Last week I received an email from the Sandinista Renovation Movement entitled Nicaragua 2017: Crisis and Opportunity. Wow, did it contain some whoppers! You know, I expect politicians to lie to me, but when the lies come from people I once respected and considered compañer@s, the betrayal seems so much worse. The email didn’t come with a web link, and I couldn’t find it during a brief scan of the MRS web page, so I can’t share the content with you. They did thoughtfully translate their screed into English, making me wonder who the intended audience was. Not that many Nicaraguan voters would choose to read their declaration in English.
Normally it wouldn’t make much sense to react to an analysis from a political “party” whose level of support makes the US Green Party look like a major contender. The MRS isn’t even a registered party because they don’t have enough support to elect local party officers in the required number of Nicaragua’s municipalities. However, they do operate in coalition with corrupt banker Eduardo Montealegre, who was the US-backed losing candidate in the 2006 election. But more important, many people in the US who used to be solidarity activists, and are likely still activists in many critical movements, don’t know how far to the right the MRS has gone since its 1994 formation by dissident Sandinistas.
Indeed, one wouldn’t know it from their description of themselves: “The Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS) is a Nicaraguan political party of the democratic left that promotes a society with opportunities, progress, solidarity, democracy, and sovereignty.” I guess they forgot the “sovereignty” part when MRS President Ana Vijil, joined right-wing parties in Washington, DC to ask ultra-conservative Republican Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen to sponsor the NICA Act in the last Congress. The NICA Act would require the US to vote against multilateral loans to Nicaragua. Long ago they forgot the Left part. I remember in 2006 asking MRS leader Enrique Saenz what the MRS’s plan was for building a grassroots party to challenge the Sandinista Party (FSLN) from the Left. Apparently he didn’t understand the question because his answer was all about what they were doing to build a coalition with right-wing parties.
I was even more offended in a meeting with their executive leadership in 2013 where they subjected us to a slick PowerPoint presentation purporting to prove that the Ortega government hadn’t spent anything on reducing poverty or resurrecting the peasant agriculture sector. About midway through the presentation I realized that they were making the claim based on leaving out all the Venezuela oil aid and the non-dollar cooperative trade among the ALBA countries, the very sources of funding for the amazing progress the Ortega government has made to recuperate the social and economic rights of the poor.
Their new communique, Nicaragua 2017: Crisis and Opportunity, is very much in the style of the PowerPoint, or maybe a better comparison is with the Trump spokeswoman who coined the phrase, “We have alternative facts.” I’m sorry. You can have policy differences, but you can’t have alternative facts. The MRS cannot credibly say the “presidential inauguration” (their quotes) was a “mere formality” an “electoral farce and fraud…without any type of legitimacy.” Nicaragua’s election met international electoral norms and Daniel Ortega won 72.5% of the vote, right in line with what independent polls were showing ahead of the election.
The MRS calls Ortega and his wife and vice-president Rosario Murillo, “leaders of a dynasty.” Just google the word dynasty. Every dictionary definition requires at least a succession, a sequence, a series of leaders and a long time period. None of those conditions have been met but the word dynasty sounds nasty, so that’s the word the MRS uses. Besides, whoever becomes president, however many times, can only do it by being nominated by their party and by winning the most votes.
The communique also accused Ortega of banning international observers. This is a total falsehood. The election was observed by electoral experts and parliamentarians from throughout Latin America and by invited individuals with international credibility such as Brian Willson from the US whose report we ran in this space on November 25. Groups that weren’t invited were the National Endowment for Democracy, the European Union, and others who have records of declaring deeply flawed elections, such as Honduras’ 2013 election, as free and fair while reports of serious fraud were still coming in and the polls hadn’t closed. There was a time when international monitoring served an important purpose for countries transitioning from dictatorship to democracy. But in the years since, too often international observation has been merely a tool to certify friends of the US and delegitimize its enemies.
I want to thank tortilla con sal for helping me to understand the MRS’s next two false claims; first that Ortega removed 28 members of the National Assembly, and second their claim that the abstention rate “reached more than 70%.” (I highly recommend www.tortillaconsal.com for Latin America political analysis.)
The MRS propaganda depends on the fact that even those of us who follow Nicaragua closely don’t have a very solid understanding of the country’s political system and institutions. I wrote a whole blog about the removal of National Assembly members on August 3. But to summarize, last summer the Nicaraguan Supreme Court ruled on a long-standing complaint filed by the historical leadership of the Independent Liberal Party (PLI) against Montealegre for illegally taking over the party so he had ballot access to run for president in 2006. The Court handed back control of the party to its old leadership which dates back to the 1940s when the PLI courageously split with the Somoza dictatorship and became an opposition party. Montealegre and 20 other of the 28 PLI deputies refused to acknowledge the leadership or to turn over the party financial records. Deputies in the National Assembly, which the MRS calls Congress, are elected by party slate, not as individuals as is the case in the US. So the PLI leadership replaced the 21 who were in rebellion and reaffirmed the seven who accepted the party leadership. All this took place internally within the PLI. Ortega didn’t replace anyone, and not all the PLI deputies followed Montealegre out of the party. So, the number 28 is an inflated figure, and the process did not involve the Executive Branch at all. In fact, at the end of the process, the PLI still had 28 seats in the legislature and it remained in opposition to the majority Sandinistas.
But the claim that over 70% of voters abstained is the most absurd of all because anyone can visit the Supreme Electoral Council’s (CSE) web site and see the turnout for yourself. You will see some urban voting stations with abstention levels as high as 70%, but you’ll find many more with voting levels in the 80 and 90 percentile. Total turnout, based on valid votes was 65.3% according to the CSE. That was as much as 10% below normal turnout which the MRS and its right-wing allies could take credit for since they called for the electorate to boycott the election, but to claim that only 30% voted is one of those pesky “alternative facts” the MRS is so fond of.
The MRS communique next goes on to say that in the National Assembly “Ortega has secured a majority of 70% and has assigned the other 30% to unconditional allies.” Actually, the Sandinista legislative ticket polled about 76% of the vote winning the FSLN 70 of the 90 seats up for election. Opposition parties that ignored Montealegre and the MRS’s boycott call won the other seats in proportion to their vote. Ortega had nothing to do with the proportions or which individuals represent their opposition parties in the legislature. Of course, the MRS doesn’t recognize the parties that can actually attract votes at the polls as “true opposition forces.”
The MRS communique ends with threats it perceives to the Ortega government. A real head scratcher is the one about how Ortega might die! So might we all, but unlike us as individuals, democratic governments have lines of succession. I certainly wish Daniel Ortega a long and productive life. But if it were cut short, I have no doubt that the succession would be smooth and the government program he set in place would continue. The other head scratcher was the implication that there is a lot of corruption in the handling of international aid. The World Bank has rated Nicaragua as the number one country for “execution of projects.” That is only possible because there is so much less corruption in Nicaragua than in most other countries.
Finally, they get to the real kicker citing the threat of the Nicaragua Investment Conditionality Act (NICA Act), the very act that the MRS lobbied the US Congress to pass! If it did, it would destroy Nicaragua’s growing economy. Here they show the same ignorance of the US political system and institutions as they depend on us to have about theirs. The NICA Act passed the House of Representatives late in the election season as part of the “consent agenda.” That means it was packaged with a bunch of other bills and passed without a voice or recorded vote. It passed that way because it was just a smoke and mirrors bill for Ros-Lehtinen’s right-wing Cuban constituency in Miami. Everybody knew it wasn’t going to be taken up by the Senate, much less signed by President Obama.
However, the election didn’t turn out as everyone expected so with the Republicans controlling both chambers of Congress and the White House, there is a possibility it could go all the way through now. The bill sponsors would have to start all over again because we now have a new Congress so in the House it would have to go to committee, get voted out, and be passed by the House. Then it would go to the Senate which may or may not do anything with it. If the Senate passes it, it would go to the president for signature. Would the Trump administration and the top leadership of Congress be so stupid as to destroy Nicaragua’s economy and unleash a wave of immigrants heading straight for the US?
It is too early to know, but the Nicaragua Network/AfGJ will be ready to fight it if it is reintroduced in the new Congress. I would assume that the parties that brought this economic disaster down on Nicaragua would pretty much be toast as far as Nicaraguan voters are concerned. How many Nicaraguans are willing to crash their own economy because they don’t like Daniel and Rosario? Since they are the two most popular public figures, I would bet it would be fewer than the maximum of 10% that the MRS and their allies in the so-called Broad Front for Democracy convinced to boycott the election.
Before concluding, the MRS communique makes totally unsupportable claims that the “economic and social situation in the country is deteriorating more and more every day.” Anyone who reads the briefs that regularly follow this blog knows for themselves that that assessment stands in opposition to objective evidence and the statements from the most humble farmer to the biggest capitalist and multilateral lender. The MRS has become expert at the Big Lie technique that was used so effectively against them when they used to be revolutionaries who helped overthrow a dictator and create “a society with opportunities, progress, solidarity, democracy, and sovereignty.” I wish they would recover their youthful idealism.
- The Nicaragua government and the Organization of American States (OAS) issued a joint report reiterating their commitment to continue to strengthen democracy and to implement steps to ensure free, fair and transparent elections. A memorandum of understanding will be signed next month to define the working mechanisms to be implemented for the Nicaragua municipal elections in November of this year. (Nicaragua News, Jan. 23)
- Last week a United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DAES) Report ranked Nicaragua among the countries of Central America with the highest growth rate projection for this year. The UN report noted that Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama are expecting to surpass 4% growth; driven by greater dynamism in public-private investments. (Nicaragua News, Jan. 23)
- An M&R poll published last Wednesday found that fewer Nicaraguans want to migrate to another country. Seventy percent (70%) of respondents said they are not planning to leave the country; and 78% expressed great confidence in a better future. The survey was carried out between December 15 and 30 last year and is based on interviews with 1,600 individuals nationwide. (Nicaragua News, Jan. 20)
- That same M&R poll found that 81.3% of Nicaraguans believe that President Daniel Ortega is leading the country along the right path. Seventy eight percent (78%) of respondents said his administration generates hope; 79.3% believe his government is promoting reconciliation and national unity and 81.9% feel that the country has made significant progress in recent years. (Nicaragua News, Jan. 19)
- Nicaragua Vice President Rosario Murillo announced that more than 15,000 titles to property will be delivered to Nicaragua families during the first quarter of this year. The Vice President noted that most of the titles will go to female head of households and will help to strengthen legal certainty and property rights in the country. (Nicaragua News, Jan. 18)