Nicaragua Perfected the Politics of Crisis

December 24, 2004

GRANADA, Nicaragua – Maintaininga habitual state of crisis, Nicaraguan politicalleaders this year took their high-stakespoliticking to new levels, where terms suchas “coup,” “dictator,” and “state-of-emergency”became commonly used words inthe country’s political vernacular.Besieged President Enrique Bolañosbroke with the age-old political rule of“dance with the one who brung you” bybreaking with the Liberal ConstitutionalParty, the party he was elected into officewith in 2002, and backing the upstartAlliance for the Republic (APRE).The result was a curious situation inwhich the two main political parties – theLiberals and the left-wing Sandinistas –both became opposition parties to aPresident who appears to be governingwith the blessing of the international donorcommunity, and without a clear base ofsupport in Nicaragua.THE saying “politics makes strangebedfellows” proved uncannily true inNicaragua, where Sandinista party bossDaniel Ortega and incarcerated Liberalboss Arnoldo Alemán – two formerPresidents who historically have acted aswarring chieftains – found themselvesunited in their opposition of Bolaños, andreworked their old political accord knownas the pacto.The result was a National Assemblycontrolled by Ortega, who at year’s endwas pushing through an aggressive constitutionalreform package to shift powerfrom the Executive Branch to theLegislative Branch. Alemán, for his supportin Congress, was awarded with atransfer to house arrest in December, afterspending four months in a state hospitalrecovering from a minor finger surgery.Bolaños likened the reform efforts to acoup, prompting Ortega to accuse the presidentof acting like a dictator. By year’send, the two agreed to a national dialogueto attempt to resolve the stalemate.ORTEGA appeared to gain a majorboost in the national political scene inNovember, when his Sandinista party wonthe lion’s share in the municipal elections.Many analysts claim the strong Sandinistashowing has positioned Ortega as the frontrunnerin the 2006 presidential elections,despite losing the last three elections.The United States, wary of a Sandinistareturn to power, appears to be backingAPRE as the third-horse option, althoughthe party has yet to name its candidate. TheUnited States’ perceived favor of APREhas caused bad blood among the Liberalswho are not happy about losing their“favorite child” status.Despite the steady support for theSandinistas, opinion polls published allyear long indicated that Nicaraguans aretired of Ortega and think it’s time for himto pass the torch.

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