During a visit to Cuba in
April 2009, President Daniel
Ortega said he envied the
communist island’s single party-political system and
dislikes democracy because
it “brings about division.”
“Multi-party systems are nothing more
than a form of disintegrating a nation and
dividing the people,” Ortega told Cuban state
television during his visit there.
While Ortega’s words didn’t cause too
much stir back in Nicaragua, it has since
become apparent that the president has
been using a carrot and stick approach to
prod Nicaragua towards a similar single-party
system. Opposition leaders who can
be convinced, compelled or bought outright
– such as the entire legislative bloc of the
Nicaraguan Liberal Alliance (ALN) – are
given the carrot. But those who resist the
Sandinistas’ courting get the sharp end of
Both carrot and stick were employed last
week in two separate instances that resulted
in the Sandinistas gaining greater political
control in the municipalities of Ciudad
Sandino and Granada.
In Granada, the Sandinistas dangled
the carrot in front of opposition mayor
Eulogio Mejía, who followed the promises
of government aid and financing right into
the Sandinistas’ tent. In Ciudad Sandino,
however, the Sandinistas used the police
and a questionable city council ruling to
stage a virtual coup against dissident Mayor
Roberto Somoza, a Sandinista who refused
to toe the party line.
The political agent responsible for both
party operations was Nelson Artola, an Ortega
confidant whose official title is president
of the Emergency Social Investment Fund
(FISE), the government’s main poverty-relief
Upon securing Somoza’s ouster in Ciudad
Sandino and Mejía’s defection in Granada,
Artola last week boasted that six mayors and
56 city councilmen have recently switched
parties and “embraced” Ortega’s Sandinista
National Liberation Front.
Considering municipal authorities have
been in office for less than a year and a half,
the Sandinistas’ 62-member pickup shows
just how busy Artola has been doing jobs
unrelated to development work.
The Courting of Granada
After meeting with Artola last week, Granada’s mayor apparently decided the grass is greener on the other side of the political fence. In a small event covered by Sandinista press, Mejía pledged his support to Ortega and posed for a photograph with Artola flashing the Sandinistas’ two-fingered campaign sign.
The opposition Liberal Constitutional Party (PLC), which carried Mejía as its candidate in 2008, responded to the mayor’s defection with outrage.
“(The PLC) laments the lack of ideological principles, morals and ethics of Granada’s mayor, who has joined the dictator Daniel Ortega,” reads a party release.
In an interview with Sandinista television, Mejía essentially admitted that his decision was based on economics and need, rather than political conviction.
“What I am doing as mayor is simply asking for the support of the government of Nicaragua,” Mejía said. “As the mayor of Granada, I am working for the municipality and looking for funds and resources for projects. And I have to ask whoever has the money, and that’s the central government.”
Mejía said he didn’t think the arrangement he was making with the Sandinistas was conditional.
The mayor told The Nica Times this week in an email from Germany that he “never spoke of a political alliance” with the Sandinista Front. He insists: “I am and will continue to be a Conservative. I am the same.”
Confusing State and Party
For political analyst Carlos Tünnermann of the civic group Movement for Nicaragua, the situation in Granada offers another clear example of the Ortega government’s confusion between party and state. Instead of FISE acting like a proper state agency concerned with development issues, it is being run as if it were party institution that rewards loyalty and punishes dissidence, Tünnermann said.
The analyst said the Sandinistas are using government institutions to “blackmail and bribe” the opposition into joining their party. He warns those who take the carrot that are playing a “very risky game” because “nothing is free in politics.”
Tünnermann said those who play the Sandinistas’ game could soon find themselves being used as pawns in Ortega’s “agenda to continue in power.”
Congressman Wilfredo Navarro, vice president of the PLC, told The Nica Times this week that FISE has become “a specialist in blackmail.” He said PLC mayors and city council representatives from around the country have complained that the Sandinistas are using government funds to try to buy and recruit loyalties in municipalities controlled by the opposition.
“Daniel Ortega is trying to consolidate a single party system and eliminate all dissidence,” Navarro said. “This is not a government of Nicaragua; it’s a government of the Sandinistas.”
Navarro said that the PLC is trying to secure outside funding for its mayors to make them less susceptible to the Sandinistas’ deep pockets.
Several critics have lamented that the Sandinistas’ government-funded recruitment of opposition mayors only adds insult to injury after the contested 2008 municipal elections, which were widely considered to be in violation of citizens’ democratic right to elect their leaders.
But what’s happening now shouldn’t be considered a continuation of electoral fraud, according to Roberto Courtney, of electoral watchdog group Ethics and Transparency.
“It’s a different situation now; mayors need money to do things,” Courtney said. “And mayors who made promises to get elected, can’t do what they promised without the Sandinistas.” What’s happening might not be pretty, he said, but “It’s just democracy, with all its deficiencies.”