In the last couple of months, the Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS) has taken its opposition to the Ortega government to new depths, openly calling for US sanctions against Nicaragua. At what point does a political party with Sandinista in its name, lose the right to use that name?
But before answering that question, let’s first look at the history of the MRS.
The party was formed in May 1995, blowback from the divisive 1994 FSLN Party Congress, which I had the privilege to attend as an observer. (The highlight for me was to shake the hand of the only surviving founder of the FSLN, Tomas Borge.) But the Congress itself was very conflictive over issues of internal democracy and transparency of the party’s economic holdings. The campaign against the Sandinista dissidents was intense and outright homophobic. As a result, a number of high profile heroes of the Revolution and former party and government leaders split off from the FSLN and formed their own party.
Comandante Henry Ruiz (Modesto), who led much of the guerilla war against Somoza in the mountains, Monica Baltodano, the only woman to lead a guerilla column and the primary contact for sister city groups in the US and elsewhere, Dora Maria Tellez, one of the commandos who led a daring action that took hostage Somoza’s legislature and Supreme Court justices and who later became Minister of Health, Sergio Ramirez, former vice president and world-renown author, Gioconda Belli, former guerilla and renown poet, much later in 2006 Victor Hugo Tinoco, number three in the Ministry of the Exterior who was well-known in the US to Nightline viewers during the 1980s and who in the late 1990s was in charge of liaising with US solidarity, and others who I’m sure I missed, all left the party and created the MRS.
In other words, the people who international solidarity activists were most familiar with, most of whom spoke English, left the FSLN to form a new political party also rooted in Sandinismo and in the struggle against the Somoza dictatorship followed by the US-backed Contra War. Their grievances were by and large legitimate. Remember that with the 1990 electoral defeat, the FSLN went from 5,000 party employees to 200. So, with the departure of so many of our friends, it was difficult to maintain relations with official party structures while at the same time, people we were used to working with were still accessible.
The Nicaragua Network approached the split as we would a family fight which pained us as outsiders to watch, but in which we felt we could play no positive role. We therefore maintained neutrality between what we viewed as the two parties of Sandinismo even through the 2006 election which returned the FSLN led by Daniel Ortega back into power. We even thought that it might not be a bad thing to have a party challenging the FSLN from the Left.
Sergio Ramirez ran as the MRS presidential candidate in 1996 winning 1.3% of the vote and one seat in the National Assembly. The MRS has pretty much been stuck at that level of support ever since. It ran in coalition with the FSLN in national and municipal elections until 2006 when former Sandinista and popular Managua mayor, Herty Lewites, ran as the MRS candidate after attempting to contest for the FSLN nomination with Ortega. That is when he and Tinoco left the FSLN, quitting and being expelled simultaneously.
Our premise that the MRS was pushing the FSLN from the Left was proven false in the 2006 election. I led a delegation to investigate US interference in the election about five months before the vote. We met with representatives of all the parties, including Enrique Saenz, then president of the MRS. I asked him what the MRS was doing to politically educate voters and to build its base beyond Managua’s educated class. His response troubled me deeply. He spoke nothing about a progressive agenda or of politically educating the base about neoliberalism’s depredations against the majority poor. He espoused no party platform of poverty alleviation, education, healthcare, or reviving the rural economy. He only spoke about the MRS’ progress in building alliances with right-wing parties and US-funded non-governmental organizations, what social scientists call civil society. All of these forces are intensely anti-Sandinista and have the same neoliberal/pro-US agenda that had caused such misery since the electoral defeat of 1990.
In the 2008 municipal elections, the MRS went so far as to tell voters to vote for Liberal Party candidates and against the FSLN. To their credit, Henry Ruiz, Monica Baltodano, and other members with integrity left the MRS at that point and formed the Sandinista Rescue Movement, which also had the acronym MRS. They asked people to cast null ballots in the election. The Sandinista Rescue Movement hasn’t been heard from since and I can’t remember the last time that Modesto or Monica made public comments about Nicaragua’s government or internal affairs.
If memory serves, the MRS won five seats in the National Assembly in 2006, or maybe that was in 2011. At any rate, over time, three of their delegates left the MRS and joined the FSLN’s caucus, what they call in Nicaragua a “bench.” Having a bench means having a budget from the legislature for staff, office space, and other perks. When the MRS fell below the minimum number of delegates needed to form a bench, some of the right-wing benches, including the Nicaragua Resistance party of former Contras, contributed members so that the MRS continued to qualify as a bench even though actual MRS delegates were now a minority in their own bench.
Since 2006, the MRS has continued its drift to the Right, deepening its alliances with the Right-wing parties and anti-Sandinista civil society groups while taking no action to build a grassroots base or to take any actions or positions that could be defined as challenging the FSLN from the Left.
In September, the MRS crossed a bridge too far, from which I don’t see any path of return. MRS President Ana Margarita Vijil took active part in a delegation of Nicaragua right-wing political leaders to meet with one of the most right-wing members of Congress, Iliana Ros-Lehtinen. The reason for the meeting? To call on the US Congress to pass the NICA Act, which, if it were to also pass the Senate and be signed by the president, would require the US to vote against loans to Nicaragua in the World Bank, IMF, and other international financial institutions (IFIs). While the US does not have veto power, I believe it is safe to say that the IFIs have never approved a loan opposed by the US.
In my book, Vijil’s participation in that meeting and Dora Maria Tellez’s full-voiced defense of the action, are as close to the definition of treason as to make no difference. A party whose leaders and many of its members fought successfully to end a real dictatorship; who fought for Nicaragua’s sovereignty and right to self-determination in the face of Contra guns bought and paid for by the USA; and who lost friends and family in two wars costing 80,000 Nicaraguan lives, cannot now appeal for US intervention and be considered anything other than traitors to Sandino, Carlos Fonseca, and all of the other heroes and martyrs of the Sandinista Revolution and the Contra War.
In my opinion. The MRS has forfeited any right to use the name of Sandino in their party name. It is time for them to come up with a new one. To my solidarity friends who maintain friendships with MRS leaders, I’m not saying you need to reject your friendship. But you do need to realize that your friends have moved very far from you politically and that they no longer have anything to offer the poor majority of Nicaraguans, nor do they have anything to offer the international solidarity movement.
- The Secretary General’s Office of the Organization of American States (OAS) and the government of Nicaragua began a formal dialogue about strengthening Nicaragua’s electoral system on Oct. 20. Three OAS representatives and three Nicaraguan government appointees will meet several times, culminating in a Dec. 1 visit to Nicaragua by OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro. US Ambassador Laura Dagu supported the dialogue amid widespread support among Nicaraguan religious and secular leadership. The notable exception was portions of the political opposition which demanded that Almagro make public his original communication with the government proposing the dialogue. (El Nuevo Diario, Oct. 21, 25)
- Ninety percent of Nicaraguan homes now have electric service. Salvador Mansell, minister of Energy and Mines said that in the last decade the government has invested US$600 million to expand electricity coverage. In 2007, only 580,000 homes had access to electricity. That number now stands at 1.08 million homes. (El Nuevo Diario, Oct. 17)
- An M & R polling firm study carried out between Oct. 11-15 among 2,000 individuals nationwide, said the Nicaragua Army and Police are the most trusted institutions in the country. 75.8% of respondents said the Army is the most reliable and credible institution followed by the National Police with 52.1 %; and the media with 51.6 %. (Nicaragua News, Oct. 21)
- The same poll states that more than 75% of Nicaraguans have high levels of confidence in the electoral process and are ready to vote in the Nov. 6 election. 83.9% of respondents said it is very important to vote in the elections; 81.4% said there are different candidates to vote for and 94.3% confirmed that they have the identity card that allows them to exercise their right to vote. (Nicaragua News, Oct 19)
- President Daniel Ortega and his running mate Rosario Murillo have a 74.2% favorable opinion rating and 64.2% of voters declared their intention to vote for them, according to the M & R poll described above. The study confirms that the Sandinista Front for National Liberation (FSLN) is the leading political organization in Nicaragua with 58.1% popular support. Likewise, 56.7% of respondents said that only a Sandinista government could ensure better living conditions for their families. (Nicaragua News, Oct. 19)
- The President of the Nicaragua Social Security Institute (INSS), Roberto Lopez announced that the Nicaragua government, with support from the Russian Federation, will be inaugurating a US$21 million dollar vaccine manufacturing plant later this month. “The new plant will ensure production of low cost vaccines and medicines for Nicaragua, Central America and the Caribbean”, the INSS President said. (Nicaragua News, Oct. 12)
- A report released this week by the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) ranked Nicaragua as the fastest growing economy in the Central American region this year. “Nicaragua maintains an economic growth projection of 4.5% for 2016 and 2017. The other Central American economies are expected to grow 4% and 3.7% for 2016 and 2017 respectively,” the ECLAC report states. (Nicaragua News, Oct. 13)