Analyst Looks at Sandinista Government

NSCAG News | | credit: Envio Magazine on: Tuesday, 3 May 2011
Origional source: Click here for original article

This seasoned Nicaraguan journalist analyzes the government’s achievements, strengths and aspirations and the divided opposition’s chances as they all head into this election year.

William Grigsby

During the Sandinista National Liberation Front’s four years in power, it has primarily concerned itself with reconstructing the country’s economic and social priorities. And it has been quite successful in redirecting the economic policies in the new circumstances.

The FSLN has a clear picture

One of its most important accomplishments in addition to what we already know—free education and health care and the government’s banner social programs—has been to gradually recover the State’s role in regulating economic policies. Although it hasn’t fully achieved this, it has gotten the process underway. I’ll cite an example: the “refounding,” if you will, of the Nicaraguan Basic Foods Enterprise (ENABAS), which is in charge of regulating the price of some foods, thus making it a fundamental pivot to maintain the equilibrium of the family economy. Another example is the State’s strategic energy investment policies, which have established its clear leadership over the entire energy sector. And yet another is the redefinition of the priorities in building roads and highways. Up until four years ago, the priority was the international corridors or trunk highways, which is no longer the case.

These are only some very important examples aimed at building the future. The government has a Development Plan that’s clearly structured around two priorities: the agricultural sector and the energy sector, and it its policies are geared to strengthening both of them. In the agricultural sector it has prioritized small and medium producers, who now have better credit and market possibilities than four years ago.

If you review the FSLN’s program for the 2006 elections, it has fulfilled about 98% of it, and has more than fulfilled certain aspects that weren’t even planned. We now have a government that has shown concrete results in social and economic policies, reducing the incidence of hunger in rural areas and strengthening new organizational forms in the countryside, mainly around the Zero Hunger program, which has promoted the organizing of 60,000 women into peasant cooperatives. They are the germ of new organizational structures that could develop in the next five years of FSLN government.

Generally speaking, what this government has done is lay the groundwork for making a qualitative leap in both structural and political terms after we win the elections in November. In these first years the FSLN has concentrated on recovering the State’s function in certain sectors of the economy, helping to build the foundations for this leap.

Favorable economic results
despite enormous weaknesses

So far, the economic results have been frankly favorable, even with the enormous weakness that the political circumstances are imposing, because there has been no structural rupture of society this time; nor will there be. It’s not like 1979, when the FSLN assumed all the power after the popular insurrection. It actually constructed all the power—military, state, etc.—because the old power was literally in ashes. The FSLN also built a legal framework for the country, called the Constitution. That’s not the situation now, because among other things the national and international political possibilities wouldn’t permit it and it isn’t the FSLN’s objective.

What the government has done is change the State’s priorities. In the first place it’s now helping a segment of the population get out of extreme poverty and promoting policies that help improve the living standard of the entire population. And we’ve done it in a political framework that’s not favorable to the FSLN, because we won the elections without winning a parliamentary majority and without having an ideological majority in society. What we had in January 2007 was an FSLN that won the elections with the determination to exercise power to expand into a political and ideological majority.

In my opinion the FSLN’s main problem is that it hasn’t succeeded in pushing grassroots organization. It hasn’t managed to turn the Councils of Citizens’ Power (CPCs, later structured into Cabinets of Citizen’s Power) into a massive grassroots organizing instrument. It just didn’t gel, as is more than obvious in the results. Nor has it yet achieved any other kind of grassroots organization that would allow communication vessels between the government exercising political power and the people. I believe that’s the FSLN government’s main political weakness right now.

Going into the elections with a clear project…

For all that, we’re going into the November elections with many unquestionable strengths, including that the government has a very clear project and is taking the steps to get where it wants to go. The FSLN also has a demonstrably efficient electoral organization. The army of FSLN electoral monitors is experienced; having participated effectively in four general elections and four or five municipal ones.

In addition, the FSLN has an international context favorable to the consolidation of its project. And I say this not only because the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas exists, but also because there are governments in Latin America that have a position that is more nationalist than subordinated to the North American metropolis. It is also a favorable factor that the gringos aren’t so interested in Nicaragua and Central America now, because they’re more concerned about what’s happening in other parts of the world.

…a US government with priorities elsewhere…

As a 19th-century maxim put it: “The United States doesn’t have friends, it has interests.” But the opposition is no longer the interlocutor of the US government’s interests in Nicaragua. The United States is still defending its interests, but now sometimes in conjunction with the opposition and sometimes with the government. Does the opposition we have today still represent US interests and is it still a friend of the United States? Sure, it is, but the US government isn’t going to bank on them just because they’re its instruments. If they were united it probably would, but it hasn’t been able to accomplish that. Seeing that the divided opposition has no chance of winning the elections, it’s not convenient to make enemies with the FSLN. Of course it’ll encourage the Right to win as many legislative seats as it can, but it won’t go to the mat for them. Neither the US nor the oligarchy is in a pitched battle with the FSLN right now.

…and an opposition stripped to the bone

I think the FSLN’s greatest success in these four years with respect to the opposition hasn’t been to keep it divided, although that’s plenty. Its greatest success is that it has stripped it to the bone. The opposition is atomized, destructured, without clear leadership and without a program. The opposition’s fragmentation, due to personal contradictions, prevents it from going into the elections united, and that works in the FSLN’s favor.

Its adversaries are doubly weak, marked both by their divisions and by ideological issues. They are the ones who promoted the privatization of health and education in Nicaragua. All the paradigms they worked with from government have been pulverized over the years, which is why their discourse is hollow. When you ask Alemán or Montealegre what they would do with the Zero Hunger program, both say it’s good but they would do it better. It’s the same story when you ask them about the energy crisis: they say the government has done a good job, but that more investments need to be brought in. We’re faced with an opposition that has no ideas of its own about what to do in the country. If we start pulling apart all the country’s main problems and looking at the proposals of both the opposition and the FSLN to solve them, we obviously find a raft of similarities, with the major difference that the FSLN is doing things about them and the others didn’t when they were in office. Having an opposition with weak proposals for a societal model and a dicey history is a great advantage. They have no new ideas to propose.

The opposition’s big issue is institutionality

The opposition is accusing the government, President Ortega in particular, of authoritarian conduct, of violating the institutionality, the Constitution and the laws. How does one respond to that? I only want to remind you that all institutionality, all legal framework, is the fruit of a political majority. There’s no such thing as a society in which the political majorities don’t construct the institutionality.

The origin of Nicaragua’s legal framework is the 1979 revolution. The revolution produced the 1987 Constitution and constructed a new State, including the new army and police. But that Constitution, under which the 1990 elections took place, was then administered and reformed according to the interests of the political majority that grew out of the 1990 elections. That new political majority adjusted the legal framework to its own interests, which were inserted through changes and reforms to the Constitution and the new laws produced starting that very year. Let’s cite just one example of a legal change: it has to do with the demonstrations in those days by thousands of elderly people who hadn’t paid enough weekly social security quotas to receive at least a minimal pension because the Chamorro government reformed social security and denied them that right. And what happened to the State’s whole productive apparatus? It was privatized and sold off by that same government. And the financial system? According to the 1987 Constitution, the banking system is state-run, but starting in 1991 private banks began operating in Nicaragua without a previous reform of the Constitution that prohibits them. The Constitution was not reformed in that and other aspects until 1995. Why? Because the new political majority imposed its own interests.

Jockeying for position: Decree 3-2010

Right now nobody in Nicaragua has a political majority in either the country as a whole or the National Assembly; it is currently under dispute and will be cleared up in the November elections. Meanwhile, each side is jockeying for position, using the instruments at hand. Certainly the FSLN is doing this, and that’s what presidential decree 3-2010 was all about.

The FSLN knew that without a political agreement with some members from the two Liberal legislative benches—Montealegre’s and the PLC’s—it had no possibility of electing the 25 top posts in the Supreme Court, electoral branch or comptroller general’s office [whose terms of office were ending]. It also knew its adversaries intended not to elect any, so they could paralyze the branches of government and thus be in a better position to negotiate with the government. Knowing this, President Ortega got a step ahead of them by issuing a decree that all would remain in their posts until the National Assembly elected their replacements. It has been argued that maintaining or naming people to these posts is not a faculty of the President. While that’s true, the law doesn’t expressly prohibit it, which may be why no one filed suit against the decree.

With their famous institutionality, our adversaries starved people for 17 years, and it was all institutional, all legal. Covered by that institutionality, Eduardo Montealegre eliminated the school glass of milk when he was treasury minister. Covered by market institutionality, those governments prevented small producers from accessing credit. And I’m only citing a few examples. The institutionality here was mainly at the service of economic interests. Now we’re trying to construct a new institutionality, adjusted to the interests of the new political majority that’s going to come out of the November elections. And until that happens, we’re living through a dispute of greater or lesser proportions, with its extremes and at times with things a little too strained. That’s how it always is; we can’t let ourselves forget that all elections are a struggle for power.

Knowing that the opposition was going to try to paralyze the branches of government, President Ortega beat them at their own game by issuing Decree 3-2010. Later, validating the decree, a Liberal lawyer discovered that the second paragraph of article 201 of the Constitution was never voided and became the third paragraph, making it legal for the officials to remain in their post. While the FSLN hasn’t had a nominal political majority in the parliament, the opposition hasn’t managed to get one either, so it has been unable to get enough votes to invalidate the decree or reject the third paragraph of article 201. You could tell me that the FSLN bought votes to prevent them getting that majority, but isn’t the ones who sell them also responsible? Furthermore, who chose the legislators who sold their vote? The opposition, not the FSLN. And with the rules of the game that prevail in Nicaragua, anything goes in the effort to consolidate a political majority in parliament. The alternative was to let them paralyze the country institutionally, and we would have been fools if we’d let that happen.

What’s changed in the electoral system?

And now we’re moving on to the November elections to clarify who will have the political majority in the next five years. Who will count the votes and who will validate the results? We need to remember that Nicaragua’s electoral system was reformed in 1995 by the political majority of that time. The essence of the reform was to base the country’s electoral system on political parties. Since then the way to access power has been through political parties, and they are the ones that determine the rules of the game.

The 1990 elections were held under a different system, when it was teachers, independent of political affiliation, who presided over the voting tables, for example. After the reform, all electoral structures were put in the hands of the political parties.

Why did Mariano Fiallos resign as head of the electoral branch? Because he anticipated the negotiation of a system totally controlled by the parties and argued that this would be negative. We need to recall that in 1995 the political majority was a combination of forces that backed Violeta Chamorro in some aspects and opposed her in others: Social Christians, Conservatives and the Sandinista Renovation Movement. The PLC wasn’t included in that package. That political majority made the decision to pass the institutional electoral machinery into the hands of the political parties. The reform opened a huge space for the electoral minorities, which was why the 1996 elections led to one bench of 11 legislators who were virtually from 11 different parties. Thanks to the 1995 reform of the Electoral Law, negotiated among the dominant political forces in the Chamorro government, the political parties nominated the magistrates who came to the Supreme Electoral Council (CSE). Roberto Rivas came for civil society. At that time, there were no magistrates in the electoral branch from either the PLC or the FSLN.

That Electoral Law was reformed again by negotiations between the PLC and the FSLN between 1997 and 2001 and was made to the measure of those two big parties. Neither had representation in the electoral structures or a magistrate in the CSE leadership, even though they were the two majority political forces. As part of their pact, Alemán and Daniel reformed the Electoral Law again, given that between them their two parties had the political majority. With that reform they reduced the space for the electoral minorities and expanded it for the electoral majorities, which is exactly what happened in the Spanish model, where the United Left had more than a million votes and only obtained one representative.

The current CSE, which names the people to head the departmental, municipal and regional electoral council offices and manage each of the voting tables, is the product of that reform. The general elections of 2001 and 2006 were held with that CSE and those rules; they aren’t some invention of today. We’re going with the same rules of the game, which will determine the results. Nothing has changed. The only thing that has changed is the political leanings of some of the magistrates. Roberto Rivas changed, for example, and so did René Herrera. But who elected them as magistrates? It wasn’t the FSLN; it was the PLC.

In the current party-based electoral system, the political parties are preeminent. According to the law, the two that came in first and second in the previous presidential elections take the first two of the three seats in all Departmental and Municipal Electoral Councils and at all voting tables. The third seat goes to one of the other parties that ran in the previous election. As a product of the 2006 elections, those first two parties this time are the FSLN and the Nicaraguan Liberal Alliance (ALN).

So who’s going to count the votes? The three party members who head each voting table. And who will oversee the vote count? The party monitors at each table. That’s the legal framework in which power will be disputed in this year’s elections. Is it a fair system or not? That’s a different discussion.

Rule of law or law of the jungle?

Many wave the banner of the rule of law, arguing that the institutions and their decisions must prevail, but we can see that in all States it’s the political majorities that construct the State and elect those who will direct the institutions. Who elects the Supreme Court justices in Spain? The legislative representatives; so the justices are divided between progressives of the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE) and conservatives of the People’s Party (PP). And they tell us that Spain’s a panacea of democracy. Who elects the justices in the United States? The President. Does he elect adversaries? No, he elects his buddies. And he elects them for life. Who elects the justices in Costa Rica? Parliament, and whoever has the greatest majority elects the most justices. What I’m trying to say is that the political majorities determine a country’s institutionality, not the other way around.

Where are decisions made in the judicial sphere in Nicaragua? In the Supreme Court of Justice. They say the Court is dominated by Daniel Ortega, but how were the justices elected? Did he impose them? No, they were elected by parliamentary procedure. In a pact with Alemán? Sure, but by parliamentary procedure, if we accept that legitimacy: 8 for the PLC and 8 for the FSLN. And who’s is in charge of making the decisions in the case of reelection? The Supreme Court. And who ruled that Daniel Ortega’s reelection is legal? The Supreme Court. It doesn’t matter whether we like it or not. Someone could fight the Court’s ruling [referring to the decision by the FSLN justices on the Constitutional Court bench who, in a meeting to which they did not invite their PLC counterparts, decided that the constitutional prohibition of a third presidential term is unconstitutional], but it was legitimately handed down by the corresponding instrument, according to the rule of law. As a side note, the opposition could also have appealed that resolution, but none of those who criticized it used that option.

Morality and politics don’t mix

You could tell me that what I’m saying is very cynical, and that may well be true, but let’s not mix morality—what the capitalists call morality—with politics. I don’t know of any country in which morals prevail over politics. There’s no society in which morality has the upper hand over political interests. Or perhaps it does in some imaginary country. They used to say Iceland was such a country, but it’s currently bankrupt, thanks to its political class, its bankers and Great Britain.

Aren’t these the rules of the game they invented for us? The FSLN didn’t establish them, but we’re playing by them to put the shoe on the other foot. But that obviously isn’t enough. We’re playing within the bounds of the system, but that’s not enough for us. We aspire to more. And to achieve it we need more than a simple political majority. We want to win a qualified majority in the parliament [60%, required to make constitutional changes and elect top governmental posts]. I don’t know if we’ll make it, but that’s our aspiration.

Let’s look at what
could happen in November

I’m convinced that the fight will be between the FSLN and the PLC. Even though Fabio Gadea threw his hat in the ring, it’s only a squib flying wildly up into the air and making lots of noise, only to immediately fall to the earth and burn out. The fight will be between the PLC and the FSLN, and it won’t be an easy one. Some FSLN members say, “We’ve got it in the bag,” but that’s not true, among other reasons because there’s still a powerful conservative ideological influence in Nicaragua; it hasn’t changed in five years and won’t change in ten. It didn’t change with the revolution, so there was even less chance of it changing in these five years. Those of us in the younger generations of that time made the revolution, but they’re very conservative now, because that’s how it is: we become conservative and our children and grandchildren become our main focus over the years.

It’s not true that the FSLN has it in the bag. It could certainly win the presidency, because it has political capital and an accumulated loyal electorate. But it will have to work very hard to win a simple legislative majority of 47 seats. And it will have to knock itself out to get the qualified majority, which is 55 representatives this time, because there will only be 91 members in the next legislature, not 92. And that won’t happen if our people rest on their laurels, waiting for it to happen all by itself.

The PLC is strong. It has been forging ahead like an elephant, step by step. Its electoral machine is nothing to sneer at. The PLC may have dicey leadership, weakened structures and an amorphous program, but it’s a machine with experience, money and the political objective of taking power. And nothing unites like power. The aspiration of taking power and the perception that it’s possible guarantees a lot of fidelity up front. If that possibility weakens, it will also weaken the PLC’s structures, but at the moment I can see these two trains crashing head on in November’s elections.

External factors that could
influence the elections

The factors conditioning the results of that crash won’t only be internal. We don’t know what the international circumstances will be in November. Today’s world is very convulsive; it looks more and more like Nicaragua, where things change from one day to the next. We don’t know what will happen in the Middle East or other parts of the world. Not in Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia or Ecuador [the other ALBA countries]. In each country, everybody is struggling every day to preserve and increase whatever power they have.

A second factor that might influence the elections is that the world crisis could heat up again. There are various signs and it depends on the economist one listens to. Some say we’ve already turned the corner and others insist a worse crisis is coming in May; they argue that we haven’t yet touched bottom and the solutions found months ago didn’t tackle the causes of the problem. If we believe the pessimistic prognosis, we’ll feel the impact in Nicaragua. Our exports will be paralyzed because if there’s a crisis in the wealthy markets, who will we sell to? The FSLN government has made an effort to diversify our markets, opening up Venezuela as the country’s second largest market, and it’s going to open up Brazil. It has also opened Russia, and has possibilities of doing the same in mainland China. But that’s nothing compared to the US market’s weight in Nicaragua as an export destination and a source of imports. The return of the crisis could cause serious tensions in our national economy, which has significantly recovered, with 4.5% growth in 2010, following 3.5% in 2008 and -1.5% in 2009.

A third factor that could cause electoral tensions is climatological. No one can anticipate whether there will be a drought or copious rains, if we’ll be hit by a hurricane or an earthquake. We can’t anticipate anything or ensure that it is or isn’t going to happen, but we do have to be ready, because these catastrophes would affect the country’s conditions, and the way we deal with the emergency could in turn affect the electorate’s mood one way or the other. The government’s response to the emergency caused by last year’s heavy rains was lauded by people on all sides.

A presidential win doesn’t
automatically mean a legislative one

If things proceed more or less normally, with no world crisis, no international hecatomb directly affecting the country and no dramatic natural event, I think the FSLN has every chance of winning by a comfortable margin on November 6. We have four elections that day, not one: we’ll elect a President and Vice President, 20 national legislators, 70 departmental legislators and 20 representatives to the Central American Parliament (Parlacen). The figures for the 1996, 2001 and 2006 elections clearly indicate that people vote most for President, a little less for national legislators, still less for departmental legislators and far less for representatives to Parlacen. If this holds true, we can’t assume that if the FSLN’s presidential candidate wins it will also automatically get a legislative majority, particularly since the departmental seats are assigned according to the department’s results, not the national ones.

The decisive battles to win a parliamentary majority will be in the departments of Managua, León, Chinandega and Matagalpa, which together elect 37 legislative representatives, nearly 40% of the total. Doing the math and considering the number of representatives obtained in 2006, the FSLN appears to have a magnificent chance to win the simple majority of 47 legislators, and a good possibility of even comfortably extending it past 50, but getting the qualified majority of 55 will be very complicated.

The PLC is a challenge,
but Gadea doesn’t have a shot

I’m convinced the results will give second place to the PLC. What could bring it down? At the moment I can’t think of many possibilities. The PLC has a weak candidate in the historical sense of the word, but for better or worse Arnoldo Alemán is its principal political capital. It has real possibilities of challenging the FSLN for power. Whether or not it can pull it off is another thing.

Fabio Gadea has much less of a shot. He doesn’t have a party structure so he has to build one. He’s running in the ballot slot of the Independent Liberal Party (PLI), which for some time has been nothing more than a few groups of men who meet in the country’s main cities and a few municipalities like La Trinidad. The PLI doesn’t have party machinery, let alone an electoral one. It doesn’t have trained election monitors; it doesn’t have those 60,000 people a party needs if it’s going to run to win. That’s not a decisive weakness for Gadea’s group, but it’s definitely important. Next, there’s the mishmash of people around Gadea who have their own interests and will fight like cats and dogs, particularly when it comes to deciding who’s on the national and departmental legislative slates, which have to be registered in May. The big problem won’t be deciding on the 90 candidates, but rather negotiating which ones will top the lists, which are the only ones who could win since you vote for the slate as a whole, not for individuals on it. There will definitely be a fight, but we don’t know how it will end. Last but not least, choosing Fabio Gadea seems to me to have been the worst idea they could have come up with.

Who’s going to finance his campaign? Who will the Pellases, the Zamoras, the Aranas, the Baltodanos back: Gadea or Alemán? We still don’t know, but they’ll surely back someone, because while they say they’re happy with the Ortega government, they know they’re not made of the same stuff and don’t like the idea of the FSLN getting a solid majority in the National Assembly. They’ll make a big effort to see that it doesn’t happen. They’ll surely bet on both of them, but I’m guessing they’ll put more on the PLC. And they won’t do it for free; they’ll want legislators in exchange. They also have the Conservative Party, which is running in an alliance with the PLC, and will get a group of its own legislators. The oligarchic group will back them because they have leverage with those legislators to negotiate and push through laws and the naming of officials, which is how these wealthy business leaders participate in the country’s institutional life.

The electoral observers:
Another topic of debate

The issue of electoral observers has become another political banner for the opposition. The important thing isn’t whether they’re called “accompaniers” or “observers.” If they only come to hang out, they won’t have the function of observers. But if they verify some processes under certain norms they would be observers. I think that in the end there will be observers in these elections, but with certain rules of the game.

Is it important to have observers? Let’s remember that Jimmy Carter, Oscar Arias, César Gaviria and an army of observers were here in 1996, and there was humongous fraud. And what did Jimmy Carter tell Daniel? “In another country we would have repeated the elections, but you have to accept this and sacrifice yourself in the name of peace.” That’s literal; I can vouch for it. Oscar Arias and César Gaviria said the same thing. Then the three came out defending the transparency of the electoral process.

The observed elections in Haiti were the height of intromission and meddling, on a scale never seen before: the result wasn’t the official one, but the one the OAS observers imposed. The mammoth fraud in Iraq was observed by the European Union. The last elections in El Salvador were observed and Funes won with 58-59% of the votes, but was only adjudicated 51%. So it’s not true that observers guarantee trustworthiness and transparent results. What’s the vital element needed to guarantee an election? The citizens themselves, and the party monitors. Alemán, who’s no fool, is preparing for his assumption that the elections will be stolen from him, or voting closed. He’s preparing, and so are we.

Why did they steal the elections from us in 1996? Because we were literally idiots. We believed in other people’s honesty. We acted like Mariano Fiallos was still at the head of the Supreme Electoral Council and didn’t prepare our monitors. We gave the laborious monitoring task to the youngest kids, the ones with no jobs and free time. But they didn’t know the electoral law well. Many were in a rush by 6 pm, and left the polling place, saying, «Call me to sign the tally!» And off they went. We were idiots. That’s not going to happen again. If they beat us legally, fine, but they’re not going to rob us again. The monitors have to be well prepared. The Electoral Law says that to challenge a result the monitor has to do it right there at the polling place. If there’s no challenge there, the result is validated and can’t be invalidated by the municipal, departmental or even national CSE. And vice versa: if there’s a challenge at the polling place, it goes to the municipal CSE and from there to the departmental one. And there the decisions are political. If there’s too much of a mess at a voting table, the best thing is to annul the whole thing, which is what has happened. It’s a political decision. The Electoral Law doesn’t contemplate recounting individual ballots, or opening ballot boxes. So if the monitors aren’t trained to know at what moment to challenge and why, and if they aren’t trained to do it forcefully, you’re screwed! It’s true what the Supreme Electoral Council says: the magistrates don’t count the votes. They are counted at the polling table, and this year they will be counted by the FSLN and the ALN. They do the counting and the monitors keep watch. What doesn’t get counted well there doesn’t get counted at all.

What do we get if we win?

So, we’re going to the elections with these strengths and these rules of the game. And the key question in this whole dispute is what we expect to get if we win. We Sandinistas often forget that we want power to improve people’s lives. It’s not about having power to be more nationalist, or more anti-imperialist or to defend the Rio San Juan… or to get richer. It’s to stop people being poor and help everybody make progress.

How do we envision the country after five more years of FSLN government? It will have reduced the current 19% chronic malnutrition rate to 4-5%—it was at 27% when we took office. It will have achieved the target of sixth grade for all. It will have a food production of nearly 10 million quintals of rice and beans and have initiated an agro-industrialization process for milk, meat and basic grains. We’re envisioning a much more integrated, much more structured country.

Are we better off than we were five years ago? That depends on each individual; there’s no universal answer. Many people are better off than they were before, some others aren’t and still others are the same as before. But there are general indicators that say we have better conditions today. Five years ago people had to pay for education, and today they don’t. Five years ago they paid in the hospitals, and today they don’t. Five years ago electricity was being rationed, and today it isn’t. I think Nicaragua is better today than it was five years ago and I believe we’ve done enough groundwork to be far better after another five years of FSLN government.

Poverty is still with us. To be able to resolve that problem, we need annual growth of at least 10% over a 20-year period. That’s a gigantic challenge, and it doesn’t depend exclusively on what happens in Nicaragua, but also what happens in the world context. Let’s be clear: poverty isn’t resolved only by political will. Political will is important, but not enough. I believe that the country we’re heading toward will be a substantially better one.

These elections will be free
because there’s no more fear

The FSLN’s main challenge when it took office in 2007 was how to create a progressive government that would defend the interest of the majorities without fighting with the gringos, the wealthy and the Catholic hierarchy. And it’s done it: it hasn’t fought with the gringos or the oligarchy. Where it’s been least successful is in its relations with the Catholic hierarchy, but even that has been kept adequately under control, and the damage reduced to a minimum.

Those were our major challenges and those were the people’s fears: if the FSLN won it would confiscate again and would fight with the gringos; the capitalists would leave; and family remittances would be cut off. These fears have now disappeared, and that’s why these elections will be the freest in 20 years. There are no more fears that our votes could decide whether there’s war or whether the money will leave the country.

In the 1990 elections they had a pistol to our head: if you keep voting for the Sandinistas the war will continue. And they kept on telling us that in the 1996 elections, the 2001 elections and even the 2006 elections. This time, that’s all behind us. People are going to be able to vote according to their conscience, without the recurring fears of the past.

William Grigsby Vado is the director of Radio La Primerísima.

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