MANAGUA – Promising to defeat his opponent handily in a “second or third round knockout,” former three-time world boxing champ and Sandinista mayoral candidate for Managua Alexis Argüello says his victory in the Nov. 9 elections would usher in a new model for revolutionary change in the capital city.
A relative newcomer to both the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) and politics, Argüello, 56, has become fiercely loyal to President Daniel Ortega, whom he calls “leader Daniel.”
Argüello credits Ortega for “giving me a chance” in politics, an encouragement that he says helped lift him out of the “hell” of drug and alcohol dependency that enveloped his life after he hung up the boxing gloves in the early 1990s.
Now, the former Featherweight, Super Featherweight and Lightweight boxing champ known in the ring as the “Explosive Thin Man” is promising to shake-up politics as usual in Nicaragua’s capital city.
Confident that he will win with 60 percent of the vote – something that no Sandinista candidate has ever come close to – Argüello says he would immediately go about restructuring the political model of the municipal government to decentralize Managua’s five districts and install a “socialist” program based on emboldening Ortega’s controversial Councils of Citizen Power (CPCs).
The CPCs are advertised by the Ortega administration as non-partisan, grassroots community organizations that are strengthening “direct democracy” by empowering neighborhoods to identify their own problems and work with government to fix them. Critics, however, argue the CPCs are little more than Sandinista organizations that use government resources and influence to strengthen Ortega’s power base in neighborhoods and undermine locally elected authorities who do not march in lockstep to the drumbeat of the Sandinista leader.
Argüello, however, insists that the CPCs are the new model of government and people have to either get with the program or get out of the way.
“The CPC is important because it’s the only way we are going to know what are the needs of each district,” Argüello said of his plan to restructure government and put the CPCs in charge. “They are the reason why we are decentralizing, to give the citizens this authority.”
Argüello, in a rare interview with the foreign press association, added: “What people have to understand is that here we are developing a new project. It’s national and municipal, so people have to become a part of this project. We welcome the citizen who puts bitterness, hate and personal interests aside and works for the wellbeing of the community – this is a new project.”
He stresses that the new model will be something that “can’t be removed” later by subsequent governments.
When pressed on whether he would, as mayor, also work with other civil society groups and opposition political interests – most of which have been organized and established much longer than the fledgling CPCs – Argüello comes out swinging.
“Here we’re going to have a new model, a new model, a new model; if you like it or not, we’re going to have a new model,” the political contender says. “They are welcome when they play by our rules, no problem. But they have to do it our way. It’s a sustainable and aggressive project … It’s socialist.”
Argüello, who in the early 1980s fought briefly against the first Sandinista government with Edén Pastora’s counterrevolutionary army, the Democratic Revolutionary Alliance (ARDE), in the southern jungles along the Río San Juan, now says he was a bit “naïve” back then.
But he still insists “I hate communism,” as he told The Nica Times in an earlier interview last year (NT, Dec. 7, 2007).
Today, however, Argüello reserves his political spite for the political “right.”
“We’ve tried to organize our country before with the right and we’ve seen that the right has been a bit problematic, so it’s time that we try something else,” Argüello says while surrounded by Sandinista handlers, including vice mayoral candidate Daisy Torres, who on numerous occasions interrupts the candidate to finish his sentences.
Argüello also seems to have adopted the Sandinistas’ brand of doubletalk, by promising both “a government of democracy and reconciliation,” while at the same time insisting “I don’t want to give any space, not even 10 minutes, to the right.”
Decentralize and Organize
The key to Argüello’s plan for government is to decentralize and organize Managua’s five districts, allowing each to manage its own budget and development its own projects, which will be determined by the CPCs and the city council, which is also elected Nov. 9 based on the percentage of votes won by each party.
The city council, however, might ultimately be no more representative than the CPCs, considering that two of the minority parties – the Sandinista Renovation Movement and the Conservative Party – were eliminated from the race by the Ortega-controlled Supreme Electoral Council (CSE).
Sandinistas currently hold the majority of city council seats, and the party hopes to retain that hold this year among a potentially divided opposition.
Argüello says that under his administration each of the five districts of Managua will receive an equal share of the city’s annual budget of $67.5 million.
“We want a participative democracy, so that they can decide what are the projects that are most necessary,” Argüello told The Nica Times, adding that his job will be to “organize the execution of all these projects.”
He says that with a Sandinista mayor and a Sandinista central government, Managua will function smoothly “in coordination with our leader, Daniel, who carries the baton.”
In addition to his proposals to rebuild roads, fix the capital’s drainage problems, improve housing, reorder the marketplaces and turn at-risk youth into “environmental heroes” by employing them to replant the city’s southern watershed, Argüello’s most ambitious plan is to rebuild the entire historic center of Managua – an enormous $100 million plan that would aim to make Managua one of the most modern capital cities in Latin America.
The plan, which calls for the reconstruction of Managua’s old government center, complete with a new National Assembly, seven new government ministry buildings, a new mayor’s office, an eight-lane highway and two elevated monorail mass-transit systems, was originally commissioned by the government of President Enrique Bolaños in 2003 (NT, April 8, 2005). But was then shelved until Argüello rediscovered it last month.
Alfredo Osorio, the renowned architect who designed the project, says it could be built in two years and has endorsed Argüello for mayor after the candidate endorsed his plan to rebuild the city.
The funding for the megaproject remains unclear, however. Argüello says he would ask other cities – New York, London, Tokyo, Los Angeles and Miami, to name a few – for help funding the project. But when asked if that means there’s currently no funding available, Argüello deferred to his leader.
“It’s backed by the government. That’s important to remember. It will be a package deal with the central government,” he says.
Follow the Leader
Argüello says he wants to replicate in Managua the good work that “leader Daniel” is doing on a national level, because the “FSLN is the only party that understands the needs of this country.”
Asked whether the new model for Managua is really a top-down model disguised as “direct democracy” – a common criticism of the Ortega government – Argüello seemed to imply that the question is irrelevant because in the end it’s all the same.
“The people will give the guidelines, but it’s the same ideas that our leader Daniel has, so there’s no problem,” Argüello says.
He adds, “The only interest of our government is to help those who need it most.
Health, education, improvement of homes. We want to achieve this, and there’s no one better than this party because it has been a party that has been identified as a party to resolve the problems of the poor … We’ll even resolve some of the problems of the rich, too.”
When it comes to his own capacity to govern, Argüello, whose only experience in public office was a three-year stint as vice mayor of Managua to current Mayor Dionisio Marenco, says people “believe my human values are sufficient to develop projects and organize the municipality.”
Plus, the former champ notes, he won’t be alone in office.
“I can’t separate myself from the FSLN; I am an appendix of the FSLN.”