Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 121 | Agosto 1991



The Right Wing's Third Try for Power

Envío team

Carlos Salgado, a bright young analyst on the late-night radio news program "Sin Fronteras," mused one night toward the end of June that "the stability and national reconciliation we all hope for, independent of our political stripe, appears to be just a dream. Some mornings we wake up and it lasts the whole day, but the very next morning we awake to news that it has shattered into a nightmare."

Salgado was speaking neither idly nor poetically. In June, the contradictions between the FSLN and the governing coalition of parties known as UNO, and among the various tendencies cohabiting uneasily within UNO, again reached a boiling point. For the third time, rightwing extremists launched an offensive to increase their share of power within the state, the economy and society itself. They explicitly rejected the Transition Protocol, the political framework worked out in March 1990 between the FSLN and a governing team headed by Minister of the Presidency Antonio Lacayo. This was an eloquent measure of their willingness to scuttle Nicaragua's relative stability, which, in their view, favors Sandinista interests over the monopoly of ideology and effective power they believe UNO should exercise and defend. As could be expected, big capitalists in the COSEP business association rallied behind these positions, hoping to regain the state properties the new government inherited and those already benefiting thousands of families through the agrarian and urban reforms.

This demand for a redefinition of the property structure made the danger of social upheaval loom more imminent than it has for nearly a year. With it, the ultra-Right took aim not only at the structural transformations made during the revolutionary decade, but at the Chamorro government itself, since its very viability depends on an understanding with the FSLN.

No tolerance for subtlety

The first concrete expression of this understanding between two socially antagonistic forces was the Transition Protocol, which demonstrated that both were capable of a complex accommodation. The FSLN-government relationship has been characterized over the past 14 months by constant feints and parries, negotiations and pressures, demands and concessions, but it has given the government considerable maneuvering room to begin cautiously applying its neoliberal model.

The subtleties of this relationship are obviously not to the liking of UNO's displaced rightwing parties, nor are they to all Sandinista sectors. They are not even very pleasing to the United States. In the final analysis, however, the army and, with some nuances, the majority of Nicaraguans who are sick of conflict and economic instability have actively supported this formula.

In planning their offensive, the rightwing extremists counted in their favor an erosion of unity in both the FSLN and the inner circle of government, known as the "Las Palmas" group. This erosion, the hardliners believed, created a strategic power vacuum in what they call the "Sandinista-Lacayo co-government" that they could not pass up; by aggravating the weaknesses on both sides, they might finally attain their own goal.

Here we go 'round the property bush

The political system has thus far been unable to offer an effective solution to the thorny issue of multiple property claims. All political sectors, bar none, demand a full-fledged review of the issue. The most humble urban squatters and rural peasants have joined their voices—although from a very different perspective—to the demand of Somocistas and other old land barons for a definitive resolution. Capitalists want the security required to produce; the poor want assurances that they will not be thrown off their tiny plots. The issue is so charged that the Right saw it as a way to pin the Sandinistas, and to some degree the government itself, against the ropes.

The property issue had to blow up eventually, because its implications make up a whole far greater than the sum of its parts. As with the social function of the army, that of property does not allow for major ideological ambiguities. Both property and the army are bastions of either the revolution or the new power of the big bourgeoisie and other economic groups close to the United States. Both serve as bases either for the economic, social, ideological and political survival of Sandinismo, new forms of social relations, future social transformations and the consolidation of economic democracy, or for guaranteeing the reproduction of big capital, suffocating the poor and the Sandinista forces and even subordinating the government—always an aim of the classic capitalist formula.

By the end of the first year of UNO rule, a superficial consensus regarding a privatization scheme had seemingly emerged, at least between the government and Sandinismo. The Sandinistas found it neither defensible nor convenient to argue that the public-sector properties created by the revolution should remain in state hands. The government does not want these holdings, AID and the World Bank undervalue them and both urban and rural workers have demanded that they be privatized to them. The workers base their claim on the argument that they have acquired this right by dint of ten years of work at low salaries and tremendous voluntary effort, also underscoring the revolutionary state's major investments in these enterprises.

In the name of neoliberalism, Nicaragua's large capitalists, supported by AID, argued from the outset that all booty inherited by the state be divvied up strictly between its old owners—Somocistas included—and other entrepreneurs. For them, "justly confiscated" private property is a contradiction in terms; they further believe that no good can ever come from any enterprise remaining in state hands—or, for that matter, in the hands of small-scale, "backward" peasants. COSEP, in other words, wants nothing less than to totally dismantle the revolution's economic redistribution. While COSEP leaders such as Ramiro Gurdián have adamantly pressed that position over the last year, their political cohorts did not take it up it as vehemently as, for example, their demand that General Humberto Ortega be sacked as army chief.

The government, ideologically partial to the Right, but dependent for its stability on the Left, promoted a middle-of-the-road privatization formula. This involves returning arbitrarily confiscated properties to their former owners and parceling out other urban and rural enterprises among capitalists, workers and contra and army veterans. The government has even debated the possible advantages of keeping service monopolies such as the public utilities in state hands.

Politicians climb aboard

In April, as the government began to take action, the rightwing politicians finally climbed on the property bandwagon and clicked its horses into a trot. The National Conservative Party (PNC) submitted a bill to the National Assembly to repeal the Sandinista government's last two urban property laws (85 and 86) and virtually dismantle the agrarian reform. (See "Inside the Property Debate" in this issue for details of this bill and key property laws as well as more information on Sandinista property redistribution, including the "piñata.")

Assembly president Alfredo César, who created a special legislative committee on property with himself at its head, tried to quell the Sandinistas' immediate outcry by reminding them that bills normally spend three months in an evaluation committee before coming to the Assembly floor. Not mollified, the FSLN bench warned that it would walk out if the bill so much as made it through the plenary door.

In early June, as the bill was about to emerge from committee, COSEP went on the offensive against the government formula itself. The Union of Agricultural Producers of Nicaragua (UPANIC), a COSEP affiliate, withdrew from the property rights sub-commission of the concertation forum—which opened its second round of discussions in May—arguing that this was not the place to resolve the issue. Hard-line UNO politicians backed COSEP's insistence that the government cannot privatize to third parties—least of all to workers or demobilized peasants, no matter whose side they fought on—what the Sandinistas "robbed" from the rich over 10 years. Overnight they changed the definition of the coined term "piñata," originally used to refer to the controversial and chaotic post-election giveaway of previously unassigned state properties. In the rhetoric of the far Rght, the term now encompasses the Sandinista government's entire transformation of property structures. The PNC bill, for example, would honor virtually no agrarian reform titles. In essence, the rightwing formula would institute an agrarian and urban counterrevolution.

Now or never

Not all sectors of the Right agreed with this reactionary proposal. Some, both in and outside of government, defended the government's redistribution formula and argued that correcting post-election "abuses" by the Sandinista leadership should not mean affecting the poor benefited by the revolution.

The ultra-Right quickly gave lip service to this position—shared by a number of Sandinistas—to try to pull UNO back together, win over public opinion and deal a strategic blow to Sandinismo (and thus to the "co-government" scheme) right as the FSLN’s process of internal criticism, debate and reorganization was about to culminate in its first national Congress. Rightwing demagogues like Managua Mayor Arnoldo Alemán, for example, fueled emotions by claiming that the "humble poor in their cardboard shacks" were not the targets of the PNC bill; the only ones with anything to fear were their "corrupt leaders" who, he claimed, had willed themselves sprawling mansions high on the hills of Managua.

This intense and all-inclusive campaign against the Sandinista leadership became the centerpiece of the rightwing political strategy—likely orchestrated by the US Embassy, as is its custom. The campaign hoped to feed critical currents in the FSLN that could split the party during the Congress and the election of new authorities. If accomplished, the main barrier separating the extreme Right from state and economic power would be toppled.

This timing gives rise to suspicion that the hardliners' previously low-profile obstinacy may have been a deliberate attempt to prolong the problem. Had they shown any flexibility, solutions could well have been hammered out by now; since the FSLN agreed early on that possible cases of unjust expropriation be reviewed, compensation be assured and even that property transfers following the elections be analyzed for irregularities.

It was something of a "now or never" situation for the extreme Right. For one thing, the government's economic plan was fostering stability, thus enhancing executive power. For another, the culmination of the FSLN's reorganization would put behind it one of the most difficult stages it has gone through. The correlation of forces would only deteriorate for the ultra-Right each day that these two tendencies continued.

Salt in the FSLN wound

The FSLN was indeed going through one of its worst moments, not the least due to widespread criticism of its property handouts after the elections. Unlike the Right, Sandinistas had no problem with the agrarian and urban reform titles legalized during their government's lame-duck period to make up for years of relative inattention to such formalities. But many took issue with the disorderly assignment of state goods as compensation for years of sacrifice. Some criticized it on clear-cut ethical grounds while others limited their anger to examples of arbitrary and erroneous judgment about who merited such compensation. At the least ethical end of the scale, a few simply resented not having been under the piñata when it burst open.

While there has also been intense debate over other issues, including aspects of the FSLN's internal democratization process, the far Right, and even some government members, saw the piñata as the FSLN's weakest flank. The Transition Protocol does not protect new property assignments after February 25; it only recognizes the rights of those who had possession of their property before that date but for various reasons had no deed.

After long negotiations with the government, the FSLN National Directorate issued a surprising communiqué on June 27. It proposed that all individual producers who had received new land, independent of size, after February 25 (about a third of the 255,000 acres of such land was titled to individuals and the rest to cooperatives) return it to the state for distribution to landless peasants, former army and contra combatants and other poor. The FSLN also challenged any landholder big enough to be considered a "latifundista" to contribute to this land bank. The Right saw the proposal as propagandistic and demagogic, from which a "mea culpa" for the piñata could be inferred.

A Judas in the "Las Palmas trio"

The Right's offensive also followed off its analysis that the governing inner circle was suffering contradictions from which they could profit. A number of different sectors on the Right hoped to throw not only the FSLN to the mat over the land issue, but the Las Palmas group as well.

They had already noted that even the tight-knit "Las Palmas trio" (Minister of the Presidency Lacayo, National Assembly president Alfredo César and Minister of Government Carlos Hurtado) seemed to be unraveling. Hurtado was reportedly in search of his own political profile after falling out with Lacayo over the latter's refusal to bend to US Embassy demands that Police Chief René Vivas be sacked. César had just publicly expressed dismay—again, a position shared by the Embassy—that Lacayo had contracted US lawyer Paul Reichler to help the Chamorro government mediate the conflict in El Salvador. (Vivas is still at his post; Reichler, who earlier worked for the Sandinista government, promptly resigned.)

The bottom-line tension among the three, however, was over opening up debate on Laws 85 and 86. When the PNC bill was introduced into the Assembly, Lacayo publicly called it a "blunder." César, who does not share this view either, soon devised a plan to reunify the UNO coalition around his position, one only slightly less extreme than that of the extremists.

For the moment, César cast himself as interlocutor for the rightwing forces as a whole. As self-appointed president of the special legislative commission on property, he mainly wanted to assure that the discussion of the property issue revolved around him and the National Assembly, where the FSLN is at a numerical disadvantage. In César's plan, the UNO bench representatives aligned with him would reach an understanding with those of the minority faction around Vice President Godoy. He also intended to win over other parties in the National Assembly that had an affinity with the "Las Palmas" group. To do so, César would pose as a vigorous accuser of the "piñateros" but staunch defender of the property rights of the humble, thus distancing himself from the claims of the confiscated land barons. In the bigger picture, César saw this as a way to displace Lacayo, who belongs to no political party and thus lacks an organized base of his own.

It was a far more sophisticated political scheme than anything the extreme Right has ever been able to concoct. With Lacayo outmaneuvered, César would lay claim to being the legitimate representative of Nicaraguan social democracy and use that as a springboard to appeal to and negotiate with the "moderate" Sandinistas. He would offer his "resolution" of the complex property issue as a platform of reconciliation and create a "centrist" force under his leadership, thus satisfying his well-known personal ambitions. It is no secret that César is already jockeying for a lane in the 1996 presidential race.

The Godoy faction in the Assembly had initially dubbed César "pro-Sandinista" (an image that came in handy when he negotiated the FSLN bench's support for his candidacy as Assembly president over the pro-Godoy candidate a few months ago). But this scheme brought renewed fame to an older nickname, "Seven Daggers," given him by Edén Pastora—a master of the same art—for the number of times he had already sold out political allies. Although Chamorro herself asked UNO Assembly members to stop pushing the PNC bill, which she saw as socially destabilizing, César persuaded even the bloc allied with her to support it.

These UNO parliamentarians apologetically claimed that they only wanted to do justice to those unfairly confiscated and rectify other Sandinista abuses, and that the hundreds of thousands of legitimate land reform beneficiaries would not be endangered by repealing the two laws. But that was not the reality. It was evident to any but the willfully blind that the PNC bill, now bearing César's seal of approval, was a provocation of both the people and the executive branch. By reinstating the elements of an early Chamorro decree that the Supreme Court recently ruled unconstitutional, it even mocked the judicial branch.

The crisis blows

Both the FSLN and the Presidency made multiple last-minute efforts to dissuade César and the reunified UNO from bringing the bill to the Assembly floor. On Monday, June 17, Sergio Ramírez, head of the Sandinista bench, got César to agree at least to wait for the concertation forum's property sub-commission to battle out its consensus on criteria. But Ramírez, too, felt César's dagger. That very evening, the UNO bench unanimously moved to bring the bill to plenary the next day, claiming that to withhold it would be an "act of cowardice." That blew the lid off the crisis.

The FSLN withdrew indefinitely from the Assembly that same day. Early Tuesday morning all the main mayor's offices in the country were taken over, as was Managua's rightwing Radio Corporación. Tuesday night a series of small bombs went off in different parts of Managua and in other regions. The targets were mainly houses of UNO Assembly representatives and headquarters of UNO political parties, although they included the transmitter of Radio Ya, an FSLN station. There were no victims.

A "commando of combatants and urban settlers," made up of members of the Communal Movement, historic FSLN combatants and young war disabled, led a takeover of Managua Mayor Arnoldo Alemán's offices. They demanded that urban squatters benefited with lots and houses be given their deeds as Laws 85 and 86 dictated. The FSLN called on demobilized contras, residents of poor neighborhoods and squatter settlements and all FSLN members "to defend and demand titles to the lands and properties" under threat. Former President Daniel Ortega charged the UNO Assembly with launching "a huge terrorist bomb against the people."

In addition to demanding that the Assembly kill the bill, which César instead sent back to committee, the Sandinistas responded to Mayor Alemán, who had staunchly refused to issue deeds to existing urban settlers and whose own presidential ambitions were causing conflicts with the executive branch. Those occupying his and other mayor's offices set up tables and invited all who felt threatened by the lack of a title to come and fill out the requisite data about their house or lot. In Managua alone, some 30,000 heads of household showed up.

Alemán down for two counts

Some rightwing mayors, including Masaya's already-embattled Sebastián Putoy, agreed to process the deeds. But since Alemán was not among them, the Communal Movement turned to the presidential offices to negotiate a satisfactory agreement. On July 3, a joint commission, in which the Communal Movement was represented by its recently elected head, Father Miguel D'Escoto, agreed to a work plan to expedite writing up all the Managua deeds. The first priorities would be war victims: the disabled, and mothers, widows and orphans of contras, soldiers and police who had been killed. Alemán was thus left out in the cold. The commission also committed itself to find a way to "decongest" Managua and "discourage the continuous rural migration toward urban centers." According to a recent United Nations Development Program report, 54.5% of Managua's 1.3 million residents live in overcrowded conditions of extreme poverty, without water, electricity, education or health services.

My enemy's enemies are not my friends

The Sandinistas carefully avoided blaming the President or Lacayo for the crisis, publicly recognizing that both had made efforts to prevent it. They instead singled out César, Alemán, Godoy and all the rightwing legislators who insisted on approving a bill the Sandinistas consider unconstitutional. Some suspected that Lacayo would come out ahead in any fracas between the FSLN and Alemán or César, as he had already done in the case of Godoy.

César was the Sandinistas' main target. Several FSLN Assembly representatives accused him of trying to effect a "technical coup" against the Presidency, adding for good measure that the reluctance of mayors such as Alemán to provide deeds was an attack on President Chamorro's reconciliation program. "The FSLN isn't used to acting as a responsible opposition," retorted César; "they still think they're in government." Upon withdrawing from the Assembly on June 18, the FSLN had announced that it would redouble its efforts in the concertation process to reach some agreement with the government. To buttress César, COSEP abandoned the concertation forum that same day, arguing that it was incongruent to talk of agreements while the Sandinistas were taking over public offices and private property.

For his part, Lacayo publicly sided with General Humberto Ortega's accusation that Vice President Godoy was encouraging the rearming of former contras, and even proposed that Godoy resign as Vice President. Lacayo also warned large producers demanding the return of lands expropriated by the agrarian reform "to get their feet on the ground" and recognize that not everything could be returned to them, since the demands of demobilized combatants and organized peasants also had to be heard. Finally, Lacayo refused to accept a political ultimatum set by César and pushed by the UNO parliamentarians: with or without property criteria from the concertation forum, the Assembly would take up the property debate again on July 9, when César planned to present the property commission recommendations. Shrugging off this arbitrary "deadline," Lacayo simply said that the Assembly could not ignore such a negotiated consensus, which would be reached in a "few weeks."

The extremists went so far as to openly demand that the government "disown the so-called Transition Protocol and declare [it] totally inexistent." This was the first of 12 points in the final declaration of a meeting called by UNO's Political Council on June 25 at Managua's Olof Palme Convention Center. The Political Council had invited all organizations making up what it called Nicaragua's "democratic forces"—the five union confederations in the rightwing Permanent Workers' Congress, COSEP, the UNO mayors, the UNO parties, the “Let's Save Democracy” Association of Confiscated and the Nicaraguan Resistance (the civic association of former contras). Three of the 14 UNO parties—Socialists, Social Democrats (César's own party) and Conservative National Action—decided not to attend, as did 96 UNO mayors, their excuse being that they were at a meeting of the Institute for Municipal Promotion, held the same day.

The final declaration from the encounter accused the government of "excessive and unnecessary dependence on the Sandinistas." Among other points, the document demanded that the government suspend provision of any property titles until the legal and administrative framework is determined, reverse the "new piñata" (specifically the government's division of state coffee, cotton and cattle properties to workers and demobilized combatants from both sides), "do justice" to urban dwellers and peasants benefited by the land reforms by compensating or relocating them elsewhere if they are in "illegitimate possession of properties they cannot make produce efficiently," reform the judicial system, name a civilian defense minister and police chief, push passage of UNO's constitutional reforms and guarantee municipal autonomy from the central government's "collaborationist lines." Finally, the participants urged that the concertation "cease being a vehicle for arrangements between the government and the FSLN."

Using even harsher language, Nicaraguan Federation of Cattle Ranchers' Associations (FAGANIC), affiliated to COSEP, issued a communiqué demanding that President Chamorro "end her complicity, publicly disowning the shameful and obscure pact called the 'Transition Protocol,' and use the public forces to the maximum to impose order, citizens' security and the rule of law." FAGANIC also demanded that "Her Excellency the President return to her true allies [and] stop proclaiming a false reconciliation," concluding that "a legitimate government such as the current one in Nicaragua has no reason to be weak, much less cowardly."

Showing no sign of either weakness or cowardice, Lacayo let it be known that the government would not be intimidated and that the Transition Protocol still holds. "There are sectors who do not share the reconciliation project or the way it is being reached," he acknowledged, "but they cannot influence the government to change its political will by so much as a millimeter."

Mobilized popular forces: The cutting edge

In reality, the presidency's position on the property issue from the outset had little to do with the FSLN's persuasive capacity and even less to do with strict adherence to the Transition Protocol—which the government itself has violated on previous occasions. It responded more to popular pressure in cities across the country and to the evident and worrying instability in the countryside.

Enjoying unexpectedly broad popular support on the property issue, the Sandinista forces had taken the struggle to the streets, with the Communal Movement in the lead. They used civil disobedience tactics, while the police limited themselves to protecting the "order" imposed by the people. It became clear once again that the stability needed to attract foreign capital could not be achieved by sidelining popular interests.

In addition to this popular pressure, the FSLN intensified its efforts to negotiate a solution with the government. Lacayo and Ortega were also in direct communication while the Communal Movement was occupying the Managua mayor's offices and meeting with government representatives. The two agreed to try to revitalize the bogged-down concertation forum as a negotiating body for key points of discord, particularly the property issue.

Under the circumstances, the Assembly and its president Alfredo César began to feel relegated. The Sandinistas, a sizable but still minority bench in the Assembly, preferred to negotiate directly with the government, whether at the top echelons, through the popular organizations or in the concertation forum.

Meanwhile, back at the ranches...

The extreme Right had done its best to manipulate the agrarian conflict. In their best moments, the demands of the former contras—whether backed by arms or by their new civilian organization—as well as the continual outbursts of violence between ex-contras and Sandinista peasants offered the Godoy supporters and their allies an occasion to push their own demands. A year after the final disarmament accords were signed, opening the way for the contras' reinsertion into civilian life, a large majority are still waiting for the government to fulfill its promises. Their leaders claim that the former combatants are worse off now than during the war. "The government could perfectly well respond to our families' needs," complained one, "but it doesn't do it. On the contrary, it's isolating us and even considers us dangerous."

The ex-contras' economic frustration has already provoked the appearance of rearmed groups, particularly in the Cuá-Bocay area, where a number of cooperative members and police and army officers have been murdered. In Wiwilí, "recontras" have taken over various agricultural cooperatives. According to UNAG, the climate of violence and uncertainty in the northern mountains has grown steadily over the past six months; 50 cooperative members have been killed and 110 agricultural properties are still held by force. The recontras allege that their safety is constantly threatened by armed Sandinistas; they want guarantees of economic security from the government and of physical security from the FSLN. The army's response has been to avoid any campaign of pursuit or reprisal against them.

At the end of June, leaders of the Resistance, the government and the FSLN met to examine the fulfillment of the demobilization accords and current problems. Both the FSLN delegation, headed by Daniel Ortega, and that of the former contras agreed to take action to disarm the civilian population, including peasants who still have weapons. "This is the real concertation," said Ortega, stressing the FSLN's crucial role in assuring social peace. The commanders of three of the former war "fronts" (North, South and the North Atlantic), jealous of the new authority of civilian contra chiefs "Franklin" and "Rubén," refused to sign the accord, arguing that the final version had been altered to soft pedal their accusations of government non-compliance.

The former contras, and probably the government itself, saw their talks with Sandinistas at all levels as the definitive way to resolve their security problem. This indicates their growing realization that they should not let themselves be used by other interests. In the words of one: "We don't agree with Virgilio Godoy and Arnoldo Alemán going around stirring up people. Any politician who wants to climb to the presidency should do it by his own means, not by manipulating us."

In Region V, in contrast, the ex-contras' social and economic reintegration has been more successful, as has the rapprochement between them and the Sandinistas. This coming-together has been promoted by the pro-Sandinista National Union of Small Farmers and Ranchers and by the Sandinista Farm Workers Union's efforts to assure state land for the demobilized contras. There have even been cases of joint actions by contra and Sandinista peasants to take over land from large landowners. These ex-contras demonstrate increasing repudiation of the government and the politicians—including some of their old leaders, now enjoying well-paid government jobs and privileges. This process is weakening the old alliance between the far Right and peasants who took up arms against the FSLN.

The right: Full house... or a high-stakes bluff?

While temporarily blunted, César's maneuver and the rightwing offensive in general have not been neutralized. The stakes riding on the property issue are extremely high, and COSEP's big betters can be expected to go for broke. The offensive has shown, however, that COSEP's social base is not much larger than the very politicians leading it. By the end of June, UNO, reunited mainly around the property banner, showed signs of coming unstuck again. Meetings called by the most recalcitrant sectors could not assure the participation of National Assembly representatives, parties and mayors in the César faction. But César is in no position to tone down COSEP's extremism, nor is COSEP about to cede leadership of the Right to him. Following the Olof Palme conclave, Lacayo dismissed UNO's internal feud with typical aplomb: "I'm not really UNO; I'm with the government."

And it is true: UNO can never take possession of the government or of the power quota these politicians believe belongs to them. They remain a disunited lobby from the right, incapable of becoming an effective counterweight (save in the Assembly) to the opposition exercised so effectively at a national and social level by the FSLN.

On July 1, the UNO Political Council, in full strength, met for four hours with President Chamorro. She refused to discuss the document that had come out of the Olof Palme meeting, but did admit similar points contained in an earlier document resulting from a meeting of just the UNO parties. Their petitions included increasing the size of the Supreme Court and reforming both the law governing the army's internal operations and the Constitution. Most controversial was their push to fix a deadline for the departure of army chief General Humberto Ortega.

At Chamorro's side were Antonio Lacayo and, significantly, army chief of staff Major General Joaquín Cuadra. Upon leaving the meeting, Independent Liberal Party president Wilfredo Navarro said Lacayo had urged the participants to recognize "the accomplishments of the work to professionalize and de-politicize the army." Navarro added that if the army is restructured and subordinated to civilian power, "it doesn't matter much" that Ortega remain at its head.

The following day the President sent the Political Council her response in writing. In her missive, Chamorro said she "does not consider it opportune" to increase the number of Supreme Court justices. She offered her "personal feeling" that further changes in army regulations, already reformed by her in December 1990, "are unnecessary," adding that "to date, the army has followed all my orders." Regarding constitutional reforms, the President simply reminded them of "the need to assure broad political consensus in the National Assembly for any change." The UNO bench alone lacks the votes necessary to alter the Constitution without FSLN support.

What is clear to all observers, and to the people, is that the government and the FSLN—specifically, Antonio Lacayo and Daniel Ortega—have once again shown themselves to be the only ones capable of establishing peace in the country. Faced with excesses from the Assembly or the Managua mayor, or even with the recontras' insistent claims, the government and FSLN leaders are the only ones able and willing to sit down and work out solutions to the array of problems.

Lacayo, and to a lesser degree the FSLN, insisted that, since the property issue is political, it should be resolved in the concertation forum. The Assembly can then legislate based on the resulting political accords—not the reverse. UNO's far-right parties, blinded by desire for revenge against the FSLN, cannot be trusted to evenhandedly discuss and legislate the nation's major problems. Nevertheless, their capacity to launch new legislative offensives against the Sandinistas—some of which, like the army law, they have already forecast—should not be underestimated.

Who owes what to whom?

The balance of forces in the National Assembly clearly does not represent the real correlation of forces in society, particularly with regard to mobilizing capacity. The Executive knows this, and so do the Sandinistas. As the minority bench, the FSLN alone cannot put a brake on UNO attempts to legislate revenge; it must sometimes depend on the Executive.

But all concessions are paid with other concessions. The government is no more hostage to the FSLN than the FSLN is to the government. While the ultra-Right may never get its way, the FSLN, rightwing rhetoric notwithstanding, never does either; the government usually comes closest.

Did the FSLN perhaps fall into a political game with a bourgeois class government in which Alfredo César, by openly clashing with the Executive, came out looking like the "hard guy" while his brother-in-law Lacayo appeared the "conciliator"? The truth is that, with Godoy at least temporarily discredited, César, given his image, his close ties to the US government and his position as head of the country's legislative branch, is the most dangerous opponent of the Transition Protocol. Who will the "moderate" UNO parties in the Assembly now be obeying: César the ambitious Assembly president or César the President's legislative voice?

But if the Executive is deprived of its legislative base, does it not become weaker, more vulnerable to US pressure and with less negotiating strength with the FSLN? If Lacayo couldn’t completely neutralize the rightwing offensives in an arena as important as the legislature, why should the FSLN try to contain the popular movement or make concessions to the government not reciprocated in practice?

To convince the government of the need to act quickly and sensibly to preserve stability, the FSLN deemed it necessary to opt for brief "destabilizations." Ironically, only in this way could it help defend the political order consecrated in the Constitution and Transition Protocol. Just as ironically, the popular mobilizations also helped defend the government's own stability and capacity to govern, actually strengthening Lacayo's centrist position over the demands of the economic and political extreme right.

How is this the case? Even with extremists and the US Embassy demanding a hard line against the activists clamoring in the streets, the solution in today's Nicaragua is not repression. Not only would the police balk at responding effectively to such an order, but, given the Sandinista forces' combative mood, not even the FSLN leadership itself could enforce a decision favoring popular retreat from a frontal offensive by the Right.

Whether the State Department understands this or not, it played the story to its own advantage. It accused Sandinistas of fomenting the violence and going out into the streets to "protect their leaders' mansions," adding that "instead of pronouncing more threats, the Sandinista leaders have the responsibility to disapprove of these acts of violence, take measures to put an end to them and participate in the debate by constitutional means."

The wider war is far from over

Independent of new splits in the Right or the appearance of a third bourgeois faction headed by César, the underlying contradiction is still between Sandinismo and the neoliberal agroexport model defended by the Right as a whole. Inasmuch as the privatization scheme of the United States and the international lending banks demands that the existing property structure be changed, little room is left for maneuver. On the other hand, it is impossible for the government to alter that structure without violating a framework it is bound to respect in order that the FSLN respect it.

The property issue is one of economic power and, as such, goes far beyond efforts to roll back Sandinista decrees. For the FSLN it means actively defending the popular sectors, particularly the cooperatives, that are resisting not only big capital's "legal" offensive, but also its economic one. Capitalists have no need to rely on laws; it’s always easy to appropriate small properties when their owners are deprived of access to credit and thus unable to protect their production.

Contrary to the Right's argument, the issue is not Laws 85 and 86. It is, in the final analysis, a war between the material resources of the revolution's social formations and big capital's exploitative labor impositions. The FSLN has not doubted for a minute that the revolution would win or lose this war based on whether the economic democratization process continues advancing or is forced to retreat. Numerous sectors in both Nicaragua and the United States dream of witnessing rollbacks and judgments against defeated authorities here similar to those carried out in Central Europe. In Nicaragua, however, that would mean gutting the framework of profound social justice implicit in the Sandinista government's assignation of houses, urban lots and rural lands starting as early as 1979.

Closing FSLN ranks: The best way to fight?

In the last analysis, it was the people benefited by this social justice who stopped the far Right, but the FSLN called on them to act in organized fashion, without spontaneity or dispersion. For that to happen, dispersion within the FSLN itself had to be avoided. The intense debates and criticisms underway within the party, while healthy and necessary, threatened to deprive the popular movement of a firm and credible interlocutor with the government.

A majority in the 18 departmental Sandinista congresses in June concluded that unbridled political judgments of party leadership were out of order at a moment in which the right was judging Sandinismo as a whole. Daniel Ortega's leadership was in fact strengthened by his nomination as candidate for FSLN General Secretary. Heated discussions about broadening National Directorate membership were faced with a concrete proposal when the National Directorate put forward former Vice President Sergio Ramírez and current Directorate Secretary René Núñez as candidates to be considered by the Congress in July.

Shortly before the Managua congress, the National Directorate and the Sandinista Assembly—the Directorate's consulting body—had decided to propose to the departmental congresses that they ratify all current Directorate members as a slate, adding Ramírez and Núñez, brother of deceased Directorate member Carlos Núñez. All the departmental congresses ratified that proposal, presented as an alternative to the formula a large minority defended: secret voting for each individual candidate. While this decision assures that there will be no changes in the 12-year-old Directorate roster, although other new candidates may also be put forward to expand its membership. One highly touted name is former health minister Dora María Téllez, who first achieved fame by leading the 1978 takeover of the National Palace.

The National Directorate also determined that the appointed Sandinista Assembly members—80 in total including the Directorate itself—would have full voting rights in the National Congress, together with the 501 directly elected delegates from around the country. Again, a significant minority believed that the current Assembly members, some of whom have been criticized for being Managua-bound and not representative of the base, should not be able to influence voting. In the National Congress, a new Assembly will be directly elected for the first time.

Although at some cost, the FSLN, by closing ranks in June, sidestepped the trap laid by the Right to blackmail it into a more conciliatory accommodation to the neoliberal order. For some, this also means shutting off heated debate in the National Congress itself and they feel the future of the party will be better served by airing the issues.

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