“The Alliance Around Herty Lewites Is a Unique Opportunity We Mustn’t Waste”
This well-known Sandinista political leader and analyst
reflects on why Sandinistas and other Nicaraguans owe it to themselves and the country to support the presidential candidacy of Sandinista Herty Lewites.
Dora María Téllez
Nicaragua is going through extremely serious times right now, and the worst thing that could happen would be for things to remain exactly the same after the 2006 elections. President Enrique Bolaños’ term is ending and it hasn’t been at all positive for poorest part of the population. Not nearly enough jobs have been created and people have continued emigrating. Seventy percent of the population is still trying to scrape by on less than $2 a day, with different studies showing that many Nicaraguans can only eat twice a day. There’s not only poverty in the country, but real hunger. Some children can’t go to school because they have absolutely nothing to eat for breakfast and don’t have the energy to walk the distance or concentrate once they get there. Furthermore, the government’s fight against corruption netted only two convictions. Only one of those sentenced—former President Arnoldo Alemán—is still incarcerated, and he’s in such a luxurious “jail” that all hungry and jobless Nicaraguans would quickly trade places with him. The war on corruption ended up with nothing—or worse yet, it ended up with reinforced impunity, understood as a green light to continue with the corruption.
They aren’t just corrupt;We’ve reached the endpoint. We not only have corruption and impunity, but now the corrupt are blatant about it; they don’t even try to keep up appearances. We’ve reached this point because we’ve put up with it. Every time public officials flaunt their impunity, they’re treating us like fools who can’t dole out justice: we can’t even catch them much less punish them. This cocky way of viewing us wounds our personal and national dignity. I have to ask myself: did we bring down the dictatorship only to end up accepting this after a few years? I don’t think so. If we were willing to tolerate this, it would mean that the sacrifice of those thousands of heroes and martyrs, in fact all who fought against the dictatorship, was for naught. And that’s not true, but we have to demonstrate it actively.
they’re now blatant about it
Our society is now at extremely high risk. The decomposition has reached the last run of the social ladder, because the corruption of the upper echelons promotes it at all levels. People from top to bottom are looking for their piece of the action, their bribe. Many people are getting demoralized and are now in a desperate search for fast, easy money any way they can get it. Chains of swindlers are operating in Nicaragua today, preying on a desperate society that has watched the unleashed ambition for power and easy money and has lost the value of public service, of volun-teerism. Nobody wants to work as a volunteer anymore. Such values are scorned in an individualist society that has put a price on everything. This country won’t go anywhere with this contempt for public service, solidarity and citizenship.
Our only choice is the ballot boxSo what future is there for Nicaragua? Is there any way of countering these trends? The country is facing elections next year, and each of us is facing a dilemma. If we elect a National Assembly dominated by the followers of Daniel Ortega and Arnoldo Alemán, we’ll have reproduced this situation for five more years, but on a greater scale. The pact has strengthened the power of the upper echelons and their caudillos and increased corruption with no regard at all for people’s living situation. The only way to say that we want no more of this is by rejecting them at the ballot box, by denying them our votes. If we don’t, a third edition of the pact between Arnoldo Alemán and Daniel Ortega will be inaugurated in January 2007.
Our alliance—the Movement for the Rescue of Sandi-nismo, the Christian Alternative and my party, the Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS)—is open to other sectors. We want a pluralist National Assembly that’s not controlled by the two caudillos; one where other currents are expressed and we can begin to get the country on another track. According to the November Borge & Assoc. poll, our alliance is the strongest option, with support not only from significant numbers of grassroots Sandinistas, but also from sectors that have never voted Sandinista. The poll demonstrates not only Herty’s sizable backing, but also the scant support for Daniel Ortega’s dominant FSLN faction and for the PLC. Herty is now attracting the independent vote, which supported the Liberals in recent years. He’s even attracting Liberal voters, who view him as a genuine option for change. Moreover, Sandinistas are beginning to understand that they can achieve something by giving their vote to Herty, rather than throwing it away on Daniel.
Many people are disillusioned and exhausted by the past ten years. They’ve been shut out of any opportunity because the government has favored the financial oligarchy in the last five years, while in the previous five it was the landowning oligarchy and during the Chamorro government it was the industrial and commercial oligarchy. Thousands upon thousands of small and medium producers, with little or no political leaning, want nothing more than to put the country on another economic course, one that is transparent, free of corruption and concerned about people, about the poor. It is for that huge group that the “Herty 2006 Alliance” is trying to construct an option.
It’s clear to many Sandinistas that this option is inspired by the “Sandinismo” of Sandino, not the “Danielismo” of Daniel Ortega that prevails within the FSLN today. As an apparatus of power, the latter has turned its back on Sandino, has betrayed Sandinismo. It has contributed to impunity and corruption and to the liquidation of democracy and the government institutions, turning its back on the poor, their needs and desires.
Daniel wants Herty out of the gameThe FSLN leadership wants to get Herty Lewites out of the game, but it won’t be possible. Herty would have already been ruled out if he didn’t have the popular backing he has, but that support and the watchful eyes of the international community have prevented it from happening. The Nicaraguan people and everybody else have repeated it loud and clear: we want clean elections with a full range of candidates. It’s the voters themselves who are portraying Herty as a winning candidate in 2006.
So one tactic in Daniel’s campaign will be to continually give the impression that Herty’s candidacy is in doubt or will never be possible, to keep people thinking it’s best not to get excited about him, because he’s not going to run in the end. So far, that effort has been a failure In January 2005, when they expelled Herty from the FSLN, they said he couldn’t be a candidate because he no longer had a party, that he was just a rider without a horse. Now that he has two horses, the MRS and the Christian Alternative, now that an alliance has formed around him, the only way they can keep his candidacy in doubt is by convincing people that he’ll be disqualified.
Herty is our alliance’s only presidential candidate, and we will have no other. This alliance is going to the 2006 elections with Herty Lewites as its presidential candidate come hell or high water, which is almost certainly what we’ll have to face.
Some wonder if Herty won’t end up cutting a deal with Daniel. The answer is that there will be no deal, not in the first or the second round. It’s rumored that in January or February Daniel will make a “unitary proposal.” But the only “unitary” proposal he has ever offered has been to unite around his candidacy and his project.
Can we put all the pieces back together?Unity is the great challenge facing our alliance. Daniel’s leadership has dispersed and divided Sandinistas, and the pact has divided the country. Now we have to achieve unity among the majority of Sandinistas and of Nicaraguans in general so the country can move along a democratic path, fighting against poverty and for social justice.
How are we going to unite so many dispersed Sandi-nistas? Our challenge is to work like Guatemalan indigenous craftspeople when they make those quilts of little bits of colors. We have to build unity piece by little piece, understanding that we will be left with a mosaic that makes a whole. The first thing if we are to have any hope of threading ourselves back together is to recognize with real humility that there are many, many pieces that have been scattered all over the place. There’s nothing easy about it, because we come from the school of Sandinismo of recent years, where we learned the lessons of authoritarianism, sectarianism, exclusion, caudillismo. These vices didn’t and don’t just affect the top levels; we’ve all had them. Now we have to go through a process of reunion and reflection. Let’s hope we’re wise enough to sew together all the pieces and make a single, but pluralist whole. Any hegemonic pretension right now would destroy this work. What I see today is the possibility of reunifying Sandinismo from a genuinely Sandinista option. We’re experiencing a real reunion, which makes this a golden opportunity. And if we don’t do a good job we’ll be responsible for Nicaragua’s loss.
The centerpiece of our program is povertyThe “Herty 2006 Alliance” is working on its program right now. We’ve split up into various groups to work on a proposal that we want to start discussing widely next year, and we’re placing various issues at the center of it. Democracy in Nicaragua has been co-opted by two people and is thus shrinking and being narrowed down. The democratic arenas have been extraordinarily reduced and the institutions are being invaded by corruption. Resolving this is a central issue for our alliance, because the problems of poverty can’t be resolved if important public officials are corrupt and only working for their own interests rather than national ones. The tremendous poverty we’re suffering today is the centerpiece of our program and we have to lay the foundations to start reducing or resolving it.
Can we really trust Herty Lewites to resolve such serious problems? For me he embodies a framework for a program within him, which is his central concern for the poor. He demonstrated it with concrete deeds when he was minister of tourism in the eighties and when he was mayor of Managua in the past four years. He also has the capacity to mobilize the country’s capital. One of Herty’s virtues is that he’s concerned about the poor without being an enemy of the rich. Because, as business leader Manuel Ignacio Lacayo said, the wealthy of this country need to be told that they have to help reduce poverty and pay off the social debt they have with the majority of the population. The business class has to make a profound contribution to resolving the problems of poverty; it has to assume its social responsibility. This message needs a good messenger, and Herty is the man to do it.
The property issue is crucial to reducing poverty, especially in the Caribbean Coast and rural areas. So our program involves solving once and for all the problems of property instability without bribes, without pressuring the beneficiaries to sell their property cheap or stealing it from them; and it doesn’t involve expropriating anybody.
This country’s economic and social challenge is how to multiply our capacities and potential. Nicaragua must continue working with international cooperation and the international financial institutions, but from a sovereign, dignified and intelligent position. This isn’t the case now. When President Bolaños says the International Monetary Fund won’t let him raise health workers’ salaries, he’s lying. What the IMF says is that the salary mass mustn’t exceed a certain percentage of the gross domestic product. So why not cut his salary and that of his ministers and magistrates to adjust the salary mass? Why not redistribute the burdens in this country? Why not tell the legislators, who approve the budget, that 60% of their currently obscene salary is going to be cut?
A government program in Nicaragua must aspire to do away with corruption and the control of the state institutions by the two parties to the pact. We want government officials to work for the people who pay them and justices to do justice, to serve the law and the Constitution. We have to aspire to be implacably honest, implacably democratic, to be implacable advocates of the institutions and implacable friends of unity and harmony. That’s what Nicaragua needs.
Our program must focus on the moral restoration of the country. It must reestablish the values of solidarity, work, honesty, transparency, responsibility and public service; in other words the basic values of citizenship. Without this, Nicaragua’s not going anywhere. The country’s moral restoration was also the great objective of the Sandinista revolution.
Is Herty up to the task?Is Herty capable of heading up a program that covers all of these key areas? I frankly think he is, that he’s the right President for Nicaragua right now. We don’t need a President who belongs to an elite, has lived in a glass bubble his or her whole life, has never set foot in a public hospital or school and doesn’t know first hand about the problems of Nicaragua’s poorest sectors. The worst thing that could happen to us right now is to end up with a President who’s tied into the pact. That would just give us more of the same.
Herty enjoys a huge vote of confidence from independent sectors as well as Liberals, Conservatives and Sandinistas. He has the great virtue of having a connection with the most humble people. It’s an intangible virtue. This alliance represents the first time I’ve seen non-Sandinista sectors give such a broad vote of confidence to a Sandinista candidate. It’s a unique opportunity, and we mustn’t blow it. I would never have imagined that Herty would demonstrate this kind of leadership, even though I’ve known him for over thirty years. But events led him to this point, and he took up the challenge, despite the costs he’s had to pay.
We’re building our electoral Those of us in the Herty 2006 Alliance are organizing as fast as we can to get out the vote and defend it across the country. We’re preparing the machinery everywhere and making very rapid progress even though we’re working on a volunteer basis. We’re now ready for the Caribbean Coast elections in March. We know there will be slip-ups. We’re going into the countryside for the first time, because our main strength has been the cities, the urban segments. We want to win in the first round, although the election looks like it will be a very close-fought contest among four or five competitors.
machinery as fast as we can
One of the most important things to understand is that the election of National Assembly legislators will be critical to create a new parliamentary majority that can get our country on another track. Our National Assembly campaign will get underway early next year. As our alliance is pluralist, each force will propose its candidates according to its own procedure. We want to win a parliamentary majority, and while this might seem a huge aspiration, we know that you won’t get anything if you don’t think big. The goal of overthrowing the dictatorship seemed a pretty big idea, and we did it. Now we want to win the presidential elections and get a majority in the National Assembly. And we’re going to do it.
Dora María Téllez is president of the Sandinista Renovation Movement, currently in an alliance with the Christian Alternative and the Movement for the Rescue of Sandinismo.