Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 352 | Noviembre 2010




Maktub is a common Arabic expression meaning “It is written,” suggesting immutability. Although virtually nothing “is written” in Nicaragua, several recent events, a year before the elections that are variously feared, desired or simply expected, permit some thoughts about the “written” or as yet “unwritten” future of that electoral process.

Nitlápan-Envío team

Roberto Rivas—who still illegally occupies the presidency of the Supreme Electoral Council months after his term ended—announced on October 28 that the general elections will be held on Sunday, November 6, 2011. The same day as that announcement, US-Chilean academic Arturo Valenzuela, currently the Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, met in Managua with President Daniel Ortega and with representatives of the political opposition. Around the same time, voices within the Constitutionalist Liberal Party (PLC) were increasingly critical of PLC leader and former President Arnoldo Alemán. Maximino Rodríguez, an ex-Resistance combatant and current PLC representative to the National Assembly for Matagalpa, unequivocally stated that Alemán “is finished” and staged a demonstration. Days later, the government reported that Venezuela is no longer making “donations” to the Nicaraguan government, but rather debt-generating loans.

The dyke caved in

No public institution in Nicaragua is more questioned today than the fourth branch of state, an institution known as the Supreme Electoral Council (CSE). Its credibility was finished off by the documented but never officially acknowledged fraud committed in the 2008 municipal elections, in which Alemán and a never-identified sector of the PLC leadership acted as accomplices, giving the FSLN some 40 mayoral seats it hadn’t won, several of them major departmental seats. This translates into 80% of the Nicaraguan population being governed today by municipal authorities who were not the people’s choice, although it must be recognized that some are doing a good job.

Given that the seven magistrates heading up the CSE were to complete their terms earlier this year, all political opposition parties, with business associations and civil society organizations acting as witnesses, pledged in November 2009 not to reelect any of them for another term. That commitment, known as the Metrocentro 2 agreement, was signed by all parties with legislative representatives, who are the ones who decide the selection. Those who only have the power to influence public opinion committed themselves to work to see that none of the seven would be elected; that the candidates would be upstanding citizens, expert in the field.

Those commitments had an unarguable effect, creating an increasingly adverse public perception of the CSE, although it didn’t seem to bother Ortega, who has said from the outset that he wants all those currently occupying those posts to remain. Nonetheless, neither the governing Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) nor the united opposition has the 56 votes needed to elect the magistrates who will run next year’s elections or the dozen or so other legislatively-appointed top government officials whose terms have also ended.

Because no agreement has been possible between the two sides, the selection process has been paralyzed for over a year. Foreseeing this impasse, President Ortega issued an illegal presidential decree to keep them all in their positions until replacements were chosen.

The opposition’s vociferous disqualification of the CSE leaders and the FSLN’s unbending support for them have also helped feed potential electoral abstention among people who are simply sick of Nicaraguan politics. Abstention always benefits the FSLN, which has a far greater capacity to get its vote out than any of the other parties.

As the Metrocentro agreement has produced no visible effects on Ortega, whose preferred people are already comfortably if illegally in place, Alemán and his followers began to fold. In November, five of the six PLC justices on the Supreme Court who had boycotted its sessions due to the refusal of two FSLN justices to leave when their term was up—only to be simply replaced by the FSLN with co-justices loyal to it—retook their seats, accepting the FSLN’s rules. Alemán finally renounced the Metrocentro 2 agreements publicly, stating that they had lapsed and the PLC would accept having some of the electoral magistrates remain in their posts. The Conservative Party, historically one of the country’s two ruling parties but now a mere shell of its former self, took a similar position. It’s not the first time in recent months it has sided with positions taken by the PLC and FSLN.

The CSE locks all parties
into the electoral process

Despite the opposition’s efforts, the magistrates who issued the call for elections on October 28 were the very ones who perpetrated the 2008 fraud. According to the schedule they presented, the parties must register their alliances and presidential tickets in March of next year, and their list of 90 legislative candidates two months later.

This haste was a sure sign that the CSE knows it lacks legitimacy, as the election date has never before been announced over a year in advance. Further proof was provided by its demand that the parties submit what it called an “intention to participate form” within eight days. The CSE warned that any party that did not turn in the written, signed commitment that it will participate in the elections would have its legal status cancelled, crippling it politically. This requisite can only be understood as a tacit confession of the electoral branch’s illegality and the urgency of gaining some legitimacy by forcing the parties not to boycott the electoral process no matter what tricks it pulls over the coming months.

Everybody signed

With the negotiations to elect the CSE authorities hobbled, the opposition had been contemplating the crossroads they would find themselves at if the existing magistrates formally convened the elections, given that responding would be tantamount to recognizing their authority. Once the CSE issued the call and required the newly invented document, a number of politicians suggested that the parties unanimously refuse to sign it. If all refused, the CSE couldn’t very well deny them all their legal status without defeating the form’s very purpose. The idea was as clever as it was impossible. Many of the parties are small ones that don’t represent anyone and only survive because the FSLN props them up to orbit it like satellites and give an image of political pluralism.

In the end, all 18 parties delivered the signed form, including the three big ones: the governing FSLN; the PLC; and the Nicaraguan Liberal Alliance (ALN). While officially the FSLN’s most organized rival, the PLC has at the same time been its pact partner for over 15 years now. The ALN is a split from it led by banker Eduardo Montealegre in 2005, which went on to edge it out of second place in the presidential elections only a year later, thus earning the privilege of sharing control of virtually all voting stations with the FSLN. The CSE arbitrarily disqualified Montealegre as ALN president in 2008, prior to the municipal elections, handing the party—and the accompanying privilege—over to a group of Liberals willing to ally with the government.

The Nicaraguan Resistance Party, formed by ex-contras at the end of the US-financed war in the eighties, submitted its form recognizing the magistrates as the “maximum authority. The PLC, in contrast, announced its participation is “under protest.” The Conservative Party declared it would sign “even if the CSE is the worst in the world.” The ALN’s excuse was that “we couldn’t exclude ourselves.” And Pastor Guillermo Osorno, who heads the opportunist Evangelical party that calls itself the Christian Way, argued that “we have to survive any way we can.”

The Independent Liberal Party (PLI), which split from dictator Somoza’s Nationalist Liberal Party in the forties, and is thus one of the oldest of the smaller parties, is now split into three factions, each of which presented its own form to the CSE with different signatures. As it has retained its legal status after others lost theirs in recent years, it still has a place on the ballot and is the party on whose ticket surprise presidential candidate Fabio Gadea Mantilla is considering running. The fact that the CSE is responsible for deciding which is the authentic faction gives it the perfect mechanism for preventing Gadea from participating in the elections.

Is the fraud already written?

Officially, then, the parties have now set off on the tortuous electoral marathon, justifiably suspect as fraudulent if things aren’t radically changed. Will they change? What electoral magistrates will be running the CSE once the registration begins in 2011? These? Others? The names being bandied about fill lists and any bet is as good as any other. The official convocation and the signed forms permit the negotiations over replacement magistrates to drag out for weeks, months… or infinitely.

However the cards fall, time is against a genuine transformation of the electoral branch, which would involve not only changing its top-level authorities, but also making sweeping changes in all its structures. As we wrote in our March issue, citing declarations by Dionisio Palacios, former director of the CSE’s ID/voting card system, “The entire CSE has to be purged, from top to bottom. Even the person who cleans the floor there has a political function and if that person is ordered by his or her party to pull documents, it gets done and nobody says anything. Everyone who works there responds to political orders. Technical skills don’t matter. What matters is the interest of the party that planted the person in the job.” Palacios hasn’t stopped denouncing that every chance he gets.

So, maktub? Is the design of the process—whether fraud or determinant manipulations—already written? Who knows? The only thing clear so far is that if Daniel Ortega fails to reform the Constitution to legalize his reelection for a third term, he’ll need magistrates who’ll agree to register him as a candidate anyway, a task that Rivas and the other entrenched magistrates have already announced they are willing to do. The deadline for changing the Constitution in time for the elections is December 15 of this year, when this National Assembly session closes, as any constitutional reform requires a vote by two-thirds of the representatives in two consecutive years.

Saved by the rain…

Ortega is feeling safer and more comfortable this month. The downpours, flooding and notable rise in the level of Lake Managua, all of which led to evacuations, epidemics, disasters, tragedies and shelters for thousands of homeless during this excessively rainy winter, provided the governing party an excellent opportunity to demonstrate its centrally controlled organizational capacity to provide rapid responses to emergency situations. It also proved good at ensuring that aid recipients are always grateful to the President and his government, even when the assistance comes from nongovernmental sources.

President Ortega has never had such positive results as he pulled in the poll conducted by M&R in the third week of September, the month of the heaviest downpours. With 45.1% considering his government “good,” he was the choice of just over 43% of those intending to vote, regardless of the opponent. That support included 22% of those who consider themselves “independent,” a concept that could be read simply as without a party or, just as likely, “anti-Sandinistas.”

…and by inflamed nationalism

Other water, not from the rain but from the Río San Juan, has also favored Ortega thanks to the nationalism that flares up every once in a while, almost always related to border disputes. On October 18, Nicaragua began dredging 33 of the 200 kilometers of the San Juan, a river belonging to Nicaragua, a long stretch of which forms part of the border with Costa Rica. President Ortega had put the conflictive former guerrilla fighter Edén Pastor in charge of the project, shelved for over a century. The cleaning, which could take years, aims to recover the depth the river had back when it was navigable by deep-hulled vessels.

The dredging will bring Nicaragua major economic benefits in tourism and trade but will also affect Costa Rica’s tourist industry in the area. The lack of Nicaraguan dredging and the fact that Costa Rica did dredge its Rio Colorado, a San Juan tributary, some years ago, meant the San Juan’s flow partially spilled into that river, turning it into a well known tourist area. A deeper San Juan will see less water diverted, reducing the Colorado’s volume..

Nicaragua’s dredging produced a hostile rejection from the Costa Rican government. On October 22 it sent some 70 members of the Costa Rican security forces, equipped with war arms, to the area where the dredging was being done. It argued that Nicaragua was violating Costa Rican sovereignty by having Nicaraguan soldiers—who normally patrol in the area and operate against drug traffickers—positioned on Calero Island, claimed by both Costa Rica and Nicaragua on the basis of 19th-century treaties and awards.

The Costa Rican government further accused Nicaragua of causing ecological damage by depositing sediment extracted by the dredging in valuable Costa Rican environmental reserves and of trying to alter the course of the San Juan to modify the border. Costa Rica requested an extraordinary session of the Organization of American States’ Permanent Council, on the grounds that it is a military dispute. In the session, held on November 3-4, Nicaragua cited various international treaties that recognize its right to clean its river and requested that the border be delimited with some 120 border markers. The OAS proposed that both countries withdraw their troops and resolve the conflict through a bi-national dialogue with OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza mediating. Twenty-two countries voted in favor of the resolution with only Nicaragua and Venezuela opposing it. Arguing the OAS’ lack of jurisdiction in border disputes, Nicaragua said that if Costa Rica persisted in its hostility it would take the case to the International Court of Justice at The Hague, which recently ruled in favor of Nicaragua in its border conflict with Honduras. Costa Rica shot back that it would take the issue to the UN Security Council.

The dispute revived all of Nicaragua’s latent nationalist sentiments toward its neighbor. The entire country, including Ortega’s political opposition, closed ranks in support of Nicaragua’s position, giving President Ortega a level of backing and a consensus he hadn’t enjoyed since taking office. It’s a fundamentally emotional consensus that should give dividends for a while longer.

Is the division written?

Ortega’s main advantage isn’t water-based, however. It lies in his command of the electoral branch structures that control every last detail of the process, from the list of registered voters (which hasn’t been cleaned or updated) right down to the issuing of ID/voter cards (which is being done selectively), and from the mapping of the polling places (discretionally changed) to the appointment of people who work the electoral tables on election day (also done selectively).

Ortega also has the advantage of a divided opposition now addicted to personal leadership fights and visibility rather than programs or ideas. The divided opposition was a key factor in the FSLN’s victory in the 2006 presidential elections although some, including the M&R polling firm, suspect that the 8.5% of the ballot results (230,000 votes) the CSE still hasn’t published would have forced a second round—which Ortega would almost certainly have lost.

So, maktub? Is it written that the opposition will go into the elections divided again? Who knows? It’s still too early to say for sure, but at this point the opposition is fundamentally split in two: the PLC with Alemán as its presidential candidate, and a group of political parties and social move¬ments with Fabio Gadea as theirs.

The guest list at
Valenzuela’s dinner

In this uncertain situation, some opposition members are transfixed by the memory of the 1990 elections, when 14 small parties joined together just long enough for their candidate Violeta Chamorro to defeat Ortega. Others seem to be falling prey to the old tendency to expect solutions from afar—either the North or the heavens—and celebrated the Nicaraguan visit of US State Department official Arturo Valenzuela. If anything joins the opposition together, it’s that all claim to be concerned about the government’s authoritarian drift and seeming determination to demolish the country’s institutions.

Valenzuela invited a select few of them to a working dinner, etching out some markers on the matrix of the opposition division. Fabio Gadea doesn’t yet have a party ticket to run on, but his presidential candidacy carries weight so he was invited. On the other hand, Alemán is the PLC’s presidential candidate, but wasn’t invited, while José Rizo, Enrique Bolaños’ Vice President and the PLC’s losing presidential candidate in 2006, was.

The MRS, represented by its president Enrique Sáenz, was invited because it has political status even though the CSE arbitrarily stripped it of its legal status just prior to the 2008 municipal elections. And Antonio Lacayo was also invited even though he doesn’t represent any party, presumably because he masterminded the FSLN’s electoral defeat in 1990 as his mother-in-law’s campaign chief. Also invited was Eduardo Montealegre, now reduced to heading a non-party grouping called We’re Going with Eduardo, and a presidential wannabe who resigned his aspirations this time around in favor of Gadea. And finally, the ALN’s ambiguous current head, Enrique Quiñónez, was given a place at the table, surely because his party shares control of the voting tables with the FSLN.

“It’s your problem”

Valenzuela conversed with this list of dinner guests for three hours. He had met with President Ortega for an hour shortly before, and before that with the national business leaders. Two ideas, both functional to the electoral script Ortega is fashioning, became clear from these gatherings and his insipid declarations.

First: the United States is interested in regional security, the struggle against drug trafficking and organized crime, and is satisfied with what Ortega’s doing in that respect. Valenzuela appeared especially full of warm praise for the National Police.

Second: the institutional and legal crisis provoked by the government—which the opposition explained in detail and the big business representatives noted as the only thing tarnishing their satisfaction with the way the economy is moving with this govern¬ment—is an exclusively Nicaraguan problem to be resolved by Nicaraguans, in the knowledge that the US government will recognize the winner of the 2011 elections as long as they adhere to “the standards of transparency.”

Complying with at least some of those standards is necessary if the governing party and Daniel Ortega want to enjoy a minimum level of domestic and international legitimacy in victory, even if they don’t have to turn to such obvious fraud as in 2008. Cosmetic changes to the electoral branch, and the participation of national and international electoral observers, renamed by the CSE as “accompaniers” of the process, would seem to be sufficient.

Ortega’s unconstitutional reelection and the serious question marks over the CSE’s role in the 2008 fraud and its illegal makeup don’t seem to upset the United States, or for that matter the Organization of American States. The Europeans’ position is less clear. The only consensus among a shrinking list of nations that still have Nicaragua on their agenda appears to be that the elections must be as clean as possible in such a murky environment and that they must be observed.

Is it all written in the USA?

The distance Valenzuela took from the domestic institutional conflict and the opposition’s complaints is shoring up the government’s electoral script and adding to the security the FSLN is feeling about the electoral process. So, maktub? Is the position of the United States already written into the electoral script? Who knows?

Although Nicaragua is off the US agenda, it’s hard to imagine total US neutrality in the electoral race, especially when voting time rolls around and, as one can reasonably expect, tensions and conflicts grow. What’s more, less than a week after Valenzuela left, the US mid-term elections dealt the Democrats a “beating,” to quote President Obama, giving an ample majority in the House of Representatives to the Republicans, some of them protagonists of or heirs to the warlike, meddling Cold War spirit, and thus obsessed with the Nicaragua “issue.”

Gadea’s floor

The candidacy of radio businessman and popular story writer Fabio Gadea Mantilla is still attracting people, even though it remains to be seen on whose party ticket he’ll run, with what running mate, which alliances, what list of legislative candidates, and, most importantly, what proposals and program. He’s especially strong in rural areas, among the older generation, with historically anti-Sandinista voters, militant Liberals and members of the former armed counterrevolution.

The imprecision still surrounding his candidacy means he isn’t yet attracting many young or urban voters, or independent or undecided ones. Nor is he pulling critical Sandinistas who have left the party, let alone those still within the party who reject Ortega’s authoritarianism.

A poll by Borge y Asociados, taken between September 28 and October 8, after the last M&R survey, appeared to show Fabio Gadea with an important initial “floor.” According to the poll, if the elections were today and the race restricted to Ortega and Gadea, Ortega would win with 42.1%, leaving Gadea trailing with 25.1%. It must be noted, however, that at the time of that poll, Gadea still hadn’t tested out his campaign strategy with any stumping. When disaggregating the results by age, the percentage of young people backing Gadea was lower than the average, with only 19.5% of those polled between the ages of 18 and 29 declaring they would vote for him.

With a full year still to go, it’s not yet written what will become of Gadea’s candidacy. What is clear at this point is that no other political factor has so rapidly and effectively undercut Alemán’s power in the PLC as Gadea’s unexpected bursting onto the electoral stage.

Alemán is sawing his own floor out from under himself

Fabio Gadea has been tenacious toward Alemán—whose daughter is married to his son—and frank with other PLC leaders, his party mates. He has consistently refused to participate in the primary elections to which Alemán and his supporters have invited him. “I’ve said it forty thousand times,” says Gadea, “Alemán will never go into a primary knowing he’s going to lose. These people have put together a whole machine that prevents anyone else from winning, so I’m not going to commit political suicide.” Gadea has also said, however, that he isn’t renouncing the PLC, his party.

This tenacity by a man convinced he can be a “consensus” candidate for all Liberals and even for all opposed to Ortega is wreaking havoc on Alemán. The contradiction that Gadea’s candidacy has created within the PLC has stripped naked Alemán’s “reasons” for capitulating in the Metrocentro 2 agreements, launching himself obstinately as the PLC candidate and not hiding how wounded he is by what Gadea has done to him… The logic of an electoral competition without hidden horse-trading would involve the PLC welcoming Gadea as its presidential candidate and putting all its structures at his service. So why isn’t this happening? Why isn’t Alemán backing off? Why does a group of PLC leaders continue backing Alemán’s efforts?

León Núñez, a former PLC activist who knows his way around the party’s inner workings, answered these questions in recent declarations to the rightwing newspaper La Prensa: “Alemán knows he’s not going to win, but he also knows he can’t give up being a candidate, because if he does the FSLN will throw him in jail for the lawsuits still pending for his acts of corruption while President, lawsuits on the docket of FSLN judges. Alemán is still surrounded by Liberal politicians with aspirations to become or continue being legislators. The FSLN is the one that counts the votes and the calculations are already worked out: They’ll give Alemán 10 legislators and 6 will go to the Conservative Party.”

Although “everyone with Fabio” still doesn’t enjoy consensus among the entire opposition, his candidacy has added a growing “everyone against Alemán” to the opposition’s 2008 electoral slogan “everyone against Ortega.” Only a few months ago, when many were resigned to Alemán heading up the entire opposition, this would have been impossible to imagine.

Rebellion in the PLC

Fabio Gadea’s candidacy is demonstrating that Alemán’s control over the PLC no longer reaches all the way to Liberalism’s grassroots base. It’s now limited to the party structures, and not even all of them. It’s especially recognized among those who have Alemán to thank for their posts or hope to be benefited by him in a new round of the Alemán-Ortega pact’s power sharing.

PLC representative Maximino Rodríguez decided to demonstrate the crisis that the contradiction between electoral logic and Alemán’s personal interests are producing in the PLC rank-and-file. On November 6, after being threatened with expulsion and suffering bitter criticisms from some of those who flock around Alemán, Rodríguez brought together around a thousand Liberals in Ciudad Darío, including district, municipal and departmental PLC authorities from 22 municipalities in Matagalpa, Jinotega, León and Estelí. The idea was to allow them to express their support for Gadea and pressure Alemán to resign his candidacy and let Gadea run in the PLC ballot slot.

“Alemán’s finished”

“We’re not leaving the PLC; we’re just a Liberal current with a national vision,” Rodríguez said as he headed up the rebellion on the Liberal farm. Matagalpa and Jinotega were the departments in which the PLC pulled the most votes in the 2006 presidential elections, more than the FSLN and more than double those obtained by the ALN when Montealegre stood as its Liberal alternative to the PLC’s presidential candidate.

A week before the event in Darío, following evidence of an imminent new stage in the pact between Alemán and Ortega to divvy up the two dozen state posts up for reappointment, Rodríguez granted La Prensa an interview. “Dr. Alemán’s image has been darkened,” he stated, “and if he loves Nicaragua and his party, he must understand that his time is over and if we go with him in the next elections we won’t win… Alemán’s finished.”

Emotional support

Rodríguez’s words sum up the majority sentiment of those who went to Darío and will probably continue rebelling. It’s not so much repudiation of Alemán for ethical reasons, for the corruption he benefited from while governing the country. It’s more about the emotional politics that electoral processes always increase: although nearly 80 years old, Gadea is perceived simultaneously as a new face and a known and beloved radio figure. Beating the FSLN is a longing, the main priority, in fact the only “program.” The move from a “national vision” to an authentic “national project” is still out of radar range for most who applaud Gadea.

While Alemán can’t ignore Gadea or minimize the effects of his candidacy, the governing party is sending out rumors, digging up dirt and forging tools to undermine his candidacy and project should they gather force and viability.

For the moment, however, the FSLN is buttressing Alemán by pulling in the refurbished Conservative Party; there are now even signs of a strange alliance between these two age-old opponents. It is also trying to seduce Gadea with the ALN’s “sure” ballot slot, which would also give him a presence at the voting tables, while at the same time readying administrative resolutions to impede him from participating on the ballot slot of the now splintered PLI. Nothing pleases the FSLN more than running on a ballot with two Liberal opponents.

Is the future written
in Venezuela?

The FSLN is confident of victory and is banking on getting the 56-vote parliamentary majority it needs to appoint top government officials without having to negotiate with any other bench. It already controls the CSE, has moderated the hostility of its language and repressive public actions to attract independent sectors, and is maintaining and increasing its clientelist measures. The goodies it continually delivers through government programs—roof plan (sheet metal roofing), houses for the people, zero usury (micro-credits to women)—come from resources provided by Venezuela, which no other party can hope to compete with.

In a country with such high unem¬ployment rates and a social culture more familiar with being grateful for favors than exercising rights and duties, Venezuela’s huge cooperation program with the Ortega government, administered discretionally by the governing party outside the budget or any democratic control, represents a virtually insurmountable advantage.

So, maktub? Are the election results already decided by the Vene¬zuelan-sponsored clientelism?

Three key facts

Civil Coordinator economist Adolfo Acevedo has pointed out “three key facts” that appear in the Central Bank of Nicaragua’s report on foreign cooperation in the first half of 2010.

Fact one: Venezuela’s cooperation involving oil sold in Nicaragua, which generates earnings that President Ortega has always managed outside the budget, totaled US$333 million just in the first half of the year. The significance of this cooperation can best be appreciated by comparing it with the disbursements to the public sector by all the traditional foreign cooperation combined in the same period, which was just over half that amount ($170.4 million).

Fact two: the 50% of the oil cooperation that was defined as donations has disappeared. Now it’s all registered as a loan.

Fact three: the oil cooperation will no longer be in the framework of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA), but rather based on the Petrocaribe energy cooperation agreement signed four years ago between Venezuela and 14 other countries.

These three facts suggest to Acevedo that the ALBA energy agreement (signed by Ortega and Chávez in April 2007 without ever going through the legislative branch) must have stopped functioning, while the Petrocaribe agreement (signed by the two countries in January of the same year, the month Ortega took office, and ratified two months later by the National Assembly) is being maintained.

Petrocaribe and ALBA

The Petrocaribe agreement established that Venezuela would supply Nicaragua with 3.65 million barrels of oil a year, roughly 36% of its estimated 10 million barrel annual national consumption. Nicaragua would finance this purchase in two parts and in percentages to vary according to international oil prices: one part payable in cash on receipt and the other financed with a credit payable over 23 years with 2 years’ grace when the price is above $40.

Because Nicaragua quickly became an ALBA member, Venezuela nearly tripled the quota Nicaragua would receive to 9.85 million barrels a year, covering virtually all of the country’s consumption. President Ortega announced that agreement with great satisfaction at the official May 1 celebration in 2007.

That new agreement made it clear that only public entities would be involved, not private ones. Nicaragua would pay for half of the oil supply within 90 days and the other half would be a concessionary credit, still payable over 23 years with 2 years’ grace, with 2% annual interest. Half of that credit would be assumed by the mixed Venezuelan-Nicaraguan company called Albanisa. It was also established that once operational and financial costs were deducted, the credit would be assigned to the ALBA Fund to finance infrastructure works, social projects and others in Nicaragua.

It’s a credit and thus a debt

“This,” explained Acevedo, “is the so-called ‘donation’ component, and as far as we know, it’s administered by a private entity designated by Albanisa. Although it’s surely being invested in line with the government’s priorities, it wouldn’t seem to be directly or immediately under its control; its use must be agreed to with the Venezuelan counterpart. According to the agreement, the other half of that credit will be assumed by the Republic of Nicaragua, therefore constituting an international credit operation that, by law, must be incorporated into the National Budget and is evidently a Nicaraguan debt.”

Acevedo recalls that, following a great deal of debate, President Ortega agreed to send the National Assembly the Petrocaribe agreement for its approval and ratification, but he never sent it the ALBA agreement even though Venezuela’s National Assembly approved and ratified them both for the next three years (2007-2010).

Will the accounts
be requested?

Will the change in the correlation of forces in Venezuela’s National Assembly following that country’s parliamentary elections change the script written by Chávez and Ortega? We still don’t know, but the new Assembly should at least make some effort to learn how the vast public income from Venezuela’s oil sales has been spent.

This month, the Basque-Venezuelan Jesuit Luis Ugalde, well known in Nicaragua for his long career in the university field, reflected with a Nicaraguan journalist on the “indignation” triggered in Venezuela by Chávez’s use of public recourses. “Nobody knows how much is transferred to Cuba, for example, or for what,” he says. “It’s certainly more than $4 billion a year. In an inflationary country like Venezuela, with negative growth and a high percentage of the population either unemployed or underemployed, seeing the President donating without controls and that it’s being managed person to person and to their families produces serious indignation.”

Although Chávez’s contribution to Nicaragua is less than a tenth of what is reportedly sent to Cuba, the root of the problem is similar. “If a government systematically eliminates the mechanisms put there for some control,” adds Ugalde, “and it feels that it has power, that both the Supreme Court and the Assembly obey the executive, and it’s governing military-style, it can say ‘I’m going to give 300 million to the Head of State of Nicaragua,’ for example. What’s this ‘I’m going to give’? Who am I going to give that money to if it isn’t mine? Billions of dollars have disappeared in that way and there’s no way to clarify it.”

Ugalde considers that “sooner or later they’re going to ask for an accounting of all of that. And I imagine they’ll also ask for the accounts of those who got it in the recipient countries as well.”


So much seems already written, but… who knows? So far the only thing clear is that the governing party is willing to “write” anything to win the next elections. Many chapters are still to be drafted in this story, and whether written in straight or crooked lines, they will affect the whole population.

Print text   

Send text

<< Previous   Next >>




The Two Main Electoral Issues Must Be Education and Fiscal Reform

The Latest Border Crisis: Bi-national Citizenship Revisited

El Salvador
Who’s Behind the “Lawlessness”?

Dialogue to Change Things So Everything Remains the Same

América Latina
Seven Sound Barriers Broken In the Digital Radio Era
Envío a monthly magazine of analysis on Central America
GüeGüe: Web Hosting and Development