Nicaragua: Anti-FSLN opposition seeks unity to topple Ortega government
By Felipe Stuart Cournoyer
Managua -- On June 11, 2008, the axe of Nicaragua’s Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) came down on the Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS[i]) and the old historic Conservative Party of Nicaragua (PCN), now a tiny shell of its former self. The CSE unanimously decided to deregister both parties on the grounds that they had failed to fulfill the requirements of the national electoral law.
That law states that only registered parties can participate in Nicaraguan elections. It obligates registered parties to submit their statutes and the results of internal elections to the CSE. It also stipulates that parties must have organised structures and executives in most of the electoral districts of the country, with the exception of parties that only exist in the Caribbean Coast autonomous regions (RAAN and RAAS), such as YATAMA.[ii]
The CSE explained its action based on infractions of the electoral law. Despite protestations to the contrary from the affected parties, the Council of Electoral Experts of Latin America has justified the CSE decision, stating that it conforms to Nicaraguan law.[iii]However, it is not necessary to probe the details and legalese of these political actions to ascertain that the forced deregistration of the two parties, although pegged to the letter of the law, is a grave anti-democratic action, a political act made possible by an anti-democratic law, based on a long tradition of state control over political parties.
Appeal Court decision
In response to an MRS petition, the Managua Appeals Court has referred the CSE decision to the Supreme Court. This will likely mean a long delay before a final legal ruling is made.
By the ethics of disclosure, I should make it clear that I have been an FSLN full member since 1990 when I became a Nicaraguan citizen – and a historic collaborator of the Frente since 1978. I support the present Sandinista government, especially its anti-imperialist stands, but also many of its measures to alleviate poverty in the country. I also have many disagreements with aspects of government policies.[iv]
The CSE decision to deregister the MRS and the Conservative Party constitutes, in my humble opinion, a serious political error and miscalculation by the FSLN and the PLC; both parties backed the CSE action.
All Nicaraguans should have the right to form parties and run in elections either as individuals or parties; or by what is called in Nicaragua “popular subscription” in which ad hoc groups of citizens were able to nominate candidates. The National Assembly removed that provision from the Electoral Law some years ago. The state or government should not be empowered to interfere in the internal affairs of political parties and organisations. Parties should not have to get state approval in order to participate in the electoral system.
Get the state out of business of regulating political parties
What is needed in Nicaragua is a clearly focused campaign to restore the right of the two parties to legality. The electoral law should be completely changed to get the state out of the “business” of monitoring and controlling the internal affairs of political organisations and parties. It should be noted, however, that no party with deputies in the National Assembly, the MRS included, have taken this clear stand.
Many individuals and organisations that support the government are in disagreement with this anti-democratic action and law. They include Dionisio (Nicho) Marenco, the FSLN mayor of Managua.
On the international level, as well, prominent pro-Sandinista figures have expressed their dismay at the decision to deny a political space to the two parties. The most powerful example of that phenomenon is a full-page statement in solidarity with the MRS protest, published in El Nuevo Diario, and signed by twelve prominent pro-Sandinista figures including Noam Chomsky, Ariel Dorfman, Eduardo Galeano, Salman Rushdie and Mario Benedetti. Their statement reveals a lack of detailed or accurate knowledge about what is happening in Nicaraguan politics at this stage, and also an inflated view of the actual appeal of the MRS and its leaders.
Their reference to Dora María Téllez is an expression of solidarity with a thirteen-day hunger strike she launched on June 3, and ended on June 16, upon the strong insistence of her doctors. She began her hunger strike to protest the CSE decision.
However, in tandem with the hunger strike, the MRS embedded the key issue into its global anti-FSLN strategy – one based on the analysis that the Ortega government is a family dictatorship under consolidation. Quickly their campaign, also backed by the Rescate Group,[v] escalated into an offensive against the government based on the charge that it is of the same ilk as the US-Backed Somoza regime that was overthrown by the Nicaraguan revolution in 1979. Demonstrations and protests have been dotted with signs saying “Ortega equals Somoza’’, and similar wild denunciations. The priority of the opposition is to unite to block the perpetuation of the “new dictatorship” – to topple the government through a process of mass protests and destabilisation measures.
Uniting with the far and centre right
The MRS-envisaged “united front” includes the forces of Eduardo Montealegre (the candidate of the US embassy in the last presidential elections), the anti-government newspapers La Prensa (pro-imperialist) and El Nuevo Diario (pro-MRS) and other anti-Sandinista media. Also included are the Conservative Party and other smaller parties,and leaders and personnel of many internationally financed NGOs (which claim to represent “civil society”).
The decision to turn the defence of the MRS’s basic right to exist as a legal party into a broadside political campaign against the government is a major political error. It cuts out any possibility of influencing supporters of the government and the grassroots of the FSLN, the Citizens’ Power Committees (CPCs), many trade unions and important indigenous movements. What we see is not a campaign for a democratic electoral law, but an alliance with the extreme right and the oligarchy’s newspaper La Prensa. We know that those MRS allies (for the moment) are in no way friends of democracy or the poor and the hungry in this or any other country.
MRS leader up-front about uniting with `disenchanted’ liberals
MRS leader Edmundo Jarquín has acknowledged this orientation. Journalist Matilde Córdoba, in the June 18 El Nuevo Diario, reports: “Jarquín believes that it is ‘impossible to defeat the pact between the Sandinista Front and the Constitutional Liberal Party,’ without the support of liberals who are disenchanted with the attitudes of PLC leaders.
“In Jarquín’s judgment it is necessary to give ‘political expression’ to the 700,000 votes obtained by the Nicaraguan Liberal Alliance, ALN, whose presidential candidate was Eduardo Montealegre, and to the 200,000 votes obtained by the MRS.
“This goal will be reached when the oppositional political organisations unite, he said. ‘This will attract liberal leaders’…”
Some government opponents, including Mónica Baltodano of the Rescate Group (she is a national assembly deputy elected on the MRS Alliance slate) and MRS leader Comandante Victor Tirado, also claim that the Ortega regime is a Somocista-style dictatorship. Baltodano argues that this dictatorship rests on an unseemly pact between the FSLN and Arnoldo Aleman’s PLC. In good old Nicaraguan vernacular she put it this way: “They [Alemán and Ortega] sleep in the same bed. At times one is on top, and the other is on the bottom.”
Meanwhile, MRS leader Edmundo Jarquín has called for intervention from the Organisation of American States “to restore political pluralism in the country.”
The breadth of support for unity between the MRS and forces to their right among Nicaragua’s intellectual and NGO elite is impressive and instructive. The NGO elite, in essence, have become since 1990 a new sector of the well off middle class. This social layer is one of the most tightly knit and class-conscious sectors of Nicaraguan society.
Mejia Godoy brothers prohibit government from using their music
Nicaragua’s most famous composer-singer, Carlos Mejia Godoy, and his brother Luis Enrique Mejia Godoy (also a well-known and highly popular composer-musician-singer) have prohibited the government and the FSLN from using their music and compositions at official government or FSLN events. Both are the authors and composers of many of the most popular revolutionary hymns and songs of the long Sandinista struggle. Mejia Godoy was the MRS candidate for vice president in 2006. His musical properties are registered in Spain and he has threatened legal action if his ban is not respected.
These prohibitions have caused great controversy and resentment in Nicaragua. Some of the families of the heroes and martyrs who are the subjects of many of their songs feel insulted and morally injured by the decision. A prominent example is the protest letter to Carlos Mejia Godoy issued by Germán Pomares Herrera – the son of two Sandinista heroes (Comandante Germán Pomares Ordoñez, who fell in combat in Jinotega in May 1979, and Julia Herrera (assassinated by the Somocista army in August 1975).Germán says he now feels that his martyred parents have been taken from him and are now the property of Carlos Mejia Godoy. The brother musicians may get their way in the Spanish courts, if this comes to a legal showdown. However, there is no way they can prevent the mass base of the FSLN and the Sandinista unions from singing and chanting the songs of this common heritage of the revolution. For people outside Nicaragua to appreciate the sense out outrage this decision has provoked, think how socialist and communist workers would feel if the descendants of the composer of The International banned them from singing this revolutionary standard at their party rallies or congresses. Is the song Solidarity Forever someone’s intellectual property and can we be prohibited from singing it or broadcasting it?
There is no reason to doubt that the goal of the anti-government forces is to bring down the government. MRS leader Víctor Tirado López made this clear in an extensive interview with La Prensa, in its June 15 Sunday supplement.
“The MRS,” Tirado said, “has to act to form alliances with all the country’s political and economic forces, under a collective leadership. We struggled in the sixties for a democracy, but it vanished, it slipped out of our hands…How did we win in 1979? – with the entire economic and political forces of the country alongside. Everyone united against Somoza! And, in a certain manner, the same phenomenon is now occurring, an alliance against the government.”
The more realistic PLC leadership believe a fight to topple the government is very unlikely to succeed. They have followed a course of seeking agreements with the FSLN and sharing power with it in various arms of the state. At this juncture strong pressure in Nicaragua exists to set up a bi-partisan system dominated by the FSLN and the PLC. However, that could change given the unstable situation in the country. This “tango” between the FSLN and the PLC is known pejoratively as the “pact” and its supporters are called pactistas.
Nicaragua’s political history often has involved electoral or power-sharing pacts between at least two big political forces. Often no one party is strong enough to govern the country without forming alliances with other parties. Today this is reflected in the composition of the National Assembly where the presidency’s supporters are a minority. The presidency and cabinet must bargain with sectors of the opposition in order to get any of its programs or proposed legislation approved by the assembly.
All the major parties have been involved in pact politics since the 1990 electoral defeat, including the MRS. The MRS was part of the pro-FSLN Convergencia until 2005, and hence an accomplice of the very “pact” that it now so vehemently denounces as the platform for a Somocista-style dictatorship. The Liberal parties, from their point of view, believe the Convergencia is a pact. Over the last six months the MRS has tried futilely to draw the Nicaraguan Liberal Alliance (ALN) and its former leader Eduardo Montealegre (the favourite of the US embassy and a leading banker) into an electoral alliance for this year’s municipal elections.
That strategy has now been revamped and accelerated. MRS leaders hope they will get a mass response to its call to ``take the streets’’, while the FSLN says it will outmatch the MRS and the Nicaraguan right wing not only in the elections, but also “in the streets’’.
Adolfo Pastrán’s view
Independent journalist Adolfo Pastrán, no friend of Ortega or his government, concurs that the strategy of the opposition is to topple the presidency. In the June 12 Informe Pastrán,[vi]he writes:
“The opposition demands a dialogue with the government of Daniel Ortega under democratic rules, but at the same time they want to topple the Presidency, accusing it of corruption, of misgoverning the country, pummeling and wearing it down without relief. They are looking for a way to proscribe Sandinismo from power. For that reason the most extreme sectors have pressured against an understanding between the FSLN and the PLC (of Arnoldo Alemán), instead of pressing for real political, economic and social changes from the National Assembly. Despite having a majority in the Assembly, they have no influence in or control of that state power because of their own infighting. This is the real political x-ray of Nicaragua.”
Nicaraguan writer Amaru Barahona took up the mythological comparison of the FSLN government with the Somocista dictatorship in a June 12 El Nuevo Diario article entitled “A grotesque parallelism’’. He pointed out that the Somoza dynasty maintained power based on support from Washington, control of the armed forces (National Guard and thepolice) and the resort to “systematic violent repression against popular classes (assassinations, torture, jails) and a selective repression against middle class and business persons who sided with the opposition’’.
None of those conditions are applicable to the Ortega government, he pointed out. “I ask myself, where are the assassinations, the tortured, or the jailed?”
There is complete freedom of press and media in Nicaragua. As in Venezuela, most media are privately owned and are virulently anti-government in all their ``news’’ coverage and opinion pages or programs. The alleged parallel with the former Somoza regime does not make sense for a government whose first foreign policy decision was to ally with revolutionary Cuba, to join the solidarity, fair trade alliance of the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA) and to support a revolution such as the Bolivarian process in Venezuela. The new government spoke out strongly against imperialist aggression in Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine, and expressed its solidarity with liberation struggles from continent to continent. Those are hardly traits one observed in the Somoza dictatorship.
Anti-Sandinista propaganda poses some thorny questions
The MRS insistence on placing an equal sign between President Daniel Ortega and the dictatorial dynasty of the Somoza family is miseducating and disorienting today’s youth who have not experienced the reality of the Somoza regime or subsequent Sandinista revolution. If Ortega’s government is a dictatorship like Somoza’s, doesn’t that call into question the revolution and the whole Sandinista struggle? Ironically, this propaganda makes the Somoza regime look pretty good. Or, if you read it in an opposite sense, this hype also begs the issue of whether the opposition needs to resort to armed or illegal actions in our present situation. That question has been on the tip of the tongues of some leaders of the opposition. This undoubtedly is of considerable interest to the US State Department and its destabilisation games and plans.
More falsification of reality
The MRS has opened another front in its current anti-government campaign. It is now blaming the Ortega administration for the growing hunger and misery in the country. You would almost think they had never heard of the steep rise in international oil and gas prices, the worldwide escalation of food prices, the recession in the US economy, the sharp decline in the value of the US dollar (commonly used in Nicaragua, especially in savings deposits) and the slowdown of family remittances from Nicaraguans living in economic exile in the United States. The MRS Alliance offers no programmatic proposals for the economy that are distinct from the government’s present course – except its notable hostility to the special economic relations with Venezuela. This form of cheap politicking only lays the basis for the right wing to take the reins. Unlike the MRS, the right-wing forces do have an alternative economic program to that of the government. It is well known, since we have lived it for the last 18 years. If the opposition succeeds in toppling Ortega, it is the traditional right, and not the MRS or any other centrist formation, that will come to power.
The FSLN government is a regime based on a capitalist economy, in a country dominated by imperialist trade and monetary relations. However, the Sandinista government also acts in the interests of workers, farmers and producers in some initiatives, and in the interests of capitalist investors in other ways. It defends the country against the worst depredations of US and European imperialism, and of the traditional oligarchy. And it allies Nicaragua with anti-imperialist forces globally and the movement for Indigenous-Black-Latin American unity.
At times the government or ministries act arbitrarily and engage in contradictory initiatives conditioned by Nicaragua’s position as an impoverished and weak country. A typical example is trying to go both with ALBA and the “Free Trade” agreement with the USA (CAFTA); maintaining an ambiguous policy towards diplomatic and trade relations with China and Taiwan; and accepting, albeit not without protests, ongoing subservience to IMF/World Bank economic policies. The negative aspects of these contradictions are completely in harmony with the opposition parties’ outlook. What they fear are any initiatives to accept a course towards a Bolivarian 21st Century socialism, as evidenced by their hostility to Hugo Chávez and Venezuela’s Bolivarian revolution.
FSLN government is not a dictatorship
Our government is not a dictatorship. In fact, it is often hamstrung by its minority status in the National Assembly. To carry out even a minimal part of its commitments and program, it is forced to negotiate with and make concessions to opposition forces. The government’s decision to promote and base itself in Citizens’ Power Councils (CPCs) was partially vetoed by the pro-oligarchy majority in the assembly. Nevertheless, the government pursued this opening towards more democracy in Nicaragua. The CPCs allow poor, voiceless and marginalised sectors a voice in how the country should be run. “Civil society” also includes them, and not just the well-heeled NGO directors and specialists and university Ph.D. holders. However, poor and marginalised people (the chapiollos) represent different class interests, and hence are scorned by the schooled elite ensconced in the NGO world. The same is valid for the trade union movement. It has never achieved the status of ``civil society” in the eyes of middle-class appropriators of this concept. To become part of “civil society” in their outlook requires being stylishly coiffed and dressed, and in possession of a valid driver’s license and passport!
There is much to praise in the Ortega government, and also a lot that needs to be questioned, criticised, and when necessary, opposed.[vii] But the hype about dictatorship only plays into the hands of those who take their lead from La Prensa – a ``newspaper’’ that serves as the politburo of the oligarchy and is the mouthpiece for the US embassy in our country.
The opposition anti-government campaign also offers succor to imperialist forces, above all Washington and its State Department. If successful, the hoped-for grand alliance will also strike a blow to revolutionary Cuba, to the Bolivarian revolution and to the indigenous struggle in Nicaragua [the main indigenous organisation – YATAMA – is strategically allied to the FSLN and the government – see endnote ii].
MRS leader slams alliance with Venezuela
Any doubters on that score should read the entire interview with Victor Tirado, cited above. Tirado slammed the alliance with Venezuela. The first mistake, he said, was “having made an economic axis with Iran and Venezuela…”. Tirado accused Hugo Chávez of conditioning Venezuelan aid to Nicaragua and Daniel Ortega of towing his line in order to keep the aid flowing.
That’s the same line as the US embassy and La Prensa take on our relations with Venezuela and Cuba. The logic of Tirado’s position is to abandon anti-imperialism and revolutionary internationalism. This is a common trait among MRS leaders who have moved steadily to a right social-democratic posture on most questions, especially international issues, such as their lack of solidarity with the Bolivarian revolution or Cuba. They say they fear that active and concrete solidarity with that camp will provoke US hostility.
Rescate group takes a step backwards
The attempt to revive the united bloc against the dictatorship, which aims to win over Eduardo Montealegre and his voter base, is also a setback for the positive motion evidenced by the Rescate group when, earlier this year,it openly criticised the MRS policy of an electoral marriage with Montealegre. They have been pulled back into a project based on collaboration with the most wretched flunkies of the US embassy, the so-called good Liberals – those who will not make to or make agreements with the FSLN.
The crisis around the decision to deregister the MRS tells us more about the opposition that it does the government. Keep tuned, because we can be sure there is worse to come.
[i] MRS – Movimiento parala Renovacion Sandinista/Sandinista Renovation Movement, an electoral party with deputies in the National Assembly. It won 200,000 votes in the 2006 national elections. It emerged as a social-democratic split from the FSLN in 1995. Since that time it has taken different approaches to the FSLN. When the pro FSLN Convergencia alliance was formed, the MRS came on board and stayed until 2005. However, it participated in the 2006 elections as a separate party, and later tried to form an alliance with Eduardo Montealegre’s Nicaraguan Liberal Alliance party (ALN). It became the butt of jokes about being the caboose of the ALN train in the National Assembly.
[ii] Yatama (Sons of Mother Earth) is the largest Indigenous party on the Caribbean Coast and is especially strong in the North Atlantic Autonomous Region (RAAN).
[iii] See Caso MRS y PC es normal, Nicanor Moscoso, Presidente del CEELA, El Nuevo Diario, 20 de junio de 2008, page 4A.
[iv] Those interested in my analysis of the evolution of the FSLN and the performance of the FSLN government in its first year can consult my website. Many of my articles, even when first published on other sites such as MRZine, Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal, Socialist Voice, Axis of Logic and Venezuela News and Analysis, are posted and archived at Aye Nicaragua, Nicaraguita at http://aynicaraguanicaraguita.blogspot.com/
[v] Rescate group -- the Movimiento para el Rescate del Sandinismo (Sandinista Recovery Movement). It is led by Comandantes Henry Ruiz and Mónica Baltodano, now an MRS Alliance deputy in the National Assembly.
[vii] Space does not permit me to go into that here, but a good list of such problems can be found in “What alternative do President Daniel Ortega's opponents propose for Nicaragua?” and “What’s the alternative if the opposition topples the government?” by Domingo Quilez. Also see http://links.org.au/node/465.
Thanks for this great article. I am also a long time (20+ years) FSLN supporter - and I continue to be...I do not believe for one moment that the MRS has anything to offer in terms of an alternative to neo-liberalism. However, I am totally opposed to this anti-democratic measure against the MRS and other small parties. All of us who have done much over the years to support the FSLN from outside Nicaragua and disagree with this measure should speak up. At the same time - people from the centre and right who want to champion democracy AND want to actually change this stupid decision should be careful not to turn this into an anti-FSLN rant, otherwise we will not be able to work together and some of us FSLN supporters might even feel the need to close ranks around the FSLN (although not me!)