Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 310 | Mayo 2007



Where Are We Heading?

President Daniel Ortega stated that his government is constructing a new economic, social and political model to free Nicaragua from the international institutions and set up a “direct democracy” in which the “people are the President.” Are we really headed for this future, and is it a real goal or only a pipe dream?

Nitlápan-Envío team

The new government’s first hundred days sparked a plethora of analyses, most of which considered that it lacked a defined program. Almost certainly thumbing their nose at this “100 days” news cliché, the governing couple began to define their project’s socioeconomic and political content on the 101st day.

They did so in long meetings in the FSLN secretariat building, now the presidential offices, where longwinded government ministers presented their respective plans for education, health, agriculture, the eradication of hunger, sports, tourism, highway construction… They punctuated their presentations with glitzy Power Point slides that were long on figures and short on frank reflections.

Saved by a “miracle”

Not even when he won last November’s elections did President Ortega appear as euphoric as during the celebration of International Workers’ Day on May 1, only hours after returning from the first meeting of Presidents participating in the Latin American Bolivarian Alliance (ALBA) in Barquisimeto, Venezuela. Speaking to the assembled workers, Ortega aggrandized both the dimensions of our small, impoverished country and its possibilities of developing now that it’s part of the project conceived by Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. He enthusiastically repeated that during his term Nicaragua would free itself from “savage capitalism” and the IMF’s tutelage, and concluded by calling what is happening today in Nicaragua and Latin America “God’s mir-acle.”

The “miracle” is the fact that Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela is sitting on the world’s largest oil reserve. This sea of riches, combined with the egoism, blindness and incompetence of the traditional political parties he managed to unseat, have permitted the charismatic Chávez to construct an ambitious project and a continental leadership. Although this project’s personalism is worrying and makes it very fragile, Chávez is provoking upsets and ruptures in a Latin America that needs integration if it is to be successful. Surely the most ambitious, uncertain and confusing of all the upsets is the one President Ortega has in mind for Nicaragua.

A new model
or an age-old one?

Daniel Ortega has made it abundantly clear that he’s going to construct his “new” economic, social and political model with the support of Chávez’s petrodollars. This will allow him to respond to some of the most basic needs of the majority of the population submerged in hunger, ignorance and miserable poverty and abandoned to their fate for the past 16 years of postwar “democracy.” He’ll do it with subsidized rural credits and welfare and social compensation programs, thus putting the country deeper in debt. But there are so many pressing needs that the copious Venezuelan aid will only achieve some of the “miracles” required. What’s more, Ortega will administer those petrodollars through his party, doling them out with patronage strings attached to ensure a grateful and captive social base.

In reality, there’s nothing new at all in this model. External dependency, paternalism and patronage-based caudillismo are the hallmarks of the nation’s political history. What’s new is that the whole bet is being put on Chávez’s ALBA.

Are we really going to
cut free of the IMF?

In his presentation of the Zero Hunger Program on April 21, Ortega said, “Before five years are out, Nicaragua will be liberated from the International Monetary Fund; of this you can be sure. And that will be a blessing.” Eight days later, in the greatest secrecy, Ortega entered into negotiations with the IMF delegation that came to Nicaragua to hammer out a new three-year agreement.

Ortega’s promise coincided with Chávez’s announcement that Venezuela will pay off its debts with the IMF and World Bank and leave both institutions. Venezuela has enough financial resources from its oil wealth to do that, but for Ortega to announce that he would follow suit was perplexing. Nicaragua is the second poorest nation in the Americas and thus a member of the HIPC group, that exclusive club of the planet’s 44 most highly indebted and poorest countries. Had Chávez promised Ortega more aid to slough off the IMF? Had he offered to buy the domestic debt that has so dragged down the Nicaraguan economy? Or was Ortega’s announcement no more than demagogic rhetoric to weight his gov-ernment’s negotiations with the IMF?

In the end, does the “liberation” President Ortega is talking about have any real basis? This year US$115 million in direct support to the national budget depends on the existence of an agreement with the IMF, so he is surely hoping to successfully negotiate a significant amount of foreign aid not tied to such an agreement. Nicaragua will apparently receive non-tied aid from four main sources: Venezuela; oil-rich Arab countries such as Iran and Libya; as well as China and Brazil, two of the most vigorous economies in the developing world. It will also receive lesser amounts from European countries such as Spain and Sweden.

We’re going with petrodollars

In Barquisimeto, Chávez offered to cover all energy needs of the ALBA member countries (Cuba, Bolivia and Nicaragua), financing 50% of their oil bill to free up money for social projects. Nicaragua needs 17,000 barrels of fuel a day to keep moving, which Venezuela has already guaranteed. The new part is that Venezuela will now finance a greater percentage of our oil bill, bringing the 40% initially promised up to 50%.

Nicaragua will be the cheapest ALBA country for Chávez, but the size of the concessionary resources Venezuela is offering is enormous for Nicaragua, equaling two-thirds of the foreign aid our country will receive for the next three years if the government reaches an agreement with the IMF.

According to the medium-term fiscal framework agreed to by the Bolaños government and international cooperation, Nicaragua’s aid for 2007-2009 will fluctuate between US$450 and $500 million annually. The Venezuelan aid that could be generated by the petroleum agreement amounts to some US$300 million a year. If Ortega could get roughly US$200 million in additional foreign aid not tied to the IMF he could indeed “free himself” from the economic policy conditionalities imposed by that world financial cop. But so far neither Brazil nor China nor the Arab countries have pledged significant amounts of aid to Nicaragua for the coming years.

Next comes the refinery

The “liberation” from the IMF proclaimed by Ortega on several occasions basically responds to the expectations linked to a new and considerable source of national income in the form of the oil refinery Chávez promised. This refinery would belong to the Nicaraguan state, with shares held by the Venezuelan state, and would supply oil derivatives not only to Nicaragua but also to the other Central American countries. Its construction will take three to five years and cost US$2.5 billion, according to Chávez.

This coincides with the time frame announced by Ortega to get free of the IMF. It also coincides with the end of Ortega’s presidential term, which indicates the central importance of his reelection for the new Sandinista government project.

According to petroleum industry experts, the “Sandino-Bolívar” refinery would have the capacity to process 100,000-150,000 barrels a day and could generate US$200-245 million in net profits annually. If Venezuela also continues financing 50% of the oil imports required to satisfy national demand, the Nicaraguan state would have up to US$550 million in income from both sources. Then the numbers “would start to talk,” as this exceeds the total foreign aid programmed in the medium-term fiscal framework agreed with the IMF.

We still don’t have
the ideal scenario

But this ideal scenario is still far away. So far it is only known where they will build the refinery, an engineering work never before undertaken in the country. As a consequence, Ortega is forced to negotiate with the IMF, because the amount of foreign aid included in the medium-run fiscal framework doesn’t remotely satisfy the country’s needs with respect to social spending and public investment.

The social pressures on the new government in its first 100 days to improve the salaries of teachers and other lower-income public employees have shown very clearly how tightly Nicara-gua’s macroeconomic corset is tied. Beyond Ortega’s rhetorical speeches, his ministers never fail to point out that it is impossible to satisfy the minimum social and infrastructure investment demands with the resources currently available to the Sandinista government.

There’s no other choice: the government needs an agreement with the IMF to access the foreign resources pledged by international cooperation during the Bolaños government. At the same time it needs the IMF to be flexible enough to let it take on concessionary loans with Venezuela and any new sources of external financing it can find.

Many reasons for doubt

The IMF isn’t very sympathetic towards Nicaragua’s mounting indebtedness because it doesn’t think our economy can generate much more growth than it does now. It distrusts the weak capacity to administer public investments that Nicaragua has demonstrated for many years.

The IMF isn’t the only doubting Thomas; the countries that cooperate with Nicaragua and are waiting for the government to reach an agreement with the IMF share its nervousness. They doubt the Sandinistas’ capacity to propose new development policies and programs and implement them coherently and transparently. This makes the IMF an exacting negotiator: it calculates that if it relaxes its position on Nicaragua’s foreign indebtedness, the country will once again sink into the vicious circle of even greater levels of debt and poverty.

To make things still harder, the IMF is requiring structural reforms that have a high political cost, particularly those related to social security and municipal government. First of all, it wants to see a reduction in benefits for insured workers to guarantee the social security system’s financial stability. And second, it wants the municipal governments to assume the costs currently covered by the central government in their localities, in exchange for guaranteeing the national budget transfers to them established by the Constitution.

The measure affecting the municipalities would have an immediate political repercussion with the 2008 municipal elections just around the corner; they already have the political class agitated. His unwillingness to pay that price is no small part of Ortega’s virulent and threatening tone toward the IMF. Moreover, he needs to consolidate himself in power with a stunning victory in the municipal elections, which will be a kind of referendum on his first two years in government. In this context, we should expect more fireworks in a dispute that will inevitably end in a new agreement between Nicaragua and the IMF.

We’re off to win votes

Despite its generosity, Venezuela also gave some signs in April that it wanted to ensure more ordered use of the resources it’s plowing into Nicaragua. Albanic, the private Sandinista enterprise created ad hoc in 2006 to be the counterpart receiving the imported Venezuelan oil, disappeared and was replaced by Petronic, the Nicaraguan state oil company, all at the Venezuelan government’s request. The government of Cuba, which knows first-hand the Sandinista government’s administrative disorder of the eighties, may have influenced this prudent measure. Significantly, there has been no such caution in the case of the urea Venezuela has been selling to Nicaragua since 2006, which is being administered by a private Sandinista “cooperative.”

Ortega clearly plans to finance the social base he needs to consolidate his political project with the Venezuelan resources, managed either through a “parallel budget” that sidesteps both institutional control and parliamentary negotiations and approval, or through private middlemen politically linked to the FSLN, as is happening in agriculture with the urea. This political project has a dual purpose: to undermine any challenge to Ortega’s leadership within the party and to allow him to continue governing Nicaragua beyond the five-year term granted him by 38% of the electorate.

Riding someone else’s horse

There’s no economic project other than the one that will flow from Venezuelan oil and Hugo Chavez’s fat checks. Meanwhile, the political project, dubbed “direct democracy,” has been designed and is underway. The party elite who now control both the FSLN and the government will soon be holding the reins of all the other horses. In other words, loyal party members will take over leadership of everything from the Nicaraguan Economic and Social Planning Council to the most specific and local working roundtable. And they will impose party and governmental hegemony in all groups, associations, organizations, collectives and other entities that are already functioning.

On May 1, Ortega’s wife and co-governor Rosario Murillo announced that Citizen’s Power Councils have already been formed for the celebration of July 19, the anniversary of the overthrow of the Somoza family dictatorship. Meanwhile, the Municipal and Departmental Development Councils, born out of the Civic Participation Law, have no idea whether they are supposed to compete with these new councils or will be juxtaposed to them as channels for receiving the Venezuelan aid, or if the new councils will seek to annul or absorb these existing arenas of public participation. Since May 1, pro-government radio stations have begun to invite residents of urban neighborhoods and rural districts to “inaugurate a new participation and development model” by either seeking out the Citizen’s Power Councils where they exist or creating them where they don’t.

It is being announced that they will allow “community discussion” of all problems such as electricity, water, public telephone, streets, schools, health centers, sports… A “political training” workbook for FSLN cadres leaked to La Prensa explains the philosophy of Ortega’s “new” political model. It rests on two pillars: “the Councils in the civic-political sphere and the associations in the economic field.” The FSLN cadres are defined as having the mission of “riding others’ horses”—and are exhorted to avoid sectarianism and join Liberals and Sandi-nistas at the grassroots level, since they are already united in the upper echelons of the PLC and FSLN.

If it is increasingly clear where we’re headed—in the same direction as Venezuela—it is also becoming clear what or who will be taking us—the “new economic and political subjects” that will be attracted by and organized with Venezuela’s resources and directed by the FSLN structures.

The media is
the main opposition

There was much agreement in the analyses of the new government’s first 100 days. Generally speaking, the newly free public health and education services were labeled positive, while the continual improvisation, authoritarian tendencies, secrecy and State-Party-Family confusion were considered bad. There was also a lot of agreement that the new government has been slow getting started, as well as erratic and contradictory, all of which has generated uncertainty and confusion. Despite all this, however, it has encountered no real opposition so far.

Some believe that Ortega’s main political victory is that he’s been able to establish his project without opposition, or at least with an opposition confined to the media. Virtually all media, from right to left, have consistently pointed out the government’s incoherencies, violation of the laws, scorn of and disrespect for institution-ality and minimally democratic performance. And they’ve focused on that ideological microwave in which Ortega and Murillo defrost and reheat words, styles and projects from the eighties even though we’re not emerging from a dictatorship today or dealing with a war, much less enjoying the mystique generated by that revolution.

The media have also commented on the government’s lack of resources—ALBA’s lights aren’t yet seen anywhere—to realize and sustain the extremely just announcement of free education and health care. Right now there’s a huge gap between the announcement and the reality, as the article by Adolfo Acevedo in this issue discusses: there aren’t enough classrooms, teachers or desk-chairs; there’s a serious shortage of medicines; and the teachers and health care workers don’t have decent salaries. But can a genuine opposition be organized from the media? In a country such as Nicaragua, believing in that possibility reflects a kind of political autism.

The opposition
seems a bit confused

Ortega’s new model has quite a few people worried, but they aren’t organized. In this sea of petroleum and uncertainties, a year and a half before the 2008 municipal elections, there’s talk of an anti-Ortega alliance among the three losing candidates from the presidential elections: Eduardo Monte-alegre of the Nicaraguan Liberal Alliance (ALN), José Rizo of the Constitutionalist Liberal Party (PLC), and Edmundo Jarquín, who is now coordinating the Sandinista Renovation Movement alliance, whose ticket he headed following the death of Herty Lewites.

The project would kick off with the three touring the country calling for “unity” to stop Ortega and his model, thus paving the way to snatch away the FSLN’s control of the majority of municipal governments as a prelude to winning the presidency in 2011. This project’s ideologues want to emulate the success of the UNO coalition of unlike parties that ended the Sand-inista revolution at the ballot box in 1990.
Montealegre calls it an alliance “for democracy” that transcends the concepts of “Left and Right.” Jarquín has declared his support for the idea as it’s an effort “against the pact.” And Rizo, who represents one of the parties in the pact, argues that it’s “feasible and necessary” to unite and that if it worked 17 years ago, it can do so now.

Are they serious?

This absurd idea seems to have emerged from a mind that never got past basic statistics: if three politicians who drew 62% of the votes come together with a single message, they can beat Ortega, who only won 38%.

It’s hard to imagine a mix more marked by electoral short-sightedness and opportunism. The ALN contains the most select representatives of this country’s privileged class, responsible through their age-old social insensitivity for so many of the miseries our country and its people now suffer. If Ortega’s speeches resonate in the eardrums of the poor it’s because of what President Enrique Bolaños, the most recent representative of this class, did and didn’t do in the last five years. Has Montealegre stopped to think that Nicaragua is also demanding economic democracy?

José Rizo was the PLC candidate, chosen by Alemán. But although he has been relegated and humiliated by Alemán, his ideological consistency is recognizably malleable. The PLC, to which he proudly belongs, is the FSLN’s partner in a pact that has corrupted Nicaragua’s institutions. Will Rizo take this handicap seriously?

The most scandalous aspect is listening to Edmundo Jarquín, who ran for the presidency under the banner of renovating Sandinismo, endorse this alliance and declare his willingness to join the anti-Ortega trio, just as long as it doesn’t include Alemán. Jarquín even flirted with the idea of winning his party’s Managua mayoral candidacy before this brilliant idea was forged, and now apparently envisions running on the washed-out banner of this combo.

To sum up, the Ortega govern-ment’s “new” model is moving along while the formal opposition dabbles in short-sighted, opportunistic answers. In contrast, the more serious opposition that grasps the risk contained in the model is trying to assimilate and push the idea that the only way out is to design a long-term project that includes education, reflection on our history, the renunciation of caudillo figures, a commitment to truth and ethics, and linkage to the country’s reality. This has to be designed and implemented little by little, step by step, from the street and the barrio, not from the media and air-conditioned offices.

The Liberals remain divided

While the media stir up opposition and many civil society organizations are using the media to do the same, the Ortega-Murillo couple seems at ease and confident. At the end of the day, the media are simply reducing their errors or arbitrariness to a political spectacle, converting it into material for jokes, gossip or speculation.

Daniel Ortega enjoys factors with more decisive weight than the media, allowing him to take firm steps with no real or effective opposition. Those factors include the population’s material poverty, ignorance, political backwardness and, above all, that resigned and magic religious culture that pops up everywhere and is actively spread by the church hierarchies and the mass media, which promote stories of appearances of virgins and uncorrupted cadavers, angelology and demonology, miraculous images, relics of saints and irrational, literal readings of the Bible, presenting them as expressions of “our” Christianity.

To dilute the parties’ institutional opposition, Ortega has the fragility of the critical Sandinistas on his side. And most importantly, he still has the Liberals divided. That division, based on interests and personalism rather than principles, was an important key to his electoral victory. If he is to consolidate the “new” model that Venezuela is backing, Ortega must keep them off balance with his surprise effect of daily improvisations in which he mixes leftist speeches with indulgent rightwing politics. He has to keep them divided.

Arnoldo Alemán continues to do that work for him. He is currently touring the country, visiting Liberal bases, inviting the PLC-run municipal governments to join him in “Liberal unity,” forcing Eduardo Montealegre, the leader of the other Liberal party, to engage in a rival tour, fighting for leadership of the country’s Liberal majority face to face and toe to toe.

Although deep down Alemán must know that Ortega is using him, his unbridled political activism blinds him to it. He no longer uses the venomous anti-Sandinista discourse that has been the PLC’s main political asset since its founding; his caudillo charisma, in total contrast to Monte-alegre’s slick button-down political style, is enough to create ongoing confusion in important rural and urban sectors of the country—those with less education and more poverty and most affected by the Sandinista govern-ment’s policies in the eighties.

Opting for Alemán

Since taking office, Ortega has been flattering Alemán, even inviting him to his inauguration, which sparked national embarrassment and international astonishment. Two months later he upgraded Alemán’s “hacienda-by-the-pool” version of house arrest to “country arrest,” leaving him free to do everything but leave Nicaragua, where he would be more likely to face real prosecution anyway. In April, FSLN and PLC legislators modified two articles of the Penal Code to reduce the sentence for money laundering unrelated to drug trafficking. It is now five to seven years in prison, a significant reduction from the twenty Alemán was slapped with for this and other connected crimes.

This December will mark five years since that sentence was issued, and as all legal modifications are retroactive to the benefit of the prisoner in penal cases, this one will permit Alemán to be free for Christmas, with no need for amnesty or pardon, and without the Sandinista-dominated appeals court having to burn itself by declaring insufficient proof against this alleged embezzler of some hundred million dollars in government funds. Ortega would no longer have Alemán as his juridical hostage, but Alemán’s insatiable political ambition suggests he would continue to divide and confuse.

Resignation reigns

The forgiving culture of the Nicaraguan population—through both forgetfulness and a religiosity that easily transforms a criminal into a sinner who should be forgiven—has already gotten used to Alemán’s presence all over the country. People see nothing abnormal about him again making declarations to the media and participating in political and both Catholic and Evangelical religious acts. To justify his “ecu-menism” he argues that “there’s only one Jesus.”

The country is resigned to the fact that Alemán won’t pay much of a price for stealing their resources and that not a cent of his larceny will be returned to the public coffers. Even Arturo Cruz Jr., Nicaragua’s new ambassador in Washington, recently said that Alemán should “occupy his place as a political notable” in this new stage initiated with the Ortega government.

The most spectacular part

Meanwhile, the most shocking news this month had to do with a number of spectacular police raids against the big drug rings. In mid-April, the National Police (PN) carried out “Operation Phoenix”—its most complex anti-drug raid to date—in Tipitapa, just outside Managua, and other points around the country. It was a strategic blow to the infrastructure and logistics of Mexico’s Sinaloa cartel in Nicaragua. Over 20 of its main leaders were captured, minus its leader “El Cochi”; an airstrip was destroyed and some three dozen vehicles were seized, including five freight trucks prepared for the transport of thousands of kilos of cocaine.

The operations against this powerful cartel, which has displaced the Colombians and now controls the trafficking of cocaine to the United States, started in December and continued in January with the confiscation of tons of cocaine, heroine and heavy weapons. This time, Chief of Police Aminta Granera declared that the cartel had threatened to have her killed. Then on April 24, the police carried out “Operation Gladiator” in Masachapa, the most spectacular PN operation on the high seas. They seized 89 sacks containing 2 tons of cocaine, which the traffickers were transporting on a 50-foot speedboat with four 200-HP motors, a far more powerful boat than anything the PN has ever had. Two days later the PN had a new success in Operation Agateyte, capturing 700 kilos of cocaine in northern Chinandega.

The next day, on April 27, Chief Granera decorated police officers who had participated in Operation Phoenix and Operation Gladiator, although the agents received their medals with their faces shrouded in hoods to avoid identification. Granera announced that “We reiterate our pledge to free the national territory of the evil represented by organized crime, violence, social decomposition and drugs, for our children, our grandchildren and all our young people…. We know there will be reactions against the Police, but wherever they happen, we repeat our commitment to a head-on struggle against them. We aren’t afraid of them; we’re not going to fold. They may have planes, boats, helicopters, hit men and millions of dollars, but they’re never going to have the courage, the valor, the discipline, the devotion, the service and the love of their people that this police force has.”

Police Chief Granera
first in the polls

In a national survey by the polling firm M&R in mid-April, just as this impressive array of operations got underway, the population was asked which personalities it trusted most. National Police First Commissioner Aminta Granera, who was appointed chief of police by Bolaños in August 2006, appeared in first place with 79% of the responses. The support appears to be for her as a person, not the institution she runs, since the PN ranked eighth among the institutions the population most trusts, with only 54.4% of the votes. In her time Granera has been a nun and a Sandinista guerrilla fighter, joining the National Police when it was founded in 1979. Her declarations since her appointment plus her valor in directing the PN’s successful anti-drug operations starting in December have evidently earned her the popula-tion’s sympathy.

In second place in the population’s confidence was singer-songwriter Carlos Mejía Godoy, with 72.3%. On May 2, Mejía Godoy published a text called “Circle of Love for Aminta,” in which he proposes to protect her. According to Mejía Godoy, “she is setting a historical milestone at the head of that institution… The role she has assumed with such firmness, facing up to a monster with enormous tentacles, is extremely dangerous. And this should move us not only to reflection, but to immediate action. Right now those major hoods are taking aim at that slight and singular lady, who does honor to her roots, like the Rebel Novice of the Ascension. Yet again I expect nothing from the lofty functionaries of the political class. I do, however, have hopes of and confidence in civil society, which is sensitive to the community’s dramatic problems.” He called on the national artists “to organize a massive event, with songs and poems exalting the courage and boldness of those struggling against those people [the drug traffickers].”

The police actions against the Sinaloa cartel’s structures and networks in Nicaragua have revealed the degree to which our country is being invaded by these criminal groups. National Police Commissioner Esteban Guido, second in charge of the Anti-drugs Division, acknowledged that drug trafficking has had “quite a lot of success” penetrating the country’s institu-tionality: mayors, politicians, judges and other authorities. He also admitted that despite the busts, the Sinaloa cartel still has a presence in Nicaragua and that three other groups are also active in the country—“a tiny, weak Colombian one and two Mexican ones with a lot of power.”

The operations also revealed the urgent changes needed in the National Police, whose postponement for many years just extended the corruption. The successes obtained can only be explained by the firmness and leadership of Aminta Granera, who has been cleaning up the institution’s command structure since her appointment, as well as the generosity and commitment of anonymous and courageous officers.

The most revealing part

The actions against the drug mafias revealed the risks we run in Nicaragua if we don’t seriously push to strengthen the judicial institutions and challenge the culture of tolerance toward corruption and impunity, which has only grown thanks to the Ortega-Alemán pact and the irresponsible behavior of most of the political class.

The silence of President Ortega and his Cabinet members was deafening. Ortega should have presented the police successes as the main achievement during the first 100 days of his administration. He should have publicly and repeatedly applauded their protagonists. He should have decorated them, highlighting their heroic actions.

Instead, he watched these events from afar with measured silence, as if just one more spectator, and one of the most indifferent at that. He left the impression that the National Police isn’t an integral part of this government. Could it be that the fight against drug trafficking isn’t part of his new model?

Today, like yesterday

Many things are changing in the Nicaragua of the “new” model: there is shameless disrespect for the institutions and the law, impunity has reached an unprecedented level of normality, and there is a different international context, thanks to Venezuela’s weight in national life. But fundamentally, Nicaragua is still the same rudderless ship that set off without a clear course when it broke away from Spain nearly two hundred years ago. We’re still living our history as if it were a game of chance, just like the gamblers who bet the little or the lot that they have in the casinos proliferating in “modern” Managua.

Now Nicaragua is stacking all of its chips on Hugo Chávez’s Bolivarian roulette wheel rather than building a national project based on what we are, what we want and what we can be. The FSLN hasn’t capitalized on the painful lesson of the eighties, when it also spoke of “national unity” but acted as if Nicaragua could build a different future without the organized collaboration of all Nicaraguans. Today, like yesterday, it is promoting a dividing unity.

Yesterday we thought that the socialist bloc’s solidarity was enough to consolidate a revolution. Today we think that the vacuous 21st Century Socialism that Chávez has yet to explain offers everything we need to pull ourselves out of misery.

On the red, flower-bedecked stage of May 1, Daniel Ortega fatuously declared that Nicaragua, Venezuela, Bolivia and Cuba were now “one single nation,” as if the square kilometers and populations of those four countries could simply be added together. Of course it’s easier to build fantasies with the irresponsible use of words than to face reality and the challenge for Nicaragua of becoming a genuine nation: a community of shared memories, aspirations and responsibilities.

A warning from Master Simón

Many things are changing and many more will change. But it seems that we’re an imitation country, now under the leadership of a government that prefers imitating to thinking. Though it proclaims itself Bolivarian, this government is a bad student of Bolívar’s teacher, Simón Rodríguez, who so lamented Latin America’s imitative and servile routine and proposed that our whole continent dedicate itself to finding our own, creative, original thinking.

“We either invent ourselves or we’re lost!” cried Master Simón, placing this warning signal along the edge of the mistaken roads we were heading down in those times and that we’re seem to be about to follow again.

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