MANAGUA – Trying to evoke the political energy and optimism of U.S. President Barack Obama, former Nicaraguan president and ex-convict Arnoldo Alemán says he and his Liberal Constitutional Party (PLC) are once again ready to champion the cause of change in Nicaragua “Like Obama says, ‘We are ready!” bellowed the eternally jolly Alemán.
Alemán, who in 2003 was sentenced to 20 years in prison for money laundering, was pardoned by the Supreme Court earlier this month and is now a free man.
Political observers say the court decision was politically influenced, a re-hatching of the power-sharing pacto between Alemán and Sandinista President Daniel Ortega.
In an apparent indication of a deal, Alemán’s legislative candidates supported the Sandinistas’ bid to take control of the National Assembly just two hours after their leader was granted freedom (NT, Jan. 23).
Unlike some ex-cons, Alemán appears to be adapting nicely to “life on the outside.” Though he was allowed to serve his sentence under the roomy conditions of house arrest with the freedom to move about the country.
As long as Alemán remained a prisoner of the state, however, there was always the looming threat that Ortega could yank his chain and send him back to jail if he didn’t play by the rules.
But now that he’s been pardoned, the playing field has been leveled a bit. “There’s no more blackmail, there’s no more gun to my head,” Alemán said.
“I feel more free,” he told The Nica Times this week, sitting next to the swimming pool at his wife’s family’s house in an upper-class neighborhood in Managua.
Following Alemán’s release, pundits quickly surmised that the PLC party boss, in exchange for his freedom, had agreed to support the Sandinistas’ proposed constitutional reforms to allow Ortega to remain in power and change the political system into a semiparliamentary system, which would allow the pacto to institutionalize its bipartisan rule over the country.
Alemán says that’s not the case. “It’s not true that I negotiated liberty for the National Assembly,” he said, adding that people have come to that conclusion “just because everything is politicized here.”
“Politics is not a tennis court or a ping pong table,” Alemán said, referring to criticism that that the pacto has reduced Nicaraguan politics to “give me this and I’ll give you that.”
“There are rumors that Arnoldo Alemán was obligated or had promised to provide the legislative votes needed for Ortega to reform the Constitution to allow for his re-election,” Alemán added. “But there is no obligation!”
To underscore his point, Alemán and his party this week signed an 8-point “Document of Commitment to the Nation,” which states that the PLC will not support presidential re-election, will not support to a change of the political system and will push to eliminate the embattled Supreme Electoral Council (CSE), which has lost credibility after orchestrating two fraud-plagued elections in the past two months.
Alemán, who is already publically flirting with the idea of running for president again in 2011, despite allegedly suffering from more than half a dozen chronic illnesses, says the PLC is ready to assume the role of “progressive and constructive opposition.”
“I am not stuck in the past, and I don’t worry about the future, I want to live in the present, and in the present we are ready,” Alemán said with a toothy smile. “President Obama says “We are ready,” and that’s what we say to Nicaragua: Presente!”
Despite referring to himself in the third person, and surrounding himself with yesmen who still call him “president” and “maximum leader,” Alemán pretends to be humble when asked to elaborate on his own political ambitions.
“I am a soldier in the Liberal party and I fight the Sandinista Front (FSLN). And I am ready to go where the party wants me to go,” he said. “If they want me simply as the honorary president, or if they want me on the frontlines of the battle (as president), I’ll go. Or if the next Liberal President calls on me to be minister, I could collaborate like Hillary Clinton is helping Obama.”
Defending the Pacto
It’s not easy to get Alemán to talk about his pacto with Ortega. In a 2008 interview with The Nica Times, Alemán complained that some people have “satanized” the pacto, which he credited at the time for providing the country with political stability.
This week, however, he denied that there ever was a pacto.
“There was never a pacto! Never!” he bellowed.
Alemán then went on to clarify that what exists with Ortega is a series of “agreements” to elect magistrates and to fill other politically appointed posts in the Supreme Court, CSE and other government institutions.
“How are we going to chose magistrates for the CSE or the Comptroller’s Office when neither the FSLN nor the PLC has the 56 votes necessary to do so, and no one has ever had that many votes, not in 1996 or 2001,” Alemán told The Nica Times.
The former president then went on to argue that Nicaragua needs the pacto to save it from an Ortega dictatorship.
“Nicaragua needs an accord to select candidates, or what would happen? It would be a dictatorial system, where decisions are made unilaterally, reforming the budget and authorizing the entrance of Russian war ships, and everything else,” Alemán said, referring to several controversial decrees that Ortega passed at the end of 2008.
Alemán said that a similar pacto arrangement will have to be renegotiated next year to elect new magistrates to the CSE and the Comptroller General’s office. But the PLC party boss complains that these negotiations are cast in a negative light.
When former President Enrique Bolaños made an agreement with Ortega, it was called a “national accord,” Alemán said, but “when Daniel came to look for me, it was called the pacto.”
Deal or no deal with Ortega, Alemán insists that he is back to help the PLC reassume it’s role as an opposition movement to curb Ortega’s pretensions.
“In these moments of crisis, there is also opportunity, and we are going to seize upon the opportunity against those who want to install a dictatorship,” he said.
The Ortega government, however, might not be willing to let that happen quite as Alemán has envisioned. The administration has already started threatening Alemán with new corruption charges in the event he doesn’t follow the plan and support the constitutional reforms.
“Alemán is still Ortega’s prisoner,” said opposition lawmaker Victor Hugo Tinoco. “Alemán has to support the constitutional reforms. Corruption is the only way he can maintain political power.”
‘Commitment to Nation’
1) Unify Liberals to fight totalitarianism and tyranny.
2) Approve a law to nullify the Nov. 9 municipal elections.
3) Create a new Electoral Tribunal and eliminate the CSE.
4) Create a new independent institute to handle cédula identification cards.
5) Reform electoral law to require electoral observation in future.
6) Not support constitutional reforms allowing consecutive presidential reelection, or change the political system.
7) Raise vote percentage needed to win presidential elections from 35% to 51%.
8) Promote economic and social development.