Political upheaval or politics as usual?

The political class is up in arms. The major “right of center” daily newspaper “La Prensa” screams in bold type “La Dictadura!”. Frenetic emails from colleagues about “what happened”. OK, so what DID happen yesterday? President Daniel Ortega, formerly leader of the Sandinista Revolution and “bête noire” of the United States government under Reagan, successful in his bid to return to power in 2007 to head a “government of reconciliation” and studious friend of Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, has not been shy about broadcasting his desire to extend his Presidency beyond 2011, when his term ends. Problem is the current Constitution prevents repeat mandates, so as of 2011 he would be out.

The “opposition”, which is comprised of several fragmented parties on the right, has been in solid agreement about their desire to return to a right of center government after years of Ortegaism, but their respective leaders have been incapable of removing personal ambition and favor of a single candidate. So internecine warfare has been the flavor of the opposition since “Daniel” came back to power. There has been little sign of a breakthrough in creating a “unity” movement.

Yesterday, Ortega executed phase 1 of his campaign to expand “21st Century Socialism” in Nicaragua. Through some parliamentary maneuvers (details unimportant), he managed to get the Supreme Court to decide in favor of his bid to be eligible for re-election. This means that today is the first day of a Llllllooooong re-election campaign that will culminate (I believe) in Ortega retaining control and extending his power for another term.

Before opining on what the impact is, let’s put this into some context. First, there is the context of Nicaragua itself. The country suffered terribly from the “dictatorship” of the Somoza family which held onto power for decades through father and son. The Sandinista revolution was of course about economic development, the fight against poverty, eradication of illiteracy etc… but fundamentally, it was about putting an end to a dynastic dictatorship. The right, today, is eager to point out that Ortega is precisely reconstructing this form of leadership. The irony isn’t lost on anyone here.

Then there is the context of the region, namely Central America. The Honduras crisis has yet to be resolved. What is it about? An acolyte of Ortega, President Zelaya, democratically elected by the Honduran people, read the same “play book” as Ortega, courtesy of Hugo Chavez, and sought to change the Honduran Constitution to allow himself another term. The Honduran Parliament rejected that strategy. The Honduran Supreme Court forbade any attempt at changing the Constitution. The business and media communities were against it. Yet Zelaya proceeded with a “popular referendum” to point out that the elites were preventing the pursuit of 21st Century Socialism, embodied in himself. So the Supreme Court reacted, ordered the military to remove Zelaya from office and exiled him, in his pyjamas, to Costa Rica. The world reaction has been nothing short of bizarre. The Obama Administration, reacting not to the substance of the proposed policies of the “anti-imperialist” government, but to the form of the removal, namely the military coup, is siding with Venezuela’s Chavez to argue in favor of Zelaya’s return. So is the European Union, so is the Organization of American States, so is 80% of Latin America. You would think that with all the noise around Zelaya’s attempt at extending his terms, Daniel Ortega might have waited a bit to launch his own personal Constitutional Reform. But here it is, he is defying his opposition in Nicaragua and making a move to show how it is to be done. There is little risk of a military coup in Nicaragua, because the bulk of the military is Sandinista.

The risk, however, is that the former “Resistancia”, i.e. the CIA – funded and supported Contras (of the infamous “Iran/Contra Affair”), might once again come down from “the hills” and take to the streets, in a replay of 1980 violence. I personally think this is very unlikely, although there is sure to be much street demonstration and vociferous complaints by myriad organizations that see yesterday’s decision by the Nicaraguan Supreme Court as the first step in the establishment of a dictatorship.

One final piece of context is to compare and contrast. Here I must admit to not being ideologically neutral. I am thinking of the coup that occurred in the United States in 2000. US History books may not recount it as a coup, but in my eyes, it clearly was. After all, a democratically elected Al Gore was deemed the loser as a result of electoral machinations in Florida, covered by the Republican-leaning Supreme Court. Much has been written since then to confirm the sordid games played in Florida (re annulling valid ballots in certain Democratically oriented counties). What resulted was a U.S. President whose shortcomings are too many to list here, but to only pick one, launched into a war of choice, under false pretense of an Al Qaeda link with Iraq, under now recognized falsification of intelligence data about the existence of Weapons of Mass Destruction and with a historic cost to the U.S. in terms of its diplomatic posture in the world, relations with allies, fiscal obligations for the next 2 generations of US tax payers, tens of thousands of US casualties and wounded and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians killed, maimed and forever impacted.

So why do I bring this up? Because the level of impact of a Daniel Ortega, whether legitimately or illegitimately sustained through to another term, is an insignificant world event compared to what happened in the U.S. Do I think that the current government is characterized by the right policies (a mixed bag, as always)?, by some degree of incompetence (a mixed bag, as always)? and by some degree of corruption (a mixed bag, as always)? As someone who has voluntarily opted to move here and to start a business here, I must say I remain unalarmed (at this point) about the political theater. The people of Nicaragua remain the poorest in the hemisphere, after Haiti. This has been a constant over the last 4 administrations, 3 of which were right of center and pro-US, and equally corrupt and equally parochial to certain interest groups. I cannot find fault with a government that claims to be in favor of poverty eradication. Of course, the problem is in the execution of these policies and there are many anecdotes to support a view that despite the policy words, the government is acting with an eye to self-preservation and enrichment.

The next question is what the impact might be to CO2 Bambu. Our business has been and will remain a-political. We need to deal with the regime in place and do as best we can to have a positive impact on the communities, irrelevant of who is in power. We will have a positive environmental impact, regardless of who heads the government. We will provide housing for the deserving few, regardless of who heads the government. We will create jobs for rural farmer and factory employees, regardless of who heads the government. In the process, we will generate financial returns for our shareholders, regardless of who heads the government.

How about Peta? Does she fret about the political environment? “There is nothing really new here. It was expected that Ortega would seek to stay in power. For a while, the political rumor was that he was planning on putting his wife in power before leaving. So now Ortega has succeeded in getting things to move in his direction. He wasn’t just going to walk away, we expected something like this. “ Having grown up in South Africa under Apartheid had a huge impact on her world view. In terms of the barometer of a regime’s oppression of its own people, compare say to South Africa, Ortega’s government is a 2 on a scale of 1-10.

We’ll update the blog as the temperature rises.

2 thoughts on “Political upheaval or politics as usual?

  1. boydjensen

    Very thorough and insightful commentary. What kind of involvement do you have with the current legal/political structure operating your business there? Do you sense change that would adversily effect your business and your personal decision to stay?

  2. Peta, Ben, Mango, Dwayne and Pablo

    Well of course to operate in the area of forestry (both extraction and reforestation) we need to ensure the appropriate governmental institutions are aware and supportive of our bamboo initiatives. Beyond that, since our social objectives (production of low cost houses) are in line with the current government’s poverty eradication priorities, we also interface with housing related instituitions. This is all more bureaucracy than it is politics. We intend to stay clear of politics so that our company can operate in the current political regime and the next. So far, we have no reason to revisit our choice to move here.

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