Elections 2011: Nicaragua lost again
We regret having to repeat, three years later, our assessment following the fraud in the 2008 elections, and for the same reasons, albeit more marked this time: Nicaragua lost.
Its institutions have all lost more credibility. And far worse, elections have lost their credibility as a means to resolving political differences. We all lost. Our society, already rent by enormous social inequities, has been split and polarized even more. It’s a dangerous step backwards.
Two and a half weeks after election day, Nicaragua remains trapped between two utterly contradictory versions of what happened on November 6 and what its results mean.
One part of the population insists that the “civic fiesta” took place in peace and normality, and that the results legitimately gave President Daniel Ortega an overwhelming reelection victory. The other part charges that it witnessed a fraud of enormous proportions committed that day and that the official results are false. Nicaragua is a country divided in two, experiencing the schizophrenia of two antagonistic readings of reality, with an open wound that will not be easy to close anytime soon.
Two tendencies As election day drew nearer, there were also two different visions in the FSLN leadership. Both were convinced that, with all the electoral rules of the game in his favor, Ortega would win. But only some aspired to and expected a legitimate victory all could accept, one that could be legitimated by the international observers invited to certify that victory. They anticipated it would be legitimized by a “final impeccable liturgy,” as Ortega’s former ambassador to the United States, Arturo Cruz, suggested days earlier. Those in the other group aspired to a “crushing” victory, for which they were prepared to “do what we have to do, say what they will,” as Nicaragua’s ambassador to Peru, FSLN founder Tomás Borge, counseled months earlier.
in the power elite
The electoral campaign evolved rapidly in its final month. The campaign events of PLI Alliance candidate Fabio Gadea brought out enthusiastic multitudes in rural areas, even in departmental capitals that are governing party bastions. “Seeing 10,000 people applauding Fabio in the streets of Estelí made them nervous,” an authority from that department told envío, “so the FSLN’s political secretary called an emergency meeting that same day.” Gadea’s final rally in Managua on October 29, with 150,000 people, wasn’t easy to shrug off either.
Any observer could see a clear polarizing of the voters, with those opposed to Ortega gravitating to Gadea, leaving third-placed Arnoldo Alemán, the discredited candidate of the Constitutionalist Liberal Party (PLC), eating his dust with no more than 11% in any poll. In an election so polarized despite all Ortega’s tricks to keep Alemán in the running, Ortega ran the risk of a “neck and neck” win or even losing if there was a massive last-minute shift to Gadea by Alemán’s followers and the 10% still uncommitted in the last poll.
We’re heading Surprised by this rapid polarization and haunted in the corridors of power by the specter of Violeta Chamorro’s unexpected win in 1990, the FSLN’s extremist sector, headed by President Ortega himself and his most intimate circle, was in no mood to run any risks. Under the slogan “We’re heading for more victories!” with which the governing party’s propaganda team has papered the country and saturated the media, they gave Ortega’s unconditional followers in the electoral apparatus a final free hand to organize and implement all the fraudulent initiatives that characterized voting day in 2008. The result is a country divided between jubilation and rage over the way everything turned out.
for more victories!
Five days after the elections the Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) put the official count of 100% of the voting tables on its web page. There were only slight differences from what it had announced on TV at 1:30am November 7: FSLN 62.46%, PLI 31%, PLC 5.91%, ALN 0.40% and APRE 0.23%.
The PLI Alliance refused to accept the results and Gadea called for the elections to be annulled. The PLC took a while to shake off its astonishment, since President Ortega had been predicting that Alemán would take second place. The Nicaraguan Liberal Alliance (ALN) and the Alliance for the Republic (APRE), both of which played the governing party’s game dressed in other colors, said nothing. Most significant was that the previous contradictions have remained within the FSLN: those who believed it could have won cleanly and legitimately, and those, drunk on victory, who celebrated the “crushing” of the adversaries and “crowning” of Ortega, their “bladed fighting cock.”
Will we ever learn the real results of these elections? Very probably not, if the 2008 municipal elections are anything to go by. That uncertainty, like a blow to society’s heart, triggered acts of violence in various places that resulted in four civilian deaths and numerous wounded police officers, and may lead to far graver conflicts.
The FSLN played Doubts about the veracity of the official electoral results are justified not just by the figures, padded for some and trimmed for others, but also by illegalities and irregularities that accompanied the whole process and palpably affected what happened on election day itself. They became particularly evident once the electoral campaign officially kicked off in August. We have analyzed them in previous envíos, but are including the Preliminary Report of the European Union’s Electoral Observer Mission and the Final Technical Appraisal of the national observation organization Ethics and Transparency (E&T) in their entirety in this issue, because between them they systematically detail both the illegalities and the irregularities by category.
with a stacked deck
This prolonged prelude set everything up prior to the final day’s game, allowing the FSLN to play with a stacked deck, from rules to arbiters to dirty tricks. But even with all that in its favor, the results were further altered by at least three factors: forced abstention, manipulations of the ballot count at the voting tables and the barring of possible witnesses of this manipulation.
Without ID/voting cardsIn the end, how many people were unable to cast their vote because the CSE and the Councils of Citizen’s Power made the political decision not to give known or presumed opponents of the FSLN their new ID/voter card or substitute document in time? Ethics and Transparency calculates that it could have been some 200,000, although the Institute for Development and Democracy (IPADE), another national observation organization, pointed out that although demographic growth adds some 330,000 people to the voting population in the space of a five-year presidential term, the reported increase in voters this election didn’t exceed 60,000. Was that voluntary abstention due to distrust of the electoral apparatus, an unappealing choice of candidates or prior intimidation? Or was it because many were not given their documents?
A raft of fraudulent maneuversA raft of maneuvers organized by governing party loyalists in many of the nearly 13,000 voting tables around the country also altered the results to give Ortega his overwhelming victory, and most importantly ensure him enough seats in the National Assembly to give him a free hand to pass any laws he chooses, including changing the Constitution.
These maneuvers were implemented barrio by barrio, ballot box by ballot box, voting center by voting center, vote by vote and tally by tally. They included last-minute violations of the Electoral Law, such as the CSE’s decision that prior to opening the voting center the ballot boxes would not be reviewed to ensure that they were empty nor would the ballots be counted to verify that the number at the end totaled what had been received per table; the violent expulsion of opposition party monitors during the final scrutiny of the ballots; and the decisions only to lightly ink the thumb of voters loyal to the governing party to facilitate their voting several times in different centers and to print 2.5 million ballots more than required without offering any justification.
As the days passed, the testimonies of PLI Alliance monitors and even of voters themselves have documented many of the stratagems. They appear to sketch out illegal behavior patterns endorsed by the new Voting Center Coordinators, an all-powerful post not mentioned by law that the CSE created just before election day.
Based on the control those coordinators exercised (each one oversaw up to a dozen or so voting tables), the maneuvers, whether small, medium or large, were played out as needed according to the ingenuity of each group at each table and each center. It will be impossible to systematize the exact number of maneuvers or numerically assess how each trick altered the real results of each table.
Without witnesses Altering the results would have been impossible without one essential factor: many of the schemes were not perceived or challenged by anyone, as there were no PLI Alliance monitors in roughly 30% of the voting tables. The political, technical, bureaucratic, computer-based and deadline obstacles the CSE set up to hinder the PLI Alliance from accrediting its monitors largely explain such a significant absence. In some cases, however, even some of its accredited monitors were prevented from entering the voting centers, were expelled during the voting for trivial reasons or were expelled when the polling site closed for the crucial final vote count.
The three national observation organizations, which were also absent from the voting centers because the CSE refused to accredit them, had previously warned that the presence of monitors from all parties was crucial to attest to the transparency or opacity of the results. Even before the CSE began announcing the first partial results on election day itself, E&T categorically stated that the process was neither “just nor honest nor credible,” underscoring the lack of monitors in such a high percentage of voting centers as “the straw that broke the camel’s back.”
That same afternoon, the head of the Organization of American States (OAS) Observer Mission, former Argentine foreign minister Dante Caputo, spoke to journalists without concealing his annoyance that his own mission members had not been allowed into the voting sites they visited in the morning, some 20% of their carefully selected sample. Caputo stated that this distorted their entire observation and that such a thing had never happened in any other country. “We are sailing in the dark, and not because our radar has broken,” he said, “but because they’ve blocked it.”
An accelerated polarization All polls had shown Daniel Ortega well ahead of other candidates and the probable winner. But none, not even Siglo Nuevo, the governing party’s own polling firm, forecast the astonishingly high percentage the CSE attributed to Ortega.
The final poll by CID-Gallup, which we consider the most professional, was conducted between October 11 and 18, three weeks before the elections. It used the “black box” method, which guarantees greater secrecy and hence reliability regarding the survey sample’s voting intentions. It showed Ortega in first place with 48%, Gadea in second with 30%, Alemán in third with 11%, the two remaining parties with under 1%; and the final 10% reserving its opinion.
Given how both the campaign’s rhythm and its polarization sped up between this poll and November 6, it is not out of line to think that the 10% who did not name their candidate were probably anti-Ortega voters and to envision a sector of those who said they preferred Alemán moving toward Gadea as the only option to beat Ortega. On the other hand, some traditionally Liberal voters, particularly from poor neighborhoods, showed signs of switching to the FSLN, won over by the government’s massive gift-giving and their irritation with the Liberals’ inability to field a single candidate. During those last weeks the race seemed to be moving toward a technical tie or a very close victory for Ortega, or even possibly an equally narrow loss. Any of these outcomes would have obliged President Ortega to shed his power-president aspirations and become a statesman with a democratic vocation capable of political negotiation, something he has given no signs of in the last five years.
The vote of the grateful poorNotwithstanding all the manipulations and impositions mentioned above, part of the increased votes for Ortega is explained by the accumulation of social programs the government has spread around the country, especially in the past two years. They are targeted to the over half of Nicaraguan families who live in poverty, a good part of them barely surviving in a state of critical poverty.
With little to show for its promises to reactivate a job-generating economy, the Ortega government has instead implemented a range of mainly welfare-style “aid” programs, with vote-buying purposes that even the least sophisticated recipients tend to recognize. The goodies are presented not as the duty of a responsible government, but as expressions of “the Comandante’s concern for the poor,” for which gratitude is in order. And grateful the recipients are, because they received nothing remotely similar from previous governments.
Almost all these programs are financed with Venezuelan cooperation’s abundant petrodollars, and have solved thousands of immediate needs and won over thousands of voters. In just one such program, the government has spent over US$50 million on giving out 10 sheets of corrugated zinc roofing to poor families all over the country.
It is very likely that by voting day Ortega’s hard vote—never greater than 40%—grew to the 48% in CID-Gallup’s black box in October, or even to the M&R poll’s 56.5% back in June, or possibly even to the 59.6% of the FSLN’s own October poll, thanks to the gratitude of those who received a new roof, an interest-free loan, a school scholarship for their children or the title to their land.
It was probably also swollen by people who saw what their neighbors reaped and expected to get as much and more in the next five years, since instead of offering a coherent government program for the country’s development, candidate Ortega just listed how many people had benefited from these “achievements” and promised five years of even more of the same. Given their dire living conditions, very few of these real or potential beneficiaries would have considered the mammoth debt their children will inherit 20 years down the road from all this money squandering.
The goal wasn’t just to win, The goal not just of winning, but of sweeping the elections is behind the “inflation” that jumped the official results all the way to 62%. The extremist group wants it to “change the system,” while the President also wants it because all of his peers in the Bolivarian Alternative for the Peoples of America were elected with over 50% of the electorate, while he had to live with the embarrassing disadvantage of ruling in his first term with only 38%. For five years he had to impose himself as a political majority while being supported by an electoral minority. For five years he had to listen to the persistent analysis that 62% of the population rejected him in the 2006 elections, albeit spreading their vote among three alternatives. It was time to “flip the tortilla”: Now it’s Ortega who’s got 62% while the entire opposition couldn’t pull 38%.
but to sweep the elections
But the issue isn’t just about pride or power. Sweeping the elections means governing for the next five years with no governmental obstacle whatever, particularly handing Ortega the absolute parliamentary majority he sometimes couldn’t beg, borrow, buy or steal during this term. That mind-blowing objective is what incited Ortega and his extremist group of followers to perpetrate such visible and blatantly fraudulent irregularities.
And it is precisely that sweep that lacks credibility, even for those in the FSLN’s business elite who wanted and anticipated a more modest, but credible win. As businesspeople they fear the destabilizing effect the farfetched electoral results could have a on society and—obviously even more important to them—on the economy.
The official data indicate that this time the FSLN got more votes for national and departmental legislative candidates than for President. There is no reasonable explanation for this given voters’ tendency to focus mainly on the presidential candidate due to the power that resides in the executive branch. The opposition even feared that this tendency would be accentuated this year with the use of a single ballot for all elections. Not only did they see it as encouraging a vote along straight party lines, but also anticipated that many would simply check their presidential preference on the top row and be done with it.
Two weeks before the elections, E&T was already predicting that fraud would be “inevitable,” especially in the elections for National Assembly representatives, given how publicly anxious Ortega was to end up with not just a simple parliamentary majority of 47 seats, but a qualified majority of 56. With the CSE’s result, Ortega will now govern from the executive branch with the maximum needed parliamentory majority of 62.
And with a parliamentary majority, what now? Looking at the representatives who will occupy these 62 seats, the hardline sector members who have been reelected will surely be the experienced political operators. The mostly unknown women who make up 60% of the other sector were put on the list by the government’s communication coordinator, First Lady Rosario Murillo.
With this obedient army of legislators, Ortega could throw himself into various adventures. The most glaring would be a constitutional reform that would establish indefinite presidential reelection and remove constitutional obstacles to future presidential candidacies, benefiting both himself and members of his family. Another would be to finally grant the party’s Councils of Citizen’s Power (CPCs) a state identity, as he tried to do in 2007 when newly in office, so he can fulfill his and his wife’s dream of “direct democracy” by the “People President.” Still other possibilities bandied about by worried opposition groups include accentuating the trend we’ve seen in his first term of judicializing politics by withdrawing immunities from adversaries; establishing new and more rigorous controls on NGOs, forcing them to either to collaborate with the official project or disappear; limiting media freedom of expression; changing the Organizational Law of the National Army; and exercising that new power to its extreme limit by calling a Constituent Assembly to totally reform the Constitution.
“We’re not going to do whatever we feel like”Ortega addressed such fears in the strangely modest and irrelevant indoor event at which he accepted his reelection some 48 hours after being blessed by the CSE. His audience was mainly young people, visibly altered by the celebration of power, wearing as uniforms their now customary artsy campaign T-shirts doodled with slogans, peace symbols and the like.
Ortega’s message was aimed at calming those fears, but it was less than totally convincing knowing his style and what it could become now that there’s no institutional counterweight to stop him. The centerpiece of his brief speech was directed to his allies in big capital, the new political opposi¬tion (can these adversaries, like the PLC, be bought off with posts?) and their rank-and-file, as well as all who rejected the fraudulent electoral process. “Some are already going around saying ‘Now they’re going to do outrageous things from the Assembly because they have a majority.’ No, we’re not going to grab all the posts for the FSLN now. We’d have to be crazy. We won’t do whatever we feel like now that we have an ample majority of legislators in the National Assembly. No, we’re not going to do whatever we want. We’re going to do what Nicaraguans want! And what do Nicaraguans want? Stability, tranquility. At this point Nicaraguans don’t want any more wars; they don’t want fights; they don’t want violence.”
Terror in Cusmapa At the very time Ortega was speaking, an act of political violence was taking place in the small rural indigenous community of El Carrizo, San Juan de Cusmapa, in the department of Madriz. Three members of the Torres Cruz family—one 70 years old, one 40 and one 24—were killed and two other sons of the elder man seriously wounded because they sympathized with the PLI Alliance, ostensibly because they had demanded their ID/voter cards and voted for Gadea. Firing off a barrage of bullets, about 30 Ortega sympathizers arrived at this community of around a hundred people in the dark of night. The group was headed up by the local police chief, backed by other police officers and accompanied by the area’s FSLN political secretary and the first member of the Municipal Electoral Council. In other words, the government, the party and the police joined together to kill defenseless adversaries.
As members of the group of former contras allied to Gadea recalled, it was a tragic sign that takes us back to the contra war of the eighties. In a macabre way it condenses what this vice-ridden electoral process has left behind in remote rural zones: peasant families fleeing into the bush, people receiving death threats for their political preferences, rivalries resolved at machete point and a growing defenselessness due to the lack of neutrality and the party bias the Police are demonstrating with increasing clarity. In brief, a return to the fears and the violence of the war years.
Living in two different worldsIn the first two weeks after these elections, unprecedented in the country’s very brief electoral history, no official or unofficial pro-government sectors expressed even a hint of rejection, incredulity or disagreement with the CSE results. Only with careful reserve and in trusted circles did some government officials mention their disgust and disbelief at the 62% victory. Some FSLN voters dared to cautiously suggest to some media that something was wrong, such as the young man on a street corner in Nueva Guinea, who sadly confessed to a journalist, “I don’t like winning that way; I wanted to win cleanly.”
Runner-up candidate Fabio Gadea refused to acknowledge the result in the early hours of November 7. The next day he declared that the fraud had “unprecedented modalities and pro¬portions” and that the elections should be annulled. Of all the sectors amassed in the PLI Alliance, the Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS) and the former Resistance members (contras) have spoken with the clearest voices about fraud and have been the most determined to start organizing their bases for a civic resistance.
The Civil Coordinator, the umbrella group for the majority of NGOs around the country, also demanded annulment of the elections. For their part, the big business leaders of the Superior Council of Private Enterprise (COSEP) called for the firing of the CSE magistrates because they are “an obstacle to development and democracy in the country” and insisted that the CSE post the election results on its web page voting table by voting table, which it didn’t do. The country’s two national newspapers and two national TV channels that are still independent of the official monothematic discourse have exhaustively reported on the protests, declarations and demands for transparency around the country, also expressing their own displeasure with the process. In the weeks following the elections, surfing the official and pro-government media and the few inde¬pendent ones left gave a sense of journalistic schizophrenia, as if one was living in two different countries.
The European Union At noon on November 8, as scheduled, the European Union Electoral Observer Mission released its preliminary report. Without mentioning the word “fraud,” it noted the illegalities that had accompanied the process and election day itself.
and the OAS
“We couldn’t say any more; I think we’ve said plenty,” remarked a short-term EU Mission observer to envío before returning to his country. “The enormous expectations placed in us by people opposed to the government worried us a lot.”
OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza had sent a message on November 7 congratulating Ortega and stating that these elections had been an “advance toward democracy and peace” in Nicaragua, but three days later he took his words back in an interview with journalist Andrés Oppenheimer. On November 15, mission chief Dante Caputo presented his report to the OAS Permanent Council which agreed with the EU report on many points and underscored the “longstanding” struc¬tural problems affecting Nicaragua’s electoral system.
The United States Two weeks after Ortega’s steamroller victory, the continued lack of recognition of the results by the US government and those of the European Union countries had big national capital, COSEP’s business leaders and other sectors of economic life on tenterhooks. By then, US State Department spokespeople had issued various messages, each more “concerned” than the previous one by the news coming from Nicaragua.
voices serious concern
The distance the US and European governments have put between themselves and the election results will have very negative consequences for the bilateral cooperation projects and financing Nicaragua receives. It will also tarnish what are today called “business climate” and “country risk” indicators, which foreign investors, regardless of their political stripe, use to make their decisions and moves.
Alemán’s future The months of electoral campaigning and these dishonest elections have changed the national political panorama, showing new potentials for the opposition, which is now called upon to deal with a government that will not just have the authoritarian tendencies of the past five years, but could shape itself into a genuine dictatorship.
isn’t looking rosy
Alemán is out of the game after over ten years of his calamitous pact with Ortega, consolidated when Alemán was in power and Ortega in the opposition and the point of departure for all the ills now riddling the state institutions, including the electoral branch’s total internal collapse. Will it be for good this time?
A large part of the Liberal rank-and-file that have been organizationally and emotionally loyal to the PLC flag since 1990 emigrated this time to the Liberal option represented by Fabio Gadea. It’s a repeat of what happened in 2006, when the newly formed Nicaraguan Liberal Alliance (ALN), created and at that time headed by PLC dissident Eduardo Montealegre, succeeded in pushing the PLC into third place by one percentage point in its very first election appearance. After this new and far worse third-place defeat for the PLC, Alemán will have very little credibility if he returns to the political game, which he surely will do.
The figures the CSE members “adjusted” left Alemán with barely two representatives in the National Assembly, while even Alemán himself is excluded, as only the first runner-up in the presidential race is guaranteed a National Assembly seat. How much of this pathetic showing was the governing party getting even with Alemán because he could never guarantee Ortega enough of the PLC bench vote to reform the Constitution and thus avoid the high political cost he has had to pay for his controversial unconstitutional candidacy? And how much was his own party’s base getting even with him for the pact that permitted Ortega to win in the first place?
This leaves only one caudilloIn its first term, the Ortega government fit the pattern of Latin America’s traditional caudillo, or political strongman governments (personality cult, populist demagogy, handout clientelism, scorn for the law, iron control over institutions, zealous desire to remain in power, fortune amassed from the state coffers…). Now, with total control of the one remaining independent branch of State, and Ortega’s caudillo opponent/pact partner cut down to size, the last obstacles to Ortega’s megalomania are removed. Will his caudillista tendencies grow unfettered? In any event, it’s a new moment for the country. The challenge is now to construct a civic opposition to one single, very powerful caudillo rather than sitting back impotently watching two of them play out their complex and ruthless games.
The heterogeneous political coalition and the social backing Fabio Gadea achieved in such a short time doesn’t smack of the unconditional support demanded by caudillos. Gadea isn’t a caudillo and the PLI Alliance wasn’t a structure loyal to him. Moreover, the bulk of its voters put their cross in the PLI box on November 6 as a calculated civic protest, not with party fervor or any idealizing of the candidate.
The multicolor conglomerate of interests represented in the group that gathered around Gadea in an alliance urgently built for an electoral event is bifurcating into at least two paths. One is that of a parliamentary minority of legislators who will take their seats and surely participate in the now traditional self-serving opportunism, negotiating and making pacts with Ortega around government posts, perks and quotas of power. The other is that of principled legislators who, independent of whether they take their seats or not, have promised to accompany the people who banked on their option with the hope not of receiving sheet metal roofing but of recovering their civil liberties and citizen’s rights.
The challenge to this fragile, skittish opposition to Ortega from the traditional parties is enormous.
Two unforeseen The project of Ortega and his group came up against two unforeseen obstacles at the end of their unstoppable reelection race. One was the consequences, surely not sufficiently calculated, of having invited the European Union Mission in August, when the electoral polarization wasn’t felt as clearly but Ortega was in need of a credible victory. While the CSE rejected national observers, it had to invite international ones in order to legitimatize the election victory of the incumbent candidate. But only in hindsight has it realized the cost of the public declara¬tions of a mission committed to the truth, albeit phrased as diplomatically as possible.
The second obstacle—the social phenomenon represented by Fabio Gadea’s candidacy—was more deter¬minant. The 80-year-old presidential hopeful played his role persistently and passionately. In an intense non-stop campaign, he made appearances all around the country, with very simple speeches that some even considered elementary, promising something fundamental for this country: an honest government for all, an honorable one with officials that wouldn’t steal. Ortega, in contrast, leans toward exclusion and is championing corrup¬tion with the open and seemingly bottomless treasure chest of hundreds of millions of dollars in Venezuelan cooperation.
Having already established a presence in the furthest corners of the country thanks to the popularity of “Pancho Madrigal,” the radio character Gadea created 50 years ago, and his powerful voice on Radio Corporación, the station he has directed for decades, the PLI Alliance candidate easily captured the imagination of a good sector of the liberal rural population and little by little the urban population, even in Managua. He attracted people convinced that what was at stake in these elections was not the ideal candidate or the best program, but rather putting a stop to President Ortega’s exclusionary authoritarianism.
When Gadea agreed to run in August 2010, no one could have imagined he would give such a significant spin to the electoral competition, which at the time appeared to be locked up. During the past year, some have insisted that participating in these elections, whether as candidate or voter, would only legitimize Ortega’s candidacy and the illegalities the CSE was putting in place. But reality has shown that Gadea’s mere participation and the vote of those who opted for him could unmask the real intentions of the Ortega family-controlled FSLN.
Nicaragua is pluralNicaragua is not the same country it was in the eighties.
* It is an increasingly pluralist society and urgently needs political options that represent that plurality.
* There are very active women’s organizations throughout the country that have worked for many years to open women’s awareness to new ideas.
* The idea that “rights not defended are rights that are lost,” as the Nicaraguan Human Rights Center has been teaching for more than 15 years, has taken hold in the minds of many.
* More than a million Nicaraguans have emigrated to Costa Rica, the United States, Spain and other countries. When they return or come to visit relatives they tell of things they never saw in Nicaragua: stable institutions that work better, civic tolerance, ethical public servants...
What the FSLN has offered the country in these five years is not pluralism and is not responsive to these changes: it’s an option of massive social handouts with the quasi-religious spirit of traditional “charity,” at the price of installing a form of universal group thinking, a single mindset that doesn’t value the rule of law but rather the ruler who supplants it. It’s an option that’s particularly counts on molding this kind of uncritical thinking among a new batch of young people who, proudly donning their identical T-shirts, applaud their leaders, repeat their slogans and unthinkingly attack the adversary.
Nicaragua’s first The generational change and the globalization of information through new communication technologies are also rapidly changing Nicaraguan society, which previously clung so fiercely to obsolete traditions and routines.
The meticulous Nicaraguan journalist Mildred Largaespada noted in her blog during this election event: “These were the first elections in which people issued their opinion using all the potential of the social networks. Blogs, Twitter and Facebook were on fire on the days leading up to and after the elections….
“I closely followed how FSLN and PLI Alliance sympathizers expressed themselves. Ortega’s followers virtually don’t participate in debates in Facebook. The only thing they know as a communication strategy is that one must listen to Rosario Murillo’s voice in the media and obey it. The PLI sympathizers have a little more room for debate, but only a little more. Those who enlivened the political debate were a whole bunch ofsharp independent people.”
Egypt in Nicaragua?Inspired by the revolution in Egypt, which has infected indignant young people around the world, there are those who dream that these new communication technologies could soon produce a change in Nicaragua. But the penetrating Nicaraguan economist Adolfo Acevedo added a major dose of realism to any comparisons between the conditions in Egypt and in Nicaragua.
Egyptians have much greater access to Internet: more than 20 per 100 inhabitants compared to under 5 per 100 in Nicaragua. Egypt’s per-capita income is three times greater than Nicaragua’s. Its extreme poverty levels are nearly half what they are here, with 18% of Egyptians living on $2 a day compared to almost 32% here. Furthermore, Acevedo explained, the real detonator in Egypt was the enormous open youth unemployment, which is not a major characteristic of Nicaragua’s poorest populations. Here the problem is the precarious employment and underemployment, and the tens of thousands of young people who have an extremely low education level and are neither studying nor seeking employment.
“In Egypt,” he adds, “Mubarak had nothing to offer young people, opened to the world through massive access to Internet and frustrated by the massive unemployment. In Nicaragua the government is corrupting these lumpenized and easily lumpenizable youths and giving them a sense of power.” Many of them were prominent participants in the fraudulent tricks implemented at numerous voting tables.
Seeds that could sproutThe months of the electoral campaign have, however, shown the germ of some positive realities. Years and years of working to create awareness of citizens’ rights and participation translated into the organized, consistent, largely civic and risky insistence with which the poor in more than 40 rural municipalities demanded their ID/voter card from the CSE. Perhaps nowhere in the world has the demand for something so basic as an ID card, required not just for voting but for every official procedure imaginable, produced such firm and occasionally dramatic mobilizations.
They are harbingers of a democratic advance, the kind that gets expressed when the citizenry has to demand its rights from state authorities and insist that public officials act responsibly. In all those municipalities, many of which suffered the worst hardships of the war of the eighties, there’s a germ of social organization that could be nourished and accompanied.
The national electoral observation organizations, excluded by the CSE, also took a major democratic step with their campaigns to make all voters observers of the process and defenders of their vote. The result is a sector of the population familiarized with the repercussions of the electoral process and thus better prepared to discuss electoral issues, which at the end of the day are, or could become, political issues as well. That has never happened before in Nicaragua’s elections.
The PLI Alliance monitors, particularly those organized by the MRS, are now preparing to channel their indignation and study all the lessons from the problems they faced and experience they acquired in these elections so they can organize as a network of citizens for democracy.
These are all just seeds, but every one of Nicaragua’s majestic and massive Guanacaste trees was also once just a seed.
Two heavy yokes Will a new political scenario arise from the ashes of this electoral crisis? After the other seeds, those of conflict and extreme polarization sown in our society by the fraudulent results of these elections, one of the most strategic open questions is whether the unanticipated spin that “old man” Gadea succeeded in giving the electoral competition and the frustration expressed by his voters over the electoral mockery and swindle will translate into resistance or into more fatalistic and impotent resignation.
Will we see the start of an authentic shift in the national dynamic? It’s hard for this to happen in the near future, because the traditional political culture and its accompanying social tolerance, perk-driven political hackery and resigned religiosity are yokes that will require more time to remove. Ortega will surely buttress these cultural yokes to consolidate the absolute power of his “crushing” victory, and will continue using God’s name in vain to legitimate it. Barely a week after the elections, he was already looking to offer opposi¬tion leaders impunity, economic privileges and new quotas of power, among other goodies.
A lot of time will have to pass before we know just how much Nicaragua lost this time, and how much the population on both sides may have learned from this new crisis. There has been an abundance of calls for peace and stability following the electoral tragedy, from both religious and political sources. But one of the lessons that need to be studied after everything that has happened is that peace isn’t just the absence of violence; it’s the absence of inequalities.
What they’re saying about the elections
Hugo Chávez“Dear Daniel, my brother: In reality and in truth we began to celebrate your birthday (November 11) as of last Sunday, with the birthday of the hope of Nicaragua’s Sandinista people. And there is no better congratulation than the one you received on that historic November 6: a collective majority congratulation in which the people’s will was expressed with all its force and all its love. Our peoples congratulate you, Daniel, with the infinite certainty that Sandino lives. How can we not recall his prophecy, which has again been fulfilled on November 6?: ‘Someday we shall be victorious. And if I do not see it, the little ants will come to tell me of it beneath the dirt.’ I know the little ants have now transmitted the most beautiful message to him; they have already told him he is again the victory with and in his people.’”
Fidel Castro“Seventy-two hours ago, on Sunday, November 6, there was a general election in which Daniel Ortega and Nicaragua’s FSLN won a crushing victory…. I must say that the elections in Nicaragua were in the traditional bourgeois style, which are in no way fair or equitable, in that the anti-national and pro-imperialist sectors have a standard monopoly of economic and publicity resources which in general and especially in our hemisphere are at the service of the empire’s political and military interests, which only highlights the magnitude of the Sandinista victory…. I know Daniel well; he never adopted extremist positions and was always invariably faithful to basic principles…. Daniel’s fundamental role, and in my opinion the reason for his smashing victory, is that he never moved away from the contracts with the people and the incessant struggle for their wellbeing. He is today a genuinely experienced leader who was able to handle complex and difficult situations starting back in the years in which his country was again under the aegis of rapacious capitalism. He knows how to manage complicated problems intelligently, what he can or cannot, and must or must not do to ensure peace and the sustained progress of the country’s economic and social development. He knows very well that he owes his steamroller victory to his heroic and valiant people, to their ample participation and almost two thirds of the votes in his favor.”
Civil Society “We respect the decision of a sector of the population to support the governing party with its vote, because it is a civic right. Nonetheless, we cannot accept that the right of citizens to vote in equal conditions has been transgressed. We repeat that, although plagued with illegalities from the outset, the electoral process represented an opportunity to resolve the political, social and economic problems by the civic route.
“The people of Nicaragua showed their desire for peace by turning to the ballot box and by defending their vote through mobilization and public denunciation. But that desire was violated by the President of the Republic through his absolute control of the de facto Supreme Electoral Council. We do not recognize these elections. The way they were carried out was an abuse of Nicaraguans and has triggered justifiable indignation.” (Civil Coordinator and other social organizations, following a November 7 demonstration in opposition to the electoral fraud)
Sergio Ramírez“There were over 12,000 Vote Reception Juntas in these elections, and in nearly 4,000 of them the official party ended up alone, counting the votes as it pleased. Where there wasn’t a single opposition monitor, the voter was up against the directors of the electoral table, which are either from or close to the official party; the monitors for the official party; and the electoral police named by the Ministry of Government, in other words by the official party. And in all the other structures, from bottom to top, there was the official party with its thousand hands and thousand faces, right up to the Supreme Electoral Council, consisting entirely of magistrates of the official party or loyal to it. An entire theatrical machinery in which the lead actors and supporting cast, stage hands, warm-up acts, prompters, script writers and librettists belong without exception to the official party. A great stage set. A great farce. Did Comandante Daniel Ortega win these elections? How many votes did he really get? How many votes did his opponent Fabio Gadea Mantilla really get? It appears we may never know.”
Bishop Carlos Enrique HerreraThree days before the Nicaraguan bishops issued their November 16 statement on the electoral results, the Franciscan Carlos Enrique Herrera, bishop of Jinotega, said of them: “It can be perceived in the air in the post-electoral period that there have been many irregularities, which wrested from each citizen the freedom of decision about his/her vote. There are even citizens who feel persecuted because they belong to other parties. They feel the lack of civic liberty, the non-issuing of ID/voter cards and the intimidating environment.”
He also referred to the youth. “The young people in our country are easy to manipulate and trick. Adults and those who enjoy political power in Nicaragua are not helping to build a healthy and free youth, but rather a youth that is a slave to feelings and resentments…. We have constantly been praying that we will enter into a stage of reflection, of maturity and of teaching the youth and adolescents in Nicaragua that they are the majority of the population, that together we can build a new society of respect in freedom. Only that way can we build peace with justice. We must defend freedom. It is our duty and our right.”
James Petras“Ortega apparently won overwhelmingly. It is a victory that’s not repeating what happened in the eighties, even though it is the same figure, Daniel Ortega. In this case the victory is not the result of a revolutionary or transforming policy. In large measure, Ortega’s victory is really the victory of President Chávez, because the social programs in Nicaragua are coming from Venezuela’s financing and oil subsidies and the social programs have been instrumentalized with the construction of new houses or materials for new houses, the giving of cows, etc. There is no structural change in Nicaragua. Lately Ortega has made agreements for free trade zones with the offshore sweatshops of big capital and is still in alliance with the Right of corrupt Arnoldo Alemán, who ran as a candidate…. Ortega is a politician of patchwork policies: patches here, patches there. We mustn’t be confused: a victory for Ortega does not represent a great victory for the Left. It is one more victory for the Center-Right with Chávez’s support. Without Chávez’s social policy in Nicaragua I doubt Ortega would win, at least not with that margin.”
US Embassy Chargé D’affairs“We agree with the electoral missions of the OAS and the EU that the process was not transparent and more important that there were irregularities in the process over the past two years.... We are committed to the people [of Nicaragua] and we will continue, but every action has its consequences. That’s not a threat; it’s a fact.”
A voter“On November 6, at 8:30am, I wentto vote, but something that ought to be a routine exercise became a sad experience for me. I have no doubt that Danielismo is going to win. A good percentage of the population is going to vote for him and it’s very clear to my why. I understand them. If I were in their place I would surely vote for the FSLN. If I didn’t have a job, if I didn’t have resources to ensure education and health for my children, a roof and food, the promise that Zero Hunger is coming soon to knock on my door would sound very attractive. And the promise of free education would also be very attractive, even though nobody would give me anything for the bus, the uniform and the books, and even if that free education would only be good enough to half teach my children to read.
The voice of the First Lady would surely convince me that so many social projects would change my life. Because if I didn’t have anything, democracy would be nothing more than a word. So for all those reasons, my question is this: What motivates them to win crookedly if they can win honestly? Why pay an army of ill-tempered people to prowl around the voting tables and fill the voting centers with so many unaccredited people? Why change the rules at the last moment to put the codes on the ballots ahead of time? What’s behind all this? Aren’t they satisfied with the people that want to vote for them? Do they have a hidden agenda that nobody knows about?”
Vilma Núñez de Escorcia“I can’t find the words to describe in its full dimension the magnitude of the tragedy to which the boundless ambitions of the unscrupulous, unethical, immoral Daniel Ortega are leading the people of Nicaragua. Here he has consummated the dirtiest fraud. We must not remain only indignant. We must struggle to stop this dictatorship being consolidated. I’ll take the risk that these people in government, ignorant of the issue of human rights, will misinterpret this, but recognition of the right to rebellion exists in the preamble of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: when all legal spaces for claiming your rights have been closed to you, people are obliged to turn to rebellion, to protest and to struggle.”
The bishopsThe last sector to issue a statement about the elections was the Bishops’ Conference. It did so on November 16, just as this issue of envío was closing. The bishops said: “First of all, we would like to express our admiration to that great majority of Nicaraguans who so decisively participated in this electoral process… It must be said, however, that, due to the irregularities that have characterized this electoral process from the outset, this mature and civic determination of Nicaraguan voters has not been respected as is proper in an authentic democratic system…. The Supreme Electoral Council has been incapable of exercising its functions responsibly and honestly, acting with the kind of transparency in the vote count that would not allow even the most minimum doubt about respect for the people’s will…. Logically this has produced real discontent in a large number of our people regarding the official results, which do not offer a guarantee of faithfully reflecting that popular will. The legitimacy of the electoral process and respect for the people’s will have thus been cast totally into doubt. As believers we are firmly convinced that any dishonest action that goes against the sovereignty of the people is not just simply ethically negative but is also reprehensible in the eyes of God, who expects civil authorities to be the first to know the law and to respect and enforce the requirements of justice.
“The uncertainty that has been created in the country must not be a motive for despondence. Rather, it should lead us to grow and mature as a society, reunified around an aware citizenry responsible for its rights and duties and committed to peace, which is the fruit of justice. If we must demand that the institutions fulfill their duty and that the branches of State respond to their obligations through all manner of public and private manifestations in the framework of human rights, it must always be done peacefully…. We demand that the police authorities and any other group respect people’s right to mobilize and demonstrate peacefully…. There is an urgent need to recover the rule of law, in which power is subject to law. If this is not achieved, there will be no democratic progress in Nicaragua, and the errors of the past will continually be repeated, which could lead the country into greater divisions, violent confrontations and economic and social reversals, with all the burden this represents for families and for each individual citizen. It is the obligation of politicians, and mainly of the government, to urgently find the best legal and civic solution to the country’s current crisis. Nicaragua needs all of its sons and daughters to be able to reach out to each other and live side by side in a society based in truth, tolerance and justice, in which we can all recognize ourselves.”
Tomás Borge The gruesome death of Libyan leader Moammar Khadafi occurred on October 20, in the final run-up to Nicaragua’s elections. Although President/candidate for reelection Daniel Ortega had expressed his total backing for his “beloved brother” Khadafi several times from the start of the revolts in Libya, neither he nor the official media made even the smallest allusion to his pathetic end. Nearly three weeks later, three days after the November 6 elections, Comandante of the Revolution Tomás Borge finally explained: “Daniel didn’t distance himself from that event. I believe he was prudent not to talk at that moment because it was going to be exploited by the Right. Even I said nothing, because it could have been manipulated for the electoral process, but now with all transparency I am saying thatelectoral process, but now with all transparency I am saying that Khadafi was our friend and that he died as he had always pledged he would: heroically, assassinated in an atrocious manner.”
Henry RuizIn contrast, Comandante of the Revolution Henry Ruiz did refer to Khadafi’s death, the very next day: “Two lessons can be drawn from this death. One is for those who would build dynasties. The people finally end up recognizing that it must exterminate them. Khadafi had his good time, he abused it and has now become a victim of that abuse. There is also another lesson, and it is for the people: it can’t continue permitting the installation of that type of government. For Nicaragua it is the moment to learn that lesson.”