An Interview with Nicaragua’s Second Political Party
An Interview with Nicaragua’s Second Political Party:
The Democratic Conservative Party Leader
The Democratic Conservative Party (PCD) received 13 of every 100 votes cast in the November 4 elections, thereby establishing itself as the country’s second largest party and its leading opposition force. Dr. Clemente Guido, the PCD’s presidential candidate, has stated emphatically that with 14 seats in the National Assembly, the PCD will offer strong opposition to some of the most important policies the FSLN has been carrying out over the last five years. Along with the PCD in the opposition are 21 representatives from five other parties offering different degrees of opposition to the FSLN on both the right and the left.
The January 9 inauguration of the National Assembly—in which Dr. Guido, a 54-year-old gynecologist, was elected the second vice president by 80 of the 96 representatives—marked the beginning of a decisive stage in Nicaragua’s political and ideological future. According to Dr. Guido, the elections and National Assembly have institutionalized the opposition. The next two years of discussion over the constitution will institutionalize pluralistic debate and probably contribute to the maturation of the Nicaraguan people’s political consciousness.
Some people say that there is no political opposition in Nicaragua. Others recognize that there is opposition but attribute only minor importance to its positions. The Central American Historical Institute interviewed Dr. Guido, whose words reflect the views of at least one large sector of that opposition. The rest of this article is comprised exclusively of his statements.
The electoral campaign:My impression of the electoral process was what we were limited as far as our possibilities for organization were concerned. We were limited with respect to time, economic resources, and personnel to publicize our campaigns. In spite of the limitations, however, we in the opposition did have a chance to organize, and we took advantage of it.
“Our problems can only be resolved through peaceful means”
We took advantage of it in several ways. First of all, we tried to make the Nicaraguan people aware of the fact that the best way to solve our problems is by peaceful means. We also attempted to do away with people’s fears because many people were even afraid of holding meetings. There wasn’t much attendance at our first meetings. People would peep in but didn’t want to enter. Our job was to go out into the streets and overcome their fears. Our attendance grew little by little. Only 150 people attended our fist meeting in Managua, but 3500 came to the last one. If the campaign had been longer, we would have had more of a crowd and less fear. Sometimes we even had to talk with our activists and convince them to go out and paint publicity. Some of them were afraid to do it, and we had to hire professionals to do some of our publicity work. We hope that there will be fewer limitations the next time elections are held.
From a strictly political point of view, I believe that the only way to resolve our problems as Nicaraguans is through peaceful means. I also believe that we should make use of all the legal opportunities that the government offers us. I don’t believe in abstention. Basically, I believe that abstention is equivalent to collaboration. Those who abstain from voting, from saying what they think with their ballots, are only pretending to belong to the opposition. By not expressing what they think, they are giving their votes to the government.
There are people in Nicaragua who have preferred to take up arms. There can be no mixing of the two alternatives. You can’t believe in both peaceful and armed struggle.
The election results:I was fairly happy with the election results, and I don’t think that there was any cheating. The results were within the limits of what could be expected. We received a little less than what we were hoping for: we had expected 30% and we got about half that. We attribute this lower showing to the fact that the PCD had to wage its battles on several fronts. We had to fight not only against the Sandinista Front, as was to be expected, but also against La Prensa, which portrayed us as a gang of self-interested politicians who were collaborating with the Sandinistas. We also had to deal with the Nicaraguan Democratic Coordinating Committee, which spread the same story around outside the country. We had to fight with the Conservative faction led by Miriam Argüello, which tried to sabotage our campaign by creating disputes within our leadership. Finally, we had to confront the US Embassy, which formed an alliance with the Conservatives Enrique Sotelo Borgen and Félix Pedro Espinoza in an attempt to undermine our October convention and keep our party from taking part in the elections. Leaders who are caught up in so many different struggles can’t devote themselves full time to a head-on contest with the Sandinistas and regular contacts with the electorate.
“We were expecting 30%, and we got half that”
I attribute The Sandinista Front’s victory, with 67% of the valid votes, not to those who voted for the FSLN but rather to all these factors that I’ve just explained. I think the FSLN would have had more difficulties if all the groups that tried to make a cause for abstention had instead attempted to take votes away from the Front. The FSLN’s victory is not the fault of the parties that participated in the elections but of the parties that tried to sabotage the elections.
Our party is in the middle of the road. Some people consider me to be a right-winger, and others think I’m a leftist. That’s the way it is with a centrist position: it’s the hardest kind to hold. However, it’s also the position that draws the most support in the long run because it’s the position of moderation.
In summary, I believe that in these elections, first of all, we achieved a new political system, essentially that of Montesquieu. In other words, we now have a separation of powers. Therefore, we have done away with the system of people’s democracy that the FSLN had been putting together. We had experienced a co-legislative system with the Government Junta and the Council of State, the latter being somewhat subordinate to the former. The change is positive. Second, we did away with the Council of State, which was structured along the lines of a people’s democracy. Not only political parties were represented in the Council of State, but also grassroots, student, professional and other organizations. That’s the way the people’s democracy works in Poland, for example. Now the Assembly will only be composed of representatives from political parties, the same as in the United States and England. Third, we institutionalized the opposition. And fourth it was demonstrated that the Nicaraguan people do not want a Marxist-Leninist system. Those parties that honestly proclaimed their Marxism during the campaign received very few votes and barely succeeded in having one representative elected. This meant that the people do not want a Marxist government. That’s a lesson the FSLN should be able to interpret and understand. The people voted for the Front because it hasn’t said that it’s Marxist, although some of its leaders are. The people voted for us in second place, and that’s more evidence that the people want a moderate regime, not the extreme right or left.
The upcoming national debate and opposition strategies:Anywhere in the world, the party holding power has either an absolute or a relative majority. Without this majority, it would be unable to govern. Consequently, the opposition represents a minority. Therefore, it has to use certain strategies in order to accomplish its goals. However, the strategy cannot be to defeat the majority party in a vote. The opposition party’s strategy has to be based on negotiations.
“We’ll institutionalize the opposition, and be an intelligent opposition”
We Conservatives are the country’s second largest party and its leading opposition force. The majority party can never govern solely by itself. It has to turn to the other parties, and that’s where the negotiations begin. That’s where we can find an opening for the points on our program.
We will also use parliamentary proceedings to support our program. We will use our arguments in an attempt to convince even the representatives of the government that such and such a project is not beneficial for the people. I don’t understand why the representatives of many parties say that it’s useless to try anything because we’re up against a party that works like a bulldozer. The parliamentary system works all over the world. It works in Chile, and it works in the US. It’s impossible to govern without a parliament. An important factor is the intelligence with which the opposition party seeks to obtain what it wants. You can’t rely on a policy of all or nothing. Instead, you have to have a modern opposition policy. Those of us in the PCD caucus are presently involved in a seminar, the aim of which is to prepare ourselves for efficient opposition. We’re not going to carry out an “I object” policy just for propagandistic effects. That would only be demagoguery and would make us look ridiculous. The parliament is the fruit of our people’s right to express themselves, and this expression should come not only from the majority but also from the minority.
We have to gradually institutionalize the opposition so that Nicaragua can be a real democracy. A revolution is more than just handing over land and houses. We have to carry out other revolutions. We have to have a political revolution, which is still unheard of in this country.
We’re looking for ways to take power away from the FSLN. Of course, one thing is to struggle for total power, which is what we were striving for it the election campaign, and another is to play the role of a minority power in an Assembly. We’re not going to take away the Front’s power in the Assembly because it was the people who gave it that power. We’re going to move “onward against the Front” and try to institutionalize democracy. We’re in favor of a Western-style democracy, but we want to add what the Western democratic systems are lacking: social content. We’re very clear on one point: we don’t want an extreme rightwing democracy replete with social injustice, exploitation, and low salaries for workers. We want a system within the framework of Western democracy, with liberty, but we also want a profound respect for social justice. In that sense, we’ll keep our campaign slogan: “Onward against the Front.”
The Conservatives’ economic program:With respect to the economy, we’re going to express our opposition on two points. First of all, we’re going to advocate a mixed economy in the way we understand it and the way it’s understood in European countries that have developed a kind of moderate socialism.
“We need a social pact.”
This model consists of a mixed economy with private property or private initiative: free enterprise working with its own capital and financing and with government aid and assistance when necessary. What’s presently called the “area of people’s property” should be mixed. About 55% should belong to the state, and 40% or 45% to private enterprise. That way, this people’s property could be productive. It hasn’t really been productive so far because it’s lacked incentives. However, by mixing this area with private initiative, we would have both incentives and the protection of the people’s property. There are countries where this has been accomplished.
Our second point is what I referred to as a “social pact” during the campaign. This means that we would provide private enterprise with sufficient incentives and guarantees to enable it to work at full capacity. In exchange, we would demand that private enterprise share its profits with the workers, pay fair salaries, and ensure the workers the right to free union organization and some degree of supervision over the enterprise. If we achieved this, we could pull Nicaragua out of its present economic situation. Private enterprise isn’t working at its full capacity at the present time because it has no security. Private owners are afraid of having their property or other belongings confiscated at any time, and that holds them back. We have to offer the guarantees with a social pact so that this country can move ahead. The FSLN lacks credibility. We need more than laws; this country has to see concrete action on the part of the government.
With respect to the Agrarian Reform, we feel that more small farmers should become landowners. However, since this alone leads to a situation in which farms are too small to work efficiently, a cooperative system must be developed. But the cooperative members must be landowners. We don’t want states cooperatives, and we don’t want too much direction from above. Farmers aren’t used to being told what to do. They say, “If I plant my beans but can’t sell them freely—and if the state pays me whatever price it chooses—well then I’m better off not working.” So the farmers end up producing only for themselves, and that accounts for our economic breakdown. We’ve returned to a patriarchal economy, to a subsistence economy, and it’s ruining us. We have to put an end to this situation; the war isn’t the only cause of our crisis.
Our foreign debt problem is more complex. The FSLN alone can’t solve it. Of course Nicaragua’s current policy of confrontation with the US hasn’t been beneficial, but other countries are also very deeply in debt. I believe that we have to maintain a policy of negotiations with our creditors if we don’t want to lose everything. I think that we should follow the example of the stronger Latin American countries, like Mexico, that have a larger debt than we do. As long as we continue paying out money only to cover interest, we’re never going to resolve our debt problem. Nicaragua is being exploited when it sells its products at low prices and has to buy finished products at high prices.
Unions, the army, and the Church:We think that unions should be free and democratic, but not political. The government has politicized certain unions, making them a political extension of its own party. The so-called free sectors have politicized other unions because they want to use them in their political battle against government.
“They shouldn’t be politicized”
The army should be an apolitical institution and not the extension of any political party. On an individual basis, a member of the military should have the same political rights as any other citizen: for example, the right to vote. I think the Front committed a political mistake by setting up mandatory military service when there is so much opposition to it in the country. Many people don’t want to be drafted because they feel that they’re going to be defending the government and not the nation. As an advocate of peaceful means and as a pacifist, I have to be against this kind of procedure, be it here in Nicaragua or in El Salvador, where they also have mandatory military service and young people are sent to fight the guerrillas. It’s an abuse, no matter who commits it. They’re sending young men off to die for the government, not for the country. The FSLN should have based its defense on the militia, which is composed of volunteers. The military service law is forcing non-Sandinistas to take part in the war.
The Church has also become politicized. Some priests do political work for the FSLN and hold positions in government ministries. Others work politically against the Pope. When a priest is punished, how is one to know if it’s really the priest or the politician who’s being punished? The same doubt arises when people try to protect him. If I were persecuted, I couldn’t say that doctors are being persecuted. There’s much confusion. As far as I’m concerned, priests shouldn’t be involved in politics; they should be attending to their spiritual concerns. I also believe that religious education in the schools should be optional. Priests, just like members of the military, should devote themselves to their work but have some rights, such as voting. However, neither military personnel nor priests should be ministers in the government.
National sovereignty, US aggression, and the Contadora initiative:
“The Yankees are bad, but dollars are good”
National sovereignty resides in the people, in their vote. And if sovereignty comes from the people and not from the government, aggression against the government is not aggression against the nation’s sovereignty. In other words, those Nicaraguans who are trying to overthrow the Sandinista Front aren’t trying to destroy the nation; they’re trying to topple the FSLN. As the Front is neither the nation nor the repository of sovereignty, it’s not a question of aggression against national sovereignty. That’s why we’ve refused to sign documents that confuse the government with the nation or the state. All the country’s citizens make up the nation; the state is the legal structural order on which the nation rests; and the government is merely the leader that puts the laws into practice. The government can be changed, but the state and the nation can’t. So, if I attempt to overthrow the government, I’m attacking neither the nation nor the state. That’s why we maintain that there’s no aggression against Nicaragua, but only against the Sandinista government.
The US is attacking the Sandinista government, as are the counterrevolutionaries and even Honduras. The government is mutable, and what’s mutable isn’t sovereign. If Honduras tried to come and take land away from us, that would be aggression against our sovereignty. Sovereignty doesn’t reside only in the 67% of the people who voted for the FSLN, but in all the people.
Traditionally, Nicaragua has had good relations with the United States. Also traditionally, the US has occupied our country and exploited us. The socialist countries, which are presently the friends of Nicaragua, are not capable of helping us with the present economic situation. Therefore, we must maintain good relations with the US in a framework of dignity because Nicaragua needs dollars to overcome this situation. Thus, in the campaign, I said that Yankees are bad but dollars are good.
Regarding the September 7 Contadora Treaty, I realized that it contained no mechanisms for efficient application. That made it an inadequate document. It’s based on good faith. No one can make any claims, and no one can force anyone else to comply with the rules. If the US doesn’t want to comply, no one can force it to. Who could I turn to if Honduras didn’t disarm? The document doesn’t mention the World Court in The Hague or the OAS, nor does it say whether the Contadora countries will be involved in a supervisory court. The document does propose the appointing of a monitoring committee, but all it can do is make reports. Therefore, I contend that this treaty cannot be put into practice. I believe that the World Court in The Hague would be a suitable international organization for addressing any complaints. Or, if we want to be Americans, we could resort to the OAS; although I don’t have much faith in the OAS.
Commenting on Sandino:The FSLN has used Sandino to hide its intentions. From a historical standpoint, the Front has abused the image of Sandino. They’ve taken a national hero and turned him into a sectarian. We have the Conservative José Dolores Estrada, but we haven’t used him for sectarian purposes; we’ve never insisted on the fact that he was a Conservative. They may have done some harm to Sandino with their sectarian attitudes, and if the Sandinista regime falls, perhaps Sandino will have to go down along with the mistakes made by the party that chose him as its symbol.
“They’ve used him for sectarian purposes”