Stones in Their Shoes
Daniel Ortega has cleared the way to run again in 2011,
but he has a sharp stone in his reelection shoe.
The dispersed political opposition to Ortega
is proposing a unitary coalition to defeat him,
but it has a sharp stone in its opposition shoe.
The electoral institutionality has been shredded
by 12 years of the Ortega-Alemán pact.
Can Nicaragua open up a different future
by getting some of the stones out of its shoes?
One of the Ortega government’s various colorful TV propaganda spots tells us that 2010 is a year of “sowing” and 2011 will be one of “reaping.” It’s generally assumed that they’re talking about electoral cultivation.
In the last three months of 2009, which capped the first three years of Ortega’s five-year term, everything in Nicaragua began revolving feverishly around the November 2011 electoral race. But despite all the hubbub, we’ve barely moved off the starting point, with the same correlation of forces and the same closed political landscape.
Everything’s in Ortega’s favorDaniel Ortega has it all nailed down to win in 2011. His dominion over the state institutions is expressed every day. His will is being imposed and his interests prevail, from the customs offices to the Supreme Court benches, from the mayor’s offices in the northern part of the country to the halls of the Supreme Electoral Council. In a country so dependent on foreign cooperation, he has the backing of the international financing institutions, with the International Monetary Fund in the lead. He is also protected by the blessing of large national financial and business capital, with which he maintains ongoing fluid relations. As if this weren’t enough, Ortega has reportedly amassed a personal fortune and enormous economic power from Venezuela’s aid money, which allows him much more influence then he has ever been able to exert in the past.
The US government is pragmatically tolerating him and the Venezuelan government is giving him privileged treatment. Through his control of the judicial branch, he ensured an illegal resolution that will allow him to run as the FSLN’s presidential candidate as many times as he likes, despite being constitutionally inhibited from running for a consecutive term in office or serving more than two terms in total. With all these high stake chips it’s hard to imagine the President playing to lose in the next elections.
Unemployment is In 2006 candidate Daniel Ortega asked for a chance to govern “in peace” in his second term heading the country. Leaving aside that his “peace” has taken the existing polarization to an extreme thanks to obsolete “revolutionary” rhetoric and particularly to the social control mechanisms he has used from the outset, Ortega couldn’t have imagined that he would have to govern “in crisis.”
Daniel’s sharpest stone
The international economic crisis has hit Nicaragua hard. It has reduced the remittances sent home by Nicaraguan emigrants in the United States and Costa Rica to sustain the survival of a good part of the population that stayed behind. It has also made credit more expensive, lowered the price of our exports and reduced both national and foreign private investment by 25%. The main collateral damage of all this is rising unemployment. Lack of jobs is the sharp stone in candidate Ortega’s shoes, and could yet prevent him enjoying five more years in office.
The opposition’s President Ortega has gotten as far as he has in three years because he has sprinkled his social strategies over a long-impoverished country and over a population left to its fate in the past two decades by an eternally insensitive political Right that insists on calling itself “democratic.” He has gotten so far because while the opposition loudly rejects his style of government and his authoritarian project, it offers absolutely no alternative. It’s an opposition that’s trying to peddle the idea that simply struggling against Ortega is by definition fighting for democracy.
sharpest stone is Alemán
The opposition is fragmented, distorted by the super-egos of many of its leaders, scrambling for political posts only for the perks they offer, and with no credible leadership. None of the opposition groups offer a large, medium or even small project that could capture the imagination of the majority of the population that is losing not only jobs and remittances but also hope, and is increasingly unhappy with both Ortega’s course and his opponents’ maneuvers.
Despite all those failings, the opposi-tion is promoting the idea that all its fragments should come together in a single opposition front under a single leadership. It’s a tough task, made trickier by Arnoldo Alemán’s boundless desire to recover leadership both in his own Constitutionalist Liberal Party (PLC) and within this front. He’s supported in that objective by those striving to accept him, turning a blind eye to his dossier of corruption and his complicity with Ortega himself, shrugging off his political vices as “a thing of the past” or the minor flaws of “a traditional caudillo.”
Alemán is a sharp stone in the opposition’s shoe, although only time will tell whether this painful obstacle will help get Ortega out of government or, paradoxically, consolidate the President’s political project.
The CSE is To re-win the presidency and govern with a more manageable crisis, Daniel Ortega needs the elections to be credible and the electoral process to be viewed as legitimate both nationally and internationally.
another big stone
Yet, no other state institution is as deeply discredited as the Supreme Electoral Council (CSE), which is in charge of guaranteeing this legitimacy. And no other political figure is more questioned than CSE president Roberto Rivas, who is under Cardinal Obando’s political wing and ultimately responsible for the November 2008 municipal election fraud. Rivas is best known for his increasingly scandalous luxury lifestyle in Costa Rica, where his brother Harold, Nicaragua’s ambassador, is being tried for tax evasion. With him at its head, the CSE is the first stone that will have to be removed from the shoe of our now almost destroyed institutionality.
All seven CSE magistrates and three of their alternates finish their terms between February and June of this year. All of them were hand-picked by Ortega and Alemán as an expression of the pact between the two, which is coming up on its twelfth anniversary. The electoral magistrates have mainly served the interests of both men all that time, but after Ortega and Cardinal Obando made their peace in late 2005, Rivas’ vote leaned almost always in the FSLN’s favor, and since Ortega took office again in January 2007, more of the CSE structures from top to bottom have also come into FSLN hands. The reelection of the departing magistrates or election of new ones will be crucial to what happens between now and the 2011 elections. A substantive change of CSE magistrates and the whole managerial structure—about a hundred people—could signal a change in the correlation of political forces, although if the opposition doesn’t offer a vision for the country pretty soon, it will just be one of those changes that doesn’t alter any¬thing.
Keeping Nicaragua out The legal insecurity and lack of political confidence and consensus seem not to be affecting the favorable view of the Ortega government held by the Inter¬national Monetary Fund (IMF) and Inter-American Development Bank (IDB). The government’s neoliberal-style macroeconomic control over the economy weighs more in their appraisals, as surely also does the stability Ortega ensures by governing from within the presidency rather than “from below” as he effectively did for years.
of Chávez’s clutches
The support of these institutions must also be seen as a gamble on the possibility of keeping Nicaragua politically within the neoliberal scheme, thus stopping it from becoming totally dependent on Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. For the United States, Venezuela is the knot that holds the tangle of countries in the so-called “21st Century Socialism” in place. It has to keep the peripheral ones such as Ortega’s Nicaragua under a certain degree of control until it can untie that knot.
Best not to close the doorAfter eight months of tense expectations, the IMF approved the third revision of the three-year economic program it had signed with the govern¬ment until 2011. It was a huge relief for the government, because the disbursing of funds from other countries and institutions, among them the IDB, depends on that green light. In mid-January IDB Executive Vice President Daniel Zelikow visited Nicaragua, giving the government’s economic manage¬ment another thumbs up by pledging to double the funds for Nicaragua “because of its demonstrated capacity to admin¬ister and execute resources and because of the poverty reduction priorities it has established.”
The European Union, however, still is keeping its general budgetary aid frozen and the issue of governance and the requirement of guarantees to ensure free and fair elections in 2011 on the negotiating table. The Budgetary Support Group will give its definitive response about whether it will renew the Joint Financing Agreement in May, when the previous one established in 2005 expires. Among the government’s main commitments in signing that agreement are respect for human rights and democratic principles, including free and fair elections; the rule of law; independence of the judicial branch; a free, transparent and democratic process; accountability; the struggle against corruption; solid macroeconomic policies and poverty reduction.
Although the Europeans are keeping their distance, almost all of them sympathize with the argument expressed by Ulla Tornaes, Denmark’s foreign cooperation minister, when she visited the country: “It is evident that we’re going down a bad road in Nicaragua, but if one definitively closes the cash box, one also eliminates any possibility of influencing the country’s development.”
Pessimistic plansAlthough the Ortega government is confident that the Europeans won’t close the cash box and thus lose their influence, and although its grades from the IMF and the IDB are excellent, there’s no optimism in the official documents. The Human Development Plan is a crucial text that has appeared in various versions, none of which were ever consulted with civil society. The projections in its latest version (2009) reflect a crude realism: in the next three years—the first two of which are of “sowing” and “reaping,” respectively—economic growth will be very modest (1-2%) with minimal possibilities of any growth in public spending and public investment, which respectively reduce poverty and generate jobs. This belt-tightening in spending will combine this year with payment of the domestic debt resulting from the indemnification bonds for properties confiscated in the eighties. It does not appear that this imbalance will be compensated for by increased tax collection in the amounts the government imagined with the new tax law now being applied.
In such a scenario the main problem the government will face in “sowing” and “reaping” is employment. All polls demonstrate that this issue has been the main cause of worry for years now. “Zero unemployment” was one of Ortega’s main campaign slogans and was splashed across his government’s gigantic Pepto Bismol-colored propaganda billboards. But the international crisis, cuts in public investment and the economic insecurity generated by the political crises Ortega himself provokes have nullified that attractive promise. It could be even worse in 2010 and 2011.
The estimates for 2010 by FUNIDES, big private enterprise’s economic research center, are even more somber. It calculates no positive economic growth for 2010, with a possibility of negative growth, stressing legal insecurity and political uncertainties among the causes. And it notes that few jobs will be created by private businesses. According to its surveys, 83.8% of all companies have no thought of expanding their capacities in the next six months, with 81% of those set to keep the same number of employees and 15.4% contemplating more job cuts.
What wasn’t done in 2009Of course the government does have some infrastructure projects underway. Rafael Paniagua, Venezuela’s director of ALBA de Nicaragua, S.A. (Albanisa), the joint Nicaraguan-Venezuelan enterprise, says 35 projects are being implemented, part of what he called a “country project.”
When Paniagua confirmed to El Nuevo Diario that ALBA had bought Nicaragua’s Channel 8 (see “Nicaragua Briefs” in this issue for details of the sale of that national television channel), he also let it be understood that ALBA money is present in increasing sectors of the national economy. “We’re doing our work,” he said, “and the only thing I can assure you is that ALBA came to stay, because our project is a national project, a country project, and constructing a country is no small thing.”
His declarations seem to have rankled the government, judging by the response of Ortega’s economic adviser, Bayardo Arce, who specifically denied Paniagua’s claims about the purchase of Channel 8. “They say that Venezuelans, Caribbeans in general, are a bit folksy, a bit given to speaking out of turn…. Paniagua not only said something that isn’t true, but said it in a manner that was totally out of place: that they have a country project… Chávez may have a project to construct Venezuela, but he has no project in Nicaragua. It’s the Sandinista Front, those of us in this government, who have a project, not any Venezuelan or citizen of any other country…. No Venezuelan can come and say how to construct this country. What madness!”
Meanwhile, as we wait for someone—anyone will do—to reveal this grandiose vision of the nation, the government is giving things away to certain people, sometimes many people. And we can expect it to give away a lot more to “fertilize” the electoral harvest. It’s giving away stoves from Venezuela, handing out sheet metal roofing in acts presided over by Cardinal Obando and distributing pregnant cows and sows in rural areas under the Zero Hunger program. Of course people happily take anything they’re given, but most aren’t getting what they most want and need: fixed employment and a regular salary.
People who don’t get these handouts, and also many who do, know that a lot of Venezuelan money is coming into Nicaragua, but isn’t translating into jobs. Former Managua Mayor Dionisio Marenco’s declarations about all the money Chávez’s oil agreement with Nicaragua is providing the Ortega government and how it’s being used for the increasingly diversified businesses of Albanisa, the private business through which the Venezuelan cooperation is functioning, proved explosive.
The Venezuelan money is enveloped in such a dense nebula that no one can find reliable answers about the amount, profits or even the projects being financed with it. Marenco only offered a few certainties: “There is no wealthy person here in Nicaragua,” he flatly stated, “that has more than ALBA. No one. Not even adding all the banks together would you approach the economic capacity involved in importing oil. How is it being managed? Who’s managing it? Where is it being invested? How is it going to be paid for? Those are the real mysteries that have to be resolved, for reasons of national interest, because someday it’s all going to have to be paid back.”
Nobody is more authorized than Marenco to ask these questions because as mayor of the capital he went to Caracas at Chávez’s invitation to begin negotiating the oil agreement even before Ortega was elected. That responsibility was inexplicably taken away from Marenco a few days after Ortega took office, however, and from then on he was privy to no more information about it. He’s certain, however, that the enormous profits from that agreement could already have begun to transform Nicaragua’s impoverishment and doesn’t see it happening. “An incredible amount of investment should have been made and should be visible by now. The most important thing about 2009 is what could have been done and wasn’t.”
Will it come on time? According to the latest M&R survey, done in December 2009, Ortega is starting out 2010 with 32% support, which means that he’s more or less maintaining his base but not increasing it. If he keeps on with the policy of handouts while allowing unemployment to increase, Ortega risks reducing that base, which will endanger his reelection even if the opposition doesn’t unite.
To sow job opportunities and reap votes, the government is obliged to increase public investment in rapid-impact job programs. Finally capitalizing the state bank, optimistically named Produzcamos (Let’s produce), would have that effect because the combination of the international crisis and the “nonpayment” movement initially encouraged by Ortega himself has reduced available rural credit by 12-15%.
But with the reactivation of rural credit still not appearing, Ortega is banking on construction. In mid-January, in one of his many long, cordial meetings with the top representatives of large national capital, he persuaded them to join the “fair credit program for social housing,” which he expects will rapidly reactivate the depressed construction sector.
The plan is to build 11-15,000 60-square-meter houses in the next three years at a cost of $20,000 each. They are for families whose income doesn’t exceed $1,000 a month, who will pay for them over 15 to 20 years with interest of only 8%. The government will front the capital and the big private banks will administer the credits. Nicaragua’s housing deficit is roughly 500,000 units, which the President said will take 15-20 years to cover. That period coincides with the four more terms Ortega calculates he will continue governing the country.
With this program and others the government may launch, Ortega trusts he’ll be able to get rid of the stone that’s most hindering his trip down reelection lane. Will this program function quickly enough for the group in power that the unemployed population will feel its effects in time for the next elections? With its traditional inflexibility toward loans to low-income sectors, will the private banking system have the capacity to implement this program? Will it come in time to recover the time lost between 2007 and 2009, when nothing was done with the abundant Venezuelan aid? Could it be that the time was spent setting up Abanisa businesses precisely for programs such as these so the money invested will come back into their own pockets?
Metrocentro 2: The illegal judicial resolution handed down by a Supreme Court commission in October allowing Ortega to run for reelection justifiably ruffled society’s feathers, particularly those of his political opponents. In response, all opposition parties—the four Liberal groups and the Sandinista Renovation Movement—held an emergency meeting with repre¬sen¬tatives of civil society and private enterprise that led to the signing on November 9 of what’s known as the Metrocentro 2 Accords, named for the site of the meeting. All agreed “not to reelect any of the current CSE magistrates or their alternates. Not to elect new CSE magistrates until a profound transformation is made within the CSE and in the electoral framework that guaran¬tees transparency and respect for citizens’ vote. Not to elect any of the officials that must be appointed by the National Assembly in 2009 and 2010 unless capable, honest and impartial people are chosen for these posts in accordance with the constitutional precepts.”
A challenge to the pact
In addition to the seven CSE magistrates and their three alternates, the posts at stake in 2010 are those of the five comptrollers, four of the sixteen Supreme Court justices, the human rights ombudsperson and deputy ombudsperson, and the superintendent of banks.
Arnoldo Alemán, who was already beginning to horse-trade some of these appointments with his partner Ortega, was one of the participants in the Metrocentro meeting. He was forced to get involved because the electoral fraud—in which it was soon discovered that he had helped Ortega in order to tarnish and isolate his own main Liberal rival, Eduardo Montealegre—has lost him the trust of much of his party base, thus shrinking his leadership and caudillo power. But his attitude was thus: “You can make me sign, but never comply.” He began to recover after Christmas vacation, which always serves for forgetting the past and negotiating the future. He even got a leg up from the government, which ordered that the Radio La Poderosa frequency be returned to him, so he now enjoys powerful national coverage.
Alemán announced that he has decided to run for President as the unified Liberal candidate in 2011, confident of first winning the planned joint primary elections involving all the Liberal groups. He also declared only that he is firmly committed not to elect any CSE magistrates, letting it be understood that he would negotiate all the other posts due to expire. These are sure signs that he’s not backing off of his pact with Ortega and will even try to monopolize the dialogue with him in the name of the opposition, which he has done up to now with the blessing of his fellow PLC members.
Alemán forever? The pulling away of PLC members—first into the Nicaraguan Liberal Alliance (ALN) and later the We’re Going with Eduardo Movement—has been very timid and slow relative to what was assumed would happen when Alemán was accused, tried and convicted of serious crimes of embezzlement and money laundering after leaving government. Whether due to resigned pragmatism, perks received, personal friendship or skeletons in closets, Arnoldo Alemán seems invincible. The lack of autonomy of those who accompany, support and defend him in the PLC is nothing new. What is new, and very worrying, however, is the growing acceptance of Alemán by other opponents who have always rejected him and his unsavory political history.
An implicit tolerance of Alemán as a leading light in this unity is beginning to show up in the anxious despera¬tion to forge as quickly as possible a new anti-Ortega UNO (National Opposition Unity) or GUN (Grand National Unity), as they also like to call it. There even seems to be some willingness to let him head it up, should it come to that. Just as there is now some lobbying to get Alemán to finally abandon politics, there is also lobbying in the other direction: to get the Conservatives and the MRS Sandinistas to open their doors to this virtual opposition coalition. So far, they are the only ones, together with the small group of Liberals led by Virgilio Godoy, who have repeatedly rejected Alemán.
The January 9 decreeThat’s the context that gives the latest major illegality committed by Daniel Ortega its political significance. On January 9, to “prevent the chaos” Ortega claimed would be produced should the more than 20 top posts at stake in this first half of the year be left vacant, he issued a presidential decree ordering that all those currently occupying them remain in office until the Assembly elects new occupants.
The decree is illegal and unconstitutional because only the National Assembly representatives can make that choice. But given that each post requires 56 of the 92 legislative votes, the decree amounts to a political broadside against the President’s opponents: either you elect my choices or I will.
The decree could be interpreted in a positive light, in that it is provisional and seeks to stimulate, accelerate or even precipitate agreements among an opposition that seems incapable of reaching them on anything more substantial than anti-Daniel rhetoric due to the dark personal interests that prevail in its “deals.” But it could also be interpreted as a stratagem to undermine the conflictive and very fragile unity process that’s getting underway between Alemán’s Liberals and Montealegre’s and force one of the two groups to side with the FSLN in a roll with loaded dice.
If Montealegre were to add his volatile dozen votes to Ortega’s 38, it would still be short of the 56 needed to elect the posts. If the FSLN were to then buy enough votes to complete the required number, Montealegre would obtain some state posts, which would weaken Alemán somewhat but at the cost of undermining his own prestige among the public, where he has been seen as a clean alternative to Alemán’s perverted politics, although this image has grown increasingly tarnished. On the other hand, if Alemán were to add the PLC’s current 21 votes to Ortega’s 38, they would have more than enough to fill all the vacancies and hand us a new chapter of the pact as a fait acomplí based on the argument of ensuring the country’s “governability.” Alemán would lose a little more of his dwindling prestige, but with the guarantee of continuing to be Ortega’s privileged interlocutor.
Judicial extortion from the The crucial point of these negotiations seems to be the Supreme Electoral Council, its new or reelected magistrates and, above all, the fate of its current president, a fundamental piece in the alliance between Daniel Ortega and Cardinal Obando.
dustbin of ignored crimes
The scandals involving Rivas’ declarations and ostentatious lifestyle, which just seem to rumble on, plus the continual arithmetic stress in parliament in search of the magic and often elusive number 56, explains what happened on January 28. As Alemán was dallying over his decision, three pending lawsuits against him for fraud, swindles and defrauding committed during his presi¬dency were dusted off and reactivated by the Nicaraguan judicial officials. They have to do with the theft of calves from the governmental Rural Development Institute, the purchase and use of a presidential jet—the famous narcojet—found to contain traces of cocaine, and the bankruptcy of the state company called Mayco. He also still has hanging over his head a pending trial in Panama for money laundering—about which the Nicaraguan judicial authorities never seem to get around to notifying him.
At the same time, the pressure against Montealegre was reactivated. The government continues to claim he is solely responsible for the massive swindle against the State and resulting illicit enrichment involving the bank bonds known as CENIs.
The parliamentary opposition—with the exception of the MRS—is using the excuse of escaping Ortega’s judicial extortion to propose an amnesty decree that would cover both Liberal leaders. If the judicializing of politics reveals Ortega’s true colors, this amnesty at this moment reveals those of the Liberal “opposition.” It is a rightwing amalgam in which everyone seems to have something to hide and to be willing to cover up each other’s misdeeds at the cost of keeping Nicaragua hostage to corruption and impunity.
The presence of Alemán and the schemes and artifices to which he compulsively lends himself is a stone in the opposition’s shoe. Can it be gotten out in time in the name of ethics and the certainty that Alemán isn’t creditworthy in any circumstances, or will the opposition put up with it and learn to walk with it? It’s a measure of Nicaragua’s crisis that after so much time this question must still be asked.
It could also be…According to some very premature polls, Arnoldo Alemán is the only candidate who could beat Daniel Ortega in 2011. Acute Liberal observer León Núñez, who knows Alemán’s Liberalism very well from the inside, claims that Alemán’s presidential candidacy is just another strategy of the pact he’s so unwilling to renounce: it would guarantee Ortega’s victory, because as a worn-out candidate Alemán would provoke massive abstention. In exchange, Ortega would continue giving quotas of power to his Liberal friends, which would consolidate Alemán’s leadership in both the party and the “opposition.”
But nothing is writ in stone—or even on paper—in this country with its fragile memory and acutely short-sighted interests. It’s also possible that Alemán could be reelected President if our choice is restricted to just him or Ortega in November 2011, assuming that three critical elements combine at that grim moment: growing discontent with the path down which Ortega is taking the country; worsening unemployment, and Alemán’s flaming rhetoric stirring up the majority anti-Sandinista sentiments that have almost always existed in Nicaraguan society. In that case, the pact would in all probability continue with new permutations, with Alemán formally on top and Ortega presumably governing from below, although not nearly so far below as in the nineties, before he had assured himself so much institutional power through 12 years of the pact with Alemán.
Signs from the CaribbeanThere’s no possibility of any change in this closed correlation of forces unless a sweeping change is made in the Supreme Electoral Council. It wouldn’t be enough to get rid of its highly unpopular president, or to replace its seven magistrates with others hand-selected by Ortega and Alemán. The whole structure would have to be changed since over those same 12 years it has been set up to follow “higher orders” rather than the law, public service or the common good. There’s no sign, however, that this could happen.
The sixth regional elections in the Caribbean coast will be held on March 7 to choose the 45 Regional Council members of the two autonomous governments there. The population’s general mood is one of apathy; the campaigns are lackluster; and there are charges of a possible fraud in favor of the FSLN based on irregularities in the electoral mapping and in the now commonplace selective provision of ID/voter cards to government sympathizers. Even if the elections were transparent—albeit marked by the traditional absten¬tion of many coast people—they would have the unfortunate result of legitimizing the CSE for the fraud it’s already preparing for 2011.
A country on the Be all that as it may, the most serious problem on the coast is the drug cartels’ inevitable influence over the decisions about candidates and electors, and later of the rulers and those ruled.
verge of collapse
The case of Walpasiksa, a Miskitu river community in the northern Carib¬bean region, has revealed the roots that drug trafficking has on the Caribbean side of the country due to governmental abandonment of the communities and the “development” drug money brings, translating into a visible improvement in living standards. In December, Colombian drug traffickers backed by Miskitu community members fired on a Nicaraguan naval patrol boat, killing two members of the military personnel.
Retired Army General Hugo Torres told envío that “Walpasiksa is an alarm bell. By defying the army, they dared to defy the State. For the first time we can really see how deeply drug trafficking has sunk its roots not only in the Caribbean but in all of Nicaragua. Drug trafficking now has a strong national presence. They’ve sent us a sign of the power they feel they have from Walpasiksa. It’s much easier for drug trafficking to settle and consolidate where there’s no state presence, which is the case in many Nicaraguan communities.
“The corruption of the judicial branch is one of the greatest crimes that can be committed against a people. The former government of Arnoldo Alemán and the current government of Daniel Ortega have both intensified corruption in the judicial branch, which has favored drug trafficking. When the drug cartels find a State whose representation is built on corruption, and furthermore corruption is irradiating out into the whole social, political and economic fabric, it has more fertile terrain and a more appropriate for sinking roots. This could lead climate Nicaragua to collapse, to a situation similar to that of Mexico or Guatemala.”
Unimaginable vicissitudesThe news that one of the fugitive Colombian drug traffickers had two CSE-issued ID cards showing Nicaraguan nationality indicates that drug trafficking is the largest stone in the nation’s shoe. It’s also clear that this stone is not isolated from the three others we’ve identified here and will surely be writing more about in coming months… unless of course, through vicissitudes almost impossible to imagine, Nicaraguans manage to see beyond the present that imprisons us, identify the stones hindering our progress—these three and many more—and toss them all onto the rubbish pile of a history best put behind us.
THE SOUNDING OF THE WALPASIKSA ALARMOn December 8, a joint Nicaraguan naval force and army patrol was am¬bushed by Colombian drug traffickers and community members they had armed in Walpasiksa, on the Río Prinzapolka south of Bilwi. The attack left two officers dead and several wounded. The patrol boat visited the community days after a small plane loaded with around a thousand kilos of cocaine made a forced landing in the Walpasiksa cemetery. The cocaine was divvied up among the community members and then sold to another group of Colombian drug traffickers who arrived in speedboats and recovered roughly 400 kilos. The ambush occurred when the Army patrol arrived to investigate. Several of the drug dealers are currently on the run, and a dozen Miskitu community members were detained while others fled and hid in the bush. The Colombians left the area in what community members described as having the characteristics of a submarine.
At the time of the ambush, the Institute of Strategic Studies and Public Policies (IEEPP) warned of the roots drug traffickers now have in Nicaragua, based on a growing domestic market. IEEPP calculates that small cartels all over the country regularly supply some 240,000 active consumers. “The real problem,” IEEPP researcher Roberto Orozco told La Prensa “is that drug trafficking has provided a level of development in the Caribbean Coast that the State has been unable to provide in the indigenous communities, where traffickers have already consolidated a social base.”
Orozco calculates that for every córdoba the State invests in the Caribbean, the drug cartels “invest” $100. He also recalled that “in constant and scandalous actions” documented in all the media, more than 100 nationals and foreigners captured due to their links with drug trafficking were freed between 2004 and 2009 by officials at all levels of the judicial system, ranging from local court secretaries and alternative judges to trial judges, appellate judges and even Supreme Court justices. “There’s a network of lawyers,” he explained, “dedicated to defending captured drug traffickers. Huge amounts of money move in the network to buy decisions at all levels of the Nicaraguan judicial system.”