From June 28 to July 21, 13 people from Australia visited Nicaragua on a work-study brigade, meeting community movement and Sandinista leaders, visiting many different communities and working on a community project funded by CISLAC (Committees in Solidarity with Latin America and the Caribbean). This is the first of several articles based on the brigade's experiences.
National elections are due to be held in November 1996. The last five years of neo-liberal policies have left Nicaragua with 60% unemployment, 80% poverty and increasing illiteracy because many cannot afford school fees. There is an increase in family break-up, crime and drug addiction. This has served to depoliticise much of the population. The FSLN is working to turn this around.
Last year a recruiting drive joined 335,000 people to the FSLN, well over expectations. This means that about 20% of voters are FSLN members. Many of these do not participate as members, and the FSLN is currently aiming at training those who do want to participate.
Francisco Gonzalez, the FSLN director in Matagalpa, believes one of their mistake s in the 1990 election was to spend all their time on undecided voters. They didn't win them over, and they lost supporters. This time they are training and consolidating those who already acknowledge their support. That way they too can go into the community to talk to people and organise. Then even if they lose, they will have created a much larger, stronger party.
The loss of the 1990 elections was a shock to the Sandinistas. During the last five years they have acknowledged mistakes and made some changes. FSLN deputy general secretary Tomas Borge listed as causes of the election loss: conditions caused by the war; conscription, which was very unpopular; the FSLN's inexperience of government; plans were sometimes unrealistic and reforms often slow and bureaucratic; political arrogance; the FSLN lacked internal democracy.
They are making it very clear that conscription will not be implemented if they are elected. FSLN leaders are now elected by secret ballot. Organisations of different sectors, such as AMNLAE, the women's organisation, and UNAG, the farmers union, are no longer under the direction of the FSLN and are autonomous.
To prepare policies for the election the Sandinista Congress set up commissions on women, youth, campesinos, the Atlantic Coast, law, ethics and the economy. Each of these has gone to the organisations in that sector, asking them to participate in writing the policy. Each commission will produce an in-depth booklet, and a popular version will be distributed through the population.
The economic policy has been produced with the help of economists and business people. It describes the present economic situation, including discrimination faced by women and youth, and the effects of the neo-liberal economic policies. The country is not so much poor as impoverished by neo-liberal economic policies. Resources, particularly on the Atlantic Coast, are being plundered to pay for these debts. Industries previously nationalised are being sold to international investors.
The economic policy aims to reactivate the economy by encouraging production and stopping the de-industrialisation of the country. Francisco Gonzalez says the aim is not just to have formal democracy through elections but to democratise the economy and access to credit.
Credit and land ownership are the two major issues for the campesinos. In June thousands of campesinos marched through Managua and for a time occupied the National Assembly, to press their demands for deeds to their farms. About 2000 remained camped in front of the presidential offices and Central American University. They were joined by dozens of former members of the army and the contras demanding bank credits and technical assistance which the government had promised.
Under the Somoza dictatorship before the 1979 revolution, the wealthy could take land by force of arms. Now people are forced off economically: by banks making loans impossible to repay, and mayors demanding payment for land.
The FSLN says the situation will worsen if Arnoldo Aleman, the mayor of Managua and presidential candidate for the Constitutionalist Liberal Party, wins. He plans to let the ex-landowners from the US back in. This means giving land back to people who were Somoza's National Guards. He has said he will make the Sandinistas pay for their ``crimes''. Francisco Gonzalez says the FSLN are prepared to defend their gains militarily if necessary.
The FSLN is also planning community involvement in choosing candidates. The FSLN members in each area will vote for their candidate; all the grassroots and communal movements will also have a say. The candidate does not even have to be an FSLN member, but a community leader who agrees with the policies of the FSLN. There is also a requirement that at least 30% of candidates be women, and 10% youth.
A majority of the FSLN parliamentary deputies led a split from the FSLN to form the MRS (Sandinista Renovation Movement) earlier this year. The split began last year when the majority of the FSLN deputies voted to pass a number of constitutional reforms aimed at resolving the landownership crisis. The Sandinista National Assembly had directed them to delay the reforms.
The formation of the MRS brings the number of political parties in Nicaragua to 26. However, most of these are small right-wing parties which will call for support for the main right-wing contender the Constitutionalist Liberal Party, in the second round of the elections. (If no party gets over 45%, the two that got the most votes run against each other in the second round.) The FSLN believes that most likely it will run against the Constitutionalist Liberal Party, but if the MRS are in the second round, it will support them.
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