Political Parties View Constitutional Debate
In long, daily sessions starting on September 16, the seven political parties in Nicaragua's National Assembly have been debating the country's new draft Constitution, article by article. As this issue of envío went to press, the legislators had already approved nearly half of the Constitution’s 198 articles.
envío put the same questions to four political party leaders who have been active participants in the debates: Rafael Solís, secretary of the National Assembly, for the majority party, the FSLN; Clemente Guido, leader of the Conservative Democratic Party (PCD) and vice president of the National Assembly, representing the rightist positions; Mauricio Díaz, leader of the Popular Social Christian Party (PPSC), for a centrist position; and Carlos Cuadra, Secretary of the Marxist-Leninist Popular Action Movement (MAP-ML), as the voice for the extreme Left. The positions of the Liberals, Communists and Socialists will be the focus of a future article. Nonetheless, the broad spectrum of opinions in the constitutional debate is well represented in these interviews.
The Nature of the New Constitution envío: What is your party's general appraisal of the text currently being debated? And what do you think of the various steps in the constitutional process to date?
Rafael Solís, FSLN: The project we're discussing has some Liberal aspects to it, especially as it relates to the structure of the state. It follows the classical model of Montesquieu and other pioneers of French liberalism, who conceived of the state as divided into an executive branch and a judicial branch. This one follows the model of Liberal Latin American Constitutions.
But a series of revolutionary aspects embodied are in the text as well. For example, the rights to economic transformation that have already been made in Nicaragua, such as the nationalization of banking, foreign commerce and natural resources have been affirmed; or the position regarding defense. There’s no question in this project of a classical conception of an army that is supposedly apolitical and not subject to vote, like those even in many Latin American countries. Defense has a more integral position here, and the people are its backbone. This is revolutionary and doesn't exist in any Liberal Latin American Constitution. With regard to social rights, too, we can speak of this as a revolutionary Constitution. It's not a Marxist-Leninist Constitution as the Conservatives say it is, nor is it socialist. But it is revolutionary and unique to the Nicaraguan revolution.
We believe that this Constitution will only take full effect in the totality of its articles when the war is over. Once it's approved, perhaps in November, we'll have to see which articles will remain suspended for the duration of the war. There won't be many. Right now only eight articles of the Statutes on Rights and Guarantees are suspended: those that have to do with political activity, conditions of detention, information subject to censorship, etc. Even these restrictions have been very leniently enforced.
With regard to the procedure, it's obvious that we want to discuss and approve the Constitution with the participation of all the political parties. But the project has some points that are going to be very difficult to approve by consensus. We're interested in arriving at the greatest possible agreement, but without sacrificing points that for us are fundamental.
Mauricio Díaz, PPSC: The political will and interests of the FSLN, as the majority party in the National Assembly, are evident in the current project. We have our own political Constitution, complete and properly articulated. We've printed 90,000 copies of it in El Nuevo Diario so our people will be familiar with it. Even so, we’re participating in the National Assembly debates, struggling to introduce some of the articles from our own project as proposed alternatives or, as a last resort, as complementary proposals to those currently articulated.
Although the Sandinistas are trying to see that the constitutional norms remain open to interpretation, as we say in legal circles, I say that each one of these norms can't be treated like some sort of wax or chewing gum that can be stretched and squeezed. We want clear definitions and this is what the Sandinistas are resisting. This Constitution must serve to define what kind of revolution this is. This isn't a Constitution for just any country, but for a country in a revolutionary process. What the public, both national and international, wants to know is what kind of a revolution this is, and the public is going to take note as to whether it's a revolution that respects democratic procedure or not.
The reservation we have about this Constitution is whether it's ever going to take effect. Most likely, ten days after we approve it all the rights are going to be suspended because of the State of Emergency. And with that, we will have fallen into US logic, instead of following our own.
With respect to the procedure, we see a difference from the usual legislative sessions, in which the FSLN has made use of its operational majority in the National Assembly. In the constitutional process, the FSLN has sought to break out of its isolation within the Assembly itself, to get the important social sectors to become involved in this phase of the discussion and contribute their ideas on the content of this fundamental charter. The Open Forums (Cabildos Abiertos) were an attempt to give more participation to the people. They were an attempt to democratize the Assembly itself, establishing direct communication channels with the most important sectors. But this measure wasn’t able to break the apathy toward political discussion that exists in Nicaragua. The number of people who participated in the Open Forums represented not even 10% of those who voted in the 1984 elections.
In any event, we've seen that in the Assembly's plenary debates on the Constitution the FSLN has sought to be more flexible in its positions and to open itself more to the views of the other political parties. If they continue to work with this open and flexible vision, we’ll affirm our commitment to stay with the discussions to the end. On the other hand, we’re demanding a national referendum as the final phase of the process of writing the Constitution. That way we'll see if the people vote in favor of or against what we approve in the Assembly.
Clemente Guido, PCD: For us, this project errs not in what it says but in what it doesn't say. In it, the currently existing totalitarian state is maintained. We’re struggling for a Constitution that will make an essential separation between state and party, because the totalitarian state is manifested in the confusion that exists between the state and the party and in the partisan character of the army. The Constitution must separate these.
The FSLN has such complete dominion in the Assembly that only the Sandinistas or the President of the Republic can introduce laws and see that they pass. Last year the PCD was the party that, after the FSLN, presented the most bills, but of those we introduced we were only able to pass bills on juridical status and one on sanctions against corrupt officials.
Our abstention from the discussion or from approval of the Constitution is legitimate. European political parties that are in the minority in their countries have a right to withdraw from discussion of a law if they're not in agreement with it. It's their only way to say to the people that they disagree with this law. But this is a right that the Sandinistas don't understand.
Carlos Cuadra, MAP-ML: We characterize the Constitutional project as Liberal-bourgeois. Liberal because it brings together constitutional principles and doctrines that belong to liberalism, not only in the ordering of the state, but also in the formulation of principles of the citizenry as individuals, and in the definitions of state, nation, people, etc. It all has a very Liberal and doctrinaire ideological content. We consider it bourgeois because it guarantees private property and places power in the hands of all Nicaraguan citizens, attempting an alliance or conciliation of classes, a social pact which, from the political point of view, is one of the principles proper to Liberal Constitutions. The FSLN’s quest for consensus reflects this desire for class conciliation.
Although Sandinismo speaks of realism in the Constitution, this Constitution is neither realistic nor located within our historical situation. As a result, once it’s approved, at least part if not all of it is going to be suspended due to the State of Emergency. It's going to take us longer to discuss the Constitution than to see it suspended. This shows that it doesn't respond either to the needs of the masses or to the revolutionary process. In any case, we've never waved the anti-Sandinista banner, just the anti-bourgeois one. We reject the Sandinista proposals to the extent that they are proposals for class conciliation.
We have always characterized the FSLN political leadership as petty bourgeois and heavily influenced by social democratic doctrine. The bourgeois parties have no fundamental or principled contradictions with the FSLN formulations. There are only differences of nuance. Above all, they have a kind of terror of the instability that the FSLN represents, given its petty bourgeois characteristics. They're afraid that the FSLN can't contain the revolutionary impetus of the masses, which could endanger bourgeois dominion in Nicaragua. This is why they talk so much about how what's missing in Nicaragua is "the right climate." This is nothing more than the emotional instability of the bourgeoisie when it sees power in the hands of the petty bourgeoisie and fears this sector’s inherent vacillations.
Because of this whole situation, our position has been not to collaborate in the writing of the Constitution. Rather, we have presented a plan of struggle against the institutionalization process and against this Constitution. This doesn't keep us from making use of our political space in the Assembly or from expressing our positions there through concrete proposals. We want in this way to educate the masses in revolutionary principles that could be formulated and then drawn upon at such time as the correlation of forces in the Assembly changes in favor of the proletariat. We’re also seeking to introduce some of the demands of the proletariat into the Constitution, so that the Constitution will not be a brake on them, but rather will open up possibilities for their advance.
Defense and the Armyenvío: What is your party's appraisal of the concepts of defense and the army that appear in the constitutional text, including the name "Popular Sandinista Army" for the Armed Forces of Nicaragua?
Solís: The army is one of the most sensitive subjects. It seems to us that it would be difficult, and even a mistake, to give in and drop the name "Sandinista" Army. In the constitutional article on this, it says that this name gives tribute to the "General of Free Men," Augusto C. Sandino. It's not true that the army is named after the party.
The Conservatives are introducing prohibitive articles, saying, for example, that there shouldn't be any kind of political instruction in the armed forces. But neither our officers nor our soldiers can be robots, people isolated from the rest of Nicaraguan society. If the army truly is the people, armed and performing an essential activity for the country—namely, defense—we have no reason to deny this armed people political education. We've already explained—and the other political parties know this—that this education isn't Marxist-Leninist, rather it's fundamentally historical information. For a while, I myself was in charge of the political leadership of the army, and the majority of the study programs, then and now, have mainly to do with the history of Nicaragua. Historical materialist aspects can be found in it, just as can be found at a university, but it's false to claim that we're forming Marxist-Leninist officers or soldiers.
What is certain is that our army is not becoming an active force in the political life of the country, as happens in other countries, where the armed forces are involved in conspiracies, attempted coups, etc. Here they participate directly in defense and don't go around getting involved in political activities.
It's very difficult for us to change these integral points on defense contained in the project. The people are a fundamental element in the Constitution, the backbone of the army. And this is an essential point of the Nicaraguan revolution.
Díaz: The concept of the army as Sandinista is an absolutely sectarian one. Simply put, a Constitution that speaks of the Sandinista Popular Army is the best gift we can give the President of the United States to continue his anti-Sandinista and anti-Nicaraguan campaign. I believe that all efforts to keep the Constitution from being partisan will fail if the Sandinistas insist on the name Sandinista Popular Army.
In my view, the United States continues to be mistaken about the Sandinistas. The US is the FSLN’s worst enemy but at the same time its best ally. By its actions the US is justifying the Sandinistas’ exceptional measures and the development of the FSLN's own party project, the burgeoning militarization that Nicaragua is undergoing. We thereby run the risk of becoming a kind of garrison state. The great dilemma for this Constitution is: will it seem to hold back the war a little? I have great reservations about that.
This country has little alternative to tying itself ever more closely to the Eastern European military and economic community. The fruit of the US strategy will be if Nicaragua truly becomes, at some point, a part of the East-West confrontation. I’m not opposed to support from the Socialist countries. Certainly, if the Sandinistas were not getting arms from the Warsaw Pact, our country would be in the hands of the FDN, that’s clear. And the FDN is not a democratic option for this country, quite the contrary. Eduardo Frei died hoping that Pinochet would give power back to the civilians in Chile. We know that something equivalent or worse would occur here in Nicaragua. We’re against the FDN and against the counterrevolutionary option.
Guido: To avoid totalitarianism we must avoid any confusion between state and party. At the moment, this confusion, this totalitarian status is manifested in the partisan character of the army. You can enter any office of the government and find the FSLN flag next to the national flag. In any part of the army, the same. Go to any military ceremony and there's the FSLN flag. And this is seen on television and in the newspapers. The Constitution must separate them, must prohibit this. The citizenry must be able to demand that they be separated in order to have a real democracy.
I agree that if a rightist system is in power, the army defends that rightist system, and if a leftist system, the army defends it. No one's disputing that. What I dispute is that the army should belong to a party. It would be another matter if it could be demonstrated to me that the present army in the United States is Republican, or the French army Socialist. Is that the way it is? Because here the army is Sandinista. The doctrine is Sandinista, all the education is Sandinista and to be an officer in the army, one has to be from the FSLN. In a truly democratic country, the army defends the system, not the party. The army of Argentina does not belong to the party of President Alfonsín. The army of Great Britain defends the monarchy, not the British Conservative Party. And the army of the United States defends the Right in the United States, but does not belong to the Republican Party.
Regarding the war in Nicaragua, my opinion is that this is a civil war against the Sandinista government. It is not a war against Nicaragua. It is not a war between one nation and another. The counterrevolutionaries are Nicaraguans, supported or not by a foreign government, but they are Nicaraguans who have come with the objective of overthrowing the Sandinista Front. And that is what is called a civil war.
Cuadra: The aggression is launched. And if there’s no way for the organized masses to participate in defense, with political clarity, as they did against Somoza, it won’t be possible to defeat the aggression.
It’s not true that we’re proposing an ultra-radical line. What we’re proposing is that power must be politically defined, that there be an advance by the masses. Because there has been a regression. From those embryos of power the masses won when they rose up in 1979, there now remain only bureaucratic shells. And this opens possibilities for the aggression to triumph in Nicaragua, because military defense becomes disjointed.
Mixed Economyenvío: What are your party’s positions on mixed economy? What perspectives do you see for this principle of the revolution recognized in the Constitution?
Solís: The mixed economy is the cornerstone of this revolution. At the present time, the private sector is strong in the economy, especially in agroexport products like coffee, cotton and sugar, where it controls more than 75% of the exports and of production itself. Private producers also dominate in basic consumption items such as corn, beans and rice. In other areas the state has the majority, especially in natural resources, lumber, fishing, etc.
Being realistic, in our time and located geographically as we are in the world, the principle of a mixed economy must be a fundamental one for our revolution. And it is. It’s not a temporary or tactical matter, as some political parties have been inclined to suspect. We’re now trying to develop the mixed economy further. It’s necessary for the private sector that produces efficiently to develop itself further. Later, we can begin to discuss advancing to other forms of production and organizing of production. The basis of any socialist project lies precisely in the real possibilities that exist in a given country to carry it out.
Díaz: Our struggle must be to establish the principle of a mixed economy as the guiding principle of the national economy.
Guido: Our concept of mixed economy is not clearly defined in the Constitution. We believe that mixed economy means that there must be broad collaboration between private and state initiative; and that state initiative itself must be genuinely mixed. That is to say, both state and private sectors would participate in state initiatives. For us, then, there must be two types of property: private and mixed (state-private).
Cuadra: The mixed economy that the FSLN proposes and that appears in the Constitution guarantees capitalist relations of production. The fact that the state assumes an active role in the production process does ensure not that the unjust production relationships existing in Nicaragua are eliminated. Mixed economy exists in the United States, because the state assumes a role in the productive process. This also occurs in countries like France, countries with social democratic governments, etc. The development of monopoly capitalism requires that the state be a driving element and a guarantor of capitalist exploitation. What is most serious for Nicaragua is that the search for coexistence of different forms of property is written down as a fundamental principle.
Nonalignmentenvío: What does your party think of the Sandinista revolution’s international policy? And of the nonaligned movement on whose principles this policy is often based?
Solís: Nonalignment must be understood in a revolutionary sense. It is a movement that establishes a number of revolutionary principles: anti-colonialism, anti-imperialism, the struggle against apartheid, the struggle against racism. These are fundamental principles unanimously accepted by the Nonaligned Movement.
The question of separation, or "equidistance," from the United States and the Soviet Union, the two existing blocs in the world, is not a principle for the Nonaligned Movement. Within its very heterogeneity there is room for countries more inclined toward the United States, others more inclined toward the Soviet Union. In the Nonaligned Movement, there are Asian and African countries that maintain very favorable positions toward western European countries, their former colonial rulers, and towards the United States. Others have centrist positions, and still others lean toward the USSR. In this, we have not wanted to assume a party position, but have instead tried to defend nonalignment within a revolutionary concept, without involving ourselves in the East-West question.
Díaz: In the midst of the US counterrevolutionary aggression, the same thing is happening to this principle as is happening to that of the mixed economy. In this situation, with Nicaragua depending more than ever on arms from the Warsaw Pact, and on the economic and financial resources of the socialist countries, what nonalignment can Nicaragua have? Obviously, Western Europe continues to support Nicaragua, but much less than the countries of the Socialist camp. Is it possible that this principle of nonalignment can be maintained in a country under attack? For that reason, we have reservations as to whether this Constitution is ever going to be applicable.
I think that Nicaragua has had to pay too high a price for its relations with the Socialist countries. And it's gotten virtually nothing in exchange. Its votes in the UN, for example, have carried a high price.
In the Sandinista government's recent foreign policy, I believe the measure of proposing control over offensive weapons and military maneuvers in Central America is an intelligent one. But it's clear that the United States will never accept that in its backyard. To do so would be to renounce the essence of being the imperial power in the region.
Cuadra: The Nonaligned Movement is more than just one of economic character. It's a gathering of a number of countries that are trying to present their problems jointly and get some benefits from the more developed countries. Nonalignment would be damaging for Nicaragua if with it there were an attempt to hide the true origin of the confrontation that exists at the international level between states and countries and the fact that we’re dealing not only with the war but also with class struggle, which in concrete terms involves the search for market hegemony. Additionally, the Nicaraguan people support the struggle of Latin American peoples against imperialism, and Nicaragua cannot be presented as nonaligned in this struggle.
As to its foreign policy, we believe that the Sandinista government has shown great skill. But we reject the FSLN's elevation of its international maneuvers to take advantage of inter-bourgeois or inter-imperialist contradictions to the level of principles. To turn these maneuvers into the foundation of Nicaraguan foreign policy is an error. It is inconceivable, for example, that Herrera Campíns or Carlos André Pérez should be called "brother," confusing enemies of the revolution with friends. It is one thing to show political skill and another to convert the present contradictions, maneuvers and tactics into principles.