A Painful Struggle for Renewal

Against the Current, No. 87, July/August 2000

Dianne Feeley

TWENTY-ONE YEARS after the Sandinista National Liberation Front’s triumph of July 1979, and ten years since the FSLN government lost power in an electoral upset, Nicaragua’s political and economic picture is generally bleak.

Widespread corruption, natural disasters made more catastrophic by social and environmental mismanagement, and a debilitating political pact between the top levels of the Liberal government (PLC) and the FSLN have sucked much of the life from the once vibrant popular movements. At the base, these movements are struggling for a renewal and reorientation. (For some details, see the accompanying article by FSLN militant Vilma Núñez de Escorcia.)

Rampant Corruption

A recent Transparency International report identified Nicaragua as the second most corrupt country in the region. This is a historical problem, facilitated by a lack of transparency in the formulation, approval and implementation of policies, plans and projects, and in the use of governmental funds.

Laws may be passed, but are never implemented. From the beginning of the Violeta Chamorro government (1990-96), with the privatization of state companies, properties were sold off at bargain-basement prices.

In a 1999 opinion poll of nearly a thousand Managua residents, people felt that corruption has been the greatest under Arnoldo Alemán’s Liberal (PLC) government and more than 70% do not see that corruption has been punished.

The Alemán administration has flaunted its use of public funds to reward its friends. Instead of sending small delegations to international meetings, Aleman has always been accompanied by a large retinue. Salaries and consulting fees to government officials are the highest in the region, and the tab for lavish projects — such as the new presidential palace, paid for by the Taiwanese government — are picked up by corporations or countries, presumably in exchange for favors.

Those business owners or non-governmental organizations (NGOs) who criticize the government find a delay in receiving products from customs, or customs doesn’t accept the purchase invoices, or they find their taxes being carefully audited. This “fiscal terrorism” reinforces the climate of corruption.

The Office of Comptroller General (CGR), constitutionally charged with monitoring and preventing corruption in state institutions, receives its budget through the National Assembly. It is also dependent on the attorney general (who is appointed by the president and reports directly to that office) and the judicial system for prosecution once CGR completes its audit.

Without the commitment of the executive, judicial and legislative branches, therefore, the CGR investigates problems and issues resolutions and there is no follow through. No one is dismissed from office, no one is prosecuted or sent to jail, no corrupt practice is reversed.

Since it began functioning autonomously in April 1996 the CGR has carried out nearly 500 audits, of which the Attorney General has acted on nine. Comptroller General Agustín Jarquín, who, along with Deputy Comptroler Claudia Frixione, was appointed by the National Assembly for a six-year term, has uncovered practices involving the use of state resources for the private use of President Alemán and his family.

Jarquín also held the head of the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources responsible for reducing the Supreme Court’s fine of Solcarsa (a Korean lumber company) for its deforestation in the Bosáwas Biological Reserve, and demanded public utilities use the bidding process in awarding work to various companies.

The Comptroller also nullified the privatization of a state-owned bank (BANIC) on the basis of serious irregularities. In the BANIC case, the majority of those implicated are members of President Alemán’s closest circle. For their part, the implicated officials rejected all charges and the foreign bankers now in control of BANIC (including Hamilton Bank of Miami) announced that they would sue the Comptroller’s office.

Attacking Jarquín and CGR

Early in 1999, too, Jarquín launched an investigation into the personal and family holdings of President Alemán, whose personal wealth must be reported by law; Alemán refused to cooperate although he has stated his wealth has increased from 9.5 million cordobas in 1997 to 15.4 million this year.

Alemán has publicly regarded Jarquín as his “adversary” since the CGR’s investigation of the “narcojet” scandal that came to light in April 1998.

A luxury model jet stolen from Florida in late 1997 was given to Alemán as his presidential jet. When it was searched four months after its arrival, after having made extensive trips within and outside of Nicaragua (carrying high government officials in some cases), cocaine particles of recent vintage were found.

That September, Jarquín named three high government officials who allegedly had some responsibility — all were close to Alemán. At that point President Alemán went on the offensive, accusing the Comptroller’s office of “mismanagement.”

By March 1999, as it became clear that Alem<160>n was determined to use any means to imprison Jarquín and strip him of his moral high ground, radical Sandinista William Grigsby — on his late-night program “Sin Fronteras” on Radio La Primerísima — called for a demonstration in opposition to governmental corruption and in support of the work of the CGR.

The word spread and within a week a march of 15,000 was organized. Unlike many demonstrations of previous years this was not organized by a party, but represented a grassroots movement. Although a commentator identified with the Sandinista radical wing first issued the call, a wide spectrum of parties and tendencies opposed to the government’s corruption joined together with individuals.

Where was the FSLN as a party? Tragically, not in the forefront.

As 1999 drew to a close Alemán was able to put together a case: TV news commentator Danilo Lacayo and Agustín Jarquín were apprehended by the National Police and jailed for “fraud against the state.”

Lacayo had used a false identity when contracted by the CGR to do freelance publicity and investigative journalism. The case is murky: Néster Abaunza, the former CGR employee who negotiated the contract with Lacayo, is also the individual who blew the whistle. The state in any case had suffered no loss as a result of this action — unlike the activities of the top government officials whom the Comptroller has accused with abundant evidence of having stolen state funds or driven state-owned banks into bankruptcy. But in none of these cases were the officials jailed, and all are still at their posts.

After serving forty-four days, Jarquín was released from prison last Christmas eve, when the Appeals Court dismissed the charges against him. Of course the attorney general’s office has filed a post-judgment request to reverse the decision and the National Assembly’s Anti-Corruption Commission ordered a CGR audit.

Rumored Pact Becomes Reality

On August 17th the long rumored pact between Aleman’s Constitutionalist Liberal Party (PLC) and the FSLN was announced. The two parties came to thirty-three agreements; most have subsequently been written into law.

Legislative candidates will be elected from slates, whose lineup is determined by parties (thus insuring that no dissidents will run on the FSLN slate). Municipal Electoral Councils will be created and their presidents and vice presidents will alternate between the two parties (as is already the case in Departmental Electoral Councils and all polling places).

Independent candidates who were able to get on the ballot through local petition will no longer be allowed in municipal elections. Parties — except for the Atlantic Coast regions — must be national. A party can only receive legal standing when it presents a list of signatures equivalent to at least 3% of the last electoral roll.

Parties that decide to create an electoral alliance will lose their own legal status if the alliance does not win a certain percentage of votes. Thus the accords go a long way toward consolidating a two-party system.

The pact also established that when leaving office the president automatically assumes a seat in the National Assembly, and thereby continues parliamentary immunity. For their own separate reasons Alemán and Ortega fear losing their immunity and being taken to court. Thus the pact includes the proviso that a president’s immunity could only be suspended by a vote of two-thirds of the National Assembly.

The pact also proposed considering the division of Managua into several municipalities. Since an electoral defeat in Managua would have a serious impact on a political party in the upcoming presidential elections, the division would have the advantage of splitting the cost of the defeat as well as generating a greater bureaucracy. Subsequently the National Assembly divided Managua into three.

Additional structural changes to state institutions were agreed upon, affecting in particular the Supreme Electoral Council (CSE), the Office of Comptroller General (CGR) and an expanded Supreme Court.

The arrangements were crafted to grant Daniel Ortega the early dismissal of CSE President Rosa Marina Zelaya that he sought, while Alemán has been able to effectively remove Jarquín as head of the CGR, putting an end to inconvenient investigations.

The pact also agreed to modify the current Constitution’s Preamble in the next constituent assembly, although when that was to occur was not spelled out. Since then President Alemán has proposed to dissolve the National Assembly and cancel the November municipal elections as well as next year’s presidential election, in favor of electing a constituent assembly that would serve two years and write a new constitution.

The new constitution could allow presidential succession, or the two-year period might be the “legal parenthesis” that would provide Alem<160>n the technical cover to run again for president. Although Daniel Ortega has rejected the Alemán’s call “in its present form,” he has left the door open for further negotiation.

The Sandinista Assembly ratified all the pact agreements twelve days after they were publicly announced. Although one-third of the 150 present abstained on this or that vote, only eighteen were opposed, including five FSLN representatives to the National Assembly. Daniel Ortega called upon them to vote with “discipline” when the agreements come before the National Assembly as new and reformed laws.

Following the Pact

In a three-hour session on January 18, 2000 reforms to the Constitution and the Electoral Law were voted into law by seventy out of the ninety-three representatives to the National Assembly. Only four members of the FSLN — Mónica Baltodano, Carlos Fonseca Terán, José González and Angelita Ríos — voted against them.

The reformed Constitution went into effect the following day and the new Electoral Law five days later. Most were a codification of the PLC-FSLN pact.

On February 1 the National Assembly elected two additional Supreme Electoral Council magistrates, Emmet Lang from the FSLN and Silvio Américo Calderón of the PLC. (As a Liberal legislator and chair of the findings committee Calderón had recently been involved in using his office to lobby for a new telecommunications and postal services law, yet he was elected with both the votes of his party and of the FSLN.)

Three days later CSE President Zelaya was relieved of her post by five DSE magistrates to two. Roberto Rivas, who had been elected to the CSE with Cardinal Obando’s backing shortly before the 1996 elections, has replaced her.

On January 19 the National Assembly elected four new comptrollers to the Office of Comptroller General: former deputy foreign minister Guillermo Argüello Poessy, former presidential adviser Francisco Ramírez and accountant Juan Gutiérrez were elected for the Liberals, with psychiatrist José Pasos Marcíaq for the Sandinistas. The additional cost for this reorganization is estimated at $700,000 a year but even more importantly, investigations will be submitted to the vote of the “majority.”

The next day Argüello Poessy was elected president of the council for the first year, displacing Jarquín. In his first declaration the newly elected president (who served as a judge during the Somoza period) defended an audit ordered by the National Assembly to investigate Jarquín’s past management of the CGR.

Since the order had been issued in an irregular manner (without following the appropriate legal procedures for selecting and hiring auditors), this looks more like a setup to attack Jarquín than an impartial report.

Alemán has announced that he will present his declaration of goods to the new reformed CGR, due to his confidence in it, and they have since declared that investigating President Alemán’s holdings is not a priority issue. Agustin Jarquín has called for a referendum on the constitutional amendments, and Nicaragua’s civic organizations have begun collecting the 50,000 signatures necessary.

Explaining the Pact

Alemán presents the pact as necessary in order for “good governance.” He encourages the population to believe he has twisted the arm of the FSLN to make they give up their street barricades/strikes.

Alemán thus offers the pact up as the necessary price that needed to be paid for peace. Therefore he can both have an agreement with the FSLN and yet continue to maintain an anti-Sandinista rhetoric.

When Daniel Ortega speaks of “good governance” he means something very different. He speaks of how the FSLN has gotten “institutional space” to be seen as a second political force. The pact is therefore a necessary device to winning the next elections and returning to power. People are to dream about how Nicaragua would be again, with work (today 45% of the population is officially unemployed), free health care and education, but without war.

Both these two visions obscure the reality of today’s Nicaragua. In the process of negotiating the pact the FSLN, as a party, abstained on the concrete fights that were unfolding. The FSLN helped the Liberals negotiate aid packages with international agencies, but there is little to show for the money but increased debt.

The Sandinistas also stood aside from Jarquín’s fight against institutional corruption — partly because Jarquín was not their “friend” or comrade, and partly because FSLN members have also gained through the privatization of state property.

The internal FSLN ethics commission has not been able to handle the cases brought before it, whether the pinata in the early 1990s nor Zoilamérica Narváez’s accusations against Ortega. How then could the FSLN as an institution wage a fight against corruption?

Last July, on the twentieth anniversary of the Sandinista Revolution, Ortega challenged the 50,000 who gathered to support the FSLN negotiations. Thousands of arms, although not all, went up, showing that Daniel Ortega still drew and held the crowd.

In contrast the Sandinist Renovation Movement, primarily intellectuals who left the FSLN in the early 1990s, together with other dissident FSLN currents held a separate demonstration that drew about 1,000 — mostly intellectuals, authors, former ministers from the Sandinista government and NGO officials. As envío remarked, it was a crowd that belongs “to that middle-class sector that produces quality ideology yet has not managed to put together a leadership that attracts the Sandinista grassroots or appeals to the nation as a whole.”

What Hurricane Mitch Revealed

For Nicaragua Hurricane Mitch (October-November 1998) meant the loss of nearly 3,000 lives and the displacement of 870,000 people — nearly 20% of the country’s population. In Chinandega and León 50% were left homeless while in Matagalpa and Jinotega it was 20%.

Of the 145,000 houses affected, almost 32,000 were completely destroyed. Hurricane Mitch destroyed forty-two bridges and damaged twenty-nine more. Almost 100 health centers were toppled and another 400 damaged while 343 schools 1,6000 classrooms) were lost.

The disaster caused landslides that covered previously fertile river lowlands, led to the loss of forest cover and topsoil and contaminated 80% of the water sources. In productive terms it meant the loss of 71% of the second-cycle bean crop, 51% of the corn crop, and destruction of almost 150,000 chickens, 2.6% of the country’s cattle, 6.9% of its horses and 7.5% of its pigs.

Large-scale export production was spared because it is situated on better land, but Hurricane Mitch wiped out 70% of the food consumed by Nicaraguans.

Given the devastating disaster on the peasant zone along the Honduran border and the North Atlantic Coast in October and November 1998, an appropriate response would have been to launch a new agrarian reform, finding idle farmland, providing titles for the peasants and extending credit to rebuild production.

In addition there would have to be a massive campaign to promote sustainable development through soil conservation, reforestation, agroforest technologies, biological pest control and a restructuring of productive relations. The concentration of land ownership has led to excessive use of chemicals, mechanized farming and inappropriate use of the land and its resources.

A 1996 report released by the International Red Cross Federation revealed that between 1970 and 1994 “natural disasters” caused an average of 3,340 Nicaraguan deaths a year. Deforestation has dried up 200 rivers, contributed to the erosion of three million tons of topsoil and modified the drainage system. Without tree roots, heavy rains cause the highly unstable soil to slide, taking everything in its path. The country has lost nearly 60% of its forest cover since 1950.

Despite the fact that Nicaragua was able to obtain $1.543 billion in aid following Hurricane Mitch, reports indicate that much of the aid has been squandered by the central government through a combination of bureaucracy and corruption. For example, an Oxfam International report revealed that over half the $183 million in credits the Spanish government provided will be used to widen the Managua-Granada highway, which was not even affected by the hurricane.

The Arnoldo Alemán government’s decision to promote road infrastructure primarily benefitted companies belonging to President Alemán, his relatives and friends. Perhaps Alemán believes if he repairs the roads the market will follow, or perhaps he is only interested in lining his pocket. The result is the same.

Two other factors in the emergence of forces following Hurricane Mitch have been the work of the municipalities and a coalition of non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Although the municipalities have been bled dry of any tax collecting power, many mayors decreed a “municipal emergency,” making use of the autonomy granted them under a law passed during the Sandinista government, and plunged ahead.

The Alemán government arrogantly attempted to bypass the municipalities by first appointing Vice President Bolanos head of the National Emergency Committee (without ever declaring a national emergency), and then placing the Catholic bishops in charge of the departmental Emergency Committees (despite the fact that 30% of the country is Protestant and there is a well-developed Protestant organization CEPAD with a national network and a quarter-century of experience in channeling aid).

In fact many mayors have worked closely with the NGOS in making sure projects get launched and completed. The Alemán government did manage to channel $200,000 in emergency reconstruction loans from the World Bank to forty-eight municipalities in 1999. But the town that suffered the most from Hurricane Mitch, Posoltega continues to face the vulnerability of unresolved property issues.

A Tragedy Waiting to Happen

The Nicaraguan Institute for Territorial Studies (INETER) warned the government on Wednesday, October 28, 1998 that conditions were becoming unstable throughout Nicaragua for potential mud and landslides. The following day, Posoltega mayor Felícitas Zeledón called attention to those conditions at nearby Las Casitas volcano crater lake.

In response, President Alemán accused Zeledón of sowing panic. By noon Friday, October 30 part of the rim on Las Casita’s crater lake gave way, burying eight communities and over 2,513 inhabitants within minutes.

The Sandinista mayor first estimated 1,000 dead and called for the evacuation of the survivors. Insisting that there was no emergency, Alemán delayed the rescue brigades. As a result, some people were stuck in the mud for up to six days. Many are traumatized from having lost family members.

Without consulting the victims or the municipality, the government declared the lands most affected by the mudslide expropriated for a public memorial.

On December 9, 1998 Presidential decree 92-98 promised that those whose land was affected would be compensated. But when the Ministry of Finance publicized the list, the names of the former owners, who had already been compensated, and not the names of the disaster victims, appeared.

One of the biggest winners is PLC Congressman Eduardo Callejas, who was added to the Environmental Commission in January 1999. He still owns the Bella Vista coffee plantation on Las Casitas’ summit and as late as 1998 was cutting trees there. Callejas is one of the individuals most responsible for the deforesting the volcano’s slopes in the 1960s and `70s. In addition, he has been building a road up the volcano and mounted eleven telecommunication towers on top.

When a group of German legislators, seven months after the disaster, visited the area, they were shocked to discover the people of Posoltega still living in makeshift shelters. They called a press conference to accuse Alemán of hypocrisy.

Following this public exposure, the NGOs went to Posoltega to help. It took them two months to work through the needed approval with the state entity charged with analyzing risk areas, and then they found that landowners were only willing to sell their land at ten times its registered value.

But while the problem of housing has been almost resolved, the issue of where the people of Posoltega will farm is an open question. Since the end of 1998 many families have been occupying the El Tanque state farm. They are negotiating with farmworkers to buy enough land to farm, in exchange for which they would support the farmworkers’ demand that the government award them definitive titles for additional acres.

Other displaced hurricane victims from Posoltego travel daily from the refugee centers to farm on the slopes of Las Casitas. They know the danger of mudslides continue to exist, but they see the land as fertile and have no other options.

While at least the Posoltego community has friends in the German legislature who continue to follow their case, most other communities lack such access to publicity. Yet even in Posoltego, where U.S. President Clinton paid a visit last spring, land titles have not been resolved.

By the end of the 1999 rainy season Nicaragua once again found its rivers overflowing, cutting off entire areas of the country. Although the storms were not nearly the magnitude of Hurricane Mitch, the damage was greater. Many bridges that had been shoddily rebuilt after the hurricane collapsed and superficially repaired roads were washed away.

Nearly 100,000 people, many victimized by Hurricane Mitch, were once again affected. The Nicaraguan Union of Farmers and Ranchers (UNAG) calculated that 35% of the corn, bean and rice crops were lost.

According to United Nations Development Program disaster specialist Angeles Arena, damages caused by disasters in Nicaragua have multiplied nine times between the 1960s and Hurricane Mitch. “Mitch has increased vulnerability to new disasters: there is now a greater possibility that new channels will get diverted, that the old ones will get blocked up, forcing the water to find other routes.”

Gaining HIPC Status & “Debt Forgiveness”

Last September 16 the Nicaraguan government announced that the country has met the requirements to be considered, by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, as one of the Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC). But the only debt relief Nicaragua has received as a result of receiving this status is a rescheduling of its debt payments. Over the next three years Nicaragua must fulfill a series of conditions; only then will 80% of the bilateral debt to the Paris Club countries (the wealthy nations) be pardoned.

One condition is to convince all the other bilateral creditors to extend the same “deal” as the Paris Club. In most cases Nicaragua has not even paid interest to those creditors, let alone renegotiated the debt.

The second condition is to continue a structural adjustment program. Health care and public housing budgets have been slashed and a variety of educational fees have been introduced in public school.

On the income side, tax collection has become more effective but it is an extremely regressive system. Eighty-five percent of all taxes collected are a point-of-sale general sales tax of 15%. Even half of all the products in a basket of basic goods are taxable.

On October 30, 1998 (the date from which all debt relief will be calculated) the Nicaraguan debt stood at $6.27 billion. Eighty percent of the Paris Club’s portion amounts to $1.2 billion — less than 20% of the total debt.

Another 30% of the Nicaraguan debt is multilateral, that is, contracted through financial institutions such as the World Bank, the IMF the Inter-American Development Bank and the Central American Bank for Economic Integration. This $2.68 billion debt can’t be pardoned through the HIPC program. In fact, it can’t even be renegotiated until after another six years of structural adjustment within Nicaragua.

How much does Nicaragua pay each year to service its debt? Between 1991-97 it paid an average of $210 million; in 1998 and 1999 it paid out $332.5 million. Because of the soft loans it has received, debt service will rise dramatically in the 2002-09 period to an annual average of $387 million.

According to the IMF, following the pardon Nicaragua will have a $4.92 billion debt that will balloon to $5.91 billion within six years. By the IMF’s yardstick, measuring debt in relationship to exports, Nicaragua does not have a sustainable debt level and will not have one, even under optimal conditions, for a decade.

In Nicaragua today unemployment stands at 45% and over half of all population earns less than a dollar a day. Teachers, for example, earn $56 a month. But the estimate for a monthly “basic food basket” covering a family of four now stands at $150. Fully 50% of the grain producers don’t produce for the market. Clearly in such an economy the majority of the population must consume all of its income to survive another day.

Since the Liberal government took office, water rates have increased 121%, electricity 52%, local phone calls 173%. Over the last year industry registered zero growth while production costs increased by 55%.

One might wonder what happened to the worker self-management enterprises and cooperatives that began with such promise? Without access to credit it is difficult to survive. According to Sandinista sociologist Orlando Núñez over 2.5 million acres of agrarian reform land have passed into the hands of “nouveau riche” Nicaraguans (of all political stripes), Salvadorans, Guatemalans and Panamanians.

Only about 850,000 acres remain to be appropriated to complete the return to the pre-revolutionary system of absentee property owners. The new Property Law reform will facilitate their titling and pave the way for the transfer.

What Remains of Sandinism?

Over the past year the FSLN has fragmented into three sectors:

First is the business sector that scrambled to pick up the spoils in the various “piñatas” of the 1990s. Humberto Ortega is its most articulate spokesperson.

Second is a sizable and growing sector of militants who have been deeply disturbed not only by the pact but by the abstention from political struggles consummating the pact has required. This was true around the fight against corruption Jarquín waged and it was sharply posed during the debate over privatizing the social security system. When the unpopular bill was on the National Assembly floor for a vote, the bulk of the FSLN legislators were absent.

Third is a Sandinista Left, identified with the four FSLN representatives in the National Assembly voting against the pact. They say Somocismo has been fully restored as a political force, as economic capital and as a “value” in society.

They opposed the pact from the beginning as a co-optation scheme in which the FSLN’s political leaders have joined the neoliberals. They see that some of the party’s historic leaders — led by Daniel Ortega, Tomas Borge and Bayardo Arce — have moved the FSLN to the right. As a consequence they are opposed to Daniel Ortega’s presidential candidacy in 2001.

This grouping acknowledges that the FSLN has not been able to propose, design, develop or build a model of society that would attract people to an alternative to capitalism. Active in grassroots organizations, they seek to unite and reenergize like-minded Sandinistas within and outside the party, but they are still primarily focused on winning the majority of the party.

In addition to the four National Assembly representatives, their leaders include Orlando Núñez, who heads an activist rural research and development organization, CIPRES, and radio director and radical political commentator William Grigsby.

They also claim the support of 40% of the party’s current mayoral candidates, yet their stated aspiration is not to change the FSLN by changing its leadership but rather by changing it from below.

While the FSLN leadership has been open to negotiations with the Liberals, they have opposed any dialogue within the party and have attempted to strongarm and expel those who disagree. Henry Ruiz (Comandante Modesto), Joaquín Cuadra (recently retired head of the army) and Miguel Angel Casco (pastor from the Assembly of God and former FSLN National Assembly member) have all recently resigned.

Other FSLN leaders have used the departure of these valuable individuals to sharply question the pact. But Tomas Borge called Sandinistas who dissent from the official party positions “idiots.” One, the mercurial radio broadcaster Carlos Guadamuz, has been expelled.

On March 1, five days after announcing that he would run for mayor of Managua on the Camino Cristino (Christian Way) ticket, Guadamuz was sentenced to two years in jail for heading up a fight in Managua’s Munici<al Council in May 1999. The case had been dormant for months; its resurrection illustrated again how those in power use state resources in order to punish enemies and reward friends.

The other Sandinista fragment, the Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS), has initiated a new alliance, the Democratic Movement, in preparation for the 2001 elections. Open to all political and social forces, the alliance has a Sandinista cast. Its four stated objectives are:

* To reestablish the minimum conditions of democracy and democratic institutions as well as to reestablish transparency in the Supreme Electoral Council, the Office of Comptroller and the Supreme Court.

* To fight to eradicate poverty.

* To fight corruption and impunity.

* To create the right conditions for national economic growth.

The alliance refers to itself as the third way and states it is committed to democratic decision-making. Mariano Fiallos (first president of the Supreme Electoral Council), although still a member of the FSLN at the time, joined as an independent figure and has since become its Executive Secretary.

One observer commented that the alliance was the closest institution to the Group of Twelve, the heterogeneous alliance that overthrew the Somoza dictatorship more than twenty years ago. Others emphasize that Sandinismo is present in the alliance with its agenda, principles and organizational experience.

At the very least the Democratic Movement is an interesting attempt to reinvent the Sandinista project.

Survival of Activism

What is unique about Nicaragua twenty-one years after the revolution, when so many of the actual gains in health care, education and land reform have been reversed, is simply the grassroots activism and presence of a wide variety of social movements.

The women’s movement is one of the most vibrant in the Americas, particularly focusing on domestic violence and health issues. On the Atlantic Coast indigenous communities are organizing against the destructive logging concessions the Aleman government has approved and one, the Awas Tingni (a Mayagna Sumo indigenous community), will have their case heard later this year before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

Municipalities and Christian base communities are rebuilding in the aftermath of Hurricane Mitch and initiating self-help projects. The labor movement, under attack by the Alem<160>n government, factory owners and the continuing structural adjustment policies that slash already inadequate social programs, is waging a defensive battle.

The fact that at the grassroots level people are meeting, discussing, planning and learning is the first step in the process of developing an alternative to the neoliberal order.

Sources: envío, a monthly publication in English and Spanish, is published by the Central American University in Managua, is the most impressive and consistent source of information on Nicaragua. (Revista envío, Apartado A-194, Managua, Nicaragua, e-mail envio@ns.uca.edu.ni) In the United States contact the Nicaragua Network: e-mail nicanet@afgj.org.

ATC 87, July-August 2000