Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 350 | Septiembre 2010



The Sacarrín Effect

Sacarrín in a sport—any sport, political included—means benching a person who’s playing badly. It comes from saca-ring—throw out of the ring—and opens up the game to a new opponent, giving the competition a fresh twist. The sacarrín effect has revitalized Nicaragua’s pre-election panorama through Fabio Gadea Mantilla’s surprise announcement that he intends to run for President.

Nitlápan-Envío team

There was nothing new about the political environment when the “sacarrín” was suddenly played. The executive branch was consummating its control over the judicial branch. The electoral branch was reiterating its refusal to accredit the national electoral observation organizations for next year’s elections. And Liberal political boss/presidential hopeful Arnoldo Alemán was enthusiastically trying to drum up support for a primary race among candidates of the different Liberal parties, planned for next March.

In the midst of the contradictions generated by these three events, all of which are about ensuring incumbent President Daniel Ortega’s reelection, the familiar voice of Fabio Gadea Mantilla was unexpectedly heard announcing that he would run as a consensus presidential candidate for the entire opposition if the current aspirants would agree to take their hat back out of the ring.

From out of the mist
of the coffee grove

Fabio Gadea Mantilla is a radio busi¬nessman, an unparalleled personality in Nicaraguan broadcasting. Now 79, he has worked in radio since he was 17, pioneering the country’s radio journal¬ism. In 1962 he founded Radio Corporación, the country’s most popular station, which still has its strongest roots in rural areas. Opposed to Somoza family rule, his station was fined, censored and nearly destroyed during the dictatorship. Even more fiercely opposed to the revolution in the eighties, his station was again repressed, censored and nearly destroyed. In 1982 he founded the Nicaraguan Democratic Movement (MDN), a small party that aspired to modernize the Right. In exile, he joined the civilian wing of the resistance (the contras). On his return to Nicaragua in 1990 he went back to his radio activity and joined Alemán’s party, the then up-and-coming Constitutionalist Liberal Party (PLC), and is currently one of its representatives to the Central American Parliament. One of his sons is married to Alemán’s daughter, National Assembly representative María Dolores Alemán.

Unlike many Nicaraguan politicians, who opportunistically sway with the political winds, Fabio Gadeas has had an unbending rightwing profile throughout his nearly eight decades of life, but he is respected and inspires confidence beyond his generation and beyond those who share his vision. Although he has never shied away from taking political positions on the radio, he isn’t viewed as a “politician” and is recognized as independent. He has been immersed in all the national political avatars and has stuck his foot in his mouth more than once, but nobody has ever accused him of slip¬ping his hand into the public coffers or taking financial advantage of anyone.

If the Spanish verb hablar (to speak) has its root in the Latin fabulari (tell fables, or stories), the person who speaks best for Fabio Gadea is “Pancho Madrigal,” the radio personality he created in 1959 and for whom he has written thousands of stories, so fondly preserved in the collective memory of generations of Nicaraguans. This is one of his most important assets. Pancho Madrigal never misses his daily morning and evening slots with a new story full of humor and wisdom. “The day Pancho Madrigal asks people to vote for Fabio Gadea, the possibility of fraud in the elections will end,” said Gadea in one of his first declarations.

The death knell of
the inter-party primary

Gadea Mantilla played his sacarrín card on August 5 with Eduardo Montealegre’s blessings. Gadea insists, however, that other friends were the first to propose that he enter the fray as a “consensus candidate.”

The announcement of his willingness to be an opposition unity candidate if accepted by all sounded the death knell for the inter-party primary elections, an initiative the various Liberal parties proposed to elect their unified opposition candidate. The idea of this consultation had increasingly been revealing its true form: just one more butting of horns between the Liberals who still follow Alemán and those who follow Montealegre. The conflicts between these two leaders and the long list of failed attempts at unity between their two currents have been wearying the opposition electorate: Alemán’s popularity has continued to shrink in the latest polls and Montealegre’s has followed a similar pattern, while declared opponents of the governing party are increasingly identifying themselves as “independents” because they haven’t found anyone who represents them.

After Alemán proposed himself and was accepted as the only PLC presidential candidate in July, eliminating the need for even a sham primary within his party, the idea of an inter-party primary rightly looked like a new maneuver by Alemán to nudge Montealegre, who has also expressed interest in running, out of the political ring. It wouldn’t be Alemán’s first or worst such maneuver against Montealgre. That distinction goes to his collaboration with the ruling FSLN in the 2008 municipal election fraud, which despoiled Montealegre of the Managua mayoral seat.

In this atmosphere, which didn’t exactly smack of “inter-party” respect, Alemán’s proposal to open the primary to the entire national electorate rather than just card-carrying Liberals was highly suspect. If any registered voter could participate, Daniel Ortega’s followers would naturally vote for Alemán.

Ortega needs Alemán’s National Assembly votes to be able to continue divvying up posts in the State, now the essence of the pact. And Alemán needs Ortega to avoid losing control of the PLC, which he keeps by giving out posts. For months polls have been showing Alemán as the only candidate who would ensure Ortega’s triumph hands down. With Alemán as his opponent—and even better if Montealegre runs against his corrupt Liberal enemy as well—Ortega would have no need for fraud, not only because the two would divide the rightwing vote, but also because abstention would skyrocket, and that always favors the FSLN.

A death foretold

Although there are other reasons, Fabio Gadea’s proposal put the final nail in the coffin of the inter-party primary. On September 2, the rightwing Permanent Human Rights Commission, which had assumed the complicated responsibility of organizing it, “definitively and irrevocably” resigned that task, arguing the “lack of seriousness” of all participants. The primary was Alemán’s main mechanism for his own pre-electoral projection. It will be hard to replace.

Offering himself as a “consensus candidate,” Gadea intensified the Liberal crisis and cornered Alemán, who will lose even more prestige if he doesn’t back off of his presidential aspirations. Many have been asking, begging or demanding that Alemán withdraw, but up to now he has reacted like the pig-headed caudillo he is. Now, however, his own daughter’s father-in-law is doing the asking. Gadea’s sacarrín has also allowed Montealegre to trap Alemán with the best argument of all: an alternative candidate capable of uniting all Liberals. And it lets Montealegre himself withdraw from the race with dignity, avoiding the erosion he would surely suffer from participating in a bogus primary with a fragile structure and results that would certainly favor Alemán.

First numbers and
immediate accomplishments

Barely two weeks after Gadea Mantilla made his debut on the pre-electoral stage, an M&R nationwide urban poll eloquently demonstrated the first impact of the sacarrín effect: 42.2% of those polled agreed he would unify the opposition, 38.6% said Montealegre should play that role and only 15.3% assigned it to Alemán. The elections are over a year away, but had the candidates been Ortega, Alemán and Gadea on the day of the survey, 36.5% would have voted for Ortega, 28.8% for Gadea, and barely 6.3% for Alemán (27.5% did not respond). A resounding 68.8% said they would like to see Alemán pull out of the race and 49.3% said the same of Montealegre. On September 7, Montealegre did just that, at least for another five years, to support Gadea.

The results of this first poll are an indication of the hopes an important sector of voters harbor of finding a credible opposition referent. They surely also express the silent desperation of those feeling the weight of the social control being imposed by the Ortega government in all areas of life but with no idea how they could shake it off with the pre-existing candidates.

Polls in the rural areas will show the extent of the sacarrín effect even more clearly than in this urban survey, both because of Radio Corporación’s long history of popularity and credibility in rural Nicaragua and because Alemán’s biggest personal base is there.

Given Nicaragua’s unstable political situation, it’s still too early to analyze whether the sacarrín effect will be lasting or just a flash in the pan. There’s still a long road ahead, and a lot of pitfalls on it. Nonetheless, a significant amount has already been accomplished: the move aborted the idea of the primary, knocked Alemán against the ropes, presented Montealegre an elegant way out, put a new spin on the stagnated dispute among Liberals, gave the public a shot in the arm and hit the governing party with an unex¬pected and rather complicated situation.

That other opposition

And what about the opposition parties and movements we could define as center-Left? They are as anxious as the rest of the opposition to see the Ortega government defeated because they view the direction it’s taking as dangerously authoritarian, power-hungry and devoid of the values and principles it once had, and they are profoundly opposed to the Alemán-Ortega pact.

They never put any stock in the inter-party primary because they were sure that FSLN activists would turn out in force to ensure that Alemán would be the big winner. In any event, they recognized that Montealegre can’t unite Liberalism and Alemán can’t unite the opposition.

By August, 13 social and occupational organizations, two minority parties with legal status and therefore a ballot slot (Citizens’ Action Party, or PAC, and the Alliance for the Republic, or APRE), the Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS) and part of the Independent Liberal Party (PLI) were participating in one of two groupings: the Patriotic Alliance and the Democratic Coalition. Having consistently insisted on switching attention from the candidate to the program, these two groupings have now taken two important steps toward consensus. First they presented their respective programmatic frameworks and then allied around their commonalities.

On August 8, the Democratic Coalition presented its Programmatic Manifesto and six days later the Patriotic Alliance presented its Plan of National Salvation. Both documents are clearly designed to dismantle the Alemán-Ortega pact.

Then on September 2, after three months of talks, the two groups agreed to join forces and run against Ortega and Alemán in the elections. They see their respective programs as a “starting point” to be enriched and improved with contributions from all of the country’s municipalities. They also agreed to prioritize the struggle to reform the Supreme Electoral Council, “so there will be elections, not an electoral circus,” as MRS President Enrique Sáenz has frequently remarked.

The proposals are very similar, and the alliance document itself offers four initial “whereas” clauses, which read as follows: “Both political alliances share a major concern about the direction in which the government of Daniel Ortega is taking the country, trampling on people’s political rights, crudely violating legality and the Constitution, corrupting and subjecting the Supreme Court and the Supreme Electoral Council [to its will], sabotaging and perverting the functioning of the National Assembly, developing a dynastic re-electionist dictatorial project, isolating Nicaragua from international cooperation, making itself a servant to the dictates of the Venezuelan government in return for millions in resources from the petroleum bill, dragging the country into increasingly cruel poverty, and wanting to push Nicaragua into the abyss of fratricidal violence while at the same time espousing a demagogic and unscrupulous discourse and making pacts with the corrupt elite headed by Arnoldo Alemán… Both alliances are totally convinced that a new electoral fraud is being plotted for 2011, as a scaled-up repetition of the fraud committed with the results of the 2008 municipal elections….”

The role the MRS Sandinistas will play in the conversations this alliance will necessarily have with Fabio Gadea if he consolidates his candidacy is crucial, as will be the proposals that both the alliance and Gadea himself make regarding the governing party. Defeating Ortega and his defenders is in itself a hollow slogan, since the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) is more than the dominant current within it. It’s a national reality that has proven its political capacity and social rootedness. Even in the hypothetical case that it loses the elections, it would lose only part of its power. Proposals for a future negotiation with a defeated FSLN and attractive messages to appeal to those critical Sandinistas still left in the FSLN have yet to appear in the programs or messages of any of these opposition groups. It’s an inexplicable absence.

Until it becomes
a political reality

As a consensus candidate, Fabio Gadea Mantilla has established himself as a new electoral reality in less than a month, which is a major success. Conservatives, Montealegre Liberals, Liberals of the ambiguous National Liberal Alliance (ALN) and the divided PLI, even PLC Liberals, Nicaraguan emigrants and other unlabeled groups have expressed support for him. It remains to be seen whether Gadea can attract the large number of “independents” who are against both Ortega and Alemán.

It’s also still too soon to analyze what strategy the government will apply if Gadea Mantilla’s proposed candidacy becomes an electoral and political reality, which would mean alliances, a government program, a place on the ballot, an electoral campaign, financial backing, international support…

The governing party’s first reactions have been very moderate. It has been shaping its electoral game ever since it took office, but never counted on the sacarrín. So far the government media have just repeated Alemán’s reactions: that “Montealegre has more fear of losing than desire to win,” that he got scared about the primaries so got off that horse by manipulating Fabio. They also rightly warn that Gadea Mantilla will apply neoliberal policies, although saying it in a way that suggests the Ortega government is applying something else.

Supreme crisis in the Court

Given the possibility of a growth in Gadea’s popularity or any other unforeseen turn of events, Ortega is obliged to keep the institutional screws guaranteeing his reelection turned tight. This month he gained absolute control of the Supreme Court.

On August 11, six FSLN justices supplanted the six PLC justices with “conjueces,” a new position created by the constitutional reforms pushed through by the calamitous Alemán-Ortega pact. The entry into the Court of the conjueces—or associate justices—is the final act of a structural crisis that started 12 years ago with the pact and a more contemporary and passing crisis unleashed when an illegal decree by the Supreme Court’s Constitutional Bench last October defended Ortega’s right to run for presidential reelection, followed by a similarly illegal decree Ortega himself issued in January of this year permitting justices whose terms were up to remain in office.

The Supreme Court, which grew to no fewer than 16 justices with the pact between Alemán and Ortega first hammered out in 1998, has functioned ever since at the service of the political and economic interests of those two party leaders, with the few exceptions of issues not considered strategic by either of them.
Over the years, the FSLN’s interests have prevailed ever more clearly. The FSLN has always acted with a long-term strategic vision while its partners in the PLC are much more shortsighted. While the Sandinistas prioritized organization and made good use of their negotiating skills, the Liberals never outgrew their perk-seeking approach.

The result is that the FSLN now controls the judicial branch from the justices right down to the local courts. According to an investigation done in February of this year by the rightwing newspaper La Prensa in 14 of the country’s departments (excluding Chontales, León and Río San Juan), 300 of the 337 full judges are Sandinistas and their rulings reflect that tendency.

The term of three Supreme Court justices—two from the FSLN and one from the PLC—ended in April, but the two from the governing party remained in their posts despite the outcry from the Liberals and the public. Their justification was Ortega’s decree allowing them to stay until the National Assembly chooses their replacements, which is considered illegal because only the Assembly has the faculty to appoint people to these posts. The decree was issued to cover the anticipated extra time it would take the legislators to reach agreement on those and another twenty or so top-level officials whose terms ended during the first six months of this year. Neither the governing party nor the opposition legislators have the 56 votes needed to appoint them without some votes from the other side. The government’s insistence on imposing its own list of candidates, the conflicts within an opposition many of whose members are willing to sell their vote to the highest bidder and the greed to occupy those posts help explain the delay and the lack of transparent negotiation. All this has led to an increasingly complex institutional crisis.

Since April 11, when the term of FSLN justices Rafael Solís and Armengol Cuadra ended, the six Liberal justices—one of the original eight left when his term was up and another had died earlier—have defended their own posts and their party’s interests by firmly rejecting the idea that the two FLSN justices can continue making decisions in the court. After four months of tensions, the FSLN argued that the Court’s work was paralyzed by “infantile” attitudes and decided to supplant the six Liberal justices with the associate judges even though there’s no law to regulate how they should be incorporated into the Court’s juridical tasks.

How long will the Liberal justices insist on denouncing this illegality? Will that insistence turn out to be nothing more than a pressure mechanism in the eternal negotiations between Ortega and Alemán?

Is Nicaragua
a collapsed State?

In Nicaragua’s real world, most people view everything that’s happening in the Court as yet another of the recurring institutional crises into which Nicaragua frequently sinks, only to be rescued after a time by the lifeboat of some criticizable but effective political agreement that allows the country to keep functioning, only to flounder again in the morass of the next crisis.

In Nicaragua’s legal world, authoritative voices view what has happened in the Court as grave. They warn that everything done since these two men should have left is invalid and will have to be reversed once the situation returns to legality. Jurist and philosopher Alejandro Serrano Caldera, who presided over the Supreme Court in the eighties, considers that after what happened in the Court, the State has “collapsed,” in that President Ortega’s decree is illegally keeping people whose terms have ended at the head of the Supreme Court, the Supreme Electoral Council and the Comptroller General’s Office. This is his appraisal of the crisis, which has gone on all year so far: “They are two genuinely unsustainable situations: either collapsed institutions or de facto ones. Nicaragua’s institutionality is trapped in this dilemma today. But it doesn’t suit any government to have an institutional collapse, a de facto situation or for the processes of the state branches to lose their legality and absolute domestic and international legitimacy.”

Suit it or not, the reality is that the State is still functioning, and beyond the legal opinions, anyone can see that Nicaragua has a strong State in the hands of a strong party.

In the political country, control of the Supreme Court is vital for Daniel Ortega in this pre-electoral stage. Time is against him: if he doesn’t get the 56 votes he needs to reform the constitutional article that impedes his reelection before mid-December, when this session of the National Assembly ends and its Christmas vacation begins, he won’t be able to ratify it before the elections in the second session required for constitutional reforms. He’s already spent three years trying to beg, borrow or buy the votes and has failed so far. If he fails again, the FSLN-stacked Supreme Court will simply ratify in a plenary session the resolution that FSLN justices on the Constitutional Bench issued in October 2009 eliminating the offending article, even though they didn’t have the authority to do so. This would give him an open road for reelection without having to change the Constitution in the National Assembly.

What would the political cost be for this new judicial maneuver, illegitimate and illegal though cloaked in “de facto” legality? Ortega would surely pay a price internationally. Nationally, opposition politicians and business leaders have floated a negotiation offer: to give Ortega the National Assembly votes he needs for the constitutional reform to legalize and legitimize his reelection in exchange for another reform: raising back to its original 45% the 35% needed to win the elections in the first round when there are more than two candidates. The government would also have to guarantee “transparent” elections, which presumes changes in the Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) and accreditation of independent national and international electoral observers.

The screws of
the electoral branch

The screws that the governing party is turning most tightly are those of the CSE. The opposition legislators are holding firm on not reelecting CSE President Roberto Rivas and the other magistrates whose terms are up—and who, like their colleagues in the Supreme Court, are still at their posts.

Meanwhile, the FSLN is preparing the ground for its electoral victory. Information from different municipalities points to a systematic party-skewed issuing of ID cards, which also serve as a voting card. As long as the electoral branch is in charge of the cards rather than a technical institution, their discretionary issuance will continue to provide an option for politically controlling the results.

The ongoing tracking of the electoral rolls—which the CSE also mani¬pulates at its discretion—is one of the tools the governing party is using to decide who to give ID cards or other gifts to. A young FSLN militant explained to us that “every three months we study the rolls to classify voters as ‘hard, soft or null’ and thus decide how to act with them in each neighborhood.” She now knows just about everything about the sure voters, fence sitters and those impossible to influence in her immediate surroundings. This disciplined—and sometimes self-sacrificing—organization of hun¬dreds of people all over the country is one of the FSLN’s most important electoral assets.

In this context, the new ID card presented by CSE President Rivas was very controversial. He announced that it costs 300 córdobas ($14) if issued immediately, indicating that not everybody can be carded before the elections. The cards are, however, being provided free to state workers, thousands of whom have already been forced to accept FSLN membership cards or lose their jobs. The new ID card costs US$1.60 to produce, according to Rivas, who thanked Spanish cooperation for its donation of US$7.5 million to fabricate them. Given that production of the card is being covered by a donation, he offered no convincing explanation for the high charge the CSE has imposed on this document. In El Salvador, Costa Rica and Honduras the equivalent cards are provided free of charge, as was also the case in Nicaragua when they were first instituted over a decade ago. The only other Central American country charging is Guatemala, where it costs the equivalent of $10.

Opposition was
not long in coming

On August 17, after returning from a parliamentary recess, the representatives of the MRS, the PLC and Montealegre’s group introduced a bill to reform the Citizens’ Identity Law by explicitly guaranteeing that the ID card would be free of charge for all citizens and that the charge to replace it due to loss or change of data would only be $2. Even though the Constitution already establishes that “public documents” are free, the legislators considered the reform necessary given the CSE’s illegal attitude. A reform of regular laws requires 47 votes, but the legislators who proposed it don’t have that number. The MRS called on the citizenry to exercise their rights by protesting the cost of the new card and not applying for it as long as it remains so high.

Two weeks earlier, tax law expert Julio Francisco Báez had denounced the charge for this obligatory state docu¬ment as a crime, explaining to the Comptroller General’s office that it is an illegal and unconstitutional tax and an abuse of authority. There was no response whatever in the legal country.

In the real country, the high cost discriminates against most of the population, and of course it adds a new suspicion to the many plaguing next year’s elections. In addition to reiter¬ating the “increasingly evident” party manipulation in the discretionary issuing of the cards, Mauricio Zúñiga, director of the Institute for Development and Democracy (IPADE), pointed out another problem it creates: on the election rolls new cards will coexist with old expired ones (a law extended them until 2012), cards newly issued but with the old format (which cost $2.50), and supplementary voting documents that allow people who for whatever reason don’t have a document to vote. “This opens a Pandora’s Box, where there will be no kind of control and any irregularity can be committed,” he warned.

More fears and threats

The CSE’s reaction came from Adonai Jiménez, its director of organization and logistics. He declared that as long as Zúñiga directs IPADE and Roberto Courtney directs Ethics and Transparency neither national organization specializing in electoral observation will be accredited for that task in coming elections.

A month later, Rivas himself aggressively reiterated the antagonism against both organizations. He also reacted to the announcement by the European Union’s representative in Nicaragua that a technical mission of EU observers had arrived, and to a request by Fabio Gadea Mantilla that international electoral observers come ahead of time. Already assuming that he will head the next elections, Rivas announced that the CSE will allow no “technical mission” of international electoral observation in the months prior to the elections and will only accept “accompaniment” on election day. He also threatened to immediately expel any international observer who “speaks ill” of the electoral authorities.

“It remembers us”

In addition to discipline, organization, political skills and institutional control, the FSLN also has among its pre-electoral assets a concern for the social problems of the country’s poorest population segments, a quality conspicuously absent in the preceding government. Although both paternalist in design and often clientelist in nature, small, medium-sized and even large projects are helping many impoverished people across the county. “The government remembers us, it’s concerned for us.” This subjective factor carries enormous weight in a country like Nicaragua.

The government both gives people fish and teaches them to fish for themselves. It is providing sheet metal roofing on the one hand and study grants on the other. It is streamlining the titling of urban and rural properties and launching agro-ecological plans for producers. It is providing small credits, particularly to women, in the Zero Usury program yet pardoning rather than renegotiating the debts when the beneficiaries can’t pay. It is providing animals in the Zero Hunger program and training the beneficiaries. It is promoting high school diplomas, inaugurating child development centers, and giving some 150,000 of the poorest paid state workers a $25-a-month bonus for a six-month period.

This month the governing party made the pre-electoral claim that these and other actions have already reduced poverty, which is a top priority of all cooperation projects with Nicaragua. It based its claim based on the results of a survey of the consumption levels of the poorest population conducted by the International Foundation for the Global Economic Challenge (FIDEG), a national economic research organization directed by Alejandro Martínez Cuenca, economic planning minister during the eighties and more recently a frustrated FSLN presidential aspirant who dared challenge Ortega for that post.

Is there really less poverty?

Supported by the World Bank, FIDEG presented results showing that in the past five years 300,000 people have moved up from extreme poverty to poverty (people who consumed $1 a day and now consume $2). Surveys to measure poverty levels began to be conducted in Nicaragua in 1993, although not all have used the same criteria. This survey covers a period of five years (2005-2009), the first two of which corresponded to the Bolañós government and the last three to the current government.

Four factors somewhat deflate the government’s triumphal claim that its social programs are single-handedly responsible for these results. First, a survey done in 2005 by the Institute of Surveys and Censuses (then called INEC and now INIDES), already revealed significant growth in the consumption of families in extreme poverty. Second, Nicaragua’s demographic transition (fewer births while the earlier baby boomers are now of working age) has increased the number of working members in the poorest families, thus increasing family incomes and hence their food consumption. Third, the migration among poor households, mainly to Costa Rica, has increased considerably over the past five years, with the remittances sent back home obviously increasing family income. According to the 2005 survey, remittances then already represented 15% of the incomes of the poorest families. And fourth, more favorable bean prices between 2005 and 2008 and the liberalization of their export also had a positive effect on the income of the poorest rural households.

The government also boasts that it reduced extreme poverty despite the international recession. The fact is that the impact of the international crisis on the Nicaraguan poor was neither as severe nor as extended as had been feared, in part for the above reasons, and therefore didn’t reverse the positive trend initiated in 2005. However, the government does have reason to congratulate itself for having surfed the crisis quite well with the abundant and unconditional resources from Vene¬zuela’s President Chávez.

Excess optimism?

Pulling people out of poverty is a much more complex and more structural task than simply improving their daily food consumption from $1 to $2. It’s an institutional task requiring sustainable, viable and lasting policies, not just superficial handout programs. In this respect, Martínez Cuenca began to nuance the official celebration, pointing out that while extreme poverty has been reduced, there are actually now more poor people in Nicaragua because those 300,000 have only moved up one small notch and there’s also a growth in the population. “There are positive trends and others that aren’t so positive,” he said, “which invite us to see the results not just through the single prism of either pessimism or excessive optimism.”

For his part, Paul Oquist, a presidential public policies adviser with ministerial rank, explained that the success is due to the FSLN government’s approach: considering neoliberalism’s central idea—the “trickle down” theory—erroneous, it is directly acting to combat poverty with targeted social programs.

He used the survey to underscore the need for Ortega’s reelection: “The continuity of the policies and of Comandante Daniel Ortega’s leadership is absolutely necessary now. Poverty can’t be reduced overnight. It takes a generation, roughly twenty years.” Twenty years, four more terms, is the figure FSLN circles refer to when putting a date on their party’s permanence in government.

2011 isn’t 1990

Fabio Gadea Mantilla seems very aware of what he’s getting himself into. In all interviews so far he has emphasized that the first thing that has to be done is change the electoral magistrates so people can trust in the elections. He has also reaffirmed his own aim to structure a government around a national plan for the next 25 years that would stress education and the honesty of officials who reject the encrusted idea of making the State their personal booty.

He has said that the main unknowns surrounding the 2011 electoral process must be resolved by December: who will direct the process, around what program the opposition will unify, whether he will be the consensus candidate, whether Daniel Ortega will succeed in legalizing his candidacy for reelection and whether Arnoldo Alemán will resign his candidacy. He has also said that if Alemán doesn’t withdraw, he would still accept being the candi¬date of the rest of the opposition. That would result in a three- or even possibly four-candidate race, as in 2006, in which the FSLN would compete against two rightwing can¬didates—the PLC and the opposition alliance headed by Gadea—and against a center-left candidate, which pulled 20% of the vote in Managua in 2006.

Like many others, Gadea Mantilla evokes with excessive confidence the opposition unity that ran Violeta Chamorro as its candidate in 1990 and defeated the FSLN. But the contrast between the national situation of that time and now shows that comparison to be an illusion.

First, the ravages of a decade of war weighed heavily on all voters in 1990, including Sandinistas; and second, the president of the CSE at the time, Mariano Fiallos, guaranteed total respect for everyone’s vote. Both factors are more basic than the opposition unity in explaining the triumph of the 14-party electoral alliance known as the National Opposition Unity (UNO). Today there is no war and the electoral branch is not in hands as honest as those of Fiallos and his staff, and wouldn’t be even if reformed.

Furthermore, the FSLN of 1990 was politically all-powerful, but was saddled with an economy in ruins, which made it somewhat more cautious, less arrogant than today. Today’s FSLN is still very powerful and now has the advantage of managing a relatively stable economy, with hundreds of millions in resources from Chávez as well as its own: its leadership has morphed into an economic group, consolidated itself and is still growing. It shares interests and has even forged alliances with the traditional economic groups.

None of that was true in 1990. As a consequence, big private enterprise so far seems to feel safer with the stability that Ortega in government guarantees for its investments than with the instability it would experience with a new government. As Violeta Chamorro learned in 1990, any new government would be obliged to negoti¬ate with this powerful FSLN, a hugely complex task even for the ever ingenious Pancho Madrigal.

Will they find
common cause?

There are also subjective conditions beyond the institutional and other objective ones favoring the FSLN, which the governing party is also working on to ensure Ortega’s victory. It is looking to generate high abstention, discourage the opposition vote and demobilize voters by lumping together the whole opposition, from Alemán at one extreme to the MRS at the other. It projects the same supposed vices—reactionary, corrupt, oligarchic, in the pay of the CIA, etc.—on all groups and individuals critical of the government.

An enormous challenge is facing the Sandinista dissidents, those critical Sandinistas, both organized and not, and even those still within the government and the FSLN. The challenge for Fabio Gadea is enormous as well. Will these two groups find common cause? Only time will tell. For 45 years Gadea Mantilla has repeated on his radio station that “those who are wrong aren’t to blame; the blame falls on those who are absent…” For that reason he has raised his hand to be counted, unleashing the sacarrín effect.

Print text   

Send text

<< Previous   Next >>


The Sacarrín Effect


On Social Security the IMF Has Little to Tell Us and a Lot to Be Told

Migrants: Submissive Victims or Engaging in Civil Disobedience?

El Salvador
Funes’ Dangerous Liaisons With the Business Class

General strike? Constituent Assembly?

The Chemistry of Development
Envío a monthly magazine of analysis on Central America
GüeGüe: Web Hosting and Development