thousands would be there by December. Small commando groups would assassinate certain Sandinista leaders and create a military situation which would pressure Chamorro to resign.
FSLN sources maintain that US Embassy vehicles were seen outside Radio Corporación and outside the Ministry of Government during the strike, and that Shlaudeman met regularly with Miriam Argüello during this same period and was present when the formation of the National Salvation Commission was discussed.
An unanswered question, which suggests a US or other foreign connection, is where Godoy is getting the funds to run this extensive committee network. The direct Godoy-Shlaudeman link, however, remains at the level of rumor. According one FSLN official, “He's not obvious, like [former US ambassador] Melton was. It's hard to pin him down.”
Unlikely BedfellowsThe existence of the Godoy faction and fear of a rightwing coup may be factors that led both the government and the Sandinista trade unions to pull back from a third strike, which appeared to be brewing in the beginning of August. Ironically, this threat has led the Chamorro government and its Sandinista opponents to become, on certain limited issues, tactical allies. Carlos Fernando Chamorro, director of the FSLN newspaper Barricada and son of Violeta Chamorro, said that in the medium term, “the so-called National Salvation Commission headed up by Vice President Godoy may become the principal factor threatening the country’s stability.”