Institutional crisis and
“role playing”


Nearly a year into his new term as President of the Republic, Daniel Ortega faces a brutal institutional crisis involving the main branches of government, which is shaking up the country.


Inauguration of the CPC


Immediately upon taking office in the presidency he had lost to Violeta Barrios de Chamorro in the 1990 electoral defeat of the FSLN, Ortega imposed a fast-paced process of restructure of the Executive Branch, creating the Citizenship Power Councils (CPCs) through a Presidential Decree.


To Ortega and the Frente Sandinista, the CPCs are territorial structures of citizen participation, open to everyone and designed to lead the country towards the “direct democracy” and “popular power” of the “Presidency of the People.”


Basically this would involve the development of public policies through the direct participation of the organized people, with government authorities discussing investment plans with the population.


According to this conception, which in part recalls the early Sandinista experience of the Sandinista Defense Committees (CDSs) of the 1980s, the new structures would manage government projects and part of the funds to finance and carry them out.

Rosario Murillo and Daniel Ortega


In order to achieve all of this, President Ortega reformed Law No. 290 – the “Executive Branch Organization, Competencies and Procedures Act”-, appointing his wife as CPC coordinator. Ortega’s wife, Rosario Murillo, also coordinator of the Communication and Citizenship Council (CCC), is a multifaceted figure that unquestionably changed the image of the First Lady traditionally held by Nicaraguans.


For the parliamentary opposition, formed by the two factions of the liberal right (the ALN of Eduardo Montealegre, and the PLC of former president Arnoldo Alemán, who is currently serving a 20-year prison sentence for numerous offenses, but is still the leader of the party), and the MRS Alliance, the CPCs represent an instrument in the hands of the Ortega family and the FSLN to create parallel institutional structures, controlled by the red-and-black party, with the aim of taking away the instances of popular participation already established by the Constitution and the Citizen Participation Act.


For the legislative representatives of these political parties, joined by wide sectors of the self-proclaimed “civil society,” who in recent years have appropriated the concept of “citizen participation,” and are also benefiting from funding provided by international agencies for the implementation of policies in the territories, the fear is that a partisan power structure will be created, controlling the institutions and funds of the various projects. In the opposition’s view, Ortega’s government does not want to give any more power to the people, and instead seeks to control the people through a structure distributed in the territories, and with the power to dominate the institutions.


Minority government 

Daniel Ortega


There is a key element in all of this: Daniel Ortega is governing after having obtained the lowest percentage of his four attempts to regain the Presidency, and his victory was only made possible due to the rupture of the liberal right, which split the vote of the majority of Nicaraguans. As a result, the Frente Sandinista is currently a minority in the National Assembly, with only 38 of the 91 representatives.


With the constitutional reforms of 1995 and 2000, there was a slow but gradual transfer of power from the Executive to the Legislative Branch. As of the 2005 reforms (currently on hold until January 2008 by a Framework Act, a primary law that reeks of unconstitutionality and sets a very dangerous precedent for the future), congress was given the power to ratify or reject the cabinet members and diplomatic staff appointed by the President of the Republic.


It is obvious that to advance his projects President Ortega needs to maintain an atmosphere of cooperation and dialogue with the National Assembly and, in particular, with the PLC of Arnoldo Alemán, whose 20-year sentence was recently confirmed by the Court of Appeals of Managua (TAM), leaving open the possibility of transferring the former president to the “Model” prison of Tipitapa. 

Arnoldo Alemán and his wife


In short, the FSLN still sees Arnoldo Alemán as an ace up its sleeve, something it can use against the PLC to force it to act as an “occasional ally” in the Assembly and prevent the right from reuniting for the 2008 municipal elections. There is no certainty that the Liberal-Sandinista Pact -as it is called by the government’s opposition- will continue to exist, as the liberal base and the legislative representatives of the two parties are showing clear signs of wanting to rid the Party of the personal problems of the liberal leader.


The crisis worsens


As the government speeds up the process of institutionalization of the CPCs, the legislative opposition -backed by the vast majority of the media, which is challenging the government by doubling the stakes- has decided to push a new reform of Law No. 290, modifying certain articles that would take away the President’s “power to use Executive Decrees to create Councils as part of the structure of the Executive Branch.” This would mean that the CPCs would exist only as party bodies, with no institutional capacity. To achieve this, Congress passed Law No. 630, but it was vetoed by Ortega and sent back to the Assembly.


This action set off a true struggle between the two branches for the final approval or elimination of this law. All of the representatives of the opposition (52) joined together to lift the presidential veto, thus making the approval of Law No. 630 final, and the Head of the National Assembly’s Governing Board, the Sandinista René Núñez, was instructed to send the text of the law to the Official Gazette for publication.

In the opposition’s view, Ortega’s government does not want to give any more power to the people, it only seeks to control it


In less than 24 hours, CPC members had filed an Amparo Action in the Second Civil Court of Appeals of Managua (TAM), which is controlled by pro FSLN judges and justices. The Court issued an order preventing Núñez from publishing Law No. 630, pending the Supreme Court of Justice’s (CSJ) decision on the alleged unconstitutionality of the law, as it would go against the Executive’s constitutional right to organize itself.


But Ortega went one step further, and on November 30, at a massive rally in the Revolution Square, he reissued three decrees whereby he created the CPCs again, along with a National Citizenship Power Cabinet, which he included in the National Economic and Social Planning Council (CONPES), appointing his wife, Rosario Murillo, as its Secretary.


“Congress insists on stripping the Executive of its powers, and that goes against the Constitution and the separation of powers of the State. We can continue like this, because I am still going to reinstate the CPCs through presidential decrees. Their efforts would be better invested if they started working on approving laws that are more pressing for the country, and if they passed the National General Budget,” Ortega declared in front of dozens of thousands of CPC activists.


A few days after this new stage in the confrontation between the branches of government, a small group of pro Sandinista justices of the Supreme Court (CSJ) ruled in favor of the unconstitutionality of Law No. 630, generating a violent reaction from the opposition in the National Assembly, which led it to stop all parliamentary activity and form a “Bloc Against the Dictatorship.”  

Bloc Against the Dictatorship


The goal of this group is to reestablish the legality and autonomy of the Legislative and Judicial branches, and to call on the population to reject what they see as the beginning of a new dictatorship in Nicaragua.


In addition to paralyzing Parliament, they have decided to take their protest to an international level, and are considering the possibility of invoking the Inter-American Democratic Charter of the OAS and reforming the National General Budget presented by the Executive, cutting the funding for all the government projects managed by the CPCs, such as “Zero Hunger,” “Zero Usury.” These projects are aimed at the most impoverished sectors of the population and have received high recognition in both national and international spheres.


What does the future hold in store?


The crisis has undoubtedly worsened, but in the past Nicaragua has always come up with sudden solutions, which seem more like a sort of “role playing,” a theatrical performance where each actor plays out a role according to a script supposedly designed to change everything, but in the end changing nothing at all. That, however, is not what the country needs.

“The 2008 electoral battle will give us a chance to publicly debate the two projects that exist in the country: capitalism and revolution.”


We must take full advantage of this new opportunity that part of the population has decided to give Ortega. Not just with the aim of improving the administration of a system firmly rooted in the neoliberal vision of society and the neoliberal way of running society, but also with the aim of changing that system.


Despite the many contradictions (it’s hard to ignore the alliance between the FSLN and the churches, which has led to the definite penalization of therapeutic abortions in Nicaragua, or the political manipulation of the Judicial and Electoral bodies, or the virtual disappearance of the Party as a structure that should condition the activities of the President and his government), we must admit that there has been an attempt to steer the country down a different path, away from the past. But that is not enough.


What are the people to do? According to the head of the radio station “La Primerisima,” William Grigsby, “The upcoming 2008 electoral battle will not just be about winning or losing in Managua, or about winning or losing in the Department centers, or regaining or losing the 86 municipalities held today. It’s much more than that! It will be a referendum on how the country should be governed. It will be an opportunity to further the people’s revolutionary conscience. It will give us a chance to publicly debate the two projects that exist in the country: capitalism and revolution.”


“The Right and the Yankees know -Grigsby continued in his program ‘Without Borders’- that to succeed ideologically they must win politically and in the elections, and for that they must weaken and wear out the Frente Sandinista as an ideological and political instrument of the people. That’s why they are coming at us full force. Full force. And what should we do? Are we just going to stand back like spectators? Or are we going to suddenly embrace, with the emergence of party democracy, one of these positions? It has now become strategically important to defend the Frente Sandinista as a political instrument. Perhaps at one point it may have become useless as a tool for forging the revolution, but right now it can and must become that instrument, and we must defend it.


We have to recover its institutional character, we must bring back its debates, its assemblies and discussions and, above all, we must train its leaders, both ideologically and politically, specially its youngest leaders. There is a lack of solid political leaders with ideological strength and with a vocational inclination to serve the people. We don’t have such leaders. It’s what we’re lacking. They’re in short supply.


Do we really want to save the Frente Sandinista from the onslaught of the right? Let’s recover all those structures, by involving the people, not by driving them away by decree. Involving, submitting everything to debate, no matter what the outcome. With faith in the conscience of the people. With faith in the strength of the people. Unleashing the creativity of the people. I think that is the best way to defend the Frente Sandinista as an instrument,” Grigsby concluded.


En Managua, Giorgio Trucchi


19 de diciembre de 2007





Fotos: Giorgio Trucchi



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