(AA) ++ Nicaraguan Elections

esperanto (lingvoj@lds.co.uk)
Wed, 16 Oct 1996 15:02:11 +0200



"State regulation of the economy was justified in times of war,
but in peacetime things are different and a return of socialist
tendencies is not even contemplated." Alv=E1ro Fiallos.=20

Alv=E1ro Fiallos is perhaps the Peter Mendelson of Nicaraguan
politics. As a spin doctor it is his job to engineer an electoral
success for the Sandinistas in the October elections and it would
seem from the above that his thinking is going along Blairite lines.
It was 17 years ago now when the Sandinistas marched into power
having forced the Somozan dictatorship out of office and nearly
seven years since they were voted out of office by an electorate
that had been bled by the USA with its support of the Contra
fighters. US policy has certainly paid off. It was demonstated - in
stark terms - that those who would buck the trends of capital
would be forced to see the light and if necessary violence would be
used to ensure the correct outcome.
Today - whatever their past - the Sandinistas wish to make it
clear that they simply want power and don't want to rock the boat
in any way. Again Se=F1or Fiallos assures the world community that,
'a Sandinista government will obey the rules of the free market and
give foreign investors a warm welcome,' and continue the policies
of structural adjustement as demanded by the IMF. Further, they
have chosen a landowner, Juan Manuel Caldera, as Mr Ortega's
running mate in an attempt to overturn their image as opponents of
the private sector. Washington replies with cautious approval of
this new convert to economic liberalism, 'The US is prepared to
have a productive relationship with whatever government takes
office in 1997, as long as it is elected in free and fair elections and
then exercises power democratically,' we are told and we note well
the final phrase which will prove the operative factor if things get
out of hand.


However, these welcoming overtones from Big Brother are not
necessarily shared by the Nicaraguan electorate who are not so
happy with the Sandinistas and who seemingly see more clearly
the underlying reasons for the Sandinista hunger for power. As
they try to gain public confidence the Sandinistas are dogged by
the issue of la pinata - an allusion to the fact that during the
transition period to the Chamorra regime in 1989 the Sandinista
leadership helped themselves to a bit of dosh and some social
wealth. Jacinto Suarez - second in the resposibility ranks for
International affairs for the Sandinistas - tries to justify this self
given golden handshake. He considers it justified for the
sandinistas to have their own TV station, radio station and daily
newspaper to ensure their voice is heard. But if that is acceptable
then one really must add in the benefits received by these high up
in the Sandinista echelons - a new 'workers aristocracy'. Those
who have done well are numbered conservatively at some 200
whilst others put the figure 4 times higher. Commenting on this a
sociologist, Oscar Antonio Vargas, says that he, 'is thinking... of
those who not only helped themselves to a house - a legitimate
way to protect oneself for the future - but who also got a second
one on the coast, then a third along with 600 manzanas of land
and 800 head of cattle...'. This new Sandinista aristocracy is now
well integrated into the top 5% of the population in terms of
wealth and seemingly had little problem coming to terms with the
Chamorra regime and its programme of privatisation, deregulation
and economic liberalism and the subsequent social disaster.
The Sandinistas play on the fears of a return to Somoza type
politics with their main opponent Arnoldo Alem=E0n well linked in
with the mafia style anti-Cuban types from Miami.. We wouldn't
want to underestimate these fears but the post reality of the
elections will depend more on coming to terms with the policies of
the IMF and the World Bank rather than any ghost of Samoza.
Here the reality is clear and looks certain to be unaffected by the
election results.

Asian capital from countries like Taiwan and South Korea are
the main factors in the Nicaraguan economy. The main production
is in the textile sector which benefits from export quotas with the
USA. The maquillas (factories located in the Free Economic
Zones) have created some 7,000 jobs which might be considered
not so bad a thing in a country with some 80% of the workforce
either un or underemployed. But the usual factors come up pretty
quick. As usual whilst playing lip service to 'market forces' the
state has certainly made the investors welcome with the usual
kinds of tax exemption and the $1,000,000 investment made in
infrastructure. This is where they spend their money rather than on
the 80% of peasant farmers who can't get credit which has resulted
in 250,000 hectares of pasture without any cattle on it and a
situation in the Masaya region where 50% of the land is
uncultivated. Instead of building up the economy Nicaragua
prefers the downhill path of the export market where according to
the world bank in 1995 50% of of the domestic economy was
accounted for by imports. Nicaragua - in the past - was a net
exporter of basic agricultural products now she is an importer. No
financial help for the farmers has resulted in production going
abroad - notably to Costa Rica.
One can show no surprise therefore at those who choose to work
in the Asian factories despite the conditions. Salaries are only 45%
of the national average (for those who actually get a salary). No
unions and appalling work conditions. The usual story - we will
spare you the repetition.
And it continues in the rural areas where 60% live in dire
poverty and according to the world bank 80% of households have
no water and 30% no electricity.
For sure the Sandinista record was better. They spent more on
health, they spent more on education but one can't put the blame at
the door of the Chamorra regime who simply bowed to the realities
of monetarist policies imposed on the country by the international
financial organisations. The USA under Reagan made it clear that
they had no choice. Now the Sandinistas have also seen the light.



FINANCIAL TIMES - 2nd October 1996
FINANCIAL TIMES - 9th October 1996