September 25, 2007

Nicaragua's ruling Sandinista Front has never harbored many illusions that the general and presidential elections scheduled for November 4 would bring peace to the country. As Interior Minister Tomis Borge puts it, "What- ever we do Reagan will find an excuse to attack us. He has decided to destroy us whatever the cost." This conviction has led to increased defense preparations this year. The Sandinistas have announced that they will shortly acquire combat aircraft and they continue to mobilize thou- sands of youth to the mountains to prepare for the consequence of the an- Tony Jenkins is Managua correspon- dent for the BBC and The Guardian of London. ticipated second Reagan Administra- tion. At the same time they are con- vinced that they retain overwhelming support. "The people voted Sandinis- ta on July 19 [1979, the date of the revolutionary triumph]," Borge is fond of saying. "They voted with blood and bullets and they will defend their victory in the same way." In this context, for the Sandinistas, the elections become little more than a costly distraction from the three-year- old war against the U.S.-backed coun- terrevolutionaries. And it was a dis- traction they long resisted. But at the end of last year the Sandinistas finally bowed to pressure from European al- lies anxious to avoid a conflagration in Central America. They did so not because they had been convinced that Europe could restrain the White House-the ineffectual European op- position to the Grenada invasion had dispelled that idea-but because they wanted to retain European solidarity and economic backing. The decision to hold elections-as well as the choice of presidential can- didate Daniel Ortega-highlights the dominance of one current within the front. While Junta coordinator Ortega was convinced of the need for elec- tions, Borge-who had presidential ambitions of his own-is said to have been won over to the idea after confer- ring with supporters in Europe. Nevertheless, until early August, the government was apparently unpre- pared to relax the sweeping powers it has held under emergency legislation since 1982, arguing that the military situation was worsening. In response very few parties were prepared to commit themselves to the elections. "Either they grant the conditions for a free and fair election or it's total war," snapped the president of the Fifty years of Sandinismo: Daniel Ortega announces the November elections. S REPORT ON THE AMERICAS 40 E cc Independent Liberal Party and one- time Sandinista ally, Virgilio Godoy. Godoy-who was labor minister until he resigned to devote himself to the campaign-and others claim that the Sandinistas were afraid to test their popularity fairly at the ballot box be- cause they no longer have majority support. Bayardo Arce, a member of the Sandinista National Directorate, chor- tled with delight at this suggestion. "If we don't win 80% of the vote we'll have cause to weep," he boasted. He claimed that the only concern was that to lift the State of Emergency would weaken the government's defense ca- pabilities. "If no other party runs we will turn the polls into a referendum to endorse everything we have done to far," he warned. They were brave words, but it was clear that the government was becom- ing isolated. One senior Spanish socialist deputy remarked, "Their idea of revolution is to march towards a cliff singing the Sandinista an- them." And a European ambassador reflected a feeling among Managua's diplomatic community when he said, "Uncontested elections will give President Reagan the argument he needs; the Sandinistas seem hellbent on a military showdown." Inept Political Maneuvering By late August, the tables had turned. The Sandinistas have recov- ered a degree of sympathy among Western and Latin American govem- ments and they may well be able to convince world opinion that their elections are democratic and represen- tative. The about-turn is largely due to some inept political maneuvering by the Sandinistas' most consistent do- mestic critics, the conservative Dem- ocratic Coordinating Committee (CDN). The CDN is an alliance of three small political parties, two conserva- tive trade unions and the private busi- ness organization, COSEP. Linked to it is the far-right wing of the 150-year- old Conservative Party (PCN), led by millionaire businessman Mario Rap- paccioli. Until now, Rappaccioli and COSEP have been the dominant voi- ces inside the CDN. Of the three parties in the CDN, one-the Constitutionalist Liberal Party-can barely muster a few hundred members. The Social Demo- cratic Party, founded in 1979 by dis- enchanted Conservatives, has seen its support drop from a height of 5,000 members in 1981. Only the Social Christian Party, founded 27 years ago, has any real party structure out- side Managua. When the Sandinistas say the CDN represents a minority, they are probably right. But the CDN leaders are wealthy, well-educated and well-travelled, par- ticularly in the United States. And they have access to the media-the major opposition newspaper, La Pren- sa, is edited by CDN leader Pedro Joaqufn Chamorro. This makes the CDN articulate and vociferous and has enabled it to assume the role of the legitimate voice of domestic opposi- tion to the government. Of the seven opposition organiza- tions in Nicaragua, the CDN is the group whose views are most deeply antithetical to the Sandinistas. They favor a free-market economy. They defend large landed interests and the anti-Sandinista Catholic Church hier- archy and they condemn the Sandinis- tas as Marxist-Leninist puppets mani- pulated from Moscow and Havana. As such their participation in the elec- tions has come to be viewed in Washington as the touchstone of San- dinista commitments to pluralism and democracy. Challenge to Declare Bankruptcy But a CDN boycott of the elections has been in the cards since the San- dinistas first announced the date of the polls last November. On December 24 the CDN published a nine-point list of demands, described by one observer as "a challenge to the government to declare political bankruptcy and to call in the international receivers." Among the points were demands for a general amnesty, a postponement of the presidential elections and respect for freedom of religion. The Sandinis- tas argued that these points had noth- ing to do with the mechanics of free and fair elections. "These issues have been raised as obstacles to justify a boycott," one government official claimed. Sandinista leadership clearly re- sented the fact that international reac- tion to the elections was dependent on the participation of a group whose in- terests they believe are allied to the SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 1984 "Voting is a duty; choosing is a right!" A February rally in Masaya. 5Nicaragua's Elections: A Chronology June 1979: National Reconstruction Govemment Program promises "a system of effective democracy," including "the right of all Nicaraguans to participate in politics and their right to universal suffrage," but does not spell out details of democratic system envisioned. FSLN agrees with traditional parties and anti- Sonoza businessmen to create 33-seat Council of State. Compo- silton not precisely defined, but clear private sector and conserva- tiv'e majority. May 4, 1980: Council of State convened. Sandinistas, arguing new balance of forces, alter composition. Of 47 seats, only I I go to private enterprise and conservatives, 24 to FSLN-affiliated groups. Many conservatives begin to boycott sessions. Business leader Alfonso Robelo resigns from Junta in protest. August 23, 1980: At a rally to mark end of Literacy Crusade, Defense Minister Humberto Ortega announces elections to be held in 1985, saying, "Democracy is not simply elections. It means the people's participation in the political, economic, social and cultural spheres. And the more people participate in all these areas, the more democracy there is. . . . They will be elections to improve revolutionary power, not to raffle off who will hold power. " November 1981: Debate opens on draft political parties law, first in committee and private meetings, then in Council of State. March 1982: Debate halted with introduction of State of Emergency suspending constitutional guarantees and barring all non-Sandinista political activity. November 1982: Debate resumes. Parties allied to CDN periodically withdraw from Council of State in protest, but are members of drafting commission and manage to make some amendments. 1983: Throughout year, multi-party commission-which CDN members refuse to join-visits several European and Latin Amer- ican countries and United States to study their constitutions and electoral laws. August 17, 1983: Parties Law passed. Parties can hold meet- ings, criticize government, form alliances, have access to media, have offices nationwide. Sandinista concessions: 1. Prime object of parties is to win power; 2. Clause dropped requiring 5,000 signatures to create party; 3. Concede details relating to composition of supervising body (National Council of Political Parties---CNPP). Parties granted right of appeal from CNPP to Supreme Court. CDN objections: I. Parties obliged to respect "basic principles of Popular San- dinista Revolution"; 2. Believe CNPP will be FSLN-dominated; 3. Argue that obligation to "patriotic unity" and "consolida- tion of the political, economic and social conquests achieved by our people" could be interpreted to justify harassment of CDN. September 21, 1983: Commission appointed from Council of State to draft electoral law. Composed of FSLN, Sandinista allies and Left opposition. No CDN members. October-November 1983: Commission meets with members of all parties to take evidence for drafting of new law. December 4, 1983: Government announces start of electoral process. Guarantees parties freedom to meet to discuss their posi- tions. Announces amnesty for all contras except top leadership and ex-Somoza National Guardsmen. December 24, 1983: CDN publishes nine-point program, de- manding "dialogue of national reconciliation" to discuss: 1. Separation of state, party and Army; 2. Halt to human rights violations; 3. Suspension of State of Emergency; 4. Respect for freedom of religion; 5. General amnesty; 6. Trade union freedom; 7. Independence of judiciary; 8. 1979 Fundamental Statute to be inviolate until new con- stitution written following assembly elections, to prevent im- mediate presidential elections; 9. Dialogue to include contra leaders; elections should lead to Western democratic system; head of state to be barred from re- election. FSLN refuses even to respond to document, claiming most of it is unrelated to mechanics of elections and based on false prem- ises. January 4, 1984: Debate on electoral law starts. Mass organi- zations not involved, though leadership of some proposes amend- ments. January 14, 1984: FSLN submits three key proposals to draft- ing committee: I. Creation of a legislative assembly for a six-year period; 2. First two years of assembly to be devoted to drafting new constitution; 3. Presidential elections to ensure strong government while new constitution is written. January 31, 1984: Electoral period officially opens. February 8, 1984: Draft electoral law presented to Council of State. Sandinista-controlled commission set up to revise law and consider amendments. February 13-16, 1984: Commission meets with opposition parties; some of their suggestions taken into account and new draft prepared. February 21, 1984: FSLN announces election date: November 4, 1984. President, Vice-President and Constituent/Legislative Assembly to be elected. Sixteen-year-olds eligible to vote. State of Emergency not lifted as some had expected. CDN objects that election date leaves insufficient time to prepare. Objects to presi- dential elections. Some object to voting age as benefitting FSLN; others argue that opposition to compulsory military service will aid CDN vote. CDN demands immediate lifting of State of Emergency. First threat of boycott. February 22, 1984: Draft election law goes to full Council of State for debate and amendment. CDN members start to with- draw periodically in protest. March 26, 1984: Electoral law passed. Presidential and Vice- Presidential elections to be decided by simple majority. Ninety- seat National Assembly to be elected by regional proportional representation, to help smaller parties. All parties guaranteed ac- cess to media, right to organize public demonstrations. Each par- ty to receive $600,000 in state funds. Parties permitted to receive funds from abroad. CDN objections: I. Voter registration open to fraud, because no national iden- tity cards; 2. Parties which do not stand in elections lose legal status; 3. Army allowed to vote, "counter to Latin American tradi- tion"; 4. Ex-Somoza National Guardsmen and contra leaders banned from elections; 5. Regional division of representation unfair, favoring areas where FSLN is popular. Sandinista concessions: I. Altered system of proportional representation to favor smal- ler parties; 2. Television access time increased from 10-30 minutes per party per week; 3. Members of armed forces cannot be candidates. April 1984: Members of Supreme Electoral Council named; all 6 REPORT ON THE AMERtCAS 6 REPORT ON THE AMERICASthree are Sandinista sympathizers. CDN objects. May 1984: Supreme Electoral Council announces election timetable. Campaign will last less than two months; nominations close end of June. CDN says conditions not created for free and fair elections; campaign far too short and nominations close too early. May 25, 1984: Supreme Electoral Council bows to CDN pres- sure. Extends nominations until July 25; campaign extended to 12 weeks. May 31, 1984: Government extends State of Emergency for another fifty days over furious CDN protests. But emergency pro- visions relaxed to allow parties to prepare for campaign. Censor- ship slackened, allowing La Prensa to print strongly anti-San- dinista material. July 19, 1984: Government decides not to lift State of Emergency, arguing growing military threat. Allows public dem- onstrations; censorship reduced to matters affecting "national de- fense." CDN claim- fair elections still impossible. July 23, 1984: CDN presidential nominee Arturo Cruz arrives in Managua. Greeted by 300 supporters. July 25, 1984: Cruz announces election boycott if no negotia- tions with contra leaders. Holds rallies around country. attacking "communist dictators." La Prensa permitted to print vitupera- tive attacks; private radio stations allowed to cover CDN ac- tivities live. July 26, 1984: Cruz boycotts two rounds of talks with FSLN because of refusal to negotiate with contras. August 5, 1984: Nominations close without CDN registering candidates. August 6, 1984: After talks with other parties (boycotted by CDN), government lifts most State of Emergency restrictions. Retains only some special powers of search and arrest. Sandinis- tas offer to reopen nominations; CDN refuses. Supreme Electoral Council broadened to include two members of opposition. August 15, 1984: CDN drops insistence on talks with contra leaders, after FDN chief Adolfo Calero shows no interest. San- dinistas say this is evidence CDN is political wing of contras. CDN says still interested in elections but insists FSLN discuss nine-point CDN platform, including general amnesty. Sandinis- tas refuse. August 16, 1984: U.S./Nicaraguan talks, believed to discuss CON role. August 22, 1984: CDN parties banned under electoral law penalizing parties which boycott elections. Three top CDN lead- ers start tour of Costa Rica, Venezuela and Colombia, trying to persuade presidents of those countries that elections are not democratic and will be unrepresentative without CDN involve- ment. A Guide to the Political Parties 1. POPULAR ACTION MOVEMENT-MARXIST-LEN- INIST (MAP-ML): Founded in 1972 as split from FSLN; some Trotskyist influence. Its armed militias fought in insurrection, then refused to disarm. In 1980, daily newspaper El Pueblo con- fiscated by government and entire MAP-ML leadership arrested as "ultraleftists." Favors rapid radicalization, greater state role in economy, no political role for bourgeoisie. Presidential candi- date: Carlos Cuadra. 2. NICARAGUAN COMMUNIST PARTY (P deN): Split from P in 1970. Founded and dominated by popular leader Eli Altamirano. Hard-line Moscow tendency, but no official rela- tions with Soviet CP. Leads small but important labor union, CAUS, active among textile workers. Wants system of "work- ers' soviets. i Presidential candidate: Allan Zambrana (CAUS General Secretary). 3. NICARAGUAN SOCIALIST PARTY (PSN): Traditional Moscow-line CP, but less rigid than PCdcN. Led by working- class hero Domingo Sanchez. Allied to FSLN in Council of State. One faction joined FSLN in 1978. Small but influential labor union (CGT-i), active among construction workers. Believes FSLN is necessary for the time being but that PSN will eventually emerge as vanguard. Presidential candidate: Domingo Sanchez. 4. SANDINISTA NATIONAL LIBERATION FRONT (FSLN): Founded in 1961 as nationalist, Marxist, anti-imperialist revolutionary organization. In power since 1979. Headed by nine-man National Directorate. Claims 900,000 members of San- dinista-affiliated mass organizations. Presidential candidate: Daniel Ortega (present coordinator of governing Junta). 5. POPULAR SOCIAL CHRISTIAN PARTY (PPSC): A party of socialist Catholics; split from PSC in 1976. Allied to FSLN in Council of State. Led by Mauricio Diaz. Advocates greater worker control through cooperatives. Has small trade union, CTN (A). Presidential candidate: Mauricio Diaz. 6. INDEPENDENT LIBERAL PARTY (PLI): Founded in 1944 as split from traditional Somoza-controlled Liberal Party. Traditional base of support in second city, Lemi. Radical but anti- Marxist liberal ideology in European mainstream; member of Liberal International. Allied to FSLN in Council of State until April 1984. Presidential candidate: Virgilio Godoy (Labor Minis- ter until March 1984). 7. DEMOCRATIC CONSERVATIVE PARTY (PCD): Di- rect descendant of traditional Conservative Party, with base of support in third city, Granada. Split in June 1984 over participa- tion in elections. Now led by Clemente Guido and other middle- class professionals, who are accused by Right of being pro-San- dinista. PC) member Rafael C6rdova Rivas is member of gov- erming Junta. Still unclear which of two conservative parties have grassroots support (see PCN below). Presidential candidate: Clemente Guido. 8. SOCIAL CHRISTIAN PARTY (PSC): Founded in 1957. In mainstream of conservative Christian Democracy, with ideology of "social communitarianism." Only member of CON alliance with clear political program. Has been voice of moderation with- in CON, though condemns FSLN as "communist dictators." De- cision to boycott elections has caused problems with party rank and file. Led by Adsln Fletes, potential CDN vice-presidential candidate. 9. SOCIAL DEMOCRATIC PARTY (PSD): Founded in 1979 by dissident conservatives as vehicle for middle classes to take control of revolution and guide it toward European-style mixed economy. Not recognized by Socialist International. Member of CDN: led by CDN president Luis Rivas. 10. CONSTITUTIONALIST LIBERAL PARTY (PLC): Founded in 1967 as split from traditional Liberal Party. Intended to recapture old liberal values of "progressive capitalism"; now dominated by conservative interests. Not recognized by Liberal International. Led by Alfredo Reyes. 11. NICARAGUAN CONSERVATIVE PARTY (PCN): Founded as split from PCD in June 1984, disagreeing with PCD decision to participate in elections. Led by millionaire businessman Mario Rappaccioli. Identified with old creole aris- tocracy and large landed and business interests. Not yet officially recognized as legal party. Dominant voice in CDN. United States. These interests, they claim, would best be served by dis- crediting the elections in order to jus- tify greater U.S. efforts to destabilize their administration. Nevertheless, the repression of all public political op- position-under the State of Emer- gency-had won the CDN interna- tional sympathy and called into ques- tion the Sandinista commitment to pluralism. It was assumed the nine points were negotiable and most ob- servers agreed that until the State of Emergency was lifted the opposition would be under a crippling disadvan- tage. The onus was on the government to prove its democratic intentions. The return of the CDN presidential candidate, Arturo Cruz, on July 23 after two years' self-imposed exile in Washington, changed the whole pic- ture. The slide in CDN fortunes started when Rappaccioli revealed that the CDN had already decided to boycott the elections before Cruz's arrival. At a series of political rallies, Cruz, who served as ambassador to Washington from March to November 1981, was at pains to exonerate the contras, insisting that they took up arms because the government had de- nied them any political space. Less than 48 hours after his arrival, he announced that the ninth, and until then, least stressed point in the CDN program-negotiations between the government and contra leaders-had now become the sine qua non of CDN participation. Two days later the gov- ernment offered to conduct a round of negotiations to discuss the CDN de- mands. But Cruz refused, insisting on negotiations with the contras first. Within a week the CDN had for- mally decided to boycott the elec- tions. The next day, following discus- sions with other opposition parties-- the same talks the CDN had boycot- ted-the government announced the lifting of almost all the restrictions es- tablished under the State of Emer- gency. But Cruz was adamant. "It is still not enough, we still insist on a dialogue of national reconciliation," he said. Banking on U.S. Invasion For the first time irritation in the diplomatic community was directed at the CDN. One Western ambassador complained that "Giving up the right to play the political game is like sig- nalling that they are relying on the Americans to put them in power through invasion." "Cruz should have run and used negotiations as the central plank in his campaign platform," said another. "As an excuse for pulling out it won't do. It makes you wonder if the San- dinistas are right and the CDN never intended to run at all." But, if CDN support internationally has been eroded, it is business as usual in Washington. The State De- partment has let it be known that it will still not recognize the elections unless the CDN runs. For his part, Cruz has announced plans to conduct a European tour to discredit the elec- tions. Yet there is still a chance that a role can be found for the CDN. The San- dinistas have been deliberately slow to apply the legal provisions which would allow them to proscribe parties which abstain in the elections. And the CDN has now dropped its demand for talks with the contras, albeit two weeks after nominations closed. The government still retains one last hope that it can persuade Washington to recognize the polls, which would mean an end to the war, and has agreed to discuss the issue in the cur- rent bilateral talks being conducted in Mexico. The White House too may want to reach an agreement, for the alterna- tives are unpleasant. An invasion, the president knows, would leave several thousand Americans dead. A continu- ation of the contra war of attrition has political costs back home, and does not look likely to lead to a Sandinista collapse. On the contrary, the damage the war is doing to the economy will continue to drive more and more op- ponents from the middle class to emigrate, leaving the revolutionaries ever more firmly in control. If the talks fail, however, the San- dinistas are hoping to dispel the im- pression that the CDN is their only au- thentic opposition. Their recent con- cessions have assured the participa- tion of six other parties in the elec- tions. Two of these, the Independent Liberals and the Democratic Conser- vatives, have already started to cam- paign on an anti-Marxist ticket in de- fense of private enterprise. Large Voter Registration "To say the elections won't be rep- resentative without the CDN is like saying that the elections in the States aren't representative unless the Com- munist Party stands," observed a leader of the Conservatives. He is convinced that his party can pick up many votes that would have gone to the CDN. "Maybe once the foreign press watches us campaign they will see that there is a true opposition here; there's more difference between us and the Sandinistas than between the Democrats and the Republicans." The Sandinistas agree and claim that every major political current will be represented at the polls. The other factor the Sandinistas are relying on is a large ballot. Already nearly 1,600,000 people have regis- tered as voters, 400,000 more than an- ticipated. The Sandinistas argue that if a large proportion of these turn out to vote and are prepared to opt for one of the available alternatives it will be dif- ficult to say the elections are unrepre- sentative. "After all, that's what hap- pened in El Salvador," one official pointed out. Under Nicaraguan law it is illegal to encourage voters to ab- stain. If CDN leaders try they are likely to find themselves arrested very quickly. Hundreds of international observers and foreign journalists are expected to witness the elections. Their presence will make it difficult for the govern- ment to use strong arm tactics to bring out the vote, even if it wanted to. And it should make fraud equally difficult. If there is a large turnout it should be because of a genuine enthusiasm for the elections. The Sandinistas hope the combina- tion of the CDN boycott, the partici- pation of anti-Marxist parties and a large turnout will prove the elections both fair and representative. But in the end, if Washington remains uncon- vinced-as some members of the Na- tional Directorate believe they will- the Sandinistas are prepared. As Bayardo Arce said with a shrug of his shoulders, "If the Yankees are not convinced, the boys are in the moun- tains waiting for them."

Tags: Nicaragua, Sandinistas, Elections, Ronald Reagan, CDN

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