Leaders Seek Solutions to Political Crisis

December 17, 2004

GRANADA, Nicaragua – Religiousleaders are renewing the call for a nationaldialogue to resolve the country’s deepeningpolitical crisis, as President EnriqueBolaños and opposition Sandinista leaderDaniel Ortega took their brinkmanship tonew levels this week, each accusing theother of dictatorial intentions.Rumors that President Bolaños waspreparing to declare a state of emergencyby week’s end, revoking Constitutionalguarantees, led opposition political leadersand media commentators to speculate onwhat role the police and military mightplay if such an emergency state weredeclared.After giving Sunday mass inManagua’s Metropolitan Cathedral,Archbishop Cardinal Miguel Obandocalled for calm and repeated the call for anational dialogue. The Catholic leaderreminded Nicaraguans of other times inthe country’s recent past when dialoguehas avoided bloodshed in hostage situations.The hostage comparison seemed to bedeliberate, as both Bolaños and Ortegaaccuse the other of holding captive theConstitution and Nicaraguan democracy.THE stalemate between the two politicalleaders became increasinglyentrenched Nov. 25, when the NationalAssembly, under the behind-the-scenesorchestration of congressman Ortega,passed sweeping Constitutional reformmeasures that whittled away thePresident’s powers by granting the legislaturethe authority to ratify the appointmentsof Cabinet members, diplomats anddirectors of government institutions (TT,Nov. 26).The amendments will have to pass asecond congressional vote early next yearto become law.Several leading political analysts areclaiming lawmakers have oversteppedtheir bounds.“Congress doesn’t have the authorityto do this,” political scientist AlejandroSerrano told The Tico Times this week.“Legislators were not elected to office tochange the country’s political system.”The Sandinista reform package passedthe first vote thanks to the support ofLiberal Constitutional Party lawmakersloyal to their incarcerated party boss, formerPresident Arnoldo Alemán, whoallegedly received his reward for upholdinghis end of the deal by being transferredfrom state custody back to house arrest oneweek later (TT, Dec. 10).Ortega claims the Constitutionalreforms are part of the country’s democraticevolution – a continuation of thereform process started after the war by thegovernment of Violeta Chamorro deBarrios (1990-1996). Bolaños, meanwhile,has likened the reforms to a coupd’etat, and accused Ortega and Alemán oftrying to create a “collective dictatorship.”IN a national address Dec. 9, Bolañospromised theNicaraguan peoplethat he wouldexhaust all hisC o n s t i t u t i o n a lresources and internationalmechanismsto oppose the amendments“for better orfor worse.”Bolaños alsoannounced he hadsent his own three-partreform packageto Congress aimed at outlawing presidentialre-election (non-consecutive re-electionis currently allowed); implementing adirect vote in congressional elections(party bosses currently elect lawmakers,based on the percentage of vote theirparty wins in the elections); and enactinga measure whereby all constitutionalreforms must first be put to national referendum.A poll conducted by M&R Consultantsshortly after Bolaños’ national address suggested94% of those questioned supportthe idea of a national referendum.THE President said his reform packagewould help restore governability toNicaragua by eliminating Ortega’s andAlemán’s aspirations to return to the presidencyand loosening their collective strangleholdon the National Assembly, whichis currently stackedwith lawmakers loyalto one of the twoparty bosses, orcaudillos, as they areknown here.The NationalAssembly, suspiciousthat Bolaños ispreparing to declare astate of emergency atthe end of the week,after the NationalAssembly breaks forthe holidays on Dec. 15, responded bypassing a provision that grants Congressthe ability to call an emergency extraordinarysession during the break, with only 30of 91 representatives present.Under Nicaraguan law, the NationalAssembly has 72 hours to veto a presidentialdeclaration of emergency before itgoes into effect, leading skeptics tobelieve Bolaños is waiting for the congressionalrecess to begin before declaringthe emergency.AS the crisis continued, Ortega metlast Saturday with Archbishop Obando,in an increasingly cozy relationshipbetween the Sandinistas and the CatholicChurch that has not gone unnoticed byconservative groups in the United States.After the meeting, Ortega, standing sideby side with the Archbishop, blasted Bolañosas a liar and a dictator, before then invitinghim to dialogue. Bolaños asked for a dialoguewith Ortega several months ago, butthe Sandinista chief had declined the offer.Bolaños this week agreed to a dialoguewith the opposition parties. The talks areplanned to start today, Dec. 17, althoughthe conditions of the dialogue was notknown at press time.OBANDO, in the past, has offered tohelp facilitate the dialogue. Though heinsists he is not siding with Ortega, noteveryone appears convinced.According to a Nov. 24 executivememorandum by the Heritage Foundation,a conservative U.S. think tank that has theear of the Bush administration, Obando isnot above the fray.“Embroiled in this mess is CatholicChurch leader Cardinal Miguel Obando,”according to the Heritage report. “Oncerevered by the poor and known for speakingout against the Sandinista dictatorship,in the late 1990s, Obando openlyendorsed Alemán, allegedly in return fortax credits for the church and lucrativefavors for associates. After Alemán wasconvicted of diverting state funds, the cardinalreportedly turned to Sandinistaleader Ortega for similar help.”Obando has downplayed the report.With Christmas around the corner,many are wondering what the New Yearhas in store for Nicaragua.

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