Elections in Nicaragua

Image: Clive Kim, Granada, Nicaragua.


The elections on Sunday, November 7th are unlikely to contribute to a reorientation in the Nicaraguan political scene

Uncertain economic prospects, a conflicting political scenario and a growing international siege by Washington and its allies: summoned to the polls, the elections of Sunday, November 7, will hardly contribute to a reorientation in the Nicaraguan political scenario.

An old story repeats itself. As in a merry-go-round, the actors have revolved for more than a century around the axis that marked the political life of the country, and which did not allow them to be a Republic. A century ago – exactly a century ago –, with Nicaragua invaded by the marines, delegates were expected in San José to initiate, on December 4, 1921, the Plenipotentiary Conference, which was supposed to reach an agreement on the formation of the Central American Union.

“Since November 16, full sessions have been held. It is feared that the representatives of Nicaragua will oppose the project, demanding that the Chamorro-Bryan Treaty be recognized as legitimate and in accordance with the law”, said the noted Costa Rican writer and essayist, Vicente Sáenz, in his “Letters to Morazan".

Published in Tegucigalpa in 1922, Sáenz wrote these imaginary letters to General Francisco Morazán – a unionist leader born in the Honduran capital and shot in Costa Rica in 1842 – in which he recounted renewed efforts to unite the five Central American republics into a federation. Signed by Secretary of State William Bryan and Nicaragua's Special Envoy and Plenipotentiary Minister in Washington, General Emiliano Chamorro, the treaty perpetually granted the United States the right to build and operate a canal across the San Juan River on the Costa Rican border. , and across the great Lake Nicaragua, and to build and operate a naval base in the Gulf of Fonseca, which Nicaragua shares with El Salvador and Honduras, in exchange for three million gold pesos.

A treaty that violated others, which recognized the rights of the three countries over the affected areas. “President Roosevelt and Secretary of State Root, supported by the reason that the Nicaragua Canal route should be acquired at all costs by the United States so that no other power would try to compete with the Panama Canal, thought it opportune to send an emissary to the President of Nicaragua, General José Santos Zelaya,” said Sáenz. “We will give you, Mr. Zelaya,” the American envoy Washington S. Valentine told him, “the necessary elements for the Central American Union: arms, money, whatever you ask for, with the only condition that you negotiate with my government and guarantee us the route of the San Juan channel and a naval base in the Gulf of Fonseca”.

Zelaya responded to Mr. Valentine – continues Sáenz – “that the unionist ideal was germinating in all Central American hearts; that sooner or later it would have to be accomplished; that Central America would never sacrifice its territorial integrity or its sovereign attributes; and that while he was in power in Nicaragua he had no intention of negotiating with the United States, or any other foreign power, for the ceding of the aforementioned route”. As a result of such an attitude – would say Sáenz, whose vast work, now digitized, can be consulted in the archives of the National Library of Costa Rica – it is possible that the union will not take place (as in fact it did), with the five republics remaining as they are today. : “weak, small, separated, at the mercy of foreign plunder, exposed to imperialist absorption”.

The United States overthrew Zelaya; Sandino took up arms in the mountains of northern Nicaragua, at Las Segovias, and forced them to withdraw; they then treacherously murdered him; installed the Somoza dictatorship in power; the Sandinistas took up arms and overthrew him; Washington armed the “contras”, unleashed the war and made the Sandinista government unfeasible; after several negotiations, they agreed to the elections and managed to defeat them in 1990, in elections that they could not win. They put their allies in the government and, as it has been for a century, the Nicaraguan political landscape, distorted by the weight of US interventions, is spinning on a merry-go-round that will take another turn next Sunday.

Democratic elections?

“We won the first democratic elections in the history of this country”, said an emotional Violeta de Chamorro in the early hours of February 26, 1990. The results of the elections, held the day before, had just been announced: 54,7% for the Union National Opposition (UNO); 40,8% for the FSLN. It is difficult to accept the president-elect's statement, given the circumstances of the elections.

Carlos Vilas, an Argentine lawyer and political scientist who lived for many years in Nicaragua, author of a remarkable text on the Sandinista Revolution, also wrote about the 1990 elections and the prospects for Sandinismo after the results. In one of the texts – “Speculations about a surprise: the selections in Nicaragua” – noted that the February 25 elections “were the result of a process conditioned in its fundamental aspects by a decade of counterrevolutionary war that caused thousands of deaths, wounded and maimed, destruction of economic and social infrastructure, mobilization of hundreds of thousands of people for military service, and for resettlement camps, migrations to cities to escape attacks, shortages of basic products: in short, a decade of hard life and insecurity”. "The people voted against it." He voted, first of all, “for the end of the war”.

The economic scenario of the February 1990 elections was “the worst in history”, said Vilas. Nicaragua’s economy was “in very precarious conditions”, the result of almost a decade of counterrevolutionary war and five years of trade embargo imposed by the United States, without the socioeconomic transformations carried out and the government’s “many mistakes in economic policy” leaving to also take responsibility for the results. In the last three years before the elections, the GDP accumulated a drop of 11,7% and the per capita GDP fell 21,5%; the trade balance accumulated a negative balance of US$1,2 billion, and the current account balance of US$2 billion; the scarcity of new foreign exchange was dramatic, pointed out Vilas.

The main source of funding for the UNO campaign was an allocation of between five and nine million dollars, approved by the US Congress at the request of the White House. UNO did not hide the presence of former members of the Somoza regime in its lists. “Nor did he try to disguise his condition as an option supported by Washington”, said Carlos Vilas, for whom the electoral defeat would have “a strong impact on the FSLN as a party, on its structure, on its leadership, on its bases”. “The FSLN will have to democratize itself, the rigid and vertical organizational structure, typical of a party confused in many aspects with the state apparatuses, is inadequate for the new stage”. The merry-go-round began another turn around its axis.

new alliances

Defeated again in the 1996 and 2001 elections, Ortega forged new alliances: with former President Arnoldo Alemán, sentenced to 20 years in prison for corruption, and with his old enemy, Cardinal Miguel Obando. “The disastrous impact of more than a decade of structural adjustment and appalling corruption” opened the doors to a new government of the Frente Sandinista”, would say Alejandro Bendaña, Nicaragua's ambassador to the UN between 1981 and 1982, and later secretary general of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Exteriors. Today opponent of the government of Ortega.

“Isolated, with only eight deputies in a Congress of 90, President Enrique Bolaños had to negotiate with Ortega the votes to remove Alemán from office and approve some priority economic laws for the government,” said the magazine in February 2005. Shipping, a publication of the Jesuit Central American University (UCA). This Sandinista support, added the magazine, “lasted until 2003, when Bolaños received orders from the United States to break this alliance with the FSLN, because it gave Ortega a rising profile. Bolaños followed the northern strategy to the letter and maneuvered to hand over the leadership of the National Assembly to the Arnoldists”.

But it was too late. Alemán had allied himself with Ortega, with whom he signed the Pact of El Chile, named after the farm where he was under house arrest, convicted of corruption. The Pact of El Chile was so well structured that, “as expected, it rekindled the US government's fears about Daniel Ortega's protagonism and his return to government”. “To cure fear, the US government had offered Alemán an amnesty in exchange for breaking the pact with the FSLN. Bolaños began to work in that direction”, says the long text of theShipping.

As part of an agreement, signed on January 12, 2005, Ortega and Alemán assured Bolaños of a peaceful end to his presidential term. The carousel kept turning.

Cardinal Miguel Obando played a key role in the negotiations. “I want to wholeheartedly congratulate His Eminence the Cardinal, Pastor of Reconciliation, whose incontestable merits and explicit skills have brought us here, that is, to the Gates of Dawn. Nicaragua has in it, not a Lighthouse, like the one that bears its name, but a specialized guide of souls, who approaches, gathers and persuades on what is essential”, said Rosario Murillo, wife of Ortega and now vice president of the Republic .

On the previous December 20, Daniel Ortega had accompanied Obando when he blessed a lighthouse on the beaches of Masachapa to guide the fishermen, baptized with his own name: “Cardeal Obando Lighthouse”. On November 5, 2006, Ortega finally wins the elections, with 38% of the vote (among the previous reforms, the number needed to win in the first round had been reduced to 35%). With the Liberals divided, Eduardo Montealegre of the Nicaraguan Liberal Alliance came in second with 29%. In office since 2007, Ortega is now seeking his fourth term.

recession and recovery

“The socioeconomic results of the three post-revolutionary administrations (1990-2006) involved growth with inequality and stratification, while at the same time introducing an imaginary of private ostentation and consumerism opposed to the egalitarian and statist narrative of the Sandinista decade”, said Salvador Martí i Puig, an associate researcher at Cidob in Barcelona, ​​and Mateo Jarquín, a professor at Chapman University in California, of Nicaraguan origin (both closer to the opposition than to the government), in an article published in the journal New Society. “The memory of privatizations, the dismissal of civil servants, the decrease in public investment during the administrations of Arnoldo Alemán and Enrique Bolaños and the withdrawal of the State from rural and peripheral areas is still traumatic for many”, they pointed out.

The economic scenario improved a lot in the first ten years of the Ortega government. Between 2007 and 2017, GDP grew by an average of 4,2%, according to economist Oscar René Vargas, an opponent of the government. The country entered a recession in 2018, with GDP falling by 3,4%; fell 3,7% in 2019; and 2,0% last year, according to Central Bank data. For this year, the Bank expects growth between 5% and 7%. But, last June, Vargas indicated that 70% of INSS affiliates [Nicaraguan Institute of Social Security] are workers with an income of less than 285 Córdobas per month (about USD 15), while the cost of a basic food basket is XNUMX Córdobas.

assault on power

In this context, in April 2018, protests were unleashed “that sought to impose changes through voting in the streets”, in the words of Oscar René Vargas himself, in a recently published book. For journalist Carlos Fernando Chamorro, the crisis was the result of “more than a decade of authoritarian power” and offers Nicaragua “another great historic opportunity”, after what he considers “the failures of the Sandinista Revolution (1979-1990) and of the democratic transition (1990-2006)”.

Chamorro, son of former president Violeta Chamorro, went into exile in Costa Rica after his media outlet Confidential it was closed and its facilities confiscated by the government. Ortega responded to the 2018 rebellion with a crackdown that left more than 300 dead. Since then, he has arrested opposition leaders, including former leaders of the Sandinista Revolution, while others, such as Revolutionary Commander Luis Carrión, or guerrilla commander Mónica Baltodano, have been forced into exile.

The delivery of a 100-year concession to the Chinese company Hong Kong Nicaragua Development Group (HKND) for a project to build an interoceanic canal led to the revolt of a powerful peasant opposition movement, led by Francisca Ramírez, now also exiled in Costa Rica. . The opposition argues that Ortega does not represent any leftist tendency, neither because of the alliance he maintained with businessmen until this year, nor because of his economic policy.

But with an increasingly right-wing opposition intent on ignoring even Sandino's historic heritage, the remainder of Nicaragua's political space has been occupied by Ortega. An opposition that meets with “president” Guaidó and with Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo López; another queues up at offices in Washington and celebrates with US senators and congressmen the imposition of new sanctions on Nicaragua, without protests being heard against this drift to the right. And that has as a reference political leaders such as the former Costa Rican presidents Laura Chichilla and Oscar Arias, or the writer Vargas Llosa, and their political friends, the Colombian Álvaro Uribe and the Spaniard José María Aznar, two dangerous men, responsible for thousands of deaths, crimes that would make anyone who may have committed Daniel Ortega pale. The carousel did not stop turning.

Looking south: “I don't really know what's going on in Nicaragua”.

“I don't know very well what's going on in Nicaragua, but I have information that things are not very well there,” former Brazilian president Luis Inácio Lula da Silva said in an interview with Mexican journalist Sabina Berman in August. “If I could give advice to Daniel Ortega, and I would give it to him and any other president: – Don't abandon democracy. Don't stop defending freedom of the press, of communication, of expression, because that is what strengthens democracy”, said Lula in that interview.

Two months earlier, in June, Argentina and Mexico had recalled their ambassadors to Managua for consultations. In a joint statement issued on June 15 by the Ministries of Foreign Affairs of both countries, concern was expressed over recent events in Nicaragua. In particular, the note said, “on the detention of political figures of the opposition, whose review would contribute to the Nicaraguan electoral process receiving due recognition and international follow-up”. And they added: "We do not agree with countries that, far from supporting the normal development of democratic institutions, disregard the principle of non-intervention in internal affairs, so dear to our history."

We also do not agree – they added – “with the attempt to impose guidelines from the outside or to unduly prejudge the development of electoral processes”. “In this context, we were unable to follow up on the proposed resolution presented today for consideration by the Permanent Council of the Organization of American States (OAS). It is imperative that the OAS return to the constructive spirit of its Charter”.

But in September relations with the Mexican government became strained again. Nicaragua described the Mexican ambassador in Managua, Gustavo Cabrera, as “interventionist and meddlesome”, who endorsed a publication by writer Sergio Ramírez on Twitter, rejecting an arrest warrant against him. In its note, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Nicaragua accused him of “faithful submission to the Yankees”, serving as “permanent interveners in our affairs at the behest of the empire”. With the scenario polarized in Nicaragua, with an opposition largely aligned with the more conservative positions of the US Congress and with the policies of Washington, the voices of Argentina and Mexico tried to open a space in this context, rejected by the Ortega government. As Lula said, he has had no contact with Nicaragua for ten years. This absence of progressive Latin American sectors leaves the doors open for the North, which tries to occupy all the spaces of the opposition.

In Europe, one of the interlocutors of the Nicaraguan conservatives is José Ramón Bauzá. A self-serving, Spanish, conservative politician, member of the Committee on Foreign Relations and the Delegation for Relations with the United States in the European Parliament, Bauzá lamented in a recent article that the Spanish government is not aligned with Washington in Latin America. “Washington has very important interests in the region and is running out of patience,” he said. Bauzá was commenting on the debate in the US Senate during the confirmation session of Julissa Reynosa as ambassador in Madrid.

Senator Bob Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee – “with a direct line to President Joe Biden,” said Bauzá – recalled that Spaniards “would not want us to behave in their hemisphere as they do in ours”. “A reminder that leaves no doubt about the consequences of running out of patience on our main ally,” said Bauzá.

A comment that makes clear the need for a permanent and coordinated presence of Latin American progressive parties in the region, if we want a hemisphere that is also ours. It would be regrettable if on November 8 the only interlocutors for the Nicaraguan opposition were Bob Menendez and Bauzá. It would be better if Lula and Mujica, Fernández and Correa and López Obrador also made a dialogue with the South possible. Gotta get on the carousel!

*Gilberto Lopes is a journalist, PhD in Society and Cultural Studies from the Universidad de Costa Rica (UCR). author of Political crisis of the modern world (Uruk).

Translation: Fernando Lima das Neves.


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