Three New Year Scenarios
The governing party knows the real adverse municipal election results.
Will it force the fraud on us despite the political tension and economic damage?
Or will it hammer out a governability agreement with the opposition
that dissembles the fraud to restore some credibility and normalcy?
Or might the opposition manage to correct the election results,
turning the super-crisis created by these elections into a
chance to clean up the electoral apparatus and
change the course of the country?
Which of these three scenarios will 2009 bring?
In another week or two we will have reached the New Year and the halfway mark of President Daniel Ortega’s term in office. The structural problems dragging on Nicaragua—caused by its weak productive apparatus, fragile democratic institutions and irresponsible political class—are still with us. And it’s no surprise, given the deeply rooted short-sighted-ness, inability to learn from experience and lack of competitiveness that explain much of our underdevelopment. Of course, another part of that underdevelopment can be laid to the US role over the past couple of hundred years.
The crisis triggered by the fraud in November’s municipal elections has exposed and aggravated all these age-old problems and sparked new conflicts. The only unexpected part was the magnitude of the fraud and of the strength of the rejection.
Is there any solution? To imagine what could change and how, we’ll straddle that invented line between the Old Year and the New. From that arbitrary vantage point we can envision three scenarios. In the first, the governing party gets away with the fraud and the political and economic conflict gets worse. In the second, it negotiates a “governability” pact with the defeated PLC, perhaps in exchange for giving it back some of the mayoral seats it actually won. In the third, the post-electoral crisis pulls the opposition together, offering a real opportunity for change in which Nicaragua takes some turns for the better.
Carefully conceived, We’ve actually been in the first scenario since November 9, Election Sunday. For virtually two weeks after the elections, Managua, León and a number of other municipalities tensely awaited the final electoral results. “The fraud was carefully planned, but coarsely and clumsily executed,” was the succinct take on the electoral operation by Conservative Mauricio Mendieta. It was precisely that crude execution that left such frustration in its wake: in many municipalities the perpetrators commented openly on and even boasted about what they had done.
While this was taking place locally, the Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) was merrily changing and re-changing its published “final provisional” percentage results every few hours, even though in almost all cases the earlier results had been said to represent 100% of the municipality’s election tables. It failed to provide any of the detailed information stipulated by law: the number of voters, valid votes and annulled votes and the exact numerical results table by table. This behavior triggered increasing anxiety, worry and anger in a large part of the population.
Managua under siegeOn Sunday, November 16, a week after the elections, León was besieged by FSLN shock forces armed with rocks, clubs, machetes and firearms, as it had been several months earlier during an opposition march. They came from various parts of the country to prevent an opposition march called to protest the fraud. Despite having all the required permits, no one could enter the city because all the center streets and access highways were blocked. The police just watched and tried to keep the two bands apart. National television channels broadcast the depressing images of violence as the governing party imposed its “victory” by force.
Two days later, the FSLN prevented a similar but larger march in Managua. State workers with red and black flags were sent to the streets to mix with FSLN activists and sympathizers firing mortars and hired gang members from the barrios wielding the now standard clubs, rocks and machetes. They surrounded the protest march on all sides, scared off anyone trying to get to the meeting point and committed acts of vandalism against journalists and media technicians. Again the police did nothing but watch and separate the two bands.
At the same moment this was happening in Managua, the opposition held another march in León, free of the shock forces. But as it was ending, a masked group took clubs to all the equipment of the three transmitters installed in Radio Darío. They were led by an FSLN representative to the National Assembly right under the noses of police officers.
The next day, First Commissioner Aminta Granera, head of the National Police (PN), publicly responded to the questioning of her officers’ passivity in the face of the vandalism, violence and street-taking organized by the FSLN to “defend the vote,” especially in Managua and León. “I understand perfectly the frustration of many people and sectors whose constitutional rights to free circulation and demonstration were affected and think we should have done more,” said Granera. “Nonetheless, the current circumstances in which we have to exercise our functions require that we act with an enormous dose of valor, serenity and responsibility.” She explained that the PN had prioritized avoiding the use of lethal techniques or weapons and protecting people’s lives more than their belongings.
A week later, after the final official election results had been announced, Granera spoke again: “We have been forced to face a test of fire and I believe we did what we had to do.” She defined the crisis the PN had to deal with during the post-electoral violence as “difficult and complex,” adding that it “obliged us to ensure that our actions as “difficult and complex not aggravate the violence and to prevent the country from ending up in a bloodbath.”
“A criminal mobilization”On November 18, while the central streets of the capital were still recovering from the attack on the opposition march, the Nicaraguan Human Rights Center (CENIDH) wrote an “urgent communiqué,” which it circulated nationally and internationally. Its dramatic quality, based on first-person experience, suggests the measure of what had gone on:
“What we have seen this afternoon is the aggressive prevention of the right of a sector of the Nicaraguan people to demonstrate. An extremely serious precedent is thus being set in which FSLN sympathizers and government employees, colluding under orders of their superiors in an evident mix of state-party confusion, are free to attack both physically and psychologically the population in general and particularly those demanding respect for the popular will expressed at the ballot box. We vigorously condemn this consolidation of the state-party confusion as a state policy and mechanism of government…. We have seen the grotesque spectacle of state officials heading up the disorder and aggression we are condemning….
“The actions led by the governing party this afternoon amounted to a criminal mobilization organized with resources provided and abused by power to commit serious human rights violations…. The shock forces into which the party leadership has converted its sympathizers have besieged Managua, while their leader was conspicuous by his absence, supposedly shielded in his residence, savoring the chaos into which his erratic party and governmental behavior have led the country, imposing a de facto suspension of the population’s guarantees and freedoms….
“We call on the National Police at one of the most difficult and dramatic moments of its institutional history. The National Police has been overwhelmed by manipulated acts and actors who do not hesitate to install themselves in ‘authority’ and proceed arbitrarily….
“The government must rectify this, because with these actions it is eroding the basis of peaceful coexistence for Nicaraguans and irreparably threatening the exercise of human rights, democracy and development in our country.”
November 20: In the afternoons for the better part of two weeks these shock groups answering to the governing party occupied Managua’s traffic circles in “festive celebration” and “defense of the vote,” rather ironically sharing these central points of the capital with people installed by First Lady Rosario Murillo to “pray against hatred.” They demanded that the CSE issue the definitive results of the elections right away to put an end to the controversy generated by the elections. Violating the law yet again, the CSE proclaimed the winners on the night of November 20 rather than waiting until December 5. In those “definitive” results, the FSLN won 105 mayoral seats, the PLC Alliance 37 and the ALN, now close to the FSLN, 4. It soon emerged that the executive branch had already published the same results in the official daily, La Gaceta.
Meanwhile, the opposition alliance made up of the Constitutionalist Liberal Party (PLC) and We’re Going With Eduardo (VCE) movement continued denouncing the fraud committed in over 30 municipalities, 5 of them departmental capitals, particularly Managua. It insisted that its own monitors’ official tallies be compared with those the CSE allegedly tampered with to create the official results.
Given that the CSE met this demand with silence, another legal idea to challenge the elections began to take form: the opposition parliamentarians drafted a bill to annul the elections as a whole. To close off that option, President Ortega finally appeared on November 21—after remaining invisible during all this chaos—to celebrate his party’s victories among flowers and fireworks. He announced that he had issued a presidential decree recognizing “the legitimacy of the electoral process from the outset and the definitive results.” At the same time, he rejected the opposition legislators’ initiative as “blatantly unconstitutional.”
First scenario:The basis for the first scenario is that the fraud be imposed one way or another. This could be achieved through street intimidation of any opposition expression; presidential decree; the inability of the opposition—which has little cohesion and many contradictions due to endlessly competing egos—to pull together the 47 votes needed to annul the elections legislatively; or perhaps even the FSLN-dominated Supreme Court declaring any parliamentary annulment vote unconstitutional.
Imposition and exhaustion
Everything would legally remain as it is now, and life would go back to “business as usual.” Things would “calm down” thanks to the governing party’s authoritarian volition, the weakness of the opposition forces and the resignation of an indignant, but tired and worn-down population. It is all the majority can do to find enough to eat and survive every day, while many are exhausted and perplexed by the never-ending political disputes and the lack of credible leadership in both government and the opposition. Furthermore, the citizenry is better at complaining than at organizing to do anything about its complaints, particularly with Christ-mas coming up, when most people just want to be at home with the family in peace.
A country rent asunderThe political cost of this first scenario is very serious and the consequences have already begun to be seen. We’re heading toward even wider polarization. In a country with proven electoral “faith,” imposing a fraudulent victory by force could trigger serious resistance, or at least deepen the social anomie the country is already suffering. In many municipalities, even the altered CSE figures show small differences between the two main contenders. Nicaragua has been split in two, with a fresh wound on top of the old wounds of war, which themselves were just beginning to heal. Here and there people can be heard talking about taking up arms again. They won’t do it, but it’s incredible that they’re thinking about it again.
One also hears suggestions of civil disobedience, such as not paying municipal taxes in resistance to resist and repudiation of the fraud. Without the democratic legitimacy of widely accepted transparent results, will the new mayors have any authority? Will they be able to work?
Four dogmas The government party is determined to ignore all this. It is asking its followers to forget the “high-sounding voices” and simply believe in four truths presented as dogmas: “One, we are the power of the people; two, we are a revolutionary project that is continuing and advancing; three, we are a project ratified by the majorities and four, we have a wise, experienced and sagacious leadership.” This is what the FSLN mayors, deputy mayors and Council members proclaimed winners by the CSE were told in their first meeting in the presidential headquarters.
The governing party is also telling them that starting in January they will initiate a “new model” called “direct democracy,” which will consist of coordinating with and obeying the un-elected Councils of Citizens’ Power (CPC) and Cabinets of Citizens’ Power (GPC), all directed centrally and from the top down by Rosario Murillo from the President’s offices. In the past two years, these new party and para-governmental structures have proved to be sectarian, uncritical and clientelist, with no talent for or interest in an open discussion of ideas or respect for the adversary. What can we expect from this Presidency-CPC-GPC-municipal branch of government?
Fewer resources, more crisesIn this first scenario, we’re headed toward a country with grave economic problems. Even without electoral fraud, the financial, economic, food and climate crisis facing the whole planet is dragging all countries and all governments into prolonged recessions. These are emergency situations that require rationality, national consensus and urgent measures. But Nicaragua will end up in an even more problematic situation if the governing party evades the frustration and disagreement of at least half the population; rejects the demand for transparency by all the country’s other social and political forces—bishops, businesspeople, civil organizations and the media—by interpreting it all as an international plot to bring Ortega down; and imposes the electoral results by violence and decree.
The recession underway in the United States—Nicaragua’s main trade partner—and the European countries—Nicaragua’s main donors and cooperants—will inevitably affect us even more. Less money will be sent home by emigrants; some emigrants will return; jobs will be lost; free trade zones will close; exports will drop…
The conflict’s This worrying panorama has been further complicated by international cooperation’s response to the electoral fraud: firm declarations and the freezing or cancellation of economic aid. Given that the National Assembly was paralyzed following the electoral fraud, the 2009 budget wasn’t approved on time. And because it and other laws weren’t passed, a technical mission sent by the IMF—with which the government signed a condition-laden agreement—had to postpone its visit to Managua.
When it finally arrived, it left empty-handed, still waiting for its conditions to be fulfilled in order to make the corresponding disbursements. Multilateral cooperation from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), Central American Bank for Economic Integration (CABEI) and World Bank is also linked to compliance with the budget agreed by the Nicaraguan government and the IMF.
The national budgets for both this year and next are now underfinanced. The European Union (EU) froze the disbursements earmarked for budgetary support. The resources from the Budgetary Support Group—in which the EU provides the main contribution—represent 80% of the Nicaraguan government’s public investment budget. In addition, the United States froze all pending disbursements from its Millennium Challenge Account (MCA), linked in turn to a US$130 million loan from the CABEI.
These were only the first financial casualties of the post-electoral conflict. For a country so dependent on foreign aid, the panorama is quite bleak.
Venezuela to the rescueAccording to an announcement by President Ortega on December 1, the “holes” left in the budget by the freezing or withdrawal of international aid and even the closure of the CMA will be filled with money from the Venezuelan government. In his article in this same issue, economist Adolfo Acevedo offers more exact figures on the size of these budgetary holes and on Vene-zuela’s capacity to fill them. He shows that Venezuela can fill the holes in the short run, but questions whether it will want to do so if they get larger or continue over time. Given that Venezuela’s capacity to help is so dependent on its petroleum revenues, it’s worth wondering whether the drop in international crude prices won’t oblige Venezuela to reorient its priorities. Will Nicaragua continue to be one of them?
Another question is whether any Venezuelan aid offered to fill the budgetary holes will actually be incorporated into the budget where the law dictates it would be controlled by the National Assembly representatives. So far, Ortega hasn’t permitted so much as a dollar from Venezuela to pass through the budget.
Resentment in the northwestThe US government’s freezing of the pending disbursements of the Millennium Challenge Account project will have a negative impact in the northwest departments of León and Chinan-dega. Participation networks have been created there with US funds that provide open forums of debate in which mayors and productive trade associations make decisions; hundreds of producers are receiving technical training and assistance to start rural businesses; the area is being reforested; the chaotic tangle of property titles is being sorted out and dozens of kilometers of highways and roads are being built. This is the MCA component that most hurts the government to lose. Could such an organized project be maintained with the Venezuelan money?
The MCA, which has so far executed about half of its total budget of $175 million in two years, has had visible, tangible results appreciated by all, winning sympathies among the area’s strongly Sandinista population. The government has underestimated the project’s impact and influence. Officially the FSLN “swept” the northwest, with the CSE giving the FSLN victory in each of the 23 municipalities of León and Chinandega. But there are bad feelings about the results in the port city of Corinto, and in the city of León an important nucleus of resentment has been generated over the electoral fraud, the two different protest marches impeded by violence led by the FSLN’s mayoral candidate and the outgoing FSLN mayor’s very untransparent administration.
How much will the MCA’s shelving or loss add to that resentment? What political cost will the FSLN have to pay, even if Venezuelan petrodollars do cover the project’s financial gap?
“Signed commitments, The Ortega government’s distancing from the EU had already translated into the smaller percentage the EU provided for budgetary support in 2008 and the part not yet disbursed ($43 million) has now been frozen. The amounts agreed to for 2009 will be even smaller and won’t be disbursed until the EU is satisfied that its conditions are being met.
The EU provides resources to help the fight against poverty and for the construction of democracy, which presupposes that the government has to comply with effective social programs and of course respect civil and political rights and comply with criteria related to democratic governance. The electoral fraud has put Nicaragua under the European microscope.
At the time of the fraud, France occupied the EU revolving presidency. It there fell to the French ambassador in Nicaragua, Thierry Frayssé, to made some very frank declarations to El Nuevo Diario on December 3, in which he listed the main reasons for the European countries’ frustration. “I believe,” he said, “that a large part of the planned resources are not going to be disbursed. And it’s not due to repression or blackmail. It’s simply that there are signed commitments and agreements that have to be respected. We have cooperated with Nicaragua for a long time, both during the eighties and afterwards to consolidate democracy. And we want to continue working with Nicaragua, but on a basis of mutual respect, of compliance with the commitments…. I’m not going make pronouncements about whether there was fraud or not. We see that many important actors in the country—civil society organizations, local observers, the Catholic Church—have already expressed their disagreements.”
“Let them explain it to me”“The European Union,” added Frayseé, “regrets the lack of observers. We don’t understand why there were none this time. Observation is very important for the confidence of both the electors and the parties, and we really see that this trust has now been broken…. Nor de we like it when the government uses rather disrespectful words that seem to disparage European aid…. European support is very important. It’s over half the support Nicaragua receives. It’s not ‘minutia,’ as President Ortega calls it. They are really important sums. Many countries would like to have this level of cooperation….
“Furthermore, the European Union has no historical debt with Nicaragua, as the President insists. It’s a fantasy, a very ideological vision. What historical debt do the Rumanian, Estonian, Italian or Polish people have with Nicaragua? I’d like them to explain it to me…. In addition, with the world crisis—and from well before—there’s now major pressure from the European citizens on their governments over the use being made of this aid, over the transparency of its use, over effectiveness. The parliaments are asking the governments to detail the accounts. Our contributors, who pay high taxes in Europe, want the aid to be sent to democratic countries.”
Rosales recognizes that At a Latin American Bolivarian Alternative (ALBA) meeting in Caracas on November 23, President Ortega again spoke out against the “European colonizers” and declared that “every time they take away cooperation, it doesn’t frighten us or set us back; it even makes us feel freer.”
“we should be worried”
Nonetheless, on December 1, in a message to the nation that he insisted on transmitting via a nationwide radio and TV hook-up, Daniel Ortega held forth for over an hour on various topics, including reducing the electoral conflict to “sensationalist political news items.” He asked the Nicaraguan population to trust in God and Venezuela to replace the frozen US and European aid. But despite all this ducking and dodging, it was recognition of the serious situation Nicaragua is facing thanks to the sense of “freedom” he’s supposedly enjoying. As is his custom, Ortega did not expose himself to a single question from journalists.
The next day Central Bank President Antenor Rosales, the official responsible for the state’s economic institutions—and one of the FSLN’s business group leaders, who surely have contradictions with the family group that controls the governing party—expressed categorical concern about the eventual flight of international aid. According to Rosales, “no cooperation can replace any other; any new cooperation must complement what already exists, which other peoples provide us with effort and sacrifice.” He added that “we should concern ourselves with working to ensure that the new forms of cooperation and new cooperants add to the historical cooperation Nicaragua has had…. Viewing Venezuela as the solution to all of Nicaragua’s foreign aid problems doesn’t correspond to the reality…. It’s very clear that we can’t have a genuinely financed budget without world help. We’d just be kidding ourselves.”
“We would cease functioning”A week later, Liberal parliamentary representative Francisco Aguirre Sacasa, president of the National Assembly’s economic commission, went as far as to predict that the country “would cease functioning” without international aid. “The President says aid should be free of conditions,” said Aguirre,” but the real world doesn’t work like that and never has. Nor does Venezuelan aid work like that. Furthermore, no one knows what’s currently being done with the Venezuelan aid we already have. The only thing we know for sure is that it isn’t secure and isn’t transparent.”
Among the “new” cooperating countries—other than Venezuela—that are giving us more to close gaps, Ortega is now particularly counting on Russia. He has announced that Russian capital will finally make the most recurrent obsession-dream-chimera of Nicara-gua’s history a reality: the building of an inter-oceanic canal through Nicaragua that can compete with the Panama Canal. The government has previously mentioned Chinese capital and Iranian investments in this respect.
Second scenario: Although government spokespeople claim the consistent and collective charge of fraud is only media fuss and call on their mayors-elect and their loyal rank-and-file to “close the election chapter and turn that page,” concern about the economic breaches that were opened and may continue to open in the fragile national economy lead us to imagine a second scenario.
A negotiated solution
In this one, the governing party could decide on a negotiated way out given that the country wouldn’t stand the pressure of continuing economic problems, unrest or sustained rejection by the “losers.” Or, to be more precise, it could decide either to negotiate using some other carrot without rectifying any electoral result, or order the CSE to fix some altered results as the “legal” response to a pending suit filed by the PLC Alliance. That would buy governance, normalcy and recover some credibility to ensure economic improvement. To realize either option, Daniel Ortega needs PLC strongman Arnoldo Alemán.
Liberal shake-up Most reliable sources believe the electoral results were negotiated between Alemán and Daniel Ortega back in early 2008. Electoral magistrate René Herrera, one of former President Arnoldo Alemán’s most faithful advisers and friends, was expelled from the PLC together with another PLC magistrate and the alternate of the third, all three of whom endorsed the CSE’s results by their presence during their public reading. Herrera, who originally shrugged off as “exhibitionist” the insistent charges of fraud by Eduardo Montealegre, mayor candidate for Managua on the PLC ticket, ended up blowing the whistle on what had really happened. The day after the CSE announced the definitive election results, Herrera virtually recognized that the FSLN victory had been negotiated between Alemán and Ortega well before the elections.
from top to bottom
These were his words on November 21: “Those who know it, know it; those who don’t know it don’t know it, and have the right to protest and every right to criticize. But I’m telling those of you who know how to read: Read. My decisions in all this aren’t at odds with my loyalty to my party, the PLC, and to its leadership. I can’t say any more right now; there’s no money in the middle here, and there’s no betrayal.” And these were his words two days later: “A good number of people in the PLC know what I did, how I did it and why I did it and there’s no money in this.” He recognized that irregularities had been committed in the elections and that the FSLN had taken advantage of the Liberal Alliance’s weaknesses. In response Montealegre challenged Herrera: “Let’s see if he has the courage, the valor, the manliness to name the person whose orders he was following.”
In fact, the course of the political dynamic so changed the machinations of the two parties to the pact that in the end the official results presented by the CSE bore little resemblance to what had been agreed and made a mockery of Liberal interests. Various incorrect assumptions were made in the electoral projections to arrive at the negotiated result. A major one had to do with voter turnout. The conventional wisdom is that fewer people vote in municipal elections and that a low turnout favors the FSLN, which can get out the vote both of its loyal followers and of the general public better than the Liberals in all but staunch Liberal strongholds, most of which are in rural municipalities. Although the CSE has not reported the turnout, opposition party monitors say it was higher than expected. As a result, the fraudulent mechanisms worked out to tweak the results in what were expected to be close races weren’t up to the task. In a number of cases, the ruling party’s electoral activists couldn’t subtly satisfy the order they had received to either win the mayoral posts “for citizens’ power” or snatch them away if necessary. Subtlety took a back seat to success.
One hundred was the magic number they were supposed to reach. Even before the “definitive” results had been announced, the FSLN’s propaganda was proclaiming on TV and radio spots across the country: “We won, thanks to God! More than a hundred mayor’s offices will be governed by Citizens’ Power!”
The official results and the mechanisms used to execute the fraud—obvious to many people in many municipalities—have contributed to a shake-up in the Liberal grassroots and to enormous contradictions between the leaders of both Liberal currents: Alemán, who still heads up the PLC, and Eduardo Montealegre, whose VCE movement chose to ally with a party it had previously split from.
It may be that this experience has finally allowed everybody, from top to bottom, to measure the consequences of the 1998 Alemán-Ortega pact, its subsequent refinements legislated in 2002 and its continuous new chapters, in which Alemán has found himself giving everything to Ortega in exchange for being freed from his corruption conviction—a prize kept always just out of reach. The fraud has shown both the Liberals and the country as a whole that the net winner of the pact is Daniel Ortega, who ended up swindling the Liberals into the bargain. It has triggered a much needed leadership battle between Alemán and Montealegre and among other leaders of both currents. These conflicts have generational, ideological and pragmatic dimensions.
The Montealegre-Alemán battleTo construct the second, more stable and governable scenario, Ortega and his group would need to accentuate the contradictions within Liberalism to the max, favoring Alemán and diluting as much as possible the “value added” acquired through the post-electoral crisis by Montealegre, together with other “losing” Liberal candidates and other Liberal leaders.
They got to work on this the day after the elections, with the CSE’s changing results provoking conflict among the Liberals and the FSLN propaganda organs delighting in calling Montealagre a “rat” and encouraging his extermination.
Montealegre has grown in his defense of the vote and denunciation of the fraud. He has got this far despite being in a very difficult position: deprived by the CSE of his leadership of the party he founded, he had to run on the PLC ticket. For many people who had resisted believing the avalanche of propaganda over the past year exclusively blaming him for the bank bailout bond crisis known as the CENI scam, throwing his lot in with the Alemán-led PLC showed him to be a lustful politician willing to sell out for a juicy political win, seeing Managua as a stepping stone to the presidency. Could he have known that Alemán had agreed to give Managua to Daniel Ortega?
In the VCE’s electoral alliance with the PLC it was agreed that each group would select half of the candidates for the country’s 146 municipal races. But Alemán continued playing dirty, with the PLC arbitrarily removing VCE candidates. The VCE could do nothing about this because the al-liance’s legal representation was exclusively controlled by the PLC’s Wilfredo Navarro. The VCE ended up with 45% of the candidates and the PLC with 55%.
According to the official CSE results, the Liberal Alliance won 37 mayoral seats, three of which—Granada, Bluefields and Boaco—were departmental capitals. Only those three, plus one other winning municipality had VCE candidates. The CSE adjusted victories or defeats to generate more contradictions between the two Liberal groups, always favoring Alemán’s camp.
Nonetheless, the sheer scale of the fraud brought the two currents closer together. But for how long? While the PLC has a tradition of using perks to keep its loyalists on a short leash, it has been swamped by the indignation of its own grass roots at this example of the pact’s negative consequences, for which they blame Alemán. Not even he expected to come out of these elections with so few mayoral seats. He’s the big loser in the fraud, in both the number of mayoral seats lost and, more importantly, the hopefully definitive erosion of his poisonous political leadership. He has never been in such a weak and dicey position.
Is the pact Kaput?Does the Liberals’ self-provoked electoral debacle signal the terminal crisis of the pact initiated between the two caudillos ten years ago? It’s too early to tell.
As mentioned for the second scenario, it could persist with a “govern-ability agreement” that doesn’t include any revision of electoral results, or the CSE could return some mayoral seats to the Liberals and rectify some results. But would that be enough to satisfy the party faithful who hold Alemán responsible for everything that has happened? Won’t they exact their pound of flesh? Even more importantly, could such an agreement calm the anxiety generated by the fraud among the opposition to Ortega today—which extends well beyond Liberal ranks?
Montealegre’s leadership would likely grow in this second scenario, if and when Alemán caves in to this “governability agreement,” proclaiming he’s doing it for the good of the country. His group and the broader opposition would continue to rail against the fraud based on the evidence they have, working to expand the unitary alliance of “all against Ortega” and maintaining municipal, national and international pressure against the government. Would such “governability” make the country governable?
Control “from below”?The governing party would probably be willing to give some mayoral seats back to the Liberals, revising a few results. These could include Jinotega, a Liberal bastion in which the theft was bald-faced; or Masaya; or other traditionally Liberal municipalities, where the results were clumsily altered. But it will never relinquish León or Managua, where fraud was compounded by outright theft, as Kitty Monterrey explains in the Speaking Out section of this issue.
Although any rectification of the results would assume a certain loss of image for the FSLN, which would effectively have to recognize that it fiddled with the books, the government might be prepared to pay that cost given what was at stake; nothing less than the government’s whole political project—dubbed “direct democracy.” Designed according to the Murillo-CPC-GPC-mayoral office chain of command, it is scheduled to get underway in the municipalities in January, after the new mayors take office. It’s an ambitious project of control “from below” and one of its main components is the pledge FSLN mayoral candidates made to take their orders from the CPC structure if they win.
If this scheme functions and is consolidated, the governing party is banking on all other institutions, authorities and organizations working locally today being coordinated by it, subjected to it or accommodated by it… or else eliminated. The same fate awaits projects financed by international cooperation, if indeed it decides to continue working in Nicaragua.
Some are calling this scheme a “dictatorship” while others argue that the government is looking to “take hostages” with it. Is it realistic to think that it could be consolidated in Nica-ragua’s current conditions, given the social wound opened up by the electoral fraud?
Dreamed-of The government would also probably be willing to concede something because it needs the support of Alemán and some members of his legislative bench to push through constitutional reforms already agreed to by Ortega and Alemán and announced by loyal government spokesperson and Supreme Court Justice Rafael Solís. These reforms would almost certainly prolong the direct democracy model with Ortega’s indefinite reelection or a parliamentary system that would permit him to continue governing while sidestepping any new electoral competition.
The FSLN only has 38 votes in its National Assembly bench and needs 56 in two consecutive legislatures to approve constitutional reforms. It now apparently has 47 in the bag, but that’s only the simple majority needed to approve ordinary laws. As usual, it obtained them through threats, intimidation, bribes and perks. The only place it can get the 9 it still needs is from the PLC bench, over which Alemán’s influence is decisive.
Ortega’s project to remain in power is ambitious. Some see it as the inauguration of a “dynastic dictatorship” and evoke the ghost of the Somozas’ nearly half-century dynastic rule. Is it realistic to think that this formula will fly in Nicaragua’s current conditions?
Cooperation’s eyes and earsThe third reason Ortega might give up some mayoral seats to the Liberals is to refresh his and Nicaragua’s international image to some degree. It is in the international arena that the President has harvested even more contradictions and dilemmas.
He would be fine with the idea of any international cooperation that links the struggle against poverty with democratic governance pulling out of Nicaragua. That would free him of the “eyes and ears” that impose conditions, demand respect for civil and political rights and require compliance with commitments made.
But given that the total departure of cooperation would have a very high economic cost, Ortega seems to be gambling on some going and others staying, accentuating the contradictions he knows exist among cooperating countries. He made that tactic explicit in a December 11 message to the nation. That night he spoke very critically of Sweden, didn’t know what to say about Finland, exalted Japan, blamed the United States for everything as always, didn’t mention the budgetary support pullout by Germany and Great Britain, thanked Holland, Switzerland and Norway for staying put and bragged of his excellent relations with Spain…
If we label “pro poor” those countries that emphasize projects to fight poverty and worry less about the indicators of democracy and “pro governance” those that put both goals on the same plane, convinced there can be no sustainable economic development without democracy and human rights it’s easy to work out that Ortega was seeking to pit the two against each other.
An image with shadowsDaniel Ortega knows he’s suffering increasing international isolation that will be hard to reverse, but he seems determined to make it even worse. He has distanced himself from the EU with his incendiary ideological speeches, insulting its representatives, and has even begun to diminish the significance of Barack Obama’s presidential victory in the United States.
Labeled a rapist for the accusations made by his stepdaughter and a violator of women’s rights for having criminalized therapeutic abortion, Ortega is rejected by small, but highly organized groups of women all over Latin America. The electoral fraud has added new shadows to his image. Influential media and Western embassies are now closely scrutinizing what’s happening in Nicaragua as a whole as well as the involution suffered by the FSLN.
Does Nicaragua’s government still deserve to be called leftist? This question, which until very recently was not contemplated beyond Nicaragua’s borders, is now discussed in the rest of the world with increasingly informed answers. What remains of the massive worldwide solidarity with the Sandinista revolution in the eighties has either shifted to a more people-to-people solidarity or is finding itself in an uncomfortably defensive position, if it still identifies with the FSLN at all.
After winning the presidency two years ago with only 38% of the vote, the FSLN has worked itself into a situation of increasing political self-isolation. It therefore needed a resounding victory in the municipal elections to accredit Ortega’s project, at least to his colleagues in the club of leftist governments known as the Latin American Bolivarian Alternative (ALBA), all of whom have legitimately won national elections, vote-of-confidence referendums or other popular consultations. Losing these elections would have raised ugly doubts about Ortega’s leadership and the “revolution” he insists in all forums that he’s leading in Nicaragua.
In the ALBA nicheIncreasingly heading down the slippery slope internationally, Ortega has to take refuge in the geopolitical niche of occupied by the countries in ALBA, an initiative whose only big Latin American participating country is Venezuela. Even in that niche, however, Ortega can’t breathe easily.
On November 20, hours before the CSE ratified the FSLN electoral victory, a special session of the Organization of American States (OAS) heard a Nicaraguan motion to condemn OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza for interfering in Nicaragua’s elections and allegedly being part of an international plot against the Ortega government. The only government to support the motion was Venezuela; not even other ALBA members backed it.
The speech made by the representative of the Panamanian government of Martín Torrijos, until now close to Nicaragua’s, expressed an enormous distance from the Ortega government’s interpretation of our country’s electoral crisis. Ortega had failed to accurately assess the current correlation of forces within the OAS. The image he tried to peddle of a head of state victimized by an international conspiracy had no buyers.
Fidel Castro has not mentioned a single word about Nicaragua in his writings continually analyzing the situation in Latin America, ALBA—of which Cuba is also a member—and the United States. He hasn’t expressed a single opinion either about Nicaragua’s municipal elections, which Ortega qualified during a visit to Caracas with baroque defensiveness as “a battle between revolution and counterrevolution,” or about the ensuing crisis, which Ortega’s spokespeople minimize as a “media show” put on by “straw men in the service of the empire.” Fidel’s silence about Daniel speaks louder than words.
To top it all off, 15 days after Nicaragua’s controversial elections, Venezuela held its own elections for governors and mayors. The context was rather similar in both countries: difficult circumstances for the Venezuelan government, an opposition eager to defeat “Chávez” in each municipality, a very polarized population and a high voter turnout.
But there were three substantial differences: 1) the Bolivarian government accredited both national and international observers to validate the results, 2) there was a transparent ballot count, and 3) President Chávez democratically accepted the results, even though he lost Caracas and two of the country’s most economically important states. The opposition will govern 45% of the Venezuelan population at the local level. Chavéz graciously assumed the loss by saying, “We’ll have to be self-critical where it is needed,” thus situating himself on the opposite side of the divide from Ortega’s words and actions.
The third scenario is a utopiaWe’re building the third scenario in the part of the brain where dreams are born. We’re imagining innovations and weaving utopias, firing off those neuronal synapses that tell us the impossible can be achieved, that make us know that it can be done and want it to be possible.
In this scenario, the government party doesn’t hold the reins. Instead, they are held by the political, entrepreneurial, religious, social and grass-roots forces currently opposing its authoritarianism, its patronage politics and its anti-democratic project. Also in this scenario, these forces would self-critically recognize their own responsibility for having let Nicaragua get where it is today and begin to join together. They would begin to move beyond the historical selfishness, social insensitivity and sell-out mentality and start building unity, not only to take a stand against the Ortega dictatorship-in-progress, but also to build a more just and equitable country. Sandinistas ashamed of the electoral fraud—within and outside the governing party—would express their shame openly and organize to exercise pressure. The bishops would reaffirm their position and try to construct an ethical leadership.
FSLN allies would also speak out and exert pressure, following the example of Conservative politician Miriam Argüello and Social Christian Agustín Jarquín, both legislators elected in 2006 on the FSLN ticket as part of an alliance called the National Convergence. In a television interview with journalist Carlos Fernando Chamorro on December 5 they admitted that the municipal elections weren’t transparent and argued that the voting table tallies should be recounted.
Argüello was the most expressive: “Today,” she said, “I feel as though I lost 50 years of my life, because what Nicaragua is going through now is total chaos. The CSE magistrates owe it to the people and are obliged to demonstrate to the people that their actions were correct. It means nothing to say ‘It’s correct because I say it’s correct.’ We’re at a crossroads; there’s a situation in Nicaragua that can’t just be patched up. Things have reached such a point that we’re not going to resolve the problem that led to the explosion of these elections by sitting down to a national dialogue, as many are suggesting. If the CSE has acted transparently, why isn’t it putting Nicaraguan’s minds at peace by saying ‘Here are the tallies and the results’ and reviewing them? They aren’t gods; we don’t have some dogma of faith here; we’re distrustful. That’s the solution: present the tallies and recount them in the presence of observers.”
As a result of many more similar actions, the population in this scenario would feel represented and begin to move from griping, blowing off steam and speaking rhetorically to organizing. It would get over its fears and understand that it’s time to push in a better direction than the one we’re headed in. The population that supports the government and believed it really won more than 100 mayoral seats would come to understand that this isn’t true and that the anger of the “losers” will have negative consequences for the whole country. With all these changes, the governing party would finally feel enough pressure to realize it has to rectify its behavior.
The first stepsThe first step towards rectification consists of pulling out the original vote tallies the FSLN has and the CSE is hiding, both those it respected and those it altered, to compare them with the ones in the possession of the opposition alliance. This arduous exercise in humility and self-criticism would have to be done by the CSE before international and, even more importantly, national observers.
The FSLN would cleanly win the mayoral seats where it actually polled more votes and the opposition would be awarded those it legitimately deserves. Both would accept the revised results and the new local governments would take office in an atmosphere of legitimization, in true “unity and reconciliation,” to borrow a phrase from government propaganda.
The next step of this third scenario would be the interpellation of the 11 electoral branch magistrates, alternates included, as institutionally responsible for the fraud. These would accept having committed electoral crimes and would consequently resign or be removed, replaced by electoral professionals and technicians committed to democracy. The new authorities would clean up the intermediary authorities at all levels of the CSE, which would cease being the fourth branch of state and become a technical institute, activated only during election periods.
The transformation of the electoral apparatus would be accompanied by a thoroughgoing reform of the electoral law, last reformed as a result of the pact. This would follow the recommendations proposed several years ago by the Reform Promoter Group to make the law more democratic and less exclusionary, instead promoting a participatory citizenry.
The last step would be to forget the constitutional reforms and prepare for the 2011 national elections in an environment of greater respect, cooperation, tolerance and national consensus, during which period we would also work together to try to respond to the grave economic problems we’re facing.
First we must dream itThis is an enormous utopia, pure dream. But to build the future we must first dream it, as Luis Enrique Mejía Godoy sings and as personal and collective experience teaches. We have to dream, imagine and talk to each other about the future.
Who will be the first to dream, imagine and converse? We believe it will have to come from the field of education. We need a critical mass of teachers who use the classrooms, the media and all social arenas to teach others to think and to live by persuading not opposing. Those teachers need to build up a critical mass of people educated in citizenship, who consciously participate in society.
Such a Nicaragua would be very different than the country nearing the end of this newly convulsive 2008. It would require earmarking more resources to teaching and education, in which we all bank on modern, scientific, rational and quality education with horizontal methods, ethics and esthetics, in which there is debate and the promotion of imagination, rather than dictation, copying and routine. We will be much more prepared for many “third scenarios” when such education is the priority of the whole nation, including politicians, families, the clergy and businesspeople.
In this classroomIf nothing changes, if the fraud is imposed or negotiated, we can at least experience this post-electoral crisis—in which we all have some responsibility—as a school providing a cruel and painful lesson. Let’s invite that great Latin American educator Paulo Freire to this classroom. In 1994 the master said, “In reality, when the future is considered as something given beforehand, either as a pure mechanical repetition of the present or simple because it ‘is what has to be done,’ there’s no room for utopia or, as a consequence, dreams or choice or decisions or expectations, which is the only way hope can exist.”
With this hope, which can only exist in freedom, commitment and imagination, which we hope no one will rob us of, we will push on into 2009.