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“The FSLN of today is not Sandinista”
Paolo Moiola
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Interview with journalist and writer María López Vigil

María López Vigil is a theologian, writer and journalist of Cuban origin, who arrived in Nicaragua 35 years ago. She is editor-in-chief of Envío, the monthly information and analysis magazine that the Managua campus of the Central American University (UCA) has been publishing since 1981. She is the author of works on Theology, such as “A Certain Jesus” and “Another God is Possible”; of the book of testimonies “Oscar Romero: Memories in Mosaic”; and of children’s literature.

Paolo MoiolaLatinamerica Press collaborator, talked with López Vigil regarding the present and future of Nicaragua after the results of the elections that took place on Nov. 6, where President Daniel Ortega was reelected by an overwhelming majority to a third consecutive term in office for the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), with his wife Rosario Murillo alongside as Vice-President.

Do you believe that the results giving Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo the victory are valid?
We will never know the official figures for these elections. Election officials have been lying to the people for the past eight years and everyone in Nicaragua knows it. Daniel Ortega did not “sweep.” In any case, he won because he prepared everything beforehand to not have international elections observers being present or having real political parties to truly compete against. We figure that some 70 percent of the population did not come out to vote, with the number reaching 80 percent in rural areas. In that case, the 72.5 percent that Ortega received came from just barely 30 percent of the electorate. It is a Pyrrhic victory.

After the elections, Venezuelan network TeleSur qualified the electoral process in Nicaragua as “exemplary,” “the little giant [whose] democracy is being aggressively attacked by western governments and the media. What is the real truth?
Abstention was the winner this year, something really significant in Nicaragua, where the population likes to turn out to vote; they have “electoral faith.” The figures provided by the badly discredited Electoral Council are not credible. These figures come preceded by three proven electoral frauds (2008, 2011 and 2012). And they are also not auditable anymore. The electoral problem in Nicaragua is very serious because the electoral system has collapsed. 
The Nicaraguan economy posted a growth of 4.1 percent in 2015. Does this mean that the Ortega model works?
The Ortega government is not progressive. The boost that the Nicaraguan economy has had is based on aid provided by Venezuela. The economic model ha mainly benefitted the big capital and this is the reason why the International Monetary Fund congratulates Daniel Ortega every year. 

The overall poverty rate dropped from 44.7 percent in 2009 to 39.0 percent in 2015, this according to the International Foundation for Global Economic Challenge. Are these figures reliable?
Ortega and Murillo have been governing for 10 years now. They became millionaires with the Venezuelan oil cooperation resources. Social inequality is now wider than it was a decade ago. The biggest problem in the country now is unemployment and informal employment: 8 out of 10 Nicaraguans are self-employed, without steady income and without social security. Migration to Costa Rica and Panama is massive. The dollar remittances that migrants send to their families are an important support for the poorest people in the country. Nicaragua still holds the position as the country with the highest multidimensional poverty index in Latin America.

Poverty is a historical legacy. What is needed to reduce poverty?
The biggest problem for a country to overcome its historical impoverishment is the extremely low quality of education. We have the worst paid teachers in Central America and the lowest percentage of the national budget (2.5 percent) going to education, also of all countries in Central America. The current government has done nothing to improve education.

The Ortegas say that their government is an inclusive government...
The ones that Ortega has included in his government are large private enterprises, the business elite of always. They are his staunchest allies, also his partners in various business dealings. For the poorest there are “social programs”: monthly bags of food, pigs and chickens for the women living in rural areas, zinc sheets for roofing, interest free credit for very small urban businesses. There is no doubt that these programs minimize poverty and those in the poorest conditions are very thankful, but these programs do not solve the problem. The only thing that eradicates poverty is permanent employment with a dignified salary.

Many of those poor who benefit from social programs did not go to vote for Ortega on Nov. 6. The people are tired of the social control imposed by the government, which is expressed in many ways, more in the rural areas than in Managua or other cities.

It seems to me that the Sandinismo of today is completely different that the Sandinismo of earlier times. Am I wrong?
We have all admired Sandinismo and we are sad for years because of that. But there is nothing to be gained by masking it and lying about the FSLN and Ortega and his people. They are not Sandinistas. Sandinismo is still alive in Nicaragua, but not in any “institution.” In other words, the FSLN of today is not Sandinista.

What is Sandinismo?
It is one of the roots of the nation. Sandinismo is social justice and national sovereignty. Here we have unjust inequalities.

The FSLN still exists, doesn’t it?
There is no FSLN anymore because the structures of that party no longer exist. What we have now is “Orteguismo,” a political-family project that has even been compared with the Somoza dynasty. That slogan is repeated in many occasions: “Ortega and Somoza are one and the same.” Obviously, the years have passed, we live in a different world, and Nicaragua is different. It resembles Somoza because of the authoritarianism, the control that the family has over the country, the repressive capacity — especially in rural areas —, the enrichment of the family and its closest group of associates, the corruption in the private use of the public resources. 

What can you tell me about the Interoceanic Grand Canal in the hands of Wang Jing, president of the HKND group?
Ortega is a “vendepatria,” or one who sells their country, as Augusto César Sandino used to say of the politicians of his time. He sold the country to a Chinese enterprise to build the Interoceanic Grand Canal [the start of the works of the project was delayed until the end of 2016]. And if he does not go ahead with it — because it is a fraud and it is crazy —, there is a law that allows that company and the Ortega group to take over the land allocated for the alleged canal and for the projects associated with the canal.

There are multinational companies now in Nicaragua that have an awful environmental performance in Latin America. Are the environment and nature in danger?
Yes. There is Cargill [the transnational US agrochemicals company], welcomed with honors by Ortega. We have the Canadian gold mining company B2Gold, and we have Monsanto [the transgenic seeds producer]. There are Korean, Taiwanese, and US free zones. Why does Nicaragua receive so much foreign investment, from multinationals and other big companies? The main reason is that Nicaragua maintains the lowest wages in all of Central America. Labor cost is so cheap that it is the only country in Central America able to compete with the low wages in Asian countries. The minimum salary in El Salvador is slightly more than double than ours, in Honduras it is more than double, in Guatemala it is slightly higher than in Honduras, and in Costa Rica it is four times more than ours.

Mining companies are causing environmental disasters where they work, as it is in the rest of Latin America. Right now the government has granted in concession 10 percent of the national territory for mining exploration and exploitation, especially gold mining.

What is the role of the Catholic Church of Nicaragua? During the 80s, it was a fierce enemy of Sandinismo, especially with Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo. Today it is an ally of the presidential family.
The hierarchy of the Catholic Church is divided, as it is in all parts of the world. Four of the 10 bishops of the Conference of Catholic Bishops of Nicaragua maintain critical positions of Ortega’s government. The other six maintain ambiguous positions, at times in favor of the government, but in general maintain silence. The Auxiliary Bishop in Managua, Msgr. Silvio Báez, is the one who has maintained a more consistent critical stance.

And what about the Evangelical Churches?
They have grown exponentially in the last few years, as in the rest of Central America and all Latin America. In general, they read the Bible in a way that leads to fundamentalism and passiveness and resignation when faced with realty. Then there are the historical Protestant Churches (Anglican, Baptist, Presbyterian, Methodist, Adventist, Lutheran), but they are in a clear minority compared to the Evangelical denominations that are each day more numerous, especially in poor neighborhoods of the cities and in rural areas.

What is the situation of the four indigenous ethnicities (8.9 percent of the total population, 520,000 people) of Nicaragua?
The largest ethnicity is the Mískito and coming in second place is the Mayangna ethnicity. The Rama ethnicity is quite small. There is also a presence of Garífunas, as in Honduras. These four ethnicities occupy areas of the North and South Caribbean. Historically, this region of the country that is immense and rich in natural resources has been abandoned or repressed by the central government. Now their lands are being invaded more rapidly by people from other parts of the country, with the complacency of the government. This has n place. The conflict, including armed conflict, among them in these past few years, has increased, and the Army does not take action.

What are the expectations for the present and the future of Nicaragua?
I am hoping for a better country, more just and happier. I believe that a different Nicaragua is possible, but this is not something that can be constructed in a short term. If I am not around when this happens, I know I did everything that I could, with all I had, for that to happen.  —Latinamerica Press.


María López Vigil/Paolo Moiola
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