Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 373 | Agosto 2012



Pragmatism and shortsightedness rule the day

The US government’s decision to grant the property waiver to the Ortega government after two months of expectation and tension, and the inexorable advance of the electoral process with its predictable results revealed major doses of pragmatism and shortsightedness in both Washington and Managua.

Envío team

The Obama government’s decision on granting the Nicaraguan government the property waiver wasn’t expected until the July 31 deadline. But in the end the Ortega government received an official communication a few days earlier, on July 26, informing that the waiver had been granted. That means that Nicaragua’s government, and hence its population, has been spared for another year the harsh sanctions stipulated in the 1994 Helms-Burton Law, which would have obliged US representatives to the international financial institutions to vote against or otherwise block any loan request by Nicaragua on the grounds that there were properties confiscated from US citizens in our country that had neither been returned nor indemnified.

The other dispensation the United States grants to countries with which it cooperates, the fiscal transparency waiver, was denied Nicaragua the previous month because the national budget “does not completely and with certainty reflect the funds originating in Venezuela” and because “public funds must not be used for party ends and must always be subject to the scrutiny of the Comptroller General.” The Ortega family has managed the hundreds of millions of dollars Nicaragua has received from Venezuela since 2007 through a joint Venezuelan-Nicaraguan company called Albanisa without the money being detailed in the national budget. Until 2010 it was spent with no public oversight and no public knowledge of its destination, but for the past two years the broad-brush categories for which it is used have been published quarterly by the Central Bank, following pressure from the International Monetary Fund.

Negotiation behind the scenes?

Ortega found himself in trouble with both waivers this year for the first time due to a certain “fixation” with what’s happening in Nicaragua by a number of both Democratic and Republican members of Congress. Unlike previous years, political criteria trumped strictly technical ones in the decision to sanction Ortega or not.

When they denied the fiscal transparency waiver—which harmed Nicaragua’s international image but has very little national economic repercussions as it only cuts some of the very small amount of foreign aid the US has provided the Nicaraguan government in recent years—Ortega responded with his typically heated anti-imperialist rhetoric. During the wait for news of the second waiver, he acted more pragmatically, knowing full well the enormous economic problems its denial would cause the country as well as the political cost to him personally. He ordered the Attorney General’s Office, which is in charge of resolving the cases of confiscated properties, to accelerate the process. And it did, in record speed, even though it is down to the dregs of the old cases, some of which have ticklish problems. Having resolved only 4 cases in January, it managed to solve another 65 involving 31 US citizens by the end of July.

In addition to this indisputably positive technical achievement, there was reportedly a pragmatic political negotiation on both sides: Ortega probably agreed to put some order in the disheveled national institutionality—perhaps finally replacing some of the top officials whose terms in office have expired but who have been kept in their posts because of their unquestionable loyalty to him—in exchange for the United States granting the waiver.

While negotiations were going on behind the scenes, with Ortega probably well aware that the waiver would be granted, on stage, before his sympathizers and the TV cameras at the celebration of the 33nd anniversary of the revolution on July 19—dedicated this year to “eternal youth, the youth of all times”—he employed his standard rhetoric, albeit not mentioning the United States by name: “This people never sells out nor surrenders! Let those who think that with threats or sanctions of any type they can break this people understand clearly: This people will not renounce its continued struggle for its freedom!”

Callahan’s appeal
falls on deaf ears

In the days leading up to Obama’s decision, the retired former US Ambassador to Nicaragua Robert Callahan belligerently took up the mission of urging that Ortega be sanctioned. He co-authored an oped piece published by the rightwing Heritage Foundation in Washington and reprinted in the English language on-line publication Nicaragua Dispatch pointing out the dual utility of denying the property waiver this year.

On the one hand, it would put the brakes on Ortega, who “is intent on creating a version of the Somoza dictatorship of decades past. His influence already reaches deeply into government, commerce, defense, the media and culture. If left unchecked, he will transform Nicaragua into his personal fief and then bequeath it to his children.” On the other, it would encourage the opposition, whose members have been “unable to unite in the last two national elections, continue to bicker among themselves, and give no evidence of being able to coalesce around a person, plan, or idea,” to “put aside their differences and work together to reestablish accountability, transparency, and rule of law in their country.”

By flinging his criticisms both right and left, Callahan sparked strong reactions both pro and con inside Nicaragua—in several cases from surprising quarters. For example, César Zamora, vice president of the Association of Latin American Chambers of Commerce, accused the article of “disinformation,” specifically referring to its mention of recent “de facto confiscations” of property owned by US citizens. Zamora explained that there have been several peasant occupations, but they are not the same as confiscations by the State. Callahan would surely have seen that rebuttal as an example of his remark that “many have accommodated themselves to Ortega in order to protect their investments and safeguard their businesses. Many have been coopted and silenced, others paid off and placated.”

In a piece a week later for Confidencial, the weekly Nicaraguan news bulletin of journalist Carlos Fernando Chamorro, ostensibly to explain himself more fully to the Nicaraguan people, Callahan began by reminding readers that in a House of Representatives hearing last November he had counseled that the US maintain its aid programs to Nicaragua “despite deeply flawed national elections and Daniel Ortega’s illegal and unconstitutional candidacy.” If that was meant to position himself as a reasonable man, by the time he was through he had compared Ortega to Caligula and Mussolini. He proposed the sanction only for this year, to see if it would put the brakes on Ortega’s “inexorable slide into authoritarianism” and unite the opposition.

One would think that after all the failures of such sledgehammer diplomacy the State Department would have taught its foreign service officers better techniques. And as for his not incorrect appraisal of most of the opposition, one wonders if it has ever crossed his or anyone else’s mind in Washington how much responsibility the US government has had in shaping—or better said misshaping—Nicaragua’s political class over history.

It wasn’t easy

In any event, the Obama administration ignored Callahan. Pragmatism predominated. As the State Department indicated, the decision “was based on the national interest of the United States and the efforts of the Government of Nicaragua to resolve the property claims of US citizens.”

So in the end, which US national interest carried the greatest weight? Was it the 65 resolved property confiscation cases? Or was it Washington’s own interests, based on three aspects with which Nicaragua has been complying: respect for the laws of the free market, control of migrants passing through Nicaragua on their way to the United States and collaboration in the fight against drug trafficking?

Once Washington’s decision was made known, Ortega government officials and the Nicaraguan business elite called it logical, fair and to be expected that with such excellent technical results Obama would okay the waiver. They insisted that the previous anxiety and doubts had been nothing more than a media fabrication. Nonetheless, the decision wasn’t easy and while the government won’t acknowledge it, it took those behind-the-scenes political negotiations to ensure the green light.

Chávez is a very useful partner

Washington’s pragmatism also had other motivations. For one, Obama prefers to wait and ensure his own reelection. Moreover, he surely wants to see what happens in Venezuela after the presumed reelection of Chávez, who he has already said does not constitute “a threat” to the United States.

He’s not without reason. Analyzed pragmatically, Chávez has in fact acted as a “useful partner” of the United States. In addition to providing and selling oil to it with complete normality, the subsidized oil he’s providing to Caribbean countries and offering in privileged fashion to Nicaragua and partially to Honduras and El Salvador through Petrocaribe agreements acts as a powerful social stabilizing force in countries with all sorts of latent conflicts.

Chávez’ generous aid has avoided greater social problems and thus greater emigrant waves. Would Obama have wanted a crisis in Nicaragua right now, with his own electoral effort coming up in November, just a month after the elections in Venezuela?

Obviously not. So Obama made his decision pragmatically, although not without stressing his government’s “concern” in the US Embassy’s press release:”The increase of new cases of land invasions and other forms of usurpation of property is worrisome and demonstrates the deteriorating rule of law in Nicaragua, which continues to be a significant obstacle for investment and the development of the country.”

With the same machinery and the same machine operators

The deterioration of the rule of law is shown in the institutional machinery that is taking us to the November municipal elections. It’s going on the same road as for the 2011 general elections, with the same operators putting the process through the same gear changes as in those “highly irregular” elections.

The very same electoral magistrates widely accused of being corrupt and politically biased are applying similar administrative measures to favor the governing party. The only novelty are the declarations by the authorities, aimed at making the square peg of the official discourse of normality, harmony and consensus fit into the round hole of reality.

The pre-electoral landscape has taken on a different hue this year, however. One cause is the electorate’s apathy, confusion and disenchantment, which are more acute than in 2011. The other is the deficit of determined candidates—many of them also sound apathetic—and the tensions and protests among those who do aspire to run and win one of the many new elected municipal posts up for grabs this year. In November we will elect not only 153 municipal mayors and deputy mayors, but also nearly 6,000 Municipal Council members and their alternates, nearly quadruple the former number. Also for the first time, half of all those running will be women.

Some are fearful,
others annoyed

Admittedly municipal elections spark less passion than the general ones, particularly given the weight of the President in our system; electing a mayor and his/her team doesn’t feel the same as electing a President. But it’s also true that everyone knows everyone else in the municipalities, providing the possibility of a closeness that encourages those who understand the role of municipal government to vote. What seems most germane in measuring this pre-electoral despondence is the three consecutive fraudulent elections (the 2008 municipal ones, the 2009 regional ones for the Caribbean autonomous government and last year’s general ones), which suggest to the more pragmatic voters that they’re wasting their time because their votes won’t be counted correctly, so even if they vote they will not elect.

“The Nicaraguan electoral system has collapsed; we have the worst electoral system in Latin America,” was the appraisal by the Nicaraguan electoral observation organization Ethics and Transparency even before the 2011 elections. It synthesizes the lack of neutrality that is expected and feared from the upcoming electoral process, auguring huge abstention.

In the governing party, which is the beneficiary of the lack of neutrality and transparency, there has been no let-up in the discontent over the hand-picking of candidates from above, ignoring both the prior surveys and the protests and charges of corruption presented at the doors of the presidential residence in Managua by FSLN rank and file.

This month delegations from Masaya, Jalapa, Potosí, Nagarote, Tisma, Madriz, Nindirí, Niquinohomo, Masatepe, El Jicaral, Somoto, Telpaneca, Tipitapa, El Realejo and Ciudad Sandino came to Managua to protest the candidacies imposed on them. They denounced the way the political secretaries are acting and threatened a “punishment vote” or abstention if they aren’t listened to. Groups from other municipalities stayed at home, but are saying the same things.

Who’s imposing them?

The majority of those who make the trip to protest outside the FSLN secretariat offices use megaphones, banners and placards to ask to be received and listened to by “Comandante Daniel and compañera Rosario,” trusting that the presidential couple doesn’t know what’s happening in the municipalities. But other, more savvy party members have declared to the media covering these protests that the candidates are being personally chosen by the government’s communication and citizenry coordinator, First Lady Rosario Murillo.

If this is true, it would be one more step in the recomposition of the FSLN that Rosario Murillo has been energetically engaged in since 2007. In the past five years she has organized and is running the Councils of Citizen’s Power (CPCs), has named or changed political secretaries, selected candidates to the National Assembly, relegated the party’s historical cadres and given increasing leadership roles to women who are unconditionally loyal to her and to youths with no political trajectory, i.e. those born in the eighties, who will make up 65% of voters in the 2016 presidential elections. Will this guarantee a support base for her presidential candidacy that year? It may well.

Will it be a test of strength?

In this regard the appearance in early July of a propaganda poster in different parts of Managua and in public offices caught many people’s attention. It is a close-up photo of Murillo alone, without Ortega. Is this promotion of her own leadership the very early start of a personal campaign or is she measuring her strength within the governing party? And in either case, why now?

There are definitely tensions. Former guerrilla comandante Manuel Calderón, summarily dismissed in January as the elected mayor of León, warned of it in words franker than any heard up to then within the FSLN. “It was Rosario Murillo who stripped me of my post,” Calderón insisted. “She’s the one who sent down the orders. I was forced to resign because I wasn’t towing the political line she’s been shaping in her favor after the national elections. Compañera Rosario Murillo aspires to the presidency and is currently working to set conditions in her own favor.”

His sister Estela, a poet, added her own dose of anger: “My brother’s dismissal is due to the unbounded personal ambitions of First Lady Rosario Murillo. She’s the main cause of the internal split in the Sandinista Front, shoving aside revolutionary men who have built this country’s history. I respect her as a woman and a poet, but not as an FSLN leader. That merit goes to Daniel Ortega. She’s been cranking out a whole bunch of “bubblegum pink” candidates, officials and political operators loyal to her who have nothing to do with the red-and-black leadership.”

On August 3, perhaps to put an end to the complaints about hand-selected candidates, to cover up or resolve any tension about that hypothetical measuring of strength, the FSLN suddenly convoked a Sandinista National Assembly after years of total inactivity and paralysis to ratify the FSLN’s electoral alliances in the municipalities in front of Ortega himself. Then on August 15, the Sandinista Congress, which has also been paralyzed for years, will approve the lists of all municipal candidacies that he will personally present to the attending delegates.

A new model

Murillo’s reorganization of the governing party has been altering its internal correlation of forces, favoring her leadership. According to Dora María Téllez, Daniel Ortega “has lost and has ceded power” in his return to government. This can be seen more clearly in his second term: Ortega is increasingly a figurehead, with Murillo totally assuming the government’s daily work, wearing all the hats she accumulated over the past five years: communications and citizenship director, head of the Social Cabinet, chair of the Economic and Social Planning Council, and of course the top of the pyramid of the para-state Councils of Citizens’ Participation, just to name her formal designations. The Sandinista Assembly and FSLN Congress will surely institutionalize these changes, with Ortega’s presence and consent validating them formally.

Are Ortega and Murillo following the Kirchners’ model in Argentina? Perhaps. It has already caught on in much of the rest of Central America, with Mauricio Funes-Vanda Pignato in El Salvador, Álvaro Colom-Sandra Torres in Guatemala and Manuel Zelaya-Xiomara Castro in Honduras.

Writer Sergio Ramírez, Ortega’s Vice President in the eighties, was referring to this model when he commented that “Latin America in the 21st century is a very heterogeneous, often grotesque landscape, dominated by the phenomenon of drug trafficking, illicit enrichment, fascination for easy money, ambition for power and also now by the emerging matrimonial power: caudillos… and their wives.”

To be or not to be?

To run or not to run in November’s municipal elections was the opposition’s dilemma for the past few months, given that the game started off with the same loaded dice as last year’s general elections. Of the 18 “parties”—almost all of them now little more than letterhead stationery and a flag—that the Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) is keeping on life support to provide the image of pluralism, 7 will run in alliance with the FSLN and 6 others will go it alone, among them the Constitutionalist Liberal Party (PLC), still run with an iron hand by Arnoldo Alemán.

The real expectation, the one that sparked intense media debate and kept the FSLN on edge, was the pending decision of the Independent Liberal Party (PLI), hegemonized for the past two years by banker-politician Eduardo Montealegre and his Liberal “We’re Going with Eduardo” (VCE) Movement and with a parliamentary bench of 20 legislators who won their seats in last year’s tainted national elections. On July 23 the PLI confirmed to the CSE that it will indeed run, in alliance with the tiny national Citizens’ Action Party (PAC) and two Caribbean regional parties, the Multiethnic Party for Coast Unity (PAMUC) and the Multiethnic Indigenist Party (PIM).

With that, the original PLI Alliance, which came in second last year with the presidential ticket of Fabio Gadea and Edmundo Jarquín, was dissolved, since two of its most important members, the Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS) and the social organizations grouped in the Citizen’s Union for Democracy (UCD), refuse to have any part of elections they believe will be as riddled with fraud as last year’s allegedly were. The MRS announced as early as February that it would not participate unless all CSE magistrates were replaced. Not a single one was changed. It ratified that decision in its convention in July and repeated it firmly just before Montealegre pragmatically decided that the PLI would run.

The particular value of the PLI Alliance was that it was a previously untried pluralist experiment—a more genuinely balanced left-right alliance than the overwhelmingly rightwing UNO coalition of 14 parties that unexpectedly defeated Ortega in 1990. Gadea’s ability to successfully compete with Ortega forced the FSLN into a much better organized fraud than it had needed in 2008 in order to avoid a possible repeat of that 1990 loss.

Both the MRS and the UCD called on the citizenry to repudiate the upcoming “electoral farce” by not voting and announced that their own participation will consist of tirelessly denouncing what’s happening in the country. Gadea has also said in repeated interviews that he sees no point in participating and affirmed that he won’t vote.

Both sides have their reasons

Both sides of this fragmented electoral alliance have pragmatic reasons for their respective choice. The CSE arbitrarily stripped the MRS of its legal status just before the 2008 municipal elections and its urban supporters, who are the most informed, are also the most fed up and disposed to abstain. They have nothing to lose since they can’t vote for their party and feel there’s no one else worth voting for.

The PLI’s situation is different. The Liberals who have taken refuge under its banner—including those headed by Maximino Rodríguez, a former Resistance leader with a significant following in the north of the country who split with the PLC due to Alemán’s deteriorating reputation—wooed enough rural Liberals and both urban and rural anti-FSLN non-Liberals away from the discredited PLC that it was left with only 6% of the vote last year. Montealegre’s National Liberal Alliance (ALN) had begun that process in the 2006 general elections, pushing the PLC into third place. That feat by a one-year-old party had been enough of a threat to the FSLN that the CSE arbitrarily removed Montealegre as the ALN’s official head, replacing him with a Liberal willing to ally with the FSLN. The ALN was gutted when Montealegre’s followers left it to form the VCE.

This electoral base, both anti-Ortega and anti-Alemán, is enough for the PLI to remain structured and active as an alternative. But if it boycotts the elections it could lose many of these people, a lot of whom live in the 40-odd municipalities in what is known as the “Contra corridor” and are still governed by Liberals. They are very anxious to keep the governing party out, and will vote even if their only choice ends up being the PLC, which has already announced it’s running alone.

So the PLI has a lot to lose if it doesn’t run, even if it doesn’t win everything it would like. It’s at a disadvantage not only due to the dirty tricks expected from both the FSLN and the CSE, but because it no longer has the popular figure of Fabio Gadea, who was fundamental to winning over that rural Liberal electorate that has been the PLC’s solid base for the past two decades.

Predictable results

The PLI’s situation is fragile. Will it have a network of sufficiently trained and committed party monitors to keep a hawk eye on all the voting tables? The group that dubbed itself “Indignant Monitors” after what some diplomatically call last year’s “irregularities” and others call outright fraud has announced that it won’t participate as it did last year, even running physical risks to do so.

And will the PLI have the resources for its candidates to campaign in 153 municipalities? Montealegre was able to raise enough money from his well-heeled friends and business colleagues in 2006 to put his party in second place that year, but are they willing to throw good money after bad on what is unlikely to be a clean race?

The probable results and lack of competition that this foretells undermines any enthusiasm for voting, running and financing a campaign or drumming up any voter energy. As one person commented with cynical humor, “We already know the results; the only thing left is the elections.”

Arguments and

All this has obliged the PLI and its leaders, particularly Montealegre, to come up with a lot of arguments to justify their participation. What they haven’t expressed publicly but can be assumed is that they expect the governing party to assign them at least the two magistrate seats in the CSE opened up due to deaths. Ortega will probably do it to give a touch of legitimacy to the elections in the eyes of the international community, particularly Washington. And the PLI would surely accept those two posts arguing that there are never empty spaces in politics—”If we don’t accept them, others will”—and that the only way to halt Ortega’s project is step by step.

Other arguments have stirred up public debate about whether “to run or not to run” in these elections. If it doesn’t participate, says the PLI, the party will lose its legal status, as established in the Electoral Law. To which the UCD responds that history has shown that political parties haven’t needed official legal recognition to exist and engage in a vigorous struggle against a dictatorial system that is excluding them.

The PLI also argues that “the more offenses the FSLN commits, the faster it will go,” to quote Luis Callejas, the head of the PLI bench in the National Assembly. It was part of his argument that the new fraud needs to be documented and to do that one has to participate.

Going a bit over the top, still other PLI leaders warn that the alternative to electoral participation would be war: either ballots or bullets. That was also the core of a recent speech by Ortega to legitimize the elections. But nothing in today’s Nicaragua suggests the immediate or even near-term possibility of a war against Ortega.

An argument coming close to the only alternative being violent chaos was expressed by PLI leader Eliseo Núñez Morales, who said that since people aren’t going out into the streets to protest or pressure Ortega there’s no other choice but the elections. His former UCD allies shot back that “the issue of elections or war is a false dilemma. There are many civic and peaceful forms of struggle, which could be combined with intelligent use of legitimately won institutional arenas. The path of civic struggle and citizens’ mobilization is what no one has wanted to develop… Using the excuse of citizen apathy is nothing more than renouncing the responsibility of being a political leader.”

Nothing in today’s Nicaragua suggests that conditions exist for a massive civic struggle to pressure Ortega. Behind the UCD’s comment one can perceive a tacit allusion to a Montealegre-Ortega “hidden agenda” consisting of a new edition of the historical tendency of large parties blocked from any real competition for power to make pacts with the ruling party. Back in May the notion began to circulate that the PLI might trade parliamentary consensus and electoral legitimacy for institutional arenas that would allow Montealegre to secure his role as opposition leader and run for the presidency in 2016.

FSLN: With or without Alemán

With three months to go before the elections, the FSLN appears stronger than ever and is readying itself to win more than the 109 municipalities it already governs. But there are strong internal tensions, which explain why its upper echelons have made so few changes in the selection of municipal candidates. The FSLN is putting up the same insipid authorities for reelection in Managua and is trusting in the same mayors who have governed the past four years in a good number of other municipalities as well. The more unconditional support the current mayors have shown, the fewer the problems. Their “right” to run for reelection is ensured by the same Supreme Court ruling that permitted Daniel Ortega’s reelection in violation of the prohibition against consecutive reelection—enshrined in the Constitution in his case and in the electoral law in the case of mayors and deputy mayors.

The PLC, the FSLN’s pact partner for three presidential terms, is hoping to make a comeback in these elections, and it wouldn’t be surprising if it wins back some ground, since Fabio Gadea isn’t around to dispute votes with it in rural areas. The UCD also has a response to opinions such as that of former Education Minister Humberto Belli, who insists that the PLI’s non-participation would give Alemán a new lease on life. The UCD counter-argues that “the specter of Alemán’s resurrection is a resource that will always be in Ortega’s hands, with or without elections. Ortega has already studied the electoral map and has designated which mayoral seats will be stolen and which ones he will cede to the parties that run, including the PLC.”

A strange situation

In this scenario, the PLI is hoping to retain its new status as the “second force,” claiming that it is better prepared than in 2011. But the decision comes at a high political cost among the better-informed urban sectors.

The pre-electoral situation is a strange one. Some propose suspending the elections. Others suggest that the PLI not run candidates in the departmental capitals but only in the small municipalities because the capitals have effectively already been stolen and only in the smaller locales could there be real competition.

The mixed messages are constant. The influential Catholic hierarchy has announced that this year it will not urge people to vote but will leave it to each person’s conscience. While some argue that voting is a right and a duty, others counter that abstaining is a right and in these circumstances should be a duty. Some say that participating is the only concrete way right now to respond to the FSLN’s growing strength, while others insist that participating only legitimates the electoral farce. Still others assure that “there will be no elections”… because they will prevent them from happening.

Standby measures

Obama’s decision to grant Nicaragua the waiver, Ortega’s decision to cede some space in a behind-the-scenes negotiation with the Obama adminstration and the PLI’s decision to run in the elections are all pragmatic and shortsighted.

If Obama is reelected, it won’t make Washington’s fixation on Nicaragua go away, nor will it make relations between Ortega’s Nicaragua and Obama’s USA any more harmonious; and if Romney wins they will be even less so. The White House will still keep an eye on Nicaragua, saving its arsenal of pressures and sanctions for the next round, focused especially on how the 2016 presidential elections unfold. The granting of the waiver is only a wait-and-see measure.

If the PLI runs in the elections it will perhaps be able to document a new fraud and end up with some mayoral and Municipal Council seats, but it could also come out of this incursion splintered and with eroded political capital, intensifying the problems already affecting Nicaragua’s opposition. In that case the PLI’s decision to run would also have been only a standby measure.

If Ortega makes some changes in the CSE and finally, with consensus or without it, now or after the elections, complies with what was negotiated in exchange for the waiver by electing some or all new officials to replace those still occupying their posts well after their term ended, it will lower the volume of some critical voices. But it will only be a temporary truce.

The social control, political authoritarianism and economic hegemony are part and parcel of his project and will continue generating social unrest, resistance and opposition. Just one indication of the economic hegemony is that the Ortegas now control 60% of the country’s electricity generation. And Murillo merrily keeps the electric Christmas trees and the other ubiquitous Christmas lights scattered so lavishly around Managua lit 24-7-365, while the public pays the bill.

For now, Ortega, who can easily be accused of crass pragmatism but not of shortsightedness, is engaging in a holding pattern, shot through with one great uncertainty that’s tormenting him because it’s unquestionably the factor that could most seriously derail his project: how will the inevitable transition in post-Chávez Venezuela unfold?

The long view

This year’s municipal elections won’t mark the end of the history we seem to be trapped in or the beginning of a new history. The day after the elections, Nicaragua’s long-term problems—all the political, economic, ecological, social and cultural ones—which seem irresolvable due to a deficit of transforming volition and a surfeit of resignation, will all still be there, in their accustomed places, just as they were the day before the elections.

Ecologist Jorge Riechmann evokes Oscar Wilde’s complaint that “the trouble with socialism is that it takes too many evenings” to conclude that “democracy has that same temporal dimension: it takes time, a lot of time. The time needed for contrasting viewpoints, the public use of reason, free debate, the forming of consensus, the review of decisions and the requirement of responsibilities.” He adds that these and other processes, if implemented with quality, are incompatible with haste.

And as such, they are incompatible with shortsighted pragmatism.

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