By Pip Hinman
Against a backdrop of increasing economic and political instability, Nicaragua's largest party, the Sandinista National Liberation Front, held its first congress in Managua beginning on July 19.
The three-day congress (sessions of which continued well into the early morning) was the culmination of months of regional discussions about the party's political strategy, program and statutes.
More than 300 international observers and guests attended, including Luis "Lula" Ignacio da Silva, president of the Brazilian Workers Party, and Joaquin Villalobos, a member of the general command of the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front of El Salvador.
Since the FSLN's electoral defeat in February 1990, the party has been debating its future. There was much speculation that the first congress would announce the conversion of the party into a Social Democratic parliamentary party. This did not happen.
According to newly elected member of the Sandinista National Directorate Rene Nunez, the meeting reaffirmed the revolutionary nature of the FSLN, albeit in new circumstances.
The main functions of the Carlos Nunez Telez congress, named in honour of a Sandinista leader who died last year of cancer, were to modify and vote on two documents — the party statues and the Principals and Program of the FSLN — and to elect the National Directorate, the Sandinista Assembly and the Ethics Commission.
Five hundred and one delegates, elected from regional and local meetings, took part in the discussions on the various documents. According to Allen Jennings, a member of the Australian-based Committee in Solidarity with Latin America and the Caribbean who observed the proceedings, this meant that sessions proceeded very slowly.
"Each delegate came to the congress with suggestions from his/her base organisation and departmental congress. Initially the discussion was done sentence by sentence, but by the third day they were debating chapter by chapter because of the time it consumed. Much of this work was done in separate commissions, but even in the final plenary sessions there were substantial debates and changes made."
In the closed session on July 18, much of the time was spent
discussing the appropriate method of electing the National Directorate, the body which directs the day-to-day activity of the party.
Former Nicaraguan president and newly elected general secretary of the FSLN Daniel Ortega presented a slate made up of former National Directorate members and two additions (Rene Nunez and Sergio Ramirez). Ortega argued that, in the present political context, the party's unity and leadership continuity were crucial and that voting for individuals, as many delegates from the Sandinista Youth demanded, would risk fragmenting the party.
After voting four to one in favour of the slate method, the meeting agreed that at future congresses (every four years), the National Directorate would be elected on an individual basis.
The other major issue concerning the National Directorate was the fact that it does not include any women. In the lead-up to the congress, Dora Maria Tellez, a respected FSLN leader, was widely expected to succumb to a campaign for her to nominate. She didn't, and in an interview in the August edition of Barricada Internacional, Tellez said that the party needed to re-evaluate its work with women and develop a policy which pushes for their greater participation in leadership bodies.
The "ineffectiveness" of the party's past record on work with women was understandable, she said. "The war prevented us from concentrating on their specific demands."
If women are to be more than tokens in any leadership body, Tellez said, consciousness about women's specific problems has to be taken up by the party as a whole. The FSLN has to push for women's participation and recognition on leadership bodies. Otherwise, Tellez warned, the FSLN will end up like the Soviet Communist Party, with very few women in leading positions. Only 17.5% of the congress delegates were women.
Voting for the Sandinista Assembly, the party's major decision-making body between congresses, which had previously been appointed by the National Directorate, proceeded on an individual basis. Ninety-eight people were elected from among the delegates, two-thirds of them new members of the Assembly.
The FSLN's main projections were to defend the gains of the revolution (particularly the agrarian reforms), to re-establish links with small farmers and small business people, to work for national stability and to campaign to win the next elections. The congress also resolved to support Cuba's right to self-determination, to promote regional cooperation on economic issues and the debt problem and to support an international conference on the Middle East with PLO participation.