The FSLN’s Daniel Ortega comfortably won a fourth term as president in November’s elections in Nicaragua. Despite opposition claims that his government is becoming increasingly authoritarian, Ortega received more than 70% of the votes cast, while the FSLN party increased its majority in the legislative. Here, a supporter of the government working in the Nicaraguan countryside explains to Nicaragua Now magazine what he sees as the reasons for this victory.
NN: What were the factors that contributed to the FSLN and Daniel Ortega winning the elections by such a large margin?

NH: The main factor was that Nicaragua has had a strong, well organised and proactive FSLN government for the past two decades that has brought tangible benefits for the majority of people, but not just the disadvantaged, and the whole country has benefited from stability.

If you look at concrete things, there’s commitment to free education for all, so everybody feels that the government values the fact that their children should be in school, should be given a chance, and should be educated.

Celebrations in Estelí
Celebrations in Estelí

The same can be said about health. Again, a lot more needs to be  done such as  investment  in  hospitals, but to the best of their ability, the government tries to provide  good quality  health care to everyone.  In the health centres and hospitals there are notices  saying you will not be charged for any services.

This belief in a government that cares is  reinforced by the other  programmes  such as the ‘Roof Plan’ that ensures   that every family at least has a decent roof over their heads. It involves giving any family who need it ten corrugated iron sheets which is more than enough for  a small house.

Then you have production bonds  for thousands of small farmers who receive a bond worth about  US$1,000 consisting of a  pig, ten chickens, fencing, and a number of other things. As a small farmer, you feel like someone cares and wants to support you.

There’s also  a really successful women’s programme called Zero Usury. The women organise themselves into small groups and are given loans at extremely low interest rates.  The idea is to prevent them falling victim to money lenders who charge 20 per cent  interest per month. This enables women to set up small businesses such as shops in their homes, bread baking, and other such activities. So again, there’s  this real feeling that the government cares.

Another example is  public spaces that create a  secure, child friendly  environment. All across the country the central squares are  family places where people gather and there’s not this demand on you to spend money as it doesn’t  cost you anything. The main square in Leon where I live is well lit and safe and has become a real family place in the evenings.

Then of course there is what visitors notice. Every city now has roads connecting them that are second to none in Central America. Now you can get to most places in the country in two or three hours whereas 15 years ago it would have taken five or six.

NN: Why did the opposition parties perform so badly?

NH: The opposition was weak and divided and did not present any viable alternative. The right wing campaigns have always been based on fear: [a vote for the Sandinistas will mean] that rationing and war will return, that there will be no investment. This largely worked for many years, but in this election they didn’t even bother running a scare campaign. The truth is people trust the Sandinista leadership to do what they say they’re going to do, and this is the credibility Daniel Ortega has built up over all these years.

NN: Nicaragua is perceived in the western mainstream media as veering towards dictatorship, and Daniel Ortega as an autocratic leader. Does the reality in the country reflect that at all?

NH: Anti Sandinistas are still a reasonable percentage of the population who, along with the US State Department, will never be happy with an FSLN government. Any Sandinista successes become a threat to those who don’t want a successful left wing government to become a good example for the region. However, the old arguments have fallen apart:  Nicaragua is now one of the most peaceful, least corrupt countries in the region, and a good place to do business. The new arguments  are political.

If you want to interpret strong government and proactive participation of many people as authoritarian, then that’s an interpretation you can make.  Enemies of the revolution  will argue that Nicaragua is not a ‘satisfactory democracy’.  However, the elections  were incredibly participatory. The right wing has always participated with similar desire and passion, and similar hopes and fears as the Sandinistas. But these elections were marked by a completely different feeling because the  opposition was completely demoralised and disorganised.  That did affect the turnout  which was about ten percent less than previous elections  but still high at 68 percent. The  right wing and the opposition knew they weren’t going to win as their anti-FSLN discourse has been deconstructed.

The poor and disadvantaged are of course concerned about the connections between the government and business, but in general people understand that the country has to develop and you can’t do this without business and investment.

NN: On the pretext of the Nicaraguan elections being flawed, on 21 September, the US House of Representatives approved the NICA Act which would prevent Nicaraguan access to international loans. What would the consequences be for Nicaragua if the Trump administration approves this legislation?

FSLN Supporters celebrate victory
FSLN Supporters celebrate victory

NH: The consequences would  be terrible because it would not only block international loans from the World Bank  and other international lending institutions but also anywhere else that the US has influence. It’s very worrying that  the US is again wielding this interventionist sword to deny Nicaragua access to finance after the country  has come  through a war and is achieving reconciliation of  a very divided nation. We should not forget that the Nicaraguan contra war was caused by US  interventionism. The NICA Act  was  announced before the elections when the Sandinistas had over 60% in the polls. To talk about an election being undemocratic when you know the majority of the people support the government doesn’t make any sense.

NN: Why was Nicaragua so opposed to having international observers monitor the election?

NH: Foreign observers have never had a positive impact on Nicaragua’s elections. Despite widespread accusations of fraud including thousands of ballot papers found in the sewers of Matagalpa, a mission led by ex US president Jimmy Carter validated the 1996 elections  won by right wing candidate Arnoldo Aleman. This left the country in absolute turmoil.  We know the US does not appreciate a successful left-wing government especially when they win democratic elections by a large majority.  Knowing Nicaraguan history and US involvement one wonders what the US backed election observers wanted to come here to do? Nicaraguans are perfectly capable of running their own elections just as we do in the UK and as is the case in the US.

NN: What are the hopes and fears for the future?

NH: The biggest concern  is that the ugly head of external interventionism will rise up again and force Nicaragua back into crisis. The hope of the majority that voted in these elections is that the Sandinistas continue to lead the country to prosperity, continue to scale up programmes for the disadvantaged and provide them with opportunities to prosper.

Further information:

www.nicaraguasc.org.uk, www.nscag.org

www.etico.net

Photo caption: Celebrating the Sandinista election victory in Estelí     Credit: Steve Lewis

 

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