As the word spread across the world last week that Libyas weird and homicidal Moammar Gadhafi had breathed his last, the reactions ranged from somber relief to rapturous glee — except in Nicaragua, where President Daniel Ortega and his Sandinista party were plunged into grief by the demise of a longtime pal.
This is part of the United States plan for full spectrum dominance, barked Miguel DEscoto, Ortegas top adviser. The United States says this is a war on terrorism, but they are the biggest harbor of terrorists in the world. . . . Its a very sad time in which were living.
DEscotos words which appeared in a story on an excellent new journalistic website, NicaraguaDispatch.com, which has stepped in to fill the void in coverage left as U.S. newspapers retreat from Central America should be heeded by Nicaraguas neighbors as well as its growing community of foreign investors. To steal a phrase from William Faulkner, the Sandinistas past isnt dead, it isnt even past.
If you go by the conventional diplomatic and academic wisdom, Nicaraguas Sandinista party the scourge of Central America when it governed in the 1980s, subverting its neighbors and throwing its own economy down a Marxist well so deep that even the Soviet Union shrugged and walked away has been housebroken into a collection of smiley-face social democrats.
But if Ortega wins reelection on Nov. 6, Nicaraguans are likely to find themselves in a cage with a kitty thats kicked over the litter box. The Sandinistas, when they returned to power in 2007 following 17 years of exile at the hands of ballot boxes, moved cautiously, avoiding the mass expropriations and imprisonments that sent their 1979 government reeling into civil war and confrontation with the United States.
Nonetheless, theyve quietly strung a totalitarian noose around Nicaraguas neck. Ortega has essentially governed by fiat the past years, issuing decrees over the heads of the opposition-controlled congress, which are then upheld by the Sandinista-dominated supreme court. Meanwhile, Ortega has expanded his institutional power by blatantly stealing local elections as many as 50 mayoral offices in 2008, according to the independent Nicaraguan electoral watchdog Ethics and Transparency and using the Sandinista-controlled Supreme Electoral Council to ratify the results.
The arrogance with which the Sandinistas exercise power is exemplified by Ortegas candidacy for reelection. The Nicaraguan constitution specifically prohibits incumbents from reelection. When Ortega couldnt get the countrys congress to change it, his supreme court obligingly ruled that Nicaragua is governed not by its own constitution but by the Declaration of the Rights of Man, written by French revolutionaries a quarter of a century before Nicaragua was even a country.
If Ortega wins on Nov. 6 and gains control of Nicaraguas congress as well, there wont be any further need for legal gymnastics. Hell quickly convene a constitutional convention and use it to stamp out the last vestiges of opposition. Then hell be free to pursue the sorts of policies, foreign and domestic, that you might expect from a politician whos received hundreds of millions of dollars from Gadhafi and Irans Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (Holocaust? What Holocaust?), and billions from Venezuelas Hugo Chávez.
Unfortunately, Ortega probably wont have to cheat very hard to win, because his opponents are making it easy for him. When Nicaraguas anti-Sandinista parties unite around a single candidate, as they did in 1990, 1996 and 2001, they win easily. But when they splinter, as they did in 2006, the countrys peculiar electoral laws which dont require a run-off vote if the leading candidate in the first round of voting has at least 35 percent of the ballots open the door to the Sandinistas.
The opposition parties have splintered again this year, with popular radio personality Fabio Gadea and former president Arnoldo Alemán, who still retains a considerable following despite the corruption that flourished during his 1997-2002 government, refusing to form an alliance.
Their differences are not ideological. Our problem in Nicaragua has always been that we have too many politicians that love money too much, observes former congressman Adolfo Calero. Lets see how much of it they have left when a resurgent Ortega gets through with them.