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Central American University - UCA  
  Number 473 | Diciembre 2020
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“We need to talk to others with empathy and trust in their good faith”

This lawyer has been a legislative representative for several Liberal parties, and since 2019 he has been advising the Civic Alliance on territorial organizing techniques. Here he analyzes the challenges facing the blue and white opposition and where the main current challenge—unity—stands at the moment.

Eliseo Núñez Morales

I can speak from inside the Civic Alliance, but don’t regard me as its spokesperson because that I’m not.

These days I’m just trying to discuss the situation with anyone who wants to talk, trying to make things work and not fuel disunity. What I can say in this first summary is that, discourses aside, the Civic Alliance left the National Coalition to see how to improve the opposition’s unity from the outside, while the National Blue and White Unity (UNAB) stayed in the Coalition to achieve the same objective, to improve it from the inside. Now, I believe the most important thing is to reestablish relationships between the Alliance and UNAB, to solidify them. I believe we all understand that neither the forces of t UNAB nor of the Alliance, much less those of the political parties, are enough to face this dictatorship. We all have reached that point, like in the movie “Jaws,” remember? When they saw the size of the shark and all agreed: “We’re gonna need a bigger boat.”

Political parties should
serve as vehicles

We have to acknowledge that the political parties still create a lot of problems. And all of us who’ve been in them have to admit that we are responsible, in one way or another, for the problems Nicaragua is facing today. The parties have to change. They should notice all the people who entered into politics after April. There are so many, it’s like a huge talent pool that could swell their ranks when this is over. That talent pool is a golden opportunity to launch new leaderships. Understanding and promoting the formation of this pool of new leaders would grant the political parties some prestige, especially today, and would show that the search for common denominators in politics is everywhere. Now, with the globalization of information, this is harder than some years ago and the parties need to understand the urgency of changing if they want to reinvent themselves. Some are doing this in many countries. We still don’t see any changes in Nicaragua with these very traditional parties, where Liberals have conservative values.

The political platform our country needs has to be led by the voices of April: the self-convened, the youth. And the parties? They should be vehicles. They have to give up leading. We aren’t asking them to disappear. In this stage we’re just asking them not to lead, but to serve as a legal base. If they don’t get this, if they want to continue controlling all of the opposition, then unity becomes very difficult.

The ideal would be
for Liberals to unite

Let’s take a look at the two Liberal parties that have some weight in the territories, the interior of the country. I know them from inside and I admit that it seems like we Liberals are again condemning all of Nicaragua to a dispute over a decade old between those two parties, Aleman’s Constitutionalist Liberal Party (PLC), with all of its problems, and Citizens for Liberty (CxL), with all of its aspirations. This dispute led to the split that helped Ortega return to government in 2006.

The ideal would be for both the PLC and CxL, with all their mistakes, some worse than others, to participate in the same opposition coalition. It wouldn’t mean Liberal unity; it would just mean equilibrium and the strengthening of the opposition. The latest events related to the PLC’s internal crisis pull us farther away from that.

What are the CxL
and big business up to?

Kitty Monterrey, as the head of CxL, cannot continue presenting a national solution from a position with a very marked ideological bias. A single party and a single ideology aren’t the solution for Nicaragua. She should understand that her party’s role, like that of all the others, is to be a vehicle for the voices of April. I believe it’s a bad idea at this stage of the game to wager so much on an anti-Sandinista discourse with no distinction between Sandinista dissidents and the dictatorship’s loyal militants. It might be profitable later on, when all this is over and people start aligning with the party they feel best represents their interests from among those that jointly confronted the FSLN.

Is CxL behind the search for a “soft landing” for Ortega? I don’t believe so, because Ortega doesn’t want to land his plane under any circumstances. Is there an under-the-table arrangement with CxL and the business elite? I don’t see any signs of it. What I do see, actually, is that a good part of the country’s big business is indifferent to the national reality, which certainly complicates things. However, I don’t see those business leaders snuggling up to Ortega. And it’s not because there aren’t material or political conditions for a new agreement between big business and Ortega; he’s betting on strengthening his own business class headed by his offspring. But most importantly, these businesspeople never agreed ideologically with Ortega; they just saw him as a stabilizing factor. Today, Ortega is anything but. Under these circumstances, any agreement with him lacks strategic value.

Internal crisis puts the
PLC in Ortega’s hands

As for the PLC, it will have to resolve its current litigation between the two groups disputing the party’s legal status. María Haydée Osuna’s group is claiming the PLC’s presidency and refusing to recognize Miguel Rosales as the party’s new president, while Rosales, chosen by the group Alemán heads, to date maintains control over the PLC. Osuma’s group made the mistake of handing over the decision about this dispute to the Supreme Electoral Council (CSE). Everyone, her included, knows the CSE is totally controlled by Ortega. Why weren’t they able to reach at an agreement on their own? Why play a game that puts them in Ortega’s hands?

If I’d been in María Haydée’s shoes, instead of going to the CSE for it to decide which is the legal PLC, I would have allied my Liberal group with the UNAB or the Alliance. That would have contributed a Liberal force to the whole of the opposition, even though it would be without an election slot on the ballot, like the other parties.

Now, what we have is litigation in the hands of Ortega and increased distrust among all: Alemán has an old pact with Ortega and Haydée has a new one with him… and both are in Ortega’s hands. That now makes the PLC’s election slot unfeasible for us and leaves us with fewer election slot options to serve us as vehicles. Now we only have two: the CxL’s slot and that of the Evangelical Democratic Restoration Party (PRD).

The US pounds on
the table and chips fly

This month, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo sent a message seeking to hasten a solution to the crisis created by the PLC’s fracas by announcing that US entrance visas were cancelled for Alemán, his son and daughter, and María Fernanda Flores, vice president of the PLC in the Rosales group. Pompeo argued it was a measure against acts of corruption dating back to his presidency of the country that “continue to reverberate in Nicaragua today.” I believe the US government has been watching which way the winds are blowing with the conflict between the two groups disputing the PLC’s legality and sees it turning into an internal cancer that is undermining the opposition’s unity. So, it pounded on the table and chips flew. This cleared up the view of the panorama for those who didn’t want to see it. Days later, María Haydée Osuna, a PLC congresswoman, asked the legislative branch to strip María Fernanda Flores of her position as a PLC congresswoman and of her parliamentary immunity.

I don’t know if it’s possible at this stage, but I vote that Miguel Rosales and María Haydée Osuna come to an agreement that blocks Alemán’s participation and that all the PLC Liberals enter united into the opposition unity, without an electoral slot, but no longer with this crisis. They should join us because we need everybody here, all of our natural and not natural allies.

The Alliance and UNAB
need to stick together

Let’s return to the opposition’s current situation. There’s UNAB, believing the National Coalition needs to be reformed from within to be able to expand. And there’s the Alliance, believing it wasn’t working and seeking to increase the opposition unity from the outside. Neither the Alliance nor UNAB, however, believes the other should be left along the wayside.

I admit there are radicals in both organizations who do believe this, but they’re not a majority in either structure, nor do they have the capacity to become one. At the moment, we have to work on coming together in all senses and with everybody. There are people from both organizations today who are talking with everyone. This is positive, because sometimes agreements come from where they are least expected and it’s at the most basic levels of communication where one manages to open a door.

The work we have before us now as opposition—structured or not, organized or not—is to talk with everyone. And to put ourselves in the other person’s shoes.

We need a bigger boat

For those who entered politics since April, it’s hard to understand that distrust is an everyday thing in politics. It’s hard for them to understand because it’s the opposite in real life: if we join an association, a group, a club, it’s because we have friends or acquaintances there who inspire trust. In politics, it’s permanent mutual distrust. That’s why we must talk, and talk with everyone to be able to reduce that distrust and overcome it. In politics, the power of personal communication is very important.

In the face of this dictatorship, the shark we’re up against, we have to understand that no one group is enough and we all are needed. We see everything blurry and dismantled right now, but I want to believe what the saying teaches us: “The darkest hour is just before the dawn.” I believe that little by little, though too slowly to keep people’s hope up at the moment, we are realizing that the boat has to be bigger so we can all fit in it. And we need everyone for this. Whether this is resolved through elections or through indefinite peaceful resistance, the 2021 elections will be a watershed. And we will have to decide what to do and how to do it. Whatever decision we make regarding the elections will take a lot of conversation beforehand.

Territorial organizing
is moving along

In spite of the pandemic and the repression, territorial organizing has advanced a lot for both UNAB and the Alliance. Within the Alliance we have now elected boards or work groups, which for all intents and purposes are the same thing: organized territorial units. In Managua We have 132 municipal boards or work groups and 15 department boards or work groups around the country and 7 district groups in Managua.

UNAB has groups in 123 municipalities and fewer departmental groups than we do, but that has to do with their organizational dynamics. We put the departmental team together first then it went and organized the municipalities in that department whereas UNAB went directly to the municipalities and from there reached up to the departments. The Alliance has somewhat more density in both the departments and the municipalities, but not by much. For all intents and purposes, the National Coalition practically has the same groups as UNAB, which is part of the Coalition, and I dare to say that UNAB has formed more groups than the PLC.

The Alliance and UNAB are pretty even in territorial presence. The voices of April, the effect April had, is fundamentally reflected in those who are organized within both the Alliance and UNAB, and not so much in the political parties. I’ve been around the whole territory and I can attest that the parties exist mostly in the rural areas. Among them, the one with the greatest presence is the PLC, and not necessarily Alemán’s followers. Second is the CxL.

At the beginning of September, we wanted to try out the organizational base the Alliance had achieved through a strategy we called P198, flyers with Ortega’s face and “HE’S LEAVING” on them. We sent them to 132 municipalities where we are organized and we received reports from 83 that sent us evidence that they had put them up: a picture of the flyer, the location, and the time it was put up. That doesn’t mean the rest rejected the strategy. Some told us they put them up but were afraid to take a picture; others said they went out to do it but weren’t able to because they were followed.

Legislative candidates
shouldn’t come from party slates

I believe both the Alliance and UNAB have strong enough territorial structures at this point to be able to force situations within the whole of the opposition, although not everywhere in the country and not yet against the dictatorship. They are strong enough to effect changes in the territories. So, if we can reach an agreement for the 2021 elections, and for the selection of National Assembly candidates, the territorial structures could choose their own departmental candidates locally with a high degree of unity. Doing this would be quite an achievement because it would appropriate the political parties’ main weapon in the territory: putting their own chosen people on the ballot.

Parties use a highly clientelistic method for choosing their legislative slates. We know loyalty to a political party doesn’t come from the leaders’ charisma, much less from the party’s ideology. It comes from a leader placing an already loyal follower on the ballot. Parties have never favored heading their slate with candidates who represent their territorial constituents well; they put those loyal to the party leaders and their interests. I’m sure that with the level of organization we have achieved and with a good method for candidate selection in the territories, departmental candidates would either come from the Alliance or UNAB or the Campesino Movement, not from the parties. We might have to negotiate the slate of 20 at-large national candidates to the National Assembly, but the department slates are not negotiable and will have to be the candidates chosen in the territories.

Are local church leaders
supporting the opposition?

What we’ve experienced in the territories is that both Evangelical pastors and Catholic priests have helped us. We talk with them, and they put us in contact with local leaders.

It’s been proven that in the territories the Evangelical sector is not Sandinista as the regime would like us to believe. We confirmed this in the old “Contra corridor,” those originally 26 municipalities that go from Murra and Quilalí in the north to El Almendro in the south—now they’re 28 because El Cuá-Bocay was divided into two and Mulukukú was declared a municipality after the eighties. In this corridor, 90% or more of the Evangelical pastors were Contra commandos during the war back then. It’s the same for Catholic delegates of the Word. In the Pacific zone there are a lot of Evangelical pastors who are retired Sandinista Army personnel. This migration from war to religion should be a subject for research to better understand this phenomenon.

Today, with 80% of society in opposition to the regime, Catholic parish and Evangelical pastors are conveyor belts of society’s feelings and hardly ever are foreign to what the people feel. There may be some, but the majority of religious leaders don’t only guide society, but also receive feedback from it.

The Vice President’s ravings
aim to strip us of our humanity

Repression has been an obstacle for territorial organizing, making it very complicated. It impedes us from travelling around since they follow us, harass us wherever we go, don’t let us leave our houses, surround places where we gather to meet… All this and more combines with something else I consider very dangerous: the Vice President’s speeches, her rosary of ranting and raving, offenses she launches at us so frequently.

Nicaraguans, myself included, make fun of her epithets. But let’s not forget what happened in Rwanda before the civil war between the Hutu and the Tutsi. The Hutu spent a long time calling the Tutsi “cockroaches.” It was their way of stripping the Tutsi of their humanity so when it came time to kill them, nobody would feel they were killing a person. That aggressive and insulting official discourse that calls us vampires, bacteria, termites…aims to do the same: strip us of our humanity, turn us into A social scourge.

East German politics,
Cuban repression

I don’t believe we are heading down the road to a Cuban political model here in Nicaragua, although some say we are. With respect to the repressive model, however, we are following the Cubans. Their model for social control and repression was implemented at the beginning of their revolution, in the 1960s when it was very popular among a population that accepted this control as something good and a State that almost totally replaced private enterprise. We cannot go toward a Cuban political model because Ortega is neither popular nor capable of nationalizing the economy since he has no way to substitute the means of production.

Regarding repression against opposition, after experiencing the 2018 slaughters, it does seem to me that Ortega is following the Cuban repressive guidelines by not allowing the opposition leaders to travel around, infiltrating them, making the population feel like we’re a minority. I don’t really know if there are Cuban advisers for repression. There is a school and we see the methods are very similar.

We must recall that during the years of the revolution, Nicaragua had two main sources for advice: Cuba and East Germany. Cuba’s model, was and is a single party model. Few people know that in Honecker’s Germany the Communist Party had an opposition party, the Peasant Party. While Honecker’s party wasn’t the only one, it was hegemonic. And that is the model Ortega has followed.

Ortega’s model isn’t one of a single party as in Cuba, but of a hegemonic party. And that’s why he needs a functional opposition. In this sense, I assure you that none of us in the Alliance or UNAB are functional opposition for Ortega. There is true opposition in both organizations. We may have terrible problems coming to agreements, that’s true. But nobody’s going to play Ortega’s game.

Repression aims to create
distrust and divide us

Police constantly harass opposition leaders all around the country. And they make no distinction. It seems the police are clearer about unity among us than we are; their repression is the same whether you’re from UNAB, the Alliance, the PRD or CxL. Yet out of the blue, seemingly randomly, they let one do more than another, sometimes increasing or decreasing their tone towards someone or some group. In this way we see them following the Cuban model. This is all well calculated to divide us, so we’re suspicious and distrustful of each other.

I want to point out another important aspect resulting from the repression and the offensive official language against the opposition. All this is intended to destroy communal connections between Nicaraguans. We are reaching a point in our neighborhoods where we don’t trust our neighbor or the one across the street, or at work we don’t trust the person beside us. A serious rip in the social fabric is being produced, tearing apart the community’s basal solidarity. Recently, the sister of a political prisoner told me something incredible: her brother’s three-year-old son, who’s diabetic, is no longer being treated at the health center because the neighborhood CPC [Council of Citizens’ Power] reported them as “coup-mongers.”

Things like this are the greatest harm caused by the repression. It was already enough to have a society with individuals who aren’t concerned about their neighbor—a reality generated by inequitable economic models—to now add these divisions never seen before in our society.

We are capable of doing
great things together

When this happens, it’s not easy to trust each other. But not all is lost, because in the midst of so much distrust and ruptures in our social fabric, we’re dealing with the pandemic. The virus has attacked us five or ten times more than official government figures say. But we have withstood it thanks not to the government, but to ourselves. The self-convened have been capable of facing the worst moments of the pandemic without the regime to look after us. For its part, the regime has gambled on the herd immunity approach, which most endangered its own followers.

Yes, the repression has complicated things for us, but Ortega now has to cope with some very bad luck that goes by several names: Zoom, Jitsi, Gotomeeting, WhatsApp… all these platforms that allow us to communicate among ourselves and use them for organizing. When I travel around the territories, I insist that they use these platforms and if they don’t want to or cannot, I tell them to organize any way they can. “It doesn’t have to be within the Alliance, just organize!” Because only if we organize will we change Nicaragua.

What we’ve done in the face of the pandemic has showed us that were capable of doing great things. We tackled the virus under much greater poverty than other countries, but with a fierce decision to survive. I remember deserted streets in Masaya for days. Now, this self-convened solidarity to help the victims of the hurricanes tells us that, in spite of the repression, the communal base is recoverable when all this is over. And this will pass.

These are labor pains,
not terminal pains

This will pass because if there’s anything April made clear it’s that Ortega’s planned family succession was pulverized. They are now trying to reconstruct it, but having pulverized it and with Ortega on his way out age-wise, his succession causes a lot of uncertainty among his base: who…what will happen after…and what will tomorrow look like? Whether Ortega and Murillo want it or not, the political transition started before April and it’s now unstoppable.

What we are feeling today are labor pains, not terminal pains, but whether the child is going to turn out good will depend on many things. It will depend on us. We Nicaraguans are given to arrogance and when we become leaders, we end up believing we are always right. If we don’t overcome this, it could take us into another authoritarian period.

We need April’s leadership
in the government

I’m not minimizing the lack of unity. We haven’t achieved it, but I believe there is the will to do so, in spite of all the differences and interests between us. I’ve been in politics for many years and because of the nature of politics, ’m convinced that when sit down and have that necessary discussion based on principles, it needs to take into account the aspirations and ambitions of all those at the table. Avoiding bringing up concrete issues isn’t helpful.

If we only discuss what unites us, i.e., getting rid of Ortega, we don’t empower each group. Besides, as I repeat continuously to the people we’re organizing: “Don’t be afraid to say you want a position in public office.” Public offices are for serving, not a lottery ticket you win. They’re for people who want the country to work out. April left many new leaders who should be given space. We need those students, peasants, self-convened, professionals from April in the National Assembly and in municipal governments. It’s not that they need to be in those positions; we as Nicaraguans need them. We need all who came out of April to get into government and generate the change we need.

Once over the wall, we can
discuss controversial issues

I also admit that there are a lot of very controversial issues that can only be discussed when we take back democracy. Ideological opinions are currently superfluous because for now only the dictator’s word is valid and everything else is “prisoner’ talk.”

It does no good to fight over ideological issues, even though they are very interesting and thrilling, because what we need to discuss now is how to have democracy in a country where we’re just starting to see it. Ideological and other difficult issues in such a conservative country as ours can’t be discussed right now. But nor can we impose that they never be debated. And here I want to say something that few people know: all the groups in UNAB that maintain a gender equality, pregnancy interruption, sexual diversity rights agenda, signed a commitment not to include that agenda in the debate until democracy returns to the country. They haven’t renounced those issues, but they know we first have to get rid of the dictatorship and only after that can we discuss all this.

The problem now is to scale the wall that separates us from democracy. Only if we do that will we have space to discuss many things. If we don’t get over that wall, which is Ortega, there will be no space to discuss anything and we will be stuck on this side, chewing each other up.

The greatest enemy besides
disunity is abstention

I acknowledge that we have lost a lot of time, but we have a lot of time ahead of us. I believe that if we do a good job from here to 2021, the opposition will end up in only two blocs: one that will go to elections assuming there are minimum conditions and the other bloc that will call for abstention even if there are minimum conditions. I believe we can avoid a division into two or three blocs with two or three candidates, but we won’t get out of having a bloc that will call for abstention.

Which will prevail? That will depend on the credibility of the bloc that participates in the elections and on its capacity to generate hope. And it will depend on who leads the abstention group and how much credibility they have. For me, the greatest enemy besides disunity is abstention. Not facing this enemy will pull us away from finding a solution, because it is already present.

Opposition leadership
needed to generate unity

I understand the discouragement, because we’ve lost a lot of time and Ortega is seen as invincible, and that is disheartening. However, we must understand that there’s no turning back on this journey we started in April. We have to find a way to choose a leadership for all the opposition. And that leadership, be it good, bad or average, will have to accept responsibility and we will all follow. I wish collective leadership would take precedence, but I believe this country still needs such collective leadership to be expressed and reflected in a concrete individual. That’s why the presidential candidate, whoever it may be, will be very important, because when he or she generates his or her traditional Nicaraguan political dynamic, it will also generate unity around it.

To go or not to go…
to the elections

Despite the time wasted and all that has happened recently, I’m optimistic, because I see people from the Alliance and UNAB in the territories getting along well and walking and collaborating together on many things. What I also see, however, is that when the time comes to make a decision on whether or not to go to the elections, this discussion will surely divide us.

It’ll be a very complex, divisive discussion: Alliance-Alliance, Alliance-UNAB and UNAB-UNAB. In all the territories and within the two organizations there are already groups that say they want to go and groups that say that we shouldn’t go. The majority in exile says NO and a minority says YES. In the Alliance, a minority says NO, and in UNAB it’s half YES and half NO. In the Coalition, since it’s now controlled by political parties, YES predominates, due to the nature of parties, which influences them to want to participate.

Will we be capable of
recovering the stolen elections?

The decision we have to make next year isn’t only whether to go to the elections or not. Making it clear that I speak on behalf of no one other than myself, I say the question isn’t whether or not we go. What we will have to ask ourselves will be based on the certainty that Ortega will steal the elections, so we need to ask whether we can grab them away from him if he steals them. If the answer is YES, we say YES even though he’s going to steal them. If the answer is NO, and we see we don’t have the capacity to take them from him, then we have to change the strategy because we will be facing a need to prepare ourselves for a longer-term game.

I think that’s the question we need to ask ourselves and it will be very hard to answer when the moment comes to discuss it. For this discussion, we will have to have achieved cohesion. And doing that means all of us trying to step down from our pedestals and see the other not as someone functional for the regime, but as someone with us in the opposition with a different tactic than ours.

Currently, I wouldn’t know if there are more people willing to go to elections to take them away from Ortega than those who’ve decided to abstain. I speak with outraged people who are organizing. And those in these organized structures want to fight for it. That, however, doesn’t necessarily reflect the opinion of most of the population.

My son felt the same
fear forty years later

Allow me to end with a personal memory. In 1979, during the last days of the armed insurrection against Somoza, I was six years old and my mother worked in Ticuantepe. My father went from Masaya, where we lived, to look for her and bring her to safety. Neither my father nor my mother came back for two days. I remember my grandmother telling me why they weren’t coming back, and consoling me. When they were able to return, they decided to leave Masaya. I remember we went out on the main street of Masaya, on foot, with the few things we were able to carry with us.

I remember walking with my father and his hand upon my head, on my neck, and every time a shot was heard he would push me down onto the street and when we didn’t hear shots anymore, we would continue walking. I don’t remember crying, but I do remember feeling a horrible fear since the day my parents disappeared and while I walked that street under bullets, full of barricades. On June 19, 2018, I had to get my little son out of the house, when the paramilitaries came into Masaya for “Operation Clean-up.” He was the same age I was back then. Instinctively, I placed my hand on his head like my father had done with me. My son didn’t cry either, but I know he felt the same fear I did. And when I held his head, I asked myself: Why does my son have to experience the same thing I did forty years later?”

Talk, listen, trust

We in this country have to change. We cannot allow this transition we started in April 2018 to take us into another authoritarian cycle. We have to struggle for democracy to work in Nicaragua. And like I said at the beginning, what we have to do is talk, talk, talk with everybody, listen to each other, assume that the one who doesn’t think like I do is acting in good faith. In part, the division that recently happened was due to thinking that the other was acting in bad faith. At this moment we need to talk with each other. We have to know why others distrust us and ask what to do so they do trust. Unity will be achieved with will and with empathy. Not all is lost. Let me be optimistic.

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