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  Number 287 | Junio 2005
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Nicaragua

A Divided, Divvied Up and Directionless Country

All authors of today’s institutional chaos are using “the law” to justify their actions. They insist their self-interested acts are legal, and wouldn’t dream of questioning their legitimacy. They say they’re doing what they do “for Nicaragua” but most Nicaraguans aren’t legitimizing anybody. They’re too busy just trying to keep their head above the rising tide of disorder.

Nitlápan-Envío team

Will Enrique Bolaños finish out his term? What side will the army take in the conflict between the branches of government? Is the country moving toward a Constituent Assembly? Will some solution emerge from the upcoming elections, or is an electoral fraud being prepared? Why is there no grass-roots mobilization in response to the institutional conflict as there has been in several South American countries recently? Will there be, and, if so, in favor of what or whom?

The country is directionless and increasingly uncertain, while the FSLN and the PLC, which have already divvied up the most important government institutions, are keeping it divided. Now they have dragged us to the edge of the abyss again, right where they had us a month ago around another issue. Any analysis must thus accept that there are always new ledges from which to lean and perhaps to fall on the institutional precipice where we seem to have taken up permanent lodging. We no more than caught our breath after the April-May street riots over bus fare hikes than we found ourselves teetering on yet another ledge.

An international analyst now living in Nicaragua remarked recently that he has never seen chaos as institutionalized as it is in Nicaragua. Another analyst, equally consternated by the country’s brand of politics, commented that “Nicaragua breaks out of any theoretical framework of analysis I try to apply to it,” adding, “I give up.” But the political class never gives up; it and the institutional chaos keep right on going.

Carlos Pellas, Nicaragua’s only truly powerful business magnate, the power behind President Bolaños and a stockholder in Unión Fenosa, the Spanish transnational with a monopoly on Nicaragua’s energy distribution, named three problems he believes are threatening national stability. The first is the energy crisis, the second the lack of an agreement with the IMF and the third the delay in ratifying the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) with the United States. A man of few words, he said, “The executive and legislative branches must reach agreement about this and stop conditioning conversations on personal interests, since Nicaragua will enter into total chaos if these atomic bombs explode.”

The energy crisis

Given the country’s almost total dependence on oil for electricity production, the permanently high international oil prices have the country locked in an ongoing energy crisis. The partial privatization of the coun-try’s electricity generating operations and total privatization of its distribution several years ago is now revealing its darker side, as Nicaraguan economist Adolfo Acevedo explains in this issue’s “Speaking Out” section.

Is it possible to renationalize the electricity service? Could it be more efficient in state hands? Even if both answers were yes, the dependence of our energy consumption on imported oil will not be resolved for many years, and meanwhile Nicaragua has absolutely no influence on international crude prices. Any solution to this new factor affecting our fragile national economy—and therefore politics—is a long way down the road.

The dirty duo

The juridical chaos triggered by the constitutional reforms designed by Daniel Ortega and Arnoldo Alemán and approved by their legislative benches in January continued apace, along with sharp tensions between Bolaños—stripped of important attributions by those reforms—and the legislative branch controlled by Ortega and Alemán. These two caudillos now have even more political power and economic control through the new institutions they brought into being through the reforms. Not a single day goes by without new episodes in this interminable soap opera.

The lopsided tripartite dialogue between the FSLN-PLC and the government, supposedly organized to hammer out agreement on implementation of some of those very reforms, continued to be dominated by the Alemán-Ortega duo, who always seem to arrive having previously reached their own agreement. The real dialogue takes place more in the FSLN’s headquarters or Alemán’s hacienda-prison than at the official negotiating table, where the two men and their advisers reach new agreements with a synchronization that never fails to amaze. FSLN ideologue Orlando Núñez, who once distanced himself from the distasteful pact, now publicly defends it as a novel and authentic anti-oligarchic and anti-imperialist alliance. For the less abstract PLC leaders, it is the guarantee of Alemán’s release and a way to make up for the continually regretted error of having let Bolaños win the presidency on their party’s ticket. And to cap this frieze of strange bedfellows, we have Cardinal Obando as the witness and guarantor of the tripartite dialogue, providing the FSLN and PLC with an air of legitimacy.

And the pact plays on

This month, the FSLN-PLC parliamentary bloc approved controversial bills creating a Property Institute and reforming social security and transferring its control to the legislative branch, trimming yet more of Bolaños’ powers. It also finished appointing or reappointing magistrates for the new term in Nicaragua’s Supreme Electoral Council. The new faces were PLC politicians René Herrera and José Marenco Cardenal, who together with their two reappointed FSLN colleagues will guarantee that this fourth but hardly independent branch of government will run the 2006 electoral process according to pre-negotiated bipartite plans. Last, but far from least was the act that brought us to the edge of May-June’s abyss: the filling of the six top Superintendence of Public Services (SISEP) posts.

This new institution created by the pact transfers regulatory control of all public services (energy, water and telecommunications) to the National Assembly and is thus a very important expression of the pact’s “parliamentary“ design, which President Bolaños denounced internationally as a “coup d’état” or “dictatorship.” It is also one of the pact’s most controversial institutional inventions and one of the most important lynch-pins of its underlying strategy. The “philosophy” behind this second stage of the pact (the first was consummated in 1998-99) is FSLN-PLC “alterna-bility” at the helm of all institutions of a state that has been legally if not legitimately divvied up among those who are most loyal to Ortega and Alemán.

Broaden the dirty-duo dialogue?

After months of alleging that the PLC-FSLN was not fulfilling its part of the bargain, President Bolaños finally decided to abandon the farcical dialogue table. In defense of his move, he whipped out the agreement with the PLC-FSLN that the new appointments would be made by consensus and the reforms involving institutions and new authorities would not go into effect until 2007, with the new government. Ever since late March, he has also been brandishing a Central American Court of Justice ruling that the constitutional reforms approved by the pact allies are “inapplicable.” But unflapped, the FSLN-PLC quickly ordered its justices in Nicara-gua’s own Supreme Court to declare the regional court’s finding itself “inapplicable.” No sooner said than done.

Seeking some way to prevent the dialogue he left from collapsing completely, Bolaños proposed reconfigur-ing it from tripartite to “broad” and “national” through civil society participation. As always, the international community backed Bolaños, who optimistically sent the FSLN-PLC a proposed list of guild, union, university, civil, private enterprise and other organizations to invite, most of whom have long been complaining of the President’s failure to pay more than lip service to them. After rhetorical ripples of indulgence, the PLC and the FSLN disparaged the proposal, in part for the practical and not invalid reason that it would be a marathon of unmanageable opinions given the plethora of representative organizations. They also rejected it due to their familiar and questionable political philosophy: their two parties got 90% of the votes in the last elections and thus represent the will of the people, whereas the civil society leaders “weren’t elected by anybody.” They never mention that the PLC’s presidential votes went to Bolaños, who beat out Ortega, the FSLN’s perennial candidate, by 14 points, or that the legislators elected for the two parties were on party-picked slates and were thus not in fact chosen by the voters.

Grassroots apathy

Bolaños’ only remaining aspiration is to make it all the way through his term; if possible, still with the attributions the Constitution gave him before the reforms. Any long-term vision the President may have had about the country’s future seems to have faded long ago, as he apparently recognizes that it will be all he can do to affect what happens before he leaves.

President Bolaños’ evident inability to manage the situation has become increasingly dangerous. But could it be any other way given such crafty adversaries as the PLC-FSLN caudillos joined at the hip by common goals of power? Bolaños has had to admit that he’s unable to do anything at all given the institutional chaos, while in an admirable display of cognitive dissonance he continues to assert that Nicaragua has been moving forward during his watch.

Has it really? Although for a good part of the urban and rural population, the only forward motion has been toward social decomposition, emigration or violence, it must be admitted that intense economic activity can be observed in a good part of the countryside. But even that is due more to improved coffee prices and good prices for beef, beans and dairy products in particular than to any domestic policy guidance or development financing.

While any progress in Nicaragua is relative, considering the complex unfinished social business the country has in education, health, nutrition and housing, the relative economic stability and reactivation allows people to get back to work, engage in some trade, earn something, and do more than barely survive. This plays in Bolaños’ favor and may partially explain the lack of grassroots reaction to the institutional chaos.

In the polls, people’s responses to the juridical chaos are usually quite clear, and some even call in to radio talk shows to offer what are often very pertinent opinions on the crisis. But not surprisingly, there is no grassroots mobilization to support any of the three lead actors. The surprising part is that there’s no mobilization against them either. Fed up with the entire political class, people want to speak out about it, but they do so only in the media; they have no faith in any participation that goes beyond that. They have figured out that looking after their own life and trying to get by is their best option.

Relative economic improvement for some aside, the President’s inconsistencies and his very real disadvantage in the current correlation of forces make it easy for the PLC-FSLN leaders to back him into a corner and keep him there. The coherence of the understanding these adversaries have reached and the cynicism of their declarations is both amazing and appalling, while the loss of prestige of the legislative representatives who do their respective party leaders’ bidding is on a par with President Bolaños’ own. These actors and the institutional chaos they’ve created contribute to people’s current apathy, at the same time explaining the appeal of presumed “white knights” such as Sandi-nista Herty Lewites and Liberal Eduardo Montealegre.

The unexpected emergency

The most intense period of this months’ cliff hanging began on May 30, Mother’s Day, one of the country’s most sacred days after the Immaculate Conception. At midday, as many offices were closing to allow their workers to celebrate, President Bolaños decreed a nearly 12% rise in electricity rates for high-end domestic users, as requested by Unión Fenosa. While he was at it, he issued a six-month emergency economic decree, suspending three articles of the Constitution and the guarantees consigned in them to prevent any criticism, protests or legal maneuvers to quash the price hike. His justification was that the rate increase would avoid the energy rationing that Unión Fenosa had been threatening as the only alternative.

The drastic reduction of constitutional rights seemed an excessive response to the threat of scheduled blackouts. What would come next? It was not outlandish to speculate about the real political scope of a decree draped in economic justification, particularly as one of the pact’s agreements most directly related to the economy was about to be consummated: the appointing of the new department heads for electricity, water and telecommunications in SISEP.

The emergency is withdrawn

The country is not only divvied up by the pact, it is also divided by it. A handful of public opinion leaders, particularly those who control Channel 2 and La Prensa, two media with huge audiences, defended the rate hike as inevitable, although it wavered on the absurd suspension of constitutional guarantees. Most opinion makers rejected both the increase and the suspension of rights with unusual force: a dictatorship was being consolidated, not even in Somoza’s times had these guarantees been suspended… Daniel Ortega’s most belligerent supporters threatened renewed street riots and again called for Bolaños’ head.

Like any other presidential decree, this one had to be approved by the National Assembly within 72 hours. As expected, both the PLC and FSLN benches announced they would reject it. Hadn’t Bolaños anticipated this? And if he had, why decree such an excessive measure in the first place? Was it the fruit of the President’s autarchic thinking and decision-making style? Then, on June 2, while the legislators rhetorically debated the decree and made ready to reject it, Bolaños surprised them by repealing it. “The causes behind it have already ceased,” he calmly announced. He did not, however, annul the new electricity rates to “save” the country from rationing.

The legislators immediately applauded the repeal. Or were they applauding the backpedaling that left Bolaños looking ridiculous? The clapping had no more than died down when they decided to ratchet the institutional chaos up a couple more pegs by electing the Supreme Electoral Council magistrates and, even more importantly, the new energy, water, telecommunications and client service chiefs, along with the overall SISEP superintendent. The list of those elected that day is very worrying. The first task the legislators gave the new energy overseer—a fishing entrepreneur and personal friend of Alemán’s who will have a known Somocista as his right hand—was to annul the decreed rate hike.

The blow-up

On June 3, a new institutional “abyss” opened up, just as we were about to close this issue of envío. Bolaños and his ministers refused to recognize the SISEP appointments and even the legality of this new institution, just as they rejected all of the other new constitutional reforms and their consequences. The President ordered anti-riot police to surround the installations of the autonomous entities in charge of regulating the water, energy and communications services (respectively INAA, INE and TELCOR), previously answerable to the executive branch, to prevent anyone named by the National Assembly representatives from entering.

In response, the Comptroller General’s Office—whose executive posts were divvied up in the first pact—ordered those institutions’ accounts frozen and audited for “presumed embezzlement.” The Superintendence of Banks supported the decision. Suits were also filed to overturn the presidential decision preventing entry and appropriation of the corresponding institutions. The judicial branch, similarly divvied up, accepted the suits, putting the National Police in a serious dilemma: was it supposed to obey the judicial order or the President? And what will the army be asked to do in this conflict?

SOS to the OAS

Citing the Inter-American Democratic Charter, President Bolaños called on the Organization of American States to send a permanent delegation to mediate the conflict between the executive and legislative branches—the latter supported by the judicial and electoral branches—that started with the National Assembly’s approval of the constitutional reforms. He specifically asked the OAS to assume the role of witness and guarantor of the tripartite dialogue (government-PLC-FSLN) he had just abandoned. It was an implicit rejection of the role Cardinal Obando has played up to now, essentially that of a religious adornment to the bipartite agreements with his indisputable—although complex to explain—symbolic power. Bolaños also asked the OAS to oversee the “broad” dialogue that would solve the crisis and let him recover everything the legislators had snatched away through the reforms.


The OAS, which had also come last December to look into the institutional conflict at Bolaños’ bidding, accepted; it was announced that recently elected OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza, a Chilean, would himself head the mission due to arrive in June. Meanwhile, he sent a technical commission down on May 18-20 to begin evaluating the conflict. The PLC and FSLN announced that they would not accept OAS mediation because the problem “is Nicaraguan and must be resolved by Nicaraguans” and reaffirmed that they will only accept Cardinal Obando as witness and guarantor, alleging his experience and moral authority.

An external pincer movement

In this rudderless situation, which is dragging on with no visible solution, outside pressures have been increasingly bearing down on the government, the PLC, the FSLN and particularly the alliance of the latter two. The country is so dependent on foreign aid that such pressures are especially effective. The pressure is aimed less at resolving the current chaos than at laying the groundwork for negotiating with the winners of the 2006 elections. The donors, confused by what they are seeing and concerned about what might be around the corner, hope to achieve an orderly transition of power and reach agreement on a medium-range cooperation framework that can stand up to the political seesawing and avoid any new abyss that could open up.

The political class is being pressured in a pincer movement. One of the claws is wielded by the European Union member governments that are cooperating with Nicaragua and the multilateral lending agencies—the International Monetary Fund, World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank—on whose endorsements the Nicaraguan economy depends. While the US government has a determining weight in that claw, it wields the other one directly and independently, driven more by open political-ideological motivations nature than by those related to economic and institutional stability.

Both sides of the pincer agree on at least one essential condition, which is to keep Nicaragua from derailing its program with the IMF, as happened at the end of both the Chamorro and Alemán governments. As the last year of Bolaños’ term approaches, the donors want to prevent a repetition of this cyclical tendency so they won’t have to lose almost an entire year with the new government repairing the damage so a new cooperation program can be negotiated. If continuity of the IMF program and achievement of its goals can be ensured through the end of 2006 despite being an uncertain presidential election year, it would allow Nicaragua to maintain its fragile macroeconomic stability and sign a new program that builds on the current one.

Bolaños’ “sacrifice”
for the people

During both the April-May street disturbances and the current institutional chaos, the possibility that Nicaragua’s program with the IMF could jump the rails has been the subject of numerous warnings—and threats—by the Bolaños government. Yet it was the President himself who created the first obstacle to keeping it on track.

In March, the FSLN-PLC legislators had introduced changes into the 2005 budget, already signed off by the IMF, that increased the fiscal deficit by the equivalent of nearly $40 million. To cover it, they approved a Fiscal Equity Law (fair new taxes on banks and casinos, elimination of some corporate exonerations, etc.) that also contained a constitutional reform (dubbed the “Arce Law” for its author, FSLN banker/journalist/former National Directorate member/current legislator Bayardo Arce) eliminating import duty exemptions on machinery, spare parts and materials for the media. This controversial reform is generally viewed as a mechanism of the pact to affect-control-censor-annul the media, which, from their respective ideological positions, have not let up on denouncing the political protagonists of the national chaos. (It barely needs to be added that the media are far less explicit in criticizing the economic protagonists—the voracious bankers and corrupt business leaders—on whom their ad revenue depends.)

President Bolaños promptly vetoed the law in the name of free speech. The IMF naturally insisted that the deficit be covered, which made it necessary for the President to withdraw his veto. This he did, clearly under duress, at the same time he issued his emergency decree. He sent the signed law off to be promulgated protesting with the most royal of “we’s” that “we are approving what we didn’t want to approve; we are making this sacrifice for the benefit of the people”—which pretty much says it all. While this “sacrifice” will get Nicaragua back on track with the IMF, it put him right alongside Arce as a target for the media’s wrath, while quite unintentionally legitimizing the constitutional reforms designed by the pact and pushed through in the obligatory two legislative sessions without ever consulting the population.

The donors’ agenda

In addition to riding herd on the IMF agreement, the European Union and other donors and multilateral lending agencies are pushing to get a legal framework in place that will regulate the main decisions on the country’s public finance management. With the deficit covered, they are now pressing for a series of structural measures conditioning the signing a new IMF agreement, including the tax code, the fiscal administration law, the pension system reform, a law to neutralize transfers to the municipalities and reforms to various financial sector laws.

All these laws were designed, quite independent of the current institutional chaos, to avoid discretional use of resources by either the executive or legislative branch and thus ensure healthy public finances regardless of a future government’s economic model. The donors believe this legislative package will help clear away current and future uncertainties regarding public finances and incorporate into the national legal framework all the fiscal management practices that the IMF constantly recommends to ensure medium- and long-term fiscal stability.

Cooperation takes a new turn

Beyond these laws, the main donors are also testing out a new strategy resulting from the international debate on whether foreign aid is effective in the fight against poverty in countries such as ours. It emphasizes channeling foreign aid to sector-wide governmental programs through direct budget support rather than the traditional path of financing specific projects that target concrete problems or obstacles to the country’s development, but which by their very scattershot nature do not generate the synergistic benefits of a programmatic design.

As the donors have insisted in meetings with all Nicaragua’s political actors, they also want to prioritize political dialogue as a central condition of foreign cooperation in the next five-year period. The current tug-of-war between the executive and legislative branches, which bears no resemblance to political dialogue, has foreign cooperation very worried. The donors fervently hope that this change of approach in the foreign aid models for Nicaragua can contribute to dialogue, providing an effective instrument for negotiating with the government and political class that will help neutralize future conflicts and encourage the harmonizing and coordination of governmental policies with the foreign financing.

Together with the Bolaños government, the donors have identified three key areas in the struggle against poverty where this new approach can be applied: education, health and rural development. The sector-wide programs in education and health are already getting underway, while rural development is still in the design phase.

But there is no shortage of contradictions. Civil society organizations initially supported and participated in the formulation of these programs, but the first stage of implementation has already shown that the government is leaning toward an approach in which the ministry in charge of each priority area “takes ownership” of the program, monopolizing the disbursement of funds and relegating the NGOs as the mere providers of state services. This is generating conflicts that will continue as long as there is no change in that mentality.

The government and civil society also disagree over the very strategy and objectives of the sector-wide programs. For example, civil society has criticized the relatively low profile of the fight against AIDS in the health program.

Then there are the corruption cases detected this month in the Education Ministry—“phantom” schools and teachers and falsified enrollments and academic evaluations to get a bigger chunk of the budget—that illustrate the risk of concentrating budgetary aid to the government in a country without adequate controls to guarantee its correct use. That situation is made even worse by the fact that corruption is deeply rooted and still highly tolerated in the political culture.

Pressures from Washington

The United States shares the multilateral financing agencies’ agenda about keeping the IMF program on track, including the package of structural laws. But it keeps its aid funds for Nicaragua in a separate pipeline so it can regulate or even turn off the flow so it can pressure independently where and when it chooses. And unlike most other donor governments, its ongoing political objective since 1990 has been to prevent the FSLN’s return to office at all costs.

In mid-May, President Bush appointed Paul Trivelli his new ambassador in Nicaragua. In his Senate appearance, Trivelli fully backed the Bolaños government’s “admirable fight against corruption,” criticized the PLC-FSLN pact and revealed his priorities: ensure the destruction of all SAM-7 missiles still in Nicaraguan army hands, get Nicaragua to ratify CAFTA, assure that the country makes it onto Washington’s Millennium Account aid program and guarantee transparent elections in 2006. His undeclared mission, which would be politically incorrect to enunciate in so many words, is to make sure the FSLN doesn’t return to office, among other reasons to prevent the expansion of the new “axis of evil” that Bush has drawn between Venezuela and Cuba.

Those deprived of a US visa… and those not

The PLC legislators swing like a pendulum between their FSLN allies and their godfathers to the North on the SAM-7 issue. They are also waffling on the CAFTA issue, first proposing that it be ratified, then saying it should only be debated once the US Congress approves the final version.

The PLC-FSLN pact has shown itself to be quite serious, which worries the US government no end. Its embassy officials have tried a wide range of tactics to shake the PLC free of it, from crassly disqualifying the party’s strongman, convicted former President Alemán, to belated offers to clear him of the charges in exchange for breaking the pact and reuniting with the other anti-Sandinistas to beat Ortega at the polls. The ham-handedness of such “diplomacy” has only pushed the PLC further into the arms of the FSLN.

The State Department is also canceling the US entry visas of some big PLC names on the grounds of involvement in acts of corruption, which some see as a measure to purge the PLC of its pro-Alemán leaders. Four more had their visas cancelled this month, the first of whom were PLC secretary and National Assembly representative Noel Ramírez and recently-elected Supreme Court justice Dámisis Sirias. The ax next fell on Víctor Guerrero and José Marenco Cardenal, right after the first was appointed a SISEP director and the second a new electoral magistrate.

This politicized migratory procedure has so far not had the desired effect. The Liberals shrug it off as extortion, and as such it has triggered more defiance than repentance or fear. Its repeated use did, however, have a never-imagined result. On May 16, the pro-Bolaños newspaper La Prensa published a supposed State Department list of 89 Liberals and Sandinistas whose US entry visas had been revoked for alleged links to acts of corruption or terrorist activities, leaked to the newspaper by what it claimed was a reliable source. Two days later, the US Embassy denied the list’s validity and La Prensa was forced to retract, all of which caused an uproar. The list was later reported to have been drawn up and leaked by Bolaños government officials. Several Sandinista intellectuals on it—Aldo Díaz Lacayo, Orlando Núñez, Alejandro Martínez Cuenca and Oscar René Vargas—sued the paper for libel and declared that the leak was the work of President Bolaños himself, risking La Prensa’s credibility just to disparage his enemies.

How long?

How long might this go on? Will the US use of this visa mechanism and the anti-imperialist responses fade away when Alemán goes free? Or perhaps as the elections draw nearer? The most shocking part of the visa denials is that absolutely no one in the nation’s institutions or civil society who have been clamoring for “institu-tionality” has asked the United States to provide evidence of its allegations against what amounts to a good number of top public officials.

The only sign so far that all the US pressures have acted as any sort of a brake within the pact is the PLC’s unwillingness to accept a Sandinista at the head of the Property Institute, another pact-created institution. Both parliamentary benches duly approved the law creating INPRUR (Institute of Reformed Urban and Rural Property), but when the FSLN offered the names of various Sandinistas to head it, as reportedly agreed in exchange for the PLC heading SISEP, the PLC tabled the decision, and, curiously enough, the FSLN has dropped all mention of it. These appointments are virtually the only ones left in the divvying up of some 50 posts created by the pact.

The electoral horizon

All political eyes and ears are now turned to the November 2006 elections as the hoped-for “solution” to the anarchy in which we find ourselves. One hears more talk about presidential candidates—there are over a dozen—than about National Assembly candidates even though the model of government underlying the pact’s constitutional reforms makes these legislative posts increasingly strategic for changing anything in the country. This disinterest is hardly surprising given Nicaragua’s historic slate mechanism, in which the parties select the legislative candidates and their order on the list, while voters only get to choose the party. Similarly unsurprising is that the PLC and FSLN pay no attention to the perennial and growing clamor for voters to directly elect individuals rather than a slate, in the perhaps romantic hope that the elected legislators will then represent their constituency rather than their party.

The Conservative Party is proposing that, alongside a new government, we also elect a Constituent Assembly to change the Constitution again, while other voices urge that we elect one this very year. Despite being officially expelled from the FSLN, Herty Lewites continues to insist on being its candidate, now backed by what he has called the Movement to Rescue Sandinismo. Polls still consistently place him as the country’s most popular politician, several lengths ahead of the second place presidential aspirant, Liberal banker Eduardo Montealegre.

After a three-week visit to Spain, Lewites held the first departmental assembly of his new movement on May 22, attended by some 800 FSLN members. At the event, Lewites made this surprising retort to FSLN attempts to get him jailed: “Daniel Ortega and I are sly foxes from the same pineapple patch. If I go to jail, he’ll go too.”

Meanwhile, big business is exploring various electoral options that could pull together all anti-Sandinistas and get Alemán’s nod, in exchange for backing from the US and Bolaños to grant his pardon or amnesty in January 2007, after the FSLN is defeated in the elections. Montealegre figures in all the anti-FSLN scenarios being designed by the private sector and the international community. In fact, one of the currents within the fractioned Conservative Party complains that it is being pressured to hand over the party and its ballot slot so that Montealegre can organize an anti-FSLN and anti-PLC alliance.

The problem is that Montealegre is as unwanted by the PLC leadership as Lewites is by the FSLN’s. While his insistence on heading the PLC ticket mirrors the stubbornness of his Sandinista colleague, Alemán has made it clear that he will never endorse Montealegre, displaying as much obstinacy as Ortega in response to Lewites.

Undaunted, Montealegre has been visiting all the country’s municipalities one by one to discuss his candidacy with the local PLC boards. He also came up with the gimmick of offering to receive anybody who wanted to exchange views with him for 5 minutes starting on May 5. The brief time span for each audience was apparently chosen to match the date (05-05-05), which he called “an eclipse of the calendar.”

Meanwhile, forecasting an electoral fraud, Lewites launched yet another initiative on June 5—this one against both fraud and the pact itself—that he has dubbed “unity of action.” Since his prediction is not without some foundation, Mario Rapaccioli and his Conservative grouping, Monte-alegre and his Liberal followers, and three of the pre-candidates for the limping APRE, Christian Way and Nicaraguan Resistance announced their participation. Lewites’ slogan is “Either we all go to the elections or nobody goes,” and with his typical optimism, he announced massive mobilizations starting in July to paralyze the country if transparent elections are not guaranteed.

How can we get through this?

Speaking for the international community, Holland’s Ambassador Kees Rade offered a real jewel of diplomatic glass-half-full optimism about Nicara-gua’s reality. “I have learned one thing in Nicaragua,” he said, “which is that the word limit is very flexible. There are times where in our opinion we have reached the limit and then suddenly there’s consensus, so we shouldn’t dramatize the situation. We’re not at the limit yet, but we’re getting there.”

And for the glass-half-empty perspective, we have this comment, provided by the new Nicaraguan army chief, Omar Halleslevens: “Sometimes a country has political crises in the lower levels or on the first floor. Nicaragua’s political crises have been making their way up the building and are now on the fifth floor or in the attic. The different elements of political life must realize this and get their feet back on the ground.”

The country is divided by continuing ideological polarization and scandalous economic polarization, divvied up by the pact, and politically direc-tionless; its President, who is totally isolated domestically, is running a government “in opposition” while the official opposition controls the state de facto and increasingly de jure. In this untenable situation, some formula will have to be found to get us through the long months remaining before the electoral process, which will predictably become intolerably unstable in political terms. How will we get through so many months of uncertainty and erosion, with no alternative in sight or even imaginable?

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