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Nicaragua: What alternative do President Daniel Ortega's opponents propose?

By Domingo Quilez, introduction and translation by Felipe Stuart Cournoyer

June 6, 2008 -- In February, the rift between the Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS)[1] and the Movement for the Recovery of Sandinismo (MpRS or the Rescate Group)[2] began to widen and become more public. Although still in an electoral alliance, the Rescate Group (whose main leaders are Comandantes Henry Ruiz and Mónica Baltodano) has made clear its disagreement with the MRS policy of trying the embrace the Nicaraguan Liberal Alliance Party (ALN) and Eduardo Montealegre in some kind of electoral alliance or ``movement against the dictatorship'' (meaning the presidency of the FSLN's Daniel Ortega). Montealegre's decision to run as Managua mayoralty candidate for Arnoldo Alemán's Constitutional Liberal Party (PLC) has put the skids under any electoral MRS alliance with him and the ALN that he formerly led. The ALN is now tangoing with the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN).

The MpRS is endorsing the MRS candidates in the November municipal elections, but it is apparent that differences continue to surface between these allies.

One factor that will bring them closer is solidarity with the MRS, whose legality is under review and being challenged by the Supreme Electoral Council. Many Sandinistas, including this writer, are opposed to any move to deny minority parties legal status and hence the right to contest elections. The MpRS has vigorously protested against the threat to deprive the MRS party of its legal standing.[3]

In February, the MpRS youth movement published a manifesto sharply criticising the MRS effort to draw Eduardo Montealegre into an electoral alliance. The MpRS followed up with a statement stating their opposition to any electoral alliance or collabouration with Montealegre. They pointed out that in the 1996 elections Montealegre was the choice of the bankers and the US embassy, and that he represents the transnationals and their grand schema for ``free trade'' in our region.

World-acclaimed author and leading MRS supporter Giacondi Belli replied to the MpRS youth statement. Reporter Sergio Aguirre wrote in a February 29 article in the Managua daily El Nuevo Diario that Belli dismissed the youth statement as ``arrogant''. ``We live in a difficult era when even the purest, if they come to power, would have to make compromises ...'' She argued that the priority for left-wing Nicaraguans, Renovados or Rescatados, is to block the consolidation of the Ortega-Murillo ``dictatorship'', which she predicted is certain to happen if the FSLN wins the November municipal elections.

Belli recalled that the FSLN made such alliances in the fight to defeat the US-backed Somoza dictatorship in 1978-79 –- implying that the Ortega ``dictatorship'' is just as bad as Somoza's was, and that a similar struggle is now necessary to oust Ortega. She added that an alliance with Eduardo Montealegre ``is not suicide, but on the contrary is something that will enable us to keep on being an active element within Nicaraguan society and to grow''.

It should be noted that Belli may have changed her mind since Montealegre about-faced and went back to Arnoldo Alemán's PLC, tail between his legs, towing a showy Movement for Eduardo in his wake. But, by the very logic of her argument, Belli is affirming that the MRS is prepared to ally with anyone who wants to unite to topple the ``dictatorship''. Recently MRS leaders have warned that alleged anti-democratic actions of the government combined with growing misery and hunger could lead to the kind of violence that Somoza had to cope with. Dangerous talk, to say the least.

Rescate Group (MpRS) leaders Henry Ruiz and Mónica Baltodano are hard pressed to argue this point because they share the view that Ortega has set out to consolidate a family dictatorship and they insist that it is a priority to stop them in their tracks.[4]

Below is an article from Sandinista journalist Domingo Quilez [5] posted on the website of Radio La Primerisima which takes up the question, ``What alternative do these government opponents have?''

I largely agree with Domingo but think he should have made more distinction between the different forces he is criticising. He should avoid painting them with the same brush.

Nevertheless they must all answer to the inevitable outcome of their campaigns to oust or defeat the Ortega government. It is not Mónica Baltodano or Dora María Téllez (see endnote 3) who will replace Daniel if the ``joint opposition'' succeed in toppling his presidency, but someone of the US embassy's choosing. They will have to answer for that, not just to the immediate victims among the poor and the youth, but also to our allies in ALBA and in movements such as the supporters of Ecuador's President Correa. And more importantly, from their point of view, to history.

Felipe Stuart Cournoyer, Managua

[This article first appeared at http://aynicaraguanicaraguita.blogspot.com/2008/06/what-alternative-do-president-daniel.html. For a more extended critique of the MRS and MpRS approach see my article ``Nicaragua: A Sharp Left Turn, found at http://www.monthlyreview.org/mrzine/cournoyer020408.html or at http://aynicaraguanicaraguita.blogspot.com/2008/04/nicaragua-sharp-left-turn.html]

 

* * *

What’s the alternative if the opposition topples the government?

By Domingo Quilez [5]

[The original Spanish text can be found at http://www.radiolaprimerisima.com/blogs/58]

``Nicaragua cannot be saved by politicians who represent the exploiting classes, the landlords, big commerce, the magnates of industry, nor by the press which defends them. It is not man that made man a beast of burden. Man must create a new world'' -- Carlos Fonseca Amador[6]

June 2, 2008 -- Eighteen months ago, overjoyed, we celebrated the electoral victory of the FSLN. We shared our joy with everyone in the poorest barrios of Managua who hit the streets to celebrate the return of the FSLN to government. We especially felt joy for all those thousands of compas (comrades) who waited 16 years for this moment, for all those who after dedicating their whole lives to the cause had felt a sense of frustration, of being cheated, that history had betrayed them.

For them, for us, and for those who are no longer here, we toasted that moment, although our joy had more to do with sentiments, emotions and memories than with political identification with the FSLN leadership.

For 16 years we witnessed how all the revolutionary conquests for which we struggled were dismantled (often with the consent of FSLN leaders). So this electoral victory supposedly cancelled the debt (not all) that history has with the poorest Sandinistas, with those who never asked [the revolution] for anything in return.

We shared little or nothing with the Sandinista leadership at that moment in November 2006.

At the 1998 Sandinista congress Daniel Ortega decided to ally with the business sector of the Frente, with the goal of getting into government at whatever cost. Ever since we have thought that the FSLN had converted itself into one more party of the system. From that point on the Frente took on the capitalist stands of Sandinista businessmen (among them the late Herty Lewites). It threw all its chips on the electoral game, and making pacts for quotas of political and economic power with the Nicaraguan liberal oligarchy in exchange for paralysing social mobilisation and not undermining the policies imposed by international economic entities (IMF, World Bank) -– much like in any ``civilised and democratic'' country. Investment, social peace, judicial and constitutional power is shared among the most important political forces; an electoral system is maintained in which minority groups are disappearing (notwithstanding their abundance); and state institutions are shared out to those who have money -– today is for you, tomorrow for me! This goes on in any European country and also in the USA; and in all the capitalist pseudo democracies around us. It's part of the system of capitalist law and order.

Of course, this all happened with the blessing and support of the MRS from 2000 until 2005.

With that background, we sensed our joy would not last long, and that very soon we would have to criticize Daniel [Ortega's] government for carrying on with the neoliberal policies that had brought the country to ruin.

Given what the former governments had bequeathed us, we applauded the first measures in education and health; we congratulated the government for its soundest decisions either economic or political, such as Nicaragua's entry into ALBA.[7]

We were confident that some of the social programs that were being announced and set in motion could bring about an improvement in the situation of those most in need.

Even so, there are things about this government that we neither share nor understand. The fact that the derogation of therapeutic abortion still stands enrages us, makes us indignant, and seems to us to be a crime.

The ``goose/gander'' [ambiguous] position held on questions like Unión FENOSA[8] and the Cenis[9] worries us.

We do not understand why no new tax legislation has been presented that would make the richest pay more.

And all the government's religious paraphernalia bores and angers us.

Certainly, also, it seems to us a great stupidity and grave political error, if this is confirmed in the end, to deprive the MRS of its legal status so it cannot run in the coming municipal election. But it is still to be seen if this will happen, although some have already censured the government over this issue.

But even though we do not share many things with this government, nothing compares with the disgust and repugnance that this whole strategy of harassment of and efforts to topple the government, begun even before it assumed power, provokes in us.

It makes us reject the resentful political game, often dishonest and almost always manipulative, opportunist, defamatory and selling out the country, played by the right, the reactionary communications media and self-proclaimed progressives, some NGOs and representatives of ``Civil Society'' (if we only knew what this means and who they represent!), and by so many men and women comrades who are in other political and social organisations.

But this rejection is not because they may be right or wrong -- in some cases they are correct -– but because since the first minute this government came to power they have given it no truce; they have never supported a decision even though it could have benefited the most needy. Their only strategy seems to be to topple the government no matter the cost.

They repeat chewed-over lies like the fable of the ``dictatorship'' or the lack of free expression; they invent false news like the lack of confidence of cooperants and investors; they ally with and allow themselves to be bribed by the gringos [the United States], the worst enemy of humanity -– anything to help topple the government. All sectors of the opposition are employing the same strategy they accuse the government of having -– ``anything can be resorted to''.

And all this for what? What alternative do they all have?

None. More neoliberalism, more inequality, more corruption, more slaving sweatshops, more strategic plans and sociological studies carried out with support from cooperation agencies to again gather statistics about how bereft we are, and, of course, to support a state of law and order that serves those who have wealth.

During 17 years of neoliberal governments they supposedly opened the gates to the big investors, strategic sectors were privatised in the name of the free market, democracy and efficiency. And this great manna for the poor unemployed emerged -– maquilas [sweatshops]. Moreover, the NGOs as a consequence of their great negotiating capacity as ``representatives'' of the poor have received millions of dollars for their programs, their studies, the strategic plans, and their mini or larger scale projects. Laws have been approved and spaces opened so they can participate and make proposals.

And what is the result?

During Doña Violeta's [Chamorro] government, 5% of the population captured 35% of the national income. All state industrial and agricultural enterprises were liquidated. Life expectancy went down from 66 years in 1988 to 59.6 in 1996. Per capita annual health expenditures fell from $35 in 1989 to $14 in 1995. In 1992, 21% of the school-age population failed to enroll in schools. In 1996 credit for small producers was reduced by 87%. Tariffs and internal taxes were lifted in favour of foreign production.

Arnoldo Alemán’s government came to power via fraudulent elections. Cronyism, corruption, servility, systematic violation of laws –- that some now so often protest -– were constants of his government. His personal fortune went up by 900%. Eight-six per cent of the population lived in poverty, 57 per cent in extreme poverty and 29% were destitute. He laid the bases for his successor to sell off at ridiculous prices the state electricity and telephone utilities, and he pillaged the public purse.

Bolaños, using funds stolen by his predecessor for his election campaign, came to govern. It was the government most servile to the interests of the USA and the international organisations. The economic improvement that was often heralded, and that some ``renovation'' leaders [a reference to the Sandinista Renovation Movement] applauded, was not a result of increased production or exports, but rather the product of external aid that came to Nicaragua because of Hurricane Mitch, and from family remittances from emigrants. Even with all that aid, according to the UN World Food Program (WFP), in 2006 Nicaragua was the second-poorest country in the Americas with 1.5 million starving people, 27% of the population.

Do they want to go back to that? Is that the alternative they want for Nicaraguans? What have all those millions of international cooperation dollars been used for, that according to journalistic news no longer are being sent here because of the ``tyrannical'' government of Daniel Ortega. In what way has the situation of the people improved over the last 17 years?

Not at all. The poor are more raked over and the rich are richer. Ah! And a new class –- the class of those working for international agencies and organisations.

We are convinced that we have to criticise this government, and even mobilise ourselves to make it comply with its obligations to the most disfavoured sectors. But even with its errors, stupidities and ideological madness, it is much closer to the problems of the people than any of its predecessor governments -– and much preferable to the alternatives proposed from the opposition.

But it is not only against the government that we have to mobilise. Also against the private enterprisers be they Liberals, Sandinistas or Renovators (who also have them) who continue to pay miserable salaries, but demand stability. Against the transnationals who buy for two bits the patrimony of all Nicaraguans, treating us as third-hand merchandise. Against the bank owners who continue to lard their current accounts. Against all these money bags, whoever they may be, who pass by calmly in their SUVs, showing off and fancying their wealth.

We mobilise together with women not only for restitution of the right to therapeutic abortion, but for the legalisation of women's right to access no-cost abortion services as a matter of their free choice.

From that outlook, we add our numbers to popular mobilisations against the powerful, whether they are in government, in the opposition, or gain mega salaries from some NGO.

We join together with campesinos to demand better social services in the countryside, support for production and, why not, to go back to carrying out an Agrarian Reform that will return to many campesinos lands that were stolen from them over these years by bankers and landlords.

We join with men and women health and education workers, the police and other state officials so their wages will at least cover the basic family food basket, even if we burst the state budget and fail to comply with the International Monetary Fund. Together with Costeño men and women so that at last they can become owners of their own destiny and not puppets of the political and economic interests from the Pacific.

Together with the men and women sweatshop workers to enforce compliance of their labour rights and so they get a dignified wage, even though the sacred investors will get less profit.

And of course, we mobilise here and now together with the NOBODIES, with those with nothing, with the residents of the Acahualinca garbage dump. According to prudent analysts of the communications media and NGOs, it seems that since their latest mobilisations they don't even have the right to protest; their only future is to keep on rummaging through other people's garbage.

Will the owners of the communications media, the ``social leaders'' from some NGOs, or the leaders of the Renovators back the demands [of those sectors] and participate in their protests? I think not.

For them, all the racket only makes sense if it is aimed to defeat the government; but they seem indisposed to change the criminal economic and social system, and lose the privileges that many of them have.

Notes

1. MRS –- the Sandinista Renovation Movement, a political party that resulted from a breakaway of many FSLN leaders in the mid-1990s. Its orientation and approach are social democratic in its Latin American version. They are known as the ``Renovadores'', to distinguish them from the Movimiento por el Rescate del Sandinismo (MpRS -— Sandinista Recovery Movement) that also goes by the names Grupo Rescate and is often just called the ``Rescates''.

2. MpRS -- Movimiento por el Rescate del Sandinismo (Movement for the Recovery of Sandinismo). Founded by the late Herty Levites and various other leading FSLN members who left or were expelled from the FSLN. See Endnote 1.

3. Dora Maria Tellez, a key MRS leader and founder, is currently on hunger strike to protest the Electoral Council's move against the MRS and three other small parties. There has been widespread opposition to any decision to deny these parties formal or legal status.

There is a a disturbing irony to this story described by Oscar Marín who posts blogs on Radio La Primerisima. He points out in his current blog that Dora Maria Tellez is the original promoter of the undemocratic law under which her party may now lose its legal standing [see ``MRS debe asumir su situación con dignidad'', at http://www.radiolaprimerisima.com/blogs/60]. He argues that Dora Maria Tellez, Sergio Ramirez Mercado [former Sandinista vice-president of Nicaragua in the 1980s] and Luis Humberto Guzman formed their own ``pact'' to eliminate two electoral rivals, and accomplished this goal as part of the 1995 constitutional reform. His conclusion, however, cannot be supported. He says the MRS leaders, because of this questionable history of rigging the electoral law in 1995, should now take their medicine ``with dignity''. I argue that they are correct to defy this law and any attempt to [deregister] the MRS as a recognised and legal political party. This reactionary law allows the National Assembly and the Supreme Electoral Council to decide which groups can be recognised parties. It is only through struggle that it can be overturned.

4. See the PROCLAMA del RESCATE, 27 de Enero de 2008.

5. The Nicaragua Network Hotline (February 12, 2008) publisheed an English-anguage summary of an earlier call by Domingo Quilez for Sandinista unity.

Journalist calls on Sandinistas to unite to achieve social change

``In a recent article published on Radio La Primerisima's website (http://www.radiolaprimerisima.com), journalist Domingo Quilez emphasised the need for all those political parties, NGOS, social movements and other sectors which were born out of Sandinismo and are dedicated to working for social justice to unite in order to achieve true social change in Nicaragua. `The only way to bring an end to social injustice in Nicaragua is to change the economic system that generates it', says Quilez. `Neither the government, nor the Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS), nor the NGO sector, nor social movements can do that on their own.'

``He went on: `How is it possible that the FSLN can make pacts, negotiate and even reconcile with Cardinal Miguel Obando, the [Constitutional Liberal Party] inner circle and so many other enemies of the revolution but cannot sit down, talk and reach agreements with the MRS or the Sandinista social movements? `How is it possible that the MRS [and other Sandinista organisations and movements opposed to the government] can describe the current government as a dictatorship, talk about a lack of freedom of expression in the country ... and participate with Somocista individuals and organisations in the Block Against the Dictatorship? Are they unable to admit that there have been some advances ... in health care, education and workers’ rights [under the FSLN government]? I am convinced that there are women and men in the current government who are working for social, political and economic change in benefit of the people and that within the Sandinista opposition and organisations there are also people working towards these changes. Will it be possible for them to come together and, united, build a Nicaragua where everyone can fully enjoy our national wealth, where economic rights are considered an essential aspect of human rights and where the exploitation of the majority by the minority is brought to an end? More than a desire, it is a necessity.' '' -- See http://www.nicanet.org/?p=461

6. Carlos Fonseca Amador (June 23, 1936–November 7, 1976) was a Nicaraguan teacher and founder of the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN). Fonseca was later killed in the mountains of Nicaragua, three years before the FSLN took power. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carlos_Fonseca

7. ALBA -– Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas -– an organisation based on the principles of Caribbean and Latin American unity, fair trade and solidarity among its member countries. It was launched by Cuba, Bolivia and Venezuela, and later joined by Nicaragua days after Ortega's election in November 2006.

8. Union FENOSA is a Spanish corporation that managed to buy the electricity distribution system for a song during the previous government. Most Nicaraguans hate it. Calls for its nationalisation are widespread and loud.

9. CENIS is a reference to bonds issued to guarantee the savings of clients of several banks that ``failed'' in the opening years of the new century. This led to a dramatic increase in Nicaragua's internal debt, one that carries high interest rates compared to those attached to foreign loans. In the process of issuing these bonds a massive fraud was enacted in which more than US$600 million was shared out to a few leading bankers in the country -– illegally. The state prosecutor reports that charges are now pending against numerous (as yet unidentified) persons involved in the fraud.

 

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