Past and future at stake in Nicaragua

Wednesday, October 16, 1996

By Stephen Marks

MANAGUA — In the last weeks of the election campaign, a barrage of slanders has been launched against the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) and its presidential candidate, Daniel Ortega.

Leading this effort has been the Association of Owners of Confiscated Property, an organisation of people who claim to have had their properties illegally confiscated in the 1980s and who are keen supporters of the right-wing coalition, the Liberal Alliance, and its candidate Arnoldo Alemán. Its ads try to rekindle memories of the war which racked Nicaragua in the 1980s (without mentioning the key role which the United States played in fomenting it).

The previously unknown Parents Association also has suddenly found the funds to launch an expensive advertising campaign against Ortega.

Alemán is declaring that he will form a "Truth Commission" to investigate corruption in the previous and present governments — but not his own crooked administration as mayor of Managua — and supposed human rights violations by the FSLN.

The US State Department has also butted in. Spokesperson Nicholas Burns recently claimed that Ortega was not a democrat, despite his peaceful handing over of power to Violeta Chamorro in 1990. Burns also referred to the FSLN's ties with Cuba and Libya. The US ambassador downplayed this outburst, saying that the US does not have a preferred candidate.

Humberto Belli, the Chamorro government's minister of education, on being promised the same ministry by Alemán, hurried to change the senior high school curriculum to include a history course blatantly biased against the FSLN. Although the government ordered the suspension of the offending materials, it did not stop Belli from using ministry advertisements to attack the former Sandinista government's impressive achievements in education.

Meanwhile, the creative fiction writers of the right-wing newspaper La Prensa dream up stories about "secret documents" from FSLN headquarters and offences committed by FSLN activists.

José Pasos, the head of the FSLN's International Relations Department, explained to Green Left that the FSLN was not responding to the slanders because it does not want to shift emphasis away from the themes of peace and reconciliation. These ideas have helped it peg back much of the early lead opened up by Alemán.

The theme has been enhanced by the alliance between the FSLN, a section of the former Contras and a significant group of farmers and business people. The "Triple Alliance" has demonstrated the seriousness of the FSLN's promise of a "government of all". This contrasts with Alemán's image of confrontation, revenge and authoritarianism.

In the latest of a series of commitments with representatives of broad social layers, the FSLN signed an accord with demobilised soldiers from the Sandinista years, many of whom have been left unemployed by the present government. The accord promises to facilitate their social and productive reintegration. Similar agreements have been made with producers, women, youth and the churches.

The FSLN's economic plan has been well received by business sectors. It aims to lift exports to US$2 billion by the year 2000, from the current level of US$300 million, and makes a commitment to compensate people whose properties were confiscated by the previous FSLN government.

Pasos admitted that while the FSLN has opposed privatisation, once in government it would be legally bound by certain commitments made by the outgoing government. These would include the law for the partial privatisation of the national telephone company. The proceeds from this sale would be used to finance the state bonds issued to compensate confiscated property owners.

According to Pasos, Alemán's claim that he would use these funds to finance loans for small agricultural producers is "pure demagogy" and illustrates the contradictions in his campaign. He added that Alemán has to reconcile the interests of his local financial backers with those of the Miami-based Somocistas, and with their co-thinkers, the Miami-based right-wing Cuban exiles.

The right-wing Cuban support has been given on the promise that the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua once again would be used as a base from which to invade Cuba, as it was for the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion.

Both Alemán and Ortega have been greeted by impressive crowds in their campaigning throughout the country. On October 20, Nicaraguans will not only be deciding the future of their country, but also how they view their past.