Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 419 | Junio 2016



Though Ortega holds a stacked deck, the opposition played its first cards

Starting with the delayed official call for the elections, the electoral branch has given one sign after another that the script for November 6 has already been written, and the election deck is stacked in Daniel Ortega’s favor. The opposition has the immense challenge of convincing voters that better times are ahead, that it’s playing to win, and that it’s capable of transforming things if it does.

Envío team

On May 6, at the last possible legal minute, the Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) finally issued the official call for this year’s general elections. It didn’t advise the independent press of the activity or allow those journalists who were invited to ask any questions. Never before in over 30 years of elections since the overthrow of the Somoza dynasty have they opened to such confusion and disenchantment.

First proof of a stacked deck

As is customary at this event, the CSE presented the electoral calendar, a crucial tool the political parties need to organize and prepare their strategy. This year’s calendar contained the first proof that the deck is stacked and the house will win.

The CSE presented it on a Friday, and gave the parties only three calendar days to present any observations and objections, when the norm is a full week. Some parties presented them on Monday, while others didn’t bother, but on Tuesday the calendar was “approved” with none of the observations or objections having been taken into consideration.

Among other holes, the calendar doesn’t establish when the regulations and manuals that will govern the electoral process will be published. In previous elections, the CSE at least set a date, although it then published them late, incomplete or with last-minute changes aimed at scuttling the organization of the opposition parties.

Nor does the calendar establish when the cleansed voter lists will be published. Among other incongruences, shortly before the 2011 elections the CSE created what it called a “passive list” of those who hadn’t voted for the past three elections and an “active list,” of those who had. This was supposedly done to update the rolls, but both are full of anomalies. The active list included names of people who were deceased, some even for years, but allegedly those same names were then ticked off as having “voted” for the governing Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN). Dionisio Palacios, a former director of the CSE’s ID-voter card department who was removed from his post in 2005 in one of the strong shock waves of the disgraceful pact between Ortega and then-President Arnoldo Alemán, head of the Constitutionalist Liberal Party (PLC), says the disorder created by the two lists is intentional because it serves the Sandi¬nistas. In addition to this provoked confusion, the CSE only gave Ortega’s party a full voters’ list in recent elections, complete with data and photos, while the opposition parties got a partial list.

The calendar also set no date for publication of the exact number of votes cast by voting table, as the Electoral Law requires. Starting with the watershed 2008 municipal elections, when fraud determined many results, the CSE has been violating the law by publishing only general results by municipality but not by voting table, thus obscuring the results in communities that are quite sure Ortega’s party could not have legitimately won the mayoral elections in their municipality. That tactic became standard practice in the 2011 general elections and the next municipal ones the following year.

After studying the calendar, Palacios concluded that “they already have the results. It’s not that a fraud is in the works; it’s ready.” Is he exaggerating? At the very least, what does seem to be ready is one objective of Ortega’s electoral game: to promote abstention by discouraging the voting population. He won’t need fraud if participation is low, as FSLN members turn out with almost military discipline.

“Hints” to the Coalition
to drop out of the race

Ortega’s other objective is to get the National Coalition for Democracy, the only pluralist opposition option in the elections, to drop out of the running. A number of specific anomalies indicate that Ortega wants a simulated election in which he effectively runs unchallenged.

The first is that the FSLN chairs 9 of the country’s 17 Departmental and Regional Electoral Councils (CEDs and CERs), respectively, while the Independent Liberal Party (PLI), which finished second in 2011, chairs the other 8. So far so good. The problem is that while the CSE invited the FSLN’s 9 Council presidents, it didn’t invite the PLI’s 8, opting instead to invite the FSLN’s “coordinators” of those Councils.

That’s only part of this particular anomaly. The other part is that these “coordinators” aren’t even legal. The CSE imposed them in the 2011 elections in the CEDs, CERs and Municipal Electoral Councils (CEMs), and even in each voting center. The 51-page final report issued by the European Union’s observer mission that year singled these individuals out as one of the “limitations to the transparency” of the elections that year. It “recom¬mends that the CSE cease to rely on figures not provided for by law, such as the voting center coordinators, and the ‘route managers’ (técnicos de ruta), to whom the CSE assigned crucial functions during the voting, counting and transmission of results forms. These functions could not be audited by opposition parties, whose members were not considered for selection for these posts.”

Another anomaly aims even more below the belt. The CSE granted the PLI’s legal representation to Eduardo Montealegre, its current director, in 2014, yet this year it invited “three other PLIs” to participate in these elections. All three of these tiny factions have been claiming they represent the party since 2010. The Supreme Court has had this dispute on its docket for years without resolving it, but in recent months it has been declaring that its ruling will establish “which is the real PLI.” It intentionally left the issue dangling to exert pressure on the PLI-led coalition and allow Ortega to negotiate with politicians of all four and decide which one he wants to run against.

Next anomaly. on June 3, the day the electoral calendar sets for the CSE to accredit and swear in the presidents and other members of each CED and CER, the PLI’s 34 choices, both full members and alternates, arrived at the designated place, but were promptly ushered back out. The CSE alleged that it was following a Supreme Court resolution ordering it not to swear in anybody from the PLI in any CED or CER until the dispute between them is resolved. This manipulation paralyzed the accreditation of the electoral authorities in nearly half the country, a new sign of arbitrariness calculated to make the Coalition throw in the towel in disgust and frustration.

Once accredited, CED and CER presidents become part of the State’s electoral structure and are tasked with selecting CEM presidents and members from lists presented by the parties running in the elections. In yet another anomaly, the CSE will handle this task itself this year, another sign Ortega is playing with marked cards.

If he wants to
legitimize his rule…

For months the media, this one included, have been commenting on how much Ortega wants and needs to legitimize his reelection, and that this will only come from a genuinely competitive process with the presence of national and international observers. All analyses also agree that Ortega has no reason to fear independent observers given the significant majority he continually pulls in the polls and an opposition weaker than it was in 2011, when the coalition candidacy of Fabio Gadea and Edmundo Jarquín raised the hopes of a good part of the population.

The logic was that Ortega does, however, have reason to fear the international reaction a new fraud in Nicaragua would bring, as he is more vulnerable than in previous years. He has been losing allies in the continent due to the political changes taking place, and his government is now experiencing Venezuela’s crisis first hand. It was reported that the Venezuelan partner in Albanisa, the joint venture with Nicaragua set up to invest the income from the Venezuelan oil deal, recently audited Albanisa’s operations and decided to curtail the discretionality with which the presidential family has used the hundreds of millions flowing into that consortium.

“Electoral specialists”

Unlike in previous elections, the demand for electoral observation is virtually unanimous today. Every Wednesday for over a year now, the parties and other groups in the PLI coalition have picketed the CSE’s Managua headquarters demanding observers. Even Ortega’s main ally, big capital, has urged that they be invited. So have the Catholic hierarchy and much of the population, not only those who reject the government but also those who back it, at least according to all polls in recent months.

Given this overwhelming clamor, the most significant hole in the fudged electoral calendar presented by the CSE is that it assigns no date for inviting national and international missions to observe whether the different moments of the process are in line with national legislation and international standards, as the electoral law demands.

In calling for the elections, Roberto Rivas—who still heads the CSE despite earlier indications that Ortega was going to replace him with his second-in-command, Lumberto Campbell, a merely cosmetic change in the most questioned feature of the CSE’s deteriorated face—mentioned nothing about observers, or even “accom¬paniers,” to use his term from 2011. What he did announce was the presence of 14 “electoral specialists,” all of them former electoral officials in other Latin American countries, implying that they would substitute for the independent observers.

In her daily message to the nation, Ortega’s wife Rosario Murillo, whose many roles include being the govern¬ment’s communication secretary, reported that “an impressive list of electoral experts from Our America has been presented and is being invited to apply their experience.”

“We’ve made it clear”

This list doesn’t seem to have exactly bowled over those demanding observers. Three days after the call for elections, the US Ambassador in Managua, Laura Dogu, tweeted that “Nicaraguans deserve recognized international observation, not accompaniment.” She continued her one-liners on the subject well into June: “We continue to encourage the government of #Nicaragua to allow electoral observers as requested by Nicaraguans.”

In a White House press conference on May 19, State Department spokesperson John Kirby made a declaration presumably shared by the various government structures and agencies in Washington: “As we’ve said and made clear, allowing internationally recognized election observers to freely monitor elections will only strengthen Nicaragua…. We believe it’s important for Nicaragua, and again, we urge them to make that kind of an invitation.”

The European Union’s Ambassador to Nicaragua, Kenny Bell, said that the “time factor” is fundamental to respond positively to the CSE invitation. He first said they would need to be invited six months ahead of the election date, and later amended that to perhaps five months … The elections are now less than five months away.

“We are demoralizing society”

In this contest of wearing down and endless waiting, Nicaragua’s Institute for Development and Democracy (IPADE) did throw in the towel. In a terse communique on May 20 it announced that it will not observe the November 6 elections. While offering no reasons, it stated that IPADE will continue prioritizing the local development programs and actions that are also part of its mission.

That decision was very likely based on the lack of guarantees in this year’s process. In 2012, Mauricio Zúñiga, who headed IPADE’s electoral observation mission in recent years, discussed the roots of Nicaragua’s electoral crisis in envoi: “The original logic by which the FSLN and the PLC designed the electoral branch was that the sum of two party partialities would generate an impartial institution; i.e. each party appointed two of the five magistrates and the fifth, a protégé of Cardinal Obando, would supposedly be a neutral tie breaker, above party loyalties. That logic might function in countries with a solid democratic culture and a politically acceptable institutionality. But in our country the scheme soon collapsed with the ongoing re-jigging of power quotas and the political class’ intransigent maintenance of two irreconcilable models of society.”

It was precisely the re-jigging of power quotas that spawned that pact and has subsequently been debilitating all parties and their leaders, including the ones that forged it. None of them are motivated to transform Nicaragua; all they want is more and more power, which always comes partnered with corruption. National Assembly representative Eliseo Núñez, formerly of the PLC and now with the PLI, hit the nail on the head: “There were Liberals, and I include myself among them, who committed the error of defending a corrupt President [Alemán]). We know the damage that did, which was to destroy a country’s morality. We in Nicaragua destroyed the capacity to believe in politics given the corruption.”

The population increasingly resents that damage. It perceives that even though most politicians still fill their speeches with commonplace platitudes such as “I love Nicaragua,” “I think about Nicaragua,” “I make decisions for Nicaragua,” they make no effort to prove it in the way they live their personal lives or in coherent proposals for the country that would presuppose recognizing, renouncing, sharing, changing…

Today’s distrust of politicians and their promises has been feeding the apathy that a good part of the population fed up with the Ortega-Murillo model will be showing when they turn up (or don’t) at those elections.

Unity vs. a massive
vote plus observers

Two arguments have been heard in recent months about what would shake off the demoralization and apathy among the opposition population and might even beat Ortega.

The parties, groups and individual politicians claiming to be opposition that are circling around the PLC insist that Ortega can only be beaten by uniting the opposition. The unity they have in mind is one in which Alemán and the PLC he still has under his control would have to participate. But all attempts made and unmade recently come up against Alemán’s determination to continue negotiating quotas of power with Ortega. In early April a La Prensa editorial mentioned a rumor circulating in the political corridors that the CSE would “give” the PLC second place in these elections, displacing the PLI-Sandinista Renovation Movement coalition from that legitimately-won position.

The other line is coming from the parties, groups and individual politicians that make up the PLI coalition. They insist that the key to beating Ortega isn’t a forced unity, and certainly not one with the PLC, but the combination of independent and credible national and international electoral observation plus massive voter turnout.

One thing propels the other. Independent observers would give the population confidence and a belief in guarantees, which could persuade people to go out to vote en masse. Should that happen we would get a true picture of the rejection the opposition claims the Ortega-Murillo government has reaped. In turn, massive voting would make it difficult, if not impossible for Ortega to pull off another fraud, even holding a stacked deck. Meanwhile, no one seems to be giving enough thought to a serious and feasible alternative government program that could win over voters.

Could history repeat itself?

Ortega would appear to be marking the cards so far ahead of time, and wanting to run uncontested because he fears the combination of a massive turnout with the presence of observers. Does he not believe the polls that show him such a favorite? Does he actually recognize that his authoritarian and widely intimidating style of government might be making people fearful of telling the truth in polls? Might the governing party’s private polls actually be putting the lie to the public ones, thus feeding his insecurity?

A massive turnout and observation were the ingredients of the 1990 electoral upset, when Ortega lost to Violeta Chamorro. The most optimistic members of the opposition believe history could repeat itself with this same recipe.

At least four elements, however, make today’s situation totally different: 1) in 1990 Nicaragua had been suffering an exhausting and destructive war for nine years; 2) Chamorro ran on the most appealing promise imaginable—eliminate the draft—but today the opposition has no promise with anything like the same weight; 3) the FSLN of that time didn’t even suspect it might lose the elections, acting cocky rather than making people feel their vote counted, whereas today it is armed with every stratagem imaginable to prevent a repeat defeat; and 4) in 1990 the electoral branch of government respected the law.

It also must be asked whether the Nicaraguan population contains such a desperate and discontented critical mass so fed up with the Ortega-Murillo model that it would pay whatever price to vote Ortega out of office. It hasn’t escaped most voters’ attention that no opposition candidate is proposing the kinds of programs for the poor that the FSLN government has offered these past 10 years.

Ortega’s pro-
abstention stratagems

Avoiding the “unity” of all the parties is no problem for Ortega as he’s logged years sowing dissention, playing one off the other in the power quota game. Dodging the pressure to invite international observers isn’t so easy. What he can do, and is doing, is try to avoid a massive voter turnout by provoking the Coalition’s withdrawal.

The governing party is also encouraging abstention in Managua and other urban zones by sending out frequent signals about the lack of guarantees. People are increasingly saying “Why bother to vote if they’re going to steal it anyway?” In rural areas the recipe is a combo of selective issuing of ID-voter cards with harassment, intimidation and calling in the Army. Here people’s conclusion is either “We’re afraid to go vote” or “We can’t vote without the card.”

The CSE’s now traditional indolent behavior toward the peasant communities in traditionally anti-Sandi¬nista municipalities, particularly those in which politically motivated rearmed groups move, has become increasingly evident in the form of refusing non- or anti-Sandinista people their ID card or complicating the paperwork to obtain or replace one.

Ortega wants to
run uncontested

In CID-Gallup’s most recent national poll, taken in early May, only 31% of those surveyed now say they are “very determined” to vote. Another 22% say they are “semi-determined” while those “not very determined” or “determined not to” total 47%. Only 77% said they had an ID-voter card. Such numbers six months before the elections show the success so far of Ortega’s pro-abstention strategy. The same poll shows him the favored candidate with 57%.

His desire to run uncontested is favored by the lack of an opposition leadership that generates any confidence in a real change rather than just a new readjustment of power quotas, such as cutting deals to obtain legislative seats or other well-paid posts. So far no alternative leader or presidential candidate has been put forward who makes people feel he/she is up to the difficult challenge of changing things for the better in this country.

Comparing the National Coalition for Democracy’s campaign, platform and ticket with those of the coalition also led by the PLI and MRS that ran in 2011, this new incarnation appears more fragile overall. That year it had better candidates but less organization, while this year it has four more years of organizational development, but its candidates are hardly heavyweights.

The opposition
plays its first cards

The Coalition has now played its first cards. The presidential candidate is 57-year-old Luis Callejas, a doctor in the Contra’s ranks during the war of the eighties and a PLI representative to the National Assembly for the past 10 years. His running mate is 63-year-old Violeta Granera, a centrist social activist who has headed a number of NGOs, most recently the Movement for Nicaragua for seven years. She is better known than he is, particularly in urban areas, which makes them a balanced combination. Callejas will try to capture the traditional anti-Sandinista rural vote while Granera will go after the urban independents.

The Coalition has also chosen the candidate who will top its legislative slate for Managua: 32-year-old Berta Valle, carnival queen in 2003 and anchor of the Channel 14 morning program “Todo en positivo.” She is thus a well-known face and was the channel’s manager when she agreed to take the plunge into national politics.

Given that the “millennials,” as those born between 1990 and 2000 are known, make up 43% of Nicaragua’s registered voters, is Valle bait for the urban youth already active on Facebook and Twitter? Or is it a sign to big capital, Ortega’s self-serving allies, that the Coalition it is not committed to righting the todo en negative that is keeping Nicaragua the second-most impoverished country on the continent while the rich get only richer?

“Savage capital is to blame”

Aware of the contradictions between the presidential couple and within their circle about which of the two should be the presidential candidate, union leaders linked to the governing party proclaimed Daniel Ortega the indisputable and indispensable candidate throughout April and May. With that groundwork laid, the FSLN went through the motions of the various formal elements in the party’s institu¬tionality.

On May 16, the National Sandinista Council held a costly and brief assembly in a Managua hotel. Nothing was debated and the only thing approved was a resolution calling on the membership to “work on the elections.” Ortega told those attending that the government program for the next five years will be to “continue strengthening the Christian, socialist and solidary model.”

Four days later the National Sandinista Assembly was held, with a similar audience, whose only task was to applaud everything proposed and approve it with a show of hands. That time, aware that he couldn’t just offer “more of the same,” Ortega promised a new mega-project.

For an hour and a half the candidate played the role of environmentalist, referring to the havoc climate change is playing in Nicaragua and blaming “savage capitalism’s develop-mentalist project.” In a confusing presentation, he explained that the December 2015 climate agreement in Paris, which Nicaragua did not agree to, “does not resolve the underlying problem but rather protects the greatest poisoning of the planet.” Skipping from one topic to another he spoke very superficially of Nicaragua’s vulnerability, the increasingly unpredictable rains, the negative aspects of huge hydroelectric dam projects like Tumarín (see Nicaragua Briefs this month on how Brazil has suspended state funds for this project in Nicaragua), how urban paving blocks the recharging of the aquifers…

After this enumeration of environmental issues, Ortega broke the silence he and the entire pro-government media machine have kept in recent months. Meanwhile, civil organizations and independent media were desperately trying to focus attention on the country’s environmental crisis after three years of drought, aggravated by the lack of political will to enforce the environmental laws or change the development model that has prevailed in Nicaragua for centuries. That model, precisely one of savage capitalism, which destroys forests, promotes monocropping and exhausts water sources and soils, has been championed by Ortega in alliance with big capital.

Ortega’s electoral promise

Ortega’s disorderly flood of “environmental concerns” was followed by him introducing the “project the FSLN’s government program must implement for this new period from 2017 to 2022.” He referred to the Cota 100 project, an ambitious engineering work drafted during the Somoza dynasty to irrigate crops in the country’s Pacific strip and northwest with water from Lake Cocibolca, thus turning those areas into “Central America’s granary.”

Years later, engineer Modesto Armijo modified that project, renaming it Puronica. His proposal would move water from Cocibolca to Managua’s Lake Xolotlán in a complex process involving irrigation, electricity generation and even the cleaning of the by-then very contaminated Xolotlán.

In the first years of the revolution the Soviets took an interest in Armijo’s mega-engineering package as a cooperation project. After studying it, however, they calculated that it would require important road infrastructure, storage for the larger harvests and sustained technical training. So much effort would be required that the project was abandoned as unrealistic and the studies done by the Russians were filed away in Nicaragua.

Ortega first promised that Cocibolca would be used for irrigating crops and providing the population with drinking water. He delegated Manuel Coronel Kautz, president of the Grand Interoceanic Canal Authority, to update Cota 100 and the Treasury Ministry to look for resources to finance the project. “It is life or death for our country to develop this project,” announced President Ortega, adding in a solemn voice that “here, in the government we are presiding today, we’re getting this project underway and will bring it to our people and turn it into reality!”

“It’s a red herring”

Water expert Ruth Selma Herrera, who was on the inside back when Russian cooperation analyzed those projects, told envío she considered Ortega’s promise a “red herring,” arguing that “he knows the canal project is going south and he has nothing else to offer, so he decided to pull that out. It’s irresponsible because it’s not simply about dusting off the old studies. No project conceived 40 or 60 years ago can be picked back up like that and still be good to go, particularly if it depends on the state of Nature. Before making such fanciful promises, new studies have to be done and that takes years. “When that project was on the table in Somoza’s times, Xolotlán was less contaminated, without so much waste of diverse origins, Cocibolca had significantly less sediment and the watershed of the two lakes was less deforested.”

The megaproject that candidate Ortega is promising is only one on a list of major works he has promoted throughout his current presidency that have not become reality. That may explain the independent media’s lack of interest in his new brainchild and the sobriety with which even the official media treated it.

It wasn’t the first, or even the second time Ortega announced something “big” for Nicaragua’s Great Lake. In October 2009, during the seventh Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of America (ALBA) Summit, held in Cochabamba, Bolivia, he presented an ambitious irrigation project that evoked the original version of Cota 100: Cocibolca’s waters would annually irrigate 65,000 hectares of crops for a total of 650,000 hectares after 10 years. He claimed it would produce enough food to guarantee Nicaragua food sovereignty and massively export to the ALBA countries.

Then four years later, without having taken a single step to make that project reality, Ortega conceded Coci¬bolca and undefined areas of land to Chinese entrepreneur Wang Jing and his company HKND Group to cleave the country and the lake across the middle for an interoceanic canal.

What should Cocibolca’s
water be used for?

A month after the canal concession was given to HKND, Víctor Campos, director of the environmental organization Centro Humboldt, told envío that “The use we make of this watershed and lake is crucial and should be decided by the nation as a whole, not unilaterally by the government of the day. It’s an issue concerning not only this generation but future generations as well.”

Considering that assuring food sovereignty and water security is a national priority for the entire population, Campos said the canal project was not compatible with a crop irrigation project, adding that “this choice doesn’t even include thinking about using the lake’s water for human consumption.” To demonstrate it he referred, among other things, to the strong waves caused by the winds that blow across the huge but shallow lake: “Cocibolca isn’t calm like Gatún [Panama’s canal-related lake]; it has permanent waves that could affect any super-tankers crossing it, even causing ships to spill fuel they’re carrying or using. The lake’s strong currents and waves mean a high probability of accidents, a serious threat that needs to be considered.”

There’s no middle ground

Referring to the lake’s shallowness, he also discussed the risks of excavating it for the canal, which would involve removing tons of sediment, some of it toxic: “Just imagine it: excavating a canal at the bottom of the lake and keeping it dredged would so pollute the water with sediment as to make it undrinkable.”

Although some of those who defended the canal concession claimed optimistically that the Panamanian population drinks water from their country’s canal system, Campos clarified that “they don’t drink water from where the ships pass; their drinking water is taken from the tributaries even before it reaches the lake.” It also needs to be added that, given the enormous amount of fresh water lost into the ocean each time a ship passes through the canal, Panama City’s poor barrios suffer serious water supply problems.

Campos concluded that the irrigation project Ortega promised to the ALBA countries, resuscitated now in a new promise, is mutually exclusive with the canal project: “We can produce food or we can watch ships pass by, we can’t do both…. How do we want to use Lake Cocibolca’s water? We know the only way to ensure that the lake’s watershed produces water and maintains adequate ecological levels to guarantee all the tasks that water is used for—agriculture, fishing, tourism, etc.—is through integrated management. That means seeing to it that all those uses are relatively compatible and that a rational level among them is maintained. With this megaproject, however, we are condemning the future of the Great Lake and its watershed to just one activity: commercial navigation.”

Opposition for
different reasons

Leaving aside the rationality of Ortega’s campaign sop, some question whether his mega-water project could possibly be viable given that he entrusted it to Coronel Kautz, who hasn’t done too well with the canal project.

Others comment that even if the problems back when Cota 100 or Puronica were conceived were similar to those of today, the tenure of the lands that would benefit from the irrigation has changed, with most of them now in the hands of big companies, which have intensified mono-cropping for export.

Still others say that the most realistic and beneficial thing Ortega could have done, given the country’s environmental disaster, would have been to seriously pledge to comply with the Water Law and everything it implies regarding care and conservation of the basin and sub-basins of both lakes.

Does this signal
the end of the canal?

Yet others say that Ortega pulled the 60-year-old project from his sleeve in part to demonstrate sensitivity to environmental issues, but more importantly to have something new “and big” to offer in his campaign since the canal project is looking more and more implausible, as the analysis in this issue by US journalist Peter Costantini demonstrates.

Some view this impossible promise as nothing other than the “ladder” by which Ortega can begin to descend from the fantasy heights of the canal project…

If anything is clear in the midst of all this surmising, it is that the Cota 100 project has surfaced again because the canal project is off the table. As can be imagined, the most enthusiastic response to Ortega’s promise came from the peasants organized in the Council in Defense of the Land, Lake and Sovereignty.

Its most visible leader, Francisca Ramírez, “doña Chica,” immediately declared: “We are listening to the news and I imagine the President is now going to annul Law 840, because if the lake’s water is being offered for that other project, it’s because the deal with Wang Jing is revoked. At this moment the lake belongs to Wang Jing, and will until the law is repealed. Our feeling is that if the President is now promising to give the lake’s water to zones in which there isn’t any, it means he’s going to repeal the law, and that makes us very happy.”

But it ain’t over
‘til the fat lady sings

The Southern Caribbean Coast population isn’t nearly so optimistic. On May 3 the government announced that the nine communities that make up the Rama and Kriol Territorial Government (GTR-K) had signed an “indefinite lease” contract in Managua with the Grand Canal Commission for 263 square kilometers of its ancestral land so HKND could build the interoceanic canal. Three days later representatives of three of those communities that will be most directly affected, two of them Rama (Bangkukuk Taik and Rama Cay) and one Kriol (Monkey Point), denounced in a press conference they called in Managua that what had been signed was invalid because their communities had not been taken into account in a free and informed prior consultation. They said they opposed the lease agreement, were firm in their decision to ignore it and refused to be displaced. These communities have previously complained that the government had bought off some of their leaders, in yet another chapter of its divide and conquer tactics.

According to jurist Gabriel Álvarez, the term “indefinite” used in the contract is a euphemism to avoid saying “perpetual,” as the government initially announced, and is illegal because in Nicaraguan legislation leasing is always “temporary.” Bangkukuk Taik, which means Eagle Point in the Rama language, is the only place in the world where that language, which has Chibcha roots, is still spoken. At the time of the Spanish Conquest, the Rama were very numerous, but they have now been reduced to some 1,500 people. Their forced displacement by the canal construction could extinguish their language, and threaten their culture and even their very existence.

The seven-time candidate still
hasn’t named a running mate

The final act of the governing party’s three-tier institutional formality was the holding of the National Sandinista Congress to ratify the seventh candidacy of the only candidate the FSLN has ever had. It was held on June 4 in extreme privacy. Not even the official government channels broadcast it live and it was only seen in some official social networks afterward.

It was no secret that Ortega was going after his third reelection nor was it any surprise that his candidacy was ratified “by unanimity.” The only expectation was whether it would be announced that his wife would share the ticket as his vice presidential running mate.

But Ortega still hasn’t announced his ticket. In other years the calendar established that the candidates for President and Vice President and the legislative slates had to be filed between March and May. This year the CSE postponed that deadline until August, only two months before the elections. If the game is being played with a marked deck, we could be forgiven for thinking this late deadline was set to resolve the internal differences inside the circle of power, or at least to keep them from going public for as long as possible.

According to the latest Cid Gallup poll, 52% of those surveyed do not consider Ortega’s reelection “good for Nicaragua” and 50%, including one in every four self-defined FSLN sympathizers, thinks Rosario Murillo as the vice presidential candidate “isn’t a good idea.”

The Congress approved four resolutions by a show of hands. First, it designated Ortega as the candidate so that “Nicaragua can continue changing by the Hand of God and of the People.” Second, it empowered Ortega to choose his running mate. Third, it empowered him to “continue the policy of alliances” (e.g. big capital). And fourth, it empowered him to designate the party’s National Assembly candidate slate.

“Observation is
all done here!”

Although both followers and adversaries were left guessing about his running mate and the four resolutions created no surprises, one surprise did emerge from that Congress. Ortega vehemently stated in his speech: “Shameless observers! Observation is all done here! Let ’em go observe other countries!”

The President also took a shot at “the diplomats” who call electoral magistrates and legislators to talk about this issue. He warned that “the interventionist ambassadors can just forget about asking for accountability from the branches of State!” He referred by name to the European Union, the Carter Center and the Organization of American States, all of which have sent observer missions in past years. “They present themselves as if they have clean hands, but they are the ones who have the dirtiest hands,” he spewed.

Another of Ortega’s broadsides? Pure rhetoric to both screen and continue feeding his two objectives: making voters so despondent they’ll stay home on election day and getting the Coalition fed up enough to withdraw and leave the field to him?

The immediate reactions of big Nicaraguan capital, various Catholic bishops, the Carter Center and the US State Department’s Human Rights Office surprised no one. But the fact that Ortega’s speech didn’t include this uncalled-for bravado when published even in the government and pro-government media is an indication that Ortega has some fences to mend.

With five more months to go, not all has been written. What more lies ahead? 

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