The Games We Played During the Soccer World Cup
While baseball traditionally reigns in Nicaragua,
we caught soccer fever during the World Cup finals.
With Nicaragua distracted by that universal passion,
President Ortega kept playing his own dirty games.
His newest one is State vs. municipal governments,
and he scored major goals in his quest for the cup,
presumably the November 2011 elections.
As the World Cup knockout stage approached, Nicaragua’s institutional crisis was still where we’d left it before the sound of vuvuzelas started trumpeting in South Africa. Daniel Ortega’s reelection fixation was unabated, despite its violation of the Constitution. Nearly two dozen top officials whose terms had ended were still in their posts thanks to an equally unconstitutional presidential decree. And the governing Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) was still insisting on the reelection of 8 of the 10 electoral magistrates responsible for the November 2008 electoral fraud fiasco, but hadn’t yet nailed down the 56 votes it needs to both elect who it wants and reform the Constitution in ways that will “change the system” and allow it to walk away with the coveted trophy.
Blows from the StateWith a number of teams still to be eliminated from the World Cup, Nicaragua’s institutional crisis took a turn for the worse with the State aiming systematic blows against municipal power:
the governing party hastily removed directly elected mayors and deputy mayors using illegal maneuvers that violated not only the Constitution, but also the Law of Citizen Participation and the Municipalities Law.
Three mayors, three deputy mayors and four Municipal Council members were summarily removed from their posts between May and June in operations headed up by FSLN political secretaries and arbitrarily executed by the same party’s Council members with complicity from colleagues in the Constitutionalist Liberal Party (PLC). The municipalities affected in this first wave were Dolores, Jinotepe, Wiwilí, Ciudad Sandino and Boaco. In addition, the Liberal mayor of Granada suddenly appeared on the FSLN side of the aisle, presumably through some unrevealed form of extortion. It’s not the first time this has happened: some 56 Municipal Council members from different opposition parties have crossed over at different moments in different municipalities since the last municipal elections. “They will multiply like loaves,” prophesied FLSN political operator Nelson Artola, who is directing the stratagem. “They have understood the Christian meaning of the project we’re pushing.” Among other weapons being used to make this Christian meaning “understood” are resources for municipal projects administered by Artola in his role as executive president of the government’s Social Emergency Investment Fund (FISE).
Changing the rules of the gameThe rules of the electoral game were seriously violated by the November 2008 municipal elections, in which the FSLN “won” some 40 municipalities, including 5 of the 14 departmental capitals and the country’s capital, via documented fraud. The capper to that operation is what promises to be ongoing removal of both FSLN and non-FSLN elected municipal officials, followed by the imposition of hand-picked substitutes, violating all legal procedures. Leaving no doubt that the government is behind this, First Lady Rosario Murillo, who in addition to all her government posts now controls the governing party, issued a “command” establishing 10 functions deputy mayors must assume in FSLN-governed municipalities. Another blow to the autonomy established in the Municipalities Law.
Now that his pact with former President Arnoldo Alemán has destroyed the foundations of national institutionality, Ortega is busily destroying the underpinnings of the nation’s fragile democracy by ignoring municipal autonomy and curtailing State decentralization, a process proven around the world to ensure greater efficiency by officials and more effective control by the citizenry, given their proximity. Ortega and his wife are merrily changing the rules of the game in the President’s favor, accentuating the top-down, centralist aspects of the national government, seeking to concentrate all the power they can before the November 2011 national elections.
In the country’s first municipal elections, held in 1990, the mayor was not directly elected by voters. Candidates ran only for the Municipal Council, and those elected chose the mayor from among their own number. Between then and the 1996 general elections, the 14-party UNO coalition that had brought Violeta Chamorro to power had largely disintegrated, and a major split in the FSLN had led to the creation of the Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS). This splintering resulted in a number of smaller benches in the National Assembly with enough combined votes to push through legislation not necessarily to the liking of what was left of the governing coalition or its major opposition.
One of many changes to the electoral law was the direct election of mayors, which went into effect in the 1996 municipal elections, precisely to prevent their party from changing them at will, as had occasionally happened in the previous term for both positive and negative reasons.
How they were sacked…In Dolores the maneuver expressed the contradictions generated in the FSLN by the people who control it, offering perks in exchange for submission: the more of the latter, the more of the former. Just before he was illegally “fired,” the mayor, a historical FSLN militant, watched another faction of his party set fire to the municipal government offices, partially destroying them as the police stood by.
The lightning removals in Jinotepe and Ciudad Sandino also resulted from the increasing internecine struggles in the governing party. In Ciudad Sandino, where fights among FSLN militants have been aired in the media since last year, the infuriated sacked mayor gave the names of the “conspirators” who threw him out, including Nelson Artola, who in turn accused him of being a thief. The population vociferously backed the ousted mayor for days, only to end up feeling betrayed when the alleged “thief,” bible in hand, opted for “reconciliation” and pardon on television. At Artola’s doing, he was rehired by the municipal development authority.
In Wiwilí, the removed mayor and deputy mayor were both PLC Liberals. In their case, as in others involving National Assembly legislators and politicians, money was offered. The deposed mayor told the media that “there isn’t a single legal reason for them to have voted me out in a session to which I wasn’t invited. Before that people from the FSLN called me to offer me two million córdobas [just under $94,000] if I would resign, but I didn’t accept because I respect my people. I have proof; I have a tape.”
…And why The affected municipal authorities all say they were removed because they resisted or outright refused the requirement that they back Ortega’s reelection, guaranteeing their territories for his campaign, and subjecting their municipality’s financial and human resources to the plans of the governing party’s political secretaries.
Some say the blows were an effort to align all municipal governments with the power of the FSLN political secretaries to ensure votes in 2011, while others believe it was more about ensuring the abstention of frustrated voters who see the person they voted for ousted by others, the lack of importance of the popular will and the fact that the government answers not to the populace as a whole but only to governing party followers.
The mayor of Dolores was accused of inefficiency, but he insists that “they got rid of me because I’m not submissive. The mayor serves the people, who deposited their trust in him with each vote. We can’t be like sheep following the politicians in the FSLN Secretariat, who got rid of me because I wouldn’t let them do what they wanted in the mayor’s office.” The deputy mayor relieved of his post in Jinotepe had a similar explanation: “I don’t believe discipline means total submission. It seems that criticism and self-criticism no longer have a place in my party.”
What happened to these municipalities is alarming well beyond any pre-electoral strategies. The gamble on municipal decentralization and local democracy has paid off in recent years. When it was in the opposition, the FSLN supported this initiative by voting for the Municipalities Law and the Law of Citizen Participation.
Before the corrupted municipal elections of 2008, the separating of municipal elections from national ones by establishing five-year presidential and legislative terms and four-year municipal ones also helped build local democracy. With municipal elections separate, voters are more likely to pay attention to the qualities of the candidates and local issues, rather than voting a straight party ticket, as they tend to do in multi-ballot elections. The organization, participation and efforts made to link local authorities more directly to the citizenry in their territory were unquestionably some of the most encouraging features of the national democratization process.
If the 2008 fraud was a blow to this process, the current strategy of getting rid of any mayors unwilling to be put under the control of the governing party is a TKO. By scuttling this process, they’re creating a worrying scenario that goes well beyond electoral ambitions: the construction of an authoritarian regime with restricted democracy.
Barquero fights backAmid the perplexity and frustration generated by this new illegality, Boaco’s mayor Hugo Barquero stirred up the crowd by fighting back. Both his election and his ousting are emblematic. Boaco was the only departmental capital that reversed the electoral fraud the FSLN executed there, thanks to grassroots protest mobilizations of both urban and rural voters that lasted for a number of days in November 2008.
Boaco is a traditionally anti-Sandinista department. Physician and rancher Hugo Barquero, from banker Eduardo Montealegre’s Liberal group, won the mayoral post in the municipality that shares the department’s name. The late-night maneuver on June 22 that culminated in his replacement by his deputy mayor, who’s from Alemán’s Liberal group, triggered Barquero’s immediate and determined resistance. For an entire week he refused to be dislodged from his offices and whipped up street resistance among the population that supports him. In so doing, he revealed the disintegration being experienced by the PLC, expressed in the complicity of Alemán’s group in these maneuvers.
His digging in also clearly revealed the increasing partiality of the National Police: an impressive deployment of riot troops backed the imposed mayor, confronted the population and removed the deposed mayor from his offices by force. That triggered members of the former Resistance (contras), who have strong roots in the area, to go into action. In the end, a war of appeals and legal resolutions was waged, with those presented by Liberals to recover Barquero’s post and those issued by Sandinistas to undo what others were redoing, revealing the shambles to which the pact has reduced the country’s courts.
We also saw in Boaco what happened in all previous cases: after the flagrantly illegal blow against the elected mayors, the Supreme Electoral Council immediately swore in the new ones imposed by the governing party in further violation of the law. The whole charade revealed the “visible hand” of this chaotic market into which Nicaraguan political disputes have been converted: with the last shred of ethics, principles and values devalued, legal and political decisions now go to the highest bidder.
These highly suspect Supreme Electoral Council magistrates, who shouldn’t even be in their posts anymore, will quite likely still be there to referee the presidential cup final in November 2011.
So much illegality This sacking of elected municipal government officials is just one more in a raft of illegal moves. But the illegitimacy this heaps on the governing party doesn’t seem to ruffle it in the slightest. “The end justifies the means” is the eternal revolutionary slogan, with ever less examination of what the end is and hence whether such means could even remotely justify it.
Social Christian Agustín Jarquín, at one time such an enemy of the FSLN that he was jailed for it twice, has been a staunch ally for over a decade. He won a seat on the National Assembly running in the FSLN ticket and now chairs the Assembly’s Population, Development and Municipalities Commission. But even he felt obliged to admit that “it’s a clear violation of the law… It is categorical that there was no legally-established cause for removal in these cases and that proceedings weren’t respected since the Supreme Electoral Council has sworn in the new mayors in processes corrupted to the point of nullity…. an irresponsible course of action.” He had even more to say about the order Murillo imposed on the deputy mayors: “Based on what the law says, this new set of rules virtually amounts to a coup d’état against the mayors.”
But there is always many a slip ‘twixt cup and lip, and Jarquín’s efforts to reverse these illegalities have been slow and calculated. The verbal questioning by increasing numbers of officials of the illegalities committed by an equally increasing number of governing party officials now abounds, but they will be irrelevant if they aren’t accompanied by other symbolic gestures that mobilize people. Mayor Barquero’s week-long resistance holed up in his offices, making firm but always constructive statements, and the Boaco population’s refusal to pay municipal taxes to the imposed mayor are good examples of the required conjunction between words and actions. In the real country, rhetoric about whether or not the legal country is functioning well has no echo if those uttering it aren’t coherent and don’t risk something more than words.
It’s all very costlyThe municipal instability being created by the FSLN’s operations is already beginning to augur economic consequences. So far, most donor country representatives have only expressed “concern” at what they’re seeing, but that could change since international cooperation agencies are financing development projects in many municipalities and have been supporting municipal decentralization.
Some say they “saw it coming.” In April, even before the chain of oustings, Germany’s GTZ cooperation agency decided its decentralization support programs in 40 municipalities of 5 Nicaraguan departments would close on July 1. The German government canceled the municipal development component of its governance and local development program—a 5 million Euro investment in developing the capacities of local leaders to attend to the citizenry—because it considered unacceptable the Nicaraguan presidential requirement that these resources be centralized in the Nicaraguan Institute of Municipal Promotion, an executive branch depen¬dency, rather than be issued directly to the mayor’s offices. In mid-June, German Ambas- ador to Nicaragua Betina Kern made the following declaration: “The [Nicaraguan] government did not want us to collaborate directly with the mayors’ offices. And if we can’t collaborate directly, we’re not interested; it’s not effective.”
Germany was also one of the coun-tries in the now dissolved Budgetary Support Group that cut off $100 million in national budget financing following the 2008 electoral fraud. “I do not see Germany being able to give budgetary support in the near future; I don’t see the right conditions,” said Ambassador Kern in June. “For us, the budgetary support issue is cancelled.” But the Ortega government seems not to care: between centralizing everything and losing resources, it has opted consistently for centralism.
A three-candidate race so farWith rules being broken and referees bought off, these municipal games revolve around who will head the different teams for 2011. Three team captains are currently lined up and hoping to lift the presidential trophy: Daniel Ortega, Arnoldo Alemán and Eduardo Montealegre.
The first in line was Daniel Ortega, whose bid for another reelection violates a double constitutional prohibition, because incumbents cannot run and because two terms is the maximum. Arnoldo Alemán butted his way in, declaring that he’s the only candidate who could defeat Ortega, even though all polls indicate that he’s the only visible candidate Ortega could beat easily. Meanwhile, the relative rookie, banker Eduardo Montealegre, claims he can beat them both.
For the majority of Nicaraguans, Ortega’s candidacy is a factor generating instability and fear, and most of this same majority sees Alemán as a factor of disunity and abstention. Even for many followers of both men, they’re a factor of disillusionment and fatigue: it’s boring at best to see the same movie over and over again…
The Ortega-Alemán raceDaniel Ortega won in 2006 with 38%. The FSLN has a pretty solid electoral floor, but that floor is also its ceiling, and even that support is starting to sag. How much has the FSLN’s backing shrunk in these three years given the authoritarian way the party is trying to control everything in the country?
In this situation, a good candidate with a good program, one who could unite all the opposition and present ideas, launch proposals and construct a discourse that shakes the population out of its disillusionment and fear and gives it hope, could pull a massive vote. Abstention may be gaining ground, but Nicaragua is still a country with traditional electoral “faith.” A massive vote would make the fraud Ortega is preparing more difficult, since absten-tion works to the benefit of this man who only plays to win.
The trouble is that there’s less opposition than opponents, most of whom aspire to lead the opposition squad and fantasize that they’re win-ning presidential candidates. It’s obvious that only a united opposition bloc could defeat Ortega. For now, an Alemán-Ortega final looks the most likely, with no alternative opposition yet visible that might knock Alemán out of the competition and face off against Ortega with a greater chance of success.
An Alemán-Montealegre ticket?The Liberals in the PLC and in the We’re Going with Eduardo Movement, respectively headed by Alemán and Montealegre, supposedly worked for months to create a unified Liberal bloc. But Alemán’s obstinate determination to head it and Montealegre’s politically vacillating attempts to do so himself led to failure. The two men’s egos played a major role, but so did the ambitions of those surrounding them both, most of whom are only interested in how they will fare when the two men divvy up electoral and government posts. At bottom, the problem is a deeply flawed political culture, in which any sense of public service has been lost, leaving people aspiring to be politicians only to thrive off whatever booty can be creamed from the State.
Alemán’s prestige is increasingly shrinking. Although everyone admits that he’s a “political reality that needs to be taken into account,” a growing number of people think that reality is shameful and needs to be pressured in every way possible until it disappears. It’s no easy task: the pact with Ortega has guaranteed Alemán and his cronies important quotas of power throughout the State for a decade, especially in the judicial branch, where big business deals are settled. Alemán isn’t about to give them up or cede them to Montealegre’s Liberals. Sticking it out as Ortega’s big rival allows him to hang on to that power.
Whose side should one take?Eduardo Montealegre proclaimed his presidential candidacy in early June, but his months of political wavering have been losing him support. He has had to chose whether to pay the high political cost of cozying up to Alemán and unite with the PLC, taking advan-tage of its organizational machine and its platform in exchange for accepting its conditions and offers, or risk heading up a more pluralist set of opponents, leaving Alemán and the PLC behind and building a different kind of leadership than the one endlessly rerun in the old movie.
To lure him back into the fold, Alemán offered Montealegre the vice presidential slot, half of the legislative candidates on the PLC slates, half of the 25 top governmental posts currently in dispute and even the direction of the PLC. Why didn’t Montealegre accept such a juicy package? Because he knows that in a cup final face-off in which Ortega’s team is up against one headed by Alemán, abstention would spike and Ortega not only would win but could get the absolute majority of legislative seats he wants. It would be the sinking of Montealegre, but Alemán would be buoyed up by the posts Ortega would let him hand out to his people as recompense for the nth reediting of the pact.
There would also be lots of risks if Montealegre were to decide to head up a “great opposition unity” to take Ortega on—if, of course, the non-Alemán opposition wants him in that role. Not the least is that the courts Ortega dominates would finally hear the suit regarding the highly manipulated CENI bank bond case.
With the institutions virtually dominated by Ortega after a decade of the perk-based pact (control of the courts, the electoral branch, the comptroller general’s office and the Public Ministry), “legal” maneuvers can easily be used to red-card threatening adversaries. Today we’re seeing mini-operations against the mayors. But before the decisive game, if we get that far, the government could wheel out any kind of mega-operation from its arsenal.
Inter-party primaries?To settle the rivalry among the Liberals that still follow Alemán and those still banking on Montealegre, an initiative has been making the rounds among a certain sector of the political class to hold inter-party primaries in which Alemán, Montealegre and other parties and candidates aspiring to lead the “all against Ortega” unity would be pitted against each other. All registered voters who want to participate would vote for their choice to head the opposition team, with the losers committing to support the victor.
Organizing this unprecedented national primary is a complex organiza-tional process that would take a lot of time, skills and resources: the estimate is $2 million.
It’s also risky, raising a succession of questions, suspicions and doubts: What electoral list would be used: the official one, which hasn’t been cleaned and is in the hands of an electoral branch totally controlled by Ortega? Who has the experience and the personnel to pull off a process of this size? Who can guarantee that the governing party won’t send its disciplined militants to stuff the ballot boxes with votes for Alemán, the candidate Ortega would prefer to run against in November 2011?
It’s such a gelatinous proposal and everything is so up in the air that the proposal has been changing form and content continually, including the date. Its promoters have now postponed it until March 2011. This primary is unlikely ever to be run and will prob¬ably turn out to be just another distraction thought up by the pact.
A third team?In such a boggy field, with Ortega pulling the strings, Alemán refusing to be substituted and Montealegre still being wishy-washy, a new group called the Patriotic Alliance appeared in May. It is being promoted by the Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS), part of the Resistance Party, part of the Independent Liberal Party and other political sectors that no longer have party status. It has a dual objective: “all against Ortega” and “all without Alemán.”
They are working toward unity organized around pulling down the wreckage of the pact and uniting the non-authoritarian Left and Right to take on the authoritarian Left (Ortega) and Right (Alemán). When they’re labeled as a “third way,” they respond that they’re “the only way,” given that choosing between Ortega and Alemán means opting for more of the same, two sides of an all-too familiar coin.
This fledgling group has no slot on the ballot, and no apparent team captain. They say that the program comes first, not the candidate, and that the crucial thing is what to do post-Ortega. Despite these holes, which are logical given how far off the elections still are, the media and hallway rumors are suggesting the ticket some outside referees would like to see head this team: Eduardo Montealegre and current MRS coordinator Edmundo Jarquín.
A three-team Edmundo Jarquín was the MRS presi-dential candidate in 2006, after Herty Lewites’ unexpected death in July of that year. The MRS pulled some 200,000 votes that year, a significant increase in the anti-Ortega Sandinista vote and the reason the PLC and the FSLN joined forced two years later, making use of the Supreme Electoral Council’s “visible hand” to strip it of its legal status to prevent it from participating in the municipal elections. The shared objective of Alemán and Ortega is exclusive control of the mayoral posts by their two parties, which explains Alemán’s complicity in the fraud of those elections.
play-off for the cup?
Ortega could still win if three teams play off for the national elections in 2011—Ortega, Alemán and this other horse whose colors are more genuinely plural, with either the Montealegre-Jarquín ticket or another more attractive one—but he would be unlikely to get the parliamentary majority he needs to “change the system.” It’s also likely that Alemán’s ticket would be pushed into third place, as happened in 2006, when the Nicaraguan Liberal Alliance, then Monte¬alegre’s newly formed party, beat it out for second.
But there’s also a possibility that the Patriotic Alliance ticket could defeat Ortega, if it’s truly unitary and pluralist and really offers a new proposal. The polls consistently show that over half of Nicaraguans identify with neither the Ortega-controlled FSLN nor the Alemán-controlled PLC. They consider themselves “independent” but so far have no place to register their sympathies today or their votes tomorrow.
Is Ortega looking to Forecasting the final game in the 2011 presidential elections now, when they are still nearly a year and a half away, is an arduous exercise of imagination. President Ortega so far has the advantage of having the economic referee—big capital—on his side, since it feels safer having Ortega governing from above than from below. But the accelerated political and economic voracity of the President and his cohort could modify that view.
score off the pitch?
This issue, the illegitimacy and illegality on which Ortega is mounting his project, and the fear expressed in the maneuvers aimed at increasing control also make it possible to imagine a drastic change in Ortega’s game plans. He is perfectly capable of deciding not to hold the presidential elections at all.
Will the FSLN What is utterly clear is that Ortega is looking to perpetuate himself in power and remain indefinitely at the head of the government. What’s less clear is whether he’s willing to run any risk that could prevent it. Subjecting himself to electoral scrutiny could be just such a risk. The fraud in the 2008 municipal elections put many national and international eyes on alert. Would he risk another in 2011, under the international magnifying glass and given the possibility of generalized outbreaks of violence that could get out of control? Would he risk numerous Boacos at the same time? Some are already predicting “Insurrection if there’s reelection.” Can we expect to see elections with the same or similarly discredited electoral authorities?
repeat its 2008 play?
Two years ago, evaluating which political cost would be greater, losing the municipal elections or stealing them, the governing party opted to steal. Will it do it again? It will harder to get away with a second time with the shadow of the fraud from the 2008 municipal elections hovering over the official playing field. Moreover, fraud is easier in 153 separate municipal elections than in national elections, especially if there’s a massive turnout.
Why any price Ortega’s desperate search for 56 National Assembly votes to back his plans is difficult to explain. That’s the number needed to elect the top officials in posts now legally vacant, although in reality most are still occupied outside the law by the officials loyal to Ortega or Alemán whose terms have already ended.
for the 56 votes?
The FSLN’s political operators are allegedly offering millions of dollars—another use being made of the money Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez is giving Ortega—as well as using threats, extortion and perks to get the three or four votes still needed to complete 56. Can such squandering of resources be explained only by a desire to ensure the votes to elect a couple of dozen top officials?
The same number of votes is needed to partially reform the Consti¬tution, while a major reform requires 62. Will Ortega settle for a partial reform, just enough to erase the prohibition on his reelection? Is all the money and energy going just for that? Isn’t it more logical to suspect that he wants nothing less than a total reform to extend his time in power and call a Constituent Assembly? Might he even want to free up his hands totally and organize a “Council of State” like in the early eighties, the idea he already floated in a meeting with big business in May that was met with laughter ranging from compla¬cency to impotence?
Isn’t it also logical to think that the attacks on mayors’ offices that aren’t totally aligned with Ortega’s project could be the preamble to just such a plan, one that would suspend the elections and put us in a whole other playing field?
Saying it like it isVilma Núñez, president of the Nicaraguan Human Rights Center (CENIDH), went to Geneva in early June to present the UN Human Rights Commission an alternative report to the official Nicaraguan one—which for its part reflected neither the real nor the legal country (see Nicaragua briefs for more details). Upon returning to find the demolition of municipal powers already underway, she did not mince words: “Ortega is like the worst of the hurricanes that have passed over Nicaragua. He’s devastating everything. He did it with the judicial branch, with justices haranguing mobs to launch themselves against the legislative branch. He did it with the electoral branch, leaving it totally submissive to him. He goes over the head of the legislative branch, issuing decrees he has no right to issue and imposing officials without their ratification by the legislators as the law establishes. And now he’s removing mayors in municipalities where the governing party didn’t win the elections. We’re also seeing a National Assembly that has stopped being the political debate forum par excellence and turned into the largest center of dirty deals in the country.
“Daniel Ortega hasn’t just shattered institutionality; he’s also destroying individuals, buying them off. It’s a denigrating spectacle that very few legislators have been able to save themselves from: just those from the Sandinista Renovation Movement and a few from the We’re Going with Eduardo bench.
“This is leading us to a situation in which we’re a non-country, where institutionality doesn’t exist and the branches of State are in crisis, useful only to the presidential family in a government plagued with authoritarianism, nepotism and corruption. Even a monarchy has its limits, controls and capacity for action, but here we’re experiencing an unprecedented situation in Nicaragua’s history, where the Constitution of the Republic is in ruins, simply through control of the institutions, without need of the military boot. Without the independence of the branches there’s no legal security, and without legal security there’s no guarantee of human rights. Ortega is driving the Nicaraguan people into a corner, and when they feel they have no way out, things might happen that no one wants to see.”
31 years later: A revolution betrayed from withinSo here we are, at the beginning of July, administering our uncertainties, the distractive passion of the World Cup behind us. Here we are, 31 years after a revolution that scored a tremendous goal of hope in a large part of Latin America and in much of the rest of the world. For many years it inspired many people in many places to strive to be better. That world was so very different than the current one, which has now been left even blinder with the recent death of José Saramago.
Two years ago now, in response to a judicial sentence against Ernesto Cardenal—yet another arbitrary act by a government that turns envy, revenge and personal caprice into state policy—Saramago recommended that the President of Nicaragua “take a look in the mirror and tell me what he sees.” Naturally, there was no response, and surely no looking in the mirror. The Nobel Laureate for Literature answered himself, aware of what was already happening in Nicaragua even before the 2008 electoral fraud, stating that Ortega was “unworthy of his own past… and once again a revolution has been betrayed from within.”
Here we are, 31 years after the beginning of that revolution, essaying as best we can the lucidity Saramago taught us in one of his brilliant novels, realizing that it will take us a long time to master the game that will get us out of the confines of our own small playing field.