Time for a Pact Or Time for Reflection?
It is time for Nicaraguans to join together to analyze the truths and the lies, the real achievements and the myths of the past quarter century. The time for that reflection has definitely come.
The deterioration of both the projected image and the real project of Arnoldo Alemán's government is obvious to all. And it is very worrying.
In turn, the deterioration going on within the FSLN is also obvious and worrying. It is nullifying the party's capacity to lead or even accompany a constructive opposition to the Liberal government. The FSLN's "opposition" consists of little more than inflammatory rhetoric, while behind the scenes its leaders engage in vitiating shows of strength aimed at preserving quotas of political and economic power. Meanwhile, the objective of providing opportunities for society's participation is left by the wayside.
This deterioration of both the Sandinistas and Alemán's Liberals is beginning to make some space for the "fringes" of the population that are seeking something other than these two poles. Do conditions now exist to fill this "center space" with some new organization, new leadership and a new project that is truly national, for the good of all?
Some seem to think so. On June 30, the leaders of six parties formed a new political alliance called the Center Group. The parties involved are the Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS), the Conservative Party of Nicaragua (PCN), Social Christian Unity, the Nicaraguan Democratic Movement (MDN), the Independent Liberal Party (PLI) and the Conservative Popular Alliance (APC), as well as one wing of the Nicaraguan Resistance Party.
The new group's first declaration argues that "the intent of the Liberal Alliance and the Sandinista Front to relive the past wounds the feelings of the majority of Nicaraguans, who do not want to go back into history." It also announces that these parties will go into the municipal elections in 2000 and the presidential elections the following year "under a single banner and a single program that realistically embraces the imperatives of social justice."
The question of whether or not the time has really come for the consolidation of a third force will surely accompany any analysis in the coming months. But while the answer to that question is unfolding, what is appearing on the immediate horizon is the possibility of an agreement between Alemán's Constitutionalist Liberals (PLC) and the FSLN leadership, an upper-echelon pact that is not for the good of Nicaragua in any sense.
National ShameEven though the case of the narcojet is not even half cleared up and one could rightfully suspect that it never will be, it has already become a benchmark of the government's deterioration. The evidence of extreme irregularities and arbitrariness, of nepotism, cover-ups and shady business dealings, as well as a deep-seated sensation of national shame, are the remains of the murky vapor trail left by the passing of the narcojet.
On the same negative side of the government scale must be put the dismal role the government played during the four months of the doctors' strike. On June 9, the Doctors' Pro-Salary Movement called an end to its protest, which had involved all of the 3,800 physicians who work in the nation's public health system. Their initial demand was for a 1000% increase in their measly base salary, but they finally settled for 100%, with a promise of another 50% in 1999, after having continued to push for another month following that offer. Not even Cardinal Obando y Bravo, who mediated the last rounds of negotiation at the doctors' request and publicly supported a 300% increase, was able to move the government past its offer.
The movement negotiators also got increases for the nurses and other medical support personnel, as well as reinstatement of the hundreds of doctors who were fired in relation to the strike. And finally, they got a commitment from the government to create a National Forum to discuss the modernization of public health—a topic for which the health minister unveiled his own unconsulted plans late last year.
These "victories" came after 125 days of work stoppages, demonstrations and marches, and finally a full-fledged strike in all state hospitals. They also came after some 45 negotiating sessions, first with Ministry of Health representatives and later with an expanded government team. The government's representatives were inflexible and the health minister in particular was also consistently belittling, manipulative and haughty. The public's embarrassment and anger at the government's seriously untruthful propaganda maneuvers turned into more national shame when, on President Alemán's direct orders, anti-riot police in Managua and Estelí beat physicians—both men and women—protected by nothing more than their white smocks during marches in those two cities on May 8. As one movement leader told envío, "The strike demonstrated that this government gives public health no importance and sees us as the previous government did: as service providers and not as producers."
Looked at from the social angle, the strike demonstrated a noteworthy capacity for civic resistance, offered an important example of professional unity, and laid the foundation for building a professional organization that has not existed before. Nicaraguans cannot remember when they last saw such a tenacious and orderly social movement fighting for its rights, or one that garnered so much popular backing. The only other one that comes close has been the annual university fight for its constitutional right to 6% of the nation's budget. But it never went on four months or inconvenienced the population, as the closure of the public hospitals did this time. The bitter irony of this last point is that it has been a while since the country's poor could afford even the minimal costs of public hospitals in any case.
The list of achievements above and others like them that could be mentioned may not seem like much, especially relative to the effort, but in such a dispersed and demobilized social setting and with such external control over the country's purse strings, they are no small thing.
Legislating from the Executive OfficeThe government's intolerance and social insensitivity to dissident voices, so clearly exemplified over the course of the doctors' strike, have been debilitating it unnecessarily. The consequences of these tendencies are already being felt in the ranks of the Liberal legislators, which up to now have been unflinchingly loyal to the executive.
Although Nicaragua's political model still favors the presidency, important reforms to the 1987 Sandinista Constitution made a little over two years ago gave the National Assembly the faculties needed to exercise its functions much more independently. This created a needed counterbalance to executive power and began to foster a more democratic, pluralistic and consensual exercise of public administration.
Arnoldo Alemán, limited by these reforms, most of which went into effect the same time he took office, began his administration with a very clear priority: make the legislative branch into an extension of his office at any cost.
His Liberal Alliance had only a slight parliamentary edge coming out of the elections: 41 seats to 36 for the FSLN and 15 divided among 9 other political parties or alliances. Alemán wasted no time in buying enough of the 15 independents to get the 48 votes needed to pass ordinary laws by a simple majority. That gave him his first objective—the ability to decide who would be on the Assembly board, who would be on the legislative commissions and of course who would head them, and to be able to establish from his own office what would go on the Assembly agenda and what wouldn't.
Not satisfied with only 48 votes, Alemán has continually maneuvered to pull more over to his project. He has gotten up to 54 on occasion, but has never managed to reach the magic number of 56, a majority that would give him the control he covets over more important decisions such as the appointing of Supreme Court justices, the hiring and firing of strategic officials such as comptroller general, and reforms to the Constitution.
Ever since the first session of the new legislature, the Liberal bench has been activated directly from the President's office. The majority vote it now commands even beyond its own party faithful means that the President directly orients all activity of the theoretically independent legislative branch, which is also, theoretically, the maximum expression of the popular will.
In 1997 the National Assembly passed 36 laws, 61% of them direct initiatives of the Presidency. Between January and March of this year, the Assembly was both more productive and less independent. Of the 10 laws passed in that three-month period, Alemán proposed 8. In addition, his bills were stamped "urgent," which means less study and less debate. What remains of the opposition—Sandinistas, Conservatives and a few others—have discussed the bills and tried to modify them, but with little or no success. And when they submit other bills, the bulk of them get shelved.
It does not require close scrutiny of the parliamentary agenda monopolized by the executive's interests to figure out what those interests are. The two priorities have been laws that aid in the consolidation of the economic group created around the President himself, and those required by the new Enhanced Structural Adjustment Facility agreement (ESAF II) that the government has promised the international financial institutions to fulfill.
"Dissident" LiberalsThis situation became so untenable that by April a crisis began to rear its head in the assembly, which became increasingly unstable. On some days there was no quorum, on others the presidential "line" didn't arrive on time and the session had to be suspended, or the Liberals simply debated among themselves to buy time or extended the recesses for the same purpose, wasting everyone's time.
This silliness finally led the opposition to make sure there was no quorum. At the same time a group of between six and twelve Liberal legislators began to back off from their unconditional loyalty to the President through declarations and other gestures. For a variety of different reasons, they wanted more political space, more power and more legislative initiative. Among their many motives were demands by their constituents, some sensitivity to the crisis of a large part of the population, increasing public opinion that the Assembly is ineffective and elitist, serious class contradictions within Alemán's circle which are resolving in favor of the technocrats following the signing of ESAF II, and contradictions between the Liberals who stuck it out in Nicaragua during the 1980s and those who returned only after 1990 or even after Alemán's election in October 1996. And, of course, there are those who simply want to force Alemán into new negotiations to squeeze new "favors" out of him.
When this "dissidence" began to gel, it virtually paralyzed the National Assembly. The group, led by none other than the Liberal's bench chief, Eliseo Núñez, obviously knew how to choose the moment. The Liberal Convention was coming up and Alemán was already beginning to divvy up party posts, since democracy is not a hallmark of the Constitutionalist Liberals. It was also a moment when Alemán needed to ram through the various laws indispensable to ratification of ESAF II by the International Monetary Fund.
A New Correlation of Forces In the National Assembly?After relatively private muscle-flexing, the impasse was broken in mid-May with an agreement on the contents of the parliamentary agenda established between the Assembly board and the heads of the four opposition benches. The board agreed to alternate the study and debate of bills coming from the executive branch and those proposed by the different political groupings.
The crisis slightly—and perhaps only temporarily—shifted the correlation of forces in the Assembly. For the moment at least, there is a new Liberal group of six legislators that calls itself the bench For Dignity and Change. It is headed by Eliseo Núñez, who declared himself sick of the President's "absolutist top-downism" that prevents legislating on behalf of the population. After traveling to Miami in search of support for their cause, Núñez is making an effort to be even less unconditional than before. A central position of these "dissidents" is the passage of social laws, which brings them closer to representatives from the FSLN and other opposition groupings.
If this split turns out to be real and is not mended, the National Assembly will find itself with 45 legislators unwaveringly loyal to the President's bidding and 48 in a quite diverse "opposition."
The Laws Needed for ESAFThe agreement allowed Alemán to get his bills in support of the ESAF pushed through in record time. The first one, approved on June 9, is for the creation of a Rural Credit Fund to finance agricultural producers. The 48 legislators with varying degrees of independence all questioned the bureaucratic cut of this new financial entity. On the same day the old state development bank, BANADES, was "interred" by the vote of a broad majority.
Seven days later, a similar majority approved the privatization of the state communications institute, ENITEL, by the beginning of 1999 with different rules of the game than those established at the end of the Chamorro administration. The new framework for privatizations clearly favors the executive.
Two days after that, on June 19, a law authorizing the sale of BANIC, the last remaining state bank, was passed, and the following day privatization of the drinking water service was approved. Regarding the latter, the bill sent by the President proposed that the executive office be in charge of granting concessions to private concerns for the commercialization of this service, bypassing the National Assembly. Alemán's loyalists in the Assembly defended the bill while the others opposed it. In the end, the Sandinistas walked out in a show of protest, and the Liberal "dissidents" switched sides, voting the bill through on the condition that the Assembly be able to "ratify" the concessions.
Who'll Oil the "Hinge?"After all this activity the National Assembly recessed in mid-July for its long semester break, leaving nearly two dozen bills unapproved and no sign that it would return from vacation ready to discuss an alternative parliamentary agenda, a "social agenda." For some months proposals have been made for various laws that would flesh out this agenda by responding to the population's most felt needs. The suggestions include freezing the rates for telephone, electricity and water services, which have been steadily climbing over the past year; periodically reviewing the minimum wage and indexing it to the dollar; increasing the transfers to municipal governments; privatizing a series of businesses to their unionized workers; creating a fund of resources to combat extreme poverty; fostering and stimulating job creation; and last but not least a consumer protection law.
Eliseo Núñez said that the role of his dissidents would be to act as a "hinge" between the steamrollering incumbency and the opposition, which until now has been quasi-annulled. How long can we expect this hinge to remain oiled and who will do the oiling? What metal will it be made of? And on behalf of what causes will it squeak?
Although it is not out of line in the current national context to think that the dissidents have many reasons to remain united with the President and their unconditionally loyal colleagues, there are also both subjective and objective motivations for those claiming to favor "dignity and change" to want some slack from the President's top-down style. It is very unlikely that this dissidence will contribute to creating any lasting change in the Assembly's correlation of forces that would mean going up against the President. In the current conditions, what is needed is a brake, not a hinge.
A genuinely drastic change in the Assembly's configuration would be a real sign of hope for the country, because it would require a profound change in the FSLN bench and a compound fracture in the Liberal bench. But since these two things would only happen as the result of an authentic sense of nationalism, which seems in short supply these days, there is little food for optimism.
An Unebbing Tide of CorruptionThe food that is currently nourishing realism is highly spiced with pessimism. Both the laws designed by ESAF that favor the macro-economy and the laws of any future "social" agenda aimed at defending family micro-economies could end up being ineffective if they get swept up in what appears to be an unreceding tide of corruption. Thanks to the investigative work of some media, to incipient civic consciousness about this spreading cancer and, above all else, to the tireless work of the Comptroller General's office, some of the waves of this tide are losing their momentum. But it is getting harder and harder for the combined efforts of these three factors to achieve the satisfaction of any authentic rectifications.
June revealed significant new incidents of corruption. After a year-long evaluation of the Central Bank's financial management during the Chamorro government, the offices of the Comptroller General of the Republic, the CGR, announced on June 25 that at least $500 million had "vanished" from the bank between 1990 and 1992, the convulsive first years of that government. According to the report, the CGR will have to do five sweeping audits over the rest of the year to determine how such a volume of cash had been used.
The report's use of the word "vanished" was generally interpreted to mean embezzled, which once again triggered national commotion. Naturally the uproar also had an impact on the donor community since a good part of this sum came into the country as part of international cooperation.
Within 24 hours Agustín Jarquín, the unflappable comptroller general, clarified that "vanished" was not the best word. Without retracting the contents of the report and thus not smoothing any ruffled feathers, Jarquín explained that his office had failed to find invoices or other supporting documents that would indicate how the money had been used. With the announced audits still pending, he preferred to use the more cautious term "apparently bad administration."
According to the CGR, the linking of technical and political causes during the Chamorro government could explain this situation. As examples, the payment of indemnification bonds for confiscated properties, the disorder of the privatization process, the injection of Central Bank funds into BANADES allowing the concentration of sizable loans in the hands of a few large borrowers who never repaid them, the scant financial discipline inherited from the 1980s, the virtually total lack of CGR oversight or investigation between 1990 and 1995 could all have played a part.
From Interinstitutional Insults to InsubordinationThe contents of the report and the comptroller's clarification about the semantic error led to a fierce 48-hour war in which insults never before heard were hurled around with the self-serving abandon of children protected by the logic of "I'm rubber, you're glue; everything you say bounces off me and sticks on you!"
President Alemán accused Jarquín of being "passive" in his past and present denunciations of the Chamorro government's major corruption, yet very active toward the "petty thievery or rotten tricks" of his functionaries. The President's characterization of his own government as one full of such scoundrels stupefied public opinion.
The Central Bank's four presidents over the course of the Chamorro government's seven-year administration each reacted differently at first, but they quickly joined forces to give themselves more weight and to bolster their image. In joint declarations, they all claimed total honesty and dismissed the CGR as lacking professionalism. The current Central Bank officials opted for the moral high ground of ambivalence by lashing out at both rivals. In a press release they referred to the comptroller's discovery as a "monstrous act of corruption," should the report turn out to be true, but then warned of the CGR's "superficiality or incapacity," if the report ends up being false, which would destroy its own credibility and damaged Nicaragua's image. Violeta Chamorro herself, who has made few declarations since leaving office, tried to deflect the CGR's report by reminding the President of the shame brought down upon the country by his narcojet scandal.
The "President's men," who were not about to tangle with Violeta's shoot-from-the-hip insults, which were a hallmark of her term in office, preferred simply to renew their campaign to get rid of Jarquín. He has been a constant thorn in the side of the new government since it took office. Once it became apparent that this tireless state auditor could not be bought, his dismissal from office has become a priority challenge.
While the case of the unaccounted-for $500 million remains open for now, another corruption case—the "rice war" of a few months ago that involved the current administration—has moved from even worse insults to dangerous levels of institutional insubordination.
On June 18, the CGR issued its investigation findings, with evidence of illegal actions by the state grain company ENABAS in its attempt to directly purchase 6,000 tons of rice from a US distributor without prior bidding or a waiver from the CGR. The excuse put forward by ENABAS at the time was that there was a critical rice shortage, which proved untrue. The CGR resolution ordered the ENABAS board to sanction the institution's director, at the very least with a fine equal to six months of his salary.
The comptroller's investigation had gotten underway in February, after rival economic groups unleashed their rice war. One of those groups, presumably linked to private interests of the presidency, had tried to gain the advantage over its competitors by importing its rice through state channels.
ENABAS director José Marenco, a family relation of President Alemán, denied the entire contents of the CGR investigation, belittling it as a "pamphlet" with "literary circus figures." In extensive newspaper ads, ENABAS offended Agustín Jarquín personally by referring to his "Cantinflás-esque opinions" and his "paranoia." It attributed "childish sick protagonism" to him and even challenged him to a public duel if he was "man enough." Questioned about the burlesque vulgarity of his written and spoken remarks, Marenco declared that it was "all in defense of institutionality." In a more moderate echo of his relative, President Alemán called the CGR resolution "precipitous."
The case took a turn for the worse on July 7, when the ENABAS board termed the CGR determination "mistaken" and refused to apply any sanction against Marenco as required by law. In response, the CGR used the faculties available to it to issue a strong order that the board members, among whom is the minister of economy, be sanctioned as well. The very next day, Vice President Enrique Bolaños himself got involved, openly defying the CGR by declaring that the Presidency would not sanction either Marenco or the board.
This whole case, whose last shot also has yet to be fired, has clearly exemplified the discretionality, disrespect and official immunity that the comptroller's office is fighting against. It is a cause that Nicaraguan society has yet to make its own in any active and consequential way.
Who's Covering for Whom?Though this tide of corruption hardly began in the nineties, it is now rising daily. Among other better-known corrupt activities during the Chamorro administration was the influence peddling in the successive sales of valuable equipment and machinery belonging to the Central Bank and the squandering of millions of dollars in tax bonds issued to stimulate production that ended up in the hands of government cronies.
But corruption is reaching a new high-water mark in this first year and a half of Alemán's term. There are the contracts nailed down through the business-state that determine the course of the country's economy, more influence peddling in the privatization of what little remains to privatize, the million-dollar embezzlement in a private bank with the complicity of immune high-level state functionaries, and all the signs related to the narcojet trail. How high and how far they go nobody knows. It is no longer enough to find out who's who in Nicaragua's old and new economic groups. Now we have to learn who's who in this tidal wave of corruption. Who did what, who's covering it up, and in exchange for what?
The Cloak of ImmunityThe crossfire is becoming increasingly heavy between accusers and perpetrators of "piñatas" from former and present governments, with a few shots also fired by those engaged in the cover-up of each. Amid this hail of accusations and denials, the charge of long-term sexual abuse made against FSLN leader Daniel Ortega by his stepdaughter has now reached the National Assembly since Ortega, as an Assembly representative, enjoys parliamentary immunity. It is a problematic moment to try to get him stripped of his immunity, since it could easily become part of a "cease-fire" pact between the FSLN and the PLC that would be very damaging to Nicaragua as a whole.
After over three months of silence regarding the charge by his stepdaughter Zoilamérica Narváez, Ortega referred to it publicly for the first time on June 15, when he appeared before the judge handling the case to present his credentials as a legislator enjoying immunity, which, unless removed, protects him from being taken to court. On that occasion, he told the gathered press corps that the accusation is a "political conspiracy" designed to destroy both him and the FSLN.
A week later, on June 22, Narváez appeared personally before the Assembly to present her written request that Ortega be stripped of his immunity so he can be tried for "various sexual crimes of a serious nature." The request adds that "the entire world is waiting for the steps of this esteemed Assembly."
Meanwhile, over a hundred Nicaraguan professionals, both men and women, put their names to another petition, released in mid-June, that Ortega's immunity be removed. Their pronouncement, titled "For a New Public and Private Ethic," argues that "the painful deed denounced by Zoilamérica Narváez Murillo makes her into the voice of all the children and women who are voiceless. If Nicaraguan society turns a deaf ear to her drama, it will be turning a deaf ear also to the drama of hundreds of Nicaraguans. Not listening to her is to set a precedent of immunity. Not listening to her is to become an accomplice of abuse."
The petition signers "call on the judges and National Assembly representatives, independent of their political parties, to permit this case to go to court without impediments of any kind, with ample safeguards, guarantees and protection for the accuser, as well as for those witnesses and experts who could help clear up the case, so that in Nicaragua legal, political and economic immunity ceases to be impunity to violate the rights of others, particularly of women and children."
Pact Time?Ortega's decision to make use of his immunity and Narváez's to turn to the National Assembly opens a new chapter in this case by placing it on the political-institutional stage, which is where the political polarization and corruption are reflected to the public most clearly. Three weeks after the case went to the Assembly, the legislators left for their long mid-term vacation without giving any clear signs of how the vote to strip Ortega of his immunity might go. Without this indispensable step—or Ortega's own voluntary decision to relinquish his immunity—the court cannot proceed with the case.
The stripping of parliamentary unity requires 56 votes. This would mean a total quorum in the Assembly, which hardly ever happens, as well as the vote of virtually all non-Sandinista legislators. The Sandinista bench itself, as could be expected, has already made clear that it would never vote for the stripping of immunity and will even try to prevent the petition from coming to the plenary floor for debate. This could turn the case into the catalyst for a PLC-FSLN agreement regarding immunity which would take on other elements that FSLN leaders, or at least some of them, have been rumored to be interested in pacting with the Liberals for some time.
Among the FSLN's apparent motivations for such a pact is the Sandinista business group's need for a tax truce for their companies and a more definite and explicit solution to the unresolved property ownership cases of some of its leaders. The FSLN also seems very interested in seeing that the ad hoc reform to the Electoral Law for the Atlantic Coast elections last year become a permanent feature so it can be applied to the municipal and presidential elections coming up in a couple of years; this would crystallize a two-party system and assure the FSLN privileges as the second political force. The FSLN is also very interested in increasing its quotas of power in key institutional spaces from the economic viewpoint: the financial system and the public services about to be privatized.
The PLC would be willing to concede all this to the FSLN in exchange for the votes of the Sandinista bench that will let the PLC continue to control the Assembly, push through key laws, elect Nicaragua's first human rights Ombudsman, choose new Supreme Electoral Council magistrates and Supreme Court justices when their terms end, dismiss the current comptroller general and superintendent of banks and, above all, reform the Constitution to allow Alemán to run for reelection and/or clear the way for other Liberal presidential candidates who are currently ineligible because they are US citizens. Daniel Ortega's immunity case is an important trading card in this deal.
Ethical and Political TestThe Assembly recess offers several weeks for the PLC and FSLN to cut this deal in private. It also gives society and the opposition—this center in the making—time to reflect on the serious consequences for Nicaragua of such a pact. It would consolidate the Liberal authoritarianism of which there are already many alarming signs, and would mean the death of the FSLN as a project. The FSLN would lose any political initiative and would permanently sully the social banners for which so many gave their lives. In this suicide, the party would take down with it much of the energies and values of what remains of grassroots Sandinismo, so necessary to thinking about and building Nicaragua's future.
Zoilamérica Narváez's revelation on March 3 started out as an ethical test of a society already in crisis. Given Daniel Ortega's decision to use the shield of immunity, it is now also unexpectedly turning into a transcendental test for the PLC and the FSLN, the two parties that already monopolize the ballot box and want to assure their continued monopoly over the entire national scene. Whether or not they achieve this will depend on the rest of the opposition acting responsibly and on civil society recovering its capacity to act and react.
Going to the core of Zoilamérica's charges will not be easy. The shortest and most direct route—the judicial—is now barred by immunity. The only means to lift that bar is in the hands of the political elite. Should the Liberals decide to lift it, the FSLN has already given signs that it will "set fire" to the country to "defend the comandante" and prevent the case from going to court. If the bar remains in place, what other roads remain? The new member of Zoilamérica's legal team, distinguished criminal lawyer Daniel Olivas Zúniga, has already mentioned the possibility of taking such an emblematic case to international judicial bodies. In an interview with El Nuevo Diario shortly after accepting the case, Oliva Zúniga said that the evidence he had been shown by his client was significantly more than he could have imagined.
The Time for Reflection Is Upon UsThe FSLN's responses so far to such a complex and sensitive challenge, one so socially important, shows the level of both ethical and political deterioration of an organization that so recently headed a world-moving initiative for social justice, then successfully held at bay the US Goliath, like a new David for modern times. The refusal of Daniel Ortega and his party's structures to take the correct road leave both the party and its secretary general lost in twisting, dirty alleyways. The only goal now seems to be to dodge and to daunt the David who is today challenging them.
This tortuous road is proving to be a more debilitating dead end than the truth would be. If the truth is terrible, the effort and the cost of hiding it is far more so. Nicaragua should face this truth and all of its other truths, to put them behind it and move forward. As a diplomat with proven experience in Nicaragua told envío, "The time has come for all Nicaraguans to constructively analyze together the past quarter century of its history." To analyze the truths and lies, the genuine achievements and the myths of these past 25 years is a task that requires an effort at dialogue and reaching out that has not yet existed. It has to be made possible, because a pact or agreement based on such political opportunism could be the prelude to collective suicide.