Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 420 | Julio 2016



No bridge over these troubled waters

The pre-electoral scene has taken a very problematic turn. If the November 6 elections threatened to lack transparency, that fear has been dwarfed by the fact that they’ll lack competitors. Where are Daniel Ortega’s decisions taking the country? With the electoral path made an utter mockery, the armed route unappealing after painful historical experience and the road of civic protest always long and uncertain, where are these troubled waters carrying us and what bridge might get us across?

Envío team

Not even a week of uncertainty had passed since President Ortega had called electoral observers “shameless” and angrily decreed that “observation is all done here! Let ’em go observe other countries!” when the FSLN Supreme Court justices resolved a dispute by three splinter groups of the Independent Liberal Party (PLI), each of which claimed the right to legally represent it. The claims were filed over five years ago and the court intentionally kept them on ice until now.

The 72-year old PLI that held the legal representation and party seal all these years placed second in the 2011 general elections, pulling nearly 800,000 votes despite alleged fraud in an alliance with the Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS). Nonetheless the justices awarded legal representation to one of the more recent splinter groups. Now deprived of its box on the election ballot, the real PLI is out of the race. And as it headed the National Coalition for Democracy, a grouping of nine political movements forged a year ago, again including the MRS, which had been stripped of its own legal status in 2008 also for political reasons, there is no longer any independent opposition force capable of disputing power with Ortega.

A seismic shake-up
and its aftershocks

“I thought Comandante Ortega’s NO to electoral observation was an earthquake, and still think so,” commented former Liberal foreign ninister Francisco Aguirre Sacasa, “but the Supreme Court’s decision is a powerful aftershock, and sometimes they are more devastating than the earthquake itself.” It is a particularly appropriate metaphor to describe the sensation prevailing in a good segment of society even a month after the court’s ruling.

People are still talking about it as a devastating and disconcerting shake-up, and right up to the closing of this edition of envoi interpretations and speculations continued to circulate about why Ortega decided to so rampantly delegitimize the electoral process, particularly since everything seemed to point to his reelection even without the need to repeat the fraud most people are convinced took place five years ago.

Or did he perhaps not have any such assurance? In this month’s Speaking Out section, Eliseo Núñez Morales, a PLI representative in the National Assembly, offers his analysis of what happened and interpretation of why.

“It’s not an election;
it’s a farce”

Immediately after being “legally” eliminated from the race, the National Coalition for Democracy defined the upcoming elections as a “farce.” A few days later, Nicaragua’s Catholic bishops concluded that the court’s decision was an “attempt to create conditions for the implantation of a single-party regime.” Other names have also been given to what happened: a sham, a swindle, a show, a mockery… Vilma Núñez, who heads the Nicaraguan Human Rights Center (CENIDH), called on the Nicaraguan people to exercise their “right to rebellion” while Carlos Fernando Chamorro, director of the digital daily Confidencial, backed up that call by concluding that Ortega’s attitudes are “legitimizing the right to rebel.”

Deprived of its party status, the PLI reconfigured itself as a political movement. Taking the name Citizens for Freedom, it announced that it will still demand transparent elections and that its erstwhile presidential ticket, Luis Callejas and Violeta Granera, will continue touring the country to explain what happened and mobilize civic opposition to Ortega’s plans. The MRS and other parties and movements that made up the coalition share that decision.

Electoral structures
in the FSLN’s hands

The court’s resolution awarded the PLI’s seals, legal status and legal representation to the faction headed by Pedro Reyes. It also ordered the Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) to make the calendar deadlines more flexible to allow the “new” PLI time to present its candidates to the Departmental, Regional and Municipal Electoral Councils, which are where the votes are counted and the transparency (or lack of it) on election day is documented.

By law, PLI members were to have headed half of those councils and been the second authority in the other half because their party came in second in the 2011 elections. Contrary to court orders, however, the CSE didn’t change a single day of the electoral calendar so through¬out June officials of the governing party and its small allied parties grabbed all the posts corresponding to the “new” PLI. Reyes didn’t protest, saying he was only interested in affiliating citizens under his banner. He claimed that by November 6 he will have a million new members.

With the FSLN controlling the posts of all 15 departmental councils, 2 regional ones and 153 municipal ones and thus gaining control of the 13,340 voting tables, Ortega has the entire electoral structure in his hands, an absolute advantage that vastly exceeds even the control over the voting and counting procedures he enjoyed in 2011.

Run no risk

Cutting off the PLI also worked to buttress Arnoldo Alemán’s Constitutionalist Liberal Party (PLC). And that “dividend” was no accident on Ortega’s part.

Analyzing his internal polls, doing the math on the number of undecided and opposition voters, Ortega couldn’t have worried that he would lose the presidency, but he may have feared that he’d end up governing without the absolute majority in the National Assembly he has enjoyed so much these past five years. Instead he would have to go back to the real world of negotiating with the runner-up, which could be expected to throw up obstacles any time Ortega felt like changing some appointee or approving or reforming some law to his own liking without having to justify himself or horse-trade.

It was a risk he didn’t want to run. Confident that those whose plug he pulled would yell a lot but wouldn’t—or couldn’t—do much else, he decided to give a new shot of oxygen to Alemán, his known and tested partner, putting the PLC back in second place. That guarantees him an opponent that won’t make any problems for him and will open a new chapter for the FSLN-PLC pact that began way back when Alemán was President (1997-2001) and always had as its share central objective to impose a bipartite system on the country, naturally consisting of those two self-serving parties.

The ballot keeps shrinking

It’s clear to everyone that only Alemán’s PLC and Ortega’s FSLN will actually be “competing” given the extreme organizational and ideological weaknesses and inconsistencies Pedro Reyes has demonstrated since being anointed owner of the “new” PLI, as well as the Supreme Court’s annulment on June 18 of yet another electoral party: the miniscule but at least genuinely oppositional Citizen Action Party (PAC).

None of the other dozen parties signed up to run in these elections is real. They are what is known in Nicaraguan political parlance as “zancudo” (mosquito) parties, mere handfuls of people with a seal and a banner that only come buzzing around at election time and always as allies or satellites of the FSLN.

Ortega will predictably pull far more votes than the PLC candidate, but will give the PLC more legislative seats than in 2011, when it was only assigned two. He will also grant a sprinkling of seats to the zancudo parties so the National Assembly will appear more pluralist than it does today. So far no Liberals of the disqualified PLI have given any sign of wanting to cozy up to its replacement in hopes of getting on the ballot as legislative candidates.

After much forthing and backing another group of Liberals, those from the Unity with Dignity Movement (MUD), announced on June 28 that they wouldn’t ally with the PLC having verified its leaders’ intransigent unwillingness to distance themselves from Alemán. The MUD reported that it wouldn’t participate in the elections either alone or in alliance because of the lack of guarantees and because Liberal unity wasn’t achieved.

The MUD’s leader, Edgar Mata¬moros, allegedly won the mayoral race in Ciudad Darío on the PLI ticket in 2012, but claims it was snatched away by fraud. For personal-political reasons he then created this new party. Despite thus creating yet another Liberal splinter organization, the MUD claims to have been dedicated to “unifying the Liberal family” in the years since.

Given that the CSE has refused to grant the MUD legal status, the only way it could run in the elections was in alliance with a party able to get on the ballot. It chose to approach the PLC, explaining later that it believed that the party “might feel compassion for a suffering people and put its emblem at the service of a noble cause, which is the unity of Liberalism. We spoke with its leadership and respectfully but firmly laid out our conditions, which are only those necessary to generate confidence in a party whose honorable President [Arnoldo Alemán] led it into a debacle.”

With the PLI disqualified, the MUD decided not to participate in a tarnished electoral process plagued with irregularities, and in violation of the Esquipulas II agreements, the Political Constitution and the Electoral Law. It also knows that no political party at this time embodies the people’s aspirations of being an option of unity and opposition.

Meanwhile, the PLC has chosen Maximino Rodríguez, a former contra comandante, as its presidential candidate. A month earlier he had rejected that offer precisely due to the positions he observed in Alemán. “We must forgive ourselves in order to die free,” he said to justify his change of position.

All this suggests there could be massive abstention caused by apathy, disinterest, consternation and indignation. It is also predictable that the sizable rural population in whose Liberal roots go back generations will opt to express its rejection of the FSLN and Ortega’s model by voting for the PLC, whatever they may feel about its degenerate recent history.

Will we ever know
the real turnout?

The pre-election voter verification process was held on June 25 and 26, in which registered voters are supposed to go to their normal voting center to check whether they are still registered there. The turnout was minimal, with not even 10% of those registered showing up in some voting centers.

The governing party structures did everything they could, including house-to-house visits, to urge their sympathizers to go verify and thus give the impression of massive participation. In an effort to demonstrate that everything is going well, the president of the Supreme Electoral Council declared that “it has been a successful campaign and in my experience I would say that it is the most successful we’ve had.” If we cannot get a credible answer on the verification process, what chance do we have of learning the real voter turnout on election day?

Silent anxiety

It’s worth stressing that despite all these earthshaking events, not a single comment was heard from governing party legislators and government officials. Spokespeople, officials, and aligned journalists and media played deaf, dumb and blind to avoid problems or reprisals, continuing to talk about the electoral process as if nothing at all had happened, as if all was still unfolding normally toward its culmination in a “civic fiesta.”

Worry can be perceived in the rest of the country and among various economic and social sectors, while indignation at being prevented from running in the elections burns in the ranks of the Coalition. Broad sectors of all social classes, both urban and rural are perplexed, confused and uncertain, feelings expressed in silent anxiety rather than public demonstrations...

Then came June’s expulsions

As if the earthquake and aftershock (NO to observation and NO to opposition) that crumbled any remaining credibility in the electoral process wasn’t enough, less than a week had passed following the Supreme Court’s decision when three US officials were abruptly and inexplicably expelled from the country, a Mexican scholarship student was captured and allegedly tortured, and six environmentalists from four countries were detained and deported after a seemingly alarmed Ortega announced they had committed a serious crime. Then only a day after that, a Honduran environmentalist who had lived in Nicaragua for 20 years was accused of possessing drugs and suffered the same fate, with no evidence provided...

In sum, 11 foreigners were expelled in June employing procedures that violated all legality, obliging Mexico, the United States and Costa Rica to issue an alert warning their citizens of the problems they might encounter if visiting Nicaragua.

The expulsion of Evan Ellis

On June 14, US academic Evan Ellis, an associate professor of Latin American studies at the US Army War College’s Strategic Studies Institute (SSI) and an expert on Latin America’s relations with China as well as with Russia, India and Iran, was taken from his hotel in the middle of the night, barely 12 hours after his arrival, and expelled from Nicaragua. The Nicaraguan government has given no explanation for his expulsion.

Ellis, who had come to gather information about the interoceanic canal project, was traveling on an official government passport and had coordinated his trip through the US Embassy, clearly declaring the object of his investigation both then and with airport immigration officials upon arrival. He had set up interviews about the canal project with both US and Nicaraguan government officials and on the afternoon of the 13th, the third anniversary of the canal concession, he had attended an exhibition of photos and videos in Managua that had attracted dozens of peasants organized in the anti-canal movement.

In 2013 Ellis had written a brief text for the Academia webpage’s digital Bitácora de Empre¬sariales he titled with a question: “Canal de Nicaragua: realidad o utopia?” In it he wrote that the degree of effort and planning dedicated to convincing the international community that the canal was a genuine reality is particularly surprising in view of the problems presented by the project. His article correctly predicted increased nerviousness of the canal’s sponsors by 2016, when the preliminary phase of the project was to have concluded.

After that “nervousness” sparked his expulsion, Ellis wrote another article, this time for the digital magazine Latin America Goes GLOBAL, in which he discussed what he had been able to grasp of the evolution of the canal project and what he had learned of Nicaragua’s overall situation. Regarding the canal, he said among other things that the excessive pursuit of self-interest of both Ortega and Chinese canal concession holder Wang Jing had contributed to the project’s problems: The latter “appears to have leveraged his Nicaraguan counterparts’ interest in personal power and enrichment to secure a deal that is more personally advantageous to Wang Jing than is commonly realized. …Public Law 840 allows Wang Jing’s company HKND to initiate projects and take land in virtually any part of Nicaragua… and to pay only trivial compensation to the Nicaraguan government for the use of the canal during the initial years of its operation.

“Less commonly discussed, however, is another interpretation of Public Law 840. If Wang Jing cannot build the canal, he has the option to sue the Nicaraguan government in a foreign (English) court for all expenses incurred to date on the project—possibly as much as $200 to $300 million. If this interpretation is accurate, Wang Jing’s lavish spending on publicity campaigns and studies has never truly risked his own capital, but rather that of the Nicaraguan people.” envoi had reported that aspect of the law, together with the others Ellis mentions, back in its July 2013 issue, when the law was first passed.

Ellis made a number of policy recommendations to his government regarding issues of democratic process, possible criminal activity, international security and possible involvement by the People’s Republic of China in the canal. Given his personal experience, he did not soft-pedal them, as evidenced by his conclusion: “My brief trip to Nicaragua left me profoundly touched by the spirit of its people, even if stunned by the audacity of its government.”

The expulsion of
two customs officials

Two days later it was learned that Ellis had not been the only one deported abruptly. Later that same day, two officials who had arrived on the same day as him were also expelled. Although the US Embassy didn’t provide their names, they are reportedly representatives of US Customs and Border Protection and work with the Customs and Trade Partnership against Terrorism, which among other things is charged with certifying that Nicaraguan exports to the United States meet all security requirements, such as those related to laws preventing the trafficking of drugs, weapons, poisons, etc.

Once reviewed and certified in Nicaragua, our exports can then enter the US without further cutoms inspection, a savings of time and money that makes them more competitive. “Nicaragua had a low-risk image,” explained a very concerned José Ángel Buitrago, who heads the coffee exporters’ association. “Now an image of transparent, clear security will have to be established, showing that we have nothing to hide.”

For the past 15 years officials of the same agency affected by the expulsion have routinely come to Nicaragua and conducted the task without difficulty. Why were they deported this time only hours after their arrival?

Washington calls it an
“unjustified decision”

There were reactions both in Washington and in Managua. State Department spokesperson John Kirby, who barely a month earlier had exhorted the Ortega government to invite international observers to the electoral process, confirmed the expulsion of the two customs officials, calling the decision “unwarranted and inconsistent with the positive and constructive agenda that we seek with the government of Nicaragua.” He warned that “such treatment has the potential to negatively impact US and Nicaraguan bilateral relations, particularly trade.”

In Managua, US Ambassador Laura Dogu appeared surprised by the expulsion, explaining that the government had apparently “changed the rules” without sharing this change with either her or Washington, or even with the private companies whose products they certify. “During my time here in Nicaragua we’ve worked very hard in the Embassy to improve relations with Nicaragua in several ways,” she told the digital daily Confidencial, “and that’s not how we want to work together. I believe it’s important to keep working to improve prosperity in Nicaragua.”

Washington presented a formal protest to Nicaraguan Ambassador to the United States Francisco Campbell. In its note of justification, the Ortega government referred to the “unfortunate incident that obliged us to remove two US government officials, who with an official passport were conducting security tasks and certifying customs and merchandise transit to the United States related to the struggle against terrorism, an activity being done without the knowledge and/or proper coordination with Nicaraguan authorities, which as you must understand, is very delicate and sensitive.”

The press release read in Managua by government communication coordinator Rosario Murillo said the expelled officials were conducting “tasks that are the responsibility of the Nicaraguan government.”

Political gaffes with
economic consequences

What Washington views as the Ortega government’s “unjustified” decision created an impasse that suspended certification of all Nicaraguan products exported to the United States, triggering serious unease among business leaders and farmers who, according to several of their associative representatives, are very unhappy about the unexpected, incomprehensible and prejudicial decision and have insisted that the government reverse the error asap.

In the name of the Superior Council of Private Enterprise (COSEP), the umbrella organization for the various chambers of Nicaragua’s business elite, its president José Adán Aguerri offered some figures to help the government understand that the faded Venezuelan “star” is making it more important than ever to maintain good relations with the United States, since 52% of our country’s exports go there, followed for years by Venezuela in second place. On average, US investment is also the most important, with annual totals of between $290 and $410 million in recent years. Furthermore, 56% of all remittances to Nicaragua last year (US$666.5 million) came from the United States. “Our economic link with the United States is equivalent to 35% of our gross domestic product,” concluded Aguerri.

In one communication medium, a normally well-informed source was heard to say that the country’s leading businessman, Carlos Pellas, had called Ortega precisely to stress the gravity of these long-term consequences. Ortega reportedly retorted that “I don’t talk politics with him, only business…”

The “Meso-American
Caravan for Living Well”

When President Ortega and his family went to verify their voter data on June 25, he announced to the accompanying press coterie that the police had found a group of foreigners and Nicaraguans in Nueva Guinea (South Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region) “handling explosives” and that they were being held for investigation. Seeming very concerned, he stressed the danger this activity represented and his responsibility to protect the peace that had been won in the country.

What happened in Nueva Guinea quickly went viral in the social networks. It turned out that six members of the Meso-American Caravan for Living Well, a project run by young volunteers, were in the community of La Fonseca in that municipality teaching peasants how to build eco-stoves that reduce the use of firewood. The project members had already been in other Nicaraguan municipalities teaching peasants ecological techniques to protect the environment. During this particular activity, one of the locals threw a lit rag into a barrel without knowing it had previously been used to store gasoline. The remaining residue caught fire, causing a brief explosion.

The incident conveniently became translated into “an assault on Nica¬ragua’s peace” because La Fonseca is the most active community in the struggle against the interoceanic canal project thanks to the work of Francisca Ramírez, who for the past three years has organized and headed up dozens of marches in which thousands of peasants have demonstrated against the canal law and concession. Heavily armed police officers arrested both her and other directors of their Council for the Defense of the Land and took the Caravan members—four Mexicans, a Costa Rican and an Argentinean—to Managua.

The peasants were released after two hours of interrogations. “They told us it was a serious case, that we were linked to a group of Mexico’s Las Zetas drug ring,” charged Francisca Ramírez. Without giving them any explanation or allowing them contact with either their family or their respective embassy, the six youths were held for two days in a filthy Migration office where they were interrogated, intimidated and threatened.

They were finally freed only as the result of consular insistence, pressure by Francisca Ramírez who again showed herself to be exemplary leader, and initiatives by the Nicaraguan Human Rights Center and other organizations. But it was a rude release: the Costa Rican man and Argentine woman were taken at night to the southern border and dumped on the Costa Rican side, while the Mexicans were taken to the northern border and sent across to Honduras, where the Caravan’s bus was returned to them dismantled, pillaged, with serious mechanical damage and with all their work tools, papers and personal objects stolen.

“No Latin American is a foreigner in Nicaragua,” Sandino was quoted as saying to journalist José Román, author of the 1983 book Maldito país (Damned country). The six Latin American solidarity activists, whose rights were trampled on by a government that claims to be not only Sandinista but also solidary, Christian and socialist, will surely never forget what happened to them in our country. A few days afterward the Mexican government warned its citizens to use care if they were considering visiting Nicaragua and its ambassador in Managua requested that the Nicaraguan government return “all the missing articles” to the youths.

Why is Ortega acting like this?

Both President Ortega’s shameless decision to delegitimize the electoral process and his other incomprehensible measures smack of irrationality or at best of a rationality we still haven’t been able to fully fathom. The accumulation of political gaffes in June suggest that he fears something more than the kind of reversal the weak and dispersed political opposition could cause him. How else can one explain the disproportionate security apparatus protecting the compound where he lives and his ever less frequent public appearances?

The word most frequently heard in attempted explanations of Ortega’s latest measures, which are seriously harming his own image and that of his government and the upcoming electoral process, is “conspiracy.” It posits that the long months of the increasingly acute Venezuelan crisis, the moves to the right in Argentina and Brazil, and the setting up of entities in neighboring countries directed by the United Nations and Organization of American States—respectively CICIG in Guatemala and MACCIH in Honduras—to clamp down on corruption, impunity and the power of the drug traffickers and other organized crime have convinced Ortega that the United States has hatched and organized a conspiracy to get “progressive” governments like his out of power.

Ortega’s conviction that this isn’t just theory was glimpsed in a message he sent to the Central American Integration System (SICA) summit held in Honduras on June 30, which he did not attend despite having that very day taken over SICA’s pro-tem presidency from Honduras for the next six months. The message described the region in which he will exercise that post as one “riddled with multiple attempts to create interested chaos to impose other wills and divide us.”

Ortega in his trench

According to this interpretation, Ortega has taken to the trenches to defend himself against this feared conspiracy and is prepared to pay whatever price to do so. He reportedly believes he is defending himself by showing strength. Uncertainty obliges him to be safe rather than sorry, “killing the cat at the door,” as the local argot puts it.

Already by the end of last year, he ordered his legislative bench to approve the Law of Sovereign Security to deal with “internal enemies” and respond to “risks, threats and conflicts.” The expulsion of the 11 foreigners in June suggests that this law is already being applied with the full array of predictable arbitrariness.

From his trench he has begun to make decisions that could seriously backfire, although those who know him well believe he’s acting like this because he doesn’t know how to weigh the long-term economic consequences his political outbursts could have.

In any event he’s confirming a longstanding vice of the Left: blaming outside conspiracies for internal problems, without either naming or acknowledging them, much less rectifying them. It’s the same thing Nicolás Maduro is doing right now in convulsed Venezuela. Rather than respond to the social and economic crisis by acknowledging and doing something about the abysmal administration of an increasingly unproductive model, he is blaming the “economic war” by the Right for the social and economic crisis. In Ortega’s case, he appears to prefer to take to the trenches, blaming rightwing conspiracies and committing dangerous gaffes instead of accepting that his own model is having trouble without the unconditional annual flow of hundreds of millions of dollars from Venezuelan cooperation.

That’s one hypothesis. Another complementary one is that Daniel Ortega is also fully aware from his own internal polls of how sick and tired, even disenchanted, a good part of the population is with the model of exclusion and social control he has put together, and even knows it is affecting his own party activists. Given that a number of FSLN militants cast a “punishment vote” in 1990, helping to dislodge the FSLN from power without meaning to, he may well have decided to avoid the risk of subjecting himself to truly fair elections.

His classic ploy to rally his followers and recharge their batteries is to fire rhetorical volleys against foreign “interference” and “interventionism,” especially from the United States. Its history in Latin America and other parts of the world makes the US an easy and deserving target, but in the end it’s only a delaying tactic that puts off but doesn’t cancel the day of reckoning.

Going after “the
three angels” again?

Since Ortega started his second consecutive government term in 2011, we’ve mentioned several times in these pages the strategy advice offered by a member of his inner circle after his unexpected electoral defeat in 1990, bringing the revolutionary process to an abrupt halt. To return to government, the friend counseled, he would have to neutralize the “unsheathed swords of three angels that closed the doors to his paradise of power.” Those “angels” were the revolution’s three most active adversaries in the eighties: big private Nicaraguan business, the Catholic Church hierarchy and the US government.

Once back in government he has tried to follow that advice, and has done a fair job of it. Big business is his greatest ally in Nicaragua while the United States is nothing like the deadly adversary it was in the eighties. He’s done less well with the Catholic bishops, although he has tamed the now semi-retired Cardinal Obando, once his arch enemy. But in the trench where Ortega is holed up against the conspiracy he sees coming—or at least to assuage his uncertainty about it—he appears to have decided to break with that conciliatory strategy. Can he really be willing to risk that they might again unsheathe their swords, taking Nicaragua down with him in the troubled waters he’s stirring up? Or is he trusting that those swords have lost their sharp edge? Without pretending to second-guess his thinking, it can safely be stated that none of the three angels are pleased at the moment and thy have all been reacting to the problematic and perplexing political scenario Ortega has produced.

COSEP calls it “a really
serious situation”

Big private enterprise has never been so unanimously unsure after years of its fluid and tight alliance with Ortega. Two days after the President’s unequivocal June 4 proclamation cancelling any possibility of electoral observation, COSEP published a communique acknowledging what everyone already knew: “We cannot ignore that we are coming from electoral processes of questioned legitimacy that fortunately did not end up in severe and irreversible political crises, but did affect our country’s electoral image. This obliges all citizens and branches of State to act responsibly and within the framework of the Constitution and the law in this November’s electoral process.”

COSEP didn’t issue another communique in response to the exclusion of the PLI and the Coalition from the electoral competition, but several of its leaders did make concerned but cautious individual declarations. Its president, José Adán Aguerri, didn’t hide his perplexity and concern about the effect it will have on what seems to be the only thing sacred to him: the “business climate.” “It is a really serious situation, which is going to trigger instability. The business climate requires political stability, so this puts us in a complicated situation.” Although the justices who handed down the sentence insisted that eliminating the PLI from the elections was a “consummated fact,” Aguerri dared to question the Court’s decision: “It must be understood,” he said, “that the PLI headed by Eduardo Montealegre is the country’s second political force.”

If Aguerri was bewildered by Ortega’s electoral decisions, his declarations in response to the decision to expel three US citizens from the country in the days following the Supreme Court’s resolution were decisive. He admitted that COSEP’s leaders are “worried and busy”: worried about the errors and busy fixing them because the alliance with the United States is much more important for big national capital than its alliance with Ortega.


“We will all end up losing if obstacles are put in the way as happened with the US customs inspectors, if we project a bad image internationally due to the electoral process, if we don’t strengthen the state institutions and improve the governing process in areas where we know we’re failing and if we don’t foster a climate of freedom, rights and confidence for all citizens,” said a very troubled Roberto Sansón, president of the American-Nicaraguan Chamber of Commerce (AmCham). “No one has the right to risk the privileged relationship we have with our first trading partner…. It hasn’t been easy to improve Nicaragua’s image and it can’t be possible that what has cost us so much will end up destroyed.”

The Nicaraguan Foundation for Economic and Social Development (FUNIDES), a national think tank, also made its worried voice heard: “We could lose the path of stability and progress that has been built in the past 26 years and put ourselves again on the course of recessive cycles or violence that has characterized our history and caused the profound underdevelopment and poverty Nicaragua suffers.”

Alert from the United States

The US “angel” is very busy with its involvement in many conflicts in an increasingly complex world and with its own electoral process, which has produced a bizarre and unusually tense campaign.

Although Nicaragua is nowhere close to the center of the US radar, Washington is beginning to take measures. After the expulsion of its three officials and the “change of rules” the Nicaraguan government announced for any official or private aid, and academic or religious delegation that comes to Nicaragua, the State Department announced a “travel alert” for all US citizens thinking of visiting the country. It warned them that the Nicaraguan government “is conducting Presidential and National Assembly elections on November 6, 2016. During the period leading up to and immediately following elections, US citizens in Nicaragua should be aware of heightened sensitivity by Nicaraguan officials to certain subjects or activities, including elec¬tions, the proposed inter-oceanic canal, volunteer or charitable visits and topics deemed sensitive by or critical of the government.”

In addition, Ortega’s increasing closeness to Russia has come to the attention of some US legislators. And unlike the European Union representative in Managua, who said he “respects” Ortega’s decision to refuse electoral observation, the influential Carter Center issued a communique the day after Ortega called the observers “shameless,” considering it “an attack on the international community.” For years now the Carter Center has been inviting the international community “not to forget and to pay attention to the state of democracy in Nicaragua.”

The bishops: “A single party
is harmful to the country”

Ortega’s assaults on the electoral process have also concerned the third “angel” that must be neutralized: the Catholic bishops.
During Lent, people waited expectantly for the customary pastoral letter published by the Episcopal Conference in that period of reflection. Even then, far less turbulent days than now, people wanted to know what the bishops would say about the political situation. But the letter was never published. The bishops eventually apologized for not having issued it, explaining that “diverse points of view have been offered on what would be the most appropriate accents and approaches to adopt in the historical moment the country is going through.”

A week after the Supreme Court ruling eliminated the PLI and the National Coalition for Democracy from the electoral race, all of the bishops, very significantly accompanied by Papal Nuncio Fortunato Nwachukwu, read out a communique pulling together their diverse viewpoints to express what we consider the central part of their message: “Any intent to create conditions for the implantation of a single-party regime in which ideological plurality and political parties disappear is harmful to the country from a social, economic and political point of view.”

They also recalled the important document they presented to Ortega two years ago, to which he paid no attention: “For us, what we asked the President in May 2014 remains valid: to guarantee for this year 2016 an absolutely transparent and honest electoral process in which the popular will shines without any kind of doubt.”

The bishops exhorted Nicaraguans to “live this moment not with pessimism much less by giving in to the temptation of violence, but with hope and great civic spirit.” They concluded by adopting the supplication of Pope Francis in his “Evangelii Gaudium: Apostolic Exhortation on the Proclamation of the Gospel in Today’s World” of November 24, 2013: “I beg the Lord to grant us more politicians who are genuinely disturbed by the state of society, the people, the lives of the poor!”

The bishops’ message irritated the government. As on other occasions, the critical spokesperson was FSLN Supreme Court justice Francisco Rosales. He pooh-poohed what the bishops had said, claiming that if they were talking about a lack of credibility in the electoral process they were speaking of “a fictitious problem,” which demonstrated that they themselves “are politicians.” He invalidated their words, arguing that “the most anti-democratic institution in the world is the Catholic Church.”

No bridges being built

Who is winning in the waters Daniel Ortega has made so dangerously troubled? It would seem that no fisherman will come out ahead in either this crisis or those yet to come.

Ortega is running a serious risk by so shamelessly closing off an electoral path that put an end to the war of the eighties, and is the only way out of the crises to come. Although there are politically motivated rearmed groups in the country’s northern mountains, as pastoral agents of the Catholic Church in those zones can attest to, the armed path must be discouraged. We know only too well the wounds it opens, many of which have not yet healed despite the passing of the years.

And the civic path? It’s for the people but it’s slow. Below, it will require many people climbing out of poverty, many young people receiving a better education and a decent job at the end of it, and an effort by all of society to shake off the individualism and tolerance of corruption and impunity.

And from above, it will require not only social business responsibility, which exists here more in word than in deed, but also environmental responsi¬bility, as well as demands that Ortega genuinely dialogue with everyone for the common good.

But we can’t see anyone building the kind of civic bridges that would allow us to cross the troubled waters of this dark and uncertain month of June.

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