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Toni Solo: Sandino - Empire To The Rescue....

Sandino : Empire To The Rescue....

By Toni Solo

A meeting in Miami over the weekend of June 10th and 11th may well seal the outcome one way or the other of the Nicaraguan presidential election scheduled for November 5th this year. The meeting, actively coordinated by current President Enrique Bolaños, was supposed to give Nicaraguans in Miami a chance to dialogue with presidential candidates. But only three candidates were invited, Jose Rizo of the right wing Constitutional Liberal Party, Eduardo Montealegre of the right wing Alianza Nacional Liberal-Partido Conservador and Herty Lewites the centrist candidate of the Alianza Movimiento Renovador Sandinista.

In terms of defining the currently available political choices in Nicaragua the significance of this public event may be hard to overstate. The meeting cemented the already well-developed relationship between Lewites and Montealegre. It also prompted attempts by Jose Rizo to insist that the PLC was not dominated by disgraced former president Arnoldo Aleman. It remains to be seen whether the untimely death of Herty Lewites on July 2nd leads to any change in the political relationships and policies inherited by whoever may be his successor as presidential candidate for the MRS Alliance

It may not be an unfair summary of the event to conclude that it indicates a convergence of the free-market right and the social democrat centre in Nicaraguan politics. They seem to have agreed terms for an electoral pact against the FSLN should the November vote go to a second round. Neither of the left wing and nationalist candidates - Daniel Ortega of the Frente Sandinista de Liberacion Nacional-Convergencia and Eden Pastora of the Alternativa por el Cambio - were invited to the meeting.

A photo of the three US government preferred candidates, Lewites, Rizo and Montealegre published by El Nuevo Diario on June 12th shows the three men hands together all happy smiles. Lewites was reported as declaring that should the presidential vote go to a second round run-off against the FSLN-Convergencia candidate Daniel Ortega without his own candidacy his advice to supporters would be to vote for the Liberal candidate. Surpisingly, the FSLN-Convergencia have so far made little effort to exploit this declaration. Lewites sad death will inevitably create a different dynamic to what had become a somewhat predictable election campaign.

US State Department wraps it up

While the FSLN has said little, rival presidential candidate Eden Pastora and Alternativa Cristiana deputy in the National Assembly, Orlando Tardencilla, have commented sharply. Nuevo Diario of June 13th quoted Pastora challenging Henry Ruiz and Monica Baltodano, two former FSLN militants who have been key backers of the MRS Alliance campaign. Pastora was quoted asking “How does Henry explain it?...He couldn't explain the meeting with (Jean) Kirkpatrick. After that meeting Henry lowered his profile, now with this he's going to have to disappear completely. Monica, all the ones supporting a rescue of sandinismo. Are they going to rescue the Liberal Party or what is it they are going to do? Because words are one thing and the facts are another."

Further embarrassment ensued for the MRS Alliance campaign when a June 25th report in Nuevo Diario confirmed that the US quasi-non-governmental election intervention specialist, the International Republican Institute, had funded training for 5000 Movimiento de Renovacion Sandinista election officials. Herty Lewites was quoted trying to justify this saying the IRI “has a budget to train election officials, they have that money, they know how much they are going to invest to prepare the election officials of the formula of those they want to support. They told me they wanted to train my five thousand election officials, I saw no ill intent and I have no reason to say no." Categorical confirmation of official US government support for Herty Lewites and Eduardo Montealegre came with the visit of Thomas Shannon, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere affairs.

Shannon was quoted by Nuevo Diario of June 27th saying Lewites and Montealegre "represent the future of this country and the chance to open a space for all Nicaraguans." Shannon seems to concur with Monica Baltodano, former FSLN guerrilla commander who wrote in a recent article in "Rebelion" (1) that the movement she supports , the Movimiento Renovador Sandinista Alliance, "is the new political force of the left, demanding a profound change for Nicaragua and a refounding of sandinismo in order to respond to the transformation that our country needs." Sentiments that Shannon's boss, Condoleezza Rice endorses totally.

Baltodano - the MRS Alliance face for the Left

Baltodano's vehement protestations of purity of intention and political innovation look foolish given the record of talks and the now public but secretive deal between Lewites and Montealegre. The record of the former FSLN militants who left or were expelled from the FSLN looks strikingly similar to that of similar minority splinter groups from major political movements anywhere else in the world. There is the personal bile, the refusal to acknowledge political failure and the desperation to convince. Baltodano's article rehashes stale anti-FSLN propaganda from a piece she wrote last year that also appeared in Rebelión.

The obvious retort to Baltodano is to question her version of why the MRS alliance she now supports needed to be formed at all. The MRS leaders and Herty Lewites failed to make their case convincingly inside the FSLN. They were defeated and left. Now they are relying on US government money and US political approval to mount an electoral challenge clearly in alliance with the country's "free-market" right wing. Nicaragua's history is littered with such pacts and deals between self-styled principled patriots and the United States government.

Arlan Centeno – the MRS Alliance face for the uncommitted

What Lewites' eminence gris Henry Ruiz might be thinking is impossible to know since, as Pastora points out, Ruiz is keeping very quiet right now. Still, some clues might be gleaned from a piece by Arlan Centeno that appeared in Argenpress (reprinted from ALAI) shortly after Baltodano's piece in Rebelion. The similarities between the pieces are striking. Both direct themselves to an audience outside Nicaragua. Both writers argue that the FSLN has lost its way and is no longer a party opposed to neo-liberal imperialism but one that has accommodated to it.

Centeno repeats the extraordinary falsehood, characteristic of MRS supporters, that the FSLN failed to oppose effectively the Central American Free Trade Agreement despite the fact that the FSLN's entire bloc of deputies in the National Assembly voted against it. The allegation is a gross insult to FSLN deputies like Alba Palacios who fought vigorously to alert public opinion to CAFTA's likely nefarious effects. On the other hand, Centeno fails to note the total lack of effective opposition from Herty Lewites and his backers, like Ruiz, Victor Tirado, Luis Carrion, Victor Hugo Tinoco and Baltodano. How could Lewites have opposed CAFTA ? He supported it and in any case had opted to curry favour with the US government. Centeno does not tell his readers that.

This alone might raise suspicions about the curious similarity between Centeno's critique of the Nicaraguan electoral campaign and that of Monica Baltodano. But the similarities continue. Baltodano paints a picture of an anti-democratic FSLN on the basis that she and people like Victor Hugo Tinoco were frozen out. So does Centeno. Looking at Tinoco and Baltodano's support for a US-backed presidential candidate, one can now see very well why the FSLN froze them out.

Centeno mocks the fact that Ortega is the FSLN's presidential candidate for the fourth time - another standard anti-Ortega propaganda line from the MRS Alliance camp. Perhaps they think Lula da Silva should have resigned and gone home instead of making his repeated and finally successful attempts to win the presidency in Brazil. Like many other commentators, including Baltodano, Centeno wants people to think that there are more political options available to Nicaraguans now because, Centeno argues, there are now four political parties to choose from. In fact, with the Alternativa por el Cambio, there are five and all it means is that the pro-imperialist political body in Nicaragua has now sprouted a social democrat head to join the Liberal and Conservative heads it had before.

Later in his article Centeno repeats Baltodano's deprecation of FSLN campaign coordinator Rosario Murillo's penchant for emphasising a spiritual aspect in the electoral campaign of the FSLN and its allies in the Convergencia. Apart from being strange coming from someone who identifies themselves as from the Comunidades Eclesiales de Base, the criticism is wide of the mark. One of the defining characteristics of contemporary Nicaraguan society is a widespread turning to religion or spirituality for affirmation in the face of the ruthless application of savage “free market” capitalism. On that score, Murillo may well be more in touch with ordinary people than either Centeno or Baltodano.

Same content – same omissions

The suspicion that Centeno's and Baltodano's articles are part of a coordinated propaganda offensive by the MRS Alliance in the wake of the Miami meeting is borne out not just by the similarity of the criticisms but by the similarity of the omissions. An unsurprising absence in both Baltodano's articles and Centeno's is the Convergencia component of the FSLN electoral alliance. Unsurprising, because the alliance of the FSLN with leading nationalist politicians like Agustin Jarquin, Miriam Arguello, Julia Mena and Jaime Morales makes the MRS characterisation of Ortega as an intransigent tyrant look foolish. Centeno criticises the FSLN's choice of Morales as Ortega's running mate but fails to note the central theme of national reconciliation in the FSLN's campaign – as does Baltodano.

Neither Baltodano nor Centeno mention that defining meeting in Miami of June 11th where Lewites committed publicly to a deal with Montealegre should the vote go to a second round. Both writers talk about the new options available to Nicaraguan voters. Yet every single one of the politicians involved in the Nicaraguan presidential campaign has been prominent in Nicaraguan national politics for over a decade. In truth there is nothing new, except that the choices may be clearer now that MRS Alliance have defined publicly their ties to the Nicaraguan right and to the US government. Whether those ties survive Herty Lewites death remains to be seen.

The most crucial absence from the apologetics of Baltodano and Centeno for the MRS Alliance is the central motif of sandinismo – anti-imperialism. Not once in either of their articles does one find any mention of anti-imperialism – the very word has been banished from their discourse. The obvious conclusion to draw is that the anti-imperialist theme is an embarrassment to both writers given the very public support the US government is giving the MRS Alliance. On the other hand, they are full of the verbiage of US-style “democracy” and the cheap cant of “renewal”. The election in Nicaragua is the same choice it has always been since 1990, between submission to imperial domination by the United States or a vote for national sovereignty and a foreign policy prioritizing links with Latin America rather than Washington.

“Free market” satrapy or partner in solidarity?

Both Baltodano and Centeno are correct when they point out that people outside Nicaragua very likely find the current electoral campaign and the Nicaraguan national context bewildering. In part that may be because commentators like themselves choose to omit relevant information or else distort the information they offer. At least Baltodano has the honesty to acknowledge her sectarian political reasons for writing as she does. Centeno obscures his obvious party political preference for the MRS with an unconvincing gloss of would-be impartiality.

For plenty of observers of Nicaragua the current campaign is yet another reprise of Nicaragua's abiding political patterns. An established oligarchy backed by the United States government battles progressive and radical forces for social justice. The progressive and radical forces argue among themselves. A fraction splits and is co-opted by....the United States government. Everyone calls themselves “patriotic”. Sometimes the proceedings might seem superficially to resemble the colonial Nicaraguan comedic drama “the Gueguense”.

But the underlying drama is deadly serious. Is the future of Nicaragua to be decided on the imperialist terms of the United States or the solidarity terms of progressive currents in Latin America? In that sense, the FSLN continues the unequal struggle of Augusto Sandino to align Nicaragua with anti-imperialist forces throughout Latin America. The reason one does not discover that from Baltodano or from Centeno is that Sandino's vision of Latin American solidarity against US imperialism is one they seem to have abandoned. That is why they and their sympathisers outside Nicaragua analyse political options in Nicaragua on terms derived from the agenda of the United States government.

1. “El movimiento por el rescate del sandinismo”. Monica Baltodano, Rebelión 20/06/2006
2. “La novedad de estas elecciones a 4 bandas”, Arnaldo Zenteno (ALAI) Argenpress, 21/06/2006


toni solo is an activist based in Central America – contact via

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