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  Number 304 | Noviembre 2006
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Nicaragua

From “Governing from Below” To Governing Right Up at the Top

Daniel Ortega and the FSLN finally retook the presidency, a victory only explained by the Right’s split down the middle. The Liberals—PLC and the ALN—won a huge majoritybetween them, with only a small percentage opting for the MRS, the other leftist option. For this and other reasons, there’s less room on the political and economic stage to play to the crowd than the victor would have wished for.

Nitlápan-Envío team

After 16 years making good on his promise to “govern from below” following his defeat in the 1990 elections, Daniel Ortega finally re-won the presidency of Nicaragua this year. One of the most significant facts to bear in mind when considering this year’s election results is that while Ortega lost the government in 1990, he never lost power; in fact,by hook or by crook he accumulated more, making him the most powerful politician in the country.

Through the disastrous, nearly decade-long pact with former President Arnoldo Alemán and his Constitutionalist Liberal Party (PLC), Ortega acquired majority control of the electoral branch, widespread control of the judicial branch and a minority but significant block of votes in the legislative branch, not to mention important economic power for his party and his close leadership circle. These elections have now given him control of the executive branch as well.

His only potential weakness is in the legislative branch, the National Assembly. But if the FSLN and PLC renew their pact, their combined votes in the new legislature would give Alemán and Ortega the two-thirds majority required to make constitutional-rank legislative changes, thus initiating the pact’s third stage. But there’s a strong anti-pact sentiment in the country, which could counsel caution on Ortega’s part since with only 38% of the vote he can’t claim a genuine mandate to govern. It’s too early at the time of writing this to tell what the various forces will do, but the first signals are mixed. With the PLC winning 25 of the 90 directly elected seats, the FSLN 38, the ALN 22 and the MRS 5 (one of whom sold out to the FSLN after the elections), the possibilities for alliances of different political stripes and purposes are numerous.

The FSLN won with a
lower percentage than ever

Before the 2001 elections, the front-runner in a multi-candidate presidential race needed 45% of the valid votes to avoid a run-off round with the second-place candidate. But a change in the electoral law born of the pact now allows a candidate to win with as little as 35%—only a few points above the FSLN’s traditional “hard-core vote”—as long as the second-place candidate is at least 5% behind.

Ortega won this year with only 38%, and with the largest majority ever voting against him. In 1990 he lost to Violeta Chamorro with 42% of the vote, in 1996 to Arnoldo Alemán with 40%, and in 2001 to Enrique Bolaños with 42%. This year, the FSLN barely pulled 15,000 more votes than in 2001, well below the population growth rate, despite a costly campaign, the party’s electoral commandos operating in high gear and its eclectic but ample alliances with business associations, Somocistas, former contras and Yatama, the Miskitu regional party in the Caribbean coast. In Managua, which last year elected its second consecutive Sandinista mayor, the FSLN dropped from 44% in the 2001 presidential race to 36% this year.

Lots of running, getting nowhere

Ortega’s victory isn’t explained by the low percentage needed to win but by the division of his Liberal rivals. The combined vote of the PLC and its former members in the breakaway Nicaraguan Liberal Alliance (ALN) was 55%, very close to what Ortega was beaten by in the three previous elections, when the various Liberal parties ran united: 54% in 1990, when they participated in an electoral alliance with other anti-Sandinista parties; 51% in 1996 (when there were no fewer than 23 presidential candidates) and 56% in 2001, when the only other contender was the Conservtive Party, by then only a shadow of its 19th-century self. But this year, they ran in two separate, fairly evenly matched parties, with the ALN staking out an anti-pact, anti-Alemán line that advocated continuity with the project President Bolaños has pursued over the past five years. While the US government virtually “ordered” the two Liberal factions to reunite and beat Ortega, FSLN founder Tomás Borge has bragged that “we stimulated” the split. Obviously not all the ins and outs of internal politics ever become public, but the FSLN would appear to have been more adept than the US State Department at the Nica brand of political-cultural “persuasion.”

Strictly in terms of electoral math, then, we’ve ended up with virtually the same country we’ve had for the past 16 years, with the same party ratings and even many of the same faces. The elections showed that all the political running over the past five years, and particularly during the campaign, was on a treadmill, only burning calories that would be far better invested in other, more productive tasks, but going nowhere.

From that perspective, it’s voluntarist rhetoric to qualify Ortega’s win as a “great victory,” as did Cuba’s Fidel Castro, or evidence that “the people are rising up,” as did Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez, or “the announcement of the end of neoliberalism in Central Ameri-ca,” as did the FMLN leadership in El Salvador.

How right were the polls?

The polls that measured voters’ intentions were pretty accurate over the course of the campaign. All of them consistently showed Ortega in first place, usually within grasp of but never over the 35% needed to win. They also consistently showed the ALN’s Eduardo Montealegre—favorite of the United States and of big regional capital, particularly banking capital—in second place, dangerously close to breaking the 30% that would signal the need for a second round. In the end, Ortega topped the 35% minimum by three points, and Montealegre took second place with 28%.

Where the polls showed significant variation in voters’ intentions was for the third- and fourth-place candidates. In the final three months of the campaign, PLC candidate José Rizo, Bolaños’ erstwhile Vice President, moved up from fourth to third place in the polls with a percentage that never exceeded 19%, but on election day he pulled 27%.

Liberals are right in explaining that polls never accurately measure the rural vote. The ALN fatally trusted that the PLC was finished as a party due to its loyalty to the discredited Alemán and that it would thus be heir to the whole rightwing vote, the whole Liberal vote and the whole anti-Ortega vote—to the degree that there are differences among them—leaving only a few crumbs for Rizo. ALN leaders vastly underestimated the tolerance for corruption and the influence of family loyalties and other traditions on voting patterns in Nicaragua.

The Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS) Alliance, with its vice presidential candidate Edmundo Jarquín filling Herty Lewites’ number one slot after Lewites’ fatal heart attack in July, showed a voters’ intention that peaked at around 17%, but Rizo, who entered the race late, eventually edged it out of third place. In response to widespread complaints that FSLN municipal mayors and party activists were intimidating voters who seemed partial to Jarquín, much of the MRS campaign message began to focus on assuring people that the vote is indeed secret. And responding to calls by both the PLC and the FSLN—for quite opposite reasons—to cast a “useful vote” rather than waste it on a candidate with no chance of winning, the MRS responded that voting for the kind of country one wants is never a wasted statement. In the end, the MRS Alliance only got 6.3% of the presidential vote. Was it because people were intimidated, because its campaign wasn’t sufficiently visionary and long-term, because at the end of the day the MRS still is Sandinista, or simply because it didn’t have the people or the money to compete with the more powerful parties linked to the various branches of large national and international capital? Or could it also be that Sandinistas sympathetic to the MRS remembered 1990, when many FSLN members, lulled by the polls into believing that their party was a shoo-in, dared to mark their ballot for Violeta Chamorro simply as a “punishment vote”statement of their discontent with their own party, which made no other room for criticism?

The FSLN’s last-minute rise from 34% to 38% this year suggests that the latter explanation was certainly at play. Nonetheless, the majority of undecided voters, who ranged between 8% and 15% in the various polls right up to the end, seem to have cast their “useful” vote for Rizo, the traditional Liberal. Had they swung to Montealegre, it would have meant a second round and certain defeat for Ortega.

Massive voter turnout

Although below 2001 figures, voter turnout was again massive: 70% of the electoral roll, which had reportedly been cleaned of most deceased and emigrated voters. And as has happened since 1984, the first elections following the 1979 overthrow of the Somoza family dictatorship, people were orderly, patient and imbued with a sense of civic duty. They seemed even “joyful,” according to European Union observer mission chief Claudio Fava, following an electoral campaign he described as “laden with passion.”

The logistics (preparation of the voter list, transfer of materials, setting up of polling places, order at the voting tables) functioned well thanks to accumulated experience since 1996, when legislated changes in the entire structure and staff of the Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) just prior to that year’s presidential elections caused chaos. The most visible irregularity this year was the selective and direct distribution of ID/voter cards by PLC and FSLN party structures in some areas where the CSE had no presence. In the end, the FSLN held on to the cards it still had, leaving their owners unable to vote. But even if those cards numbered over a thousand, which is unlikely, and all belonged to known opposition voters, which is less unlikely, it wouldn’t have changed the presidential results.

Anomalies in tight
legislative races

There were well-founded fears that the CSE would organize some sort of sophisticated fraud to favor the FSLN. It has been controlled since 1999 by the two parties to the pact and in the division of the spoils the FSLN opted for the technical departments, enabling it to engineer just such a fraud. Furthermore, the FSLN has enjoyed the majority in the five-member executive leadership since 2004, following the “reconciliation” between Daniel Ortega and Cardinal Obando, protector of CSE president Roberto Rivas.

Distrust of the CSE’s impartiality, shared by everyone from President Bolaños down to most voters and by all parties except the FSLN, explains why the November 5 elections were the most observed in Latin America in recent years. Over 13,000 national and some 500 international observers maintained a presence at 90% of the 11,200 polling stations on election day, overseeing the various steps from the checking of materials before opening the doors to the ballot count and filling out of tally sheets after the doors had closed. Naturally, not even the best trained observer can see what may have been planned ahead of time then aborted because it’s not needed.

Days later, most Nicaraguans who had been made anxious and even more suspicious by the CSE’s molasses-slow partial tally announcements had unglued themselves from their radio or TV after learning that Ortega had indeed won by an unchallengeable margin. That was when a number of anomalies—some of them blatant—were discovered in the arithmetic revisions of seat assignments in the National Assembly. Some were proven and corrected, but not all, leaving a merited margin of suspicion. As the main national election observation organization, Ethics and Transparency, declared, these cases revealed “a willingness to alter the popular will where results were close.”

No one’s dream was realized

In the final analysis, all the candidates ended up short of their expectations, calculations and dreams. The FSLN won, but with the lowest percentage in all its years of governing “from below.” The ALN, which expected so much from its media projection and US backing, only got half of the rightwing pie. The PLC, which claimed that the ALN was an insignificant party inflated out of proportion in the media and the “jukebox polls,” proved that it also only gets half of the rightwing pie when it goes it alone.

The MRS Alliance, which bounced back valiantly after losing Herty Lewites, its best “electoral asset,” believed itself larger than it yet is, and thus was also obliged to eat humble pie on November 6.

A Socially and Politically Divided Right
Was the Key to Victory

Despite 15 years of political confusion and growing impoverishment, these elections were quite different than the three previous ones. In 1990, 1996 and 2001, the elections were fundamentally about two-party pro- and anti-Sandi-nista polarization, with only one party from each side—the FSLN and PLC—really worth thinking about, making it much easier to choose. Time after time, candidates claiming to represent the “third way” and going after the roughly 30% of the population that seemed uncomfortable with the prevailing political bipolarity, ended up with tiny percentages.

In this year’s elections, however, the cumulative crisis of the Alemán-Ortega pact saw the emergence of not just one but two promising alternatives: one split from the rightwing PLC, and one from the leftwing FSLN. This four-way competition offered a whole new electoral scene, if only because it shattered the bi-polarity of previous elections. Instead of being faced with some ill-defined and untested third way, voters didn’t even have to cross traditional boundaries much less venture into unknown terrain.

Dyed-in-the-wool Liberals could break with the increasingly unsatis-fying PLC leaders and the infamous corruption of Alemán and those closest to him and yet still vote Liberal and anti-Sandinista. And non-Liberal anti-Sandinistas or simply more modern-thinking people on the right of the political spectrum finally had a promising option again in the ALN, an alternative to the once vital Conservative Party, which now barely registers life signs and in fact allied to the ALN.

Principled Sandinistas, no longer feeling the FSLN represents what they stand for and disgusted by what they consider its increasing decomposition under Ortega’s leadership in these neoliberal years, could still vote Sandi-nista, anti-pact and, insofar as Nicara-gua’s economic reality allows, anti-neoliberal. For the first time they weren’t forced to “close ranks” by voting for Ortega election after election. And more modern-thinking people on the left of the political spectrum, non-Sandinista but both anti-Ortega and anti-pact, also had an option in the MRS Alliance.

While the FSLN ran a rosy “lite” campaign, full of “peace, love and reconciliation,” and the MRS vacillated between defensive messages, pragmatic programs and plain good fun, the Right repeated its grim 16-year-old strategy: fan the still smoldering fears of a 1980s-style Daniel Ortega. But if its message was unified, its forces refused to reunify, despite multiple pressures to do so. In the end, the PLC’s traditional liberalism prevailed in the rural zones, the ALN’s modern brand had more draw in the urban areas and the powerful Ortega of recent years is back in office

A different way
of being Liberal...

The PLC has formally existed for only a couple of decades, but claims the legacy of the original 19th century Liberal Party, while its leftwing opponents also assign it the legacy of Somoza’s National Liberal Party. Under the leadership of Arnoldo Alemán, from his post as mayor of Managua between 1990 and 1997 then as President until January 2002, the PLC structures filled up with people who came on board for the perks but later became tainted by Alemán’s rampant corruption. Ultimately, the PLC fell into disgrace with the Bush administration and the Nicaraguan business class, both of which started gunning for it. Fed up with Alemán’s corruption, his party-boss brand of liberalism and his pact with Daniel Ortega, they wanted legal security to play under the rules of the market, not those of Nicaragua’s homegrown power brokers. Bolaños and the more modern Liberal politicians opposed to Alemán’s leadership, his shameless corruption and his pact with Ortega attempted to recover the PLC. But they found the doors firmly closed by Alemán’s dogged defenders, just as the left wing of the FSLN, critical of what Ortega currently represents, found their party’s doors closed to them. Bolaños then used the presidential office in two stillborn attempts to help these leaders, identified with the already globalized Nicaraguan and Central American financial capital, create a viable rightwing alternative to the PLC.

The answer finally materialized in banker Eduardo Montealegre and his Nicaraguan Liberal Alliance (ALN), which wisely appropriated the Liberal red, adorning it with a white check. Harvard-trained Montealegre had held top financial posts in both the Alemán and Bolaños governments, and had a winning smile and a convincing, non-bombastic speaking style. Most important of all, he had access to enough money to compensate for the incipient party structures. The ALN allied with the other 19th century political power, the more elite Conservative Party, which has fallen on hard times politically, but can still count on a small, loyal vote and access to financing from the old oligarchic families if it can show a convincing project.

The ALN’s mission was to repeat in Nicaragua the role played so successfully in El Salvador in the nineties by the modernized ARENA party under President Cristiani: consolidate the pro-US neoliberal project. It was an uphill battle, but a good part of Liberal voters, particularly the educated urban and youth sectors, finally grasped how anachronistic the language and leaders of Alemán’s PLC were. The PLC’s rural and lower middle-class base, in contrast, tended to remain loyal.

It would imprudent to exaggerate what “modern” means in this new party, however. While its educated young adults and seasoned leaders are dazzled by the latest technology and adept at political marketing, cultural conservatism still permeates their worldview and declarations. By way of example, Conservative Party president Azalia Avilés, who won a legislative seat on the ALN ticket, said in a campaign debate on the role of women in the public arena that they should expect of men what she herself expected: that they fulfill the “three P’s”: as procreators, providers and protectors.

And a different way
of being Sandinista

On the other side, the spin-off was born in 1995 as the first organized rejection of Ortega’s authoritarian leadership style and the path the FSLN had taken. The Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS) largely consists of the best, brightest and most principled Sandi-nista intellectuals and professionals, but that identity has never earned it over 4% of the vote given that, save some urban centers, the country is not yet weaned from Latin America’s caudillo traditions.

When Herty Lewites, the popular Sandinista mayor of Managua, was expelled from the FSLN on leaving office in early 2005 for daring to challenge Ortega for the party’s presidential candidacy, he received a groundswell of support from a surprising array of sectors. Long-dormant Sandinista sympathizers and even a number of traditional Liberals and Conservatives encouraged his independent candidacy as a breath of fresh air. His campaign also attracted many principled radical leftists who had previously stayed in the FSLN convinced, largely by the MRS’ fate, that the Nicaraguan Left’s future lay not in splitting from the FSLN but in recovering it from the grip of the Ortega clique.

After promising rallies in several major cities in mid-2005, lack of financing caused a drop in the initial momentum of Lewites’ own popularity and his newly formed Movement to Rescue Sandinismo. Running on the MRS ticket in the Caribbean coast elections in March gave this option renewed visibility, even though it won no seats. When Lewites suffered his fatal heart attack at the beginning of July, the campaign team quickly replaced him with his running mate, Edmundo Jarquín, and filled the vice presidential slot with singer-songwriter Carlos Mejía Godoy, perhaps Nicaragua’s best-loved Sandinista and thus the person best able to guarantee visibility and consensus among non-Sandinistas. Contrary to their worst fears, Lewites’ percentage in the polls held up, showing that the support was not just for his personal charisma but for the incipient project he represented.

Jarquín, a Sandinista professional who has worked abroad for the Inter-American Development Bank for most of the past 15 years, ran on a pragmatic center-left program in a campaign that both organizers and the public defined as creative and “fun.” The craggy-faced Jarquín was quickly and lovingly dubbed “el feo” (the ugly one) and the most popular slogan soon became “vote for the ugly one who wants a beautiful Nicaragua.” The MRS alliance with Lewites’ movement mainly appealed to the three generations of Sandinistas who want to reclaim the FSLN’s original humanistic principles and programs; educated urban youth unmarked by the war years who are seeking other referents than the Sandinista/ anti-Sandinista polarity; and opponents of the pact who weren’t convinced by Monte-alegre, the Right’s anti-pact candidate, that more of Bolaños’ economic model was good for the country.

For many, joining that campaign marked their definitive break with the FSLN, while for the younger generation it was their initiation into politics. The result was a more conscious vote, imbued with quality.

Admittedly, the FSLN had a significant edge. Not unlike the PLC, it has evolved into a tight, caudillo-run party with resources and a highly organized and disciplined electoral machine in every corner of the country. It is also still the marker for San-dino’s heroism and above all for the revolution in the eighties. And while it has seemingly shed its revolutionary principles, some, clinging desperately to hope, argue that they are only temporarily shelved for tactical purposes. In the end, the MRS Alliance suffered the effect of the “useful vote” syndrome, the conviction that one’s vote had to be cast to avoid a repeat of one’s own worst-case scenario—either another five years of anti-people neoliberalism or the return of what the Right calls the “dark night” of the eighties.

Faced with a Fork in the Road:
Which Liberal Could Best Beat Ortega?

From the earliest days of the campaign, Montealegre and Rizo had seen each other as their main adversary, fighting over every inch of Liberal turf with their promised programs and proposals. But as the campaign entered its final lap, both Liberal parties set aside all other issues to focus on the “useful vote”—in their interpretation the one whose “use” was to ensure that Ortega didn’t win. The competition between Monte-alegre and Rizo was still fierce, but now each man concentrated on convincing voters that only he could beat Ortega.

In a paid TV spot to close his campaign, broadcast on all national televised channels the night of November 2, Eduardo Montealegre spoke only about Ortega and his own ability to beat him. The previous Sunday, the PLC had spent a small fortune to show its muscle by filling a Managua plaza with 300,000 people, mainly rural peasants. Rizo claimed that only his “strong party” could defeat Ortega.

An extreme example of the ALN’s pursuit of the anti-Ortega vote appeared in La Prensa on October 27, a week before the elections. The quarter-page ad bearing Montealegre’s smiling face read as follows: “Fellow Nicaraguans, time is up. It is now time to listen to your conscience, to remember the terrible experience you went through during the cruel Sandino-Ortega dictatorship of the eighties. If you didn’t live it, ask your parents, grandparents or friends, so you can know the true history of the Danielista era and NOT allow it to be repeated. We mustn’t allow the return of the Sacrileges that humiliated the Holy Father Juan Pablo II. We mustn’t allow the return of the believers in ‘Esoteric Ritual Curses.’ We mustn’t allow the return of ration cards, neighborhood committee spies, genocidal state security mobs that left hundreds dead, disappeared, tortured and mutilated. We mustn’t allow the mass graves to fill again with the bodies of our young people. We mustn’t permit them to return ever again to ‘stain our soil with the blood of brothers’. With your vote you can save Nicaragua from the corrupt, the racists and the ‘perverse satanic practices.’ Let’s vote for peace, progress, democracy and freedom.”

That competition to foment fear merely ended up confusing a large part of the electorate. Any thought of a protest vote, or voting for one’s innate preference, gave way to a single perplexing question: who was most likely to beat Ortega? Over 60% of Nicaragua’s voting population rejects Daniel Ortega, with opinion polls consistently showing that they would vote for any candidate who could prevent Ortega from returning to office. This was demonstrated by Alemán’s election in 1996, even though most people understood he had siphoned off resources while mayor of Managua, and by the subsequent election of the uncharismatic and unpopular businessman Enrique Bolaños in 2001.

On November 5, this majority, battered by the anti-eighties fear-mongering, found itself having to choose between two anti-Ortega options. Those of a more rural, traditional lineage trusted that “only Rizo can beat Daniel,” in the words of a rather short-lived, disagreeable campaign jingle. The more modern city dwellers, with greater access to television and typically with more education, believed that Montealegre was their man because he had a better appearance, a whole lot of money and had been anointed by the United States.

In the end, not even the wider electoral gamut was enough to help the country shake off the polarization of the past quarter century. The Ortega campaign’s interminable focus on peace, love and reconciliation had made no dent in that polarization. As in previous elections, the independents whose votes swing elections again opted to vote against rather than for. Had anti-Sandinista voters not been faced with the confusion of two viable options, Ortega would have gone down to his fourth and perhaps final electoral defeat.

The Right regrets…

Today the rightwing candidates regret their obstinate insistence on running divided. They even evoke Somoza’s pigheadedness at not accepting the way out offered him during the 1978-79 insurrection, when he refused to recognize his reign was over and feared that the similarly fractured Right couldn’t match his capacity to control the situation. Right on the second point but wrong on the first, he held on until it was too late to turn over power to what had been dubbed “Somocismo without Somoza.” He and his family fled on July 17, 1979, leaving the Right in disarray and his personal army, the US-trained National Guard, to scatter for cover. Into that breach rode the FSLN, acquiring even more power than it had anticipated in negotiations with right-wing forces.

Now that all the electoral fuss has died down a bit, the Right is quickly trying to adjust to the new situation. The business elite is publicly giving Daniel Ortega a “vote of confidence,” while the politicians are sorting through their options. Are they already thinking of negotiating new pacts, privileges and immunities with the FSLN? Or is this just a hiatus before conjuring up more fears and making the country as ungovernable as possible for the Sandinista leader, in a repeat of the kind of short-sightedness that has long marked Nicaraguan politics?

Have any seeds of
change been planted?

And what of the MRS as an anti-Ortega alternative? The MRS had none of the PLC’s powerful political machinery or the ALN’s huge bankrolls. However appealing and reasonable- its message, without the vitriol that characterized the rightwing candidates, it never had a real shot at preventing Ortega’s return to government. Only a little over 150,000 voters were willing to use their vote to make the statement that the MRS was the best and most useful road ahead, the one on which a country with little power to change very much these days can begin to change at least a few things.

In an improvised gathering of MRS sympathizers, legislative candidates and activists following the announcement of the electoral results, MRS president Dora María Téllez said the following: “We faced not only an electoral challenge, but also a cultural one, which is even tougher. The MRS Alliance challenged our traditional caudillo political culture: authoritar-ianism, perks, patronage and, in the case of the FSLN, a culture also expressed in its powerful electoral machine. Despite that we got over 150,000 votes countrywide on the presidential ballot and more than 200,000 on the ballot for National Assembly representatives, with nearly 18% of the Managua vote. Above all, we’ve started to mobilize a generation, that of the literacy crusade workers of the eighties, people over forty, who had completely thrown in the towel. We’ve also attracted a young generation, one that had never previously participated in politics. Furthermore, we created an electoral machine that, with both its successes and its errors, will serve us for future efforts. We have to be proud of having gotten so much in such a short time with so few resources.”

Nicaragua can only hope that the MRS Alliance will take itself as seriously in-between elections, that it will use its presence in the National Assembly to create greater public consciousness. Unfortunately, electoral activism necessarily took precedence over the urgently needed reflection within the MRS about what it means to rescue and renew Sandinismo. That’s another pending task, and there will never be a better time to get started than now, with disillusioned Sandinistas re-awakened and with the entire world’s eyes back on the FSLN in power.

A Public Vote of Confidence
But a Private Attack of Skittishness

Days after Daniel Ortega’s electoral victory had been confirmed, Carlos Pellas, Nicaragua’s most powerful businessman and perhaps the most powerful in all of Central America, appeared repeatedly in TV spots encouraging confidence in the new government. Pellas and all his colleagues expressed satisfaction with Ortega’s promises to renew the agreement with the International Monetary Fund, respect the Free Trade Agreement with the United States and guarantee the rules of the free market.

Adjustments, changes
and sighs of relief

Only a few days earlier, Pellas had been publicly backed one of their own—the modernizing Liberal candidate Eduardo Montealegre—recalling the risk that an Ortega victory represented to the country. His change of tune and that of virtually all his colleagues, both national and foreign, reflects their desire to make the necessary adjustments to the new political circumstances as soon as possible and in the most advantageous way possible.

Ortega sent all the right signals: the President-elect’s first meetings weren’t with any of the grassroots sectors that had given him their vote, but with the business leaders of the Supreme Council of Private Enterprise (COSEP), foreign investors, the Chamber of Commerce and the owners of sweatshops in the free trade zones. He needs to legitimize himself with these national and international powers as an efficient administrator of the country’s economy.

For the rest of November, the Nicaraguan media reflected this initial honeymoon between the new FSLN government and the business elite. In a unanimous chorus, political and economic analysts reiterated their relief and satisfaction about the country’s financial stability despite Ortega’s victory, which they had so recently predicted would be traumatic. They interpreted that stability as a sign of the greater maturity of our incipient democracy.

Reserves and capital flight
indicators A-OK so far

The solidity of the Central Bank’s international reserves and the relative stability of commercial bank deposits were the main indicators used to argue that the economic transition from the Bolaños government to the Ortega one, supposedly of a different stripe, was a complete success.

It’s true that the Central Bank of Nicaragua has record levels of net international reserves, which exceed by at least twice the country’s monetary base, a sign that the córdoba/dollar exchange rate is ensured, i.e. that the reserves could withstand a possible avalanche of córdoba purchases of dollars. It was also estimated that the capital flight that has occurred in Nicaragua before each presidential election since 1990 due to fears that Ortega could return to office only affected 5% of the total savings deposits in the national banking system this time. Before the 2001 elections, depositors withdrew a full 10% of total bank deposits to place their savings somewhere more secure—either a foreign bank account or the purchase of gold jewelry.

The words are mere masks

Despite the calming figures, the business elite’s public “votes of confidence” for Ortega mask serious fears about the country’s economic course following the change of government. Nicaragua’s boat is fragile and depends way too much on international winds over which Managua has no control.

As an example, the private sector will now find it hard to obtain long-term low-interest loans from international commercial banks. Before November 5, those banks were offering loans to national businesses with repayment periods of up to 10 years. But they’ve already begun to adopt a more cautious attitude, reducing their loans and stiffening the payment conditions.

Private financial analysts have also reported that capital flight increased during the final weeks of campaigning as an Ortega victory seemed increasingly likely, while holders of an important number of certificates of deposit cashed them in, transferring the money to checking accounts or to immediate-access savings accounts. This obliged the financial institutions to be more cautious about their liquidity margins, making shorter-term loans and raising both debit and credit interest rates.

Cumulative capital flight up to November 17 was an estimated $80-100 million, a figure very similar to that of 2001, although this year it has had a milder impact on the financial system’s stability because bank deposits have expanded significantly in these past five years.

The most notable difference in the behavior of national capital during this election period compared to 2001 is that there are no signs so far that the capital taken out of the country will return. After Bolaños’ election, the capital quickly returned and the commercial banks initiated a period of expansion and downright bonanza. The majority of the capital that left belongs to people who experienced the economic crises of the revolutionary eighties and don’t want to take any more risks. A trickle of capital has continued to flow out of the country even after the elections, leading all of the country’s commercial banks to monitor their liquidity on a daily basis.

It was this delicate financial situation in the commercial banks that most influenced Eduardo Montealegre, himself a former banker with close links to the banking sector, to quickly acknowledge Daniel Ortega’s win, even visiting him at his own home.

Will the domestic debt
be renegotiated?

The day after receiving Montealegre, Ortega met with the Association of Banks to assure them that his government would honor the payment of the state’s huge domestic debt with the commercial banks. He stopped short, however, of defining his government’s position on the PLC-promoted investigation into the alleged corruption behind the issuing of the bank bailout bonds known as Negotiable Investment Certificates (CENIs).

The Central Bank issued the high-interest, short-term CENIs to cover the losses provoked by the collapse of several banks in 2000 and a couple of the remaining banks quickly gobbled them up. The PLC used an investigation by the Comptroller General’s Office into possible irregularities in this operation during the electoral campaign to discredit Montealegre, portraying him as a thief. So far no proof has been verified other than the fact that Monte-alegre was a financial minister in Alemán’s government when the bankruptcies and the sale of the banks’ assets occurred and in Bolaños’ government when the bonds were renegotiated. He’s also linked to Bancentro, one of the banks that bought up a sizable block of them.

The final results of the Comptroller General’s investigation could lead to a new renegotiation of the payment of these bonds, which civil society organizations have been demanding since the bonds began to mature a couple of years ago. This would negatively affect the financial stability of the commercial banks, particularly those holding the bulk of the CENIs.

How will Ortega
deal with the IMF?

The payment on the domestic debt, made up largely of these and earlier, more long-term bonds issued in the mid-nineties to compensate people whose property had been confiscated and was not recoverable, has drained a large amount of the money that could and should have been used to increase social spending. The FSLN, which among innumerable utopian promises has promised a government with “zero hunger, zero illiteracy and zero unemployment,” is obliged to increase social spending the minute it takes office. But its maneuvering room is limited: the financial logic of the govern-ment’s budget bill for 2007—already endorsed by the IMF and sent to the National Assembly by President Bolaños for approval before year’s end—assumes the virtual freezing of government spending and a significant increase in both domestic and foreign debt service payments. These two payments account for nearly a fourth of the resources available to the government, including fiscal revenues, foreign donations and loans and the issuing of new bonds. It’s a significant amount.

It is obvious from the budget bill’s design that the IMF’s priority is to reduce the Nicaraguan government’s public debt levels with the commercial banks. But this openly contradicts the FSLN’s electoral promises to increase social spending and infrastructure investments.

The IMF’s current agreement with Nicaragua concludes on December 12. One of the still-pending conditions the IMF imposed on the Bolaños government for renewal of this agreement was the National Assembly’s approval of the Fiscal Responsibility Law. This law would eliminate the constitutionally assured national budget percentages automatically assigned to the universities (6%), the municipal governments (up to 10%) and the judicial branch (4%); prioritize payment of the public debt over social spending and end the National Assembly’s constitutional right to amend the budget bill submitted for approval by the Ministry of the Treasury. FSLN legislator Bayardo Arce, who will be responsible for the new government’s economic areas, declared that the IMF’s decisions are “absolutely reasonable” for Nicaragua, but in an ironic twist, Vice President-elect Morales Carazo, a former contra leader and now, like Arce, a banker, declared that the new government would “negotiate” with the IMF and “won’t honor impositions, because only those with no capacity to negotiate honor them, and we have the capacity, respect, credibility and rationality to propose sensible things.”

The Ortega team’s first meetings with the IMF were held on November 14-15, but were totally secret. At the same time, the Budget Support Group, made up of the majority of the countries providing cooperation to Nicaragua, set reform of the judicial branch as its first condition on the new government. The goal is to eliminate the kind of control that the FSLN and PLC have had over judicial decisions from the Supreme Court all the way down to local courts across the country for the past eight years thanks to their pact.

Will the government-elect get the IMF to make its conditions more flexible and agree to more gradual payment of the domestic debt? Or will it directly negotiate more favorable payment conditions with the bankers? Or might it even accept the IMF’s conditions immediately, signing the pending agreement to legitimize itself internationally and thus calm the business sector, knowing it will have Venezuelan aid to promote social programs along the lines of Chávez’s missions?

Down the road apiece, the Ortega government could also ask the Venezuelan government to finance the purchase of the domestic public debt with the commercial banks in addition to the promised supply of oil under very favorable conditions. This would free up significant funds, which the government could redirect toward social spending and public investment—representing a major success for the new Sandinista government. Will Chávez have the political will to do Ortega this enormous favor and will he even be in a position to do it?

Slow growth expected for 2007

The outcome of the negotiations with the IMF is also essential to reducing the private sector’s uncertainty, distrust and nervousness toward the new government, despite its open display of “votes of confidence” and “benefit of the doubt.”

Private investment has already pulled back and it’s unlikely that the levels reached in recent years will be recovered in the near future. Some investors in the offshore assembly plants for re-export known as maquilas have already packed up their sewing machines since the elections and left the country for good. There’s also a drop in construction and the banking sector won’t be able to bounce back quickly from the instability of an electoral year, independent of who won.

The combination of these factors and the restrictive fiscal and monetary policies promoted by the IMF strongly suggest that economic growth will be slower next year, only reaching 2-3%, compared to 4+% last year. And things could get very complicated if the Venezuelan and Cuban governments don’t launch the social programs promised in health, education, nutrition and sports, causing even more political disenchantment and deepening social frustrations.

A potential window of relief opened on November 17, almost two weeks after the elections, when President Bolaños announced that the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) had decided to write off Nicaragua’s roughly US$800 million debt with it. Four other impoverished Latin American countries—Honduras, Guayana, Haiti and Bolivia, which together owed the IDB some US$3.5 billion—also benefited from the debt pardon. In Nicaragua’s case, this will free up US$26 million in monthly debt payments that can be earmarked for other expenditures.

142 public posts
will tell the story

With so many pending social expectations and economic restrictions, the challenges faced by Daniel Ortega can only be dealt with successfully if his new government team has already decided to demonstrate a genuine willingness to govern well. It’s a tough task for any party after 16 years outside the executive branch, and for the FSLN, which has lost the most qualified professionals that once belonged to the party or sympathized with its cause, the challenge is huge.

Twenty days after the elections, no FSLN transition team had yet to appear in any government ministry, even though the outgoing government’s transition commissions have been preparing since September. to turn over their administration in as organized a way as possible.

According to a recent study, the central government has 142 key posts that will require honest, competent and professional officials who can re-instill the sense of public service lost in recent years. Ortega said during the campaign, and has repeated since his victory, that government posts will be distributed with gender equity—half men and half women.

Will the FSLN have enough cadres in its own ranks or will it look beyond them? Will it rename people who held these public posts in the eighties? Will it award positions to its loyal political activists or share them with its diverse allies? Or will it set aside both party loyalties and electoral alliances to select people with proven professional merits? The answer to this question is crucial in revealing the path the new government has chosen for the country and neutralizing any skittishness.

The United States Lost a Battle, But Not the War

The US government was an active participant throughout Nicaragua’s electoral process, jumping in very early with the single-minded objective of preventing Daniel Ortega’s victory and ensuring the continuity of Enrique Bolaños’ neoliberal government through Eduardo Montealegre. But none of its electoral tactics worked: the Right refused to reunite and Washington’s ideological adversary slipped through the fissure. For all that, however, the United States only lost a battle, not the war, because a strategic project of the globalized Nicaraguan Right—the ALN—is now inserted into both the political scene and the voters’ mindset. Next time, this project’s candidate will be supported by a party, unlike Bolaños, who had to run on the PLC ticket and ended up with it opposing him these past five years.

The two caudillos

The United States meddled more in this year’s Nicaraguan election than in any other on the continent, which is particularly noteworthy given Nicara-gua’s scant economic and geopolitical significance in Latin America. This is not to say that it only started trying to mend the split in the Right with these elections in mind. In fact, then-Secretary of State Colin Powell even found time just a month after 9-11 to meet with the Nicaraguan ambassador in Washington to discuss last-minute efforts to defeat Ortega in the November 2001 presidential elections. At that time the very weak Conservative Party was the only rightwing alternative to the Liberals, yet Washington so feared a split vote that it even pressured Conservative candidate Noel Vidaurre to drop out. In the end, Vidaurre only pulled 1.4% of the vote.

But given Nicaragua’s post-revolutionary correlation of political forces, a Liberal-Conservative split is one thing and a Liberal-Liberal split quite another. The first State Department officials bent on influencing this year’s elections arrived at the end of 2004, just after the FSLN and its Convergence alliance, which then included the MRS, swept 87 of the 152 mayoral seats. If that wasn’t enough to give Washington apoplexy, the FSLN won the most developed and populated municipalities, home to 80% of the nation’s citizenry. It augured a fantastic political platform for the FSLN in the presidential elections two years down the line.

Visiting high-ranking officials, clearly trained in the sledgehammer school of US diplomacy, showed no restraint in meddling in Nicaragua’s internal politics. By that time the PLC-FSLN pact was in its fifth year and they openly disparaged both Arnoldo Alemán and Daniel Ortega, whom they referred to the “two caudillos,” for their iron grip over their respective parties. The word caudillo has circulated as common currency in all political analyses ever since.

Soon the US pressure began to single out Alemán, confident that a fourth election defeat for Ortega would politically liquidate the FSLN leader. But things went a bit awry with that plan at the end of 2003: the good news was that Alemán was convicted to 20 years in prison for serious corruption; the bad news was that Ortega controlled not only the judge in charge of the case but also the appeals court, giving him the key to Alemán’s incarceration, and of course to his liberty. The legal and political handling of the case has been a key piece in Ortega’s electoral strategy ever since, trumping all US efforts to undercut him.

All in vain

When Alemán was indicted in early 2003, the Bolaños and Bush governments—which have worked in tandem throughout Bolaños’ five-year term—used the serious charges against him to try and pry the PLC loose from Alemán, or at least force him to release the party to a “modernizing” rightwing leader, in the style of ARENA’s transformation in El Salvador. Party bosses such as Alemán, so characteristic of Latin America’s political tradition, were hindering the US strategic project for Central America. Transnational capital is demanding other players with other game rules… in fact another game altogether.

The US issued every imaginable declaration, offer, warning and threat to attain that goal. Alternative political initiatives also “emerged” out of Bolaños’ office over the years in a fruitless attempt to achieve the same goal once it became evident that the PLC leadership wasn’t cutting loose of Alemán as expected.

The ALN was the most recent of three such attempts, emerging from nowhere with a huge bankroll and raring to take on Alemán and the PLC. Montealegre began to tour the country, rapidly building another electoral machine and selling the new Liberal trademark.

The autonomous government elections in the Caribbean coast in March 2006 would be the first test and the United States, Bolaños and Montealegre all expected the ALN to do well. Instead the elections demonstrated that the modern Liberals and their anti-pact, anti-caudillo rhetoric were no match for the traditional political culture and the PLC machinery. The PLC did better than even it expected. In the South Atlantic Autonomous Region it fell only one seat short of an absolute majority in a race against five other parties, while in the north it only won 18 of the 45 seats, but led the FSLN and Yatama to sign a joint governing alliance after the elections to stop the PLC from maneuvering to control the government there as well. The ALN, despite spending a reported $2 million on its campaign, only won 5 of the 45 seats in the south and none in the north.

The US kept failing

With that the US government shifted tactics. Forced to recognize the PLC’s superior vote-getting machine, it became obsessed with getting former Alemán government minister Monte-alegre into the drivers’ seat. It stopped at little to get Alemán to back off.

The powerful Robert Zoellick, chief negotiator for the CAFTA negotiations that same year, insulted Alemán in public, calling him a criminal and announcing that he and his family were persona non grata everywhere. The United States cancelled the entry visas of the Alemán family and a dozen of its colleagues, while the European Union, adding weight to Zoellick’s words, prohibited their entry into 12 countries for 10 years. When the stick had little effect, the US tried a carrot, offering to drop the pending trials for corruption against Alemán, his family members and several of his former government officials in both the United States and Panama if Alemán would cede control of the PLC and permanently retire from politics.

Neither the carrot nor the stick had any power against Alemán’s tenacity or the loyalty of PLC leaders toward their caudillo, who knew how to show his appreciation. They even endorsed his dream of running for the presidency again in 2011, as he was their only guarantee of returning to top public posts with mega-salaries and a hand in the pot.

Muddying the waters

At the end of June this year, US Under-Secretary of State for Western Hemispheric Affairs Thomas Shannon visited Nicaragua to bolster both of the “emerging” forces challenging the two caudillos. Shannon met not only with Montealegre, but also with MRS Alliance candidate Herty Lewites, only days before his death.

At that point, the US tactic was to turn the pact/anti-pact contradiction into the axis of the national conflict. But very soon it became more interested in buttressing the anti-Ortega axis by promoting the “useful vote” concept, presenting Montealegre as the only option able to beat the Sandinista caudillo.

Between May and November, the US government continued to meddle in the electoral process through its ambassador in Managua, Paul Trivelli. Another graduate of the sledgehammer school of diplomacy, Trivelli shamelessly promoted Montealegre and attacked José Rizo, threatening the private investors who were contributing to Rizo’s campaign and urging him to give up his candidacy. Trivelli, who even offended Rizo personally and sent emissaries of El Salvador’s ARENA party to persuade him to bow out.

In the final days, the PLC’ included the US flag and declarations by the baneful Oliver North, who visited Managua on October 22 to support Rizo, into its propaganda. Confusing Nicaraguan voters even more about Wash-ington’s mixed messages, Trivelli called the PLC propaganda spots “pure drivel.”

Remittance terrorism


While the Bush administration stubbornly insisted that Montealegre was the best option, it was even more concerned to ensure that Ortega lost, which led to a last minute vacillation about whether to switch to the proven PLC machinery or stay with the ALN’s new, more expensive, but untested model. In the end it opted simply to stir up more fear of Ortega with the same obsolete eighties’ script the PLC and ALN were using, perhaps hoping that enough anti-Sandinista voters would lean in one direction to defeat Ortega. In a jumble of threatening messages, the United States ratcheted up its fear campaign. On October 19, US Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutiérrez called Ortega’s victory an economic risk. In an eight-column headline in Nicaragua’s La Prensa, a faithful purveyor of Washington’s Nicaragua agenda for years, Gutiérrez warned that at least three companies poised to invest US$230 million in Nicaragua, generating 123,000 jobs, would pull out if Ortega won.

The next shot was even worse. Several congressional representatives insisted that US aid to Nicaragua would have to be reviewed if the “malevolent” Ortega won. They even touched on the sensitive issue of family remittances, recommending that Condoleeza Rice look into blocking the money sent by Nicaraguans living in the United States to their families back home. Some 200,000 Nicaraguan emigrants to the States send an average of $150 a month back to their families. An eight-column headline in La Prensa that day read “Remittances in danger.”

That campaign was kicked off in Washington by anti-immigrant Republican Congressman Dana Rohra-bacher. A similar campaign, with powerful TV spots, contributed significantly to the FMLN’s defeat in the 2004 presidential elections in El Salvador, and Nicaragua’s rightwing TV channels wasted no time repeating the experience. With the elections only days away, spots appeared from a hitherto unknown group calling itself “Women to the Rescue of History.” They featured an elderly mother crying as she read a letter from her son: “Mom, what will become of you without that bit of money? Mom, tell everybody not to vote for Daniel…”

Then in an exclusive interview in La Prensa on November 3, two days before the elections, Rohrabacher said he considered it his duty to “alert” the Bush government about what could happen were Daniel Ortega to take power again. “With a hostile government in Nicaragua, we definitely cannot permit that money to circulate and possibly get into the hands of terrorist groups. It would have a disastrous effect if the FSLN comes to power. The Free Trade Agreement would cease. This isn’t intervention. We don’t intend to tell Nicaraguans who they must vote for. If they want to return to the past it’s their business, but they can’t expect to count on our support. That would be their decision. And we’ll make our own decision too.”

The ALN warned that it was a choice between Montealegre or no more remittances via automatic-dial phone calls to people’s homes. Just before the elections, the ALN turned fear to panic by sending out the same message camouflaged as FSLN propaganda: “Compañero, compañera: dignity is worth more than remittances; Free land or death!”

The harvest of fear-mongering

The fear stirred up throughout October and the panic generated in the final days pushed a great many voters toward the useful vote. This mainly hurt the MRS, which seemed less likely to beat Ortega. To add to its problems, MRS propaganda wasn’t geared to quell such panic mongering; it had been designed to push a positive program of changes devoid of macho strutting and threats. An incalculable part of the 11 points the MRS dropped in the last month or so from its earlier high of 17% apparently went to Montealegre— who while less appealing to those attracted to Edmundo Jarquín was at least another anti-pact candidate. Rizo ended up only one point below Montealegre, presumably capturing the bulk of the genuinely undecided voters. Conversely, the FSLN picked up three points at the last minute, probably wavering Sandinistas incensed by the aggressive US threats and fearing a gringo victory with “more of the same” if Montealegre won. These last-minute shifts are expressed in the unusually high percentage of split-ticket votes, with the MRS, for example, getting over 2% more on the legislative ballot than on the presidential one.

The US lost the battle,
but did take a small hill

None of this pressure from both the executive and legislative branches in Washington had the effect it sought, however. It neither united the two Liberal options nor got Rizo to resign. Worse yet, anti-Sandinista voters, now much more worked up about Ortega than before, were as unsure as the US strategists about how to prevent his victory. Some thought Rizo had the best chance and others thought it would be Montealegre. Ortega won precisely because Rizo pulled enough last-minute votes to stop Montealegre getting within 5% of Ortega’s vote. With his rightwing opposition split down the middle, Ortega squeaked though the fissure to victory. Would the result have been any different if the US had butted out?Ortega won precisely because Rizo pulled enough last-minute votes to stop Montealegre getting within 5% of Ortega’s vote. With his rightwing opposition split down the middle, Ortega ran through the opening to victory. Would the result have been any different if the US had butted out?

The US policy in Nicaragua’s elections thus suffered a rather major strategic setback: its preferred candidate lost and its visceral adversary since the eighties won. The only thing needed to complete this bleak picture is for Ortega to let Alemán go free with a clean political record.

The consolidation prize for the Uni¬¬ted States is Jaime Morales Carazo. Hoping to symbolize the genuineness of his campaign claim of peace, love and reconciliation, Ortega matched his new “friendship” with Cardinal Obando by choosing as his running mate this former chief and top negotiator of the US-backed contras, who is even the owner of the confiscated house Ortega still lives in. It’s unlikely that Ortega expected Morales Carazo to add any votes, but he surely hoped his presence on the ticket would avoid a US veto. As of January 10, Morales Carazo, who claims he was won over by Ortega’s gestures of reconciliation, will be Nica-ra¬gua’s new Vice President. Ortega must be very confident of his bodyguards.

For the United States, this has just been one battle lost; the neoliberal war is far from over. Daniel Ortega will govern with very limited room for maneuver given the conditions imposed not only by the US-dominated international financing institutions, but also by the other expressions of international cooperation on which Nica-ragua’s weak economy so depends. Furthermore, the ALN has walked away with half of the PLC’s electorate, which is no small problem for the continuation of the FSLN-PLC pact in the National Assembly, and the ALN is unlikely to disappear as so many of Nicaragua’s other third-party options have done in the past. It has planted its flag firmly in the country’s political and electoral terrain.

And Chávez?

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez unquestionably attempted to influence the Nicaraguan electorate by publicly supporting Daniel Ortega since April and using low-priced oil to project a promising future if Ortega was elected. But as with the negative US interference, Chávez’s more positive approach was constantly present in the pundits’ analysis while remaining very diluted in voters’ minds. For the most part, Nicaraguans decide much more for domestic and personal reasons. As Nicara-gua’s grassroots culture also tends to leave tasks and decisions until the end, the bulk of the anti-Sandinista voters were much more susceptible to the final month’s US threats concerning remittances or loss of job opportunities than the geopolitical hopes or fears that each side tried to peddle earlier.

Furthermore, the poverty, malnutrition and ignorance of a large part of Nicaragua’s population helps accentuate the limited and provincial visions that make villagers feel that their village is the world, ,as José Martí so aptly put it. Such visions are also increasingly marked by the most negative and impressionable expressions of a fatalistic and authoritarian religiosity, as we discuss in the article on abortion and religion in this same issue.

Candidate Eduardo Montealegre stood out for his use of that religious card. Promoting open disobedience of the Bishops’ Conference request to Catholic priests to “abstain from participating in party activities and manifesting your own inclinations,” he book-ended his campaign with priestly endorsements. At his official campaign opening on August 27, Father Neguib Eslaquit offered an exalted panegyric involving the number 9, the ALN’s number on the ballot. Two months later, on October 29, Montealegre was joined at his final campaign rally in Chinandega by Father Enrique Mar-
tínez, known as a fanatic in his home base of La Paz Centro. Dressed in vestment and stole as if he were celebrating a liturgical act, he told the huge crowd—bussed in at a reported cost of nearly $300,000—that his presence was a “moral duty.” “I don’t want my eyes to see again what they saw during that dark night; I don’t want my eyes to see again the young men booted out of high school to be sent off to military service.” Martínez not only openly endorsed Montealegre, but called on people to use their votes “to rescue Nicaragua from Daniel Ortega’s clutches.”

Will the real Daniel
Ortega please stand up

Perhaps Daniel Ortega’s rather unflattering victory and his limited options will help shrink the man down to his rightful dimension—in both his own eyes and those of his detractors and devotees. Perhaps he won’t prove to be the feared promoter of new wars or destroyer of the economy, or even the romantic revolutionary committed to justice for the poor, but simply another in Nicaragua’s long line of opportunist politicians. And while it’s a long shot, he just might make good on his claimed desire to show Nicaragua and the world that he can govern well when given the kind of opportunity the Reagan years ever allowed.

JUST HOW EXPENSIVE WERE
THEIR ELECTORAL MACHINES?
On October 30, a few days before the electoral campaign officially closed, the Civic Network for Transparency issued a report about how much the five parties had spent on the race, according to their own estimates and monitoring. The FSLN took first place, with some $7 million, followed by the PLC, with roughly $5.5 million, the ALN with about $4.5 million, the MRS with close to $1 million and the Alternative for Change, which ran a distant last with the perennial Eden Pastora as its candidate, at under $0.5 million. During the presentation of these calculations, which seem a bit short of the mark considering the overwhelming publicity campaigns of the top three parties on the list, Nicaragua’s election monitoring group, Ethics & Transparency reiterated the urgency of reforming the Electoral Law, which only requires parties to detail their income during the 75 days of the official campaign, but not the income received before then for the same purpose. It also allows them to receive anonymous and foreign donations.

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