Navigating the Electoral Map
The election of presidential and vice presidential candidates for the opposition parties—as much those in the center as on the far left and right—has left a very confusing map for the February 1990 elections. It’s almost impossible to understand the vicissitudes of the Nicaraguan scene without understanding the interests that lie behind the string of nearly two dozen acronyms and the vacuous slogans.
One example of this was the difficulty the parties on the extreme right encountered in the candidate selection process. They head up UNO, a fragile, US-backed coalition of 14 parties whose ideologies run the gamut from the extreme right to the Communists and Socialists—not so far to the left as one might think.
After days of conflictive debate, Violeta Barrios de Chamorro (not officially affiliated with any party) and Virgilio Godoy (Independent Liberal Party) were chosen on September 2 to challenge the Sandinista government in power. But their nomination, rather than quiet the waters, provoked more bitter polemics than the selection process itself had. The five ultra-right parties coordinated by the big-business coalition called COSEP—the National Conservatives (PNC), Conservative Popular Alliance (APC) Constitutional Liberals (PLC), National Democratic Confidence Party (PDCN) and National Action Party (PAN)—accused Godoy, the first minister of labor after the revolution, of being "Marxist," among a string of other epithets. Their preferred running mate for Chamorro was COSEP leader Enrique Bolaños.
These five parties, none of which participated in the 1984 elections or even had legal status until earlier this year, faced three opposition groups within UNO. On one flank were the Socialists (PSN), Popular Social Christians (PPSC) and Communists (PC de N), all frequently accused by the others of being "Sandinista infiltrators." On a second flank was Godoy’s own party. And on the third were four tiny but strident parties: the Central American Integrationist Party (PIAC), Conservative National Action (ANC), Nicaraguan Democratic Movement (MDN) and the Social Democrats (PSD). The first two are not even legal. PIAC was refused legal status and ANC is a conservative split less than two months old. The MDN is recently returned from exile and a role in the contras, while the PSD, which also abstained from the 1984 elections, has on its directorate Violeta Chamorro's oldest son Pedro Joaquín Jr., also newly home from the contras.
These divisions help explain the fierceness of the debate, which was openly about the vice presidential candidate, but hid a less explicit one about the presidential candidate herself. Various parties complained that the latter group of parties, none of which comes from the established sectors of rightwing power, pushed Chamorro's candidacy through. Only after 48 hours of heated accusations was the United States able to re-impose calm and unity, letting the Chamorro-Godoy ticket carry the day.
Given complexity such as this, we dedicate this month's analysis to an examination of the current state of political parties in Nicaragua, and their evolution from the past.
US plans thrown by eventsThree unexpected and pivotal events between July 19 and August 7 decisively influenced the current stage of the conflict in Nicaragua, catching the Bush Administration and its Nicaraguan allies completely off guard. The first of these surprises was the size of the crowd that came out to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Sandinista revolution, despite an economic crisis that is hitting the poor sector hardest.
The second was the accords signed by the Nicaraguan government and the 21 legal political parties, agreeing to electoral law mechanisms that guarantee a clean process and thus legitimize the elections. The Managua accords surprised the rightwing sectors that signed them, not to mention the US administration, which up to that time had been publicly discrediting the elections.
The third was the signing of accords by the five Central American Presidents that detail mechanisms for demobilizing the contras within 90 days. This result of this fifth Esquipulas summit meeting, in Tela, Honduras, again surprised the Nicaraguan Right, which had earlier signed an agreement with the contras demanding "guarantees of democracy" from the Sandinistas while the contras themselves continued operating from their bases in Honduras. Tela especially surprised the US government, which wanted to keep open the option of continuing the military aspect of its low-intensity war after the elections.
These three events occurring so close together have thrown a cog into current US plans for Nicaragua. The presence of United Nations and Organization of American States observers, who have agreed to verify both the electoral process and the demobilization of the contras, makes it more difficult either to delegitimize the election results or to continue the war.
Together with these difficulties, Washington has had to come to terms with yet another. Given the turn of events, the alliance of parties that has represented US interests for the last ten years decided to participate in the elections, abandoning, at least for now, the possibility of abstaining.
The "party" of the United StatesTo better understand the terms of the US-Nicaragua confrontation on election day, one must look at how that alliance that will represent the United States at the polls was formed.
During the first ten years of revolution, the US emphasized military means to overthrow the Sandinistas. Today, with the contras effectively defeated by the Nicaraguan army, the US is searching for a political method by which to continue its war with the revolution. Although the military and political options have been closely related over the last few years, the Bush Administration has now put priority on the political one, while not fully discarding the military one.
The Nicaraguan Resistance—the most recent name that the Reagan Administration gave the armed counterrevolution—has represented US government interests in the military field, while the Superior Council of Private Enterprise (COSEP) has represented those interests (which are also its own) in the economic and political one, attempting to neutralize the growing popular movement even before the revolutionary triumph. After the triumph, it has maintained consistent opposition to the revolutionary changes, never accepting any loss of political and economic power. In early 1982, small rightwing parties with a base in some unions linked with them formed an alliance they called the "Coordinadora," whose leadership comes from the same business elite. Soon becoming COSEP’s political arm, it found a media vehicle for its views in La Prensa, and its best opposition symbol in the figure of Cardinal Obando y Bravo.
COSEP-Coordinadora is now parroting the Bush Administration logic that the contra demobilization requires "democratization"—by which they mean that the Sandinistas must give up power. After the Tela Accords, current COSEP president Gilberto Cuadra declared, "The war is not over. The upcoming elections will be the determining factor, but if the process is not satisfactory, the Nicaraguan situation will not be resolved." Cuadra, like Bush, will not consider the conflict "resolved" if the Right loses the elections.
The COSEP-Coordinadora political strategy, as outlined in its "Blue and White Plan" released two months ago, has two primary objectives. The first is explicit: give back to their "legitimate owners" all land that the revolution confiscated from the Somocistas and re-privatize the economy as much as possible. The second, more implicit objective is to dismantle the army created by the revolution, replacing it with a counterrevolutionary army able to confront the popular resistance that a return to the past would provoke.
In 1984, the Coordinadora consisted of four parties, all of which abstained from the elections, in line with US policy at that time. Now that the political road is the only option, the Coordinadora is taking on new importance for the US administration. Thus, the United National Opposition (UNO), with twelve legal parties, was born in 1989. In the interim, particularly following the Esquipulas II accords, various other parties linked with the Coordinadora. Because of its history, style and economic power (rather than because of any popular base), COSEP-Coordinadora always maintained hegemony within the various alliances.
The UNO alliance, which includes at least fractions of all the center and rightwing parties that participated in the 1984 elections, allowed COSEP-Coordinadora to increase its votes if it decides to go to the elections and, at the same time, project an image nationally and internationally as the only opposition to Sandinismo. The US has guaranteed UNO finances and international press coverage, just as it publicized the Coordinadora’s abstention in 1984.
UNO’s most fanatic members believe they will be able to defeat the Sandinistas at the polls. The more pragmatic believe they will be able to gain more power in the legislative branch or—another possibility—give more credibility to the claim of fraud if the FSLN makes a victorious sweep of the elections.
As is obvious, given UNO's heterogeneity, a number of parties in it do not feel a deep affinity for the COSEP-Coordinadora power bloc. In the presidential and vice presidential nominations, COSEP-Coordinadora's ability to direct the alliance and control the recently joined parties was put to the test. This was COSEP-Coordinadora's crisis in September; it lost its hegemony at the very moment that UNO had to put its candidates on the map.
For all its problems, UNO represents the greatest unity within the fragmented Nicaraguan political opposition that the United States has achieved so far. But it must be remembered that the 14 parties now in UNO are not the only opposition to the Sandinistas, however much Washington may push this image. There are four parties in the reformist center—including two, the Social Christians and the PLIUN, that have already left UNO. There are also three parties to the left of the FSLN. While both these groupings also talked of forming alliances, they all decided to go their own way at the time of registering candidates.
Somocismo: Divide and conquerGiven this spectrum of more than 20 colors, the question arises as to why there are so many political expressions without any of them having any weight alone. Other Central and Latin American countries also have a vast array of parties, but at the end of the day, only two or three options actually vie for power. It was not that way in Nicaragua in 1984 and it will not be in 1990.
The Nicaraguans who go to the polls next February have never known anything but divisions and subdivisions in the parties; they are not a result of the Sandinista revolution. The revolution advocated political pluralism, legalized it and even made it a constitutional principle, but political pluralism is different from political fragmentation. The roots of this fragmentation are found in the model imposed by the United States that kept Nicaragua under the Somocista military dictatorship for almost half a century.
While there are currently 21 legal political parties in Nicaragua, there were 18 parties or political forces in the last year of the dictatorship, although the majority of were illegal within the Somocista structures. Today they have simply changed names or subdivided more.
Washington itself provoked the fragmentation that today so frustrates its objectives. At the start of the 20th century, there were only two parties in Nicaragua: the Liberal and Conservative parties, both with their roots in the 19th century independence struggle against Spain. They were what is referred to as the "historical parallels" that moved politics in the country and represented little more than the two traditional fractions of Nicaraguan capital—the Conservatives represented the interests of the big landed oligarchy and international traders centered in Granada, while the Liberals, centered in León, represented those of the urban businesses and coffee growers.
Although there were tensions and tendencies within both parties, as within any political grouping, fundamental party unity was maintained. Some small parties formed at the beginning of the 20th century, but they were generally transitory and could not compete with the "parallels." General Sandino, traditionally a Liberal, who headed up a popular army that forced the US Marines out of Nicaragua, also tried to form a third party representing popular interests, but he was assassinated while working toward that goal. The Somocista military dictatorship was ushered in with his physical disappearance.
The Liberals. Anastasio Somoza García (Somoza I) received a country with these two existing parties. While he maintained the parallels, he effectively "kidnapped" the Liberal Party, renaming it the Nationalist Liberal Party (PLN), as a civilian facade for his military dictatorship. This made periodic elections easy, giving his government an air of democracy.
As time went on, Somoza’s PLN split due to the opposition of some Liberals both to Somoza’s party leadership and to the government itself. This split began as early as the thirties, and in 1944 gave birth to the Independent Liberal Party (PLI). Much later, in 1967, a new split gave rise to the Constitutionalist Liberal Movement—later made into a party, the PLC. When the dictatorship ended in 1979 there were three liberal factions. The PLN disappeared with the triumph of the revolution, and only the PLI and PLC remained, as they do today.
At the beginning, the PLI was progressive and anti-Somocista. Rigoberto López Pérez, who gave his life in 1956 when he killed Somoza I, was a PLI member. The PLC, on the other hand, split from Somocismo for more ambiguous reasons, although also related to opposition to Somoza’s continuing military dictatorship. That split however, came, after 30 years of benefits under Somoza.
Although all three factions claimed the "Liberal" label, they had widely divergent ideologies by 1979. The biggest chasm was between Somoza’s Liberalism and that of the PLI and the PLC. This is a typical phenomenon in Nicaraguan politics; in other countries there is usually more equivalence between label and ideology. In any case, the dynastic character of the Somoza dictatorship ended up dividing the century and a half old party in three. Today, after ten years of revolution, the PLI has subdivided again, giving origin to the Liberal Party for National Unity (PLIUN); the PLC continues, and the remnants of Somoza’s PLN have formed PALI.
The Conservatives. The Conservative Party, subordinate during the entire four decades of Somoza rule, was at least assured that the overall rule of the class to which it belonged would dominate. It was only during critical economic situations that tensions arose between the capitalist sectors represented by the two parties. These tensions were generally expressed in political squabbles between the parties rather than in direct economic confrontation. As the dictatorship acquired more power, however, Somoza took over more and more of the state apparatus to accelerate capital accumulation for himself, members of his party and high-level National Guard officers. The Conservative bourgeoisie became increasingly discontent.
To mollify the Conservatives, Somoza resorted to political pacts. There were three major pacts between the two parties. One, in 1948, was between Somoza García (Somoza I) and Conservative leader Cuadra Pasos. The second one, two years later, between the same Somoza García and Emiliano Chamorro, was known as the "Generals' Pact." The third was between Somoza Debayle (Somoza II) and Fernando Agüero, known as the "Kupia-Kumi" (joining of hearts, in Miskito). Agüero signed the pact in 1971, but sealed it with the blood of his mass following three years earlier by leading a huge demonstration into a massacre by the National Guard on January 22, 1967, then abandoning them to their fate.
With this system of pacts, the dictatorship adroitly maintained economic and political power, but it caused the Conservatives to fragment as well, with some factions opposing the pacts. After the pact with Agüero, La Prensa director Pedro Joaquín Chamorro, who had always been adamantly anti-Somocista and anti-pact, led one split. The next year, during the crisis after the Managua earthquake, Agüero argued with Somoza, leading the latter to strip Agüero of the quota of power he had allotted him. Agüero, in turn, formed a new Conservative faction, which was followed by yet a fourth, led by Adolfo Calero, that emerged in the last months of the dictatorship. Only the ideological differences between the Chamorro faction and the other three were significant, but the antagonism among all four was severe.
Today there are five Conservative splinter parties: one not yet legal, three in UNO and another in the center. They are generally known by the name of their most popular leader: the Conservatives of Clemente Guido, those of Miriam Argüello, and so on.
It is worth noting that this political splintering increased in 1970, when the economic model based on the cotton boom and the Central American Common Market began to stagnate. The economic benefits from these were under the Somoza clique’s absolute control.
This tendency to fragmentation within both parties prevented unity even among those of similar political views. The Somocista Liberals, by making pacts with the Conservatives, made them part of the dictatorship itself. But although the anti-Somocista Liberals agreed with the anti-Somocista Conservatives, came from the same class, and were both affected by Somoza’s voracity, they were never able to join in a broad coalition. It was always more important to them to maintain their historic origins than to rethink how to deal with their present interests.
The Social Christians. Meanwhile, the Social Christian Party emerged as an expression of middle-class interests in 1957, and within only a few years it had a significant social base. Nicaragua’s historically tiny middle class was increasing both in number and in influence in society, a result of the cotton "boom" of the fifties, the increase in sugar cane cultivation to supply Latin America following the US blockade of Cuba, and the dynamic of the Central American Common market.
The necessities of the struggle against the Somoza family dynasty forced the Social Christians to ally with the Conservatives, exposing them to the same tensions affecting the Conservatives. This resulted in a not-surprising division into two Social Christian parties by 1975. While the Somoza strategy of allying with its potential enemies to neutralize them and simultaneously trigger the rejection of the more honest sectors, explains some of the divisions, the case of the Social Christians also reflects the great advances in the social doctrine of the Catholic Church—guide for Christian Democracy around the world—in the sixties, following Vatican II. Today there are four Social Christian factions, three in UNO and one outside.
The Left. There were also divisions on the left. Communism arose within the small-scale productive sectors in the forties, under the Socialist Party banner. Following the lead of all Latin American Communist parties, it chose the civic road to power, making alliances with the more progressive segments of the small or large capitalists. The Socialist Party (PSN) was always a minority party, among other reasons because of its "worker" identity in a society with an almost nonexistent proletariat. Its inability to mount social actions that would show true opposition to the dictatorship, together with the crisis within international socialism because of the Sino-Soviet split, caused it to fracture by the seventies, with the split calling itself the Communist Party of Nicaragua (PCdeN). By 1979, there were four currents of the Marxist left: pro-USSR, Maoist, Trotskyist and independent but with strong sympathy for the Cuban process. The Socialist and Communist parties have allied with UNO while the three others remain independent: the Revolutionary Workers' Party (PRT), Marxist-Leninist Popular Action Movement (MAP-ML) and recently formed Revolutionary Unity Movement (MUR).
For its part, the FSLN was formed in 1961, inspired by the Cuban people’s revolutionary victory over the Batista dictatorship, as well as by the hopes of the Nicaraguan people themselves to complete Sandino’s fight against imperialism. In light of the fraudulent elections and entrenched praetorian army defending Somocismo, the FSLN saw no other road but, an urban and rural guerrilla model of armed struggle to depose Somoza and take power. The tremendous repression it suffered in the seventies, combined with the frustration of even bourgeois sectors with the dynasty’s unbridled avarice and corruption following the earthquake, led to significant debates within the FSLN about this strategy. In 1975, the FSLN split into three tendencies that reflected their differing analyses. One continued to prepare for a protracted guerrilla war with the National Guard in the countryside; another concentrated its efforts on the growing urban and particularly rural proletariat; and the third developed links with the disaffected middle class and bourgeoisie, convinced that an insurrection was imminent. By the end of 1978, the rapid escalation of events gave the FSLN the elements to recognize that the predicted insurrection had the strength to be successful, and by March of 1979, the organization was reunited.
In April 1978, as the dictatorship was teetering, a group of anti-Somocista entrepreneurs, believing that none of the Liberal or Conservative fractions represented its modernizing vision, formed a new party, the Nicaraguan Democratic Movement (MDN), headed by Alfonso Robelo. It represented the more open-minded and independent sectors that had coalesced around Pedro Joaquín Chamorro before his assassination in January of that year, and hoped to overcome the fragmentation and historic squabbles of the other factions and reach some understanding with the FSLN. For similar reasons, a more progressive Conservative sector founded the Democratic Conservative Party (PDC), referred to earlier.
In the last year of the dictatorship, then, there were 17 political groups: four Conservative, three Liberal, two Social Christian, four Marxist and three Sandinista plus the MDN. Almost all were illegal and persecuted in some form, according to their degree of opposition to Somoza. The dynastic character of the dictatorship, with its continuous reelections, pacts and growing repression, fragmented and divided all those who opposed it. It was the ideal model for the US backyard, and despite its repudiation by most of the rest of the international community, Washington fought until the eve of the triumph to keep it from being transformed into a democratic and popular model.
Towards the end of 1978, the non-Sandinista parties, sensing Somoza’s defeat, grouped into two large opposition blocs: the National Patriotic Front, made up of the most progressive Conservative, Liberal and Social Christian splinter parties, as well as the Marxist parties and incipient mass organizations; and the Broad Opposition Front (FAO), with the most reactionary Conservatives, Liberals and Social Christians. Until the dictatorship’s final day, the FAO, with US backing, advocated a resolution of the crisis known as "Somocismo without Somoza," keeping the National Guard almost intact and the FSLN without representation in a new coalition government.
Post-revolution political spectrumThis bevy of political forces opposing the Somoza regime also opposed Sandinismo to varying degrees. They were also out of practice in the political arena, having not been permitted to participate in a legal political struggle or a normal electoral process—a limitation it shared with the FSLN.
In the last presidential elections held under Somoza, in 1974, only two parties had participated: Somoza’s PLN and the official Conservatives. Somoza, as always, rigged the election. All other parties formed a coalition under the slogan, "There’s nobody to vote for," and encouraged abstention. The last elections before that had been held in 1967. A number of the existing parties in 1979 had participated in those elections—coincidentally, a coalition of Conservatives, Independent Liberals and Social Christians that called itself UNO.
With the triumph of the revolution, all the parties attained legal status, but their numbers had been reduced to little more than the leadership itself. Each claimed to represent the "true" tradition of its particular lineage, but none had ever tested the degree to which it represented either dogma or people. Most parties' activities had been limited to backroom political maneuvering since the sixties, and none had demonstrated any real strength either at the polls or in social movements.
The FSLN, faithful to its historical program of "allowing the people genuine democratic development with broad grassroots participation," established new channels for participation. Since the concept of popular participation had been unknown to that point, the FSLN created new structures to implement participatory democracy—unions, cooperatives, youth organizations, women's organizations and so on. Despite their imperfections, they served to consolidate democracy as well as the political hegemony the FSLN had won in the insurrection. Although this could also have been legitimized through elections immediately after the triumph, the FSLN opted to encourage the country’s political development and democratic institutionalization first. According to the government program made public in 1979, elections were part of the FSLN's eventual objectives, but the mechanisms and structures were left undefined.
The immediate launching of the counterrevolution by newly inaugurated President Reagan shifted the national political scene. The war absorbed the FSLN’s energies and distorted political priorities. The omnipresence of a war that lasted eight years and has not yet ended played a determining role in the development of all the political parties in the country.
Because of it, the institutionalization process proceeded in fits and starts. The political party law, legalizing political pluralism, was not ready until August 1982 and the electoral law not until March 1984. The elections, announced in 1980 to be held in 1985, were moved forward to November 1984 in the hopes that this would accelerate the end of the war, especially if that date also signaled the end of the Reagan Administration. But Reagan was reelected, Nicaraguan election coverage was buried in Reagan's fabricated news of MiGs arriving in Nicaragua, and the war continued.
1984 ElectionsThe FSLN faced three groups of political parties in the 1984 elections. On the left were the three parties descended from the Marxist left that emerged in the forties: the PcdeN, the PSN and MAP-ML. The latter is the only party that has maintained its revolutionary position since its founding in 1972, and supported the armed struggle in the insurrection with its Anti-Somocista Popular Militias.
The second opposition bloc was the reformist center, made up of the more progressive factions of the Conservatives, Liberals and Social Christians: the PCD, the PLI and the PPSC. (By that time the supposedly-progressive MDN had gone into exile and its leader, Alfonso Robelo, had joined the contra leadership.)
The third group came from the reactionary elements of the three political currents that had come together in the Coordinadora. COSEP's domination of the Coordinadora resulted from the parties' weaknesses. Representing the Nicaraguan bourgeois elite, COSEP saw its role as defending its own business interests, and so established itself as the dominant opposition force more rapidly than the rightwing parties. From as early as 1980, COSEP assumed the leadership of the far Right. Ramiro Gurdián, COSEP president in 1984, even said at the time, "We are a political organization."
Faithful to US objectives, the Coordinadora parties abstained from the 1984 elections and worked to delegitimize the civic and electoral process while the Reagan Administration pushed the military option. Although the abstention served US interests, it damaged the parties by prolonging their lack of training and weak organization. Looking back on the process much later, the Social Christian Party and its backers, the Christian Democratic International, resented the decision because it was not made in their national interest.
To defeat Sandinismo, COSEP-Coordinadora placed its bets on the US force behind the contras, neglecting its own internal development. While the US support bolstered the parties’ image internationally, they were weak in all crucial areas within Nicaragua: structure, organization, working base, social networks and political training.
The war also limited the normal development of all the other parties. None were able to overcome their differences and form an anti-Sandinista coalition. Even so, the participation of seven parties including the FSLN in the 1984 elections helped them gauge their strength and see their real base. The results gave the Democratic Conservative Party second place with 14% of the vote, the Independent Liberal Party third place with 9% and the Popular Social Christians fourth with 4%. None of the three parties to the left of the FSLN won even 2%, showing that their positions had not taken root among the general population. The FSLN won the presidency and control of the National Assembly with 67% of the vote.
In addition to receiving a third of the vote, the opposition that participated also contributed to the institutionalization of a political system that worked to the benefit of smaller parties such as themselves. The Coordinadora's call for abstention did not have much support at the time among the general population. The abstention rate was under 25%, only half of what it is in the United States. It is impossible to know what portion of that was due to the continuous call for abstention by the contra radio stations and how much to the individuals and entire communities that could not get to their polling places due to contra attacks and harassment.
The opposition todayThe opposition forces are in a much different position for the February 1990 elections. The strategic defeat of the counterrevolution, the Esquipulas process initiated in 1987—which opens a political space while closing the military one—and Reagan's departure from the scene, are new factors that significantly affect the far Right.
Even so, COSEP initially looked to the US as it has for ten years, leaning once more towards abstaining from the elections to justify a continuation of the contra war afterwards, no matter what the outcome. It was encouraged to do so by the US government's initial reaction to the electoral process: maintaining aid to the contras, talking about covert CIA aid, Congress' condemnation of the electoral law and Bush's condemnation of the Supreme Electoral Council as unbalanced. But the National Dialogue and the Tela accords have pulled the rug out from under this plan, as has the presence of official UN and OAS election observers through every phase of the process.
The only reasonable way out is to participate, and at the center of a broad coalition of parties to give the impression of a unified opposition. But the very breadth of the UNO coalition is its weakness, as the choosing of candidates so palpably demonstrated.
UNO's unity crisisAs mentioned in the introduction, there are three tendencies within UNO:
* The five ultra-right and pro-US parties from Coordinadora-COSEP. They are the parties that abstained in 1984 and need to broaden their alliance to gain both votes and a better image, while maintaining their hegemony over the others.
* The "Four from '84”. These are the four parties that did participate in the 1984 elections—the PPSC, the PSN, Virgilio Godoy's PLI and the PCdeN. Two of these parties, the PSN and the PPSC, and even a fraction of the PLI that since split to form the PLIUN, participated in a patriotic coalition with the FSLN in the years before the 1984 elections. While the reasons for their current participation in an alliance such as UNO differ by party, all hope to achieve greater quotas of power than each would by going it alone.
* Five rightwing mini-parties. Their main common denominator is that they can only be "something" within UNO. Two of them—the Central American Integrationist Party (PIAC), a split from the already small PUCA, and the Conservative National Action (ANC), a split from the PCD, have not even been legalized. The other three are the MDN, which relinquished its party status in 1982 to join the contras and whose leaders are only now returning from exile; PALI, a liberal split with former members of Somoza’s Liberal Party; and the Social Democratic Party (PSD), formed in 1979 and related to the contras through its leader Pedro Joaquín Chamorro, oldest son of Violeta. Its leaders are also returning from exile.
Wheeling and dealing for the presidencyGiven that this heterogeneous group was under COSEP's control, it was assumed that COSEP would choose UNO’s presidential candidate and that the Vice President would come from one of the "Four from '84." The mini-parties would not have much of a role, probably being allowed to put up candidates for one or two National Assembly seats.
COSEP's candidate was Enrique Bolaños, who is close to the Conservatives but does not belong to any party. He is a former COSEP president and a successful cotton grower educated in the United States. He stayed in Nicaragua throughout the last ten years, and has been consistently and vociferously anti-Sandinista, pro-US and pro-contra. Comfortable in both the political and economic arenas and able to communicate with the popular sectors, Bolaños was the perfect COSEP choice for president.
The Four from '84 put forward Virgilio Godoy. Godoy, head of the PLI, has been a full-time politician since his youth. His party once represented somewhat progressive middle-class and professional sectors; today it is the most rightwing party in the "Four," as his actions in 1984 prove. When the US started calling for abstentions not only of the Coordinadora, but also of the traditional Conservatives and Liberals in that year’s elections, Godoy succumbed to its pressure and offer of financial aid. Since he bowed out too late to take his party’s name off the ballot, the PLI pulled 9% and clearly would have done better had his last minute withdrawal not confused voters. Since then, progressive Liberals have considered Godoy a traitor to national interests, and last year left him to form the PLIUN. Clemente Guido, presidential candidate of the PCD, in contrast, declared publicly that the US Embassy was trying to "buy" his abstention. His Democratic Conservatives ran in the elections and won second place with 14%. Many explain Godoy's switch as resulting from serious clashes with the Sandinistas during his four years as labor minister in the revolutionary government.
US interests come to the foreIf the UNO formula that was being predicted inside Nicaragua was Bolaños-Godoy, UNO's US funders had another candidate in mind: Violeta Barrios de Chamorro. As heir to the political history of her husband—a Conservative who never signed a pact with Somoza—she is a symbol both in Nicaragua and in Washington. She was a member of the five-person Government of National Reconstruction from July 1979 to April 1980, when she resigned citing "health reasons," although it was obvious that she was motivated by deep ideological differences with the FSLN. Her past, with Conservative connections that could be stretched to represent all the bourgeois class, and her present, proven in the pages of La Prensa, made her an attractive candidate for the Bush Administration. Some US journalists have referred to her as Nicaragua's Corazón Aquino.
The US perceptions were not shared by either COSEP-Coordinadora or the "Four from '84." Basing their views on the Nicaraguan reality, they saw huge gaps in Chamorro's political experience. She never participated in her husband's activities, but rather dedicated herself to being wife and mother. Politicians from both groups know that she never made decisions while in the government, but was simply a symbol with the Chamorro name. At that time, the bourgeois elite called her the "flower" of the governing junta. It is also known that her leadership in La Prensa does not go beyond the administrative level; she does not make the political and ideological decisions. With confusing speeches full of platitudes, incapable of debate, Violeta Chamorro could not make up for 60 years of political inexperience in just a few months. For many in Nicaragua, even her inheritance appears to have been squandered, because La Prensa is now a faithful mouthpiece for US interests and has even made pacts with the contra leaders. Although it is clear that her husband would never have been a Sandinista, it is equally clear that he never would have signed a pact with Enrique Bermúdez, as has his widow.
The US planners, however, see the publicity pluses more than the political minuses. The possibilities for exploiting a "Cory Aquino" image, and using the stereotype of a "revolution betrayed," prevented their seeing their candidate’s obvious weaknesses.
The United States had to garner the votes of the five mini-parties to overcome the opposition of the other two UNO factions. According to comments from different politicians within UNO, dollars were flying into the hands of the mini-parties during the nomination period. Whether or not the claims are true, the fact is that, Chamorro received five votes out of the ten necessary in the first round of voting for a presidential candidate, and four of them were from mini-parties: PIAC, ANC, MDN and PSD. The fifth was the Socialist Party. In the second round PALI joined them, sparking a crisis within the party, which had been instructed by the Coordinadora to vote for Bolaños.
At the end of the second round, Chamorro had six votes, Godoy four and Bolaños four—none had the ten necessary. Godoy's were the Four from '84 and Bolaños’ from the Coordinadora parties. After much lobbying, COSEP and the Four from '84 acknowledged they had lost the presidency and were ready to accept the vice presidency. While Violeta was not the first choice for either group, they applauded Pedro Joaquín's widow and began the competition for her running mate. Would it be a Chamorro-Bolaños ticket, or a Chamorro-Godoy one?
Struggle for the vice presidencyFor the "Four from '84, giving the vice presidency to Bolaños would put the very UNO alliance in crisis. Choosing the director of a newspaper that might as well be edited in Miami and the most rightwing of the COSEP businessmen could force the "Four" to abandon the alliance. Godoy offered a better image: he, too, was a victim of the "revolution betrayed," and his being a Liberal would help cement the heterogeneity of the alliance. He was also a politician who could be influenced, as was shown in 1984. After long, tense and difficult political maneuvering, which expressed the opportunism and fragility of the alliance, but which La Prensa characterized as an "exercise in democracy" never before seen in Nicaragua, the Violeta-Virgilio combination won. UNO called it a double victory; the Sandinistas put the two "v"s together to form a "W" and called it "Washington's formula." It was hard to believe, but COSEP had lost both rounds.
The COSEP-controlled radio stations, which had been openly campaigning for Bolaños, began a harsh campaign against Godoy, without commenting on Chamorro. For 48 hours, they let their dirty laundry flap in the breeze, saying that the Four from '84 were really in the pay of the Sandinistas, that the mini-parties were only empty shells and that Godoy was an untrustworthy politician with a sour personality, unpleasant with journalists and a traitor to the working class.
COSEP's actions in those two days expressed their rejection of the loss of hegemony in the alliance. It looked as though UNO might fall apart because of the conflict between the COSEP parties and the "Four." But since the US interest was to maintain a broad alliance, that did not happen. There were hugs of reconciliation, formal declarations and celebrations, although an UNO politician spoke of "diabetic wounds" that do not close and sometimes end in gangrene and amputation.
Next round: National AssemblyAfter the struggle over presidential candidates, an equally important and impassioned fight began for the slates of National Assembly and Municipal Council representatives. With 14 parties, forming those slates will not be easy.
That will be the third round. In the first two, the US had to twist the arm of its old ally, COSEP-Coordinadora. In order to continue serving US strategy, UNO, as the political wing of the counterrevolution, is going into the 1990 elections with a ticket that does not appear ultra-right and a platform in which the most extremist positions have been eliminated. But while the US succeeded, it must have been surprised at the unredeemable division in the Nicaraguan Right.
Given the notoriously short historical and always self-serving memory in Washington about the crops its occupants sowed many years ago, it may be that the Bush Administration does not recognize the harvest. Its predecessors planted a dictatorship and it is harvesting a division of its heirs that even their own interests could not overcome.
Center and left electoral perspectivesAlthough the two poles of the historical confrontation between Nicaragua and the United States will be expressed at the polls in 1990 as FSLN-UNO, contradictions are also expressed through the center and left parties.
The Center Strategy. There are three parties in the center: the Conservatives of the PCD, who are running Eduardo Molina as their presidential candidate), the Liberals of the PLIUN (Rodolfo Robelo) and the Christian Democrats of the PSC (Erick Ramírez). The Central American Unity Party, PUCA, whose candidate is Blanca Rojas, could also be defined as relatively centrist, although its agenda is less nationalist than regional.
There was speculation that the three parties might form a bloc that would represent a centrist, nationalist and reformist option, but it didn’t happen that way. Given their decision to go it alone, one must ask what their reasons are for running.
Some members of these parties have admitted that their aim is to keep the FSLN from winning another absolute majority in the National Assembly, as it did in 1984. The FSLN could constitutionally win the presidency by a plurality of only 40% of the votes, given the large number of presidential candidates. But it would face an Assembly with 60% opposition—albeit an opposition with widely varying positions. That is the hope not only of the center parties, but also the most pragmatic within UNO, which has real possibilities of gaining significant power in both the Assembly and the municipal governments.
If the FSLN does not get an absolute majority in the Assembly, it will be forced to negotiate. In such a case, COSEP, with its economic power, would be the chief negotiator. But negotiating exclusively with the Right would imply dismantling the revolution. If the three center parties manage to get a fair representation in the Assembly, they could play an important role in that reagard. In an Assembly without absolute majorities, a strong center can play a decisive role in the continuing or neutralizing of a popular revolution that accepted political pluralism.
In 1984, the three currents represented by these parties won a combined 27% of the votes. Today, the PCD, even after all its splits, maintains the flags, symbols and clientele of that political current. The PSC, which abstained in 1984, could take over the 4% of those who voted for the Popular Social Christians, now in UNO. In PLIUN's case, a splinter from PLI, it remains to be seen if the figure of Godoy continues to pull the Liberal vote.
PCD leader Clemente Guido, one of the country’s most competent politicians, expressed the possibility he sees in the Assembly: "The intelligent hunter doesn't try to trap the tiger only accompanied by one dog. The tiger would kill the dog and the hunter would lose the prize. It's better to have many dogs hunting the tiger. The tiger can kill one, two or several dogs, but will finally tire. The intelligent hunter will succeed in his hunt." In Guido's parable, the intelligent hunter is the PCD, the tiger is the FSLN and the dogs are the UNO parties. In the struggle between UNO and the FSLN, the tiger will kill various dogs, but the hunter won't give up, and will catch the tiger in the end.
In addition to working for quotas of legislative power to "hunt" the tiger, and thereby play a distinct role in post-electoral Nicaragua, the center parties have yet another intention. If they can become a strong force within Nicaraguan politics, extending their base and their influence, they could become a true nationalist—although not revolutionary—party, which up to now has not existed in Nicaragua. From that large base and influence those parties would "reform the revolution," adding the stamp of the middle sectors to the dynamic of a revolution that has until now defined itself as a revolution of the poorer sectors.
The parable of the tiger signifies a NO to Sandinismo, NO to Somocismo, NO to revolution ("Nicaraguans don't want to hear more about revolution," candidate Molina said recently) and YES to a nationalism that UNO, as the party of the United States, cannot claim. The center's great weakness vis-à-vis UNO is its scarcity of dollars. But this financial disadvantage can also play well for its nationalist image and be a vaccine against the corruption and disunity that dollars always generate.
The Left. There are three parties to the left of the FSLN. The MAP-ML, with Isidro Téllez as candidate, won 1.5% of the votes in 1984 and during the hardest part of the war always maintained support for the revolution. There are also two new parties: the PRT with Bonifacio Miranda as candidate and the MUR with Moisés Hassán. Both call for an authentic revolution and point out the FSLN’s errors, especially the economic situation that maintains social inequality and harms salaried workers. Hassán, ex-Sandinista, ex-member of the governing junta and ex-mayor of Managua, emphasizes the corruption in certain Sandinista sectors and others who embrace Sandinismo out of opportunism.
From the electoral point of view, these three parties have few possibilities. From the political point of view, they are trying to create a more radical base in the most politicized segments of the population to fight for a revolution that deepens and does not vacillate. They reject both UNO, which would be a step backward, and the center, which would put on the brakes and lead to the same long march backwards.
This is the panorama. The "coups" of the Managua and Tela accords have narrowed the possibility of an electoral boycott—whether through abstention or claiming fraud—and also narrowed the chances of continuing the war after the elections. Although the United States has not given up the option, the recent and public divisions within UNO also limit US possibilities of swiftly and unilaterally maneuvering through the slippery slalom run that the elections have become.
Many questions remain, but the map is almost fully drawn.
Nicaraguan Opposition Parties
Excerpts from Press Conference with Presidential Candidate Violeta Chamorro
With Violeta Barrios de Chamorro chosen as the UNO presidential candidate, the question has arisen as to whether this woman from one of the wealthiest families in Nicaragua will be able to garner the support of the general Nicaraguan population. There are those who are also beginning to wonder whether she grasps the issues at hand and can intelligently communicate an alternative. A press conference given by Chamorro and vice presidential candidate Virgilio Godoy in Managua on September 14, together with UNO’s opening rally in Juigalpa on September 10, left many journalists shaking their heads in puzzlement. We offer the following excerpts from the press conference:
Asked how she responds to comments that she was chosen as UNO's presidential candidate because of her symbolic value, Chamorro declared, "I have my personality. I don't have a record playing in my head telling me what to do. I do what my conscience tells me to do for love of my country. Just as I was part of the governing junta in 1979. I said, 'Let's be friends without interference.' Why did they offer it to me? To manipulate me, to use me as a puppet? Not only me. They manipulated and betrayed the entire Nicaraguan people. And that's why we have this sad war here. I think it's a lack of respect for you to be asking this question.... You can take it however you want to take it."
Asked why she continues to demand "general amnesty" when contra prisoners are being released, contra foot soldiers are returning and even Alfonso Robelo has returned after having been a civilian contra leader during the cruelest period of the war, Chamorro replied, "Those who are returning now are returning because they want to help this country return to being a republic, to make it independent, free. But they can only return with the pardon granted by Daniel Ortega. I don't know if you know the difference between pardon and amnesty. Amnesty is... open the jails, open the doors. I remember well when Pedro Joaquín was in prison various times and he received amnesty. Everyone was released..... Here they have to sign this little paper....”
When asked how UNO, which has called for huge cuts in the army, plans to implement its strategy, Chamorro explained, "I imagine that some of the high-ups won't give up their gun because they've become enchanted with it. But all the young people will leave [the army] because what they want is to be taught so they are not illiterate, so they can go to the university and study, so they can make a life for themselves, so they aren't taken off to an obligatory military service with an ideology they don't agree with. I am sure there won't be any problem with this. The arms that were here in Somoza's time were enough compared to what they have now. Now it is excessive. I think they should put them in a museum, or return them.
"I want to tell a story I'm remembering now about past times with Pedro Joaquín Chamorro. When we had to leave this country and we arrived in San José, Costa Rica, my children arrived a month and a half later. The oldest was six years old—the youngest, Carlos, now the director of [Sandinista daily] Barricada, was barely two. How happy they were when we went out in the car—‘Mama, Papa, we don't see any rifles here!'—in those days we called them rifles. 'What happened to the rifles?' when they saw a policeman with a club. That is, what will the children do if this obsession disappears? The rifle, the AK—whatever they call it now—is everywhere. We want a civilized country, with love, with pardon. We will forget about guns, we'll forget about war. That is the idiosyncrasy they are doing now, to keep the people nervous. That tension is obsolete. Remember that they've been talking about the invasion for years. This is a seismic country full of undergrounds [sic]. When they said that we had to take refuge, and all of you—excuse me—many of the Sandinistas here, almost all of the houses have a hole, an anti-aircraft bomb shelter they called it. Now the holes are used for trash, I think."
Discussing the issue of a lack of independent television, Chamorro commented, "[Elections] are won with television, with the feet, with desire, with a radio to listen to even if you're in the mountains. But the radio has to be able to transmit that far. And with the desire for democracy, freedom, peace and love. We are tired."
Comments from the rally: "I'm from Rivas. I come from an area similar to yours. I'll never forget when I was a child... and my family came here to buy cattle and take it back to Rivas. That is, we have a lot of things in common.”
"I wouldn't want to even say 'Sandinista'. Sandino is a national hero, not a broom.”
"Here we have nine comandantes and one more on the island [Cuba] who are the ones currently governing our country.... They are the ones making Nicaragua into an abyss, but we have raised up the abyss with clean hands, that are democracy [sic]. Democracy is here now, it has already triumphed."