Friday, November 10, 2006

Why Daniel Ortega is back in power and why to Remain Suspicious

Daniel Ortega

Ok, so the news that Daniel Ortega, the former Sandinista guerrilla combatant, won last Sunday presidential bid were digested easily as a learn that the democrats got back control of both houses of congress. That said, we need to explore why that Danielistas won and what are the prospects of his presidency.

There are several factors that influenced last Sunday election outcome. First and most important was the overwhelming support the Sandinistas obtained from the youth. In order to vote in Nicaragua you have to be 16 or older, so there is a big chunk of the population that did not experience the hardships of the 80’s and was eligible to vote. Youth “had it easy” -as and older guy told me- “they didn’t have to be part of the obligatory two year army service in the middle of a war and they didn’t have to harvest coffee and cotton for three months a year, eight hours a day”. They were in fact, easily persuaded by the overused, coldwared antiyanqui speech of the Sandinistas. With magnificent but undoable offers of employment, education, and other benefits, the youth selected to what their eyes was a new path, the Sandinista path. A path with not clear destination and a familiar blocks on the way to many of the older generations.

Another very important factor that influenced this election was the mess created by the liberal party in control for the past 16 years, the PLC (Partido Liberal Constitucionalista). Although two of their presidents, Violeta Chamorro and Enrique Bolaños were in fact conservative minded, the PLC must take blame for the corruption scandals and the clientelims characterized of their governments. Graft, bribery, extortion, cronyism, nepotism, and patronage were common place after the end of the Sandinista era. Predictably, at the height of all this came the Political Pact (El Pacto) signed by the Arnoldo Aleman of the PLC and Daniel Ortega of the FSNL. This power sharing agreement had among others decrees that one could be president with 35% of the popular vote as long as they maintain a 5% lead. Before the pact, the percentage needed was 40 and since Ortega only got 38% of the vote, there would have been runoff election in which he would unquestionably loss.

The U.S, as in the last two centuries of Nicaragua history, played an important and influential role in the election outcome. This time by interfering directly with the electoral process of Nicaragua’s election. This blatant and often absurd interference lead to a boomerang effect, reinforcing Ortega’s claims of American interventionsionism and rallying the youth as already mention. In the words of Tim Padget of TIME “the yanqui politicking — which included a threat to cut off U.S. aid to impoverished Nicaragua if Ortega won — backfired miserably, actually helping boost the Sandinista leader to his first-round victory. That such U.S. pressure tends to work in favor of its opponents is a lesson Washington seems woefully unable to learn in a post-Cold War Latin America whose electorates have unexpectedly turned leftward in recent years” (Read article HERE). And Mr. Padget is not alone, Marcela Sanchez, a Colombian reporter of the Washington Post, writes “Scare tactics were the wrong choice for Washington. But this was again a case of pragmatism blinded by ideology. That was evident when Rep. Dan Burton, chairman of the House International Relations Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, wrote that an Ortega victory raised the possibility that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and his ailing mentor Fidel Castro could be expanding their influence, meaning that "our enemies will be that much closer to our borders"” Read article HERE. En ESPAÑOL AQUI. However, I believe the percentage of the population that got turn off by Washington’s bad neighbour talk was miniscule as Nicaraguans have gotten used to the American ascent. This is not to say, though, that D.C’s foreign policy is antiquated, in need of a reality check, something hopefully democrats will do now they the control the congress.

Now that I’ve discussed what I see as the most important reasons for Ortega’s victory, lets look at the prospects of his presidency. First and foremost Nicaragua needs investment: after decades of war, natural disaster, and corruption is natural that the country ranks as the most food insecure and poor in continental America. So foreign currency is essential to lift the country out of poverty. Before going any forward, imagine I give you half million dollars for a tourism investment in Central America. You can choose any country as long as you maximize profits. So obviously you google all the countries trying to learn more about history, economic potential, governance, transparency, in other words business climate. It should take you less that an hour to realise that Nicaragua is a no–no. With a very recent history of expropriation (See my older post), corruption, and most important economic risk, investment in Nicaragua is a casino-like experience, is you like Vegas bring your money to Managua. Worst now that the man that was in charge of all economic chaos of the 80’s is back in power.

But where is the money coming from if is not from international investors? It won’t come from the black riches Ortega’s friend to the south sits on, or the vast agricultural and mineral exports of the others in the lefty South American wagon. Unfortunately, Nicaragua is energy dependent, lacks adequate infrastructure, and most of its land is unsuitable for productive agriculture. This raises the basic question of how to finance the large agenda of social investment without resource to access to.
For now we can only wait and see. Although Ortega may not turn out as bad as many predicted, it is almost undeniable that he will bring a climate of uncertainty: not a good weather forecast for a country with way too many political storms.
If you hate my grammar and my bias, data-lacking-right-leaning reporting, check out this article about Nicaragua’s recent news. First check out excellent World Opinion Roundup on Nicaragua’s election by Jeferson Morly of the Washington Post. Also, check out what my favourite magazine had to say The Economist-Fasten your Sit belts. The people from NicaNet had this to SAY. Finally, what the Brits had to say BBC.
From now on, I’ll finish every post with a quote: here is today’s.
There is a common tendency to ignore the poor or to develop some rationalization for the good fortune of the fortunate. John Kenneth Galbraith

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