Echoes of war haunt Nicaragua

1980s nostalgia fans should enjoy the political battle which is heating up in Nicaragua, even if the sides are more confused this time around. Hopefully, the situation will not come to armed conflict this time, but echoes of the war that rocked the country 20 years ago are being raised.

First the confusion: both the country’s biggest parties, the leftist Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) and the rightist Constitutionalist Liberal Party (PLC), have split, and candidates from the breakaway factions are the frontrunners for the 2006 presidential race. Former Managua mayor Herty Lewites, recently expelled from the FSLN, heads the list of hopefuls at 25%, according to a poll by CID-Gallup. Coming in a close second is current presidency secretary Eduardo Montealegre, who recently broke from the PLC. He is followed by former president Daniel Ortega of the FSLN. Also running is former president Arnoldo Alemán, of the PLC. Lewites was expelled from the FSLN in February. In March, the FSLN officially designated Ortega its presidential nominee. (Ortega governed from 1985 to 1990, but was a losing candidate in the 1990, 1996 and 2001 elections.) In June, Lewites and Montealegre announced the formation of a unified front during an assembly of the Conservative Party (PC). (Angus Reid Global Scan, Aug. 22)

Lewites now heads the Rescue Sandinismo party, a breakaway faction of the FSLN that opposes what it calls Ortega’s authoritarianism. Ortega and his erstwhile arch-enemy Alemán have meanwhile formed an alliance to push through a package of constitutional reforms to weaken the presidency—a move aimed at the sitting president Enrique Bolanos, who heads the breakaway faction of the PLC, Alliance for the Republic Party (APRE), following a falling-out with Alemán. So breakaway factions of both the FSLN and PLC are in alliance to oppose the original parties—which, in turn, are in alliance to oppose the breakaway parties. Just to make it more ironic, the breakaway factions—including Rescue Sandinismo, which poses itself as to the left of the FSLN—are also in alliance with the Conservative Party, which is to the right of the rightist PLC. A rather embarassingly post-ideological mess, given that this little country was one of the last frontlines of the Cold War. (See our last report on Central America.)

Against this backdrop, ratification of CAFTA in Nicaragua is still pending. The PLC and FSLN agreed on Aug. 9 to postpone debate on ratification until the parliamentary recess ends on Sept. 5. Nicaragua, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic signed the free trade agreement with the US a year ago. It has so far been approved by the congresses of the US, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, but is still pending in Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua. (Xinhua, Aug. 15)

One critic of the agreement is Nicaraguan leftist historian Aldo DĂ­az Lacayo, who accused Washington of “brazenly interfering” in Nicaragua to unite the right wing and dispute a possible FSLN victory in 2006 elections. In the history of Nicaragua, “the imperial boot has put and removed presidents; it has distorted reality to protect a servile oligarchy,” he told Cuba’s Prensa Latina. He said the Nicaraguan people have always risen up “to fight the Yankees” and added that “we are not docile servants of their hegemonistic policy.” (Prensa Latina, Aug. 20)

Miskito Indian leaders on Nicaragua’s isolated Caribbean coast have also chosen this politically sensitive moment to demand the government and the country’s independent Permanent Human Rights Commission probe claims that at least 150 of their people were killed under the FSLN regime in the 1980s.

The leaders said that the those who carried out the killings and burned houses, destroyed crops and slaughtered livestock should be prosecuted. The complaints stem from clashes between Sandinista government forces and the Indian peoples of the Caribbean coast who were trying to win greater autonomy. Disagreements escalated to armed conflict and the forced relocation of thousands of Indians. Sandinista responses grew harsher as some Miskitos joined the US-backed armed rebellion against the FSLN regime.

Former FSLN Foreign Minister Tomas Borge said the complaint was inspired by the US government to denigrate the Sandinista party ahead of the 2006 election. “Otherwise, why now after more than 20 years?” he said when contacted by the LA Times.

The Miskito leaders denied political motivation and complained in a prepared statement that “no government to this point has decided to investigate these events and the local and international human rights groups have ignored us.” One of those who filed the complaint, Mario Flores, said five of his relatives were killed by the army around Christmas 1982.

“Our demand is against the Nicaraguan army for the crime of genocide, so that justice is done and so that the relatives of the victims are compensated,” the statement said. (LAT, Aug. 18)

See our last post on Nicaragua, and our last report on the new stuggle in Central America.