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Central American University - UCA  
  Number 421 | Agosto 2016



Not a stone will be left standing…

On July 28, Daniel Ortega made one of the most defining decisions of the single-party model he seems bent on imposing on this country: having already ordered the Supreme Court to disqualify the only real opposition, he ordered the CSE to deprive its representatives of their existing legislative seatsFive days later he announced that his wife would be his running mate in November, thus ensuring family succession as part of his model. All his decisions in the past two months are clear preparations for a dynastic project.

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On July 28, Daniel Ortega made one of the most defining decisions
of the single-party model he seems bent on imposing on this country:
having already ordered the Supreme Court to disqualify the only real opposition, he ordered the CSE to deprive its representatives of their existing legislative seatsFive days later he announced that his wife would be his running mate in November, thus ensuring family succession as part of his model.

All his decisions in the past two months are clear preparations for a dynastic project.

We learned of President Daniel Ortega’s latest pre-electoral decisions on July 29. In the Speaking Out section of this issue, Sandinista Víctor Hugo Tinoco calls them “blows,” having been a victim of one of them a decade ago.

A blow against representative democracy

The new blow came before the population had fully assimilated the first one on June 8, when the Supreme Court withdrew the legal status of the Independent Liberal Party (PLI), which had come in second in the 2011 elections, awarding it to one of three small splinter groups claiming to be the legitimate party. As the Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) had already despoiled the other political parties and individual politicians making up this year’s PLI-led alliance of their own legal status over the years, none could claim a slot on the ballot this November.

Upon announcing the Supreme Court resolution back in June, Justice Francisco Rosales had categorically stated that both the PLI and its allied Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS) would continue to occupy the 16 parliamentary seats they won in 2011 until the newly elected legislature convened in January 2017. As those seats had been won in a popular vote, he explained, they could not be reversed. The PLI-MRS electoral alliance had pulled 31% of the votes despite the fraud widely believed to have given the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) eight more legislative seats than it legitimately won, enough to change even the Constitution without a single opposition vote.

Despite Justice Rosales’ assurances, Pedro Reyes, the politician upon whom the PLI’s legal status has now been bestowed, called on the CSE to remove the PLI Alliance representatives and their alternates and recognize his followers in their place. That simple request, presumably suggested by Ortega, was enough for the CSE, which for many years now has faithfully obeyed all of Ortega’s orders aimed at shaping an opposition that best suits his interests. It quickly made the switch without respecting due process, much less the will of the voters.

By snatching away their National Assembly seats for the last six months of their term, Ortega eliminated the last vestiges of legislative opposition. Will the 13 PLI Alliance mayors also be deprived of their posts simply because they represent the political force trampled by the Court’s resolution?

The act made the international news, which is no longer frequent for this tiny country that was on the front pages constantly in the eighties. Both nationally and internationally the reactions were critical, surprised and concerned. “It’s the coup de grace for democracy”; “it’s one more step toward installing a single party”; “it’s a rupture of the constitutional order”; “it’s the end of the democratic system”; “it’s the final blow to pluralism”; “it merits the immediate activation of the Inter-American Democratic Charter”; “it’s a coup d’état”…

COSEP’s responsibility

The business chambers under the umbrella of the Superior Council of Private Enterprise (COSEP), which in a 180 º turnaround from the eighties are the current Ortega government’s main economic allies, also expressed their concern only hours after the new blow. It was much like they did on June 4, when Ortega canceled the participation of both national and international electoral observers, and then on July 8, when he eliminated the PLI’s electoral participation. They were joined by the members of the American Nicaraguan Chamber of Commerce (AMCHAM).

What has happened “weakens representative democracy, political pluralism and the separation of powers,” said COSEP in its communique. “It is imperative that we quickly propose and set about establishing the minimum conditions to strengthen our country’s democratic institutionality, it being the responsibility of the governing party and the other political parties to adopt decisions that ensure the country’s political, economic and social stability.”

Given the seriousness of this new move, it is worth asking whether the representatives of big business in COSEP will also “adopt decisions,” given its own responsibility in designing the country’s current anti-democratic corporative model. Will they go on insisting that citizens turn out to vote on November 6?

The United States: “We strongly urge...”

With an alacrity seldom seen in recent years, Washington spoke out on August 1 and in no uncertain terms. A State Department press statement said: “The United States is gravely concerned by the actions of the Nicaraguan government and Supreme Court to close the democratic space in advance of November 3 [sic] presidential and legislative elections. We strongly urge the Nicaraguan government to create an environment for free and fair elections that will allow the Nicaraguan people to determine the future of their country.”

The following day, 26 former Latin American heads of State belonging to the International Institute for Democratic and Electoral Assistance (IDEA) compared the current anti-democratic contexts of Venezuela and Nicaragua. After detailing Ortega’s latest attacks to eliminate the opposition and strip it of its parliamentary representation, they called on the Organization of American States, the European Union and the international community in general to “maintain your critical vigilance regarding these grave alterations of the democratic and constitutional order so that the necessary and effective means for the normalization of democracy in said countries are available.”

Comedy, civic fiesta, farce or tragedy?

In the midst of this “deepening political crisis and uncertainty in the country,” as AMCHAM put it after the removal of the legislators, the curtain officially went up on the electoral scene, kicking off a drama that will culminate on November 6.

The governing party defines the genre as a “comedy” when it states that we are on the road to an “animated, festive and enthusiastic campaign.” At the same time it adds a strong dose of religious ritual by calling the elections a moment “converted by God’s hand into the best times of Nicaragua’s history.”

The parties still on the ballot because they’re collaborating with the regime refer to the process with Nica¬ragua’s typical term for the event: “a civic fiesta.” For those prevented from running thanks to Ortega’s decision, however, the whole thing will be a “farce” laced with overtones of tragedy.

Who will be Ortega’s running mate?

The list of the entire cast that will be running for either a party or an alliance on November 6 was presented to the electors in early August. The choice that had sparked the most curiosity was that of the governing party’s vice-presidential candidate. It was the most discussed topic by analysts and the general public for months, and opinions only grew in intensity as the days rolled inexorably toward the final deadline with no announcement.

Names of business and sports leaders and various politicians were bandied about. In the early days they included National Police Chief Aminta Granera, but as the cut-off date drew near most bets were on only two names: former Army chief and current Vice President, retired General Omar Halleslevens; and Ortega’s wife, Rosario Murillo. As the afternoon turned to dusk on August 2, the final day for registering candidates, the President finally announced that Murillo would be his running mate.

The many merits of so many…

In the July 19 anniversary celebration of the revolution, an unusual rain of praise for his wife’s unconditional loyalty foretold Ortega’s decision. He recalled that she had run a safe house during the pre-victory struggle, had been imprisoned in Estelí, had collaborated with the FSLN as a poet, and was loyal to the heroes and martyrs…

Thousands upon thousands of people collaborated with the FSLN in those dark years of the Somoza family dynasty. Thousands offered their homes as safe houses; thousands suffered prison, torture and persecution; thousands gave their life and have remained anonymous; and thousands more are buried in unmarked graves… Unconditionally loyal in the struggle to transform Nicaragua, what would those heroes, heroines and martyrs have to say about the current model Ortega is imposing on Nicaragua, one that augurs a new cycle of repression and violence?

What does a Vice President do?

Nicaragua’s Constitution doesn’t assign the Vice President any specific function. As it establishes that the corresponding person will “perform the functions delegated by the President,” the transcendence of this post at this time has more to do with the future than the present: the Vice President, says the Constitution, “will replace the President in that post in cases of temporary or definitive absence.”

Both Murillo and Halleslevens had their advantages and disadvantages for the power project Ortega is imposing on the country, which faces rejection and resistance by elements inside the FSLN and outside who share a dislike of the increasingly authoritarian, exclusionary, repressive and absolutist course this project has taken, with ever fewer obstacles. Each of these two options offered pros and cons because each represented one of the two groups in conflict in the power circle: the “historic” collaborators and militants on one side and the new, younger recruits on the other.

Halleslevens was a less conflictive bet

Choosing Halleslevens would have meant maintaining a “historical” figure and going forward in the power project with the appearance of “more of the same.” To paraphrase the famous dictum, it would have meant “moving nothing” to continue moving everything… but making fewer waves in the process.

Keeping him was more in line with the low-key tone the governing party has wanted to give this electoral process, almost making it appear that there are no elections. Among other things, Ortega doesn’t plan to campaign. It was highly noteworthy that in the July 19 celebration, he didn’t say a single world about the November elections and offered the crowd nothing as a presidential candidate. Nor, it should be added, did he mention the interoceanic canal, which he had originally promised would lead us in only a few years to “the promised land.” There was no mention either of the other megaproject he announced only two months ago: using Lake Cocibolca’s waters for irrigation, which at the time he called a “life and death” project for Nicaragua that would “personify” his government program for the next five years. Many interpreted that new project as evidence that the canal was dead, since the two projects are mutually exclusive…

In the model of elections that don’t seem like elections designed by the governing party for this year, choosing Halleslevens seemed the best bet. In the 2011 elections, the FSLN’s historical rank and file, relegated today by young militants with scant political trajectory and no historical memory, felt recognized one way or another in Halles¬levens’ vice presidential candidacy. Wouldn’t he have felt more satisfactory now as well with his proven trajectory in the FSLN since his university days, making him one of the historical cadres they now call the “old guard”?

She has already been prime minister

Be that as it may, Ortega chose Murillo, who didn’t need the vice presidency to be delegated new powers. Since 2007, she was at first given a post that seemed rather perfunctory: coordinator of communication and citizenry, in other words a simple government spokesperson, but she has parlayed that post and others she received soon after—coordinator of the Social Cabinet and top of the pyramid of the Cabinets of the Family, Community and Life, which started life as Committees of Citizen’s Participation, to name just a few—into being Ortega’s full-fledged prime minister, as he himself called it, receiving 50% of his government power.

And she hasn’t hesitated to use it. Between that half of the power and much more that she’s been absorbing, Murillo is now universally recognized as “the person governing.” She runs all meetings of the Cabinet, FSLN political secretaries and Sandinista municipal mayors, giving them both guidelines and orders; decides appointments and dismissals; and controls all the government’s social programs and virtually all information—always upbeat and positive—that the government wants to send out.

So what does the vice presidency add?

With so much power already, what does being Vice President give her that she doesn’t already have? For one thing, the new post will legitimate at the ballot box her de facto power of the past five years. And of course, most important of all, it puts her directly in line to succeed her husband in the presidency.

In the Speaking Out section of this issue, prepared before her candidacy was announced, Víctor Hugo Tinoco—expelled from the FSLN in 2005, even though he sat on the expanded National Directorate, for supporting Herty Lewites’ challenge to Ortega in the party primary to elect its presidential candidate—says that Ortega’s “project includes establishing a dynastic dictatorship, and he had to decide who in his family would succeed him, his wife or one of his children…. He has suspended free elections not only because he didn’t want to lose any of his power, but also because he risked losing the chance to consolidate his family’s dynastic succession in another five years of government.”

Ortega first made the announcement that his wife would be his running mate to Murillo’s main base, a group of Sandinista Youth all wearing the artsy white t-shirt she designed as virtually a uniform. He justified it to them as the need to “be consistent” with the FSLN’s 50/50 project, i.e. giving half of the elected posts, government appointments and all other spaces to women.

The number of women linked to the governing party who today occupy public posts has indeed grown noticeably. But in a power model as centralized and authoritarian as this one, “occupy” doesn’t mean “voice an opinion” or “discuss,” much less “decide” for either the men or the women in these posts.

Dynastic reelection

Choosing Murillo means projecting a novel image for Nicaragua internationally. Despite the frequent eccentricities that have filled Latin America’s political history, nothing quite like this has ever happened. It doesn’t seem politically correct for a married couple to govern a country.

Won’t choosing Murillo lead to a flare-up of the tensions among those both within the FSLN and outside of it who reject her? It’s also an announcement of a dynastic succession that jars the collective memory. This presidential ticket is quite a symbol, because in Nicaragua reelection and dynasty are words that evoke Somocismo with all its dark, dangerous and bloody past.

“They won’t permit dynastic succession”

On July 20, when the increasing probability of Murillo being selected was being increasingly bandied about, economist Edmundo Jarquín, the MRS’ 2006 presidential candidate and the 2011 vice presidential candidate for the PLI Alliance which his party joined having lost its own legal status to prevent it from running in the 2008 municipal elections, was categorical. Appearing on the TV program “Esta Noche,” Jarquín said that “President Ortega’s wife becoming Vice President does not mean that a dynastic succession is going to be consolidated here.”

Elaborating further, he explained that “the constitutional terms for a Vice President may be respected, but… I do not believe that the armed forces, the Army and the Police, will permit it, nor will society allow such a possibility. The armed forces know that at the end of that road they’ll to have to face the decision to fire on the population.”

The FSLN and PLC are twin parties

Thus begins the road to elections that will be take us through troubled waters, without any bridge in sight that will let us avoid them.

The Constitutionalist Liberal Party (PLC), still controlled by former President Arnoldo Alemán, has box 1 on the electoral ballot and is running as a single party, not in an alliance. Former Contra chief Maximino Rodrí¬guez is its presidential candidate and Alemán’s wife, María Fernanda Flores, tops its slate of National Assembly candidates, which also abounds with other Alemán friends, relatives and cronies. Both his PLC and Ortega’s FSLN, the two parties that hammered out the pact with which Nicaragua ushered in the 21st century, have morphed into family businesses.

María Fernanda is assured a legislative seat given her place on the slate, while Rodríguez is a very good gamble for Alemán, as he could be a strong hook to reel in the traditional Liberal rural vote and is decidedly anti-Sandinista, with the added feature that this will make the PLC appear in the eyes of some national and international sectors as “the opposition.”

Even though Rodríguez isn’t playing to dispute real power with Ortega, he will automatically earn a parliamentary seat if, as is virtually assured, the PLC wins second place with enough votes.

The rest of this year’s sad ballot

The FSLN is running in box 2 with 17 allies: 9 “phone-booth parties,” 3 of which are evangelical, and 8 movements, some recently created, whose participation is predicated on the assumption they will get some legislative seats or jobs in the next government in exchange for making the FSLN look pluralist. The majority of FSLN members on the legislative slate are running for reelection, and some of them are “historical.” There’s also a sprinkling of young men and women from the Sandinista Youth.
Box 4 is occupied by the Conservative Party, currently controlled by Alfredo César. Like the PLC it is running alone.

Box 9 is taken up by the Nicaraguan Liberal Alliance (ALN), founded by PLC defector Eduardo Montealegre, who was then deprived of its leadership by the CSE after he steered it to second place in the 2006 elections. Its presidential candidate, evangelical pastor Saturnino Cerrato, has said several times that he feels “called” to be Nicaragua’s President.

The Alliance for the Republic (APRE), another rightwing political party, has box 10. Its legislative slate is headed by Byron Jerez, director of Nicaragua’s tax division when Alemán was President (1997-2001). Also Alemán’s main business manager, Jerez was sentenced to prison for several major corruption cases at the same time Alemán was, although both were eventually exonerated by the FSLN.

The “new PLI,” born of the June 8 Supreme Court decision to give it the party’s legal status, is in box 13. It is running in alliance with the Caribbean regional party known as the Coast Unity Movement Party (PAMUC).

The coast’s main indigenous party, Yátama, didn’t make an alliance with the FSLN this year, and will only run on the ballot for National Assembly representation corresponding to the Caribbean regions, as regional parties aren’t eligible to run for national posts.

In total control

The 2011 ballot had five boxes, with Ortega controlling the parties in four of them. The PLI, in alliance with the MRS and a scattering of other individuals and parties that had lost their status, ran the only independent candidates. Rising to the challenge, it won 31% of the votes for President despite the alleged fraud that year.

This year six parties or alliances are running presidential candidates, but Ortega controls all of them. He also totally controls the CSE headquarters, as he has since 2011. And today he even controls something he hadn’t succeeded in monopolizing by 2011: all directors of the municipal and departmental electoral councils and all personnel on the more than 13,000 voting tables now answer to the governing party. In these optimal conditions he will surely obtain more than the 62.4% assigned to him in 2011.

The abstention option

In this new context, in which voting doesn’t mean electing, both the many disgusted voters and the opposition prevented from participating have been talking about organizing “active abstention” that will not only protest this turn of events all the way up to November 6 but will also be able to document the abstention levels on election day itself, which is something the CSE has ceased making public for years.

Abstention is seen as a tool to delegitimize this electoral process, force the annulment of the elections and call for new and fair ones as quickly as possible, as Víctor Hugo Tinoco explains in the following pages.

“A tough, complex and long struggle”

The way out of the current situation won’t be easy. Henry Ruiz, a major military actor in the overthrow of Somoza, a member of the FSLN National Directorate in the eighties and an opponent of Ortega for the past two decades, sees no hope for change in the short run. But he endorses the abstention strategy. “The great slogan should be abstention to utterly disqualify the process and create a political asset for continuing the struggle. Because if we let the contradictions continue to accumulate, they’ll become more powerful and we could end up reaching the point we must never reach again: in which the only option is armed struggle.”

Former PLC legislator José Pallais, who left that party and joined the now-disqualified PLI coalition, considers that “the future is open for a very tough, very complex and I would even dare say long struggle.” As a jurist he has written that “voting or abstaining from voting are two ways to exercise the same right and both are equally legitimate.” Unlike in some other Central American countries, voting in Nicaragua is a right, not an obligation. Pallais has also explained that “in line with modern political doctrine, abstention is a way of expressing oneself and can be useful as a mode of protection against the political system being imposed.” He concludes that “conscious and reasoned abstention is a valid means of participation to politically delegitimize processes such as the upcoming elections.”

In some parts of the country with a strong anti-Sandinista tradition, particularly areas that were war zones in the eighties, PLC presidential candidate Maximino Rodríguez is working actively to attract votes and thus provide an antidote to abstention, even though—or perhaps because—the party on whose ticket he is running has sold out as an Ortega ally.

Meanwhile, Wilfredo Navarro, a pro-Alemán Liberal legislator and currently a candidate for re-election on Ortega’s list, has announced he will submit a bill establishing that proposing abstention in public or any of the country’s media will be treated as a criminal offense and punished with imprisonment.

Step by step…

This moment to which power blindness has led us has a history; it didn’t appear out of thin air, but has been prepared for step by step.

On November 13, 2008, barely a week after the municipal elections that demonstrably eended in the first of the four alleged lectoral frauds during the years since Ortega returned to office, Attorney General Hernán Estrada showed up at the Nicaraguan Human Rights Center (CENIDH). He came with a message he wanted to get off his chest to the institution’s team of human rights defenders and a good-sized group of journalists who had come seeking information about what was happening in 40 central points of Managua where groups of armed vandals were terrorizing the population and dozens of public employees were waving the governing party’s red and black bandanas in defense of Ortega’s fixed electoral results.

…and stone by stone

That afternoon Estrada tried to minimize what was happening in the streets of the capital with this declaration: “if the head of State and political leader of the FLSN were to decide to call his party members out into the streets, not a stone would be left standing in this country, nor in any opposing radio station, television channel or other medium of communication. You should be grateful that he has not done this, thanks to our ruler’s wisdom and serenity.”

CENIDH presidentVilma Núñez de Escorcia translated for the perplexed journalists: “That is a threat, and also tacit acceptance that President Daniel Ortega is the one promoting the violence we’re seeing.”

Eight years have passed since that warning was issued and the head of State and political leader of the governing party has been dismantling many media and all national institutions stone by stone ever since. Today, with his seventh presidential candidacy and third consecutive mandate approaching, few stones remain of the edifice of democracy Nicaragua began to construct with such difficulty first in 1979 and again in 1990. Now, with the demolition virtually concluded, Ortega is announcing the construction of his dynasty on top of the rubble.

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