Who Will Conquer the Chaos?
In the new phase ushered in with the February elections, the central question facing Nicaragua has been whether the bourgeoisie would be able to roll back the Sandinista revolution, or the country's popular sectors would instead succeed in defending the revolution's basic gains, pull together a new democratic system and work for a return to power in the next elections.
After eight months, Ronald Reagan's opinion that the FSLN engineered the UNO victory is still understandable: the Sandinistas' desire to win aside, is it not objectively to their advantage to pass to the opposition to consolidate their gains, freeing themselves from some of the restraints of power, particularly in such difficult times for left forces around the world? Reagan's implicit belief was that, given the economic crisis produced by years of US war, the continued presence of the armed contras as a mobilized force and the end of large-scale assistance from the Eastern European countries, the FSLN was heading for a dramatic fall from power in the medium run, one way or another. This view assumed a dramatic deterioration in the FSLN's base of support as a direct result of the ongoing war and the economic crisis. The FSLN, according to this scenario, would be virtually wiped out as a political force for many years, much as happened after the 1934 assassination of Sandino.
The Soviet Union's many difficulties and its relative subordination to the United States, the US government's new offensive against the Third World in the petroleum-producing zones and Cuba's complex situation would all have been very difficult post-electoral factors for a victorious FSLN to have dealt with. Now the pro-US UNO coalition would have to cope with Nicaragua's economic crisis in a world context increasingly unfavorable for the Third World. The Sandinistas, to Reagan's way of thinking, could play the more comfortable role of political opposition, even as they maintained effective control over the country's armed forces; they could stay close to their base of support while left forces around the world are in a holding pattern waiting for imperialism's current neoliberal policies to spark a resurgence of progressive and revolutionary movements. Had it turned out that way, it would have been ironic indeed. But things are not that simple.
The beginning of the end?The electoral results could mark "the beginning of the end" of the FSLN as a political force. This new period, unlike the last 10 years, is one in which popular sectors around the world find themselves on the defensive. In Nicaragua's case, the attack is led not only by US imperialism, but by the newly-empowered bourgeoisie as well. This does not mean that advances by the popular movement in Nicaragua are impossible, but that the key aim must be to protect the revolutionary gains already made—thus the oft-heard slogan these past months of "not one step back."
If the grassroots sectors cannot reach this objective through militant and protracted struggle, the bourgeoisie could well take on the characteristics of a state of exception (a military dictatorship, or fascism, for example) as the only means by which to terminate their belligerency. But between such failure by the popular movement and the bourgeoisie's success in achieving its own objectives, there could be a period of political instability or only relative stability reflecting the shift in the country's correlation of forces.
It is extremely difficult to maintain social stability when antagonistic interests are at stake and each side holds effective veto power over the other, but eventually it is imposed. For example, after the decline of Sandino's movement, the brief period headed up by President Sacasa, in which he swung back and forth between opposing forces, gave way to a state of exception marked by the Somoza dictatorship. The most recent example of this in Latin American history is the Chilean case, when the failure of the Popular Unity project of 1970-73 gave way to the bloody and repressive Pinochet regime. Could it then be that Nicaragua is currently in an intermediate period between the Sandinista movement's failure and the installation of a state of exception that will wipe out all vestiges of the popular energy unleashed during the last decade? The international situation certainly favors the country's most conservative sectors. Is Nicaragua, albeit in embryonic fashion, living the specific kind of political crisis that could bring on fascism?
As we have detailed in previous issues, four political currents are now active in Nicaragua's political arena. Two of them are willing to work within the current constitutional framework: the UNO moderates, led by Violeta Chamorro and Antonio Lacayo, who are promoting a democratic capitalist project, and the Sandinistas who see the democratic path as the means by which to take power again and prioritize the interests of the country's poor with the long-term goal of building a social democratic project. The other two currents do not have viable projects per se, but could, depending on the country's changing situation, put themselves forward as real options. One is the fascist current promoted by ultra rightists within UNO and the other is the orthodox socialism pushed by some revolutionary sectors, a number of Sandinistas among them. These two currents, their formal declarations to the contrary, refuse to accept the legal framework of the Constitution and, de facto, push for states of exception of opposing stripes.
These four currents will have to define the new characteristics of Nicaraguan political life in a broad context that includes increasing US pressure as well as Nicaraguan public opinion. It remains to be seen whether the FSLN will lose its strength and the country will give way to the gradual imposition of a fascist project or, to the contrary, the democratic option will be strengthened and the extremists isolated. At this point, a stalemate of sorts exists between the Sandinistas and the UNO government, with an ongoing dynamic of polarization-depolarization that strengthens the internal coherence of each of the four political currents, while society as a whole becomes increasingly incoherent.
The scene in the countrysideA quick survey of some of September's local newspaper headlines demonstrates the chaos affecting many areas of the country: "Contras attack cooperative with grenades, rifles and pistols"; "Agricultural workers invade hacienda"; "Poor rainy season means hunger in the countryside"; "Waslala, another center of war"; "Peasants take over municipal offices"; "Contras accuse UNO"; and "Nicaragua fragmented: Local chieftains emerge."
The social contradictions in the agricultural regions are much more complex than the national situation as a whole. In some places, contras and Sandinistas are united; in others UNO and contra forces attack Sandinistas; in still others there are fights among Sandinistas, among contras and among the different parties of the UNO coalition.
Based on a series of envío interviews in different rural areas, we have constructed a hypothetical place that synthesizes the different contradictions lived on a daily basis, in various forms and to varying degrees of intensity, in the Nicaraguan countryside. We will call this place "Babel."
Babel's peasants and agricultural workers are in a post-war period. Their economic situation is critical: the country's per-capita Gross Domestic Product for 1989 was $487, equal to that of 1945. Babel's inhabitants would be happy if their living standard were as high as that national average. The situation is complicated by a disastrous rainy season that will make food self-sufficiency, the traditional peasant defense against economic crisis, very difficult. It is also difficult now to get credit from the bank. Babel's poorest have had to change their eating habits, cutting back to two meager meals a day. Malnutrition and accompanying diseases among children are increasing dramatically. In addition, land that either has historically belonged to the peasants or was given to them as part of the Sandinista agrarian reform is in dispute now, under attack by former contras in need of land themselves. These contras are unhappy because the "development poles" that the government was to set up do not have enough land, infrastructure or capital to make them viable. Unemployed, these ex-combatants enviously look on the land held by Babel's peasants as their best option. It is not a case of ideologically revived contras, but rather demobilized contra peasants who are using force to improve their very tenuous situation. At times, upwards of 1,000 former contras, armed with pistols, rifles or stones, are threatening Babel.
The situation is further complicated because in one of Babel's municipalities its mayor is an UNO extremist who plays on the contras' political discontent, giving it a distinctly anti-Sandinista ideological stamp. Their solution is thus to take over properties covered by the Sandinista agrarian reform: cooperatives or state haciendas. The mayor and a group of big landholders close to him are attempting to give this struggle the facade of responding to the former contras' real land demands, playing them off the Sandinistas to weaken Sandinista organizations in the countryside. Some of the landowners intend to buy up the best haciendas that are taken, thus expanding their own properties while satisfying the ex-contras.
But Babel's peasants are not alone in this conflict; the salaried agricultural workers in the area, particularly those working on state-run haciendas, are assisting them. Upwards of 65% of these workers, organized in the ATC, voted for the FSLN. They tend to be extremely well organized and, at least in some cases, to have access to arms as well. In addition to support for the peasants, the ATC has its own reasons for taking up this struggle: the UNO government wants to return the state enterprises to their old owners. The ATC workers know very well that this means an end to the social gains they had been able to make in past years: assured employment which, for agricultural workers, is linked to housing and small parcels of land that allow them to grow some food for family consumption. Together with this are the specific benefits that each union has been able to negotiate with the state through collective bargaining, including childcare centers, dining halls at workplaces, minimum levels of health care and assistance in home improvements.
What we see in this zone of Babel, then, is a conflict in which big UNO farmers have sided with ex-contra peasants to square off against pro-Sandinista cooperatives and unions in the midst of very hard economic times.
Although the demands made by the different social sectors in another municipality of Babel are similar, the conflict has taken on different characteristics. Cooperative members and unionists succeed in establishing a dialogue with the contras' peasant leaders, recognizing the difficult situation they face. They attempt to resolve the contras' land demands by putting them on under-utilized peasant or state lands. Or, side by side with the contras, they begin to invade the lands of the wealthiest landowners in the region, mainly those in the hands of high-level UNO leaders. A variation on this would be a case in which the contras had already taken over land given out under the Sandinista agrarian reform. The agricultural workers, instead of entering into direct conflict with them, take over either private haciendas nearby or the municipal government offices. The purpose of such takeovers is to force the regional and national government to resolve the pressing land issue. In this scenario, the UNO landowners' efforts to pit peasant against peasant is transformed into a coalition of peasants and agricultural workers against big landholders (read politically: Sandinistas and contras against UNO).
In a third and final zone of Babel, extreme chaos reigns. The demands for land are essentially the same, but the solution is particularly complex. At the very least, two of the country's four social forces in this zone are divided. The contra peasant chiefs do not control their subordinates, who are split about which direction to take—peasant vs. peasant, or peasant vs. landholder. The Sandinistas are also divided, with the moderates and radicals advocating very different types of solutions. The UNO is split along Chamorro-Godoy lines. And, as can be expected, the peasant base is divided along the lines of the very unusual alliances that this situation produces.
The scene in the cityThe dynamics of the urban conflict, especially of the public employees and industrial workers, are more easily understood. The public employees touched off the May strike, virtually paralyzing state functions while the industrial workers (along with their counterparts in the countryside) were the moving force behind July's general strike. Nevertheless, the basic demands of both are not substantially different from the other urban sectors, and their actions are similar to those carried out by other organizations that have maintained a high level of militancy in recent months. We will look at the urban situation and its particular logic of militancy through a lesser known group, the Organization of Disabled Revolutionaries (ORD).
After the UNO government assumed office, the money that the war disabled received in pensions was frozen. This also happened to mothers of soldiers, widows, retired people and others on state pensions. While the pensions were not high during the Sandinista administration, they were increased automatically with every hike in state salaries. In addition, the Sandinistas reviewed and adjusted the base rate of the pensions 35 times. With Decree 4-90, the UNO government stopped reviewing the pension base rate and did not raise pensions with each state wage increase. The decree also suspended the pensioners' annual Christmas bonus. After countless currency devaluations and with no corresponding adjustments, a totally disabled person, who received the equivalent of $45 monthly at the end of the Sandinista administration, was receiving only $18 monthly in September. Others received even less—the mother of a killed soldier $3.50, a war orphan $3.36, the son of a miner dead from silicosis $1.60, for example.
In addition to these blows to their monthly pensions, many other benefits the disabled had received were also cut. Government-sponsored support centers had offered the war disabled basic services, including orthopedic shoes, crutches, canes, wheelchairs, medicines, prostheses and emergency assistance. In some cases, the disabled had access to training programs as well as basic foodstuffs in the monthly packets called AFA (a Spanish acronym for rice, beans and sugar). The support centers' budgets were frozen with the UNO government, and non-monetary assistance disappeared entirely.
Some of the war disabled who are able to work had found jobs, usually in government offices, as night or weekend caretakers, messengers and the like. When the UNO government began employee cutbacks in the name of "efficiency," these people were often precisely the first to go. Without employment, many war disabled were forced to depend exclusively on their dramatically decreased pensions in a period of rampant hyperinflation. Extrapolated figures for annual inflation in 1990, based on the cumulative rate so far, is over 3,200%. Even those earning a minimum wage equivalent to $50 can only purchase some 30% of the basic 53-product market basket.
ORD decided to take action to defend the rights of the war disabled. During the first strike, a number of regional offices of the Nicaraguan Institute for Social Security and Welfare (INSSBI) were taken over for 10 to 15 days. More INSSBI offices were taken during the second strike. For the country's grassroots sectors, the gains of the two strikes were more political than economic, but in this case they did lead to a dialogue between the war disabled and INSSBI Minister Silviano Matamoros, from UNO's ultra Right.
Other organized urban sectors similarly fought for their own rights. For example, teachers protested the wave of political firings and demonstrated in support of teacher participation in policymaking and the collective bargaining agreements signed with the Sandinista government.
Over 3,000 heads of family have been thrown out of work due to firings among state workers. The justification was a drastic reduction in state spending, but 2,829 new employees were hired, making it clear that the real motives behind the firings were political. A number of urban workers face very serious situations, with many state enterprises on the verge of bankruptcy thanks to the new government's economic policies. The recession has meant a drop in sales of nearly 50% in key areas such as textiles and construction during the last quarter.
Interviewed by envío, FSLN National Assembly representative Domingo Sánchez (veteran Socialist Party leader who switched to the FSLN after his own party joined the UNO coalition) said that many people's housing is also at risk, since what could be called the FSLN's "urban reform" failed to provide deeds to all the beneficiaries of confiscated housing before the transfer of power. Many such people find themselves faced with eviction by the former owners. In the case of spontaneous settlements, the new government does not want to recognize squatters who invaded vacant land and were permitted by the Sandinista government to build on it. And, finally, tenants who stopped paying rent because of the Sandinistas' law forbidding rent gouging are now being pressured to pay back rent at dollarized rates. On top of all this are the huge hikes in light and water charges, pegged to the new "córdoba oro" even though salaries are still paid in the old, tremendously devalued currency.
In his dialogue with ORD representatives, INSSBI Minister Matamoros held that the problems affecting the war disabled and other pensioners were not problems of INSSBI per se, but were because his ministry receives scant resources from the central government. In essence, he was blaming President Chamorro, one more sign of the ongoing internal tensions plaguing the UNO government.
The war disabled then demonstrated at the presidential office building, leaving a letter outlining their demands, which was later "lost." There were more demonstrations, calls to the press and another "lost" letter. The idea was simply to wear out the demonstrators. A demonstration of some 1,500 to 2,000 people in wheelchairs or with canes or crutches is not easy to sustain for long periods. At one point, the demonstrators, along with mothers of Nicaragua's heroes and martyrs (some of whom are pensioners themselves) were beaten by the police to keep them from breaking through the gate of the presidential building. ORD director Fernando López told envío that Vice Minister of the Presidency Antonio Ibarra had offered the demonstrators $5,000 if they would "forget about" their pension—sort of a one-time indemnification. Nobody took it.
After days of confronting a wall of governmental silence and indifference, the disabled finally met with presidential minister Antonio Lacayo. "From the first, Lacayo was very up front with us," López relates, "saying that, if there were funds, the government had to adjust the pensions to make sure that they came at least to the level they had been left at by the old government. He was going to give us financial documentation as a basis for our discussions. In turn we presented a proposal for legislation to remedy the law freezing pensions."
Lacayo was unable to attend the following meetings, but increases of 80% and 220% were announced for war victims and special pensions, respectively. The disabled smelled a rat, given this government's history of dealing with grassroots organizations. In this case, the increase only meant that the pensions would not deteriorate more, but they did not recover the significant value lost in previous months. Upping the ante, the disabled decided to march again, this time on the national television system. They took over the master control and suspended all programming.
While television screens around the country remained dark and silent, Vice Minister Ibarra, who is also director of press and information for the presidency, spoke on government radio of the announced increases, without, of course, clarifying what they meant. The official media denounced the "terrorism," the "intransigence" and the "crime" being committed by the wheelchaired occupiers of the television station. The government used the same accusatory adjectives against the pro-Sandinista National Workers' Front (FNT) for its own demands.
But the taking of the television station worked; the war disabled got a new interview with Lacayo in which they told him he had been tricked by percentages presented by the INSSBI minister and that Ibarra was only showing his own ignorance. In a follow-up meeting of Lacayo, Matamoros and ORD representatives counseled by the former INSSBI minister under the Sandinista government, it was shown that sufficient funds did exist to readjust even the back pensions.
These are only some of the steps of a struggle led by a small, angry and aware group of war disabled and mothers of fallen soldiers, who fought in the name of 75,000 pensioners and their families. Even with its particularities, the ORD case, which demonstrated the leadership and control capabilities of this sector, shows the logic of the urban grassroots organizations' fight in the post-electoral framework.
The agricultural workers and peasants organized in cooperatives and the unions and other key organizations in the cities have learned that without a militant and intelligent position, there is not the least possibility of winning political and economic space in post-war Nicaragua from the promoters of neoliberal capitalism, much less from the fascist current. This does not suggest that the differences within UNO should be overlooked and that they should all be lumped together as fascists, as the extreme Left does. Militancy on the part of the FNT member union federations, and of the FNT as a whole, in a dialectical unity with the police forces and the Sandinista army, has ensured that a dismantling of the Sandinista revolution does not appear on the current political agenda.
Exhausted passivity: The flip side of militancyIn a counterpart to the organized grassroots militancy, many sectors of the population are mired in passivity despite their increasing impoverishment and the number of shared demands that exist. The effects of the war and the economic crisis have exhausted many Nicaraguans. The electoral results are a clear expression of this: the Nicaraguan electorate went to the polls with a gun at its head and an empty plate on its table. In that tableau, the US government saw "free elections" in Nicaragua.
This group of Nicaraguans wants peace at almost any price. For this reason, the drastic deterioration in the country's economy did not massively mobilize the population most affected by the crisis. Their "solutions" to the crisis are many. The police report a sharp upturn in criminal activity, particularly thefts and armed assaults, which increased 100% in a recent one-month period. Prostitution, too, has risen dramatically. Escapist responses—cheap drugs—have also found an echo with a number of young people; for the first time in ten years, drugs are a problem in some of Managua's high schools. While some Nicaraguans are returning to the country hoping to find an improved economy, the number of those leaving rises constantly as the economic situation continues to deteriorate.
The slogan coined within 48 hours of the FSLN electoral defeat—"governing from below"—refers to the popular organizations' ability to translate their militancy and organization into effective veto power over government projects and proposals. But the fact today is that wide sectors of the population want peace, even if it is the peace of cemeteries. This serves as a very real limitation on the Sandinista revolutionaries.
UNO extremists are also intent on spurring their faithful to militant mobilization and action. The current socioeconomic decomposition in the country gives this far Right a foothold, and the possibility of using money to broaden its base with the urban lumpen who form the heart of the "National Salvation Brigades," essentially fascist militias, while in the countryside it looks to win over a key group of former contras. According to Sandinista media sources, the mayors' offices in the hands of UNO extremists serve as a potential network for this kind of activity. USAID has given millions of dollars to various municipalities "to fight unemployment," money that could well end up serving far more insidious political purposes. The situation is still embryonic and the far Right at this point has to deal with the population's general resistance to new conflicts.
Polls show passive doesn't mean conservativeAlthough more precise investigation is needed, a quick look at recent polls demonstrates that about one-third of the population is hard-core Sandinista supporters. Even in the most difficult moments, this group has given the revolution virtually unconditional support. Another third strongly supports a conservative project opposed to the Sandinistas. In the 1984 elections, the opposition parties received about a third of the vote, and this percentage is a constant in most opinion polls. Nevertheless, this group has neither the militancy nor the internal strength of its Sandinista counterpart. A reasonable estimate would be that 10% of the population is solidly, actively anti-Sandinista, while those remaining in this third are more moderately, if consistently, anti-Sandinista. The remaining third is the group over whom the battle for hearts and minds is currently being waged. The FSLN won this group in 1984, while in the 1990 elections the UNO won the large majority of it and the FSLN most of the remainder. It includes those who felt most resentful of the US aggression, but also most crushed by it and the accompanying economic crisis.
This passive, anti-conflict sector of the Nicaraguan population identifies with the maternal image projected by Violeta Chamorro and tends, in fact, to sympathize with her project as well. But the severity of the current economic crisis could well begin to disillusion this already hard-hit group, thus stripping it of any real potential as a social force, except at the polls.
These speculations are borne out by the results of a survey carried out by the new Institute for Nicaraguan Studies, with financial backing from Germany's Friedrich Ebert Foundation. The survey polled people throughout the country (except the Atlantic Coast and Río San Juan) about UNO's first 100 days.
The July strike, which envío called "the test of the barricades," created an extremely tense situation and brought the country to the brink of civil war. In moments like this, it is difficult after the fact to ascertain who started what, so peoples' opinions often tend to fall in line with long-held positions. Thus it is no surprise that about one-third of those surveyed (36.8%) blamed the Sandinistas for the strike violence; another 32.8% said it was UNO's fault; the remaining third was split, with 17.1% blaming "other" and 13.4% undecided.
Using the strike as a means to defend workers' rights was seen as subversive by over a quarter (27.7%) of the population—with 8.5% opining that the strikers wanted to topple the government and 19.2% describing the strike as generally destabilizing. A full 52% favored the strike as a method of defending workers' interests, but when it expanded into barricades and started people thinking of war, 70% rejected it, compared to 24.3% who supported the barricades.
The clear message is that the third of the population "in dispute" is generally progressive and will ally with the solidly Sandinista third around popular causes, but, if the specter of war appears, this group will quickly cast its lot with the country's more conservative forces. That conservatism is decidedly not a warlike or pre-fascist position—only 6.8% of all those polled pronounced themselves in favor of the Godoyist position. The sector that openly tends towards fascism, then, is less than 10% of the population as a whole.
It is much harder to quantify the extreme Left, many of whom sympathize with Sandinismo. The only approximation is that 14.7% see "not one positive aspect" in the new government. It is probably safe to say that those seeking a leftist state of exception are, like their counterparts on the right, less than 10% of the overall population. On the other hand, 74% of those polled favor a national dialogue, while only 9% are opposed.
In concertation contradictions reign"National dialogue" is concretely the social and economic concertation process formally undertaken on September 20. By the beginning of its second phase on October 3, this effort at national agreement included all the country's social and economic forces. Groups taking part ranged from the pro-Sandinista unions belonging to the FNT to the ultraconservative business members of COSEP.
Given the range of antagonistic interests—including those of the US Embassy—represented in the concertation, it is quite possible that we are at the beginning of a very long process, one that will have a number of ups and downs, accords made and broken, before anything concrete is finally settled on. It can also be expected that, along with the concertation itself, meetings will continue between leaders of the different political interests in the country: Antonio Lacayo, Daniel Ortega, Ambassador Shlaudeman, COSEP president Gilberto Cuadra and others. The road forward will depend on the success or failure of this two-tiered dialogue. And it, in turn, will ultimately depend on the correlation of forces in both the countryside and the city and the level either of popular militancy or demobilization in the coming weeks and months.
The events that opened the way to actually convening the concertation give an idea of the profound contradictions underlying the process. Just prior to its official initiation, Antonio Lacayo was called to Washington where he was urged to accelerate Nicaragua's privatization process, further reduce the size of the army and withdraw Nicaragua's case against the US in the International Court of Justice—all in exchange for more rapid disbursement of the US aid package and, potentially, future increases in assistance. Lacayo's icy tone upon his return put a chill in Managua's sultry air.
At the same time, many governmental ministers had been systematically violating the July strike accords. The revolutionary unions asked why they should participate in meetings with the same people who have consistently broken most agreements made during their brief reign in power. The far-right business interests stridently insisted on the return of all companies confiscated during the Sandinista government. In the days leading up to the concertation, 16 state enterprises were given back to their former owners—in some cases, business people who had openly decapitalized them. Six were immediately taken over by their workers. In these tumultuous days, the last straw for the FNT was Lacayo's public comment just before the first concertation meeting that "with agreement or without it, we are going forward with our economic program." It was also revealed in the media, and confirmed by at least one government minister, that the economic team had a scheduled meeting with the IMF in Washington for the week following the opening of the concertation forum. Arguing that a national negotiation was a farce if all decisions were already made, the Sandinista unions decided to boycott at least this first stage of the process. So did the FSLN, which, like other political parties, had been invited to participate in the first two days of plenary presentations and clarifying questions.
The government economic team brought to the plenary a traditional IMF recipe—massive privatization and drastic state wage and personnel cutbacks to bring down inflation; it was the by-now traditional "shock" program of economic adjustment that has been introduced in country after country in Latin America. Political party, business and pro-UNO union leaders all postured for the cameras—the concertation was televised live all day long—but as many seats were empty as were occupied. The gathering voted to offer the FNT a renewed invitation to join, knowing that concertation will be meaningless without their members' agreement. In the ensuing week, no news was released about the supposed meeting with the IMF, and Lacayo denied that it was taking place.
Meanwhile, the FNT called for a period of national civic protest starting on October 1, just before the second round of concertation meetings. "We're not trying to throw out the government, but if it falls because of our pressure, well then, it falls," declared FNT head Lucío Jiménez. The FNT called on all organized sectors to demand that revolutionary gains be maintained and their own specific needs answered. Rumors of a coup flew fast, strikes broke out in a number of industries and workers were in the streets on a daily basis. The transmitters of the anti-government La Primerísima radio station were destroyed in a nighttime attack. "The country is a powder keg, and the Sandinistas have a match to the fuse," said Antonio Lacayo. "The government put the dynamite there," shot back Daniel Ortega.
While President Chamorro was at the UN General Assembly in New York, Virgilio Godoy proclaimed himself acting President in a series of confusing and contradictory statements. Private talks were held between Daniel Ortega and Antonio Lacayo, with some of them including Harry Shlaudeman and the UN representative in Managua. Government officials also met with Sandinista union leaders and came to some important agreements, outside the official concertation process. COSEP loudly protested these meetings and agreements, calling them unconstitutional. This highly charged and polemical atmosphere ushered in the second round of concertation meetings, which the FNT member organizations attended, responding positively but very skeptically to the government's newest show of good will. In the meetings with the FNT, the government representative had signed a new accord reiterating commitment to the past ones, acknowledging the government's failure to comply with some of their provisions and setting up a joint commission to pursue the matter in greater detail.
At stake is nothing less than Nicaragua's future. The possibility of long-term democratic and institutional stability is within reach but so is the possibility of continuing instability. It remains to be seen whether the FSLN can turn its electoral defeat into a long-term political victory or the current crisis will, instead, lead the country down the path of fascism. The concertation process—sure to be slow and arduous—is merely beginning, and the road ahead is long indeed.