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  Number 341 | Diciembre 2009
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Nicaragua

What to Add, What to Subtract, How to Multiply, Who to Divide?

Year-ends require sum-ups. They aren’t easy in Nicaragua, where politics are extremely volatile. We’ve made an effort, applying basic math rules to some of the latest events and some of the trends we saw in the year now coming to an end.

Nitlápan-Envío team

In August 2008 Ortega government sympathizers made such an aggressive attack on opposition members arriving for a demonstration in León that the demonstration had to be abandoned. Since then, the government has continually applied that same “preventive war” policy with shock troops that are sometimes hooded and always armed with rocks, clubs and/or mortars to abort any mobilization of opposition discontent, no matter how small, sometimes even before it happens. The government claims that “the streets belong to the people,” implying that only FSLN supporters are “the people.”

After over a year of such intimidating violence with no response from the National Police, opposition forces from all over the country overcame geographical distances, limited resources and fear to march through central Managua on the morning of Saturday, November 21. Despite intimidating tactics in the preceding days that led everyone to assume the worst, the government ultimately backed off. Something is seriously wrong when something as normal in any other country as a peaceful opposition march is treated as a major event in Nicaragua.

Ten tense days

The march was called and largely organized by a number of major civil society organizations and joined by the opposition parties, including groups of what were known as “contras” in the eighties. Various government officials indulged in standard-issue intimidating declarations and actions in the days preceding it, based always on the logic that the streets are “ours” alone. For starters, as soon as the opposition chose November 21 for its demonstration, the most aggressive government mouthpieces announced that the FSLN would hold a march on the same day, at the same time and on the same route. It was a replay of what has happened ever since August 2008, including the fact that the National Police cheerfully allowed both events, knowing full well what could happen.

For 10 days, banner-waving FSLN members circled the perimeter of traffic circles in and around Managua, reminding passers-by of who “owned” them. As Saturday drew nearer, government operators also secretly pressured bus cooperatives not to rent their buses to any opposition groups and ordered the FSLN’s territorial leaders to come up with ways of stopping opponents from other municipalities from traveling to the capital.

To avoid the apparently inevitable violence, bishops, business chambers, most of the media and other opinion-makers repeatedly called for good sense to prevail. On November 18, at the peak of the tension created by the official intimidation, the 10 bishops of the Episcopal Conference issued a communiqué containing the following exhortations, among others: “1. To the Executive Branch and the political forces, that they reject and condemn any type of violence, above all that aimed at intimidating and repressing our people’s freedom of expression and mobilization. 2. To all Nicaraguans, that they manifest their own ideas, ensuring that peaceful means, willingness to dialogue, respect for legality and a search for the common good prevail at all times, not allowing themselves to be dragged blindly by the manipulations of irresponsible leaders who incite to violence.”

On Thursday tensions dropped when the National Police surprisingly asked the opposition to take a different route and it accepted, while the government agreed to switch its “celebration” rally to the afternoon. Police Chief Aminta Granera firmly declared that her force would fulfill its role of guaranteeing the security of all citizens.

Late Friday afternoon, metal barricades were erected along several blocks—and intersections—of the major midtown avenues that converge at the five-star Hotel Princess, the FSLN rally site, snarling the already heavy traffic of people trying to leave early for the weekend. Although the police were out in force, redirecting traffic and checking any vehicles suspected of bringing in weapons, the tumult in the city raised fears again.

But in those 48 hours, it seems Ortega had grasped that the opposition march was going to be held come what may and would be big. This time it seems the intimidation actually encouraged participation and some were coming prepared to respond to violence with violence rather than back off again.

Víctor Hugo Tinoco, a legislative representative for the Sandinista Renovation Movement, believes that Ortega changed his tactics fearing that November 21 could become his January 22. That was the date in 1967 when Somoza sent out his National Guard to violently put down a massive opposition demonstration, bloodying the center of Managua.

The message was simply “enough is enough”

It took the 50,000 opposition demonstrators hours to cover the four-kilometer route through midtown Managua. The indignation, determination and desire to challenge the governmental intimidation were palpable, although tinged with the fear generated by previous experiences.

There was no single unifying or unified slogan, although different sectors made their feelings clear about the electoral fraud of the previous November, the judicial resolution permitting Ortega’s reelection pushed through illegally by a Supreme Court commission only weeks earlier, and the ongoing Ortega-Alemán pact. But more generally people were marching for “democracy” and against “dictatorship,” understanding these concepts loosely as the right to public dissent and rejection of the government’s exclusionary and authoritarian path.

The mood was one of camaraderie: happy, peaceful… and very unorganized. Although political leaders from all the groups participated, no leaders or followers could be discerned on the march itself. There was just a mass of people moved by their concerns and frustrations, by the effects of the economic crisis, and eager to send Ortega and his wife a message that “enough is enough.” The manifesto read at the end of the march summed up what was being repudiated as “a new model of government that is nothing more than a triangle of abuse of power, corruption and manipulation of the poverty.”

The march was heterogeneous in every sense. People of all ages from both poor barrios and middle- and upper-class neighborhoods of the capital mixed with peasants from all over the country, including areas as remote as Cuá-Bocay. There were banners of all colors with the feminist violet in the lead, followed by Liberal red, Conservative green and Sandinista Renovation Movement orange, but the navy blue and white of the national flag was far and away the majority.

It is important to underscore that the November 21 opposition demonstration was called and largely organized by civil society organizations in which Sandinistas critical of Daniel Ortega’s governing style, philosophy and personal political project are numerous and active. All opposition political parties were invited to join the march, but were asked to leave their party colors at home so it would be understood as a march “for Nicaragua.”

That request, however, fell victim to the diverse, often contradictory interests of the groups that came together that hot November morning, and the party that visibly stood out over the rest was the PLC. The only sizable patches of color in the march were its red flags and t-shirts, some of which were emblazoned with the words “Arnoldo’s coming” and “Arnoldo 2011.” Although it wasn’t certain PLC caudillo Arnoldo Alemán would come, he did indeed appear at the start of the march, made a few declarations feigning his usual stance of Ortega’s indignant opponent, then ducked out of the march after a block or two.

And on the
flowery platform…

The official event that took place in the afternoon and went on into the evening was twice as big. It was the usual mix of unconditional FSLN sympathizers, beneficiaries of the government’s social programs, people nostalgic for the eighties and public employees from all over the country, some there voluntarily and others obliged. They gathered around another of the gigantic flower-laden platforms on which President Daniel Ortega and First Lady Rosario Murillo, accompanied by their children—this time including Zoilámerica (Narvaéz) Ortega—and grandchildren, sat enthroned as owners of all they surveyed. And as always, the people enjoyed the revolutionary music of the eighties and the fireworks, and applauded their leader’s words. The most significant part of Ortega’s speech, dripping with more religiosity than usual, was what he didn’t say: he made no disparaging allusion to the massive opposition march earlier that day.

The morning’s event had more people than expected, despite the fear sown. And the one in the afternoon had fewer than programmed, despite the resources the government had lavished on what was clearly a party celebration of the achievements of its three years in government, particularly its sweeping “victories” in last year’s municipal elections and its constitutional reform allowing Ortega to run for election as many times as he wishes—both fraudulently achieved.

There was no violence during either event, although there was after the march, when FSLN caravans coming into Managua crossed paths with those of the opposition leaving it. Dozens of people were injured and one was killed when FSLN supporters and to a lesser degree their PLC counterparts showered each other with stones.

Opposition and discontent

Only a minority of the population favors the Ortega government, as demonstrated both in the 2006 elections, when he edged out three other major candidates with only 38% of the vote, and in all subsequent polls. The discontent, growing in fervor more than in numbers, isn’t unified under any banner, project or leadership. The opposition parties are still fragmented and the varying loyalties and declarations of many of their leaders, all driven by their own political ambition, engender little trust. In a country with such high unemployment, being a politician is the most sought-after and profitable job around.

The most organized opposition party and the FSLN’s main rival for the past two decades is the Constitutionalist Liberal Party (PLC). But ever since its strongman Arnoldo Alemán entered into his pact with Ortega ten years ago while President of the country, benefiting many of the party leaders with posts, perks and favorably negotiated judicial rulings, the PLC’s “opposition” has been progressively reduced to the rank-and-file level. But this has begun to change again, following the municipal electoral fraud. Little by little PLC leaders and legislative represen¬tatives have been distancing themselves from Alemán.

The Sandinista-based opposition party, the MRS, is still small and has been targeted by the FSLN’s strongest attacks because Ortega fears Sandinista critique the most. The continuing persecution of poet Ernesto Cardenal, who pulls no punches in his criticism of his former party’s fall from revolutionary grace with its corruption and anti-democratic authoritarianism, is emblematic of this tendency (see Nicaragua Briefs, this issue, for the latest in this saga).

The Liberal opposition gathered around banker Eduardo Montealegre broke away from the PLC to make a bid for Liberal leadership, but despite its meteoric rise in 2006 as the newly created Nicaraguan Liberal Alliance (ALN), wresting second place from the PLC in the general elections, it has both failed to grow further and been prevented from doing so. Montealegre is thus now sounding out a rapprochement with the PLC again.

The accelerant

Daniel Ortega’s reelection sleight-of-hand disguised as a judicial ruling acted as an accelerant for the November 21 march, which in turn has accelerated the search for more opposition unity. It has also sparked fantasies, however, such as the disproportionately triumphal tone of those who refer to the “march that presages victory” or who see the post-march period as the “beginning of the end” of the Ortega-Murillo project.

Perhaps applying the four basic mathematical applications—adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing—we could come up with a more realistic view of where we stand and why we’re here as this third year of the Ortega government draws to an end and its President prepares for “new victories” that surely imply several more five-year terms.

Pluses and minuses on
the Ortega balance sheet

Despite his arbitrary and illegal acts in everything referring to democratic institutionality, civil rights and governance, Daniel Ortega has kept his electoral base intact and according to the most recent Cid-Gallup poll enjoys the approval of a somewhat higher per¬centage than in previous opinion surveys. The same 34% define themselves as FSLN sympathizers, and roughly the same percentage favor his reelection. But those who simply claim to have a favorable opinion of Ortega have climbed to 44%, even though 61% believes the country is “going down the wrong road.” In other words, although Ortega hasn’t added much support, he hasn’t lost any. In contrast, the PLC, which won the 1996 elections with 51% of the vote, is now favored by only 18% of those polled.

The single issue that earns Ortega the strongest opposition is his reelection project. His confrontational attitudes and speeches, which are a constant throwback to the revolutionary fervor and the enemies of the seventies and eighties, also limit his support, because he’s managing to awaken the ghosts and demons of those years even without war and the draft, which caused his downfall in the 1990 elections. Freely circulating ghosts and demons are always dangerous.

A good grade from the IMF

Adding to Ortega’s base of political support is the legitimating of the government’s economic project by the good grades the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has given the three-year economic program it maintains with Nicaragua.

After months of keeping Nicaragua on stand-by, the IMF finally signed off on the government’s 2010 budget bill and backed the Ortega team’s macroeconomic management. This means another plus: the disbursement of hundreds of millions of dollars by the World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank and by several countries whose bilateral cooperation is guided by the signals the IMF sends out. These resources have already begun flowing in.

The government produced a new tax bill in August in an attempt to close the major fiscal gap in the original 2010 budget caused by the international economic crisis, the freezing or withdrawal of international aid following the electoral fraud and the months-long IMF impasse. The 319 articles of what was originally known as the “Tax Concertation” bill involved drastic changes in tax collection starting next year: higher taxes, new contributors and excessively complicated tax payment. After two months of fierce opposition and the government’s total unwillingness to explain clearly what it was trying to do, Ortega had to back off.

The fiscal reform controversy

The original bill wasn’t technically viable because of the short lead time and the volume of changes proposed, and was excessively recessive. In the end, the government had to freeze the project, instead proposing a dozen partial reforms to the existing Fiscal Equity Law. This backpedaling gained consensus in a couple of closed door meetings that the presidential couple and members of the government’s economic team held with top representatives of big national business and financial capital and the president of the Superior Council of Private Enterprise, the umbrella of the big business chambers.

The reforms to the Fiscal Equity Law, however, have turned out to be as controversial as the voluminous concer¬tation bill. A full 45% of what the government hopes to collect—the equivalent of some $50 million—is based on a Minimum Payment Tax (IPM) of 1% of the gross income of any business, independent of its size and earnings. Although all experts agree that the reforms represent a “lesser evil,” than the previous attempt, they’re still reces¬sive by definition. But it’s also true that they will finally oblige many large businesses to pay more into the public treasury than they now do.

But how much more? Tax expert Julio Francisco Báez stresses the unusual nature of these supposed reforms: “Their drafting by big business and big capital, now partners of the government, is reflected in the fact that the tax exonerations weren’t touched, the banks weren’t affected and the Agricultural Stock Exchange now enjoys even greater privileges.”

Civil Coordinator economist Adolfo Acevedo says the IPM is at the center of the reforms and that the government had to reduce it from an original 2.5%, although 1% is still high. He sees the application of this tax as “the result of both the undeniable limitations facing tax administration and the reiterated absence of official political will to reduce evasion and expand the taxable base of business income, eliminating exemptions and exonerations.”

Acevedo believes the tax system will remain regressive and inequitable given the preferential treatment of capital income over labor income. He notes that not even the exonerations granted to non-productive sectors were touched, recalling the fact that in March and again in April of this year the treasury minister was obliged to agree that groups with huge power and influence were behind many of these exemptions.

Acevedo’s conclusion is that “the eternal history of our tax system is that we find special treatment wherever there’s a group with influence and total security. It’s thus clear that the government resisted—and will continue to resist—touching the tax privileges of the truly wealthiest sectors and will tax their income the same way and with the same yardstick as it taxes the income of salaried workers.”

Although the government’s backpedaling from its first ambitious tax law is a financial retreat, in that less revenue will be collected now than envisioned with the original project, it isn’t a political retreat. Daniel Ortega now presents himself to the country’s economic powers as flexible and willing to dialogue. He easily got the votes required to approve both the 2010 budget and these controversial tax reforms.

The worst thing
is the crisis

The worst thing on the debit side of the government’s balance sheet is the economic crisis, a shadow that’s falling over the entire county and everyone in it. The 2010 budget is based on a typical IMF adjustment and fully fits the neoliberal model. Thus important cuts in health, education and public investment projects of a social nature will be felt more forcefully in the coming months. The discontent and frustration will mount, breeding increasing opposition to Ortega that might radicalize and perhaps organize, even without identifying with any party or leader.

But if the crisis subtracts, it will be amply compensated by the Venezuelan aid the government has privatized in its favor, uses to promote party patronage and is already channeling into Ortega’s 2001 reelection efforts. The multilateral lending agencies are also palliating the crisis, since they still trust Nicaragua’s government. European cooperation will cushion its blow as well by continuing to finance numerous government social projects. The aid from the Budgetary Support Group, frozen because of the electoral fraud, was only one form of European aid, and didn’t represent more than 15% of all foreign aid the government receives.

It’s important to keep this in mind when interpreting the new official communiqué issued to the Nicaraguan government on November 23 by the foreign ministers of the European Union’s 27 member States. They again expressed their “concern” about the direction the country is taking, this time for the highly illicit procedure used to ensure Ortega’s right to run for President again. They aren’t questioning reelection in itself, only the way it was imposed. But while they’re concerned and increasingly willing to say so publicly, they’re still committed to helping Nicaragua and thus continue financing social projects.

“What we’re seeing…”

Nicaragua doesn’t only receive bilateral government aid. There are many other forms of support, for example the multiple relationships that have existed for years between European and North American cities, municipalities, universities, hospitals and the like and their Nicaraguan sister entities, promoting development possibilities.

One of the administrators of this form of cooperation shared his impressions with envío, which may reflect something of what’s happening with much of the international aid on which Nicaragua depends so strongly.

“What we’re seeing,” he said, “is that there are many good people who still don’t want to separate from the FSLN or Ortega despite everything he’s doing. At the same time, however, we find it very difficult to enter into an open, critical dialogue with those people from a solidarity-based perspective. We’ve never questioned our support for the Sandinista revolution of the eighties or stopped supporting the struggles of the poor, but when we question the criminalization of therapeutic abortion, the electoral fraud, the government corruption, the lack of democracy in the FSLN, the violation of the Constitution by Sandinista Supreme Court justices, we get the impression that our Sandinista friends only put up with our comments as the ‘price’ they have to pay for our money. We never manage to engage in any open exchange of opinions and experiences.”

Fantasy unity

Some opposition leaders and political agitators are talking about the November 21 opposition march as if it will lead to the unification of the entire opposition against Ortega in the next elections, a promising heralding of a rapid, even accelerated multiplication of heretofore disaggregated efforts, interests and capacities.

The coalition of 14 parties that made up the National Opposition Union (UNO) in 1989-90 lives on in these people’s imaginative and voluntarist neurons. And it’s perhaps no coincidence that the man apparently heading up this fantasy is Antonio Lacayo, the UNO campaign chief and later government minister in the UNO administration of Violeta Chamorro, his mother-in-law.

But equating that time with the current one is illusory. The economic chaos, the rationing of basic goods, the daily pressure of the war and forced recruitment—which more than any other factor eroded sympathies for the first FSLN government—fueled the unity of such heterogeneous groupings, which ranged, as President Reagan rightly described, “from Conservatives to Communists.”

The vote against the FSLN was largely motivated by the conviction, even among some Sandinistas, that the United States would not allow an end to the war and consequently to the economic crisis as long as the Sandinistas remained in office. There’s nothing similar in today’s situation. The current economic crisis has largely external origins. But it and the more structural economic problems of a country that has never fully recovered from the war and has been guided since 1990 by an economic model that only worsens poverty has generated emigrants who help palliate their family’s poverty by sending money home. Surely the majority of those unhappy with the government’s course would prefer to put up with it than be embroiled in a new war, a disquieting image that often crops up in the speeches of some opposition spokespeople.
But perhaps the most important obstacle to a unified opposition is that no politician today has the symbolic leadership value that UNO presidential candidate Violeta Chamorro had in 1990. Nor is the Supreme Electoral Council headed by someone with the ethical stature of Mariano Fiallos, who in the eighties had trained a team to ensure the defense of the popular vote without a shadow of doubt.

In short, neither the times nor the circumstances are the same as they were then. The alignment of so many elements that favored what happened nearly twenty years ago has long since passed into history. And of course we mustn’t forget that the UNO coalition began to disintegrate the very day Violeta Chamorro took office. Perhaps the only important similarity between then and now is the short-sighted self-interest of most of the party leaders who joined that coalition, none of whom were motivated by pursuit of an alternative vision of nation.

Arnoldo Alemán is the
big obstacle to unity

Although Liberalism has been the FSLN’s only strong opponent the past 20 years and unity of the opposition’s “dispersed energies” would thus unarguably require the PLC, Arnoldo Alemán is a divisive figure. Not only has he divided Liberalism but he is ranks as the foremost figure undermining any larger attempt at opposition unity. Nothing divides the opposition more than the justified perception that Alemán is congenitally corrupt and not even minimally trustworthy. He has never broken his pact with Ortega and is perfectly capable of continuing to negotiate posts and perks just as he has unashamedly done for the past ten years.

Since well before the judicial ruling allowing Ortega to run for reelection, Estelí’s Bishop Abelardo Mata, who has never hidden his Liberal sympathies or his support of Alemán, has been working to reunify the PLC and Eduardo Montealegre’s group.

Montealegre’s greatest error—even greater than his friendly visit to Hon¬duran coup-maker Micheletti—would be to continue pursuing his rapprochement with Alemán in recent months. The deterioration of Alemán’s leadership has been a slow process, and Montealegre’s cozying-up would give him oxygen and possibly even reverse that process.

Some people didn’t want to join the march precisely because Alemán would be there. And he was there because he needs to be identified as part of that multitude, knowing full well he’s largely responsible for what we’ve ended up with today. He also knows that awareness is growing both inside and outside the Liberal movement of his complicity in the municipal electoral fraud that robbed the Liberals (from Montealegre’s group far more than from the PLC) of dozens of mayoral victories. No one is more aware of that betrayal than Montealegre, the candidate who lost Managua to the fraud.

Sandinistas and contras

One of the most interesting new keys to this political moment is the distancing of the rural PLC rank and file from Alemán’s leadership. In part he’s no longer a reliable focal point for the anti-Sandinista sentiment that still exists in the old war zones of the eighties and among those who fought against the government of Daniel Ortega when had his first shot at the presidency. Is there also growing awareness of the difference between Sandinismo and Danielismo in these traditionally Liberal, anti-Sandinista areas, whose population knows its way around weapons?

A bilateral meeting held shortly before the November 21 march between several MRS leaders, including former guerrilla commander Dora María Téllez and retired Army Colonel Hugo Torres, and various members of the Nicaraguan Resistance Council of Commanders was very significant in this regard. These commanders are now critical of Alemán’s political conduct and seemingly respect the Sandinista political philosophy represented by the MRS.

According to Téllez, such a meeting was unimaginable only a short while ago, and expresses what’s happening in many rural zones. The grounds for the meeting was a shared concern of the two groups that the current opposition struggle against the Ortega government could fall into the same uncritical mentality that reigned during the struggle against the Somoza dictatorship and was expressed in the view that “anything’s better than Somoza.”

“We talked about the past in which we faced off against each other, and about the future we must build,” reports Téllez, “and agree that it can’t be like that again; it can’t just be ‘anything after Ortega.’” It was a first step in a rapprochement process that could multiply efforts between the two opposition groups that Daniel Ortega most fears: anti-Ortega Sandinistas and anti-Alemán contras. According to ex-Resistance commander Guillermo Miranda, it is these two groups, more than any other political party, that will have to “ensure that a new dictatorship isn’t installed in Nicaragua.”

Include Alemán or not?

In this confused attempt to put together an alternative to Ortega’s project, one of the most worrying signs is the already visible acceptance of including Alemán’s leadership in an opposition coalition. Both Antonio Lacayo and Arturo Cruz, Jr., Ortega’s former ambassador in Washington, suggested it in a US State Department meeting and in a forum called by the Inter-American dialogue.

Cruz, resigned to Alemán’s continuing party-boss power, attributed the success of the recent opposition march to the rural rank and file the PLC brought to the mobilization. Montealegre, who also attended both meetings, proposed accepting Alemán as an “unavoidable interlocutor,” due to what he sees as a continuing need in Nicaragua to mix “the old traditions of caudillo politics with the political modernity embraced by new leaders.”

What could be more convenient to Ortega’s interests than that “mix,” with an electoral polarization between him and Alemán? Nothing favors Ortega’s project more than the FSLN-PLC bipartite system promoted by both ever since the start of the pact in 1999. And nothing will help the FSLN destroy any attempt at unity more than inclusion of his partner Alemán in the opposition bloc.

First concrete result

Ortega originally planned to clear the path to his reelection with the votes of some PLC legislative representatives, which Alemán was going to ensure. Ortega’s end run around his partner, choosing the short cut of a highly controversial Supreme Court ruling without forewarning him, surprised Alemán and snatched away one of the negotiating spaces he was counting on. After that blow to the solar plexus, Alemán needed air, and some were willing to offer it.

Alemán started cranking up the volume on his anti-Sandinista diatribe following his clear collusion in the 2008 electoral fraud, and even more so after this judicial ruling. He has appeared frequently on radio and TV programs saying everything imaginable to pull his base back, generally selling himself as the fiery leader of an upcoming opposition unity.

He has found himself forced to back what is so far the only concrete commitment uniting the opposition, because it could multiply his influence. It was a commitment proposed by civil society and agreed to by a majority of non-FSLN legislators on November 19, two days before the march, not to reelect any of the five Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) magistrates or their alternates in an appointment process scheduled to take place in the National Assembly between February and June of next year, when the respective terms of the current magistrates end.

While the recently created opposition bloc wants to see the best and most honest candidates elected for these posts to ensure there will be no further fraud in 2011, the FSLN has already announced it will nominate Roberto Rivas for reelection as CSE president. Rivas has been the most questioned of all CSE magistrates for both his unconditional submission to Ortega and his opulent private lifestyle.

A profound change or limbo?

The broader objective of this commitment is to transform the electoral branch from top to bottom, not only changing all magistrates but also asking for the resignation of the entire personnel, then replacing those who had anything to do with the fraud and rehiring those who didn’t.

Civil society is adding to this objective a reform of the current electoral law, born of the pact. The alliance between opposition legislators and civil society hopes to get resources from international cooperation to turn this initiative into reality, as ensuring transparency in the coming elections and profound changes in the electoral branch are demands of the majority of countries that cooperate with Nicaragua.

The commitment by the MRS, Montealegre and civil society extends even further, to a refusal to re-elect the Supreme Court magistrates and the five comptrollers, also in 2011. But rather than join that pledge, Alemán is giving signs of his typical willingness to play on both sides of the court. He has said that the PLC aspires only to a “refounding” of the electoral branch.

This can be explained by the fact that the pact’s “center of operations” is the Supreme Court, which along with the Office of Comptroller General is where “crimes are hidden and negotiations moved by the economic interests of the two groups in the pact are played out,” according to the analysis of Alemán’s double game by Sandinista Irving Larios, president of the Federation of NGOs.

In any event, not enough opposition legislators are joined in these important commitments to provide the 56 votes needed to elect any CSE magistrate, no matter how suitable. The most consequential have thus pledged not to vote for anybody, which would leave the CSE in limbo and the Supreme Court with fewer members. Being in limbo would mean a major political crisis in any country where institutions are respected, but in Nicaragua it would open up an excellent opportunity for Ortega to buy votes, offer perks and manipulate the Supreme Court, at the same time continuing to negotiate with Alemán.

What is the main contradiction?

The most optimistic insist that the opposition unity project is bonded by the Nicaraguan people’s desire for democracy. They add that the main contradiction in Nicaragua today is democracy/dictatorship rather than Right/Left, and that the Sandinsta/anti-Sandinista polarization is a thing of the past.

Is that really true? Wouldn’t it be more prudent, even more ethical, to begin to attach some adjectives to the Right and the Left and recognize that there is and necessarily must be a contradiction between the two, which in Nicaragua’s case was so exacerbated and unnecessarily polarized that it not only led to two wars but has frustrated even the minimum national consensus needed to forge a nation?

Those less optimistic stress that the today’s main contradiction is two-tier: an authoritarian Right (Alemán’s) confronted by a democratic Right (Montealegre’s) vs. an authoritarian Left (Ortega’s) confronted by a democratic Left (the MRS and independent Sandinistas).

At least that interpretation inserts adjectives, but wouldn’t it be more educational to specify what these adjectives really stand for in today’s Nicaragua, to offer a better understanding of what’s going on both to those who back Ortega and those who oppose him with no clear alternative vision of their own? Isn’t it urgent to explain in detail the contents of these four projects—if in fact there are really four and they are actually full-blown—so people can more clearly gauge the degree and nature of their beef with each other?

Adios, 2009

We’re ending 2009 walking, even marching, but toward a still murky, diffuse and confusing horizon. At the rally point of the opposition march on November 21, Violeta Granera, from the Movement for Nicaragua, read what was dubbed the Managua Manifesto. We would like to end with an except from that extensive text that tallies the price we’ve had to pay in lives at various other moments of our recent history, when the horizon was also blurred.

What is happening in the country today, says the Manifesto, “implies the negation of the historical democratic aspirations of the Nicaraguan people. It means a shameful disparaging of the thousands who died in recent decades. Disdain for the more than 50,000 victims of the Somocista era, the 15,000 dead of the Sandinista Popular Army, the 13,000 fallen combatants of the Nicaraguan Resistance and the thousands of Nicaraguan brothers and sisters who have had to emigrate from our country to survive: all of them living or dead heroes, some known, the majority anonymous…”

Let’s hope that all these seeds that have fallen to earth—better to call them seeds than heroes—give fruit and ensure a better future, one that’s still very hard to imagine as we prepare to ring in the last year of the first decade of the 21st century.

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