Punches and Counterpunches; Proposals and Counterproposals
The mounting attacks and counterattacks,
proposals and counterproposals confuse and infuriate.
Is this seeming madness aimed at some defined endpoint,
or does it augur the collapse of Nicaragua’s political class?
Might it even signal the institutionalization of its obscene mediocrity?
In whose hands is Nicaragua’s future?
The huge gap between the “real country” and the “legal country”—that brilliantly useful distinction invented by Octavio Paz, used by Carlos Fuentes and copied by all of us—grows wider by the day in Nicaragua. The spiraling political, institutional, juridical and legal chaos is so dizzying and so vast that it should have either paralyzed the country by now or generated some solution aimed at getting it back on course. A mere fraction of such chaos would have already done one or the other in any society accustomed to a genuine rule of law. Not so Nicaragua. Moreover, it could continue much longer. Some of its protagonists have even announced with a self-satisfied smile that it could last until the elections in November 2006.
The scandalous inability and cultural backwardness of the political class that is ruling us—be it from government or from the opposition—is triggering neither paralysis nor the corresponding social explosion because its counterpart is the equally scandalous poverty affecting most of the population, which looks on at the depressing spectacle of the political sparring matches as a disinterested spectator.
The battle for TELCORJosé Miguel Insulza, the recently elected secretary general of the Organization of American States (OAS), arrived in Nicaragua on June 16 on his first diplomatic mission aimed at crisis resolution. Earlier in the month we had witnessed persistent new episodes in Nicaragua’s upwardly-spiraling crisis, of which the most notable had to do with the “taking of TELCOR.”
The Superintendence of Public Services (SISEP), an offspring of the constitutional reforms at the heart of last November’s Ortega-Alemán pact, was the detonator. With electricity distribution already privatized, telecommunications now opened to competition from powerful transnational consortiums and the fate of the supply and treatment of water still in the balance, the regulation of these public services has passed from the executive to the legislative branch of government with the creation of SISEP. The Bolaños administration, which rejects the constitutional reforms, similarly rejects this new institution. Undaunted, the PLC and FSLN legislators elected five new top officials to direct it: a superintendent and four intendants. With the exception of the intendent for the state water enterprise (ENACAL), those elected are a politically and professionally unsavory lot: a recognized Somocista, a politician intimately linked to Alemán’s corruption as mayor of Managua, a member of Ortega’s most hard-line circle of supporters and, at the head of telecommunications (TELCOR), a little-known Sandinista whose only merit is having organized the FSLN’s vote count in the last elections. The selection felt for all the world like a provocation, although a less politically cynical mind could interpret it as a sign of the professional and technical deficiency of the parties to the pact.
As TELCOR is critical to the country’s economy, the government’s finances and the longed-for foreign investment, President Bolaños decided to train his entire arsenal on this strategic space. To launch his battle, he ordered the existing TELCOR director to entrench himself in the building and the riot police to prevent the new intendant from entering; he gave a similar order for the other institutions reassigned to SISEP. For days, the new intendants went from building to building seeking their place in the world, filing lawsuits as they went. Since the possibility that Bolaños would force the army to resolve the conflict in his favor has been a constant throughout this crisis, it was inevitably rumored that he would call it out to prevent the new appointees from taking possession of their posts. Luckily, he didn’t force the issue, allowing the army to remain firm in its decision to stay out of the conflict, avoid public pronouncements and keep a watchful eye from the sidelines.
The weaponry used in this warOne of the most common definitions used in the proliferating analyses that attempt to explain where the shots in this war are being aimed is that the conflict has been “judicialized.” The “shots” exchanged on a daily basis by the two bands include court sentences, legal resolutions, juridical appeals, writs of protection and the like. The battlefield belongs to the lawyers, while those unfamiliar with legal affairs can barely get a grip on the legal tangle, much less sort it out. The executive branch is the underdog in this war, with the legislative branch enjoying the shameless and surprisingly fleet-footed complicity of comptrollers, judges, justices, prosecuting attorneys and even the special human rights defense attorney.
The Managua appeals court ruled in favor of the intendants-elect and ordered the army and the police not to obey any order issued by the executive against them, putting both institutions in a bind since according to the constitution they have to answer to the executive branch. But every blow brings forth a counterblow. That same day, Bolaños rolled the big guns of ideology out from his weapons store, dramatically alerting the country to the dangers that a “person of questionable origins”—as he characterized Freddy Carrión, the new FSLN-appointed intendant—could be head of telecommunications. Following that lead, Defense Minister José Adán Guerra affirmed that TELCOR was a national security objective and, referring to Carrión’s Sandinista credentials, argued that “control of telecommunications by organizations that are enemies of democracy could represent a serious danger to national security and the security of friendly and allied countries,” adding that “conceding management of this instrument to a party with proven anti-democratic antecedents would increase the population’s distrust of the electoral process.”
Extreme tact with Alemán In this latest crisis, which began last November, the President has continually used alarmism to shift the balance of public opinion in his favor: the IMF is going to derail us, the international community is going to suspend its loans, investors will flee… Such discourse is aimed at frightening the populace and provoking the adversary.
For some time now, Bolaños and his top officials have aimed these provocations only at one head of the “bicephalous dictatorship.” They have taken great care not to mention the other one, even though Alemán both seconded Carrión’s selection and himself chose Leonel Aguerri, a recognized Somocista, to the similarly strategic post of energy regulation. In fact, not only has the government not criticized Aguerri’s appointment, it has even allowed him to install himself in his new post. Nor is anyone in the executive branch now mentioning Alemán’s corruption as being at the core of this chaos, except when the President is on his international travels and constantly presents himself as the victim of the pact due to his war on corruption.
This is no oversight. Tact abounds in Nicaragua. With the elections the next express stop on this road to nowhere, the US Embassy is working hard behind the scenes to ensure that Alemán’s PLC unites in a single electoral front with the group supporting Liberal banker and popular presidential pre-candidate Eduardo Montealegre. While the public punches and counterpunches go on between Bolaños and the FSLN-PLC duo, behind the scenes the Embassy is pushing Alemán to agree to step into the shadows and bank everything on bringing Montealegre—the chosen favorite to provide continuity to the Bolaños-US project—to government in exchange for Alemán’s full release from his conviction on corruption charges.
The “taking of TELCOR”As fear grew that army would be ordered to intervene in the TELCOR case, which caused the greatest uncertainty during the crisis, the police chief found himself caught between installing the new intendants, as the appeals court ruled, or evicting them, as the executive ordered. He finally declared that his interpretation of the Constitutional demands on his institution required him to respect the judicial ruling on the dispute.
Nonetheless, on June 14, the riot police, pushed to the wall by direct orders from the President, forcibly expelled from the TELCOR building not only the new intendants but also the judges who had accompanied them with the judicial ruling backing their occupation of their new offices. It was a sad scene, with very poor people brought in by both sides shouting their “support” for the “institutional order” supposedly upheld by their respective side.
The counterpunch was not long in coming. The very next day a group of constitution-touting FSLN and PLC legislators, accompanied by judges touting the judicial ruling, marched from the National Assembly building to “take” TELCOR. They leaped walls, forced gates with crowbars and pried loose grillwork at the windows. This led to a shouting match and exchange of blows among legislators, judges, police officers and even plain troublemakers who joined the tumult. The next day, the OAS secretary general landed in the country.
Insulza’s surprise at José Miguel Insulza’s unconcealed perplexity during a press conference at the end of his mission, after three days trying to understand the tripartite conflict and listening to its protagonists, revealed that he had been unprepared to deal with such a primitive group of politicians. Days earlier, the government had presented Secretary of the Presidency Ernesto Leal as its candidate for the OAS deputy secretary general post and Central Bank President Mario Alonso for president of the Inter-American Development Bank. Leal never had a chance and it is known that Alonso’s candidacy sparked hilarity among those in international development banking circles. It was an indicator of our political class’ lack of vision. Our elites assume that the rest of the world is like Nicaragua and that their dominating positions in our country qualify them to occupy important positions in a Latin America that despite its poverty is much more sophisticated.
Nicaragua’s primitive politicians
If that example isn’t enough, we need only recall that President Bolaños, an incarnation of this pathetically distorted vision of the world, is the same man who some years ago exclaimed that “Nicaragua has now demonstrated its capacity to mount international-level spectacles” at the wind-up of the pathetic annual “Ben Hur” races, in our case substituting tired work horses and broken down hauling carts for Roman chariots and fiery teams of racehorses.
The march of June 16All the punches and counterpunches among the three groups battling it out in this crisis are dressed up in legal garb for the population. None are acknowledged as provocation, extortion, smoke screens, tracer bullets or maneuvers; all are in defense of “institutionality,” “respectful of the law” and “in Nicaragua’s best interests.” Simple common sense, however, indicates that it would be highly unlikely for any genuine solution to emerge from the three political groups who generated the chaos in the first place.
Any alternative would have to be introduced by a fourth actor: an organized, mobilized and reflective population pressuring public opinion. Until June 16 it didn’t seem possible that such a phenomenon was even possible, much less close at hand, though it has been hinted at in the written, radio and televised media for some time.
But to the surprise of many, on Thursday, June 16—the day of Insulza’s arrival—some 25,000 people marched through the streets of Managua under common slogans such as “against the pact and against fraud” and “against the pact and against corruption.” This demonstration, called only six days earlier, was a novel political event because of the amalgam of groups, interests, individuals and personalities supporting it and because it broke through the apathy and immobilizing indignation that had previously allowed the three groups in the conflict to act as capriciously and irresponsibly as they wished.
The pre-march debateTo go or not to go, that was the question. The debate about the march, its objectives, the forces behind it and its possible consequences went on for five days in the streets, the media and many people’s consciences. And this is the first positive value that should be recognized in this public expression of indignation, exhaustion, rejection or the search for real alternatives.
Quite logically, the march had multiple interpretations. The call came first from COSEP, the umbrella organization of big business sectors, and the major media that live off its ads. Businesses gave their workers time off to go, and the government did likewise. It was backed by all the political parties, with the exception of the PLC and the FSLN, the main objectives of the march’s repudiation. With some exceptions, it was endorsed by members of the Civil Coordinator, the most organized expression of civil society, and by most women’s organizations. And many other unaligned people joined the march as well.
It was said that the march was planned to influence the OAS, that it was to support Bolaños and that he would manipulate it. The organizers’ response was that no participants would be thinking of Bolaños, but rather of what comes next. And that if things seem dark today, what might come next (the elections) is truly frightening.
It was argued that the march had been thought up, mainly backed and even financed by COSEP, and that it would be unconscionable to join up with such people, who also share responsibility for the national chaos due to their historic insensitivity, their tax evasion and their support for Bolaños. The response was that it was all to the good that business people had stopped making pronouncements and were actually doing something; that seeing them sweating in the streets was a historical event that should not be lost.
Some found it very suspicious that the private businesses were giving their workers the day off to attend the march. The answer came back that it wasn’t all that strange since they had conducted a 15-day strike in 1979 until Somoza finally left the country.
Pessimists predicted that such a mixed pallet of political colors would never work. Optimists recalled that Somoza finally fell when a similar array of forces had finally come together to bring him down and that any point of union should be sharpened again to achieve new breakthroughs.
Some felt that the march’s objectives were too confusing, ambiguous and murky. Others retorted that nothing can be pure at such foul moments and that seeking purity will only leave us paralyzed.
The clinching argument was that it was only a first step, a thermometer, and that if the march failed, then the last one to leave should turn out the lights. Something had to be done…
For how long?The march exceeded its organizers’ expectations. It also exceeded those of its major detractor, Daniel Ortega, who first had his spokespeople disparage it (they referred to it as a “march of nobodies and oligarchs”) and then got a small group of students to intimidate the marchers and his party structures to sabotage the arrival of participants from outside Managua.
The march’s greatest value was its diversity and the absence of limiting leadership. The participants included entrepreneurs, government officials, organized women, university students, professionals, Nemagon victims, Ben Hur carts, people from poor neighborhoods, members of the movement headed by Herty Lewites… For the first time since the insurrection 25 years ago, the capital witnessed a demonstration free of hegemonic control and with the participation of all ages, ideologies and social classes. Nobody was able to appropriate it, despite the best plans of many—particularly Bolaños.
Nicaragua’s blue and white national flag abounded and a small version for cars was a best seller for street corner merchants for days before and after. There were all manner of messages, from the “Let him govern” carried by Conservative Bolaños supporters to the most audacious of all: “Alemán, Ortega, Bolaños and Obando: For how long?” carried by many members of the women’s movement. An enormous banner that those supporting Bolaños against the PLC-FSLN pact particularly wanted to hide read: “No to the pact between the government and the oligarchy. No more poverty. Network of Ordinary Citizens.”
Eight demands,At the march’s end, a young couple—symbolizing the new Nicaragua—read a pronouncement “in defense of democracy in Nicaragua.” It presented eight demands: reject the constitutional reforms and the laws and appointments to which it has given rise; end the use of the judicial branch as an instrument of the pact; credibly reorganize the entire electoral branch; guarantee elections that do not exclude any party or candidate; suspend the juridical and political maneuvers to exclude candidates and parties; reform the electoral law; ensure that all political parties hold transparent primary elections; and engage in a broad and inclusive dialogue to hammer out the basis for a free and honest electoral process. The pronouncement closed with this slogan, which was also chanted in the streets and appeared on the banners: “Ortega and Alemán, be gone, be gone!”
but only a first step
The march was totally peaceful, civic and festive, characterized by tolerance and an easygoing spirit. It was a first step in shedding the fear that sustains the power of the three contending groups: fear of a conflict that could lead to a return of war, fear of yet more wrenching changes, fear of changing “the devil you know,” fear of confessing fear... It was also a first step toward transcending the rut of thinking that political organization can be built through the media and advocacy accomplished through a snapshot. And it was a first step towards re-moralization, hope, breaking the isolation. Furthermore, it was a first harvesting of the still very dispersed ideas, feelings and energies sown in these long years of national disaster.
The challenge is where to go from here, because while all roads, however long and winding, must start with a first step, the following ones have yet to be defined. Will the other mobilizations that have already been announced maintain the diversity? Will they be bigger? Will they heighten consciousness even more? Will they point the way forward? And above all, even if they do find a specific course and attract increasing numbers, will these mobilizations succeed in dismantling the perfectly and perversely sealed Alemán-Ortega pact and unmask that other solid pact, so bereft of sovereignty, involving Bolaños, the bankers and the US government? Will the next steps take us there or just provide a way of collectively venting our frustration with such ineptitude?
Insulza’s failureJosé Miguel Insulza’s three-day visit was further evidence of how difficult it will be to find a genuine solution in the near future. As it was, he stayed a day longer than scheduled given the complicated nature of things. As he publicly acknowledged, “I have found a very deep division; it’s much more difficult than I would have imagined.” Insulza failed because he didn’t achieve what he probably expected, which is always expected of a mission of this level: to get the conflicting groups to sit at the same table and to stay there once you leave—at least long enough for a historic photo op.
Insulza did everything he could and left having achieved nothing. The government’s position on the constitutional reforms and the tripartite dialogue was to “start over from zero.” That of the PLC and the FSLN was “what’s done is done”; the reforms and their consequences “are irreversible.” Insulza could not budge either side even a step toward some middle ground.
The biggest loser in all of this, however, was President Bolaños. International cooperation has generally sided with him in this chaos, leading him to expect Insulza to line up behind his own definition of the crisis, at least giving him unconditional support, or at the very minimum granting him explicit support upon leaving. But the head of the OAS did none of these things; nor could he have. There are no wearers of the proverbial white hat in this conflict; the positions of all those involved are questionable, as could be gleaned from Insulza’s more sincere than diplomatic words at his final press conference on Sunday, June 19.
In President Bolaños’ frustrated hopes one rediscovers a ruler who, unable to build any internal support, is reduced to appealing again and again to the outside world, thus revealing his disrespect for and dismissal of his compatriots. Furthermore, his frustration with Insulza’s mission demonstrated his fossilized vision of the world. Bolaños believed that the OAS would back his objectives because at the end of the day they coincide with those of the US government. But while the basic nature of the OAS is still the same, Insulza’s recent election amounts to a marginal but important change with respect to its traditional manipulation by the United States.
Proposals come, Insulza’s intense but fleeting visit was not without its second-tier successes, however, of which the most important was to introduce the dynamic of proposals and counterproposals into that of punches and counterpunches, although they, too, quickly took on the quality of enemy fire. The first shot was fired by Daniel Ortega, who proposed bringing forward the date of the general elections. Bolaños shot back that he was willing to resign early if all other top state officials would do the same. While he was presumably referring to all those posts assigned in the divvying up of the state between the two major parties, one wonders who would be left to “switch off the light and close the door” should his idea be taken up.
Ortega then counterproposed the resignation of Bolaños alone and the calling of a constituent assembly. To which Bolaños counterproposed a referendum on the constitutional reforms now and the election of a constituent assembly in 2006, together with the general elections. Ortega countered by agreeing on a referendum now, but only if it includes the new Central American Free Trade Agreement with the United States and other social issues aimed at moving the entire system toward a “direct democracy”...
And so it went: short-term proposals on the dialogue, its participants and its agenda; medium-term ones on the elections; longer-term ones on the contents of a constituent assembly to rewrite the Constitution rather than continue patching it up, as has been done with such disastrous results since the 1999 pact. This would be the 14th time an entire Constitution has been thrown out in Nicaragua’s century and a half of republican life.
The PLC remained silent throughout this rain of proposals and counterproposals and their subsequent analysis and counteranalysis. “We are neither setting conditions nor accepting them,” they insisted; that is, until Vice President José Rizo—aligned with the pact—launched his proposal, which he first presented to Cardinal Obando. Rizo proposed concessions on all sides, detailing what they should be. As his seventh and most central point, he proposed a general amnesty for all those in legal problems as a result of the current crisis, which is obviously designed to get Arnoldo Alemán out of his current fix. Upon receiving Rizo’s proposal, Cardinal Obando, who has shown great discretion in this current round of the escalating crisis, spoke of the need for “pardon and reconciliation” in today’s Nicaragua.
The proposal most often heard on the streets, in contrast, was that they should all get lost. This utopian solution reflects a condemnation of Nicaragua’s entire political class and the logic that has guided governance and the struggle for state power. It would be wrong to think that this “political class” includes simply Ortega, Alemán, Bolaños and their close circles. “Be gone, be gone” is also directed to all those who explicitly or implicitly legitimate the country’s macabre political game, including analysts who don’t tell the truth, civic leaders who speak without saying anything and the eternal presidential candidates who hitch their wagon to any national crisis or scandal that might get them noticed and maybe even a few votes.
All-out warWith Insulza’s departure, it seemed that the war might enter a stage of dialogue to shuffle through the pros and cons of the avalanche of proposals. But that’s not Nicaragua’s way today. Although Insulza recommended a truce in which each side would refrain from throwing new punches to avoid spiraling the crisis even higher, the war got underway again immediately. The first to fire was Bolaños and it was a high tonnage bomb.
It was learned on June 27 that the President had issued two decrees three days earlier. The first ordered the National Police not to obey any judicial ruling without his prior authorization. The President’s interpretation behind this decree was that the police “aid” judges but are “subject” to him. The other decree ordered the transfer of all of TELCOR’s assets to the General Tax Division, which answers to the executive, thus effectively leaving the new telecommunications king without a kingdom.
The Supreme Court’s counterpunch was to reopen the accusation of electoral crimes filed against Bolaños two years ago by the same Sandinista judge who sentenced Alemán to 20 years for corruption, and to request that the National Assembly initiate proceedings to strip him and several of his top officials of their immunity so they can stand trial on those charges. Bolaños allegedly used state resources to finance his successful presidential campaign in 2001, after having served as Alemán’s Vice President for the previous term. The National Assembly wasted no time in taking the necessary steps to strip Bolaños and the others of their immunity privileges.
Following like a one-two punch, judges all over the country—most of whom are aligned with Ortega—declared themselves on strike in protest at the presidential decrees. Within days, two thousand judges took to the streets shouting “Judicial power, judicial power! A judicial branch united will never be defeated!” And just days later, the Supreme Court declared the presidential decrees unconstitutional.
With the battle continuing on a field even more mined than the one Insulza had found, another OAS mission arrived on June 29 with an open departure date, this time headed by former Argentine Foreign Minister Dante Caputo.
Let the people decideAny solution to this latest chaotic situation would seem to involve some kind of consultation—be it a referendum, a constituent assembly or general elections—in which the people can express their will. In the near term that requires some kind of election. Although the people’s voice at the ballot box is no guarantee of any in-depth change in what we’re seeing today, it would perhaps clear up some of the dispute’s darker clouds. For an electoral definition to contribute any real solution, however, that consultation process, whatever form it takes, must be credible and transparent.
The increasing loss of credibility of all politicians and top government officials is also affecting the administrators of the electoral process, most of whom were hand picked by Ortega and Alemán. In addition, the electoral law that they administer and interpret is the condensed expression of the bipartite system imposed by the pact since 2000. Those who have managed to preserve some measure of optimism in the midst of all this disorder believe that the awareness of a majority of Nicaraguans has now reached such a level that pressure could be exerted to change the Supreme Electoral Council magistrates and the electoral law itself.
In any event, most bets are already concentrating on the November 2006 general elections. Will they be brought forward by a few months? The person who seems to be sitting pretty is Daniel Ortega, because in addition to his pact-forged control of the institutions that guarantee control over the process, he also has his party’s machinery oiled and ready. With all that in place, he can add to his advantage over the other possible candidates by moving the elections forward.
That relative advantage is made even greater by the fact that the PLC machinery is a shambles, as demonstrated by the November 2004 municipal elections. The PLC continues to believe that only Alemán’s release from his hacienda-prison can get that machinery back up and running. Given that conviction and with each day bringing the electoral campaign closer, Alemán’s quick release or prolonged imprisonment is increasingly crucial to the PLC.
Lewites still in the leadVíctor Hugo Tinoco, wannabe presidential candidate Herty Lewites’ campaign chief, who talks more extensively in this issue’s Speaking Out section, told us: “We have the ability to establish an electoral machine that, while it can’t rival Daniel Ortega’s, will ensure us the defense of the vote, which is the main objective, and also ensure us electoral victory. Daniel Ortega is proposing to move the elections up because he’s confident that we haven’t yet managed to consolidate this organizational instrument. He’s also counting on the division of the Right, the PLC and anti-Sandinismo as a whole. We don’t know if that will last until the elections, but it doesn’t only favor Daniel Ortega, it also favors Herty, perhaps even more. We don’t just believe there’s a real possibility that Herty could win these elections; we think there’s a very serious probability.”
All the polls in recent months ratify Lewites as the most popular political figure in the country. But how might that popularity translate into votes? All polls also point to the total absence of credibility among the political class and the lack of legitimacy and representativeness of all politicians. Who represents whom today?
Polls are tricky, since today’s answers only represent a snapshot of the recent evolution of people’s consciousness. What’s really going on deep down? To what degree—measurable in votes—has the representativeness of the two caudillos and their machinery been reduced in this tragicomic political setting? Any exaggerated optimism on this point would border on voluntarist ingenuousness.
Still harder to gauge is the degree to which a population in which 80% is eking out a survival in extreme poverty would be in a position to decide about “institutional aspects” in a referendum, a constituent election or a consultation.
Reaching an endpoint?During Insulza’s visit to facilitate a solution to the crisis, the media were powerful sounding boards for the declarations of the different sides and for Insulza’s own declarations and meetings with each group. They busily reported on, interpreted and speculated on the venture. In contrast, Dante Caputo opted for hermetism. His byword was less razzmatazz and more clarity.
A few days after his arrival it began to be rumored that “the crisis could be about to reach its endpoint.” As we came to the endpoint of our own monthly analysis, however, the parties involved were still playing with commas and semi-colons, not final periods.
Who represents them? Could there really be an endpoint to the national crisis? Perhaps some of the more notorious formal disorders caused by the constitutional reforms could be sorted out, but Nicaragua’s current structural crisis is of a different order altogether. And the root cause is the political, economic and personal interests of almost all members of the political class, who are currently defending them in an all-out war.
These interests make them insensitive to anything else, and today’s Nicaragua can only be gotten back on course with a massive dose of sensitivity. While many were debating the pact and marching against it, the results of the Health Ministry’s latest survey on malnutrition were made public: 20% of children under five years of age suffer chronic malnutrition, and there are areas of the country where 32% of the entire population is malnourished. Who represents those people?
One big businessman behind the march, declared in the seminar at which these results were presented that poverty “is a question of attitude” and that “private enterprise is currently helping to modify that attitude.” From that fallacious but prevailing perspective, so common in today’s analyses and airbrushed publicity in which people are poor because they think like poor people, poverty is totally disassociated from the distribution and use of social wealth and exploitation is a fiction dreamed up by communists. With such a perspective, will poverty ever be “eradicated” in Nicaragua?
In a kingdom without loveThe “kingdom without love”—so accurately described by Nicaraguan feminist Sofía Montenegro—in which so many Nicaraguans are born, reproduce and die only serves to nourish the miserable poverty of the majorities and the indifference of the wealthy. We live in a society that doesn’t know how to love and is also profoundly and contradictorily conservative. The latest survey on the population’s perceptions about the pact included other questions designed to elicit opinions linked to “private” and “family” life. The two responses that were published are revealing. First, 68% of those interviewed said they disapproved of premarital sexual relations, even though it is a common practice in our society and is perfectly reasonable if done responsibly. Second, no fewer than 82% responded that therapeutic abortion should be penalized.
Is this a reflection of sheer ignorance? Or perhaps the universally human desire to tell pollsters what is assumed to be the “right” answer? Does it reflect religious fears influenced by the avalanche of superstitious and pseudo-mystic beliefs that dominate so many people in Nicaragua, feeding a deeply-rooted image of a punishing God?
For all that, this conservative and “moralistic” society coexists with an extremely serious “private” and “family” problem: incest and other forms of sexual abuse practiced by men who are relatives of or at least well known by the victimized girls and boys. It shocks, moves and dismays to hear ever more frequently of cases in schools, in so many rural and urban households, in neighborhoods and also in the homes of political figures. This execrable crime, to which society continues to turn a blind eye, is one of the most profound reasons behind the lack of governability in our still directionless society.