Some Important Aspects of the Nicaraguan Reality During May-June
The events of the last two months are numerous and complex. We do not intend to analyze the developments in Nicaragua; rather, we will present the major events according to theme. We will then present an interview with Reynaldo Antonio Tefel, Minister of the Nicaraguan Social Security and Welfare Institute, with his perspective on these events.
Main Events in Nicaragua from May 10 to June 10 b>Foreign RelationsGovernment and FSLN leaders have traveled to a number of countries in the last few weeks. Among the most important of these visits are the following:
- From April 24 to May 21, Sergio Ramírez, member of the Government Junta, visited 12 countries in Western Europe, accompanied by various Ministers. In many of these countries, important economic agreements were signed.
- From May 3 to May 10, Daniel Ortega, Coordinator of the Government Junta, visited the Soviet Union, accompanied by the Minister of Planning, Henry Ruiz. In this visit, important economic agreements were signed, especially in the areas of infrastructure and communications.
- Henry Ruiz, member of the Sandinista National Directorate, then traveled to Bulgaria where economic agreements were reached.
- Dr. Rafael Córdova Rivas, Government Junta member, visited Costa Rica’s new president, Luis Alberto Monge, on May 8. On this day, all three leaders of the Government Junta were outside the country.
- Bayardo Arce, member of the Sandinista National Directorate, participated in the meeting of the Socialist International on April 25.
- Víctor Tirado López, member of the Sandinista National Directorate, visited Vietnam and Poland from April 29 to May 4.
- Father Ernesto Cardenal, Minister of Culture, visited the United States and Europe, then Brazil and Argentina.
- Virgilio Godoy, Minister of Labor, visited West Germany.
- In Paris on May 28, the first meeting of the Franco-Nicaraguan Commission took place in order to develop plans for cooperation between the two countries. This list does not include the normal activities of the Ministry of Foreign Relations, such as the Ministry’s participation in meetings of the international organizations to which Nicaragua belongs.
- On June 7, the North American intelligence ship, the USS Trippe, was discovered by the Nicaraguan Coast Guard in Nicaraguan territorial waters, three miles off the coast in the Gulf of Fonseca. A helicopter took off from the U.S. ship and flew toward the Coast Guard boat, which fired in front of the helicopter to force it to turn around.
- On June 9, a U.S. Embassy official in Managua (Roger Gamble) sent a note to the Nicaraguan foreign ministry which Nicaragua government officials considered threatening. The foreign ministry sent a note to the American Embassy rejecting categorically the statements contained in the American note and giving their own version of the events. The note also asked for a cessation of U.S. provocation against Nicaragua.
Internal Situation- On June, 15 the State of Emergency was extended for another 30 days. To date, effects of the State of Emergency have been most obvious in the area of information. The government’s Communication Media department continues to review newspapers prior to publication and can censor them. Until now, only the government radio news programs have been aired and all stations have had to link up with the government’s radio broadcasts for as many as five hours a day. Criticism was strong in Nicaragua regarding what was considered an excessive amount of time devoted to government broadcasts. Barricada, on June 13, published news of a meeting of the owners and directors of newspapers, the owners of radio stations, Carlos Núñez, member of the National Directorate and other government officials. As of June 15, the special government news broadcasts have been suspended and four former news programs (government and non-government) have been reopened.
- The Council of State initiated its third session on May 4. Participants included representatives of the following parties and trade unions which have consistently opposed government policy: the Democratic Conservative Party, the Nicaraguan Democratic Movement, the Social Christian Party, the Conservative Liberal Party, the Nicaraguan Workers Central and the Unity Syndicate.
- On May 13, the Ramiro Sacasa Democratic Coordinating Committee, which brings together parties and trade unions which have differences with the government issued a communiqué stating that the MDN (Nicaraguan Democratic Movement) was no longer part of this committee. Some of the reasons given were the fact that MDN leaders had not attended the Coordinating Committee’s meetings, that the MDN had closed their offices in Managua and that their main leaders had left the country.
- In April, MDN president Alfonso Robelo and Vice-president Alvaro Jerez left the country. Seventeen of the twenty-one principal leaders of the MDN are now outside the country, principally in Costa Rica where the MDN has opened an office. In the third week of April, the major Costa Rican newspaper, La Nación, published an interview with Alfonso Robelo who spoke of his conversations with Eden Pastora.
After the first reactions of shock, the Nicaraguan people began to reject Pastora’s declarations. A few days later, a communiqué from the revolutionary group URNG of Guatemala was published in Nicaraguan papers which spoke of the relations Pastora had had with the Guatemalan movement and of his vacillating attitude. Comandante José Valdivia, who had left Nicaragua with Pastora, also gave a press conference denouncing contacts which he claimed Pastor had made with U.S. officials in Panama.
So far, Pastora has been concentrating his activities in the international area. He has spoken with various political leaders in Venezuela, Portugal, France, Costa Rica, Mexico and so forth.
On May 27 and 28, one of Honduras’ major papers, El Tiempo, published an interview with Pastora in which he repeated the accusations made in the press conference in Costa Rica.
- On May 12 in Panama, Alfredo César, President of the Nicaraguan Central Bank, released his resignation letter addressed to Daniel Ortega.
Some of the reasons which he gave are that the exportation incentives which he had promoted have been neutralized by taxes levied by the Government Junta; that new credit policy decisions had been made which “expanded available currency, risking uncontrolled inflation”; and that the creation of a new Commission practically annuls the decision making powers of the Central Bank in credit and monetary policy.
- On May 26, the Government Junta announced the formation of a National Emergency Commission, coordinated by Reynaldo Antonio Tefel, Director of the Social Security and Welfare Institute. The Commission was formed in response to damages caused by flooding from torrential rains. The floods have been at the center of attention here in Nicaragua not only because of their immediate consequences, but also due to long-term consequences in key production areas.
In response to this emergency, the Government Junta issued a call for international aid. More information is included in the SOS, published above, and in the interview with Doctor Tefel which follows.
The following is an exclusive interview with Reynaldo Antonio Tefel, Minister of the Nicaraguan Social Security and Welfare Institute and Coordinator of the National Emergency Committee, which was recently created by the Junta of the National Reconstruction Government in response to the catastrophe caused by the torrential rains.
Reynaldo Tefel has a long political history in the country. Prior to the victory, he was part of the “Group of Twelve” Political-Diplomatic Front which played an important role in the moments prior to the fall of Somoza. He was a personal friend of Pedro Joaquín Chamorro, with whom he was in prison.
QUESTION: Various leaders of the MDN (Nicaraguan Democratic Movement) including Alfonso Robelo, Alvaro Jerez, Roberto Urroz, etc. left the country in April. In May, Alfredo Cesar, president of the Nicaraguan Central Bank, also left. Apparently, all have left due to differences with the government. All left during the State of Emergency, which was renewed for the second time on May 15 for another thirty days. Could you give us your interpretation of why these persons left the country and what the possible future plans of both the MDN leaders and Alfredo Cesar might be? Do you think the State of Emergency influenced these persons to leave the country?
TEFEL: Regarding Robelo and the others of the MDN, I believe that their leaving the country is due to a political miscalculation on their part. They believe that because of the hard and aggressive attitude of the U.S. government, the Nicaraguan government and the revolution is going to fail and that then the MDN will return and take power. From our point of view it is a betrayal to the country and to the revolution.
I don’t think that the State of Emergency has any relation to the decision they made. The State of Emergency is a result of the conspiracy by the CIA and the counterrevolutionaries to destabilize our revolution, invade our country and attack us. The State of Emergency was necessary in order to defend our revolution and our sovereignty. It is not because of the people who left that there is a State of Emergency, nor did they leave because there is a State of Emergency. They simply left out of their miscalculation that the revolution is failing and they will be the ones to take power supported by the U.S.
The case of Alfredo Cesar is a bit stranger. Reading his resignation, which he circulated, we could come to the conclusion that he left, as we say in Nicaragua, “to the noise of the caites”. (Ed. note: caites are a leather peasant sandal with a sole made from tires. “Noise of the caites” means that one leaves rapidly, under pressure, when a problem is just beginning.)
If it is true that the polemic existed that he spoke of, then having the power he had and, as he said, having the support of Daniel Ortega, the logical action would have been to continue in his position, maintaining his perspective before the Government Junta and the National Directorate rather than to resign because some were not in agreement with his viewpoints. It is a weak position; hence, it is doubtful that it is the real reason. It is also difficult to put myself in his position to know what his real motives were. I don’t know if he has joined the counterrevolution now that he left Nicaragua. I have no knowledge of that information, which would be very significant in order to interpret his leaving.
What could possibly be the case is that he was feeling out of place, little by little, in the revolutionary process, or perhaps he wanted to live the kind of life he had before. Before the revolution, he had a very important position within the upper class. It is one of the possibilities that I have considered, but it is difficult to adequately interpret his departure.
QUESTION: On April 15, in a unexpected press conference in Costa Rica, former “Comandante Zero”, Eden Pastora, harshly criticized the government and the FSLN. In the press conference, ten months after he left Nicaragua, he predicted the initiation of a military-political struggle to save, according to him, the Nicaraguan process from going off course, using all the methods at his disposal. He even promised to return to Nicaragua and “throw out the nine FSLN comandantes at gun point”. In your opinion, what will a possible scheme against the Nicaraguan process under Pastora’s leadership mean in the future? What impact can or will Pastora’s activities have on Nicaragua’s foreign policy and what effect internally?
TEFEL: Pastora’s actions have not had the internal repercussions that we thought they would have. Pastora’s representation to the public was so badly done that it did not provoke any kind of sympathetic response in spite of the fact that he had enjoyed wide public support and was admired as a comandante. It seemed as though the public felt as if that hero had died and the counterrevolution had gained a supporter. The hero Pastora has disappeared as far as the Nicaraguan public is concerned. It is the same in Europe, where I recently visited many capitals with Sergio Ramírez. The Europeans hardly asked about Pastora. Among politicians and in the media, the matter was not given the importance that even we believed we were going to encounter.
Of course he has links in certain political sectors which he can and will exploit, particularly here in Latin America, but I believe Pastora’s impact is much less than was originally expected.
I don’t believe Pastora’s plans will cause internal confusion because the FSLN retains strong support from the Nicaragua people. In terms of a coalescence of the counterrevolution, I think not, because of the still existing hatred between Pastora and the Somocista National Guard. In addition, the ambitions of both Robelo and Pastora are so big there is no room for a conciliation between them. Both wish to be sole leader of the counterrevolution to the extent that in Robelo’s public talks he puts much more emphasis on an alliance with the Somocista Guard than he does with Pastora. At first Robelo tried to capitalize on Pastora’s defection, but he believed that he could subordinate Eden under his own leadership. He must have found that impossible, so he chose to work with the Somocista Guard. Robelo knows that the Somocistas have no particular allegiance, therefore he thinks that if the counterrevolution succeeds there is every chance they would put him in the presidency. On the other hand, Robelo knows that Pastora would not put him in the presidency. Pastora, therefore, is not and could not become the military arm of Robelo; rather, he will always be serving himself. Yet the Somocista Guard definitely could become, in time, the military arm of Robelo. An alliance between the Somocistas and Robelo is much more probable than an alliance between Robelo and Pastora.
QUESTION: You mentioned earlier your trip to Europe with Sergio Ramírez. This last month was one of intense visits to various countries for Nicaragua. But without a doubt, the visit which had the most impact internationally was that of Comandantes Daniel Ortega and Henry Ruiz to the Soviet Union. We would like to hear your interpretation of that visit, knowing that in some international circles it was seen as a significant advance in Nicaragua’s alliance with the Soviet bloc of countries.
TEFEL: Since the victory of the Revolution, we have affirmed that we would maintain the best possible relations with all countries of the world. This is a sovereign right of the Nicaraguan people. At the same time that Daniel Ortega visited the Soviet Union, another government junta member, Sergio Ramírez, visited almost all of Western Europe accompanied by a large group of ministers. In July, Daniel Ortega will visit France at the invitation of its president. With these visits, we are showing that we have gained our political independence. We are working on our cultural and social independence, and, in the long run, we will gain our economic independence, which is always the most difficult to be won. We are showing that we have friendship and good relations with countries all over the world. If the Soviet Union extends its hand and shows real solidarity, as it has demonstrated just recently with the hospital valued at millions of dollars which it sent to help us after our disaster, it is logical that we will have a deep friendship with them. They are not attacking us; they are not imposing conditions on us. On the other hand, the United States threatens, us, and imposes conditions on us. As Nicaragua exercises its self-determination and sovereignty we will have relations with all countries. Of course, the capitalist press only points out that we visited Russia and does not say we visited Spain, Sweden, Holland, Belgium, Ireland, Germany, Switzerland, Austria and Greece. When one of our comandantes visits a socialist country it is news, but when one of our officials visits a western bloc country, it is not mentioned, trying to demonstrate that we are aligning with the socialist bloc or the Soviet bloc and that we are not maintaining our non-aligned position.
We do maintain our principle of non-alignment with any bloc, but we maintain good relations with any member of any bloc.
Regarding the economic agreements reached with the Soviet Union, these are part of an expression of friendship between two peoples – of one people cooperating with another people. The economic help does not have a single political string attached. Through this aid we are receiving thousands of tractors, for example, a vital item to our agricultural production. Meanwhile, the government of the United States denies us our “bread and salt”.
QUESTION: These past days have seen Nicaragua hit by a natural disaster with damages which have been difficult to measure. There is talk of worse material damages than those resulting from the 1972 earthquake. At the same time, there are dissident opinions that the Government is over-estimating the flood damage with the double objective of bringing in special foreign exchange under favorable conditions and justifying the implementation of a harder internal political line. As the highest official of the National Emergency Committee what is your opinion as to the dimensions of the disaster?
TEFEL: Just yesterday we visited the areas most severely affected. This visit was organized by the National Emergency Committee and the Foreign Ministry. The diplomatic corps, representatives of international agencies, as well as the national and international press all participated. As we were finishing, when we arrived at Puerto Corinto (on the Pacific Coast), the journalists interviewed the diplomats. All of them said that the disaster was much worse and had more extensive dimensions than they had imagined, in spite of the fact that they live here in Nicaragua, read the papers, keep informed by radio and television. In the zone of Chorizo, which they had just visited, there are damages that are difficult to believe could have been caused by water. They look more like earthquake damage. All the housing is destroyed, some still covered by sea water which has submerged 300 meters of previously dry land. In Chinandega bridges more than 100 meters long (300 ft) with a strong reinforced concrete structure were destroyed. The diplomats were very moved by the extent of the disaster.
QUESTION: To a certain extent all of these questions which we have been asking you are directed at clarifying key issues in the international community. Often the concerns and questions circulating about Nicaragua in other countries do not completely coincide with the principal concerns confronting the people here. That is to be expected because the concerns respond to two very distinct realities, one which analyzes from a distance, the other which lives the daily reality. Could you, then, briefly synthesize what your think are the major concerns for the Nicaragua people today?
TEFEL: The disaster we have just experienced has absorbed the Nicaraguan people this last month: in how to help those affected; in the formation of aid committees; in working with the victims to relocate and rebuild.
They have also followed closely the Malvinas problem because of the influence of the national and international press. They have felt solidarity with the Argentine people. They have had the same reaction as all of Latin America to the attitude of the United States government in favor of England and against their ex-ally in Latin America, Argentina.
I also think, from discussion I hear, that the people are following closely the war in Lebanon.
Regarding internal issues, besides the recent disaster we mentioned, the agrarian reform continues moving forward. If there are some small sectors who fear expropriation, the majority are happy that the people are acquiring the use and title to land, since that is so vital to our country’s development and transformation.
We are also seeing the beginning of creative excitement around preparations for the third anniversary (July 19) which will be celebrated this year in Masaya.
I don’t believe the people are overly concerned about the counterrevolution, except when there is news of new attacks by the counterrevolutionaries. Then there is an attitude of repudiation which manifests itself in the large numbers of participants in the militia. The people’s militia continues to be one of the principal proofs that the revolution has the support of the people. If it did not, the government would not be arming its people, nor would the people be willing to take up arms to defend against the counterrevolution, rather they would be taking up arms to use against the revolutionary government.
Translated from the original in Spanish.