Riding the Wind with the Sails Full
Things are going quite well for Daniel Ortega.
In October he cleared two of the reefs
looming in the agitated sea of the
national and international crises
threatening the course of his ship of state.
After months of tensions, failures and setbacks,
Ortega has now gotten a green light to run again in 2011
and has been given thumbs up by the IMF for his
neoliberal economic program.
Two months ago we analyzed the government’s running of the ship of state and speculated that Daniel Ortega and his team could veer off course and even run aground. For now, however, the ship is riding the wind and the sails are full. Last month we speculated about surprises the end of Ortega’s third year in office could bring. We were more on the money there; the surprises began that same month and have been very favorable for the President and his crew.
An end run around Late in the afternoon of Monday, October 19, six FSLN justices on the Supreme Court used a complicated set of arguments to hand down a voluminous ruling declaring article 147 of the Constitution “inapplicable.” That’s the article that was preventing Daniel Ortega from running for reelection in 2011 by limiting Presidents to two terms and prohibiting an incumbent President from running for consecutive reelection. Ortega fell foul of the article on both counts as he is currently serving his second term in office. Within minutes the Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) endorsed the ruling, announcing that it was “etched in stone.” Meanwhile, most ordinary people were stunned and many feared the government had put its foot in it yet again.
the National Assembly
Ortega’s efforts in 2008 to pull together the 56 National Assembly votes needed to reform the offending article failed to achieve the desired results. He put even more energy into the challenge this year, but with only a couple of months left to go, another failure loomed. The governing Sandi¬nista National Liberation Front (FSLN) only has 38 votes of its own, and while it probably didn’t take too much effort to get most of the 18 “independent” parliamentary representatives who literally sell their vote to the highest bidder, a couple more votes were still needed, and could only come from Arnoldo Alemán’s Constitutionalist Liberal Party (PLC) bench.
But that turned out not to be so easy. Alemán’s complicity in last year’s electoral fraud has reduced his sway over formerly loyal legislators, party leaders and rank-and-file. Fearing the disapproval of their grassroots support should they be revealed to have swung the game in Ortega’s favor, they no longer blindly obey the caudillo and even feel freer to demand that he take firm positions vis-à-vis Ortega. But while it’s hard to imagine anything healthier for the country, the PLC and Alemán himself than for him to get out of politics, he’s not likely to do so.
As the 56 votes weren’t materializing, government strategists first came up with an end-run play: reform the Supreme Court’s organizational law to decrease the quorum required for the full court to issue rulings. Because that law isn’t of constitutional rank, such a reform only needs 47 National Assembly votes. Once pushed through, Ortega’s eight hand-picked justices would be enough to rule on the offending constitutional article. But for some unexplained reason, the FSLN apparently didn’t already have the 9 extra votes in the bag and wasn’t sure it could buy them before the legislative session ended in mid-December.
Illegal, illlegitimate and unconstitutionalLacking the 56 votes and fearing he wouldn’t get even the 47, President Ortega tried another tack: in the courts all he needed was 24 working hours and 6 votes. On Friday, October 16, he and 109 FSLN mayors—also ineligible for reelection—filed a petition with the CSE requesting clarification of Article 147. To avoid any public debate they did so in total secret. Within minutes the CSE declared itself incompetent to respond and sent the petition to the Appeals Court, which in turn passed the buck to the Supreme Court’s constitutional bench, where the issue was “resolved” immediately. In non-working hours and without calling in the Liberal justices as required by law, the six FSLN justices on that bench ruled that Article 147 is “inapplicable” to Ortega and his mayors.
The president of the Supreme Court, a member of the PLC, refused to recognize the decision, arguing that it must be approved by the full court. But there aren’t enough votes there to overturn it because the death of a Liberal Party justice has tipped the balance to the Sandinistas.
Counting on the FSLN justices’ submissiveness, Ortega’s Machiavellian mechanism even outdoes Kissinger’s famous remark: “The illegal we do immediately. The unconstitutional takes a little longer.” Here in Nicaragua, the illegal and unconstitutional were done in one fell swoop.
The illegality of the maneuver is absolute: the six obedient justices in fact reformed the Constitution, an attribution exclusive to the legislative branch. And the illegitimacy is obvious: at least 40 of the 109 mayors who requested the clarification occupy their post thanks to well documented fraud and ironically can now be “reelected” even though they weren’t elected the first time. The sentence was also illegitimate in that all polls taken in the past year or so show a majority of the population opposing Ortega’s reelection, so there was never any thought of a referendum. To borrow the phrase he uses for Eduardo Montealegre’s alleged involvement in the CENI bank bond scandal, Ortega got away with the “theft of the century.”
With these argumentsAmong the dense arguments Ortega’s six justices had at their fingertips is the “contradiction” they identified between article 27 of the Constitution, which establishes the equality of all Nicaraguans before the law, and article 147, which limits presidential reelection. It’s a fallacy: equality before the law always has limits as do all constitutionally consigned political rights.
In later declarations, Ortega mouthpieces argued that the United States and various European countries allow reelection, that Costa Rica’s Oscar Arias used a Supreme Court ruling to get reelected and that Colombia’s Uribe was also reelected. They failed, however, to address the most important issue to most Nicaraguans: the steadfast opposition to reelection here is based on memories of the Somoza family dictatorship, which ruled the country for nearly half a century and was only ousted following great bloodshed; that’s why the right to reelection was limited to onenon-consecutive term in the constitutional reforms of 1995, when the FSLN had even less control over the National Assembly.
The now-eligible President Ortega vigorously defended the resolution as returning to the “sovereign people” the right to elect the person of their choice as many times as they want. He called the constitutional limitation a “dictatorial measure.”
Fully aware of its
illegality and illegitimacyThe court ruling has seriously altered the dynamics of this period, which move like a carrousel—fast paced, but always just round and round. Legal analyses abounded. The ruling has been called “null and void,” a “coup d’état,” a “piece of junk,” an “aberration,” a “juridical obscenity” and “the greatest attack on social peace since Anastasio Somoza Debayle did likewise when his first term ended.” The most optimistic appraisal was that the ruling is “a watershed in the national crisis” and therefore provides the opportunity to forge genuine and long-lasting opposition unity.
Ortega and his justices are well aware that this gross violation of the Constitution is illegal and illegitimate. They also know and apparently don’t care that the Europeans in the Budgetary Support Group—the international community representatives most concerned about the lack of good governance or respect for institutionality being promoted in Nicaragua today—have added yet another item on the debit side of the government’s balance sheet.
Only $14.5 million of the nearly $100 million the European Union pledged for 2009 has been disbursed. Following the Supreme Court ruling, the Dutch ambassador, who is also the representative of the Budgetary Support Group in Nicaragua, announced that “European cooperation will remain frozen because we see no reason to change.”
With good reason, there is no doubt in anyone’s mind that if Ortega has put all this effort into running, it’s because he plans to win. The specter of another electoral fraud, following the excellent hands-on training provided by the last one, lays in wait behind the judicial ruling. Despite the high political cost, Ortega made his move and got away with it. He was in a hurry; political motives counseled all due speed.
First reason: The game boardThe timing of the ruling has to do in part with how the Ortega-Alemán pact has evolved, chapter after chapter. That pact has led Nicaragua into a calamitous involution, determining its ever less presentable political life.
In the first half of 2010, the National Assembly must elect candidates to fill some 30 government posts, 20 of which are top level (Supreme Court justices, comptrollers, the public prosecutor and attorney generals and their respective deputies). Those seats have been unconditionally controlled by one of the two caudillos in the pact for the past ten years. Since 56 votes are needed to confirm a candidate, neither the FSLN nor the PLC can do it without the other’s full cooperation. Alemán had been maneuvering to get the votes to put some of his most loyal pawns in those posts in exchange for giving Ortega the votes he needed to eliminate the constitutional obstacle to his hunger for reelection. But the negotiations seemed unending.
Removing the reelection issue from the betting table left Alemán with a weaker hand. Although he was perfectly willing to let Ortega be reelected, he expected to wring major concessions in exchange. His frustration must have been boundless the night he learned the rug had been pulled out from under him.
“He screamed like a wounded she-monkey,” Ortega said days later, cynically laughing at his partner in the pact. But it’s all just theater. The great fantasy both men share is to be rival candidates again in 2011, as they were in 2006.
Second reason: The timing of the ruling also has to do with the intrigues lacing through the country’s power center. In September, a month before the court ruling, Daniel Ortega’s brother Humberto, former head of the Sandinista Popular Army, made a surprise appearance on the political stage. Always a protagonist and an authoritative voice, he handpicked the media to which he would grant interviews, all pro-Sandinista but critical of Ortega and his followers.
The hornets’ nest
He minced no words: there was indeed fraud; the electoral authorities must be changed; more tolerance is needed; the opposition needs to take to the streets in protest… He also spoke very critically of reelection, although without mentioning his brother. He said he feared that the constitutional change would be achieved only with the “garb of legality,” but without consensus or legitimacy, as was already being attempted in the legislative branch at that point and was finally attained in the judicial branch, mangling legality in the process.
He also spoke of Nicaragua’s context and the painful experiences of Somocista reelections: “This issue must be seriously examined, appealing to the past, to avoid the harm triggered in other moments and other circumstances by reelection. Reelection in itself isn’t the problem; the problem is when it’s used as a mechanism without national political consensus; when it’s used more to shore up power than to strengthen liberty and democracy.”
But retired General Ortega didn’t limit himself to the opposition’s tools of declarations and interviews. Making use of his economic power and political influence, he began to float alternative FSLN candidates to his brother for 2011. This stirred up the hornets’ nest. The presidential couple’s authoritarian government style has turned what remains of the party that astonished the world with the revolution it led in the eighties into a maze of conspiracies.
Third reason:The rush to obtain the resolution to change the gaming table on Alemán and calm the FSLN hornets’ nest may also have had been prompted by the country’s difficult economic situation, one that won’t be resolved any time soon.
The official figures, always more optimistic than the subsequent reality, say that 2009 will end with a -1% economic growth, and next year’s growth isn’t projected to exceed 1%. The sooner Daniel Ortega is enabled to run for President for the fifth consecutive time and get out of this political “mess,” the better.
In any event, the government has been given a financial breather that will put it in a much better position to deal with 2010. A week after the Supreme Court ruling, Ortega’s economic team finally got what it had been waiting for the last ten months: certification by the International Monetary Fund of the second and third revisions of the government’s economic program. Before giving it, the IMF reviewed the 2010 budget as well as the controversial tax reform the government an¬nounced in August, provoking all economic sectors in the process.
In the eyes of the IMF and the Inter-American Development Bank, the tax reform is technically correct and the budget’s fiscal balance sheets for next year reflect the expected tax revenue. The IMF’s endorsement guarantees the government the resources it has needed for months.
The tax reform controversyAs required by both the law and the IMF, the government sent the budget and tax reform bills to the National Assembly on October 15. Approval of both before the December 15 vacation with 47 votes will involve resolving the threat by a majority of opposition legislators to withhold their votes unless the Supreme Court resolution favoring Ortega’s reelection is annulled.
Nicaragua needs an equitable and non-regressive tax reform in order to develop. But it doesn’t need the unrealistically designed new tax law the government has in mind. Presidential statements on aspects of the reform that constantly contradict each other, as well as zero explanation to the population have triggered so many criticisms, so much pressure from all sectors and so much confusion that it seems imperative for the government’s economic team to substantially modify the bill. Polishing its most anti-technical and anti-grassroots rough edges would give signs of flexibility and a capacity to hammer out agreements with its adversaries.
Fourth Reason:Guaranteeing Ortega’s reelection is also closely linked to the interests of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, as Nicaragua is the most unconditional ally of all members of his geopolitical project known as the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA). Chávez has been investing millions of dollars to prop up Ortega from the day he took office.
Although it’s impossible to know just how many millions have been involved so far, the part derived from the oil agreement alone may well be providing the State-Party that Ortega controls some $200 million annually. The amount will tend to grow significantly given the current recovery of international oil prices, and the fact that the Ortega group gained control of 100% of the country’s fuel storage facilities two months ago.
In addition to the oil business and private companies now functioning in our country with Venezuelan resources, all of which are in the hands of the Ortega family or his group, new businesses initiated or soon to be initiated by the Venezuelan State are announced every day in a broad gamut of areas: food, medicines, irrigation, construction, telecommunications, tourism, lumber, mining, transport… None of this makes any sense or would last very long if Daniel Ortega isn’t reelected.
Two budgets…Nicaragua is currently functioning with parallel budgets. In the official, institutional State, the crisis is felt in the budget cuts (three in 2009 and an even more drastically slashed budget for health, education and public investment for 2010).
These cuts were necessary because tax revenues are way down and the Budgetary Support Group of cooperating countries cut its support after the November 2008 electoral fraud. Nonetheless, with the new taxes planned in the tax reform and the financial resources from the multinational financing institutions to be released following the IMF endorsement, the government will close the financial gap in the formal State. Thus, helmsman Ortega will continue to enjoy a good wind. According to economist José Luis Medal, the logic of the official budget has been and will continue to be that of the IMF.
But there’s also a parallel State budget that functions with the Venezuelan money. It is using the resources according to two coinciding—or clashing—goals. One is to maintain the FSLN’s political project with welfare programs, patronage, perks, buying and selling of support and other weapons of various calibers for extortion and intimidation. The other is to maintain the businesses of the presidential family and consolidate the economic group it is creating around itself.
…and two logicsOrtega himself acknowledged the Nicaraguan economy’s bipolarity in a meeting with Venezuelan Agricultural Minister Elías Jaua. Nicaragua, the President said, finds itself between two logics: the one imposed by global capitalism, in which the rules are dictated; and another in the new ALBA arena, which doesn’t impose conditions.
The IMF rules in the official national budget, where there’s a certain amount of institutional control and there’s beginning to be some social control, at least in some municipalities. That’s where the first logic mentioned by Ortega is applied. The other budget is free of conditions and controls. As appealing as that sounds, it’s also very risky. Unconditional relations are ill-advised, even in love, because they can lead to abuse and taking each other for granted, with results that can be irreversibly harmful. In relations of financial cooperation, a total lack of conditions is a stew pot for corruption and arbitrariness by those in power.
What’s the opposition doing?But the unconditional cooperation of Chávez’s Venezuela isn’t the only thing ensuring clear sailing for the Ortega project. The Nicaraguan opposition is also making it easy. While Ortega’s project is getting more clearly defined and consolidated by the day, the opposition seems to have no project of its own, beyond railing against Ortega’s authoritarianism and proposing an alliance of “everyone against the dictator.” There’s little serious reflection about the obstacles to that unity, and the few who’ve added other issues to this limited project haven’t been able to give them much visibility.
And if “everyone against Ortega” should succeed, then what? And who? Such questions only darken the political horizon. The always active Alemán, some people’s “lesser evil,” still sees a place for him on that horizon. His leadership may be in tatters, but the man is still there, one of the greatest obstacles to any thoughts of some form of unity. All other opposition figures or groupings are either downhill bound, can’t get off the ground or are failing to adequately represent the teeming uncertainty and discontent in a large part of the population.
The opposition came off worse than ever in the most recent M&R poll (September 23-October 2) on political sympathies. For the first time in such polls, which have been conducted for years now, half of those polled (50.3%) said they don’t sympathize with any party. The FSLN and its eternal leader, meanwhile, actually fared better than usual: 32.8% said they sympathize with the party and 43.6% said they have a positive opinion of Daniel Ortega.
Create another UNO?Desperate at seeing the ship of state going full steam ahead, various voices have proposed a coalition like the 14-party Nicaraguan Opposition Unity (UNO) that defeated Ortega in the February 1990 elections. They see it as the best and in fact only way to get rid of the current government. But Nicaragua’s circumstances are radically different today. There’s no war or military draft, which is what the Nicaraguan population fears most of all, and no one’s even thinking of it. Nor is there the rationing or economic scarcity of those years of runaway hyperinflation. And society no longer has such homogenous features as those chiseled by the horrors of war back then. Today we’re more pluralistic.
Nor does anyone have the symbolic power Violeta Chamorro had at that time to pull all those parties together… at least until shortly after the elections. Today there aren’t even any alternative parties to those of the pact after the PLC and FSLN allied to cancel the legal status of the Conservative Party and the Sandinista Renovation Movement, the only two that represented a genuine opposition outside the pact. The fear was that they would mess up the bipartite system hammered out by Ortega and Alemán for last year’s municipal elections. The only other entity is the “We’re Going with Eduardo” movement, made up of Liberals that have broken away from Alemán to back Eduardo Montealegre. But it doesn’t have legal status as a party and will surely never be granted it.
And as for unity, the opposition leaders can’t even hide their rivalries. The government finds enough ammunition in the egos and riffs among them to aggravate their contradictions even more. And given what a small country this is, it also knows all the skeletons in their various closets. One “novelty” to emerge from the reelection ruling’s political impact is the increasingly frequent and cordial meetings between Montealegre and Alemán.
Growing discontentPolls show the FSLN maintaining the sympathy of the same 38% electoral minority that gave Ortega the presidency. But discontent is growing among those who didn’t vote for the FSLN in either the national or municipal elections. The economic crisis is being felt on all sides and the government doesn’t appear to be dealing with it adequately.
The tragedy of the drought in various parts of the country, caused by the return of the climatic phenomenon known as El Niño, has not received the response it deserved. “We should already be coordinating with the public sector to deal with this phenomenon quickly, but it’s not happening; there’s no contingency plan,” complained Sinforiano Cáceres, president of the National Federation of Cooperatives, an umbrella group representing thousands of growers, in mid-October.
The state resources for one of the most applauded measures instituted by the Ortega government starting in 2007—quality free care in the public hospitals, including medications—are being slashed. As a result, the care is no longer as good and there’s a lack of medicines.
Does discontent Do all these discontented people add up to an opposition? It’s obvious that they aren’t being channeled into organization or mobilization. None of them are out on the streets making demands or following opposition leaders who urge them on via the media or from hotel rooms. The reticence is partly due to fear and partly to the urgencies of survival, but it is also explained by the fact that people see no credible opposition leadership. Montealegre used to lead the opposition preferences in the polls, although with seldom more than 24%. But now even that’s dropped off, while the sympathies for other opposition leaders on both right and left are in low single-digit figures.
According to Germán Zeledón, a Liberal whose mayoral win in Jinotega was stolen from him in one of the crudest frauds of the municipal elections, people’s discontent, even indignation doesn’t go beyond “verbal support.” Why don’t they don’t act? “First,” he says, “because there are people with businesses who fear fiscal terrorism. Others work for public entities and know they could be fired. And still others don’t work for anybody, but have a family to think about.”
The poverty factorOther factors also influence the backing Ortega maintains and the passivity of those who didn’t vote for him and never would.
A number of poor families have been benefited by one of the govern¬ment’s social programs, whether or not they sympathize with or voted for the FSLN. Despite the unmistakable welfare and patronage that characterize these programs, the families have actually received something and that makes them feel favored and, more importantly, important. This government “cares about them.” The government of Enrique Bolaños, which preceded Ortega’s, maintained a cold elitism removed from the people, and they remember.
These people are aware that Daniel Ortega doesn’t obey the laws, but since there’s no strong legal culture in this country and people have always believed that “those who rule can do what they want,” they aren’t about to risk speaking out against a judicial ruling they barely even comprehend. They are also aware of the presidential family’s good life, but they’ve always figured that those who rule deserve to live better than the rest.
They even know about the abuses of power, including repression: fanatical groups that go after opposition demonstrators with rocks and clubs, followed by arbitrary police actions ensuring impunity to the perpetrators of such acts. People don’t justify the growing and selective repression—”I don’t like that; it’s not right,” they’ll tell you. But they shrug it off as they do the occasional slip-ups of an otherwise good boss because the sheet metal roofing they received after the hurricane, the cow they got from Zero Hunger, the low-interest loan they’ll never pay back weighs more in their daily life. Faced with a choice between civic rights and food, a good part of the population would choose food.
The God factorEven among the discontented with a greater grasp of legalities, who don’t forgive the governmental authoritarianism so easily and more forcefully criticize the double standards of those who say they represent the poor but live like the wealthiest, what reigns is religiously-rooted resignation. The biblical message written some two thousand years ago by Paul of Tarsus in his letter to the Romans (13, 1-7), categorically stating that “there is no authority except that which God has established” and thus “it is necessary to submit to the authorities,” carries more weight with the population than we might want to believe. And that belief puts a brake on organizing.
Nicaragua is awash with biblical messages read out of context as revealed and immutable truths, indispensable guides that set the standards for our life today. The contradictions and context of the times in which Apostle Paul wrote and the more than 70 books of the Bible were written require us to step back and demand a “hermeneutics of suspicion.” But such an attitude is very far from the simplifying, literalist, fanaticizing and resigned messages most of the Nicaraguan population is fed, even bombarded with on a daily basis. These messages encourage them to be submissive, accept what happens as “divine proof” and wait for a miracle or “divine intervention” to free us from a government many call “diabolical.”
There are legislators who analyze Nicaragua’s reality as “the battle between Good and Evil” and opposition spokespeople who constantly use their access to microphones to equate the struggle against Ortega with Paul’s words (Eph. 6: 11-12): “Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” The presidential couple is surely well aware of all this, which would explain why it sprinkles all its speeches, acts and projects with religious messages and symbols.
What will sink it?For all that, any ship that heads out to sea could go down, even the Titanic. Where might this ship start taking on water? Two realities could perhaps scuttle it. One is the economic crisis that will increasingly affect the official State’s social programs, despite the IMF funds. The government’s triumphal discourse has given way to greater realism, as shown by the limited goals in the National Development Plan the government presented for the remainder of its term, which ends in 2011. As the excusers and the resigned begin to feel the crisis more strongly next year they could start to organize and mobilize for sharp economic rather than political reasons.
The main potential hole is in the model itself, which is based on exclusion, control and discretionary spending. It’s abundantly clear that the model involves open warfare against critical thinking and a determination to exclude all who don’t ally themselves with its single thinking. Many people are beginning to find such an atmosphere poisonous, even if they aren’t prepared to try to do anything about it.
This year the Nobel Prize in Economics went to two scholars for their contribution to our understanding of economic governance. One of those awarded—the first woman ever to win this prize—was US citizen Elinor Ostrom, above all for her analysis of “common-pool resources.” Countering those who promote either privatization of such resources or their management by central governments, Ostrom’s studies have led her to propose retaining the resources as common property and letting the users create their own system of governance. Among other findings, she has highlighted the importance for development of each individual’s confidence in all others, the inclusion of all community members and their grouping around interests and proposals agreed to at the base, constantly avoiding polarization and conflicts resolved coercively by government from above. Her entire thesis is contrary to what the current model is trying to impose.
There are ghosts on boardThe model Daniel Ortega wants to impose on Nicaragua—the mixture of repressive coercion and populist consensus that’s keeping his ship afloat—merits study, reflection and debate. It doesn’t fit neatly into the concept of “dictatorship” used so frequently by the opposition. It’s not comparable to Somocismo, for example, if only because the national and international circumstances don’t allow history to repeat itself in cookie-cutter fashion.
In this country the ghosts of both the revolution and the counterrevolution are still alive and feared among the generations steering the ship and those wishing to scuttle it, and it will take time before they fade into oblivion. As one person said, “Those who will take us to a better shore are currently celebrating their first communion.” The fact few people in our society can let go of those ghosts or want to really understand today’s reality makes the situation even more complex than the opposition and the media would have us believe, which in turn makes it even harder for us to stay afloat and strike out for that better shore.
Some opposing views
Robert CallahanNearly two weeks after the Supreme Court minority changed the Constitution, the US ambassador commented on the issue in a talk to the American Chamber of Commerce in Managua marking his first anniversary in Nicaragua. After repeating what a State Department spokesperson had said a week earlier, Callahan offered his own more specific opinion:. “In our view, the Nicaraguan Supreme Court acted in undue and uncharacteristic haste, in secret, with the participation of judges from a single political movement, and without public debate or discussion. We think that an issue this momentous, that concerns the future of Nicaragua’s democracy, deserves due deliberation and diligence. We hope that all Nicaraguans have an opportunity to express themselves, either directly or through their elected representatives, on amending the constitution to allow the re-election of the President.”
Hours later, a group of FSLN activists stationed themselves in front of the US Embassy in a calculated attack ordered from above. Led by FSLN union leader and National Assembly representative Gustavo Porras and the secretary of the Managua mayor’s office Fidel Moreno, they threw paint on its walls, destroyed installations outside the perimeter wall and even shot home-made mortars at the Embassy, some of which went over the wall, fortunately not hitting anyone. They called on the Ortega government to declare Callahan “persona non grata” and expel him from the country. The next day Callahan had to be evacuated from an intercultural event with other ambassadors at the Central American University in Mana¬gua after demonstrators threw fireworks at him for again questioning the Supreme Court decision.
Days later, FSLN union leader Roberto González, a rival of Porras’, appeared at the Nicaraguan Foreign Ministry building with a group railing against Callahan and demanding his expulsion. But the government media didn’t cover this protest at all, in stark contrast to the extensive coverage given the previous one.
And in yet another expression of double-speak politics—what is said officially and what is said on the street—neither the foreign minister nor President Ortega showed any inclination to declare Callahan “persona non grata.” The only official reaction was a Foreign Ministry communiqué on October 28, the day of the Embassy protest, calling his declarations “unacceptable.”
Costa Rican President
Another political figure to speak out against the decision of the FSLN justices was President Arias, prompted by the justices’ comparison of what happened in Nicaragua to the 2003 judicial decision in Costa Rica that opened the doors for his own reelection. Arias told Costa Rican newspaper La Nación that the two resolutions are as similar as “a drop of water and a drop of oil.” The difference between them, he commented, “lies in the degree of independence of the judicial branch, which does not exist in Nicaragua because the justices belong to political parties and respond to those parties…. We cannot compare them. The two resolutions are radically different. In Nicaragua there was no debate, no discussion and no profound analysis. In Nicaragua the vote was 6-0 and was decided in minutes. It didn’t have the kind of study
conducted in Costa Rica, where there were public visits and everyone offered an opinion. We have very different institutions. Here we have a totally independent judicial branch, guaranteed by the Constitution.”
The Costa Rican Constitution of 1949 permitted Presidential reelection for a further eight years after having served the first term, but it was totally prohibited in the 1969 Constitution.
Sergio Ramírez, who was Ortega’s Vice President in his 1985-1990 term in office, commented on the Supreme Court decision in one of his written pieces. Comparing the coup in Honduras with what happened in Nicaragua, he said “the coup d’état that removed Honduran President Manuel Zelaya from office has been talked about for months, but very little has been said about the recent coup d’état that will prolong President Daniel Ortega in power in Nicaragua for who knows how long. In Honduras, the Supreme Court of Justice, the Council of Elections and the National Assembly reached an agreement to endorse the removal of President Zelaya and consented to the army throwing him violently out of the country. In Nicaragua the pantomime has been different. The Supreme Electoral Council received a petition to nullify part of the Constitution submitted by Ortega himself, asking for the annulment of the disposition impeding him from running for President yet again because the Constitution(!) violated his civil rights… The alleged reason for a coup against Zelaya was that he wanted to be reelected, which the Constitution of Honduras prohibits in non-reformable articles known as ‘articles of stone.’ The alleged reason for the coup in Ortega’s favor was that the ‘Constitution was unconstitutional’ because it prevented him from being reelected, and now the disappearance from the constitutional text of the offending article, which was damned and sent to be consumed in flames, has been declared ‘writ in stone.’ In other words, it is a stone-clad disappearance, the stoning of the Magna Charta for having impeded reelection.”
The Superior Council of
Private Enterprise (COSEP)
The Supreme Court ruling triggered the latent worries of the big businesses grouped in the various chambers of the umbrella organization known as COSEP. Unlike the eighties, when COSEP quickly became one of the most active, powerful and cohesive political opponents of the revolutionary government, it has dutifully maintained its role as an economic organization during this FSLN government and forged cordial and relatively cooperative relations with this new incarnation of the “revolutionary” party. But now, after almost three years of Ortega’s five-year term, it issued a communiqué criticizing the government’s political running of the country: “Despite the current crisis, the results in the economic sphere have allowed us to ensure the country’s macroeconomic stability.
Nonetheless, we find negative signs in the political sphere that dissociate our country. This is expressed firstly in a control and instrumentalization of the branches of state; secondly in control of the local governments, achieved through electoral processes whose legitimacy has been questioned; thirdly, in a State-Party management aimed at entrenching itself in all political, economic and social structures; and finally, in a reform of the Political Constitution that paves the way for the governing party’s continuation in power.”