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Nicaragua Real Estateemocracy On the Rise

By: Julio C. Lacayo Gurdian
Part owner of Aurora Beachfront Realty

Nicaragua is a nation with a rich 500-year history; Granada was the first city established in all of the Americas. However, the history of democratic, representative government is much shorter. Repression and exploitation characterized the early years under Spanish rule. First came the conquistadors, then the caudillos, all of whom ruled by force with no agenda but self-enrichment.

Independence from Spain brought the first steps towards representative rule, but civil war, factionalism and infighting fueled by the legacy of greed thwarted successive governments. The 20th century saw a right-wing dictatorship overthrown by left-wing revolution, then more fratricidal combat. It was ended by free elections, which carried the hope of the birth of true democracy. The current threat to nascent democratic rule is commonly called El Pacto.

In 2000, using the loyalty of diputados (congressmen) in the National Assembly, Aleman and Ortega began brokering a deal –El Pacto- that would help secure their political ambitions.  The negotiations were two-fold; Aleman was given a congressional seat with immunity from prosecution from any charges of corruption linked to well documented laundering of funds originating from Nicaragua’s public coffers while Ortega would secure his future democratic aspirations by changing the electoral law to 35% vote instead of 45% vote. This could help him win the next presidential election.  This pact has hampered the consolidation of democratic institutions that have been in early development stages since the fall of the Sandinista dictatorship in 1990. “El pacto” confirms that under the leadership of these two strongmen, political parties are willing to negotiate democracy away in exchange for political power.

Threats to remove current President Enrique Bolanos from office have been ongoing for two years. These threats were concocted by political strongmen Daniel Ortega and Arnoldo Aleman, respective leaders of the two major Nicaraguan political parties, the FSLN and PLC.  The objective behind the past political crisis was clear.  Both Aleman and Ortega wanted to show Nicaragua that without their consent government initiatives are powerless. Put on hold are many worthwhile projects (Dry Canal & Cafta) so that the next government could claim the credit. 

The problems created by this last political crisis were further agitated by the fact that representatives within the National Assembly hardly represent the interest of citizens.  Because diputados are not chosen by a direct vote but by their party, they owe their loyalty to their respective party leaders.  So as of last elections all votes that went towards choosing a diputados were actually lost to the political desires of respective party leaders.  Furthermore, pervasive unemployment in Nicaragua creates pressure on government officials like diputados to defend their jobs at all costs. Meanwhile the judicial system has continued to forge ties with political parties creating a complicated web of corruption and nepotism among supposed lawmakers and the judges, who are political appointees as well.  

The contest between the FSLN and PLC and their party leaders has existed for more than 15 years.  These forces are far more polarized than party ideologies found between Democrats and Republicans in the US.  However, ambition for power has superseded differences as both Ortega and Aleman have shown their willingness to share the spoils of government so long as they can stay in the game.

The economic implications of this can be quite serious for a young democracy such as Nicaragua. Despite recent triumphs, such as national debt pardons and a growing economy, Nicaragua continues to be at the mercy of corrupt party leaders backed by opaque legal values and weak institutional foundations. Unless a third party alternatives begins to replace all this, economic growth and social progress will remain pegged to unrepresentative forces, whose entrenched interest will continue to destabilize any type of advancement that is not to their own benefit.

The good news is that the Nicaragua’s civil society has begun to take action. In the last four months, several anti-corruption / anti- pacto demonstrations have been staged throughout the country.  On June 16  the largest peaceful demonstration in the history of Nicaragua took place on the streets of Managua. Boasting more than 70,000 people, the march called “Por Amor a Nicaragua, Unidos Contra el Pacto” (Out of love for Nicaragua, United against the Pact) made an impact on traditional politics and opened the door for true citizen participation.  Promise of a more participatory democracy has been born out of growing citizen demand for more transparent and honest government.  With this newfound citizen participation comes hope for lasting change.

Other marches are scheduled to take place throughout the country and ever- growing numbers of people are expected to join the cause.  According to coordinators, the next march is to take place 28th of August in the city of Chinandega. A second march in the capital city of Managua is also most likely going to take place before November of this year.  

With the support of citizens who repute corruption and acts like “el pacto”, the third party alternative is beginning to grow into a viable alternative for this young democracies’ constituent base.  This new third party option is looking beyond the traditional dogma of caudillo politics and is searching for honest, efficient and responsible governance. With moderates from both FSLN and PLC on board, the mission of this new political option is to look beyond winning the next election; this third party alternative is looking for a permanent change in Nicaragua’s political culture. 

With the help of citizens’ groups like “Movimiento Por Nicaragua” (Movement for Nicaragua), the third party alternative is beginning to support long terms initiatives, like primary elections.  These initiatives are designed to help alleviate well-known political shortcomings once and for all.

Democracy is on the rise in this young Central American Republic because it is what the people of Nicaragua believe in.  The power to change is the fulcrum on which true democracy stands and all indicators are that the Nicaraguan people are ready for a new face in government, one that breaks free from the pitfalls of the past.

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