Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 405 | Abril 2015



Is Ortega’s project sinking in the quicksand?

Both the national and international scenes have experienced many changes between 2010 and 2015, Nicaragua’s previous and current pre-electoral years. Daniel Ortega is gearing up for yet another reelection after more than eight years of “responsible populism” shot through with his exclusionary authoritarianism. But both his opponents and his allies are aware that it just might all be coming to an end.

Envío team

To identify the changes that have taken place in Nicaragua and beyond that don’t favor President Ortega, it’s worth recalling the advice a crony gave him while still in the opposition. To return to government, he counseled, Ortega would have to stop fighting with his three great enemies of the eighties: the US government, big national capital and the Catholic Church hierarchy.

Is Ortega’s solid floor
turning into quicksand?

Ortega fully embraced the strategy when he returned to government after winning the 2006 elections and it proved largely effective. He had already supported CAFTA, the Central American Free Trade Agreement with the United States, which pleased both Washington and big capital. Meanwhile, the FSLN business group had strengthened and capitalized itself during its years in opposition and built bridges with the traditional business elite. And the year before the elections Ortega established an alliance with Cardinal Obando, somewhat neutralizing the largely Catholic opposition population and certainly throwing it off balance.

Over his first five years back in office, Ortega maintained very good relations with his former enemies. While the Episcopal Conference was no more than appropriately cordial, Obando remained steadfastly at his side. The government worked with the United States to resolve the problems of US citizens whose property had been confiscated, detain migrants on their way to the US and collaborate with the DEA on drug-traffic control. And Ortega’s relations with Nicaragua’s business leaders got so tight that it was tantamount to co-governing, at least on economic policy issues. Many of the major supply contracts with Venezuela were even given to non-Sandinista agricultural and livestock exporters, thus heading off any opposition to Nica¬ragua’s participation in the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of our America (ALBA).

But today, all that has begun to change. For some months now, the solid floor that sustained the three-prong strategy has shown signs of turning into quicksand. The figure of Obando, who will turn 90 next year, is fading from the scene, and the government’s use and abuse of Christian symbology is increasingly grating on the nerves of the Catholic hierarchy and no few Catholic faithful. The United States, which went so far as to economically sanction Nicaragua in response to the fraud in the 2008 municipal elections, is again speaking out in favor of free elections. And the business elites have begun to express serious concerns about the resources that will no longer come due to the crisis in Venezuela…

The government of
the money god

Relations with the Catholic hierarchy have cooled despite the governing couple’s many efforts—among them keeping Cardinal Obando on all the official daises and lavishing donations on clergy and parishes. On March 8 the bishops published a stinging Message for Lent 2015, citing 12 critical extracts from Pope Francis’ November 2013 encyclical titled Evangelii Gau¬dium on aspects that can be easily recognized in the corporative project shared by the business elite and the Ortega government.

“The mentality that socially and politically conceives of the State as an administrative body whose main objective is to facilitate the wellbeing of the financial markets and the growth of big capital must be broken with,” wrote the bishops. “This mentality means that ‘a new tyranny is thus born, invisible and often virtual, which unilaterally and relentlessly imposes its own laws and rules.’ (Evangelii Gau¬dium, 56). In this social and political order people are secondary, particularly the poor. From this perspective, the market economy becomes the normative and institutional system that governs the life of the entire population. Pope Francis has compared this idolatry of money and the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose to the ‘worship of the ancient golden calf’ (Evangelii Gau¬dium, 55). People, social organization, democracy, labor laws, education, state institutions and government projects should not have to bow to economic growth and the production of capital, but rather the reverse. ‘Money must serve, not rule! (Evangelii Gaudium, 58).”

The myth of economic growth

Both the government and the business leaders in the Superior Council of Private Enterprise (COSEP) always speak of economic growth as the country’s chief success, presenting their alliance as the reason for that success. COSEP President José Adán Aguerri repeatedly states that working for economic growth amounts to working for democracy. Even the International Monetary Fund (IMF) representative who headed the mission that visited Nicaragua in March praised the country’s economic growth as “impressive.”

The bishops, however, present a different view: “Economic growth, considered in and of itself, freed of all ethics and all commitment to justice and the poor, to democratic institutionality and peace, cannot achieve greater social inclusion or equity in the world. Society becomes corrupted and dehumanized when wealth becomes a god, when there are people and groups clinging to power out of their longing for wealth, when the political situation is accepted submissively, not questioned even when unjust, simply because it facilitates the market economy and accumulation of money, while ‘the excluded are still waiting’ (Evangelii Gaudium, 54).”

Anxiety in the countryside

In another part of their message the bishops were more concrete in their reflections about the national political situation, referring to the problem of rearmed groups, whose existence is consistently denied by the government. They mentioned specific recent events such as February’s “backpack-bomb” that killed several rearmed peasants in the municipality of Pantasma, Jinotega.

“A way of engaging in politics has become generalized,” they wrote, “in which there seems to be little interest in getting close to the people, resolving their real problems and taking their expectations and opinions into account. Also serious is that the country’s political practice is dominated by neglect of the common good, by ambition, authoritarianism, illegality and above all corruption, an extremely serious sin for which the poor end up paying (Francis, homily, 16 June 2014)…. There is a worrying presence in rural zones of the country of armed groups that are not officially identified, but which we cannot ignore or undervalue. We are accustomed to acts of repression and criminal violence with clear nuances of terrorism that have brought grief and anxiety to many rural families and communities and have alarmingly gone unpunished because the Police and the Army, whose presence often creates panic and unease among the population, have been unable to give an acceptable explanation of the acts.”

“Get out of the cathedrals”

After great expectations, all the bishops met with Daniel Ortega and his wife nearly a year ago, on May 21, to present them an extensive document expressing many of their concerns. envío called it a “road map” because it contained elements that pointed the way to a much-needed point-by-point debate between the government and the opposition, as well as organized society in general. But it went nowhere. The arrogance of power remained cool and silent. “Be patient,” Ortega smugly counseled at the time, “because the FSLN will continue governing for decades.”

The bishops’ new and less all-encompassing text irritated the government and some of its business allies, perhaps because of its very brevity, its unexpectedness and the fact that it directly touched on such a consistently sensitive topic as the handful of people who have so much more than others.

The only government official to publicly express his annoyance was Bayardo Arce, once a journalist, Coman¬dante of the Revolution and member of the now-defunct FSLN National Directorate, more recently a bank board member and head of a sizable agro-corporation, and now President Ortega’s economic adviser. In a Cabinet where both censorship and self-censorship are the norm, Arce is likely the only member with the liberty to say what he wants when he wants, and he did so with his characteristic sarcasm: “They talk about the poor, but they don’t leave their cathedrals…. Pope Francis has told them to get out of there, because he knows he has many bishops in the world who never leave their cathedrals or their air-conditioned vehicles….”

“We don’t have capital”

Coming from such a well-heeled businessman, Arce’s criticism backfired as is wont to happen when a pot calls a kettle black. The bishop who responded, Carlos Enrique Herrera of the Franciscan order and head of the Jinotega diocese, is not one to shelter in cathedrals or insist on air-conditioning. “What social projects does this gentleman have?” asked Herrera with gentle derision. “Our message reflects the feeling of our people, who tell us they have no jobs…. We don’t have capital, but we try to help the poorest according to our possibilities and through our social projects, through our Cáritas.”

From the business side, the bishops’ critique was also rejected by Michael Healy, president of the Union of Agricultural Producers (UPANIC), one of COSEP’s chambers that receive the most fiscal privileges. He claimed that UPANIC “concerns itself” to “distribute the economic benefits” among small farmers and ranchers. César Zamora, a business leader from the electricity sector, also distanced himself from the bishops’ message, insisting that the business association does not defend “individual interests.” Zamora said he also felt “hurt” by the even more specific criticisms of the business class made by auxiliary bishop of Managua Silvio Báez on the TV program “Esta Semana.” Zamora called it “an attempt to morally destroy the private sector so it will back down in the dialogue with the government…. I am a Catholic, I believe deeply in the Holy Spirit, and coming from a religious leader I respect and admire, his declarations really hurt me; his anger against businesspeople isn’t fair.”

210 rich men and
2.2 million Lazaruses

Despite the protests to the contrary, the bishops’ criticisms of the “money god” are not idle. The inequalities in Nicaragua are getting worse, with the gap between wealth and poverty steadily widening. After eight years of the Ortega government, its various social programs—to which Arce alluded as proof that it does concern itself with the poor—are barely making a dent in the extreme poverty. Worse yet, it coexists with an increasingly scandalous extreme wealth that no program attempts to correct.

The annual Wealth-X and UBS World Ultra Wealth Report offers clues to how much extreme wealth there is in the world and how fast it is growing by means of a census of the “ultra-wealthy”—defined as those who have a personal fortune of at least US$30 million. It detected 210 such people in Nicaragua in 2014, up 10 per year since 2011, when it reported there were 180. That translates to the amassing of nearly US$1 billion by 30 people out of a population of only 6.2 million in just three years.

This growing inequality is occurring in a country where 37% of the population—more than 2.2 million people—lives in what a World Bank report titled “Los olvidados” (The forgotten ones) calls a state of “chronic poverty.” This report is the result of a study of Latin America’s situation in 2004-2012 and defines chronic poverty as families, which also tend to be very numerous, having available income of under US$4 per day. It is chronic in that these individuals only know this state of economic prostration, cannot imagine how to escape from it and never will, any more than one can escape from a chronic illness in which the only option is to live with it and try to alleviate its symptoms. In evangelical language, this gives us the picture of 210 “rich men” surrounded by more than 2.2 million “Lazaruses”...

After eight years in which the government has bragged about its fight against poverty, the United Nations Development Programme’s 2014 Human Development Report still gives Nicaragua the lowest rating in Central America, and puts it in 132nd place out of 187 countries studied.

“Responsible populism”

After returning to office in 2007, Ortega began to respond with a menu of social programs to the structural poverty that has characterized Nicaragua throughout its history, continuing government after government, business elite after business elite. The best known and most widely applied have been Roof Plan, Zero Usury and Zero Hunger: respectively providing sheet metal roofing, credits for urban women’s small businesses and packages of farm animals and implements to help rural women feed their families.

These programs have reached a percentage of the population, but according to opinions gathered in urban barrios and rural districts, they favor those who either belong to or at least declare their sympathy with the governing party. Despite their partisan leanings, it must be recognized that they have resolved the basic needs of many poor families and helped improve their lives. While they haven’t allowed these families to climb out of their poverty, they have made its yoke somewhat lighter. The poorest beneficiaries are sincerely grateful and anxiously await more. The three previous Liberal governments—those of Vio¬leta Chamorro, Arnoldo Alemán and Enrique Bolaños—did nothing even remotely similar.

The programs’ critics view them as forms of patronizing charity and clientelism. “Responsible populism” was the more positive tag given them by the Harvard-linked INCAE business school in Managua: responsible in the sense of providing continuity to the overall economic management of the previous government in contrast to the FSLN’s “irresponsible” populism of the revolutionary years, when Ortega also headed the government.

Christian and socialist?

Whatever their intention and whatever adjectives one wants to give them, these programs are doing nothing to resolve the structural problem of poverty. Unemployment and those informal, unsteady and underpaid jobs known as underemployment have multiplied during the Ortega years. The structural basis of Nicaragua’s of poverty is reflected in the fact that 8 of every 10 Nicaraguans now work with no contract, precarious income and no social security, or are self-employed in similar conditions, while 4 out of every 10 rural families have no land.

Responsible populism hasn’t so much as touched this, nor has it halted or even slowed the massive migration to Costa Rica of a young population looking for a future there that is not offered at home. Nicaragua’s economy is stabilized more by the remittances those migrants send home than by any jobs the business elite and their investments generate. Responsible populism only hides the most flagrant deficiencies of a project that proclaims itself Christian, socialist and solidary.

As long as those huge social sectors made up of impoverished peasant farmers and urban informal workers aren’t even taken into account much less taken seriously by the corporative government, it won’t be heading in a Christian, socialist or solidary direction. Sinforiano Cáceres, head of the Federation of Agricultural and Agroindustrial Cooperatives, spoke of this in our April edition: “The Constitution the government just reformed in the National Assembly establishes tripartite dialogue and consensus… proudly speaks of the tripartite alliance model, a three-legged stool made up of the State, private enterprise and labor…. We have to demand that it be a four-legged table: State, private enterprise, labor and us, the social econ¬omy sector…. COSEP needs to be told: ‘Don’t be so shameless; don’t speak in our name; you don’t represent us.’ And the government needs to be told: ‘Don’t play the fool; you know perfectly well we exist.’” Cáceres went on to say that “it’s also a problem of political and economic ethics, because by saying they’re representing us, even though they aren’t, they take advantage of our invisibility to gain benefits from us. In fact, they sit down not to represent us but to despoil us.”

Venezuela in crisis

The government has financed the social programs with a portion of the copious resources put in Ortega’s hands by a favorable oil deal with Venezuela since 2007: a US$500 million annual credit to be used at his discretion. It is hard to calculate how much has actually gone to those programs due to the lack of public and institutional control of the funds.

Venezuela’s current crisis suggests that these programs—which be they populist or simply clientelist unequivocally explain much of Ortega’s support—are heading for quicksand because the drop in oil prices has more or less halved that credit. Moreover, both the IMF and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) have warned that the fall of oil prices coupled with Venezuela’s huge debts and internal crisis will make it unable to continue subsidizing its oil sales to the poorest Caribbean countries. A recent report by Barclays, the London-based global financial services bank, says that Caracas has already slashed its oil supply to the Petrocaribe countries by half: from 400,000 barrels a day in 2012 to 200,000 today.

Petrocaribe forced
to reduce its generosity

The Petrocaribe agreements are generous, establishing that the country only pays for half the oil it receives in the short term while the other half remains as a credit to be paid over many years at low interest rates. The Barclays report, titled “Reducing Generosity,” states that since oil prices began to drop last year, Venezuela has even halved its supply to Cuba, its main ally, which pays for it in human capital: doctors, nurses, social workers, sports trainers and the like.

The Bolivarian government has had to “reduce its generosity” because with oil providing Venezuela 96% of its hard currency income, the fall in oil prices and the inefficiency of its underdeveloped and deteriorated productive apparatus have sunk the country into an economic crisis it will be hard to climb out of. In such a crisis, Venezuela earns more selling oil to those who pay in currency and quickly than selling it on credit to the region’s countries.

Barclays reports that the oil shipments to the Dominican Republic and Jamaica were cut by 56% and 74%, respectively, and while Nicaragua’s government is reporting nothing to the population on the matter, there are signs of a reduction here as well.

The electricity rate debate

When oil prices began their descent some 10 months ago, economic adviser Arce called it good news for countries that don’t produce oil because it would lower their energy and fuel prices. At the same time, however, he admitted it wasn’t such good news for Nica¬ragua’s government: “It could affect our cooperation flows,” he said, avoiding naming our main cooperation partner.

This March, typically one of the hottest of Nicaragua’s six-month dry season, the debate about how much to reduce the electricity rate, currently the highest in Central America, remained steadily at the boiling point. Despite the roughly 50% fall in international oil prices, local fuel prices have not dropped commensurately (only from roughly $1.30 per liter of gasoline before the fall to some $0.98 today) and the price of electricity hasn’t dropped an iota. For weeks, the business elite pressured the government both privately and publicly to lower it, arguing it would improve the econ¬omy’s competitiveness, while household consumers demanded it to provide some relief to their ever rising cost of living. Even some of the bishops added their voice. While the presidential couple remained silent in the face of this clamor, other government officials offered no credible explanation for why the drop in oil prices were reflected in the neighboring countries but not here.

The issue isn’t technical, but rather one of political will. The Ortega-Murillo family and the FSLN’s business group have interests in both the fuel and energy-generating businesses through the Albanisa consortium, set up as a joint venture with Venezuela to handle the income from the oil distribution domestically and invest the profits. It is precisely in this area of the economy that the confusion between public and private, the State-government-party-family mix, has become increasingly inextricable, with ever more negative consequences for the country.

Right before Easter Week, following a well-worn pattern of important things always happening just before major holidays, when people’s minds are already on their upcoming vacation, Ortega sent the legislative body a bill to reduce the electricity rate with a request for fast-track approval. Leaving aside the fact that Nicaragua currently has some 50 different rates (residential, agricultural, industrial…) and that the law didn’t make clear what the different reductions would be on average, it essentially divided the beneficiaries of the savings generated by the drop in oil prices into three equal parts: a third will be felt by residential consumers (with reductions of only between 6.5% and 10%), another third will be used to finish paying the debt the national energy system has with Alba Caruna, Albanisa’s finance company and the other third will be put into a government fund to finance anti-poverty programs.

“A desperate,
ill-conceived effort”

Widespread displeasure began to make itself felt immediately after the FSLN legislative bench pushed the law through on March 25. As was to be expected, it started with the fact that the rate reduction is so small.

Alba Caruna’s funds have grown exponentially in the past few years, fed by the income Venezuela’s oil agreement has left in the country, which Ortega administers at will. How much these funds amount to and how they are applied is a complete mystery because Alba Caruna is a private bank not supervised by anyone, including the Superintendence of Banks, the legislative branch or the Comptroller General’s Office. The conflict of interests between Ortega as ruler and the Ortegas as major business stockholders is revealed in the debt of some $200 million at 8% annual interest the Nicaraguan Institute of Energy (INE), the State’s regulatory body, has with Caruna. Prioritizing payment of this debt could also reveal pressure from the Maduro government to recover that oil income.

What no one expected was the earmarking of a third of the resources saved by reducing the electricity rate for poverty fighting programs. Nica¬ragua’s Institute for Strategic Studies and Public Policies (IEEPP) called this decision a “disguised tax” the whole population will have to pay instead of the government financing these programs with earnings from all the businesses created or invested in by Albanisa with the Venezuelan petrodollars. “It’s a desperate, ill-conceived effort to mitigate the impact of Venezuela’s shrinking cooperation,” argued IEEPP researcher Adelmo Sandino.

This new funding source for social programs is another sign that the Venezuelan resources are indeed shrinking. Starting last year the government has been transferring spending for several of its social programs to the national budget because it needs at least to maintain if not increase its responsible populism in this pre-electoral year.

The ax at the root

How solid are Daniel Ortega’s current good relations with the business elite? They were very good in 2007, when they were first forged, and have been increasingly solidifying to the point that a new model of corporative co-government was incorporated into the most recent changes to the Constitution. These relations are rooted in a model that favors big business being able to “make money” without having to pay its fair share of taxes thanks to exonerations, exemptions and all kinds of privileges. In this same model the government—which also makes money in the businesses controlled by the presidential family and the governing party’s business group without paying taxes —manages its “responsible populism” as an escape valve on the pressure cooker of poverty and social discontent. The abundant money from Venezuela’s oil agreement is the foundation of the corporative govern¬ment’s good relations.

The bishops did not mention the taxes those who worship “the money god” should contribute, but in evangelical language that’s the root the ax should strike. Only with a fair tax system, quality education paid for precisely with those fairly collected taxes and authentic rural development—which must include better access to land in a rural country such as ours—will we truly be able to climb out of poverty rather than simply alleviate its worst symptoms.

Studies by the IMF and IDB, among many others, show that in Nicaragua the low-income population, the poorest people and the wage earners pay disproportionately more taxes than the wealthy, those with higher income, those who make up COSEP’s business chambers, thanks to their unmerited exonerations.

The billions of dollars in Venezuelan aid that has flowed in for over seven years in very concessionary terms have not been used by the government to invest in developing human capital, taking advantage of the demographic dividend. They have been used for subsidies and social spending that could have been financed with the taxes of those who earn more and have more.

Since Venezuela’s crisis is not allowing it to continue financing such an unjust model, this could begin to fracture the government-business relations, as the business elite know. They are also weighing Ortega’s increasingly chilly relations with the US government where, as Francisco Aguirre Sacasa explains in the Speaking Out section of this issue, “Daniel Ortega doesn’t have a single friend.” These two factors combined could cause a rupture in the corporative government down the road.

2010 has little in
common with 2015

The bishops—sometimes with one voice and sometimes individually—are speaking firmly to the government, buttressed by Pope Francis’ messages in favor of social justice. The business elite aren’t yet doing so—limiting themselves to occasional grumpy complaints such as this one by the COSEP president: “We weren’t consulted; this way of reducing the electricity rate wasn’t a consensual decision”—but their perception of the Ortega government in the lead-up to the 2011 elections is surely changing.

It’s virtually impossible that these business leaders could be calmly contemplating the medium future. Nicaragua appears isolated on the regional and international map. The “empire” that has never had much use for Daniel Ortega is again on the offensive in Latin America: negotiating with Cuba on the one hand and sanctioning Venezuela on the other. Venezuela is no longer a sure market for Nicaraguan exports and is cutting back its cooperation. Furthermore, the government’s institutional control has only intensified with the constitutional reforms, the reform of the Army and Police laws and the FSLN’s ironclad control over the legislative branch, giving it unrestricted power in all four branches of government, as it had already obtained control over the executive, judicial and electoral branches by 2007.

The business elite must also surely be concerned by the specter of unfair competition that is moving forward in all fields. The creation of Albamed, yet another Albanisa business, is an attempt to gain control of the profit-laden import of pharmaceuticals.

It’s not difficult to imagine the business elite getting nervous over the crisis in responsible populism and the increasingly irresponsible authori¬tarianism. Ortega obviously took office again in January 2007 determined to improve relations with his three great former enemies and has made good use of the benefit of the doubt they all gave him, even in 2011, when he forced through his reelection. But today the doubts are increasingly peeking through.

The canal is also bogged down

The Grand Interoceanic Canal project, which the government launched as the pinnacle of all its economic successes, must also have many business allies nervous, as even it is beginning to look more and more like an idea built on quicksand…

With no informational breakthrough on the studies or potential investors, no progress on the ground and even the rhetoric dialed down, the protest marches by the peasant population that would be affected by the canal are the only things that appear to be continuing. By the end of March, 41 had already been held. And in their Lent Message the bishops dedicated more space to the canal issue, posing more precise objections than they did last year (see Document in this issue).

The controversy about the Ortega-Wang canal project has been propelled into the international arena by the environmental concerns, which have been echoed by Science and Nature, two of the world’s most prestigious scientific journals. In March, the preliminary findings of the environmental studies were discussed by a panel of scientists in Florida (see “Environmental Studies” in Canal Notes below).

Elections… with
what conditions?

With Ortega’s vote-buying funds in jeopardy, the political floor of Ortega’s project is also beginning to move beneath him as we approach a new electoral year. The opposition parties appear emboldened by such unfavorable international variables for Ortega. While they have yet to present any alternative proposals, some now see a possibility of defeating him even without changing the anti-democratic Electoral Law or the totally discredited electoral authorities, as long as there is a strong presence of national and international observers, a massive voter turnout and the creation of a “broad coalition.”

In the 2011 elections, almost all electoral observer missions were prohibited or impeded by the government. Early this March, the Independent Liberal Party representatives to the National Assembly introduced a bill to establish the obligatory presence of both national and international observers, which the FSLN bench is expected to vote down.

The other two conditions needed to defeat Ortega—a massive turnout and a broad coalition—depend a lot on what magnets will be hauled out to attract a population increasingly fed up with the current model of social control and exclusion. As is increasingly typical in elections around the world, the prevailing strategy is less to put forward a winning governing program than to pick a candidate with the greatest charisma, fabricated or genuine. In other words, to use a metaphor appropriate to this traditionally religious country: which “saints” will lead the “procession” of the discontented.

Some politicians keep bringing up the experience of 1990, even though the contexts of then and now have little in common. That year, silver-haired white-suited Violeta Chamorro, the US-backed “peace candidate,” was the “saint” and the profound hope of putting an end to the war was the magnet that brought out the massive vote that defeated the revolutionary FSLN government.

A year and a half to go

With a year and a half to go before the November 2016 elections, the two Liberal parties—Arnoldo Alemán’s Constitutionalist Liberals and Eduardo Montealegre’s Independent Liberals—are competing to see who will control, determine and design the required broad coalition, even though both men must know that neither can head it without guaranteeing its failure.

Montealegre is expectant but doubtful, while the irreparably “burned” Alemán is seeking to legitimize himself by cozying up to the Conservatives. To this end he has reportedly been talking to Conservative lawyer Noel Vidaurre, an also-ran from the 2001 elections who still has presidential ambitions. Alemán surely has another ace up his sleeve, however, knowing how attractive a surprise effect is to the Nicaraguan electorate, as happened in 2011 with the unanticipated candidacy of Fabio Gadea.

What will the critical Sandinista followers of the Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS) do? And what will the MRS itself do, given that it has been illegitimately deprived of its legal status since 2008? And could something unexpected come from Sandi¬nistas still linked to the FSLN but tired of being subordinated to a family project? Then there’s the Catholic hierarchy, which has the power of a vast territorial network of parishes, and the evangelical sectors, with their similar or even more extensive network of churches and an Assemblies of God pastor who has already tossed his hat in the ring as a presidential pre-candidate, but is now flirting with Alemán.

Which of three options will the business sector pick? Will it run the risk of continuing to back Ortega, as it has done up to now? Or will it decide to limit the superpowers it currently enjoys and risk gambling on strengthening a sector of the opposition? Or will it give all its backing to an alternative that promises to go head on against the FSLN to defeat it?

Last but not least, what will the US government do, with less support than ever in its historical “back yard” having won accolades for its historic rapprochement with Cuba then gambled them away with its sanctions against Venezuela, and now entering its own complicated pre-electoral year?

Strength is needed

Quicksand appears to be a solid surface as long as it isn’t disturbed by any external agents. When those agents appear it is found to be viscous and becomes a deadly trap. Enormous strength is needed to come through it without being sucked under.

President Ortega’s project, currently disturbed by various external agents, is bogged down and dragging Nicaragua into its muck, and the upper echelons of power do not appear to be offering any strength or political will to haul it out.

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