|Central American University - UCA
Number 470 | Septiembre 2020
“Until the storm clouds pass”
he “blue and white” social majority
is increasingly impatient and frustrated
by the contradictions and infighting undermining the National Coalition,
which at its inauguration six months ago inspired so much
hope as the vehicle to represent that majority in the 2021 elections.
The storm building within the dark cloudbank that’s casting such a shadow
on the Coalition is caused by intensely competitive electoral projects
exacerbated by the age-old lack of a healthy political culture.
The National Coalition’s prospects of being a strong and united force against the autho¬ritarian regime of Daniel Ortega and his wife are increasingly hampered by exhausting internal conflicts that threaten to pull it asunder. Its current ina¬bi¬lity to demonstrate any real threat, electoral or otherwise, to Ortega is giving him the time he wants to postpone any “electoral decisions” un¬til seeing whether Donald Trump holds on to the presidency or the Demo¬crats take over with Joe Biden, and getting a feel for how the new administration will act toward Nica¬ragua.
And the winner is...?
For good or ill, the outcome of the US elections on November 3 will undoubtedly affect the uncertain course of the crisis in Nicaragua.
If Trump remains in office, he might pay less attention to what former National Security Advisor John Bolton dubbed the “Troika of tyranny” (Vene¬zuela, Cuba and Nicaragua). Up to now, the policy of condemning and sanctio-ning these countries has been a priority due to its impact on votes in the key state of Florida. A reelected Trump could lose interest in Nicaragua, offering Ortega some respite.
And if Biden wins? Ortega would ne¬go¬tiate the conditions of Nicaragua’s upcoming elections, set for November 7, 2021, with a whole set of new faces in the State Department. Foreseeing a such change in Washington, whose consequences won’t be felt until early next year, Ortega has already directed the Supreme Electoral Council to extend the period in which new political parties can apply for legal status to be able to run in those elections. The deadline for fulfilling the requirements and filing the legal paperwork has been moved from November 2020 to May 2021. Everyone knows approval is another thing.
According to Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue, if Biden wins, his priorities will be the human tragedy and economic disaster unleashed in the US by the coronavirus pandemic, and repairing the havoc left in Trump’s wake. Policy toward Nicaragua will not change, and there should be no expectation that the sanctions already imposed will be lifted. Neither will there be a softer line toward Ortega.
“[Softening the stance] would sig¬nal weakness,” Shifter told Confidencial, “and Joe Biden is not soft on dictatorships. I see him taking a hard line with Nicolás Maduro. And I think the Democratic Party has changed, now adopting a more hardline position regarding Ortega.” Shifter sees this change in US foreign policy toward Latin America generally and Nicaragua in particular: diplomacy will be active and consistent, of a kind Trump has never even attempted.
Biden will bring both
carrot and stick
We can thus imagine that Biden and running mate Kamala Harris will continue Obama’s policy toward Cuba. With respect to Venezuela and Nicara¬gua, they will showcase intelligent diplomacy. How many new “carrots” will the administration offer Ortega, and how much “stick” will they keep in place? For Ortega’s part, how much will he offer in exchange for a lifting of the sanctions affecting his family, which are the ones hurting him most? Would he even consider moving the elections forward?
The Economist, the UK-based weekly newspaper focusing on global affairs, echoes these perspectives in a recent report: “The presidential couple hopes to achieve the reversal of some sanctions, in exchange for concessions on electoral rules.” Like Shifter, it highlights the bipartisan support for Washington’s application of pressures on Ortega: “It is likely that these will continue unchanged, even under a Biden administration.”
Unaffected by the campaign,
US foreign policy rolls on
In August, William Grigsby Vado, an outspoken media defender of the governing FSLN, revealed an extensive US Agency for International Development document on the agency’s “rapid and relevant analytical and technical assistance” for a “transition” in Nicaragua. The regime-change document sees three transition scenarios from now to November 2021 and even afterwards: an “orderly” transition brought about by “free, fair and transparent elections,” a “not orderly” one and a “sudden political transition following a crisis,” which the document considers would be preceded by “a failed election, a presidential resignation, a major health crisis, a major natural disaster, or internal conflicts.” USAID claims to be pre¬pared for all these scenarios.
The document states that Ortega “shows no sign of willingness to negotiate a transition at this point. He is clearly intending to stay in power,” though USAID considers that if he loses the elections “he just might be willing to talk again,” as he did with Trump officials in mid-2018. USAID claims to believe that the “not orderly” transition and the “sudden, una¬n¬ticipated” one are the most probable.
The document details the creation of a new “task order” called Responsive Assistance in Nicaragua (RAIN) and its vision for Nicaragua’s “transition to democracy.” Behind this mealy ana¬lytical-sounding presentation, Grigsby and several other pro-regime publications, not to mention the government itself, see imperialist plans to engineer a regime change with Nicaraguan actors and be sure it comes out the way the United States would like. There is more than enough interventionist US history in Nicaragua to justify this conclusion, and regrettably it gives Ortega new circumstantial ammunition to buttress his claim for the past two years that the massive social uprising of April and May 2018 was neither spontaneous nor genuine, but a coup attempt bought and paid for by the US government that failed only thanks to a rapid repressive response by government forces.
An FSLN “in tatters”
Despite all its “Christian solidarity” projects and its upbeat official narrative, there are FSLN activists who admit the party will only make it to the 2021 elections “in tatters” and will have no choice but to steal them.
This month an independent media outlet leaked a conversation in which two mid-level ruling party functionaries fallen on hard times are heard offering this opinion. Who leaked this chat? Was it one of the two participants, to encourage his brethren to speak out? Or was it perhaps the regime itself, to warn those who speak out that they’re being watched? Or could there be a faction of the party that, in addition to speaking up, wants to damage another faction? Did the faction behind the Blood of Christ arson in the Managua Cathedral leak it? (See “Briefs” in this issue for details of this attack on the Catholic Church.)
In Sergio Ramírez’s weekly co¬lumn, this one titled “Between Orwell and Kafka,” Nicaragua’s Cer¬vantes prize winner hints at this last idea when he writes: “The authorities in Nicaragua are incapable of stopping the criminal acts of their fellow-travelers. Instead of party members, they have accomplices whom they cannot punish, be it for arson or for murder. Impunity is the price of complicity. They have nothing left but to protect one another, those at the top looking out for those at the bottom and vice versa. In this way they’ll all go down together.”
in power games
The National Coalition is far from being “in tatters,” but six months have passed since the Civic Alliance and the Blue and White National Unity (UNAB) together with several other organizations publicly announced the Coalition’s creation and invited others to join. It has been two months since the June 25 ceremony in which these organizations and others, including several political parties, formally signed the articles of incorporation they had agreed to. They also agreed to the electoral reform demands they would make. Beyond that, the Coalition’s record is patchy.
It has been lurching from one crisis to the next, and getting entangled in endless debates over internal decision-making structures, distracting it from what’s most important: making felt that it is the vehicle capable of providing hope and solace for what student leader Ivania Álvarez, one of the young rebels of the April uprising, defines as “exhaustion and encroaching despair,” and that worries her.
In today’s Nicaragua, the armed repression and de facto police State are joined by a war of attrition waged by the regime. This war is fought on many fronts in complicity with time, a delicate yet powerful weapon for wearing down the population that rejects the Ortega regime.
“I’m not afraid of being arrested again,” declares Álvarez; “I’m afraid of people growing tired and I’m afraid of despair.”
options in dispute
The crises in the Coalition stem not just from the primal difficulty Nicaraguans have in reaching agreements. They are also due to the fact that within the Coalition two political party alternatives are fighting for first place in the still uncertain electoral process. Both call themselves Liberal and feature similar traditional thinking: the Constitutionalist Liberal Party (PLC) and Citizens for Liberty (CxL). Both are latecomers to the previously non-partisan blue and white movement, but because they have slots on the electoral ballot, they each believe they hold the cards to the movement’s electoral future.
Their two proposals are characterized by tendencies toward an exclusionary hegemony and seek to dominate the progressive forces that contributed so heavily to the citizens’ explosion in April 2018.
In basic terms, the crisis currently besetting the Coalition, and more spe¬cifically the Civic Alliance, is framed by the dispute—sometimes sotto voce, sometimes unabashed and occasionally at top volume—between these two parties. This same intransigent divi¬siveness, so con¬venient for Ortega, together with rampant corrup¬tion in the PLC, was what caused the first ma¬jor split in that party in 2005. The restated repeatedly into what is today the CxL, dividing the rightwing and independent anti-Sandinista vote, made possible Ortega’s return to government in the 2006 presidential elections.
and political parties
Although there appear to be many other problems, the two surging to the forefront in the Coalition in August were interrelated: participation of the April youth in decision-making bodies and the role of political parties, which given the structure the Coalition has adopted, today have a majority.
To begin with, it was noteworthy that at the June 25 presentation cere¬mony, no one from the youth organizations forged in the rebellion signed the Coalition’s articles of incorporation separately.
The diverse groups of young people (not all of them university students) that ignited the April uprising had been meeting for months to reach agreement on how not to be just deco¬ration in the Coalition, but an integral part with their own agenda and real power. They are numerous: according to the most recent information obtained by Confidencial, there are four youth movements within the Civic Alliance, fourteen in UNAB and ano¬ther two that belong to neither of these blocs. There are no data on how many young people these 20 movements encompass. Separate from them are the youth wings of the different political parties, which, like the parties themselves, did not participate in the April uprising, or if they did, it was not representing their party.
The Coalition was born of a unity achieved through many ups and downs between the Civic Alliance and UNAB, organizations created in May and October 2018, respectively. The first sector to join with these two pioneers to create the Coalition was the Campe¬sino Movement, which had been repre¬sented in the Civic Alliance during the negotiations with the government.
In June of this year four political parties decided to join the Coalition: the counterrevolutionary Nicaraguan Democratic Force (FDN), the indige¬nous Caribbean regional party Yatama, the Evangelical Democratic Resto¬ra¬tion Party (PRD) and the PLC. The CxL waffled at that time.
Even though between them these parties don’t pull 10% in polls, their entry into the Coalition altered its structure since they immediately became a majority: four parties vs three social movements (the Civic Alliance, UNAB and the Campesino Movement), even though the first two of these in turn represent different sectors and organizations.
Despite the potential for conflicts, all these sectors agree on one extra¬ordinary characteristic of the “spirit of April”: a rejection of violence in the fight against and resistance to the dictatorship.
How many voting
seats for youth?
Tensions quickly arose between the youth and the political parties over the number of voting seats to assign to the Coalition’s youth segment. The playing out of this issue provides a revealing portrait of the turn the Coalition has taken with the incursion of Nicaragua’s political party culture. It is run through with patriarchy, agism, petty power games and the sacrifice of strategic goals for short-term gains.
First, just one seat was designated for them, which they countered by proposing three: one for the youth of the Civic Alliance, another for those in UNAB and a third for the youth groups of the four political parties. That proposal ignored the Campesino Move¬ment, which has strong Liberal roots and is fragmented, and has swung back and forth in its positions.
The political parties, backed by the Campesino Movement, then proposed seven seats: one each for the youths in the three social movements and four parties.
Young people from both the Allian¬ce and UNAB rejected this proposal, arguing that these two founding orga¬ni¬za¬tional members of the Coalition “have been the only ones who have consistently supported our proposals.” According to them, this has guaranteed the autonomy and independence of their positions. They feel that the youth groups affiliated with political parties by nature are not now and will never be autonomous, since they follow party lines. The seven seats-seven votes formula would thus ensure the political parties a double vote, always giving them a majority stake in the Coalition’s decision-making.
To break this impasse, the UNAB youth groups proposed four seats for the youth sector: those in UNAB, the Alliance, the Campesino Movement youth and the four political parties as a whole. But the Campesino Movement and the political parties dug in, accepting nothing less than their seven-seat proposal. Each blamed the others for the screeching halt to which this brought the Coalition.
“We were key actors”
“We are not begging for political spaces as students and as young people,” the University Coordinator, one of the youth movements associated with the Alliance, reminded people on July 23, National Student Day. “We earned them starting in 2018, because we were key actors in the social uprising.”
Days later, the 14 UNAB youth groups firmly reiterated their position: “We refuse to legitimize a Coalition where political parties, those that have historically destroyed, bargained away and cheated the people, could hold dominance over the decisions made, using the April youth. Young people are not political pawns they can keep using to rejuvenate their worn-out and rejected parties.” With that, the youth organizations in both the Alliance and the UNAB refused to participate further in the Coalition.
On August 22, student leader Lesther Alemán reaffirmed on Radio Darío the young people’s dissent: “Our request [four seats] never met with a credible outcome. So we began to say forcefully that a Coalition was being designed to benefit the traditional [parties] and wouldn’t have young faces. And we had public support. They often called us disrespectful, intran¬si¬gent, irresponsible; but over two years we have shown them just the opposite.”
At the end of August, as we were about to go to press, both the Civic Alliance and UNAB youth organiza-tions said they would return to the Coalition. Moreover, the Civic Alliance seemed to be approaching the CxL party, one of the two factions in an intra-party dispute among liberals.
Will the youth agenda
clear the way?
The number of seats and hence of votes is important. But even more important is the agenda shaped by 21st century youth, much the same as it is around the world: environmentally conscious, feminist, transgressive and thus democratic. Appearing in Nicaragua in April 2018, this agenda must now clear a path through the thick underbrush of the traditional national political culture. These young people have the ability to renew national politics.
If the April youth—those carrying these seeds of change—are not given the opportunity to play a strong role in this unique body, the Coalition will not represent what has been called “the spirit of April.” And not because age guarantees honesty and capacity, nor because young people are immune to manipulation by economic interests and ideology.
They have the right to a place at the table because following the water¬shed in national history marked by the 2018 uprising, the center-stage role of the April youth in the Coalition would indeed buoy the hope of those who are no longer young. And hope was what these young women and men awakened throughout society and around our country that April.
The fight over the weight of the multiple youth movements in the Coalition was a fundamental issue to the youths themselves. But it was evident that for the political parties the issue was to ensure that they would maintain or even increase their majority votes. Other conflicts over the role of the parties also shook the Coalition in August.
The Civic Alliance and UNAB had rushed to open the Coalition’s doors to political parties even before the unity between the two organizations had solidified. Was it an urge to add voices, or the need to find a way onto the ballot next year?
The social recognition the PLC once had, especially in rural areas, as the heir of Nicaraguan Liberalism and vituperative archenemy of the FSLN, won it the presidency with a handy majority in 1996. But its popularity began waning in 1998, when then President Arnoldo Alemán entered into a “governability agreement” with Ortega. This self-serving pact between two caudillos led to the reform of the Constitution and electoral law two years later, as well as 50–50 distribution of key posts in all branches of government. On a personal level, it guaranteed impunity for Ortega against his stepdaughter’s accusations of sexual abuse and for Alemán against accusations of corruption during his stint as mayor of Managua between 1990 and his 1996 presidential victory.
The PLC’s shortsighted and opportunist thinking was no match for the FSLN, already firmly under the control of Ortega and his loyalists. They had a more strategic vision for retaking power and a Machiavellian skill honed by 10 years in power battling for the survival of their revolution against the most powerful country on earth and its two major allies inside Nicaragua: big business and the Catholic hierarchy. It was a graduate course in political cynicism and the FSLN leadership had learned the lesson well. In just six years harvesting those first fruits of the pact, Ortega had already returned to power; and in six more he had gained control of all government institutions. Nica¬ra¬gua was under de facto single-party rule, with Alemán a minority partner and both his PLC and the few other remaining parties relegated to the role of FSLN satellites.
Alemán’s pact with Ortega and the corruption of many PLC leaders reduced the party’s base to no more than 4% in polls in recent years. Many of those who still feel political allegiance mistrust the party leadership, an entourage now led by Alemán’s wife María Fernanda Flores in an exercise of family power echoing the Ortega-Murillo model.
This PLC “in tatters” showed up at the National Coalition eager to use this new space to reinvent itself and be relaunched as Liberalism’s true representative.
The PLC “combo”
As the Civic Alliance, UNAB and the Campesino Movement aren’t political parties, but social movements with a highly diverse composition and interests among them, they are unlikely to achieve any electoral reform under which they could create a new “blue and white” political party. Without their own electoral “vehicle” for 2021, the Coalition needs to broker a deal with one of the existing parties to represent as much of its own platform of government as it is able to negotiate. The PLC is offering it a “combo.”
Along with its legal slot it is offering the presence of PLC personnel in all national, departmental, regional and municipal election structures, including polling places. It has retained this right granted to runner-up parties in the pact’s bipartisan scheme despite —or, as some suspect, because of—the alleged fraud in the elections at all those levels since 2008. It is a common assumption that the FSLN prefers to give the posts on those electoral structures to the PLC because of its proven readiness to be complicit in voting manipulations in exchange for guaranteeing its runner-up status, giving it some dubious legitimacy. This is the comparative advantage the PLC has over the CxL as it seeks to bring the entire blue and white opposition under its banner.
Will the PLC
There are many reasons to mistrust the PLC. Both society at large and members of the Coalition have asked the party to order any of its members who have jobs in any branch of the Ortega government to quit as a sign of seriousness about distancing themselves from the dictatorship.
This month also saw the Coali¬tion’s widespread rejection of a PLC missive to OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro suggesting that the bipartisanship negotiated in 2000—which allows the “second largest force” to have representatives up and down electoral structures—not be subject to reform until after the 2021 elections.
The PLC was obviously keen to maintain that privilege because it was the basis of its “combo” offer, its only comparative advantage over the CxL. The problem is that its unilateral move fractured the consensus that had taken so long to coalesce around the necessary electoral reforms to be demanded of the regime.
Moreover it wasn’t the only move generating a rebuff in the Coalition. There was also Alemán’s designation of his wife and two other very close PLC officials to participate on the Coalition’s Political Committee.
To complicate matters even further, the PLC is currently experiencing an internal conflict that the Ortega-dependent Supreme Elec¬toral Council will have to resolve. Bypassing their national convention, where delegates would normally vote for the party’s new leaders, Arnoldo Alemán—in the traditional “dedazo” mold of hand-selecting candidates—imposed a new president on the party. Effectively dismissed from office, the then-president rejected Alemán’s decision and, backed by a sector of the PLC, filed suit against this abuse of authority.
Kicking out the PLC?
So many conflicts have stemmed from the PLC’s presence in the Coalition that in the first few days of August voices were calling for temporarily shutting the party out, or even decisively expelling it, if it failed to shape up.
Some believed the party’s collaborationist past would never let it join this effort at unity. Others indicated in its defense that much of the PLC’s former rank and file had participated in the April uprising and that there are still worthy leaders in the party.
The end of August showed the PLC beginning to reverse course, agreeing to support the consensus around electoral reforms, thus giving up the privileges conferred by the pact to the “second largest force.” The party even announced it would switch the women designated to be PLC representatives on the Coalition’s Political Committee.
What will the
Evangelical party do?
The Evangelical PRD is also offering its ballot slot, obtained in 2017 from the Supreme Electoral Council with Ortega’s approval.
The PRD has yet to participate in any elections, since it has a slot, but no structure—evidence of the absence of the rule of law since structure is a requisite for applying for legal status. The party’s voter base is thus more potential than real: they are theore¬tically the members of the hundreds of Evangelical denominations found today in Nicaragua. It is theoretical because Evangelicals in other countries have proven to have other ingress than their re¬ligious affiliation and do not nece¬ssa¬rily vote for an Evangelical political party.
Some believe that given the extra prestige gained nationally by the Catholic Church since April 2018, it would be very difficult for a structure less Evangelical party, led by Pastor Saturnino Cerrato, to attract the full blue and white opposition to its ballot slot. It is also problematic because Evangelicals largely remained aloof from the April uprising, as did their pastors.
The comparative advantage the PRD believes will make it “the option” is apparently its presidential candidacy of popular journalist and fervent Evangelical Miguel Mora, until throwing his hat in the ring director of the 100% Noticias, a television channel that saw record audience gains in 2018 for its coverage of the uprising.
Mora and his pass director Lucía Pineda, who has now succeeded him as director, were imprisoned by the regime for over six months for that courageous coverage. Some believe the PRD will end up choosing to back the PLC “option.”
The CxL option
Five parties have remained outside the Coalition. Of those, the Nicaraguan Liberal Alliance (ALN), the Inde¬pendent Liberal Party (PLI) and Alliance for the Republic (APRE) lack grass¬roots supporters, as the FSLN gutted their original leadership, replacing them with people answering to it. These are the FSLN satellites that participate in successive elections, thus projecting—especially on the inter¬national stage—an illusion of political pluralism. Thanks to the electoral frauds orchestrated by Ortega, they hold seats in the legislature.
The much-diminished Conservative Party and the CxL, heir to both the PLI and the ALN in their earlier incarnations, are the other two, and could together become the other “electoral option.” Both have already announced they will join forces in a center-right proposal; it’s common knowledge that they are backed by the business sector dominated by finance capital interests. They have yet to float names of possible presidential candidates, but their efforts to attract leaders from among the April youth are plain.
The Liberal alternative
for a “decent opposition”
Years of friction in Liberalism, culmi¬nating in the PLC-ALN split in 2005, carry strategic weight in the process that is now fracturing the National Coalition. An irreconcilable schism separates the PLC and what is now CxL, as declared again and again by Kitty Monterrey, CxL president and longtime personal assistant to banker–politician Eduardo Montealegre, who led the original split from the PLC and formation of the ALN.
Arguing for a “decent opposition,” the CxL obstinately refuses to recog¬nize either the UNAB or the Coa-li¬tion because its opposition to today’s FSLN apparently includes anyone who was ever a Sandinista, no matter how opposed to what the FSLN and Daniel Ortega have become.
CxL leaders declare themselves allies of the Civic Alliance, but lose no opportunity to criticize the Coalition, foment division in the Alliance and UNAB, and publicly demean UNAB social movements. “They’re tiny groups, LGBT and MRS,” one of the CxL advisers says of the movements. (The MRS—Sandinista Renovation Movement—mainly pro¬fessionals and intellectuals—split from the FSLN in 1995 and was deprived of its party status in 2008 after threate¬ning the FSLN’s 2006 electoral victory; it has worked tirelessly to topple the FSLN from power ever since.) The Conservative-CxL duo aspires to be “the option” that attracts the social ma¬jo¬rity, even though the CxL’s exclu¬sionary posture divides the oppo¬sition, to Ortega’s benefit.
The CxL combo and
the pact that “lives on”
The PLC and CxL are trying to breach the irreconcilable divide between them by destroying the Coalition and taking the Liberals in it with them. Economic interests surely are at play in this.
The CxL is also offering an electoral “combo”: a legal ballot slot and what it calls an “army of prosecutors,” what it claims are some 30,000 party activists who would defend the vote on election day.
If the PLC really relinquishes the presence of its party members in electoral structures, as it indicated in late August, the “combos” both options would offer become more similar.
In its messages the CxL is exploi¬ting the very reasonable fears about how trustworthy the PLC’s decisions and internal rectifications will be in the run-up to the elections and afterward. Kitty Monterrey feeds those fears when she declares: “The PLC will do what Ortega tells it to do. Arnoldo Alemán controls the PLC so the pact with the FSLN lives on.” At least historically, she’s not wrong.
Alemán implicitly criticizes the CxL when he speaks of “mushrooms that pop up after the rain, adorned in blue and white, pretending to be pure and pointing fingers left and right at those of us who have fought and stood up for this country.”
A new “blue and white” slot?
Polls show that over 70% opposes Ortega, but that clear social majority has yet to be reflected in positive support for any group among those claiming to represent it. What this majority is undoubtedly seeking is a new electoral alternative: its own slot on the ballot, with its own name, banner and symbols through which it can bring together a broad—and most importantly stable—alliance of all the movements, new and already existing, that participated in the April uprising, along with all parties that decide to face the dictatorship together.
Today, achieving something of this nature would have to be negotiated with Ortega, with great determination and intelligence, as well as a steadfast unity capable of modifying the current balance of power, stagnant for months and favoring Ortega. Today, determination and unity seem to be as elusive as herding cats.
While the two Liberal projects fight over control of the arena in which they will face Ortega in 2021, Washington has kept Nicaragua on its agenda. This month the US Acting Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs Michael Kozak sought to unders¬tand where the National Coali¬tion is in its development.
The people he called to a 90-minute on-line meeting on August 11 included five representatives from the Civic Alliance, two of whom are from the youth sector; five from UNAB, also with two young people; and one Campesino Movement representative. The selection sent a message of recog¬ni¬tion to the three founders of the National Coalition. Another message from Washington’s senior official was the inclusion of the youth sector and exclusion of representatives from any of the political parties that have joined the Coalition.
UNAB leader Félix Maradiaga described the dialogue as one “of great honesty about the current bottlenecks in the Coalition.” In his presentation to Kozak on the Coalition’s current status, Civic Alliance coordinator Carlos Tünnermann acknowledged that the group was navigating a “complex” situation due to the presence of political parties. In his assessment this has “upset the balance that existed in the Coalition’s original design.”
Some believe Washington doesn’t care who prevails within the Coalition, as long as everyone quickly resolves their differences and offers the popu¬lace attractive leadership. What seems to carry the most weight is that the opposition make it to the 2021 elections in a single unified bloc. Longtime students of US meddling in Nicaragua’s affairs are not convinced that Washington has no more specific outcome in mind, one likely reflected in Michael Healy’s expressed support for the CxL. One indication will be whether Kozak heeds Tünnermann’s concern and lets the CxL know that its sectarian divisiveness is not helping things.
The spirit of April
Early this year, when the Coalition was just beginning to take shape and before fear of exhaustion and desperation had taken hold, student leader Ivania Álvarez said: “This is neither right nor left. Here we don’t ask about ideology. We don’t just want to escape this regime unified, we want to create a new way of doing politics, breaking free of authoritarianism, leaving behind what has always been, where one or two decide. We want politics to be something other than commanding and obeying. We need young faces and also the experience of the not-so-young.”
This is the spirit of April, at risk of being lost if the National Coalition can’t coalesce the unity of the broad-based blue and white movement around either the common leadership or strategies for which it was formed.
The obstacles are many
and the hurdles high
While these difficulties are understandably causing frustration and even despair in some since the stakes are so high, they should not cause surprise. The contributing contextual factors are monumental.
To start with we need to remember that April’s uprising was enthusiastically improvised, heterogeneous and, as its participants proudly proclaimed, “self-convoked.” It was not the planned project of any party or other organization. This unique nature of such a massi¬ve outpouring is what makes the regime’s claim that it was a coup attempt so patently absurd.
But this same unique nature has made it unusually hard to come to agreements.
A second contextual factor that has hampered efforts at dialogue and agreement is the constraints imposed by both government repression and more recently the pandemic. The possibility of holding open forums where differing views and concerns can be aired and worked through is impossi¬ble for both reasons. Cell phones and the social media have surmounted those constraints but are no equivalent substitute.
Then there is the reality of over a decade even before 2018 of the calculated destruction of any expression of opposition—organiza¬tions, parties, institutions, activities and individuals—in order to impose a dynastic project along with a single-party model that in many ways repeats nearly half a century of the Somoza family dynasty. And before that was a century of power changing hands at the point of a gun—not without help from the United States. It is no wonder that this stunted political history is not giving way easily to new forces with new ideas, and principled discussions. Those new forces have no model to follow.
And then there are the political parties that have come more recently to the Coalition, brandishing electoral proposals and disrespectfully throwing their legal status around to shape things the way they want them. They are the progeny of Nicaragua’s political history and, not incidentally, of the history of US meddling.
Both the PLC and the CxL want among other things to replace the democracy/dictatorship contradiction that was fundamental to the April uprising with the Sandinista/anti-Sandinista contradiction, which only exacerbates the polarization dividing the country and disrespects the new thinking of the April youth.
and lack of debate
The fragility displayed by the Coalition is also influenced by characteristics deeply rooted in our political culture. They are found in political parties, social organizations and the business class alike, and will not be overcome or replaced easily.
Consolidation of the National Coa¬li¬¬tion is encumbered by both extre¬me egoism and egotism from va-rious quarters, which feed confrontation over collaboration and deepen mutual dis¬trust. Alternatively, they lead in some cases to the polar opposite: cronyism and collusion. These too are part of our virtually unbroken political history.
This malady joins the scant or absent practice of debate, whether in the family, at school or in society at large. People are used to resolving conflicts through physical or verbal violence, accustomed more to winning via backstabbing than by face-to-face honesty, and more comfortable discre¬di¬ting those who offer alternate ideas than listening to them and considering their proposal.
In a country accustomed to the practice of A“dedocracy” (dedo is finger in Spanish, hence the practice of strongmen appointing candidates and determining policy with no discussion among those affected), healthy debate is no more a part of the political culture than healthy negotiation is. And that creates even more intransigence when the population is as polarized both politically and sectorally as Nicaragua is. The April youth are pushing for inclusive discussion rather than the expedient of stronger voices imposing their interests. But learning how to facilitate debate, moving it along toward consensus, and constraining the egotists who love to hear themselves hold forth, takes long practice and skill.
Some of the conflicts keeping the National Coalition from fulfilling its mandate can be traced back to these historical traits and inexperience in curbing them.
Unity or “soft landing”?
Yet another factor contributing to the Coalition’s fracturing and preventing it from fully defining itself is the complicity of private enterprise with the dictatorship under the corporatist model in the decade between Ortega’s return to power and the April 2018 uprising. Of all the different social, political and economic interests coexisting in the National Coalition, the one with the most weight is big business.
There are businesspeople and representatives of big capital within the Civic Alliance who, despite some distancing from Ortega since April 2018, still fear a drastic and disruptive change that could interfere with the “soft landing” they crave. Today they are trying to shore up their preferred outcome by backing the CxL option. What does “soft” mean for those who up to 2018 referred to the dictatorship set up by Ortega as “responsible populism”?
The Coalition’s future will undoubtedly be influenced by the elections in COSEP (the Superior Council of Private Enterprise) set for September 8. One of the candidates seeking to replace José Adán Aguerri—an experienced political operator for national big capital, re-elected as COSEP president 12 consecutive times—is the agricultural exporter Michael Healy, who has bluntly stated he supports the CxL electoral formula.
In sum, this unprecedented unity effort has in a short time brought together many disparate forces along with representatives of conflicting interests that until April had never even met, much less talked to one another and now are trying to work together. And they all bring with them the ba¬ggage inherited from the country’s far from exemplary political history. If that were not hard enough, this unique experience was born under fire, and is experiencing its growing pains during a global pandemic.
Venezuela offers no
conditions for elections
For years Ortega has looked to Vene¬zuela as a mirror for deciding what to do. What influence will the parliamentary elections set by Nicolás Maduro for this December have? Maduro seems intent on prevailing over the opposition headed by Juan Guaidó in elections dogged by controversy and lacking basic conditions of transparency and fairness.
Although the opposition in Vene¬zuela has called for abstention, the country’s bishops have exhorted it to “seek resolution” rather than abstain. And they are urging the population to gO vote, contending that “abstention will increase hopelessness in the future.”
in a sea of confusion
What will Nicaragua’s bishops say when our election date comes around? With over a year to go before then and with so many storm clouds to dispel, we can look to our reflection in the mirror of Venezuela.
To that end, we offer an excerpt from an interesting commentary on the Venezuelan bishops’ statement, given by Humanities Professor Ofelia Avella of the Metropolitan University of Caracas:
“The statement issued by the president of the Venezuelan Episcopal Conference contains two very solid conclusions: the parliamentary elections convened are illegitimate, and in light of this, a merely passive posture cannot be taken. Simple abstention is not a strategy.
“If the bishops neglected to men¬tion the ‘conditions’ that must be put to the regime for an eventual electoral pro¬cess, this does not mean they are unaware of the need for these con¬di¬tions. I think they just put out a call for unity among the opposition because what conditions can they talk about if we’re divided?
“How can we talk about demands on the regime if there are many among us who do not believe in the electoral process, others who think it is the way out, yet others who are waiting for foreign intervention or want a military coup, and many in the middle who have no idea what to do? My children ask me what to do; and my students ask, too.
“We are all like castaways lost in a sea of confusion with no idea of where to look. The bishops have said what had to be said: we haven’t managed to reach agreement on what needs to be done and faced with this important cross¬roads, what else can they say be¬sides what they said?
“If the sheep are scattered, like in¬di¬vidual Quixotes each with his or her own plan but theoretically fighting for the same goal, how could it not be easier for the wolf to eat one while the rest scatter even more, unaware of who is being eaten amid the chaos?
“The first thing [the bishops] said is that they have put out various calls in light of the people’s suffering. They also said that abstention is not enough since we are called to be active. The appeal to politicians’ conscience provoked strong reactions, but if they have even a shred of humility, they would have to acknowledge that the statement highlights the great truth of the dispersion and chaos we find ourselves in: we are not united around any plan and time is of the essence.”
You’d almost think the bishops were talking to our National Coalition...
199 years after ndependence...
Will we achieve the unity called for by the clearest voices of this country, the unity we need to overcome pettiness and face this dictatorship? Will we manage to reach agreement at this major national crossroads, beating back dispersion and having a modicum of humility to reject the conflicts draining the hope of those who suffer most? Will we understand that time is of the essence?
Agreement was also lacking 199 years ago, on that chaotic day that marked Central America’s independence from Spain. But independence was achieved. We refuse to see any conflict as unsolvable, or any challenge as already met, because there is much to be done. And we won’t decry what has already happened as a failure because we still have time... “until today’s storm clouds pass.”