Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 334 | Mayo 2009



Politics in the Time of Virus

Some government politics in this time of virus evoked those of the eighties: pitted against the empire, conflicts with the Church, “rightwing conspiracies” everywhere and the eternal abandonment of the “separatist” Caribbean Coast.

Envío team

Human influenza, nee swine flu, has not yet invaded Nicaragua. A presidential decree of two months of emergency, widespread publicizing of preventive measures, thousands of antiviral doses and a strong organizational network to deal with possible outbreaks—a capacity for which the FSLN is the indisputable leader—have so far stopped the virus in its tracks. As of May 8, the closing of this issue, there were no confirmed cases in the country, although there had been a few scares.

But no similar preventive measures have been taken in the political terrain. In this time of virus the country remains contaminated with strains of well-known virulence.

In no mood for “chemistry”
in Trinidad & Tobago

President Obama’s first formal outreach to Latin America took place in mid-April in Trinidad & Tobago. The setting was the Summit of the Americas, an arena created by President Clinton 14 years ago.

Despite the perception that Obama knows nothing about Latin America, there were great expectations about how he would present himself to the 34 Latin American Presidents and how they would receive him. Just before the summit Venezuela’s President Chávez met with his allies from the Latin American Bolivarian Alternative (ALBA) in Cumaná, capital of the Venezuelan state of Sucre and a Caribbean tourist center. There he declared he would be going to Port of Spain with his “artillery at the ready.” In that same period, almost all Latin American heads of state were pushing for Cuba’s inclusion in these summits, thus accentuating one of the touchiest issues for prior US administrations. It was a strategic trial balloon.

Wasting no time, Obama took measures even before the summit to alleviate the daily life of Cubans by lifting the ban on Cuban Americans traveling and sending remittances to the island. These measures were far more welcome in Cuba than the kind of foreign policy formalities being promoted by the other governments. If Cubans had already taken a liking to Obama, each remittance and each flight that started arriving from Miami the very next day exponentially multiplied the good feelings.

Because Nicaragua is president pro-tem of the Central American Integration System this year, one of the two initial speeches fell to President Ortega. He would speak for Central America after Argentine President Cristina Kirchner represented the countries in the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR).

In Managua, Arturo Cruz, Ortega’s Ambassador in Washington until he resigned the post after two years, spelled out the best-case scenario: the summit would be a chance for Daniel Ortega to “make chemistry with Obama” and “reinvent Nicaragua’s relations with the United States.” With his habitual cheery optimism, he argued that Obama would surely have worn pro-Nicaragua tee-shirts in Chicago during Reagan’s counterrevolutionary war in the eighties.

“I’m ashamed to
be at this summit!”

President Ortega was assigned 10 minutes, but went on for an interminable and irritating 50. As is his wont, he recalled moments in the history of US aggression against Nicaragua, delighting in his own participation in some of them. Although everything he said is true and still hurts, and he has every right to say it, this was not the forum for it. Almost the entire speech was inappropriate given that he wasn’t speaking for Nicaragua. Furthermore, the way he chose to do so was a sterile provocation with no apparent purpose.

If he was determined to recount the many wrongs the United States has committed, why not include US support for the Salvadoran army during the 12-year war there; or the advice it provided to the Guatemalan army, internationally condemned for genocide against the country’s indigenous communities; or the military occupation of Honduras during the contra war in Nicaragua? The single-country focus of his speech and his clumsy, disorderly rambling on other issues in which he continued to hold the United States responsible can only be explained by his determination to present himself as the leftmost member of all his Latin American peers.

Ortega’s speech was pessimistic throughout, and he insisted on minimizing Obama’s success, describing him as “the head of an empire corralled by its rules.” His negative attitude contrasted with that of the other Latin American Presidents, including Chávez, who unleashed none of his “artillery” and ended up qualifying the summit as “nearly perfect.” All were more focused and pro-active, trying to reinvent more respectful and constructive relations, to create a less corrosive chemistry than the one that existed before Obama took office.

“We must learn from history, but we can’t be trapped by it”

If Obama was offended by Ortega’s tirade, he sloughed it off with grace and wit. “To move forward, we cannot let ourselves be prisoners of past disagreements…. I’m grateful that President Ortega did not blame me for things that happened when I was three months old. Too often, an opportunity to build a fresh partnership of the Americas has been undermined by stale debates.

“And we’ve heard all these arguments before, these debates that would have us make a false choice between rigid, state-run economies or unbridled and unregulated capitalism; between blame for rightwing paramilitaries or leftwing insurgents; between sticking to inflexible policies with regard to Cuba or denying the full human rights that are owed to the Cuban people.

“I didn’t come here to debate the past—I came here to deal with the future. I believe, as some of our previous speakers have stated, that we must learn from history, but we can’t be trapped by it.”

Cuba and Nicarargaua aren’t sure how to treat Obama

Obama’s measures toward Cuba are a first step toward ending the obsolete and absurd blockade against that country. Some believe the next one will be to allow non-Cuban US citizens to travel freely to the island. In 2007 the American Society of Travel Agents estimated that 1.8 million US citizens would visit in the first three years following a lifting of the travel ban. Other calculations suggest that this figure could reach some 5 million per year.

Is Cuba prepared to receive such an avalanche of US tourists? The problem isn’t just one of material infrastructure but also of socio-ideological infrastructure. After all these years of blaming all the grievous basic shortages on “the enemy,” it would suddenly be very close.

And is Cuba prepared for a lifting of the economic blockade? How ready is it even for preliminary negotiations with the United States prior to such an action, which will surely never be unilateral or without conditions? Some believe Obama wouldn’t make such a move until his second term, given the economic priorities so urgently occupying him now.

Daniel Ortega’s protagonism in Cuba following the summit suggests some of the contradictions the charismatic Obama has already sparked in both Havana and Managua. They aren’t clear how to treat him in either capital.

Fidel defines
Daniel as “eloquent

President Ortega stopped in Havana on his way to the summit to show Fidel Castro the draft of the final declaration. And instead of returning to Managua at the end of the meeting, he went back to tell Castro what had happened there, whereupon Castro invited him to participate in the official daily Cuban TV program “Mesa redonda” (Roundtable) to explain the events to the viewers.

Given the distance between Ortega and Castro ever since Ortega took office in January 2007, this visit caught many people’s attention. A frequent visitor to the island for health reasons, Ortega is about the only Latin American head of state who still hasn’t been photographed with the convalescing Castro, and the Cuban leader almost never refers to Nicaragua in his continuous writings on all political issues imaginable. The one exception was in 2008, when he praised Ernesto Cardenal as a “prototype of revolutionary purity,” which could only be interpreted as an open criticism of the campaign launched against the poet by the Ortega government.

Even more noteworthy was the praise Castro began to heap on Ortega in several of the “Reflections of Com¬pañero Fidel” published in Granma starting with the pre-summit meetings. For the first time Fidel spoke enthusiastically of the visit of “Daniel and Rosario” and described Ortega as “calm, comprehensive and well-informed, very realistically analyzing what can and must be done” when referring to Nicaragua’s problems.

Afterward, referring to Ortega’s summit speech, Castro described it as “the chimes of a bell tolling for a policy of centuries” and said it was “not the economist, scientist, intellectual or poet” speaking, as despite possessing all those qualities, Ortega “did not select affected words to impress his listeners.” Castro textually reproduced a large part of the speech then turned to Ortega’s participation on Cuban television, which he said was “as I hoped: he spoke with eloquence; was persuasive, serene, irrefutable, insisting on the truth every moment of his appearance.”

Obama as the
Pied Piper of Hamlin?

Ortega spoke on Cuban TV as he almost always does: for two unstoppable hours, except for four timid formal questions the journalist who “interviewed” him managed to squeeze in during Ortega’s agitated verbosity.

Among other things, Ortega insisted that “censorship was imposed” in the summit on all but the five who spoke in the plenary, himself included. “Only we five had the privilege of freedom of expression. The others, closed in, muzzled, because it was like putting a muzzle on them, as well as a blindfold over their eyes to try to cover our peoples’ eyes and block their ears about what was done in this meeting.” He referred sarcastically to Obama several times as “the emperor” and criticized those who went up to greet the US President: “I noted that some heads of state and of government were really delighted to be shaking hands with President Obama and said to myself: ‘This is like Hamlin. Like Hamlin [sic] with his little flute and all the mice following… We’re headed to the abyss, to the cliff!’”

Castro’s surprising new praise of Ortega is explained by the fact that insulting both the summit and Obama served his own purposes, since the Obama phenomenon must be unleashing a sea of contradictions. “Fidel has always handled relations with the United States,” commented some Cubans. “Now he used Daniel like a ventriloquist to show his hard line. He picked Daniel because he knows he’s the most discredited leader in the region, who has less to lose if he distances himself from Obama, as he did.”

During his TV appearance, President Ortega claimed that US Embassy officials in Nicaragua were “permanently” conspiring against his government: “We have all the information, but haven’t wanted to expel US officials. We’ve preferred to keep gathering more information, and will release it at the right moment.” Ortega complained that “they are always meeting” with his adversaries in the embassy. In Managua, US Ambassador Robert Callahan explained that it’s a normal task of any diplomatic mission to talk to all sectors of the country. Days later, former President Alemán indignantly declared that “they”—clearly Eduardo Montealegre and the Liberal group he heads—were “conspiring” against the Ortega government to “isolate it” and against Alemán’s own Constitutionalist Liberal Party (PLC), “saying it’s no longer a political option.” Alemán, Ortega’s partner for the past decade in a political pact to impose an FSLN-PLC bipartite system, said agitatedly that “there’s no room for third forces in Nicaragua!” The likeminded Ortega, praising Cuba’s single party system during his marathon TV interview, said that “having multiple parties is just a way to disintegrate the nation, to divide our peoples.”

Contradictions? Divergences?

Some imagine that one of the main contradictions is Fidel and Raúl Castro’s respective visions regarding the possibility of such a crucial negotiation with the United States under Obama’s direction. Will it happen? Does Fidel really want his brother to preside over it? Does he really want the blockade lifted before his death? It would seem that his goal before going would be the recovery of full Cuban sovereignty over Guantánamo. Would Obama be willing to make a unilateral gesture of that symbolic caliber?

Some months ago Raúl Castro replaced with military officers in his confidence 11 ministers or people in posts with ministerial functions, some of whom (Carlos Lage and Felipe Pérez Roque) were very close to his brother. Did these important changes announce both greater institutionality and a kind of preparation for possible negotiations with the United States?

Chávez’s continental ambition,
Obama’s “equal partnership”

Lucid Cuban analyst Haroldo Dilla recognizes another of Raul’s dispositions: “He’s a pragmatic man, without foundational pretensions, with a sense of finiteness his brother never had and a greater capacity to understand what goes on in daily life. Although on the negative side he headed up the most strident repressive acts that have taken place in Cuba, he also encouraged the main economic reforms…”

Dilla notes that “Chávez’s continental political ambition inevitably involves propping up Cuba’s economy. Venezuela’s subsidies have become a key variable to explain both Cuba’s current economy and the behavior of its political elite.” He adds that “it’s not hard to perceive Raúl Castro’s effort to loosen Chávez’s bear hug.”

As for the United States, Obama has to come up with a positive new strategy for Cuba, Venezuela and the rest of Latin America to regain lost ground. While Bush, obfuscated by his “war on terrorism,” was abandoning Latin America to its fate, China, Iran and Russia firmed up their trade relations and political presence with all the new Latin American governments, competing advantageously with the United States in its own “backyard” and area of influence.

The new situation isn’t easy, as Obama himself acknowledged in his summit speech: “I know that promises of partnership have gone unfulfilled in the past, and that trust has to be earned over time. While the United States has done much to promote peace and prosperity in the hemisphere, we have at times been disengaged, and at times we sought to dictate our terms. But I pledge to you that we seek an equal partnership. There is no senior partner and junior partner in our relations; there is simply engagement based on mutual respect and common interests and shared values. So I’m here to launch a new chapter of engagement that will be sustained throughout my administration.” He went on to enumerate a number of areas in which actions were already being initiated, ranging from the measures toward Cuba to economic, energy and public security/drugs issues. Only time will tell whether the elegance of Obama’s speeches and gestures are backed by continuing actions, whether the intentions he spoke of have sufficient support in Washington and whether the effort of all Latin Americans minus one or two will translate into more positive policies. As President Obama noted, “it’s not just the United States that has to change. All of us have responsibilities to look towards the future.”

Eighties’ scripts revisted

The United States indeed has much to atone for in its historical relations with Nicaragua. It doesn’t begin or end with the US military aggression against Nicaragua in the eighties, although that alone is enough to justify the virulent hostility toward the US government during Daniel Ortega’s first period in office. Nonetheless, repeating that stale old script despite encouraging signs of change in the White House reveals Ortega as closed to new ideas for new times and new settings.

On April 18, Nicaragua witnessed a rerun of two other scripts dating back to the eighties. The first was a four-day meeting in Bilwi of the Miskitu people’s Council of Elders, in which 400 delegates representing 300 Miskitu communities on the Caribbean Coast met with more than 1,000 community residents. At the end, they declared an independent Moskitia Nation and claimed they were starting to prepare their own army, made up of some two hundred former anti-Sandinista combatants from the eighties. Other decrees included an order to companies with businesses in the northern Caribbean not to pay taxes to the Managua government, refusal to recognize the córdoba as the official currency on the coast and an order to create their own flag, shield and anthem. They elected Reverend Héctor Williams, pastor of the Christian Assemblies of God Church, as their Wihta Tara, or maximum representative. This new Miskitu government gave the northern Caribbean autonomous government six months to transfer its administration to Williams, who claims to have drafted the new nation’s Constitution.

The declaration also accused Brooklyn Rivera and Stedman Fagoth of betraying the indigenous peoples and enriching themselves in the process. Rivera and Fagoth were leaders of the indigenous organization Misurasata created in late 1980, then respectively headed up its two armed splits that warred against the Sandinista government—and each other—until 1989, when they led the transition of the reunited indigenous organization, newly named Yatama, back into a civilian body. Now defined as a regional party, Yatama is co-governing the northern Caribbean with the FSLN, runner-up in the last elections for autonomous regional government. Not surprisingly both Rivera and Fagoth minimized the Council of Elders’ declaration.

This “Miskitu independence” expresses Yatama’s crisis as a representative of the region’s indigenous peoples. As a corollary one could argue that it also represents the base’s failure to throw out leaders shown over nearly 30 years heading the succession of organizations to have been co-opted and corrupted by power, particularly but not only by the FSLN. It also expresses the crisis of the autonomous system legally established in 1987, elected into power for the first time in 1990, then ignored and left to its own inexperience by all four governments ever since. The coast has been effectively abandoned since its forced incorporation into the nation in 1894, the most recent example being the Ortega government’s neglect following the devastation of Hurricane Felix in September 2007.

Also in mid-April, representatives of the Sumo-Mayangna people held a three-day assembly in the mining town of Rosita and declared the formation of the Mayangna Indigenous Nation of Nicaragua, also with a flag and its own self-governing system. The difference was that it demonstrated no ambition to separate from the rest of the country.

“Religious Conversion”

The other replay from the eighties was the unusually virulent flare-up of hostilities between the government and the Catholic hierarchy. Early in his 2006 presidential campaign, Daniel Ortega decided to exhibit a “religious conversion” to more traditional forms of religion, recognizing that the war against the hierarchy in the eighties only triggered one problem after another. Now, violating the constitutional principle of a lay state, he invokes God in presidential and ministerial messages, begins public acts with prayers and blessings from the parish priests of municipalities he’s visiting, promotes religious festivals, laces his speeches with biblical quotes and even placed “prayer groups” for months at all major traffic circles in Managua, each site adorned with a statue of the Virgin and banners with the Eucharistic verse “Let Us Sing to the Love of All Love.” Adding a stories-tall wire Christmas tree to the traffic circles gave the scene a singular eclecticism.

Legally, the strategy reached its climax with the FSLN’s energetic backing for the criminalizing of therapeutic abortion during the campaign and reaffirmation of it once in office. Financially, the government supports diverse ecclesiastical works—and clergymen—through exonerations, donations, subsidies and privileges. The success of this governmental strategy was assured by the current lack of any “popular church” fed by liberation theology’s social ideals and doctrinal novelties, as there was during Ortega’s first term in office in the eighties.

Accusations of fraud
and armed groups

May’s flare-up in the government-Catholic hierarchy relations must be placed in the context of the political tensions triggered by the evidence of electoral fraud in last November’s municipal elections, which compelled the Bishops’ Conference to take a clear stand sooner than they may have liked. The bishops were the first to ask for a review of the vote tallies, and reiterated the suggestion numerous times.

Caught off guard, several government spokespeople reacted with indignation. With that the dispersed opposition took a break from its exhausting and ferocious leadership struggle to pump up the bishops’ image in the media, attributing to them a courageous, committed and even prophetic national socio-political leadership that, ironically, the Nicaraguan episcopate neither has nor even wants today.

Five months after that first charge of fraud, several bishops reopened the same wound, stating that the fraud had motivated some groups in the northern mountains to take up arms for political reasons. Without exactly denying the charge, the army clarified that they were only “delinquent groups” that have been operating in some zones for at least 15 years. The bishop of Estelí, Abelardo Mata, insisted that rural discontent over politics and property ownership problems was generating the armed violence.

Email text bombs

On April 30, a long list of habitual recipients of email messages from First Lady Rosario Murillo received a personal email allegedly forwarded from Orlando Núñez, the presidential adviser for social affairs, discrediting and disparaging Nicaragua’s Catholic hierarchy. The email was clearly marked with the logos and colors she uses in her role as Presidential Communication Secretary. The information was supposedly provided by Father Gregorio Raya, who within hours claimed he had never spoken with Núñez.

The text contained paragraphs such as this: “The Vatican considers the Church in Nicaragua to be one of the most corrupt (liquor, money and women)…. [Father Raya] spoke to me of tens of thousands of dollars that some bishops had removed from the Caritas donations. He added that the majori¬ty openly have women and children….”

There were also more analytical paragraphs: “The Conference wants to dialogue, but they don’t know how to do it in a way that doesn’t get reduced to an issue of image and manipulation. The alliance would be based on common interests, to wit: mutual respect between the cross and the sword, peace, opting for the poor…. Because they are corrupt, the bishops want power and money, so we have to do what can be done, although the underlying confrontation can’t only be resolved that way. They think the FSLN-Government is very powerful and they take that very much into account, so this situation-perception needs to be used to the FSLN-Government’s advantage to call for and provoke a relationship of mutual interest.”

A shot over the bow
or “deluxe hackers”?

The fact that this brash message came from a known anti-clerical intellectual responsible for ideologically justifying the government’s priority project of guaranteeing Ortega’s continuity in power and was “leaked” by the person in charge of promoting that project can’t be dismissed as a coincidence. The most probable interpretation is that it was a warning to the Bishops’ Conference to resist any temptation to take up the leadership role offered by the media and political leaders, and a tardy but direct response to the charge of electoral fraud.

The most scandalous parts of the text (about women and children, which always awaken the most jaundiced public opinion), were of course the most widely disseminated. But this resulted in a litany of messages of solidarity with the bishops, which was surely unexpected by both the adviser and communication secretary. In an emergency meeting, the bishops skillfully qualified the text as a “rehearsal for a novel” and “the product of an imaginative mind,” at the same time requesting an explanation from the government, given that the email letterheads provided a “virtual” paper trail to their government origins.

Six days after this missile was sent out into cyberspace, Murillo attributed the whole fiasco to a “malicious and shameless rightwing manipulation” supposedly employing “deluxe hackers.” And donning a protective ideological mask for this time of virus, she added disingenuously that “anecdotes of this sort can only be the fruit of hearts that are idle, ill and insensitive to a situation as serious as the threat of another pandemic, daughter of capitalism, on which we are expending all our internal and material resources, from our government of Citizen’s Power, to resist and combat.” The next day the presidential adviser added his bit, insisting that he had not authored the text.

Despite everything…

In a climate of such media commotion, the communication secretary couldn’t admit having sent out that message. Her imaginative excuse of hackers was essential to distance herself from the scandal, but wasn’t very successful because the server used to send out the text denied having fallen victim to such piracy. Unable to resist rubbing salt in the wound, former MRS presidential candidate Edmundo Jarquín suggested that the government immediately request assistance from Interpol, given the grave possibility that the presidential information system had been penetrated by hackers.

In contrast, Archbishop Brenes, speaking for the bishops, called the official statement “positive gentility” and reiterated the request for a dialogue with President Ortega. Even while denying her participation, Murillo achieved the effects she was after: the hierarchy felt pressured; its weaknesses were revealed; and it had been warned: if the bishops kept speaking out they risked a greater deterioration of their image, more “novels” and less funding.

Infusing such fears is one of the government’s instruments for “taming” critics and adversaries, as bishop of Granada Bernardo Hombach subtly noted in a long interview in the daily opposition newspaper La Prensa on April 20. Bishop Hombach refused to say the government was persecuting the Catholic Church, but did admit it was trying to “domesticate” it at times. “For example,” he explained, “in the education budget and other things…. Domesticate it so it doesn’t make accusations, denunciations; it’s as though they want to silence it. I frown on that. It has always been very harmful to the Church to be closely tied to governments, in any country. It has always hurt the Church more than it has benefited it and that began with Constantine…. I think a good policy is to be concerned for the other, for the common good, and when one sees that something is going badly, it has to be pointed out. As the Church, we try not to wound, not to set ourselves up as infallible judges, but certainly to denounce wrongdoing…. There is also bad policy, and this danger also exists. We bishops, like everyone else, are tempted by evil. Bad policy would consist of seeking to influence those who have power to get privileges and benefits only for ourselves…. We are tempted to seek privileges, to want a series of facilities just because we are the Church.” So despite its nasty edge, the cyber-clash will surely culminate in a Church-Government dialogue, power to power, in which they will mutually file down the sharp edges “for the good of the country.”

A candidacy on the horizon

There was a lot of talk this month about the President’s communication secretary, and not only because of the multiple hats she wears or the text sent out on her email list and put up on her web pages. A spokesperson with perhaps more governmental legitimacy, Supreme Court Justice Rafael Solís, made several important announcements about her in connection with the electoral horizon.

As a backdrop to his remarks, it must be explained that FSLN negotiations with the PLC for the appointment of judicial, electoral and comptroller magistrates are now underway and wide-ranging negotiations are expected with Arnoldo Alemán’s men in the PLC. Alemán has to remember that, although he has been exonerated of the crimes he was convicted of, four other cases are still pending against him both in Nicaragua and abroad. The constitutional reforms that would permit Daniel Ortega’s reelection are already written up and, given Alemán’s vulnerability, the PLC parliamentary bench will surely join forces with the FSLN bench, guaranteeing enough votes to pass this constitutional-rank legislation.

Nonetheless, as Solís noted, should the reforms blocking Ortega from running for reelection not be approved, “there is obviously a strong probability that Rosario Murillo would be the FSLN’s candidate.” He highlighted that she was extremely well trained for the tasks of government and a valuable FSLN militant, who on top of everything else was responsible for the electoral campaign that put her husband in the presidential office.

Some interpreted Solís’ announcement as a veiled warning to those who oppose Ortega’s reelection. Others received it with glee, on the grounds that she ranks near the bottom in popularity polls and would be easy to beat. Others recalled that it was Arnoldo Alemán who first mentioned this probable presidential candidacy. And still others insisted that the mere mention of the possibility of her running has accentuated the contradictions among the FSLN’s power groups, already aggravated by her controversial initiatives.

International punishment
for the fraud loses steam

The time of virus continues to also be the time of crisis. Nicaragua is now in a serious recession, with a fall in exports, remittances, credit, tourism and investments as well as livestock, mining, financial, industrial and construction activity.

The charge of electoral fraud is fading into history, which is not true of its economic consequences. It would appear, however, that even the European Union and the United States would prefer to stop insisting on the 2008 fraud and instead start focusing on ensuring a transparent process in the 2011 presidential elections, demanding new rules and new arbiters. A recent poll showed that 80% of the population does not agree with conditioning aid and cooperation to Nicaragua for political reasons. And the IMF seems willing to fill the gap left in the budget by the budgetary support group countries’ cutting of aid, using up to US$150 million from funds it received from the G-20 countries plus another $50 million to bolster the fight against poverty. Other multilateral institutions are taking the same path of providing millions to back the government.

“We’re millions”

All this allows the government to wash its hands of the post-electoral crisis and prepare for the 2011 elections with more energy. And it’s already going at it. On the one hand, it’s seeking the parliamentary votes to guarantee Ortega’s right to run again—it apparently only needs six more—and on the other it’s giving out FSLN membership cards in all the ministries and state institutions. The goal is to hit a million affiliates.

In this time of virus, which is also a time of high unemployment, the pressure to “voluntarily” request party membership is obvious. The goal is to “affiliate all public employees,” as FSLN National Assembly representative Edwin Castro said without a hint of embarrassment. Other leaders claim the FSLN is squandering so many party membership cards because it is an “inclusive party.”

In the “voluntary” request form for employees of the Managua mayor’s office, applicants are even requested to indicate the polling place where they are registered to vote. The intent isn’t hard to guess. Nicaragua’s elections now have a computerized track record dating back to 1990. The FSLN electoral structures know pretty much how people will vote in each neighborhood and even in each polling place. Crossing information and acting on it is increasingly easy, as the 2008 municipal elections showed us. With the massive signing up of new party members, new data can be input to connect the dots better.

And that’s how things have been in the country in this time of virus: immune so far to the flu but exposed to the contamination of the eternal evils against which there is still no vaccination or anyone with the capacity to decree an emergency.

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