Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 317 | Diciembre 2007



How Many Conflicts Will the New “Direct Democracy” Trigger?

“By setting up the Councils of Citizen’s Power and CONPES,” pontificated Rosario Murillo, the First Lady, on November 28, “we’ll be sealing the Great Grassroots Alliance in Nicaragua. We’ll be creating the instruments for the development of Direct Democracy, of People’s Power, in our country. What will be the role of this Great Alliance of the ’People as President’s’ territorial organization?” We’ve been wondering that very thing all these months.

Nitlápan-Envío team

President Daniel Ortega had begun to talk of setting up “direct democracy” in Nicaragua even before winning the elections and continued to insist on that plan after his electoral victory, but without ever fleshing out the concept. He limited himself to saying that representative democracy is useless, because it doesn’t truly represent grassroots interests.

Now, as his first year of government is drawing to a close, we’ve gotten a strong glimpse of what his proposal is all about. On November 30, the Councils of Citizen’s Power (CPC) were officially established by presidential decree, despite the opposition of a parliamentary majority and the climate of social confrontation, all provoked by the President himself. These CPCs, we’re told, will make his “direct democracy” a reality.

Autonomy is the key word

Representative democracy has only existed in Nicaragua for the past two decades. The first free elections were held in 1984, won by the then highly popular Daniel Ortega with over 60% of the vote against seven parties covering a wide ideological spectrum. Participatory democracy began to take shape with the municipal autonomy promulgated in the 1987 Constitution, the Municipalities Law the following year and the direct election of municipal governments in 1990. All this began to build autonomous local power. Autonomy is a key word when trying to give the concept of direct democracy some content.

The subsequent Municipal Budget Law and Municipal Transfers Law headed in the same direction. All these laws, which encouraged the citizenry’s participation in local power, finally gelled into the Law of Civic Participation (Law 475). FSLN legislators participated actively in the debate, consultations and passage of that law in late 2003. With some flaws and gaps, but also with good new approaches and ideas, Law 475 began to be put into practice in parts of the country some three years before President Ortega hatched his “direct democracy” project, effectively turning his back on the law.

Direct democracy, civic participation or citizens’ power—call it what you will—assumes participation by an informed citizenry with the capacity to debate, deliberate, draft and implement public policy. How can we not welcome such a project in a society like Nicaragua’s, where much of the population is conditioned by history, impoverishment and religious culture to go before authorities in search of favors, gifts and other handouts, not as equals with an awareness and an agenda of rights and duties? After all, genuine direct democracy is a horizontal exercise that undercuts top-down hierarchies, sidesteps messianic pretensions, puts the brake on paternalism and builds individual and collective responsibilities.

Authentic participatory democracy—yet another name for direct democracy—is inspired by principles that shape a process. One learns to participate by actually doing so and the result is a critical citizenry that debates, questions, intervenes, makes decisions and takes initiative.

A totally vertical design

Despite its uneven application in its three short years of life, the Law of Civic Participation kicked off that participatory process in many municipalities and also at the departmental level, encouraging and formalizing the creation of civic associations in urban neighborhoods and rural districts. The autonomy of these new arenas, not chaired by any authority imposed from above by some higher command, was one of their principal values. Naturally, this experience was still wet behind the ears when the presidential couple took office, as imperfect as many other expressions of our fragile institutionality. But there it was, a starting point. It was advancing and the many people working in it were proud of their efforts.

An authentic project of direct democracy should have evaluated and buttressed what already existed. But the Ortega-Murillo government’s first disregard for the law was to utterly ignore those preceding structures and the accumulated experiences of earlier years as if nothing had ever existed before their arrival on the scene. Then they launched a new structure that contradicts the very principals of direct democracy.

The governmental Communications and Citizenship Council—whose only known member is its coordinator, Rosario Murillo—controls the CPCs at all their different levels, and almost all of them are chaired by leaders of the FSLN’s own party structures. The CPCs have also recently been brought into the National Economic and Social Planning Council (CONPES), constitutionally created eight years ago, thanks to pressure from the international community, as the main body for civil society consultation with the government. CONPES now not only has a new member, but also a new executive director: the very same Rosario Murillo. It’s hard to imagine a more closed, top-down structure.

We aren’t tribes any more

It would be a mistake to assume that direct democracy is necessarily superior to representative democracy. The advantages and disadvantages depend entirely on a given society’s circumstances and historical conditions.

Given the complexities of today’s national societies, which are more numerous, more informed and more pluralist than ever before, representative democracy is imposed as a necessity. Mechanisms of political representation, of “indirect” democracy, have been increasingly necessary ever since we ceased being tribes and bands, since the little Stars Hollow village in which everyone knew each other and attended the town hall meeting was left behind by exponentially increasing population growth, knowledge and information systems.

In a society like Nicaragua’s, the mechanisms of political representation function—or at least should function—as arenas for intermediation between the state and members of society, addressing the demands of the different sectors of society. In their absence, each individual would have to engage the power of the state directly, without the support of a collective that shares a set of interests and aspirations.

Direct or vacuous?

The “direct democracy” envisioned for the CPCs tends to annul intermediation and representation mechanisms that allow the individual to transform his or her interests and aspirations into an autonomous social force. The danger this represents is enormous if one considers the experience of all 20th-century totalitarian systems, in which the individual is either atomized in relation to a state that decides everything or converted by the state into one more piece of a homogeneous whole, so that everything implied by autonomy—recognition of difference and plurality—is understood as a menace to society.

Germs of such a totalitarian model are visible in the direct democracy concept the current Nicaraguan government is pushing. The state appears to be weakening all entities of representation and intermediation that could show any sign of rebellion. More concretely, by eliminating the mechanisms for uniting autonomous civic demands, the two people running the state have signaled since they came to power that it is they who will establish the rules of the game within which their “direct” model of democracy will operate. This isn’t direct democracy; it’s a vacuous imitation, presumably designed to hide the top-down, centralist and authoritarian government project.

What political project
underlies the CPCs?

The Ortega-Murillo project is gambling on continuing over time through the reelection of Ortega—or the election of his wife—in either a presidentialist or parliamentarist project. This gamble is based on an empty hand unless they can build a social base that exceeds the limited 38% that brought Daniel Ortega to the presidency last year under a very special set of circumstances.

There are those in the FSLN who see the political project of the CPCs as converting that loyal electoral base into a politically unconditional and economically captive one, inflating it up to at least 50%. One senses urgency in the push to achieve this because the first electoral test is coming up next year. Another aspect of this project is to make clear once and for all that there’s no other leadership in the FSLN than Daniel Ortega’s. And finally, the President’s much-rumored health problems may have something to do with the urgency and the roughshod way the CPCs are being imposed in defiance of the law. In any event, their organizers claim that a million Nicaraguans already belong to the CPCs that have been created all over the country.

State-party revisited?

The Councils of Citizens’ Power were formally inaugurated on November 30 in a thronging, costly act in the Plaza of the Revolution, in front of the presidential offices financed by the government of Taiwan during President Alemán’s administration, which will now house CONPES and be called the “House of the Peoples.” The event was even more flower-filled and grandiose than this year’s July 19th celebration of the overthrow of Somoza, in which artist Rosario Murillo’s colorful palette was also abundantly evident.

Conflict regarding the CPCs began the minute Ortega decreed them into existence as one of his earliest acts as President. There are two good reasons for the opposition, both related to the distribution of power and the political culture sustaining that power in Nicaragua. The first reason is that they will assume state tasks—naturally with state resources, even though they are structures organized and controlled by FSLN leaders—which implies a return to the tried and failed state-party formula of the eighties. That’s the opinion of many Sandinistas who organized the Communal Movement in 1988 after the earlier Sandinista Defense Committees foundered, and who are currently warning that the CPCs haven’t taken their decades of experience into consideration.

Seeds of confrontation?

The second reason is that in implementing state tasks, neither the CPCs nor the couple that created them demonstrates any desire to coordinate with the many existing social organizations that have been working in one or more of the same 16 areas the CPCs will take on. This is sowing new seeds of confrontation and polarization in a society that needs not the ideologized “love” of Murillo’s speeches but consensus, dialogue and a joining of efforts to achieve efficiency.

One of the more evident examples of the CPCs’ rivalry with the existing social organizations is their explicit sidelining of the women’s groups around the country that have been working and accumulating valuable experience for years in women’s rights, one of the CPC areas of work. The women’s organizations in Nicaragua deserve the term autonomous more than any others and there has been no sign of willingness to coordinate with them; the government has clearly shown its preference for disqualifying, weakening and supplanting them.

Furthermore, the gender approach Murillo proposes doesn’t go beyond the objective of ensuring that women occupy 50% of the government and CPC posts. Such crucial issues as gender violence, sexual abuse or sexual and reproductive health aren’t even mentioned in the official focus. This is obviously to keep the Catholic Church happy, since it is seriously threatened by women’s growing awareness of their capacity to question religious mandates linked to these themes and make their own decisions about them. This is why Nicaragua’s feminists have become the target of attacks by the Catholic hierarchy and the Ortega government in their baneful alliance.

Legal or illegal?

The CPCs’ legality was mainly challenged for the first reason—party structures with state rank—given that President Ortega included them in Law 290 when he reorganized the state right after taking office in January. Following ongoing debates, the National Assembly finally voted to eliminate the CPCs’ role as state bodies that could run government programs.

The parliamentary opposition considered that the FSLN has the right to create any organizations it wants, but not to give them a state role, institutional life or public funds or to make them part of the state in any other way. Nor could it allow them to dispute arenas with the legally existing participatory bodies that function with genuine pluralism, if not always with great impact.

After growing expectations of “opposition unity” around the conflictive issue of the CPCs, the two Liberal parties (PLC and ALN) and the Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS) indeed combined their votes to remove the CPCs from Law 290 in early September. President Ortega immediately vetoed that reform, but on September 13, 52 legislators again outvoted the 38-member Sandinista bench, rejecting the presidential veto. There was applause, hurrahs and even celebrations, but everybody knew from the outset that this “unity” was held together with chewing gum just for the cameras. It was also known that institutional subterfuge from the Ortega-Murillo project or the Alemán-Ortega pact would ultimately invalidate this opposition “victory.”

The pact worked

And so it did: in a rare and illegal procedure, the coordinator of the Managua CPCs filed a writ of protection in a Managua appeals court the same day the veto was rejected. The FSLN judges who control that court accepted it in the record time of one hour and three minutes, ordering the veto’s rejection not to be published in the official gazette.

Using the judicial branch to halt the formation of a law was a technical coup that removed the autonomy of the legislative branch by judicial means. In response the National Assembly stopped holding sessions. The 52 legislators threatened to extend the boycott and remove Assembly president René Núñez, a Daniel loyalist. President Ortega retaliated by threatening to govern “by decree” if the Assembly shut down.

Although cloaked in juridical robes, the conflict was political, and was “resolved” politically. Ortega and Alemán arranged to have the most pro-Alemán members of the PLC bench foil the plan to get rid of Núñez. With the battle over the CPCs out of the Assembly—where Ortega doesn’t have a majority and Alemán is losing control over a dozen of his heretofore docile representatives—the government could ensure that the flowery act in the plaza would not be tarnished by a complex institutional dispute.

But just to be sure, President Ortega executed yet another end run around the National Assembly on November 29, the day before the event. He effectively legalized the CPCs a different way, issuing a new presidential decree that created them all over again.

The new decree “re-legalizing” the CPCs confirms that they will have levels that start at the urban neighborhood and rural district, working their way up through the municipalities, departments and regions until reaching the national level, where their structure will be made up of over 200 people. Each CPC should have no fewer than 100 members and include 16 coordinators, each one responsible for work in one of the following areas: health, education, the environment, transport, rural development, roads, culture, sports, communications and propaganda, human rights, citizen security, women’s rights, the rights of children and youth, the rights of older adults, proposals for local governments and self-employment programs.

While he was about it, Ortega left them out of the executive branch sphere this time, instead decreeing their insertion into CONPES as a new representative member of civil society. That way the CPCs can take over CONPES. To seal the gambit, Ortega named his wife as the new CONPES executive director, giving her control of yet another power in spite of the law prohibiting nepotism. So this is how things will work: Ortega is the ruler, while Murillo is both co-ruler and the coordinator of the society that’s supposed to act as a counterweight to their rule, thus fusing state and civil society in a strange institutional matrimony.

In addition to all her current power, there are speculations that Murillo could become the FSLN’s presidential candidate for the 2011 elections if Ortega fails to push through constitutional changes creating a parliamentary system and/or lifting the prohibition on his own consecutive reelection. In November, deputy chief Supreme Court justice Rafael Solís fueled such speculation by reiterating an argument regarding nepotism he made earlier in the year, when Ortega first sparked protests by heaping executive powers on her: there can be no problems of affinity or blood relations with Murillo’s candidacy because she and Ortega are legally “the same person,” “one single flesh,” and because the constitutional article prohibiting reelection by a sitting President doesn’t mention the word spouse. “She could succeed her husband in the presidency perfectly well; there’s no limitation on this,” said Solis, “and if we move to a parliamentary system she could equally be prime minister.”

It will be a test

In the legal country, the CPCs still have an illegal aura, but it was made clear that no legal arguments will stop them. The only thing that will is an organized opposition with credible leaders or a society that kills them with its indifference.

In the February issue of envío, Silvio Prado, a researcher and leading member of the Democracy and Local Development Network, offered a number of possible scenarios based on the forced creation of the Councils by decree, and their deliberate refusal to recognize what already existed—including the structure he works with. He mentioned the following possibilities: people could continue meeting in the arenas they already know, which he considers the germ of direct democracy; the government could make some of these arenas disappear or else try to co-opt them; people could end up caving in to the central government authority who controls the CPCs either out of fear or attracted by the patronage they are already beginning to dispense, in which case municipal autonomy would be lost; or the new scheme could simply end up unviable, unable to function.

Prado concluded his analysis of the future with these words: “Now’s the time to demonstrate what stuff this country’s civil society is made of. We’re going to learn who’s genuinely autonomous, who’s strengthened and empowered for real.”

The CPCs are a strategic project for the presidential couple. As such, we can easily imagine how many conflicts this “direct democracy” will trigger, as neither Ortega nor Murillo have shown any concern for being either legal or nice, placing a far higher value on tenacity and persistence. Openly defying the law has already become a hallmark of their new government. Furthermore, the intellectuals who serve the government have warned that social justice will prevail over the laws in this project.

With the right to doubt

In the real country, the CPCs already exist and have started to function. It would be magnificent if they do not in fact become what all the clues have convinced us they are designed for. It would be wonderful if they indeed help counteract the reining individualism and atomization, recovering the sense of community, collectivity, mutual support and concern for the common good that used to characterize the bulk of the Nicaraguan population far more.

It would be equally great if they helped build civic consciousness in a people who brought down a dictatorship in an armed uprising and defended a social revolution with their lives, but today are more demobilized and passive than many other peoples of the continent who have never known such valiant experiences.

Some say that there are municipalities, districts and neighborhoods where the CPCs don’t even exist, so there’s no reason to worry so much. Others say we need to give them the benefit of the doubt as they are just getting started, because it’s a “nice” project given the levels of poverty and social passivity. Still others report cases of CDCs that are starting out on the right foot; that are trying to be everything we hope they’ll be. But with autonomy of thought, we have every right to doubt that this will be the rule.

Negative signs and examples

So far, there are scattered examples of all of Silvio Prado’s scenarios. There are reports of CPCs trying to take over centers that social and particularly grassroots organizations bought with NGO funds and have used over the years for their activities. There are reported cases of attempts to win over local residents already organized in other associations: “Why stay in that association if the CPC is where they’re going to listen to you?” Riding someone else’s horse, one fattened by others and with a good track record, was one way the FSLN’s electoral commandos tried to capture votes in recent elections.

In still other cases the CPCs are allegedly boycotting the activities of other social organizations, spreading rumors and using intimidation, promises and even threats. So while the doors of the CPCs may well be open to all “without distinction,” as the official discourse promises, what seems to be happening is that they are closing, or trying to close, the doors of what they see as competing organizations.

The local CPCs have been designated to offer small merchants and venders the favorable credits provided through the state’s Zero Usury program with financing by the Venezuela’s development bank. They also have a list where you can sign up to get your urban lot legalized and perhaps a house constructed in the future. If you apply for a job in some state institution, you’d best bring an endorsement from your local CPC… In short, they are buying hearts and minds with jobs, aid, perks, awards and punishments. This political patronage system, known as clientelism in Latin America, is a virulent sickness of the national political culture that reaches epidemic proportions during electoral campaigns. Some are betting it will become endemic when the CPCs consolidate.

Prejudicial rumors and fears

Far more ominous things are also being heard. That the purpose of the CPCs is to control the population, to act as spy structures at the local level. That the CPCs—now part of a Council of Security and Civic Coexistence created by Ortega and his wife and integrated into the National Police—augur armed neighborhood bodies capable of exercising political violence. That the CPCs, which are already selling rice and beans at cheaper prices, will end up administering “food ration cards”…

All these prejudicial projections based on suspicion, rumor and fear echo the rightwing opposition of the eighties: “the eyes and ears of the revolution,” “divine mobs” and the like. But though they smack of knee-jerk emotional reaction, they also have a rational foundation given what we have already seen in the government that created the CPCs: centralization; arbitrariness; capriciousness; a tendency toward polarization and conflict because they see enemies, traitors and “oligarchs” behind every door; a constant demand for unconditional support and docility…

Legality doesn’t matter,
but legitimacy does

Although the presidential couple has shown no concern about the CPCs’ legality, it is already working hard to legitimize them. On November 29, the energy minister finally announced the conclusion of the five- to eight-hour daily electricity cuts across the country in recent months. Even though the media had reported that Lake Apanás was again full enough to power the major hydro-electricity station that depends on it after a season of unusually heavy rains, the minister was obliged to declare that President Ortega ordered the end of the power outages because the CPCs had requested it.

In late November the CPCs also began selling at below-market prices beans bought with money donated by Venezuela for the Hurricane Felix victims in the north Caribbean region and rice donated by Taiwan. They blamed the recent runaway price rises for these basic grains on hoarding speculators; Felix, plus the two solid weeks of rain in the Pacific, both of which destroyed huge crop areas, were not mentioned. The CPCs thus made their official entrance channeling people’s demands and fighting the forces of evil, returning the most basic and important needs to the population: light and gallopinto…

What other tasks will the government give the CPCs to legitimize them and make them seem indispensable? Will we soon be hearing that the threatened privatization of Nicaragua’s water utility has been indefinitely scrapped… because the CPCs told the President to do so?

Is Managua’s aayor a traitor?

One person who did not attend the CPCs’ inaugural ceremony was Dionisio Marenco, Managua’s Sandinista mayor and long-time intimate of the Ortega-Murillo family. Nor was he invited to the historical July 19 celebrations or many other official events since.

The conflict between the presidential couple and Nicho Marenco has been growing since January, when he publicly questioned several of their—surely Murillo’s—initiatives. Among these were the decision to set up the presidential offices in the FSLN secretariat buildings, which also include the Ortega family’s residential compound, and the decision not to consult Marenco about the destruction of the musical fountain in Managua’s Plaza of the Revolution. The most recent chafing issue is his publicly vented opinion of the CPCs: Marenco has said that he doesn’t understand their logic and can’t respond to their demands if he doesn’t have the material resources to do so, which he doesn’t see coming from anywhere. He sees the CPCs as nothing other than a reactivation of the old FSLN structures he knows so well.

This month the conflict between Marenco and the presidential couple registered 7 on the Richter scale of political earthquakes visible in the FSLN, shaking it to its very foundations. The issue was the Municipal Council’s election of a new deputy mayor. As Marenco himself charged on November 7, Rosario Murillo tried to impose her own candidate, going so far as to threaten Marenco’s candidate and even the man’s family. Despite the threats, however, Marenco’s candidate won.

The day of the election, Marenco, with uncharacteristic indignation and an unusually emotional voice, blew up: “Sandinista fraternity has not been used in this discussion; perverse methods have been used… If this is the Sandinismo we want, I denounce it and publicly reject it right here!”

The next day, a visibly furious President Ortega made four indirect aggressive attacks on Marenco, without actually naming him. The Sandinista media kicked off a campaign accusing the mayor of being a traitor, while other media close to the government recommended he resign to avoid further escalation of the crisis.

“She’s doing a lot of damage”

Marenco shot back the following: “I don’t accept any epithet... They can’t throw me out of my party… I’m a Sandinista, period. What they said [in the media] hurt me deeply and I’m sorry, because I know they’re being manipulated. Workers from those media called to tell me that Ms. Murillo is giving them orders. I feel very sorry for her, because she’s completely mistaken and is doing a great deal of damage to the FSLN.” He further declared, “I’m not going to resign just because the CPCs or someone else from the FSLN asks me to,” and added for good measure: “I don’t have to talk to Rosario; I have no communication with her, because she’s not a party authority.”

The crisis escalated. Two Municipal Council members who had backed Marenco in the voting that Murillo tried to manipulate were pressured by the presidential couple into resigning their posts. On November 20 Marenco admitted he had beefed up his personal security: “Rosario Murillo accused me of being a traitor, and traitors in the FSLN might as well be condemned to death.” It was virtually the same thing former Managua Mayor Herty Lewites said after being expelled from the party for daring to contemplate contesting Daniel Ortega as the party’s presidential nominee in the 2005 internal primaries. Yet another sterling display of the presidential couple’s concept of “government of peace and reconciliation.”

“Why are they acting like that?”

For a number of days, national attention was focused on Marenco’s fate. Finally, he allowed himself to be interviewed at length by El Nuevo Diario, which ran it for three straight days. He never questioned Ortega’s leadership using ethical or political criteria, unequivocally defended the dreadful Ortega-Alemán pact—for which he was Ortega’s chief adviser—and reaffirmed his affection for Ortega. But he spoke as if he needed to tell Ortega things he hadn’t been able to say in other arenas.

Among his declarations, his analysis of the extravagant behavior observable in the government and FSLN stands out: “There’s a tendency in the FSLN right now not to debate but to impose things, which I consider very dangerous. Why is Daniel acting like this? Could it be the influence of the first lady or are both acting that way? I don’t know.

“But I feel like there are no mechanisms for debate where you can offer an opinion. Instead I’ve noticed that nobody wants to say anything; every-body’s all hunkered down. Anyone who gives an opinion gets fired, and that doesn’t create a strong party based on the union of wills for which you would give your life.”

All power to both

Rosario Murillo didn’t say a single word during the entire Marenco earthquake. Looking to put an end to the swarm of compromising declarations, particularly the expressive interviews in El Nuevo Diario, Ortega finally told the press, “Nicho is our brother; he’s also Rosario’s brother, even though he talks about her like that.”

Like all powerful earthquakes, this one opened faults and cracks that will be hard to mend. The crisis was evaluated by a number of people who know the inner workings of the FSLN well, even if no longer from the inside. One of the most outstanding analyses was offered by Sergio Ramírez, Ortega’s Vice President between 1984 and 1990.

“What is occurring before the eyes of the entire country,” explained Ramírez, “is a transfer of the power structures set up before Daniel Ortega’s rise to power into his and his wife’s personal hands. This is happening within the FSLN, but is obviously giving the whole country a thrashing because it’s a large, important party and this transfer of power is happening in a forced way, ripping off pieces… They are removing power from the municipal governments, the Communal Movement, etc. The party structures at the political secretary level are shifting into the hands of the CPCs to eliminate Lenín Cerna (FSLN organization secretary and head of the electoral commandos). All the party structures are going to end up answering to the President’s wife, and that’s part of the struggle with Marenco.”

Is it because of machismo?

The CPCs have already triggered many conflicts and more are yet to come. One of the greatest problems they will have to deal with, surely between conflicts, is precisely their coordinator, Rosario Murillo, a political figure with exponentially growing public power and power over the party—without ever having been elected for any of it either nationally or within the FSLN. According to the polls, her popularity is minimal with the general public, including those who admit to voting for the FSLN.

Ortega seems to underestimate both his wife’s lack of appeal and the criticism directed at her, shrugging them off as the society’s machismo. While strong women do go against the grain in Nicaragua, it’s a very superficial explanation in this case.

So is the view—also surely exacerbated by machismo—that Daniel is henpecked by his wife. She is seen as wearing the black hat and he the white one in a form of Manichaeism that attributes all errors and excesses to her, leaving him unblemished. The statements of both Marenco and Ramírez point in another direction, and their warnings need to be taken into consideration, particularly Marenco’s, coming from one of the most consistent, constant and intelligent “Danielistas” within the FSLN.

Will they be able to pull it off?

Sandinismo is a widespread social, political and cultural reality that cannot be reduced to what’s left of the FSLN membership. After the 1990 electoral defeat, the Sandinistas who remained linked to the party over the years of splits, disillusion and departures slowly transmuted into “Danielistas,” but not even all Sandinista activists are Danielistas, much less all those who vote for the party against the various center-to-right alternatives. For all that, even the Sandinista leaders and rank-and-file who have been cutting loose from the FSLN over the past 18 years recognize that Danielismo is real and strong. Ortega has molded himself into a successful caudillo, earning recognized leadership and sympathizers over years of daily effort.

But if Danielismo—or Orteguismo as some people further removed from the party prefer to call it—is a reality, Murillismo isn’t. After years absent from the political stage following the 1990 defeat, she reemerged around the time her daughter Zoilamérica Narváez publicly accused Ortega of years of sexual abuse against her, and she did so to stand by her man, not her daughter. Since that time Murillo’s public presence has skyrocketed from being the MC and chief florist of all major party events to being at her husband’s side at all government, party and press appearances. The CPCs appear to be molded to the purposes of the new-look FSLN that has been developing over the years; in other words, they were born to consolidate Orteguismo and establish Murillismo. Can they pull it off?

The lesson of venezuela

The results of Venezuela’s recent referendum offer important lessons to supporters of the project being pushed by the presidential couple. Among other things, they show the enormous difficulties involved in establishing a top-down, authoritarian project in today’s world.

The current political trends in Latin American societies don’t favor the region’s classic model of dictatorial government. Caudillismo is increasingly an anachronistic minority on the roster of Latin American leaders.

In Venezuela, with all its oil, the government attempt to legalize Hugo Chávez’s indefinite reelection failed. Chávez got his surprise answer on December 2, two days after the CPCs were established by decree. Nicaragua’s presidential duo should do a reality check by analyzing those two events, so close in time. By doing so they might just avoid intensifying the profound political and institutional crisis Nicaraguan society is suffering.

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