Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Is Daniel Ortega Headed for a Fall?

from the Miami Herald
Nicaraguans will vote on Sunday. At stake are the presidency, 90 seats in the national Congress and 20 in the Central American Parliament. According to some polls, Daniel Ortega can expect about 40 percent of the vote, Fabio Gadea 30 percent, and Arnoldo Alemán 10.

The problem is that it is very difficult to conduct polls in Nicaragua. The Güegüense factor prevents it. What is that? The Güegüense is a character in Nicaragua’s earliest (and most elaborate) colonial theater. He hides behind a mask, deceives, defends his interests shrewdly and underhandedly, and hides his intentions.

The first time I heard about this unusual phenomenon was after the 1990 elections. According to almost all the polls, including those done by Spain and the United States, Daniel Ortega was going to beat Violeta Chamorro by almost 20 points. But the reverse happened: Doña Violeta trounced her opponent at the polls. I think only two skillful pollsters got it right: Victor Borge of Costa Rica and Alfredo Keller of Venezuela. Both introduced elements in their questions that allowed them to weed out lies and doublespeak.

When the results came out, they created a political earthquake. The failed pollsters gave a strange explanation: hundreds of thousands of güegüenses had voted, they said. People who said one thing and did the opposite. I remember an American “expert” who told me, frustrated by his failure, “This is a country of liars.” Wrong: it’s a country of cautious people, which is something very different.

The Nicas learn very early in life, maybe in infancy, that the assertion “The truth shall make you free,” from the Gospel of John, may be true on Lake Tiberias but in Nicaragua it can lead you straight to disaster. That’s why people hide their intentions.

That observation comes to mind because of an article by Pedro Joaquín Chamorro published in La Prensa of Managua. Pedro Joaquín, a politician and journalist who is very close to the campaign of Fabio Gadea, a successful businessman and radio commentator renowned as a good and honest man, believes that the Nica voters once again are hiding their true intentions. They’re afraid of what the Sandinistas represent, so they lie or don’t respond.

How does Pedro Joaquín know this? He intuits it, because he has toured the country with Gadea in a political campaign almost without any economic resources, based on face-to-face meetings and a handshake, and has perceived the same warm complicity that perhaps existed in 1990, when Nicaraguans wore their poker faces and smiled when told about the Sandinista revolution, even though they had secretly decided they would vote for democracy and freedom.

My impression is that this time it will be more difficult to beat Ortega. The opposition goes to the polls bitterly divided and has to beat, in the first place, Hugo Chávez, the great elector, with his hundreds of millions of petrodollars. Chávez and Ortega have created a private enterprise, Albanisa, that they operate at will, with which the Venezuelan buys international influence for his 21st-Century farce with public money, while the Nica has a huge coffer with which to acquire political clients and perpetuate himself in power buying votes with gifts and favors.

Because that’s exactly what these elections are all about: perpetuating themselves in power. Daniel Ortega - who already has broken the law and who, with the aid of some absolutely docile judges, slipped a law past the Constitution that annulled the ban on consecutive reelections — will seek approval during his next term for a bill that will enable him to be the nation’s leader as long as he feels like sitting on the presidential chair.

It’s impossible to say how long “Daniel-ism” will last, but the ideological roots of 21st-Century socialism are weak and getting weaker. Cuba may have been the reference point once, but it no longer is. And, while Venezuela may be the group’s inexhaustible checkbook, it may soon abandon that costly role.

When? Probably when Hugo Chávez exits the stage as a consequence of precarious health or his innumerable and skillful political adversaries. In sum, although he wishes to perpetuate himself in power, Daniel Ortega is dangling from a very thin rope that will eventually coil around his ankles. He, too, will fall.

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