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  Number 326 | Septiembre 2008
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Nicaragua

Criticism Isn’t Synonymous with Hatred

When will the government talk to all of society? When will it listen to media critiques without hearing them as mere “media wars financed by the empire”? Will the municipal elections solve or exacerbate the government’s authoritarian tendencies? Will we ever know the amount of Venezuelan cooperation and will there ever be control over how this money is invested? How long will international cooperation remain patient with the government’s diplomacy of confrontation?

Nitlápan-Envío team

It’s not pure speculation to assume that Daniel Ortega views this five-year term of government (2007-2011) as a “transition” to the next one. By that time he hopes to have consolidated his political project, governing “from above” via the political-institutional spaces obtained through the pact with the PLC and “from below” via the territorial structures of the Councils of Citizens’ Power (CPCs).

The characteristics of Ortega’s project viewed over the past 20 months have Nicaraguan society off balance and uncertain. The official discourse claims we’re in “the second stage” of a revolution that will provide justice to the poor and reestablish the rights that 16 years of neoliberalism have snatched away from them, while the leftist opposition warns that an “institutional dictatorship” is being created and the traditional Right sees this government as a replay of the eighties.

The design of the “transition”

Daniel Ortega’s priority upon returning to government in January 2007 was to reach an understanding with the International Monetary Fund as quickly and with as much discipline as possible. His economic team succeeded and Ortega repeatedly congratulated himself for that achievement, while at the same time emphatically challenging the IMF, saying it could pack up and leave Nicaragua because “we don’t need you.” It was only more of the empty confrontational rhetoric he commonly engages in, since he had just bound Nicaragua to a three-year agreement with the Fund that is very much like the one Enrique Bolaños’ neoliberal government negotiated.

In this “transition” to ensure a new five-year term after 2011, the CPCs are designed to ensure social control and feed the party faithful with political patronage. Although the CPCs’ membership hasn’t grown anywhere near as much as expected, they are a centerpiece of the political plan.

Economically speaking, the government seems to have organized the transition based firstly on the transparent and controlled resources from the IMF agreement and traditional international cooperation. Added to that is the Venezuelan cooperation, administered independent of the budget as a huge, discretionary petty cash fund for family projects and the raft of small social programs that will hopefully expand the FSLN’s voter base and consolidate power for the next term.

The President calculates that, following his reelection, resources from Venezuela, Russia, Iran and perhaps other oil-producing countries will take on greater weight and maybe even replace those from the IMF and traditional international cooperation.

IMF takes pressure
off the government

For some time now, many cooperating countries have used the IMF’s endorsement of the governments of impoverished countries with which it still signs agreements as a green light for their own contributions. This has been the practice of the 27 governments and aid agencies collaborating with Nicaragua. Up to 2006 they annually disbursed some US$500 million, augmenting specific national budget lines such as health and education and/or financing public investment projects of diverse sizes and importance.

Even though the lack of independent controls on the use of the Venezuelan resources is evidently weakening democratic governance and encouraging corruption, the IMF stopped pushing the Ortega government to include them in the national budget in exchange for it maintaining macroeconomic stability. Fearing any destabilization in the gross economic figures, the IMF has also ignored other demands on the government by the cooperating community

Ortega puts pressure on the donors

The fact that the IMF’s endorsement is determinant in the disbursement of project aid and budget financing seems to have encouraged Ortega to unleash his enmity toward the traditional cooperating countries, which finance both NGO and government programs. The posture of government officials toward both ambassadors and coopera-tion officials at different levels has been very negative privately as well as publicly. Dialogue is strained and the capacity to listen has deteriorated.

President Ortega himself dismisses the resources from these countries as “crumbs” and denounces as “interference” their concerns about democratic governance, citizen participation, transparent use of funds and women’s rights. This confrontational script, liberally sprinkled with crude insults, repeats and in fact accentuates the hostile environment that former President Arnoldo Alemán maintained with diplomats and cooperation officials.

Eva Zetterberg: The “devil”

The most recent case of “insult diplomacy” took place in August when Swedish Ambassador Eva Zetterberg concluded her stint in Nicaragua. In an August 4 television interview, the ambassador mentioned that the Supreme Electoral Council’s legal justifications for canceling the participation of the Conservative Party and Sandinista Renovation Movement in November’s municipal elections were “very hard to accept.” She also alluded to “very authoritarian tendencies in the government,” although she denied that there is “a dictatorship” in Nicaragua and expressed her conviction “that the people of Nicaragua will not allow the democracy that has cost them so much to be snatched away.”

The government immediately ordered a group of very poor women from Managua barrios to station themselves in front of the Swedish Embassy for several hours to repudiate Zetterberg. “If I’d said in her country what she has said, they’d fry me in the electric chair,” one of them railed. This was no spontaneous harassment; it was organized by the government through the CPCs, themselves a hardly autonomous method of governing “from below.”

Zetterberg was summoned to the Foreign Ministry, where she was countercharged. Deputy Foreign Minister Manuel Coronel Kautz told journalists that “a devil has come to meddle in our affairs” and went on to generalize cooperation’s role in the following terms: “These devils wandering around here should go back to their countries and bathe themselves in holy water.” He then threatened to declare them “non grata.” It wasn’t the first time this Nicaraguan official has used such language against the cooperating countries, which have grown increasingly irritated with such effrontery, not to mention the inefficiency and under-execution of public investment projects financed with their resources—caused in part by the government’s excessive centralism.

How long?

How long will the cooperating commu¬nity’s attitude toward the government remain “indecisive and powerless,” to quote a study by the Foundation for International Relations and Foreign Dialogue? How long will it continue linking its support to the endorsement of the IMF, which only seems interested in macroeconomic figures? And how long will the IMF go on ignoring everything else that’s going on?

Everything has a limit. The cooperating community could continue to hunker down, avoiding the kind of frank and expeditious remarks that always characterized Ambassador Zetterberg, but it might also begin to cut free of the IMF criteria and gradually reduce its budgetary aid if things go on like this. A number of European cooperating countries have pulled out of other Latin American countries, as Sweden had already announced it will be doing in Nicaragua, and the trend at least to reduce aid could continue. In the past couple of years, overall European aid to Nicaragua has dropped to around half of the annual average of the 1990-2006 period.

The donors have reportedly pressured the IMF to be firmer with the government and will also be waiting to see how the municipal elections play out. They share Zetterberg’s concern about the Supreme Electoral Council canceling the participation of the two opposition parties and its refusal to accredit electoral observers, not to mention consistent rumblings that a fraud is being cooked up. What happens in the elections could trigger a decision that would have serious repercussions for such a fragile economy as ours.

Venezuela’s controversial aid

In August, Central Bank President Antenor Rosales promised a visiting IMF delegation to be more accountable, publishing information on all cooperation Nicaragua receives, including the controversial Venezuelan aid. Was this an attempt to avoid a decision that would leave a hole in the budget and undermine his government’s possibilities of using the Venezuelan resources so discretionarily? So far the only thing we know about that cooperation is the confusing arithmetic coming from President Ortega’s own mouth. The first time he read out any figures he said it totaled $520 million (which it didn’t quite, according to his own breakdown), but a month later, the bottom line was under half that amount (which also didn’t tally with his breakdown).

On September 1, in line with the commitment assumed with the IMF mission, the Central Bank placed its “rendering of accounts” on the Internet, claiming that Venezuelan cooperation was $184.9 million in 2007, significantly less than either of the figures President Ortega offered. Rosales insisted this is the “official” figure and suggested that the differences could be because much more Venezuelan cooperation has been promised than has actually been disbursed. Crucially, how¬ever, the Central Bank information doesn’t clarify the Oil Agreement, the crux of Venezuela’s cooperation. Even though that agreement is state to state, the money is being channeled through ALBA-Caruna, a private FSLN cooperative.

In economist Néstor Avendaño’s opinion, the information published by the Central Bank creates even more confusion and obscurity than already existed. Confusion about “public” funds that finance “public” projects but are received and executed by “private” companies linked to FSLN officials and leaders and thus don’t comply with laws governing public bidding. Confusion about public resources that generate public debt, but don’t appear in the national budget and aren’t subject to any parliamentary oversight. Has the government added another program to its touted Zero Hunger and Zero Usury programs—this one called Zero Transparency?

An “invented mechanism”

Will this skimpy Central Bank information satisfy the IMF and cooperating community? Things were further complicated by the fact that days before it was published, Treasury and Public Credit Minister Alberto Guevara reportedly told the CPCs of Ocotal in a meeting at which El Nuevo Diario’s correspondent was present that the government had “invented a mechanism” by which funds from the Venezuelan oil agreement cooperation wouldn’t enter the budget but would instead be passed to ALBA-Caruna to finance public projects framed within the FSLN’s electoral campaign. This amounted to an admission of something that has long been suspected: administering these funds through ALBA-Caruna is a maneuver to avoid controls and audits so they can be freely used for political patronage.

At that same meeting, Guevara also reportedly stated that when the government decides to reform the budget, it already knows the reforms will be approved, because “we have the legislators tied up and are already paying them,” thus acknowledging the destructive vote-buying tradition in the National Assembly.

The macro economy is okay

The Central Bank also assumed other commitments during its meeting with the IMF mission in Managua, promising to make the economy grow 3-4% in 2008, keep inflation under 18% and maintain US$1.23 billion in international reserves. But such an economic growth rate, similar to other years, would do little to reduce poverty given the still high population growth rate and longstanding and ever worsening inequality of income. Moreover, despite the growth of exports in both volume and foreign exchange thanks to the rise in international prices, imports also cost more for the same reason and are also growing, which means the country’s enormous trade deficit isn’t being chipped away.

In a macroeconomic context similar to that of the preceding neoliberal government, the family economy is hard-hit not only by structural problems such as the high unemployment rates, massive informal employment and low-wage public employment, but also by today’s spate of inflation. Given all these factors, emigration continues growing.

Unquestionable
government efforts

In this permanent sea of poverty, unmet needs and dearth of opportunities, the government’s poverty alleviation programs are beginning to have an impact on the poorest segment of the population. Its efforts have become even more visible the closer we get to the municipal elections, as a full-blown victory in November would usher in Ortega’s dream of reelection to another five-year term.

Official figures show that 30,709 families around the country have benefited from the Zero Hunger package. And while the program hasn’t generated either the envisioned organization or revolving of credits, it has mitigated hunger in very depressed rural zones.

In the Zero Usury program, 73,747 women have received very low-interest loans. This program has a reported 80% of its credit portfolio in arrears, but has allowed these women to keep their small subsistence businesses alive. The government also earmarked $5,000 in credits at 3% annual interest for each of the 1,500 merchants who lost everything in the massive fire that swept through Managua’s Eastern Market on August 1. The recovery program was baptized “In the name of God.”

To reduce the soaring cost of gallopinto, the population’s most basic food, the government has set up hundreds of posts selling rice, beans and oil, the dish’s three basic ingredients, at below-market prices one day a week for a few hours in poor urban neighborhoods and rural communities. The government goal is to install 2,800 of these posts around the country.

Also particularly worthy of note are the pension increases for victims of the contra war; the work of literacy teachers using Cuba’s “Yes I can” method; the hundreds of free eye surgeries, particularly for cataracts, as part of the Cuban-Venezuelan “Operation Miracle” program; the 1,062 blocks of paved streets in different parts of the country thanks to the “Streets for the people” program; and grants to study in Cuba for impoverished families (128 in 2008). To all this must be added the elimination of enrollment and other fees in the public schools and the free treatment provided in hospitals and health centers, although they still lack basic materials and medicines.

Will these efforts buy enough votes?

So far, these social benefits have been gratefully received by their beneficiaries as “help.” But do they fulfill the three criteria that should accompany non-patronage projects for people in need: democratic methods and organization, equitable distribution and efficacious functioning and results?

The fifth national opinion poll by the M&R survey firm since Ortega took office, conducted in mid-August, indicates that although thousands have benefited, that’s a very limited number of the total poor, leading 70.5% of those polled to believe the government “has no interest in resolving the national problems.” A full 83.3% believe the economy has worsened, and 69% would still seek a better life in another country if they could.

Will these opinions, which refer more to the national sphere than the local one, influence voting for new mayors in the November 9 municipal elections? Or will the performance record of the outgoing mayor and his/her party (87 of the incumbent mayors are from the FSLN or their 2004 allies) be the main factor determining voters’ decisions.

Unobserved elections

The road to the municipal elections is filling with contradictions. The Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) has maintained its determination not to accredit national observers, although Ethics and Transparency, the Nicaraguan watchdog organization that has monitored electoral and other processes since the early nineties, has lists of some 6,000 people prepared to observe with or without official accreditation. If they aren’t accredited before October 10, E&T director Roberto Courtney has announced they “will observe from outside, the way they do in dictatorial regimes.”

The Nicaraguan Human Rights Center (CENIDH), which sits on the E&T board, announced that its promoters won’t observe as in previous years because doing so would legitimate elections “that already lack credibility and have predictable results because everything is already divvied up.” This led Courtney to comment that “although the electoral process may be marred by irreversible irregularities, the task is to document it; the more crime there is, the more reason to work.”

There was scant civic participation in the data verification of the voter rolls held in late July, but those who did go reportedly detected 80,000 anomalous address changes, precisely in municipalities where the results between Liberals and the FSLN have traditionally been close. The CSE hasn’t sent the parties the lists with the changes incorporated and it has been impossible to get access to them to determine their validity.

“We’re now mature enough”

The CSE has also refused to invite international observers, accepting only the Council of Electoral Experts of Latin America (CEELA), which functions under Venezuela’s umbrella. The CSE stood firm against Liberals loyal to both Arnoldo Alemán and Eduardo Montealegre who wanted to invite observers from the Organization of American States; it argued that the municipal elections aren’t important enough.

Earlier, when OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza expressed “concern” about the cancellation of Conservative Party and MRS participation in the elections and said the OAS Permanent Council would look into the situation, CSE President Roberto Rivas shot back that the OAS was too “interventionist, insolent and immoral to observe the municipal elections.” President Ortega even threatened to pull Nicaragua out of the OAS, which he called an “instrument of the empire and the oligarchy.” In the end, the Permanent Council never took up the issue.

Ortega has since stated that Nicaragua has “enough maturity and experience” to do without national or international observers; it’s enough for party monitors to observe what happens. Since the FSLN is the only one of the five parties in the race refusing observation, its position has logically stirred up all manner of suspicions.

Don’t abstain, spoil your ballot

In such a tense pre-electoral atmosphere, with more signs of a passive electorate and distrust of the CSE than in past years, the Movement for the Rescue of Sandinismo called on its membership and the population as a whole not to abstain, but to register their protest by spoiling their ballot so that it’s annulled. It also counseled voters never to leave their ballot blank.

Although recognizing that the results are only measured against the total number of valid votes, Mónica Baltodano, who heads that Sandinista dissident group, explained that the CSE must account for all votes deposited, including spoilt ones, so this act of “insubordination and civil disobedience” will allow them to “measure the level of civic repudiation of the regime through the final results.” The proponents of this plan would do well to recall the chaotic 1996 elections, in which entire sacks of votes from a number of voting places were tossed in drainage channels and the CSE never published the huge tally of missing ballots.

CSE spokespeople interpreted the call as an “electoral crime” while Liberals argued that both abstaining and spoiling ballots only help the FSLN win as it always gets out its voters better than any other party. Will that hold true on this occasion, with polls showing major disaffection with the FSLN even from its traditional supporters?

On August 15, the nine bishops in Nicaragua’s Bishops’ Conference published a long preparatory exhortation on the elections. The document lists “lights and shadows” in the national setting, with an unusually long list of shadows. Ignoring all the controversy surrounding the electoral process, the text insists at five different points that people should not abstain. “We would be failing in our civic responsibility if we remained on the sidelines…. Although doubts can be perceived about the transparency of the electoral process, citizens should persist with their vote…. It is necessary to participate fully in the ordination of the political community by exercising one’s vote…. Participating in the elections is not only our right as Nicaraguan citizens, but also an obligation to our municipality and the nation. Not voting is a way of choosing; it amounts to making do with those who impose themselves on us…. This exhortation is to exercise your right to vote.…”

Does everything favor the FSLN?

The electoral campaign officially starts on September 25, although unofficially it began some time ago; hardly a post is bare of the colors and candidate names of one party or another. But there are still many unknowns. A number of polls show high percentages of fence sitters and it’s an unwritten law in Nicaragua that those who don’t proffer a choice in the pre-electoral polls aren’t so much undecided as afraid of the party in power because they’re planning to vote against it.

If the political circumstances don’t appear to favor the FSLN so strongly, all preliminary technical circumstances offer the possibility of the steamroller victory it so badly needs to turn its embarrassing 38% presidential “victory” into history. The CSE structures from top to bottom are now in its hands, and all polling places will be chaired by people from the FSLN and its new ally, the Nicaraguan Liberal Alliance (ALN). Can we assume that a pre-fraud is already being implemented through the previous manipulation of the voter lists and the FSLN’s control of the voting tables, where it can “tweak” the results, especially of races that have traditionally been neck and neck?

In the end, will the government risk delegitimizing a process it so hopes will give its political project continuity? Or will it ultimately decide to accredit observers and even restore the legal status of the two guillotined parties? Might it carefully thread its way between those options, doing the minimum necessary to increase credibility without sacrificing the wins it so needs?

How far do rivals and allies extend?

The FSLN aspires to win and govern 100 of the 153 mayor’s seats, above all Managua, the “crown jewel.” The alliance of Alemán’s Constitutionalist Liberal Party (PLC) with the movement called “We’re with Eduardo,” created to back Eduardo Montealegre’s candidacy in Managua, has the same aspiration. An FSLN victory in Managua is crucial for Ortega while a defeat could even alter his plans.

Even though Alemán offered Montealegre the PLC ticket after the CSE annulled Montealegre’s leadership of the ALN party he founded, the longstanding tensions between the two men persisted right up to the end of August. The general impression was that Alemán, who is fixated on Monte¬alegre’s political rivalry within the Liberal camp, was banking on Monte¬alegre losing and even working to ensure it happened. But then on September 1, the two men appeared at the same table for their first public “institutional meeting” ever. They wore cardboard smiles, but at least both were smiling. According to Montealegre, the “barbs” have been filed down. According to Alemán, the Liberals can win united, because the Liberal Party “is a vote-making machine.”

How long will this rarified political rivalry go on, increasingly polarized as it is between pro-Daniel Sandinistas, the leftist opposition and the traditional anti-Sandinista Right,? Alemán faces the choice of either staying on as an ever more junior partner in the pact he entered into with Ortega a decade ago and hoping for continued favors from the Ortega-loyal judge on his corruption case, or improving his personal and political position by rejoining the anti-Sandinista bandwagon and working for Montealegre’s candidacy rather than undermining it. With three months to go before the elections he seems to have opted for the latter. But will it last?

The correlation of forces in the FSLN-PLC pact increasingly favors the FSLN, which has left Alemán and his backers eating its dust in all arenas of power. The PLC needs a victory in Managua—even if Montealegre is the candidate—to invigorate its anti-Sandinista reputation and improve Alemán’s bargaining power in the pact.

CSE data from the 2006 general elections show that the PLC and ALN combined pulled more votes than the FSLN. The average proportion at each table was roughly 88 votes for the FSLN, 77 for Montealegre’s ALN, 50 for Alemán’s PLC, 44 for the MRS and 1 for Edén Pastora. It seems impossible for the FSLN to win Managua if neither Alemán’s nor Montealegre’s Liberals bolt and the FSLN doesn’t pull some spectacular trick with the votes.

As in a war

Two years ago Daniel Ortega asked, even begged voters to give him “a second chance” to govern Nicaragua, this time in peace as his first government was subject to the terrible constraints imposed by the US-financed war.

Twenty months later, it is amazing how constantly the rhetoric of his speeches carries us back to those war years. As in a war, his government seems to want to conquer rather than convince. It is invading territories, fostering a hierarchical discipline and reacting defensively. It seems to have no training to dialogue with today’s society, which is so different from the society of the eighties.

All over the world, Nicaragua included, society, the media and social organizations have undergone major changes for better or worse since the collapse of the Eastern European socialist bloc, the rollback of the welfare state and advance of neoliberalism, to name just a few of the milestone transformations. Those same changes, together with the experiences and initiatives of so many Nicaraguans in the years between Ortega’s first and second government, have shaped another Nicaragua and President Ortega has to dialogue with it. He must come to understand that no government has only achievements, that the FSLN hasn’t had majority backing in Nicaragua for a long time, and that the backing it still has is dropping due to his govern¬ment’s mistakes and above all his determination to harass, slander, silence, humiliate and sideline all who express any criticism or simply don’t sympathize with them.

A long, long list of offenses

It’s not just the constant rhetoric that aggravates and offends. It’s also the instrumentalizing of all state institutions to wage that war, with the endgame apparently the disappearance of free expression and autonomous participation.

The government’s authoritarianism seems to set no limits on imposing itself arrogantly and vindictively, whether against a national pride like poet Ernesto Cardenal—who was convicted by a judge of slander and injuries right after he criticized Ortega in Paraguay—or an efficient official like Patricia Delgado—obliged to resign from the Association of Nicaraguan Municipalities just for voicing approval of Managua Mayor Marenco’s administration—or anonymous state employees fired for having been MRS election monitors in past elections.

The list of those harassed, threatened and abused grows longer by the day. It includes journalists of the prestige of Carlos Fernando Chamorro and Sofía Montenegro, national and international NGOs, popular figures like Carlos Mejía Godoy and Edgard Tijerino and finally the priority target: national and international feminist organizations, which are aggressively slandered from the top levels of government power.

Et tu, Army?

In this context, the speech by General Omar Halleslevens, current chief of the Army of Nicaragua, at the celebration of that military institution’s 29th anniversary on September 1 was very disquieting. He used it to dismiss out of hand the documented questioning of army-related actions by three social organizations, which naturally were picked up by the media. The issues included a land problem in Esquipulas involving the Institute of Military Social Security (IPSM); the army’s intention to implement a housing project on Cerro Mokorón, a protected area of Managua; and the killing by army members of three peasants on a farm in El Encanto in the South Atlantic Autonomous Region. Echoing the presidential couple’s style, the general dismissed the accumulated information on these three cases as a “media campaign” to victimize the army. It was a surprising response from one of the few public institutions that have not lost their credibility and thus still have a real possibility for dialogue, and was in stark contrast to the balanced and even sometimes self-critical responses of National Police director Aminta Granera.

The three NGOs alluded to—CENIDH, the Humboldt Center and Institute of Strategic Studies and Public Policies—issued a joint response the following day, saying the speech “does not intimidate us, nor will it make us change our daily actions.” They viewed Halleslevens’ declarations as evidence that the army was placing “defense of the IPSM’s economic interests over the rights of Nicaraguan citizens’ to life, property and the environment, and violating the rights of free access to information, as he attributes to himself and the institute he runs the faculty to deny access to public information, particularly in relation to the IPSM’s business activities. With this, the army chief is putting himself above the law, citizens’ social control and their rights to information and free expression.”

Prayer against whose hatred?

On August 20, groups of some 30 poor men and women wearing white t-shirts with the slogan “Love is stronger than hate” set up camp in the middle of nine traffic circles in Managua. Each morning they plant huge pink banners with the slogan “Prayer against hatred” around the edge of the grassy circles and in the middle erect a sizable white tent-top emblazoned with the CPC logo. Well into the night huge sound systems constantly play revolutionary songs and at times religious hymns.

These people say they’re praying “against the hatred” of those who criticize President Ortega. They can occasionally be seen bowed in prayer, but they spend most of the day killing time, waving large national flags, catching a nap under the tent or eating one of the three meals brought to them by the CPCs from neighboring barrios. What is virtually never seen is anyone joining them; in fact they are more often the butt of jeering by passersby.

Previously these prayer-for-food groups showed up at Channel 2 and the two national newspapers—the right-wing La Prensa and the critically leftwing El Nuevo Diario—bearing crosses and placards with biblical quotes, raising their arms in prayer and claiming they were combating “the devil” inside these mass media. Some have identified the “hatred” with “feminists” and others with “journalists,” while others couldn’t name the objective of this bizarre praying that neither asks, thanks nor praises, but, breaking with all tradition, is simply “against.” Granada’s Bishop Bernardo Hombach suggested that the groups are “politicized” and that those sustaining them “want to manipulate the people’s religious sentiments.”

The official station Radio YA refers to them as the “Prayer against Hate Movement,” but they are rumored to be basically the poorest of the rural poor, and some more specifically insist they are families of Nemagon victims—banana workers now dying of the slow poisoning inflicted on them by this US-produced chemical. It was applied on plantations here years after being banned in the United States with no government to date lifting a finger to defend them.

We’re not at war!

It is irresponsible of the government and other public military or civilian institutions to disqualify the fair criticisms being made by society and the media, tarring them all with the brush of a “media war” or religiously packaging them as “hate campaigns.”

Ortega speaks of “the media’s cannons” and presents himself as the object of a “low intensity war,” while at the same time threatening his opponents with “the steel of war.” We’re not at war. Nobody hates Ortega; his critics are only monitoring what he and his government are doing and questioning any actions that merit it. Doing so is a constitutional civic right and even duty, derived from the participatory democracy he once claimed to defend.

The governing couple is interpreting data, information, ideas, concerns and criticisms as bullets, cannons and bombs; and reasoning, arguments, principles, civic rights and calling the state to account as hatred, venom, lack of love and sin. How long will this go on?

Cardenal Feels the Government’s Wrath
The government’s recent political vendetta against priest and poet Ernesto Cardenal caused an international scandal. On August 22, Judge David Rojas revoked a December 2005 sentence absolving Cardenal after a German citizen had accused him without evidence of slander and injuries in a property dispute, then, with no legal basis, issued a new conviction fining him $1,000. Car-denal called Judge Rojas a “Danielista,” recalling that he was the same one who had dismissed corruption charges against Byron Jerez, President Alemán’s right hand man in the embezzlement of state funds for which both were originally convicted. Cardenal refused to pay the fine and declared himself in contempt of court: “If they want to throw me in jail—and in the current system in Nicaragua any-thing’s possible—I’m ready to go.” He interpreted the sentence as “revenge by Daniel Ortega for the welcome I was given in Paraguay during the inauguration of President Lugo, while he was impeded from attending.” In Paraguay, Cardenal accused President Ortega of being a “thief” and of installing “a dictatorship of himself, his wife and his children” in Nicaragua. First Lady Rosario Murillo reacted by saying that Cardenal “has gone high and low in the logic of infamy.” Rojas handed down his conviction only days later. Ernesto Cardenal’s enormous prestige in Nicaragua and around the world sparked an avalanche of international solidarity with the poet and helped publicize what’s happening in Nicaragua today in a way few previous events have done.

Among the dozens of messages in solidarity with Cardenal, those by Portuguese Nobel Laureate for Literature José Saramago and Uruguayan political writer Eduardo Galeano stand out. Saramago wrote: “We call on writers and friends of Nicaragua in the world to denounce this political persecution.... The first precaution will consist of never confusing law with justice. Ernesto Cardenal has not been served by the law because it is administered by a justice that has allowed itself to be corrupted by the rancor and envy of power. Ernesto Cardenal, one of the most extraordinary men warmed by the sun, has been the victim of the bad conscience of a Daniel Ortega unworthy of his own past, incapable now of recognizing the greatness of someone who even a pope tried in vain to humiliate. I ask Daniel Ortega to take a look at himself in a mirror and tell me what he finds there. If it shames him, he should at least have the courage to ask forgiveness. If he does not ask for it, if he does not raise his voice to personally speak out against the conviction of Ernesto Cardenal, we will know that his human and political merits have dropped to zero. Once more a revolution has been betrayed from within.”

Galeano wrote: “All my solidarity for Ernesto Cardenal, a great poet, splendid person, my soul brother, against this infamous conviction by an infamous judge at the service of an infamous government. These infamies extol you, Ernesto.”
Cuba’s Union of Writers and Artists (UNEAC) also weighed in with the following message: “In recent days, various newspapers have been highlighting the conflict that pits poet Ernesto Cardenal against the current FSLN government. We admire his poetic works, his indisputable transcendence and the loyalty to our revolution he has demonstrated in all circumstances. In the years in which many cursed his ideas, he offered a lesson of consistency and dignity. Today, when we in Latin America are living moments of change and hope, Car-denal has accompanied these processes with his voice and his prestige. Meanwhile, the rise to power of the Sandinista Front in Nicaragua last year, despite US threats and interferences, broke the US hegemony in Central America…. The same media that silenced Ernesto Car-denal’s consistent backing of Cuba, Venezuela and Bolivia, are amplifying and manipulating this regrettable controversy. We witness with sorrow this confrontation at a decisive hour for the future of our continent. One must ask oneself who can benefit from these contradictions. There are no doubts: they will be exploited by the enemies of the emancipating processes underway in Our America.”

As the Cubans’ message differed from the offenses unleashed against Cardenal by the Ortega government, Rosario Murillo called them “disinformed” and Cardenal a “stuffed shirt.”



Communications Director Targets Feminism
On August 28, First Lady and government communications director Rosario Murillo issued a statement on what she called “The ‘feminist’ connection and low intensity wars.” Several Nicaraguan feminist organizations distributed the 3½-page text by email and the opposition leftist newspaper El Nuevo Diario reprinted it. We offer here its beginning and ending para¬graphs, and invite any Spanish-speakers interested in reading the full text to visit http://www.
radiolaprimerisima. com/noticias/general/36529.

Feminism was meant to be a proposition of Justice. The distortion of feminism, the manipulation of its banners, the deformation of its contents, the inclination of its postulates for the Cause of Evil in the world is, indisputably, a perfidious and cruel act of betrayal of the genuine personal and collective interests of women, which are substituted by avaricious ambitions and perverse political intentions.

Feminism is being manipulated and distorted right and left, to the extreme that from its banners, which could have so contributed to recovering women’s rights, it has promoted and is promoting alarming feminicide tendencies, which objectivize and aim to exterminate women, political adversaries above all, from the positions of the most crude and recalcitrant political Right.

In any event the false feminism of false prophets and priestesses does us no justice. On the contrary. It seeks and pursues us to set fire to us like an august Inquisition Tribunal, except that today the bonfire is a media one, as corresponds to these postmodern times of image, frivolity and entertainment. Of cultural invasion and domination as well. If feminism, which was to be a route for women’s rights, once postulated a human and inclusive feminism, it degenerated until it became one more pawn of the Empire, which uses it in its “Perfect” Programs and Operations of political chess to disparage, divide and supposedly conquer.

Inclusive feminism promotes Hu man Values. False feminism beats drums of war against all human values. It is an instrument of political and cultural penetration and occupation. Despoiled of its liberating mission, false feminism has in Nicaragua reached the extreme of marching on behalf of social oppression, shoulder to shoulder with the phalanges of capital, and with the best known exponents of a quarrelsome and brutal machismo.

False feminism serves the neo-colonization model; it lives in perfect symphony with imperialist designs. It has a key role in the strategy to wear down Revolutionary Projects. In the language of its brainiest analysts, this is called “struggles for freedom and democracy,” “struggles against dictatorships,” or white marches… This is nothing new to us. We have seen it, suffered it and beaten it before; it is called counterrevolution.

Evil designs its low intensity wars, which are today fundamentally political media ones, and those of fabricated street images, given the lack of resonance with or welcome from the peoples victimized by their ominous campaigns. Their executors are the wealthy and egocentric oligarchic strata, who thus aim to defend their economic interests and their malignant political model. They organize their sects, or “peaceful” arms and call them “civil societies”; they create “clear,” “politically correct” movements, manipulating causes of justice; they march against prefabricated “au-thoritarianisms” and “tyrannies” cut in series from the same pattern with the same scissors. Evil usurps banners, brings together castes, adds the resentful and the perverted, and tries to split us, to then kill us, wherever a Project of genuine Social Justice is being raised.

They will march. They will march... They will continue using pornography and electronic terrorism to intimidate. But the truth is that their message doesn’t penetrate. People clearly identify it for what it is: politicized sexism, served on the Empire’s golden platters. Because it is Hatred. Sex and class hatred. Because it is Hatred of Life. Because it is also anti-culture, of personal and family destruction. Because it is annihilation culture… I denounce them!

Nicaragua cannot return to the era of gladiators and Crossfire. The cabal of butchers attack, but we’re not going to traffic with Peace. Nor with anyone’s dignity. Nicaragua wants work and Peace. So we’re going to respond to this cultural occupation with political loftiness. We denounce them from our values. We confront them with civilization, prayer, faith, moral strength, with spiritual greatness… with culture!
(…)
We will pray for them. Love is stronger than Hate. We will pray for their personal satisfaction. We will pray that they pass from the frustration that is asphyxiating them and the madness to mental peace; and we will pray that this calm will lead them to recognize Good, and incorporate it into their Lives.

We’re not going to poison our heart. We don’t carry lethal weapons. We’re not made of ill will or rancor. We devolve goodness, because we want good.

We ask God that Love be manifested in their Lives and that his Power conquer hatred. From the heart, Lord, we ask you. Amen… So be it!

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