Struggle to Rule Nicaragua Begins


WHEN long-time Sandinista supporter Manuel Araica Giron defiantly cast his ballot last Sunday for opposition candidate Violeta Barrios de Chamorro, the sewing-machine repairman had no idea what her platform contained. He didn't really care.

For like hundreds of thousands of Nicaraguan voters, Mr. Araica simply wanted a change - an end to the war and economic misery that he now associates with the 11-year reign of the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN).

``We're fed up,'' says Araica, after waiting two hours in line at a gas station to fill up his gallon jug with kerosene. ``We don't want bloodshed, hunger, long lines. We want to return to a time of peace.''

But now that Araica and 55 percent of all Nicaraguan voters have rejected Daniel Ortega Saavedra and the ruling Sandinistas, many here are starting to wonder: Who exactly have we put in power? Are they capable of governing a deeply divided Nicaragua?

The questions reverberated through the capital Tuesday as the Sandinistas displayed their defiance.

President Ortega, explaining the election defeat to thousands of faithful supporters, has staked out a tough bargaining position.

As the opposition, he told them, the Sandinistas would fight ``without quarter'' to defend the ``conquests of the revolution'' - not just economic and social reforms, but the ``integrity and professionalism'' of the Army as well.

``The FSLN,'' he said, ``will continue governing from below.''

That night, as if trying to calm Sandinista passions, Mrs. Chamorro delivered an address by radio calling for the immediate demobilization of the contras and a political amnesty for the Sandinistas.

It was not the kind of firm, anti-Sandinista rhetoric that has marked Chamorro's discourse since she was chosen as candidate for the National Opposition Union (UNO).

But diplomats note that the conciliatory tone may be needed to avoid chaos and confrontation between the UNO and the Sandinistas.

The UNO, a coalition of 14 parties ranging from conservative to communist, is an anomaly that seems to reflect Nicaragua's fractured political world. It was formed in mid-1988 to influence the process of constitutional reform. Early last year the coalition turned into a marriage of electoral convenience.

In selecting a candidate last summer, the UNO got bogged down in deep ideological and personal splits. The coalition finally settled on Chamorro, an outsider who had shown few political strengths besides her symbolic impact as the widow of martyred newspaper editor, Pedro Joaqu'in Chamorro Cardenal, who was murdered in 1978.

Chamorro's image has been that of the benign matriarch who has fought both the Sandinistas and the Somozas (former dictator Anastasio Somoza Debayle was overthrown in 1979). This image has helped keep the UNO from splintering too severely during the campaign.

But her selection has also created a new locus of power, one so dominated by family members that some UNO members see in it the makings of a dynasty.

Largely bypassing the UNO's political council, Chamorro has depended almost entirely on an informal group of family advisers.

These include her eldest son, Pedro Joaqu'in Jr., who until last year was a director of the United States-backed contra rebels; her daughter, Cristiana, current editor of La Prensa; Cristiana's husband, Antonio Lacayo, a resourceful businessman who ran Dona Violeta's campaign; and Lacayo's brother-in-law, Alfredo C'esar, a former Central Bank president who is considered the candidate's top adviser.

Diplomats say that Mr. C'esar, Mr. Lacayo, and Pedro Joaqu'in will play key roles in the new government, while members of the political council will have little influence.

``The Chamorro family does have a dynastic tendency,'' says one member of the political council, recounting a family history of presidents and statesmen. ``But it's the last thrust of Nicaraguan oligarchy and it will say goodbye, ironically, with a Chamorro.''

During the campaign, the struggle for control between her family cabinet and the UNO political council resulted in bickering, backbiting, even a shoving match.

But the UNO won in spite of itself.

Now it must take on the more demanding task of governing a country in which the opposition also controls the Army and the police.

To make matters more difficult, the UNO coalition boasts few capable administrators - and very little cohesion as a governing body.

Nevertheless, Violeta is considered a tenacious woman with a proven ability to reconcile opposing forces - not just with the unwieldy UNO coalition but with her family as well.

Even though two of her children led the Sandinistas' propaganda attack against her campaign, the family still makes time to get together for occasional dinners.

If Nicaragua is ever going to be free of war, diplomats say, Chamorro must also be able to get the Sandinistas and the UNO to sit down at the same table.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
QR Code to Struggle to Rule Nicaragua Begins
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today