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Central American University - UCA  
  Number 283 | Febrero 2005



Daniel Ortega's Fear Of the Winds He Sowed

The conflict between Managua’s outgoing mayor Herty Lewites, and the Sandinistas’ caudillo leader, former President Daniel Ortega, over which one will be the FSLN’s presidential candidate in 2006 has crudely exposed the party’s lack of democratic culture, at Nicaragua’s expense.

William Grigsby

Used to giving orders and having them carried out, FSLN general secretary Daniel Ortega is facing the biggest challenge to his absolute power in the party: Herty Lewites’ determination to be the party’s presidential candidate in the November 2006 general elections.

Fear, the law and a serious political error

Fear got the better of them, leading the FSLN’s upper echelons to commit a political error that is now threatening not only Ortega’s fifth successive presidential candidacy, but also his party hegemony. Ortega’s former friend and adviser, Herty Lewites, had not yet left his post as mayor of Managua when Ortega gave a devastating order: Lewites could not even compete in the FSLN’s primary elections because he didn’t meet the requirement of “ten years of uninterrupted militancy.”

Contrary to the political calculations of Ortega and his followers, however, the order was not blindly followed this time around; thousands of Sandinistas rose to the challenge. Most of them are willing to back whomever wins, providing the contest is fair and transparent, but they want Lewites to run in the primaries. Beyond the issue of who offers the best chance of an FSLN electoral victory in 2006, or whether Lewites really has violated party norms, the underlying discussion is whether the Sandinista grass roots should have the authority to select their preferred presidential candidate, a right democratically won against the wishes of certain FSLN leaders.

On January 14, almost certainly on Ortega’s direct orders, the party’s National Legal and Ethical Affairs Commission issued a “clarification” that the condition of uninterrupted militancy for FSLN members and militants opting to run for public posts was established by a resolution taken in the FSLN’s 3rd Congress, held in Estelí on November 23, 2003. It added that “the concept of uninterrupted militancy” should be understood as “not having renounced one’s militancy or been a member or candidate of another party or political movement during the established time, whether ten, seven or five uninterrupted years, depending on the post involved.” The issue is that Lewites ran unsuccessfully for mayor of Managua in 1996 on the ticket of a popular subscription association called Sol. Thus, concludes the commission statement, “Given that the judicial existence of Sol, as well as of its Legal Representation, in the name of Herty Lewites Rodríguez, terminated on January 10, 1997, according to its own articles of association, Herty Lewites Rodríguez will fulfill his ten years of uninterrupted militancy, counted from said date, on January 11, 2007.”

Herty Lewites left, but was welcomed back

Lewites had distanced himself from the FSLN following the 1994 Congress, after lining up behind the positions taken by the internal tendency that was ultimately defeated in a debate over the future of the party. Some of the most important figures in that group were Luis Carrión and Henry Ruiz (both members of the party’s historical National Directorate), former Vice President Sergio Ramírez (head of the FSLN’s legislative bench at the time) and former guerrilla commander Dora María Téllez, also a legislative representative. The latter two were among those who ultimately ltimately split from the party to form the Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS).

Lewites was also one of the FSLN’s 38 legislators elected in 1990. Following the split, which also divided the FSLN’s legislative bench, he disobeyed party orders by consistently voting with the new dissident Sandinista bench headed by Ramírez, although never renouncing his militancy or leaving to join the MRS. Perhaps the legislation most opposed by the FSLN’s National Directorate was a package of constitutional reforms finally passed at the end of 1995 aimed, as now, at reducing some presidential powers. Electoral law reforms passed at the same time allowed independent, non-party candidates for municipal office or the autonomous regional governments on the Caribbean coast to run on the ticket of a “popular subscription association” formed by collecting a certain amount of signatures on a petition. That era became known as the “co-government” of Sergio Ramírez from parliament, Antonio Lacayo from the presidential offices of Violeta Chamorro and General Humberto Ortega from the army, although the presidency, then as now, strongly opposed any reduction of its attributes.

It was around that same time that Lewites started aspiring to be mayor of Managua. But Ortega preferred the candidacy of one of his long-time closest collaborators, journalist and Radio Ya owner Carlos José Guadamuz, murdered a year ago. Realizing he would never beat Guadamuz on the MRS ticket, the cunning old political fox chose to form an association of popular subscription. Doing so split the Sandinista vote and effectively stopped the FSLN from winning. The Liberals took Managua with 110,466 votes, followed by the FSLN with 98,809, a difference of less than 12,000. The Sol Movement pulled 46,963 votes, four times what the FSLN would have needed to win.

Following his failed electoral adventure, Herty Lewites was ushered back into the FSLN through the front door during the 1998 Congress by both the Business Bloc—formed by Bayardo Arce under the watchful eye of retired general Humberto Ortega—and Daniel Ortega himself, after overcoming resistance from a closely allied group of important Sandinista leaders. For obvious reasons, Guadamuz was most virulently opposed to Lewites’ rehabilitation, as he demonstrated from Radio Ya’s microphones.

A number of sources agree that the Ortega brothers, convinced that Lewites was a winning card, carefully planned his return to the party with an eye to running him for mayor of Managua again, this time under the FSLN banner. That early decision was part of the political strategy they drew up in 1997, soon after Arnoldo Alemán had taken office, one of the most important aspects of which was the pact Humberto Ortega negotiated with Alemán starting in May the same year, which included the property law approved that August and a number of other agreements made into law between then and 2000.

An out-of-work “messenger”...

The current political scenario began to emerge the night of Sunday November 4, 2001, when PLC presidential candidate Enrique Bolaños overwhelmingly defeated his Sandinista opponent Daniel Ortega. Lewites—who had indeed won the Managua mayor’s office the previous year—was one of the first to visit the President-elect to congratulate him. Herty has since openly admitted that the beginning of his friendship with the President began that night, when he promised he would do everything possible to get Daniel to let Bolaños govern and would establish communications between the two leaders. Thus Lewites started to work as a messenger or mediator between the two, an initially confidential mission that he later made public and even flaunted.

During the Bolaños government’s first two years, political alliances were a constant topic of discussion among Sandinista political leaders, particularly the group closest to Ortega. Economist Alejandro Martínez Cuenca, Herty Lewites and, believe it or not, retired Colonel Lenín Cerna headed the group promoting a stable and lasting agreement with Bolaños at the expense of the PLC, with whom the President was locking horns following his accusations of corruption against the party’s caudillo leader Arnoldo Alemán. Ortega agreed until a succession of US visitors in late 2003, including Secretary of State Colin Powell himself, ordered President Bolaños to break his agreements with the FSLN and Ambassador Barbara Moore succeeded in imposing her choices for the following year’s new parliamentary board —mainly Alemán supporters. This break-up benefited those in the FSLN political leadership—including Tomás Borge, Edwin Castro and René Núñez—who were pressing for an alliance with the PLC and Alemán, its by then jailed leader. By October 2004, just prior to the municipal elections, the FSLN and the PLC reached a series of secret agreements that were implemented starting in November of the same year and culminated in the political declaration signed by both caudillos—Ortega and Alemán—on January 7, 2005, at Alemán’s El Chile hacienda-cum-prison.

Administrative tensions in the mayor’s office
and political tensions with the mayor

There was no lack of tension in the administration of the Managua mayor’s office during Lewites’ term. In the first two years, the new mayor maintained an at least cordial, if not close, relationship with the FSLN’s departmental Managua leadership, headed by parliamentary representative Elías Chévez, an obscure character with limited political qualifications. But in early 2003, Lewites removed all of Chévez’s main friends who were either working in important administrative posts or were district mayoral delegates. The main motive was the evident corruption displayed by nearly all of them, dedicated as they were to misappropriating their respective budgets or indulging in shady deals.

Although Lewites intended to remove all of the “politicians” designated by the FSLN’s departmental committee, he was finally forced to accept the continued presence of certain cadres and of some special prerogatives for several of Chévez’s relatives. For example, one of Chévez’s brothers owns two “red-light businesses”—read bars of ill repute—in one of the capital’s main markets.

Lewites also cleared out friends from the FSLN’s Business Bloc, who were positioned in the most important posts throughout the municipal structures. The most famous case was that of Municipal Markets Corporation manager Iván Avilés, whose acts of corruption are well documented. Lewites’ collaborators privately state that he had stolen up to 30 million córdobas. Avilés now heads the FSLN’s electoral command center in Managua, named by none other than Chévez. While other businesspeople in the Bloc recognized that some of their colleagues had made “mistakes,” they were offended that Lewites chose to replace them with old friends or relatives rather than with other bloc members.

The most important conflicts, however, were at the political level, not the patronage level. In the role Daniel Ortega bestowed upon him as liaison with Bolaños—a very relevant role at moments of crisis—Herty started to adopt a rather autonomous style that Ortega supporters viewed as even biased towards the President. At the same time, Lewites’ friendship with Bolaños provided considerable favors that helped him implement key projects during his municipal administration. In return, Lewites invited the President to municipal events, and while he also invited Ortega, he knew the FSLN leader would not turn up if Bolaños was going to be there.

Daniel Ortega was also annoyed by Lewites’ lack of interest in publicizing the party through the public works he was executing, even though FSLN leaders or parliamentarians occasionally interceded on his behalf with private national and multinational companies to resolve problems Mayor Lewites could not have dealt with on his own. Such was the case with collecting huge amounts of back taxes from ENITEL, the old state telecommunications company, complaints to Unión Fenosa, the now-private energy company, over public lighting and approval of a sizable loan from the Inter-American Development Bank for municipal works.

The tensions that developed between Lewites and grassroots leaders had different causes, but the opposition to the mayor that they sparked was even more radical. Lewites tended to implement works according to his own criteria, without consulting the communities about their own particular priorities, and he either refused to receive the grassroots leaders or when he did was condescending towards them. Not receiving them genuinely reflected both his individualistic personality and his business formation, while victims of his condescension blamed that same predilection as well as Herty’s own class extraction for his tendency to meet and negotiate with business-people rather than grassroots leaders.

All of this caused a rupture with the party’s grassroots structures and a growing and increasingly visible resentment. It also revived old grudges, as these structures had never forgiven Lewites for running against Guadamuz in 1996 and effectively depriving the FSLN of that victory.

“The most popular”

The deterioration of political relations between the FSLN and Lewites prompted Daniel Ortega as early as 2003 to prepare the way to impede what was already being anticipated: Lewites’ presidential candidacy after stepping down as Managua’s mayor. Despite the problems with specific sectors described above, polls repeatedly showed Herty to be a highly respected mayor and major presidential contender and Lewites had already hinted at his willingness to run. Ortega’s first measure was to handpickhis old friend Dionisio Marenco as the party’s official candidate to succeed Lewites as mayor. Ortega’s official blessing served to eliminate primary elections altogether in Managua, as nobody else could even contemplate challenging Marenco. The formality of primaries was maintained in the rest of the country, however, but the Sandinista grass roots responded to past practices of overridingpopularchoices withhand-selected candidates by massively abstaining; only 21,000 out of an estimated 150,000 sympathizers participated.

Encouraged by Humberto Ortega, Herty responded to Daniel’s decision to run Marenco without consulting him by declaring his intentions to run as a vice presidential candidate on a ticket with Daniel. The response that came back from Daniel supporters was that the vice presidential post was reserved for an FSLN “ally” from one of the groups in the National Convergence.

Since the end of 2003, all opinion polls have showed Lewites as the most popular active personality of any political stripe in Nicaragua. In the last poll done in December 2004 by M&R Consultores, Lewites obtained the highest approval rates for the qualities that the next President should possess, including capacity, honesty, honoring electoral promises and being democratic. His 84.1% favorable rating matched the same percentage that felt Ortega “should retire.”

There was no dialogue

Encouraged by all these recent polls and projections, Lewites finally announced his willingness to challenge Daniel Ortega for the FSLN’s presidential candidacy. Three weeks later, Ortega retaliated, hinting at the strategy he was putting into place: “I understand,” he said, “that to be an FSLN presidential candidate you need to have been a party militant for ten uninterrupted years.” He did, however, say that Lewites could aspire to the vice presidential slot if the Convergence so chose, “because that position is reserved for our allies.”

Lewites was quick to defend himself. With his militant’s membership card in hand, he proudly defended his 35 years of political life in the FSLN and called on Ortega to dialogue: “I want to talk calmly to him, because we shouldn’t be giving signs that we want to split. That would be very damaging for Sandinismo and I’m incapable of damaging my party. I think it’s better for us to talk and not wash our dirty linen in public.” But the dialogue never took place.

Rosario Murillo on the attack

The public campaign against Lewites started on May 2004, kicked off by Ortega’s wife, Rosario Murillo. In a long article published on May 26, Murillo told how she first met Lewites around 1978 in San José, Costa Rica: “a white, smartly and super expensively dressed dude, counting aloud over and over the millions and millions of dollars that had been gathered, would be gathered, would be needed, would be spent and would make victory possible. For the first time in my life I heard the Revolution discussed in numbers, figures, in bankers’ terms…

“If conversation, language, gestures define how people are inside, that person defined himself before me, or for me, as removed, different, another species, dramatically opposed to the ‘animals of the galaxy’ I had dealt with and known until then…. The stranger appeared in my probably prejudiced and limited mind of a revolutionary admirer, not only as odd, but also (why not say it) as dangerous, a deadly enemy! The person accompanying me commented later, ‘Did you see that man? That’s a gringo! A CIA agent!’”

In her long diatribe against Lewites, Murillo recalled how after 1990, “I started to see and hear about ‘Mauricio,’ which was Herty, now a deputy, congruent with his very being, in Caracas, Costa Rica, Panama, Managua, millions in his mouth and his eyes... He said that we Sandinistas had lost our minds; we didn’t understand that everything was different, that the world had changed, that the Yankees were no longer bad or bandits or enemies of humanity…”

And she compared Herty Lewites and her husband, Daniel Ortega, at their very first meeting years ago in Caracas: “I see Daniel’s cowboy boots, his thinness, his magnetism, electrifying to me… And at his side, in great contrast, Herty’s yellow Lacoste T-shirt, his strange look of a declining playboy… I hear Daniel talking of the war we’re going to win…I hear Herty, choreographing bubbles with millions… you are what you’re worth…”

In January 2005, such acid description of Lewites turned into more direct attacks to discredit him. Edwin Castro, the FSLN parliamentary bench chief, declared that they were ready to expel Lewites “as a traitor to the party.” Herty interpreted this as containing a latent death threat: “Calling someone a traitor to the FSLN is very serious,” he declared; “any fanatic could avenge that supposed betrayal. Daniel Ortega should deny Castro’s accusations and ask him to clarify his dangerous charge. Comandante Daniel is the general secretary of the party of which I am a militant, and if he and Edwin do not rectify that accusation, something serious could happen to me. There are rational people within the FSLN, but there are also fanatics—as there are in any party—and if they hear that I’m a traitor and then come across me, they could do anything, particularly as I go around unprotected.”

It’s in the stars: “Defying destiny
could be catastrophic for Lewites”

Death threats—even executions—are not alien to FSLN power struggles. It may seem anecdotal and even irrelevant, but in an article published on the web page of Nueva Radio Ya—the post-Guadamuz station now managed by Rafael Ortega Murillo, Rosario Murillo’s eldest son from a former relationship—someone who goes by the name “Augusto Puertas” made some interesting astral predictions for 2005.

Among other eye-catching predictions, he/she spoke of “Confrontation that causes tensions to run high over the FSLN presidential candidature. Risks of division that are neutralized. Daniel Ortega prevails and will have to overcome health problems and certain political and legal ambushes from enemies with hair-raising intentions. Herty Lewites’ horoscope tells of great popularity, but not of real power. Capricorn with Virgo ascending, coinciding with the configuration for General Humberto Ortega, indicating a danger to both men’s health, or accidental or violent death.

“…The most prudent course of action for Lewites is to measure the extent of his limits and personal risks. Defying destiny could be catastrophic for him. Recently-elected Managua mayor Dionisio Marenco will find it difficult to finish his term in office, with the danger of death, an attack, hovering over him. Growth in the Sandinista voting base will point the way to an electoral victory in 2006 that will be difficult to reverse. Death of two historic FSLN leaders, one man and one woman.”

A word to the wise suffices. Murillo’s writings in recent years are riddled with mystic language and astral quotes. Did she or her son have anything to do with the prognosticating “Mr. Puertas”? Are they now astronomical experts? Or is it just a coincidence of gestures, tendencies and vocations?

Being disqualified has
more impact than running

Initially, Herty’s pre-candidacy didn’t have much impact on Sandinistas. The major media—Channel 2 and the daily newspaper La Prensa—were quick to give Lewites’ aspirations sympathetic coverage and even the big business interests of COSEP, the private enterprise umbrella group, applauded his decision, welcoming his initiative as a way of putting an end “to the ambitions of the caudillo Daniel Ortega.” But if Herty’s pre-candidacy hardly caused a ripple among the Sandinista rank and file, his disqualification shocked them. Albeit timidly, the party’s grass roots have started to question what they consider the confiscation of their democratic right to elect the presidential candidate.

The decision to exclude Lewites also sparked his unexpected endorsement by historical Sandinista figures whose opposition to Ortega had distanced them from the FSLN. Lewites has managed to unite the either explicit or tacit support of five of the surviving members of the original National Directorate: Henry Ruiz, Luis Carrión and Víctor Tirado among the explicit backers and Humberto Ortega and Jaime Wheelock among the tacit. Put another way, Daniel Ortega only has the support of two members of the National Directorate that was born with the reunification of the FSLN’s three tendencies in late 1978 and lasted unchallenged throughout the eighties: Tomás Borge—his former rival for the presidential candidacy in 1984—and Bayardo Arce. Others who have backed Herty’s project include Sergio Ramírez, Ernesto Cardenal and Gioconda Belli—three of the country’s most prestigious intellectuals; revolutionary singer-songwriter Carlos Mejía Godoy; former Bluefields mayor Moisés Arana and Sandinista National Council member and former National Assembly representative Víctor Hugo Tinoco, whom Lewites has named as his campaign manager.

Other lesser-known figures who prefer to remain anonymous are also backing Lewites, including dozens of former officers of the Sandinista Interior Ministry and the Popular Sandinista Army. This support is a key factor, because what is really at stake now is not just an eventual fight for national political power, but also the struggle for power inside the FSLN, where there is no shortage of underhand dealings, conspiracies, espionage and reprisals.

This kind of internal opposition to Ortega’s power would never have been imagined even a few weeks before Lewites’ disqualification, but it has now placed the dispute over internal FSLN hegemony firmly on the political agenda. The rejection of that decision came from thousands of grassroots militants, as reflected in the massive rally held on January 30 in Jinotepe where Lewites reaffirmed his project to an audience of 8,000 Sandinista supporters ranging from mothers of historical party heroes and martyrs to militant peasants from Estelí, Chinandega, León, Chontales and various other departments. Lewites’ attitude, the backing of distinguished revolutionary leaders and this inaugural campaign rally in his birthplace of Jinotepe will inspire thousands more Sandinistas who share the view that “we’ll only lose again with Daniel.” The rebellion could spread to the national level. In the words of Henry Ruiz (Modesto), “Daniel Ortega should do a careful reading of this demonstration. It is an expression that the political level of his militants is rising, that they are no longer going to be spoon fed...”

If Daniel Ortega corrects himself...

What is happening is surprising to say the least, not only because it’s a growing challenge to Daniel’s clique, but also because it has taken relatively little to rock the ground under its feet. At the end of the day, Herty Lewites is little more than a popular electoral figure. Nothing else. He isn’t even a good orator and he has no novel ideas for hauling the country, or for that matter the FSLN, out of the crisis it is facing. He doesn’t have a guerrilla background or a leftwing profile. He’s simply a charming man, with a great sense of his own public projection, an enormous capacity to connect with ordinary people, enough ambition to want to be President of Nicaragua and the courage to take on the all-powerful Daniel Ortega.

A number of possible short-term outcomes can be sketched out for the FSLN based on this recently established scenario. The first is that Daniel Ortega will overcome his own fear and correct his behavior. This is not very likely, as he has given irrefutable signs that he has no idea how to turn internal FSLN affairs around. The most recent proof was the arbitrary marginalization of Mónica Baltodano, the most important leader of the Democratic Left tendency in 1994 who helped Ortega win the internal dispute with Sergio Ramírez’ group. Ortega punished her for her tenacious opposition to the pact forged with Alemán in 1998.

Paradoxically, the only way Ortega can preserve his internal power and even ensure the party’s presidential nomination is to correct his actions as soon as possible and let Lewites compete. The later he does so—if he is even considering such a possibility—the worse the consequences will be for him. One ideal way to turn things around is to let this year’s scheduled FSLN Congress decide to allow Herty to participate.

The underlying problem is that Ortega has lost confidence in his own leadership and no longer feels certain he has the backing of the Sandinista grassroots majority should a primary election be held. Ortega knows that his pacts with Alemán, the center-right orientation he has stamped on the FSLN, his indulgence of the banking sector, the continual flirting with US representatives, his complicity with the IMF’s economic policy (although not publicly stated) and the lack of popular struggle against neoliberalism have seriously eroded the unconditional loyalty most Sandinista party members have demonstrated until quite recently.

If Daniel persists...

Another option for Ortega is to stick to the decision already taken, even if this implies his electoral defeat in 2006. In this case, the constitutional reforms recently passed in alliance with Alemán’s PLC will ensure him a significant quota of power in the National Assembly, regardless of who wins the Presidency.

This option could risk something that hasn’t happened on such a scale since 1975: a real division of the FSLN. The rebellion has reached such a level that nothing will ever be the same in the party. And if Ortega persists, many will opt to follow Herty, as long as it doesn’t mean founding another political grouping.

If he negotiates...

Ortega could also negotiate a political solution to the conflict with Lewites that preserves his leadership in the party, in return for an internal contest to decide who will be the candidate, with Lewites granted mechanisms, including his own election observers, that would ensure the transparency of the vote. This could well be what ends up happening.

The differences between the two potential candidates are not ideological in nature. Both come from the same branch of Sandinismo: the Tercerista tendency, self-defined in the seventies and ever since as the “realistic” and “pragmatic” faction, willing to forge alliances with other non-Sandinista groups. Neither questions capitalism as a system and both advocate its reform, in the style of the social democratic Europe of thirty years ago. They are separated above all by the question of which one will be the party’s presidential candidate. Lewites has repeated over and over that he doesn’t question Ortega’s party leadership, as reflected by an enormous banner displayed during the rally in Jinotepe: “Daniel for ever, Herty for President.”

Lewites could also force a negotiation, if he accumulates enough internal force. But even obtaining the support of almost all the Sandinistas marginalized by Ortega’s supporters and/or those who have retired due to their opposition to the current FSLN leadership, which is very much to his credit, it wouldn’t be nearly enough. Having the great Sandinista figures outside the party lined up behind him is excellent, but it doesn’t do him all that much good inside the party. Lewites needs backing among the active party structures and if possible needs to get some national, departmental or at the very least municipal figures to publicly come out in favor of him, or at least of his participation in the primary elections.

If he manages to force such a negotiation, it could lead to the kind of “Solomonic” solution proposed by Sandinista sociologist Orlando Núñez, and originally by Lewites himself, at Humberto Ortega’s urging: a Sandinista ticket with Daniel for President and Herty for Vice President. Such a possibility will depend on when the negotiations take place. If Ortega drags his feet and Lewites attracts significant forces in the meantime, he will be unlikely to accept such a ticket and will use those forces to demand primary elections and maybe even defeat the caudillo.

Attacks, insults, sentences…

Lewites and his allies need to store up a lot of patience and tolerance to endure what lies ahead: from personal insults to threats. The attempts to discredit him will almost certainly involve the dissemination of financial reports demonstrating unjustified expenditures and supposed acts of corruption during his term in the Managua mayor’s office. Accusations of “imperialist conspiracies to divide the FSLN” have already begun to appear.

Tomás Borge got the ball rolling on February 4 with a furious diatribe against not only Lewites, but also Henry Ruiz, who was his close friend during the long and difficult clandestine fight against Somocismo. Speaking on Nueva Radio Ya, the Ortega family radio station, Borge called the Lewites project “a diabolical strategy to divide us by means of Herty and other dissidents who use our symbols although they’re not militants. They are part of the US government’s strategy.” Borge invited them to “found another party and if they’re looking for another political option we could even make an alliance with them,” in an apparent reference to the eventual fate of the MRS, now part of the National Convergence.

Next up was National Assembly representative and FSLN bench chief Edwin Castro, who rarely says anything without Ortega’s nod. Castro announced that the FSLN’s Political Council, which replaced the National Directorate in 1998, would ask Víctor Hugo Tinoco—one of the Council’s 35 members—“to define which side he’s on and stop maintaining that cowardly attitude of throwing the stone and hiding his hand.” According to Castro, Tinoco “can’t be in two different parties at the same time.” He also referred to the thousands who attended the rally in Jinotepe as “just a group of opportunists and confused people who will soon snap out of it.”

Rosario Murillo then returned to the attack. In four pages of insults and taunts, Murillo personally accused Luis Carrión, Henry Ruiz, Sergio Ramírez, Ernesto Cardenal and Lewites of exploiting what she considers an advantageous situation for the FSLN, because “under patient and visionary leadership, it has been able to ensure the victorious position we currently find ourselves in, and guarantee greater victories in the future.” She called them manipulators, desecrators, provocateurs, Yankee agents, usurpers, unscrupulous, arrogant, merchants, mer-cenaries…the list is endless. Without brandishing any real arguments or offering any evidence, she came to the same conclusion as Borge: “It is up to us to clearly denounce them for what they are: the same annexing, divisive and destructive media project that the empire and its little local employees are designing and launching against all revolutionary forces all over the world.”

An already weakened leadership

Daniel Ortega is far from defeated. His maneuvering ability is well demonstrated and his personal leadership quotient is sizable among the party structures and has even greater force among poor, less-informed Sandinistas living in semi-urban and rural areas, the most disciplined grassroots sector of all. It clings to party traditions, one of which is an almost religious respect for everything that Daniel says and does.

The real fight will be inside the FSLN. It will be of little use to Herty that La Prensa and Channel 2 are touting him as “Nicaragua’s savior” if he can’t win over the FSLN’s organizational grass roots. And to do that, he will have to insist—even if it isn’t wholly true—that his aim is not to displace Ortega as party leader. He will have to repeat interminably the real affection he feels for his rival. And above all, he will have to defeat the campaign unleashed by the whole pro-Daniel camp to terrorize party militants and neutralize his aspirations.

If he can’t win such massive internal support, Lewites will quite simply be crushed, as has happened with previous attempts at internal rebellion. Daniel Ortega is only likely to opt for a negotiated way out if he is faced with a powerful internal movement. If that happens, he might be able to hold on to his position as FSLN general secretary, although his leadership has already been irremediably weakened.

William Grigsby is a Nicaraguan journalist.

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