To vote or not to vote? That is the question
Everything Daniel Ortega has done since June
to delegitimize Nicaragua’s upcoming elections
has steadily increased international concern
about what’s going on in this country.
Inside Nicaragua itself, it has led to a rephrasing
of Hamlet’s existential question “To be or not to be”
into the political question “To vote or not to vote.”
With less than two months to go until election day,
the question is being debated more and more
Vote, abstain, annul one’s vote by damaging the ballot… these choices are causing anguishing discussions among Nicaraguans. The dilemma of whether to lend oneself to the electoral farce coming up on November 6 is far more pressing than who to vote for, normally the central question in a competitive election anywhere in the world.
The extent to which Ortega and his group have discredited these elections with the scheme they’ve imposed on them explains the speed with which this debate is spreading.
How widespread is it?
How many across the country are really feeling this dilemma and grappling with it? How many aren’t yet facing it, how many are fence-sitting for one reason or another and how many have already made up their mind?
Weighty reasons have been accumulating since well before the string of jolting events starting in June fast-tracked the doubt of Nicaragua’s Hamlets. The country is going into these elections with the same electoral authorities responsible for all the allegedly or proven fraudulent elections since the controversial general ones of 2006: the 2011 general election, the 2008 and 2012 municipal elections and the 2010 and 2014 regional autonomous elections on the Caribbean Coast. It is going into them with a voter list that hasn’t been cleaned in years and has accumulated serious party biases in the issuing of voter-ID cards. It is going with virtually all voter tables now controlled by authorities who answer to the governing party and with no electoral observers other than those hand-picked by the governing party. It is going with no credible opposition candidate after the Independent Liberal Party (PLI), whose electoral coalition placed second in the 2011 elections, was despoiled of its legal status by the Ortega-controlled Supreme Court followed by the Supreme Electoral Council (CSE), acting on the President’s orders, evicting from their seats that coalition’s 28 parliamentarians elected in 2011. It is thus going with a ballot in which Ortega is opposed only by four miniscule parties plus the Constitutionalist Liberal Party (PLC), still controlled by corrupt former President Arnoldo Alemán, Ortega’s partner in the subverting of the country’s political system. And given all this, it is obviously going with predictable results.
The only slight doubt that remains is the exact number of National Assembly representatives Ortega will concede to these “opposition” parties. What is not in doubt is that he would allow the governing FSLN any less than the 63 he gave it in the 2011 elections, when more legislative ballots were cast than presidential ones, a phenomenon unheard of in such a heavily presidential system as Nicaragua’s. That presumed exuberant ballot-box stuffing gave Ortega enough legislative representatives to change even the Constitution without having to buy a single opposition vote.
How hard is Ortega’s hard vote?
There is of course a part of the population—what is known as the FSLN’s “hard vote”—that will turn out and loyally check box 2 for the ticket of President Ortega and his wife Rosario Murillo. That box will also be checked by those who appreciate or have personally benefited from the undeniable fact that Ortega has given more to the poor, albeit in charity more than empowering programs, than any other government since the once-revolutionary FSLN lost the elections in 1990. And finally it will be checked by those in government jobs who would do nothing to jeopardize holding on to them. How many might that add up to?
Polls in recent years have always shown overwhelming support for Ortega, exceeding 70% at times. Yet the most recent one by the Costa Rica-based polling firm of Borge y Asociados, conducted between May 18 and 31, revealed a different scenario. Even then, weeks before Ortega began the series of arbitrary impositions that have discredited the electoral process, his popularity had dropped to 44%.
Borge y Asociados has a seal of approval in Nicaragua: it was the only pollster that correctly called the results of the 1990 elections when, to the shock of everyone else, pollsters, observers and population alike, Ortega lost to Violeta Chamorro.
A revealing poll
The poll’s May figure is actually consistent with the voting ceiling between 1990 and 2011 of the only presidential candidate the FSLN has ever run. A “statistical catalogue” published in August 2012 by the Institute for Development and Democracy (IPADE) shows Ortega averaging around 40% year after year in that period. After losing to Chamorro with 40.82% of the vote in 1990, to Arnoldo Alemán with 37.83% in 1996, to Enrique Bolaños with 42.28% in 2001, he won to a divided Right with only 38.04% in 2006, following the lowering of the minimum to win on the first round to 35% in a deal cut by Ortega and then-President Alemán in 2000.
In the 2011 national elections, however, Ortega’s percentage shot up to 62.46%, according to the electoral authorities. Given the many social programs his government introduced in its first five-year term, it’s entirely likely that he won with more than 50%, as pre-election polls tended to show, but it defies credulity that he came anywhere close to the 66.97% he won in 1984 when the revolution was still relatively young and enjoyed a now-tarnished mystique. The list of irregularities in the 2011 elections was so long that the international observer missions that year severely questioned the results. And it was then that the national observers—who were denied credentials to enter the polling sites but called in their observations by cell phone while voting themselves—declared that the Nicaraguan electoral system had “collapsed.”
Ortega’s logic as a candidate
The Borge poll is revealing because while 44% or thereabouts implies a comfortable win in a competitive multi-party election with at least minimum guarantees, it would mean a significant roll-back of Ortega’s power. He wouldn’t repeat the absolute parliamentary majority assigned him in 2011, which has been strategic in establishing the control he exercises today over all civilian and even military institutions. The poll result also helpa us see that all the otherwise mind-boggling decisions Ortega has made since June 4, when he announced his refusal to allow international observers, followed by the June 8 decision to eliminate the PLI and its coalition from the race, followed by the July 29 decision to remove the PLI and Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS) legislators from the seats in the National Assembly they won in 2011, and culminating, at least so far, in his naming of his wife as his running mate, assuring that she will succeed him, actually express a rational logic to preserve and even consolidate his project in the face of a potentially real threat to it.
It is a logic consistent with the adverse future he foresees—the end of Venezuelan cooperation, the crisis of the Latin American Left and the change of government in the United States. Political cost be damned, his only objective is not to risk losing an iota of power, and thus not to risk competing with anyone who could possibly steal away any of it in clean elections.
“A single party is harmful”
In the Borge poll, 26.3% of those surveyed said they didn’t intend to vote and another 21.9% were undecided or didn’t want to respond. Even free of influence from everything that started unfolding on June 4, that adds up to over 48% potential or probable abstainers.
The debate about what to do on November 6 has continued to grow, creating expectations of the next poll to tell us what direction it has taken. Following dozens of written, spoken and televised commentaries and conversations among friends and family about the pros and cons and the sense or senselessness of voting in what has already been labeled an “electoral farce,” an announcement by the bishops that they would issue a message about the elections created more expectations.
Clues as to its general thrust were provided by Monsignor Rolando Álvarez, the characteristically frank bishop of Matagalpa, who in those same days had called the upcoming elections “a disaster.” That appraisal was seconded by Monsignor Silvio Báez, auxiliary bishop of Managua, who said “I share and fully support the opinion of my brother,” and by Monsignor Abelardo Mata, bishop of Estelí, who reported “a tremendous lack of confidence in the electoral process.”
Expectations were further stirred by the message the bishops offered in response to the elimination of the real PLI from the electoral competition. At that time they said that “any intent to create conditions for the implementation of a single-party regime in which ideological plurality and political parties disappear is harmful to the country from the social, economic and political point of view.” Curiosity about the bishops’ stance continued to grow as nothing improved after that, and in fact the panorama only worsened with the announcement of the governing party’s ticket, which smacked of an even more harmful concept, a family-based regime.
Let your conscience be your guide
Finally, on August 22, the bishops released a very brief message in which they labeled the electoral moment “historic” and exhorted the population not to lose hope, “above all in dark and adverse moments.” They avoided referring to the decisions the President had made and focused instead on the dilemma of voting or not voting.
“Voting is a right,” they assured. “The decision to vote or not or to vote for a particular option must be made from within each person’s own conscience. In light of the gospel and of the Church’s social doctrine, Catholics must decide confident that with the option chosen they are collaborating in the construction of a more just society, favoring the common good of the entire population and helping strengthen a democratic and pluralist political system in the country.”
It is the first time that, in advance of an electoral process, the Episcopal Conference, voice of the country’s 10 Catholic bishops, is not calling on people to vote. Moreover, it is the first time they’ve put the possibility of voting and not voting side by side, considering that both are decisions each Nicaraguan must make “in conscience.”
In a society such as the even more unequal one Ortega has consolidated, where the common good doesn’t cover “the entire population,” but rather only those favored by the model, and where the government has been demolishing the institutions that guarantee a “democratic and pluralist system,” the bishops are implicitly helping contrast the ideal they propose with this reality. In doing so, they are also implicitly illuminating the option to select on election day.
Don’t go vote...?
The National Coalition for Democracy, was the name of the alliance of the PLI, the MRS and other political and social forces that Ortega eliminated from the race by disqualifying the PLI—the only member that had not yet lost its legal status—via the Supreme Court resolution transferring that status to a tiny contending fraction of the party. The coalition’s members are now proposing “active abstention” on November 6, encouraging creativity in how to make it effectively “active.” They are also beginning to organize demonstrations denouncing “the farce.” The first was on August 27 with roughly a thousand people in the streets and sympathy expressed by people on the sidewalks and from houses.
The organizers insist that abstaining mustn’t just mean staying home or going to the beach, but doing something visible that day to demonstrate their rejection, although that something has yet to be defined. They explain that the government only wants a “photo op” that day, something that shows long lines of people waiting to vote, as is traditional in Nicaragua.
Comandante and former FSLN National Directorte member Henry Ruiz also discusses the “active” sense abstention must have in the Speaking Out section of this issue, and details the longer-term struggle envisioned by him and a small but growing political grouping he belongs to called Patriotic Movement for the Republic.
The abstention proposal is also shared by the more active social movements, although the most important and determined one, the peasant-based anti-canal movement, has yet to come out on the issue, respecting the ideological plurality of its people. What it has been clear about is its repudiation of Ortega over the canal concession. It demonstrated its force and organization once again on August 31, when some 24,000 peasant men and women, backed by other Nicaraguans, held imultaneous marches, sit-ins and picket lines in 20 points around the country, some of them far from where the canal would be dug. One of the new slogans launched that day was “That’s enough, Ortega! Nicaragua isn’t your farm!”
Abstention is also being proposed by the Group of 27, intellectuals and personalities that came together in May around the slogan “There’s no one to vote for.” It is the same one proclaimed back in 1974 when Anastasio Somoza Debayle sought reelection.
…or deface the ballot?
Another segment of those who reject the electoral farce favors going to the voting center but annulling their vote by writing some critical message on the ballot or damaging it. They believe this would be a more powerful sign of repudiation than abstention because although the CSE would surely not reveal the real data of how many votes were annulled in that fashion, Ortega and those around him dealing with the ballots would get the message loud and clear.
A further argument they put forward for their proposed form of repudiation is that a high abstention would only boost the relative percentage of the vote for Ortega. And finally they argue that, knowing the governing party would get out the vote by pressuring public employees and beneficiaries of social programs, many might be afraid to make their opposition evident by not turning up at their voting center.
The most skeptical, or those least active in the debate, argue that this isn’t a mathematical dilemma, because we’ll never know the real results, abstention percentages or number of nullified votes, all of which the CSE is supposed to make public but hasn’t since the 2004 municipal elections. Hiding figures or presenting altered ones has become common practice by the electoral magistrates.
It’s an electorate that traditionally votes
In general, the Nicaraguan population has massively turned out to vote. According to the same IPADE statistical catalogue, participation was respectively 86.23%, 76.39% and 73.19% in the last three presidential races that Ortega lost. In all three there was a clear polarization between him and candidates Chamorro, Alemán and Bolaños, despite the participation of numerous other parties in all three races.
The International Institute for Democracy and International Assistance (IDEA) reports that 61.23% voted in 2006, when Ortega won against the divided Liberal opposition and the CSE didn’t publish 8% of the votes, and 79.09% did so in 2011, with its numerable irregularities, although these percentages could be inexact because by then the voter list had gone several years without being purged of deceased and migrated registered voters.
In any event, the reality of the past four decades indicates that the Nicaraguan population has a strong faith in elections, hugely values the right to vote and has exercised it massively since the first post-Somoza elections in 1984 (75% of registered voters) and particularly those in 1990, which showed for virtually the first time in history that votes really can change reality and even stop a war.
The PLI coalition is gambling that massive abstention and widespread repudiation of the November 6 election results—given that information about the corrupted race is already widely known outside of Nicaragua—could oblige Ortega to hold new elections.
Víctor Hugo Tinoco, vice president of the MRS, one of the two most important forces of that coalition, expressed optimism to envoi in late July: “Ortega tried to make a pact with the coalition but couldn’t do it, leaving [it] consolidated and with the capacity to defeat him in new free elections that could take place in the near future. We have a political asset today: we’re Nicaragua’s main opposition force, the only one that has acted as an opposition in practice, didn’t cut a deal and has honest, upstanding leadership.”
Sergio Ramírez, Ortega’s Vice President from 1984 to 1990 and an MRS founder in 1995, isn’t optimistic. Although he admits it will be a serious problem for the democratic governments of Latin America and Europe to endorse the elections as legitimate given the way they’ve been organized, he doesn’t believe Ortega “has a reverse gear,” and won’t rectify what he’s done. Accepting new elections would mean retreating for Ortega because, according to Ramírez, “we’ve entered into a new political phase” with the total illegalizing of the legitimate opposition.
Tinoco’s optimism includes another conviction. He told envoi that the MRS has the capacity to move the PLI and other Liberal groupings that made up the coalition “toward a progressive economic-social proposal,” since “with some exceptions, these Liberals are all from the middle class we have always called rightwing, but the big capital of that Right is allied with Ortega.”
The class extraction and profile of the PLI-MRS alliance, with eight years of experience working together, seems to frighten Ortega, which is logical. Ortega’s model of class alliances has favored big financial and agro-export capital, responded to the poverty of the majority of Nicaraguans with social assistance rather than empowering programs and impoverished the professional middle classes while promoting a sector of them loyal to his State-party regime by increasing central government public employees from 40,000 in 2006, when he returned to office, to 105,000 today, not including the members of the Army and Police. That is clearly contrary to a middle-class model that unites urban professionals with rural farmers and ranchers willing to promote a “progressive economic-social proposal.”
Liberal politician Pedro Reyes—whose PLI faction was favored by the June 8 Supreme Court resolution of which was the “real” PLI—seemed to be confirming Ortega’s concern about the possible consolidation of a Liberal-Sandinista middle-class alliance when he unabashedly declared that “the FSLN uses us and we use them.” He was more specific in a Radio Universidad interview: “The FSLN wanted to get shunt of those MRS people and I found the formula.”
Tinoco commented that because of the alliance between middle-class Liberals and [non-FSLN] Sandinistas, the business associations grouped under the umbrella of the Superior Council of Private Enterprise (COSEP) “came to see the MRS as the demon and stopped talking to us. The last time we met with them was in 2010. They’ve closed the doors on us. And so has the International Monetary Fund. There was a time when we’d meet with the IMF, but afterward they haven’t agreed to meet with us again.”
Big private business allied with Ortega finds no justification for why Ortega has so radically, unnecessarily and dangerously subverted the country’s political panorama, but they shy away from referring to any of the decisions he has made since June 4, and particularly from his choice of running mate. The business leaders have requested a meeting with him in hopes of understanding the logic of these perplexing political decisions, but have so far received no answer.
The business uncertainty is beginning to be measurable. The second Economic Report for 2016 by the Nicaraguan Foundation for Economic and Social Development (FUNIDES), presented on August 8, includes a survey conducted in July with a hundred managers, owners and administrators of the country’s main businesses. It reflects concern and uncertainty as the number of businesspeople considering investing in the country dropped from 32% to 22% between April and July while those who said they weren’t going to invest increased from 68% to 78% in the same period, and the gap between those who consider the economic setting positive and those who don’t narrowed by 26%.
When presenting their report to the national business class, FUNIDES president Aurora Gurdián said that “we’ve watched with great concern how the electoral process has unfortunately been affected by decisions that are seriously distorting its legitimacy and reliability.”
Although not very enthusiastically, COSEP called on people to participate in the elections. In contrast, the Nicaraguan Development Institute (INDE), COSEP’s “development arm,” launched what it called the VotoNica campaign, to get out the vote among youths from 15 to 29 years old, a sizable chunk of the population and thus of the eligible voters.
Humberto Belli, a former education minister and one of the most respected ideologues and academics in business circles, criticized both moves in the August 15 issue of La Prensa, particularly drawing his bead on big capital. “COSEP is facing a defining moment,” he wrote. “Before Ortega fully drew his claws it might have been more or less tolerable to keep quiet about his outrages and concentrate exclusively on economic aspects. But it’s no longer possible to continue the ‘rooster-hen’ attitude without seriously damaging its prestige and dignity. It is admittedly scary to do so with a dictator, but not doing it exposes COSEP to serious risks: being perceived as an accomplice of an unscrupulous autocrat bent on reestablishing an absurd dynasty; losing weight in international negotiations that could close doors to it, as has effectively already happened; and feeding revanchist desires in sectors that could eventually come to power given that Ortega isn’t eternal and his reign could end unexpectedly… If it was legitimate to conspire against Somoza because he was a dictator unwilling to give up power, why not do it with his modern replica? COSEP can gain more being courageous.”
Others close to big capital insist on seeing Ortega’s decisions to delegitimize the elections as “errors” or “absurd measures,” even as “crazy,” and not as steps congruent with his logic of avoiding any risk to his power.
Recognizing the ill will these decisions have caused in Washington and fearing that the new US government probably won’t accept this electoral process, they are advocating that Ortega avoid a greater conflict by opening some space for dialogue to those whose option to compete in the elections was confiscated. They don’t believe he runs any risk doing so because in any scenario he has everything to win and nothing to lose…
According to Sergio Ramírez, however, what Ortega will offer his allies in big capital after the November elections is “a single party project with a market economy.” And Ramírez has no doubt that Ortega’s interests will prevail and they will accept it.
Tomás Borge’s counsel
While the debate over whether or not to vote continues, governing party activists have been told to make house-to-house visits with this message: Get out and vote. Vote for the comandante or the compañera or anyone you want, or even annul your vote if you prefer, but get out and vote.” It’s a clear demonstration that his new fear is not having photogenic long lines at the polling centers on November 6.
The President-candidate is the one who isn’t getting out. He’s not campaigning and instead is giving increasing signs of having opted to hunker down, faithfully following the advice his now deceased colleague Tomás Borge offered him in 2009: “We can pay any price; the only thing we can’t do is lose power. Let them say what they will, but we’ll do what we have to do. The highest price would be to lose power.”
He had to back down on censorship
Following right on the heels of his August 2 announcement that his wife would be his running mate, Ortega angered a good number of people when it became known that the electoral branch had published an “electoral ethics regulation” in the official daily La Gaceta back on July 21 establishing that messages referring to the electoral process by written, spoken and televised media or appearing on web sites and social networks would be “regulated” by the electoral authorities. The term was generally interpreted to mean that all information that didn’t please the governing party, obviously including any calls to abstention, would be censored.
For several days the pressure from media and journalists, business people and diverse other sources—notably not including any candidate claiming to oppose Ortega—fed the growing international consternation with Nicaragua’s political direction. The brouhaha seems to have forced Ortega to retract the commission of such a serious mistake for such a small return. He ordered the CSE to leave the regulation “without legal effect.”
New retaining walls
The hunkered-down President is also enclosing the country within what the official propaganda calls “retaining walls.” Up to now Ortega has presented Nicaragua in his speeches only as a retaining wall against drug trafficking while his government officials bragged that it was the “safest country in Central America.”
But something seems to have gone awry with the country’s “safety.” After expelling academics, environmentalists, journalists, opposition Venezuelan legislators and even US customs officials one by one, Ortega is now beginning to erect more retaining walls.
For one, he has imposed new migratory control measures—one pastor dubbed it ”paranoid control”—on evangelical pastors and missionaries, Mexicans, Central Americans and people from the United States, Nica-ragua’s most frequent visitors, claiming that organized crime is infiltrating them to move into Nicaragua and damage its security. The controls have also affected other groups, for example Catholic lay pilgrims and even a Costa Rican folkloric dance troupe. Other measures include delaying or even denying residence in Nicaragua—with no explanation—to foreigners working with NGOs or other entities the government mistrusts.
Government officials called the evangelical authorities and Catholic hierarchs to notify them of the new regulations, which are justified in the Law of Sovereign Security. The bishops accepted them and evangelical leaders who support the government even applauded them. In various meetings with the authorities, however, pastors of various other denominations have urged a “return to the normality prior to the regulation.” Some delicately mention the negative influence the regulations could have in an election year on the 40% of Nicaragua’s population that is now evangelical.
“Walls” are also going up for the diplomatic corps. On September 1 the President created a new department in the Ministry of Government to attend to accredited diplomats. It is in charge of processing diplomatic visas and permits for those working not only in governmental aid agencies but also in NGOs. It will also be responsible for “receiving, classifying, distributing and protecting the correspondence received in diplomatic pouches-”
Evangelical and Caltholic authorities were summoned by the authorities to notify them of the new regulations imposed by the President, justified in the Law of Sovereign Security. The bishops accepted them while the evangelical leaders that support the government even applauded them. In various meetings pastors of some other denominations have urged the authorities to return to the normality prior to the regulations.” Some mentioned the negative influence they could have in an election year on the 40% of the population that is now evangelical. As of the close of this issue, the diplomatic corps had not yet publicly reacted to the political control on them the government is trying to institute.
On the world radar again
There was a time, which now feels very long ago, when Nicaragua seemed like the center of the world given the volume of information generated by the people’s struggle against Somoza, the revolutionary experiment that followed, the US-financed war of the eighties, Reagan’s opportunistic championing of the Miskitu indigenous people and their cause and the disputed elections of 1990 with its surprise result. But in the succeeding years Nicaragua disappeared from the international news for the most part. Relative to the complexity of contemporary world geopolitics, what was happening here was irrelevant or of little concern in the rest of the world beyond what remained of a once-impressive solidarity movement.
Consequently, when Ortega returned to the presidency in 2007, hardly anyone was aware of the involution the FSLN had suffered in the interim. Apart from the controversial canal project, the measures taken in his nearly 10 years of government have seldom been reported, and even less frequently followed up on. In some countries uncritical “leftists” ignored or even excoriated any critical reporting, steadfastly taking Ortega at his rhetorical word, simplistically insisting that if he was running the country, there was, ipso facto, the “revolution” or “21st-century socialism” he proclaimed. Meanwhile, business capital in the neighboring countries merrily forged economic ties with Ortega, buying land, transferring investments and participating with him in lucrative businesses here…
But today, after so many years of virtual invisibility, this unprecedented electoral campaign, in which non-voters could have important political weight and the shoe-in candidate, rather than risk losing any power, is besmirching the very process that will reelect him, has caught the world’s attention, awakening concern in international media, governments and global institutions. And unlike the eighties, that concern is shared by many of the best and brightest in the FSLN of that earlier period.
Nicaragua is giving reason for the concern
Nicaragua’s situation and the unfolding of the electoral process has been the subject of media analysis all over Latin America. Editorials and commentaries have appeared in Venezuela, Bolivia, Mexico, Argentina, Uruguay, Costa Rica, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, El Salvador and Chile, as well as Spain, the United States, England and elsewhere. Ortega’s “dictatorial” and “dynastic” plans have been the target of comments on the BBC and analysis by Carmen Aristegui on CNN; and declarations by politicians and intellectuals, communiques by the US State Department, the European Union, France’s Socialist Party, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the International Federation of Human Rights meeting in Johannesburg, to mention only some…
All the expressions share a concern about the attack on representative democracy and pluralism. Of all of Ortega’s recent moves, the one that took first place for attracting international criticism was the eviction of 16 opposition legislators and 12 of their alternates from their elected seats in Nicaragua’s parliament, at least until Ortega topped it by naming his wife as his running mate. Univision titled that nepotistic move “All in the family” while the Boston Globe’s August 17 op-ed analysis by journalist Stephen Kinzer, The New York Times bureau chief in Nicaragua in the eighties, was headlined “Dangerous dynasties.” To his credit, Kinzer acknowledges the US share of responsibility for what is happening in Nicaragua today: “It might seem bizarre, even by the magic realist standards of Latin American dictatorships, that a leader who came to power by deposing a hated dynasty would try to establish a dynasty of his own. In fact, it makes perfect sense. In Nicaragua’s deformed political culture, young street toughs like Daniel Ortega had only one political model: the Somoza dynasty. They hated it, but it was the dominant political reality. Ortega is now the epitome of what he once rebelled against. He is taking Nicaragua back to the future.” For those readers who may not know the negatively formative role the US has played in this country, Kinzer begins his summary of it between 1909 and 1979 by stating that “nowhere on earth is the cycle of American intervention and nationalist rebellion more vivid than in Nicaragua.”
Other commentaries were less sensitive to Nicaragua’s historical deformation, simply characterizing Ortega’s decision to expel the legislators a coup d’état. Still others continued to play the card Kinzer criticizes, goading the United States to respond. The Wall Street Journal, for example, titled its article “Ortega’s Nicaraguan Coup,” and subtitled it “Sandinista has become a dictator amid U.S. indifference.” Using ignorant and inflammatory anti-Communist language worthy of the McCarthy 1950s, the error-filled article ends with this: “All of this has happened with nary a peep from the Obama Administration. Contrast that with the way the White House [also Obama’s, with Hillary Clinton still his secretary of state, it should be noted but wasn’t] aggressively mobilized Latin American governments in 2009 when Honduras used constitutional means to remove a law-breaking president and then insisted that new elections be held on schedule.” There’s no hint of what laws Honduran President might have broken or how breaking into his house at night, pulling him out of bed and putting him on a plane to Costa Rica in his pajamas is somehow constitutional and not itself a coup.
Albeit with more sophistication than the WSJ, a Washington Post editorialist, after comparing Ortega to Somoza for his decision to install a family dictatorship, followed suit by chiding Washington for having “proceeded with nothing but mild verbal opposition.” The French socialists, in contrast, considered diplomacy, in their case with a clear reminder that it comes from old allies, not adversaries, a more appropriate response for foreigners: “President Daniel Ortega must not turn his back on the democratic aspirations of a people benefited by the support of the entire world’s progressive forces.”
The OAS opens a debate
In mid-July, representatives of the PLI-MRS coalition visited the Organization of American States headquarters in Washington to request that OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro pay attention to what’s happening in Nicaragua and to ask for his support. The meeting between Almagro and the expelled legislators lasted for three hours and was very cordial. Almagro pledged to prepare a report on Nicaragua’s political situation, and in anticipation of that, expressed his backing of “transparent and competitive elections” in three twitter messages.
On August 11, a month after that meeting, Mexico’s delegation to the OAS referred to Nicaragua’s political situation in an ordinary weekly meeting of the Permanent Council. It was the first time the issue had been addressed in OAS headquarters. Despite the Mexican ambassador’s careful words (“In the framework of respect for Nica¬ragua’s sovereignty and without taking a position on the legality or not of said decisions, we express our concern about the impact these measures are having, by debilitating and virtually neutralizing the opposition at a time in which the country is immersed in a very important electoral process”), the Nicaraguan representative reacted angrily. He demanded to know “with what authority” the Mexican spoke and suggested he “first attend to his own house.” Adding insult to injury, he disparaged the ambassador for “being used by the interventionist forces of the United States.”
No other country attending the meeting intervened. Mexico’s position caused surprise in Managua given the well-known tight relations between Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and Daniel Ortega.
The white book
Managua’s surprise at what happened in the OAS seems to be what led the government to prepare a “white book” on the upcoming electoral process. It was presented to the accredited diplomatic corps in Managua on August 22.
The activity’s formality was surprising as the book wasn’t presented, as would be appropriate, by Nicaragua’s foreign minister, but by the three political operatives of the institutional coup against the opposition: CSE president Roberto Rivas, Supreme Court justice Rafael Solís and National Assembly representative Edwin Castro. The white book’s contents wasn’t very convincing, as it abounded in weakly woven together legal explanations and outdid itself in criticizing the “arrogance” of PLI head Eduardo Montealegre to justify what happened.
US Ambassador Laura Dogu didn’t attend the presentation, but did send a representative in her place. When asked if she was “convinced” by the document, she simply replied, “I have said that we are concerned by the situation of democracy… and we still are.”
Colorless and insipid campaign
The electoral campaign was officially kicked off on August 20. As the essential aspects of the elections—transparency, reliability and competition by any party with a chance of successfully challenging Daniel Ortega—have been excised and he isn’t enticed to risk any power, the campaigns of the opposition parties that will appear on the ballot are si far colorless and insipid.
The Ortega-Murillo campaign, which was launched by governing party activities rather than by either of them, doesn’t seem very inspired either. So far it’s based on reiterating devalued slogans, routine festive activities and house-to-house visits by functionaries demonstrating little motivation.
And the day after…?
What will happen after November 6? With the cards already marked and the dice loaded, we can imagine two possible scenarios.
In one of them resigned pragmatism by all actors prevails. The United States resigns itself to the consummated deeds in the name of conserving stability in Nicaragua and thus maintaining a more controllable regional geopolitics. Relieved by that, the representatives of big capital accept the “single party model with a market economy” Ortega is offering them. The opposition fails to organize itself sufficiently to present a truly challenging indignant front. And Daniel Ortega bathes himself in legitimacy by following the advice of his brother Humberto, who proposed in an extensive writing published as a full-page newspaper ad on September 2 that he “assume a national concertation process with the economic-political-social-spiritual-academic leadership to concretize a ‘Humanitarian National Plan’.” (See “Nicaragua Briefs” in this issue of envío for more on Humberto Ortega’s views.)
The other scenario features massive abstention at the polls accompanied by an important mobilization of the population, which delegiti¬mizes the elections nationally and internationally. Hillary Clinton takes office in the United States with the plan she presented in January 2012, when she was secretary of State, after reading the OAS and European Union observer missions’ severe criticisms of the previous November’s elections that gave Ortega his second consecutive term in government. On that occasion she announced that due to the accumulation of irregularities, the United States would “severely scrutinize” the project funds provided to Nicaragua by the World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank.
Although that plan was never concretized, it could be revived if Clinton and her team move into the White House. This would alter the complacency, complicity and tolerance of big Nicaraguan capital toward Ortega’s excesses and could trigger a chain of other reactions…
In either scenario, whole new dilemmas, quandaries and pressing questions will abound. And some Nicaraguan Hamlets will continue asking themselves, as did Shakespeare’s Hamlet, “Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles?”