MANAGUA—Growing support for Fabio Gadea’s so-called “consensus candidacy” for president has—ironically—become a new bone of contention among Nicaragua’s divided and quarrelsome opposition.
But that hasn’t dampened this veteran radio personality’s hopes of unifying “all democrats” around his candidacy in time to defeat the incumbent Sandinista Front in 2011. The alternative, he said, is a continued slide towards dictatorship under President Daniel Ortega.
“If Daniel wins, we will have Daniel in power for a long time. And there will be violence in the future because every time they install a dictatorship in this country, it leads to violence for all of us. That’s what history tells us,” Gadea told The Nica Times in a recent interview at Radio Corporación, which despite its rundown appearance maintains an influential voice among the country’s majority opposition.
In a country defined by political ironies, Gadea’s upstart pre-candidacy has become the latest apparent contradiction in terms; the nearly 79-year-old candidate is considered to be the “fresh new face” on Nicaragua’s increasingly tired political scene.
A former southern front contra who lived in exile in Costa Rica for eight years during the first Sandinista government, Gadea was proposed as the opposition’s “consensus candidate” last month by former presidential hopeful Eduardo Montealegre.
Montealegre proposed Gadea as a unity candidate shortly after an M&R Consultants poll showed that neither Montealegre nor former President Arnoldo Alemán has enough support to beat Ortega in next year’s elections. The same opinion poll showed that most Nicaraguans would abstain from voting altogether if the presidential race were between the same political bosses as always (NT, July 30).
Montealegre, therefore, decided to decline his second presidential bid and back Gadea, calling on Alemán to do the same. Alemán, however, has refused to cede his candidacy and continues to call for inter-party primary elections.
But other minority parties—including the Conservative Party, the Independent Liberal Party and the Nicaraguan Resistance Party—have all publically endorsed Gadea. And that situation has put Alemán in an increasingly tight spot, despite the fact that his Liberal Constitutional Party (PLC) remains the largest opposition party in the country (NT, Sept. 17).
Gadea—who is perhaps best known in Nicaragua for his ficticious and folksy “Pancho Madrigal” radio stories and his “Love Letters to Nicaragua,” which he started while in exile in the 1980s—is confident that PLC supporters will also join his nascent political movement.
“This is still in process. Little by little we are unifying all the sectors of society and some of the parties,” he said.
Gadea—whose son is married to Alemán’s daughter—said he hopes Alemán eventually decides to back his candidacy too. But he insists that he has no plans to challenge Alemán in a primary election. Unity, he said, will happen in a “top to bottom” manner among political leaders.
“Once we are all united we are going to proclaim that the unity is accomplished. That still requires a few more days,” Gadea said. “But that’s without primaries; it has nothing to do with primaries.”
No Patience for Partisan Politics
Gadea has long been a member of the PLC. He was reportedly short-listed as Alemán’s running mate in 1996 (but passed over for Enrique Bolaños), and later picked to represent the PLC as a lawmaker in the Central American Parliament.
But now Gadea insists he doesn’t indentify with any party—only the Nicaraguan flag.
He said the responsibility of representing a national unity ticket is too important to contaminate with petty partisan divisions and affiliations.
“It is a big responsibility and it would be an irresponsibility to continue dividing the country as we have for all this time,” the radio producer said. “The government of Daniel is in office because of the division of the Liberal Party, so it doesn’t make sense to keep dividing. Here the only solution—and it’s a difficult one—is national unity.”
Ultimately, he said, the desire for opposition unity will trump voter apathy.
“The people will go out and vote when they have a candidate to vote for. I assure you the people will vote…they are anxious to vote for someone new, for a new face for someone who offers something new. There will be a mountain of votes,” he said.
Though he doesn’t have any experience in public office, Gadea counts his years with the southern-front contras (a group he says, “lamentably never amounted to anything”) and decades on the radio as a form of political experience. So by his count, Gadea has been in politics for 30 years.
“I am a political animal,” Gadea said. “If we want to fix the country, we have to get involved in politics.”
And despite his lack of experience in office, Gadea thinks his “60 years of business experience, honesty, maturity and austerity” give him the right combination of qualifications for the job.
“You don’t need to study at Harvard to manage a country,” he said. “A country is managed with honesty and patriotism.”
Reconciliation for Some
Similar to Ortega, Gadea is calling for a government of “national reconciliation.” And similar to the Sandinista leader, Gadea apparently doesn’t mean that reconciliation and national unity means that everyone has to be included in his government project.
Asked if he would include Sandinistas in his government of national unity, Gadea responded bluntly: “No. Why? The Sandinista Front? No! They are the extreme left and we’re not interested in them. Plus, they wouldn’t accept (a government post) because they want to be a part of their party and blindly obey their leader. The Sandinista Front? No!”
Gadea said that Sandinista civil society workers who are “capable and honorable” will be allowed to remain in their jobs if he’s elected president. But he wouldn’t extend that same offer to the current heads of the government institutions.
“Are we going to have Sandinista ministers in our government? No, obviously not,” Gadea said. He said Nicaragua’s “democratic parties” have “sufficient people with training” to run a government without Sandinista representation.
In terms of working with Ortega, who complicated the previous three administrations by his self-proclaimed efforts to “govern from below,” Gadea said he thinks he could come to an understanding with the Sandinista leader to allow him to govern in peace.
“There can only be one president—there can’t be two heads,” Gadea said. And by changing the head of government, Gadea believes he can “impose” a “true revolution of honesty” in Nicaragua.
25 Year Plan
Unlike former President Violeta Chamorro’s UNO coalition that defeated Ortega in 1990 but then dissolved once in office, Gadea said he wants to lead a coalition that can win the elections but is also able to stick together to govern the country.
Doing so, he said, means giving “quotas of power” to all the opposition parties in government. And it also means changing Nicaragua’s political culture so that government has a long-term vision of nation, rather than just worrying about strengthening the party and weakening the opposition.
Gadea said that the next government will need to “fix all the institutions of the state” and reestablish constitutional order, rule of law and separation of powers—all of which he says has been “destroyed” by the Ortega government.
“It’s an enormous task that will take at least 25 years. It’s a process of reconstruction,” he said. “I won’t see it done, but I can plant the seed.”
Unity First, Plan Later
Despite calls by civil society and the leftist Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS) to unify the opposition around a common government plan, and then find a candidate who represents that plan, Gadea says it’s better to do it in reverse.
“It’s more important to be united; a government plan is easy. You just need to put four intellectuals together and we’ll do it in a minute, education, health, roads, infrastructure, international relations, etcetera, etcetera. That’s not a problem,” Gadea said.
“The key is unifying,” he added. “A government program is impersonal, but a candidate is personal. And there are various people who could do, not just me. But I’m willing and ready.”
Despite his advanced age, Gadea said feels in good health and is not concerned about campaigning around the country—a physically rigorous endeavor that claimed the life of one candidate in the previous elections.
“I will go as far as God allows me, I have entrusted him with this task, but I feel perfectly fine,” he said.
Plus, Gadea added, he’s already used to traveling the country to do his radio show—something that has won him sympathy in all corners of Nicaragua.
“The people know me all around the country, they know me more than any of the other candidates,” Gadea said. “They know the other candidates from the promises they’ve made and the gifts they’ve handed out, but they know me they’ve always listed to me on the radio for 50 years. That’s because they love me. They love me.”