Monday, July 03, 2006

Ex-Sandanista Presidential candidate dies

Nicaraguan Presidential candidate. Herty Lewites, died of a heart attack over the weekend. For those (i.e. most of us) who have not been following Nicaraguan politics recently, it will come as a surprise that there were two Sandanista presidential candidates, former President Daniel Ortega, standing as the officall FSLN candidate, and Herty Lewites, standing for the Movimiento Renovador Sandinista.

It is now 16 years since the FSLN lost power, following the massive US intervention in the 1990 election campaign, that saw the neo-liberal Chamorro elected president, and who then systematically rolled back the Sandanista gains of the 1980s. The FSLN failed to provide firm and principled opposition, and many Sandanista leaders apparently took part in the corporate plunder for personal enrichment. This may seem an outlandish claim, but following the 1996 election of President Arnoldo Aleman, Daniel Ortega entered into a pact with Aleman, to provide personal immunity for any criminal charges against either party leader. This was particularly useful for Ortega as it quashed efforts to prosecute him for the alleged sexual abuse of his step daughter, Zoilamerica Narvaez.

Former FSLN mayor of Managua, and former Tourism minister under Ortega, Herty Lewistes, therefore broke from Ortega last year, firstly challenging within the FSLN for the presidential candidacy, and then when expelled from the party, standing as a “Sandanista renovation” candidate. There is great bad feeling: Lewites has accused FSLN leader Tom├ís Borge of negotiating land deals which will net him close to $4 million and Ortega has labelled Lewites a "Judas" and stated that he will "end up hanged by his own shame."

The US ambassador, Paul Trivelli, was supporting Lewites, and apart from promoting “clean government” Lewites was completely quiet on whether or not he opposed neo-liberlaism. His candidacy was populism without content. As Toni Solo wrote before Lewites’s death: “Here we are a year on in. Lewites programme? No one knows. Would his foreign policy support Cuba and Venezuela? Don't know. What's his energy policy to deal with soaring oil prices? Don't know. What's his agricultural policy? No one can tell you. Health? Education? Um, sorry, no one knows. When the crucial vote came in Nicaragua's legislature on the Central American Free Trade Agreement Lewites refused to clarify his position. Why? Most likely because he supported CAFTA but didn't want to say. When asked about CAFTA just before that decisive vote, Lewites supporters like Victor Tirado and Monica Baltodano refused to answer questions on the issue, as did Lewites himself.”

What is more Lewites party has allegedly received funding from the US body, the the International Republican Institute, to train 5000 party workers for the election. At a recent hustings meeting in Miami Lewites said he would urge his voters to oppose Ortega and vote for the neo-liberal candidate if the election went to a second round.

There has been a great deal of controversy within the North American solidarity movement, with exchanges in Z-Net between Toni Solo on the one hand, andthe Nicaragua Network on the other, over whether the solidarity movement should be supporting a return to government of the FSLN. Whatever the faults of Ortega and however flawed the FSLN there seems very little point in a political solidarity movement that doesn’t take sides between the only credible candidate of the Nicaraguan left, Daniel Oregta, and a neo-liberal ex-Sandanista whose candidacy was promoted by the Bush government, Lewites.

The unfortunate death of Lewites increases the chances of the FSLN returning to power, and opens the possibility of Nicaragua moving politically closer to Venzuela, Cuba and Bolivia.


Louisefeminista said...

Ortega is loathesome for hiding behind immunity. The Nicaraguan Solidarity Campaign campaigned to remove the immunity. I remember reading an extremely powerful letter from a Nicaraguan feminist about how women are silenced when it comes to sexual and physical abuse and that she and other women felt betrayed and left down by Ortega and the people who backed him. Socialists should and ought to know better!

I also see similaries between Ortega and Jacob Zuma. In both cases the left made a political decision to ignore the women and not even examine the allegations.

How the hell can you expect women to trust the left if these kind of allegations are ignored or disbelieved?

AN said...

Well the question of Jacob Zuma clouds the waters a bit, as he was acquited of rape by a jury trial, and perhaps just as significantly the rape allegations followed the attempt to implicate Zuma in corruption which (rightly or wrongly) was seen by the left in the ANC, and the SACP as an attepmt to discredit the left by the neo-liberal wing of the ANC.
Just beacsue Zuma was accused of rape doesn't mean he was guilty - we don't know. I can understand why some on the South African left immediatly assumed it was afit up, and his subsequent acquittal gives that view some credibility.

With the question of Ortega, the issue is more clear cut, becasue he has chosen to hide behind a dodgy immunity deal, and clearly the fact that he has continued to be selected as the FSLN official candidate is indicative of the massive and damaging culture of machismo in Nicaragua. Let us also not forget that the immunity deal was originally a shield to protect party leaders from financial impropriety, and there is apparently widespread disillusion with FSLN corruption.

Having said all that, Ortega is the actual selected candidate for the FSLN, even though Nicaragua deserves a better FSLN candidate.

You question Louise is how can women trust the left, well clearly women in Nicaragua would be wise not to trust the FSLN in general, and Ortega in particular! And Nicaraguan women (and men) need to organise to repeal the immunity, and replace Ortega in the future.
But in the forthcoming elections - the issue of sexual abuse allegations notwithstanding - an FSLN victory will still be the best outcome, for women as well as men.

We can only hope that if elected there is some greater interaction between Nicaragua and Venezuela, where women have played an imortnat role in the revolution, and made big advances.

Louisefeminista said...

Yes, maybe so but I do think the way the woman was treated in the Zuma case was appalling beyond belief (she was verbally abused and physically attacked). I think the statement from WOSA really sums the case up.

And yes, there has to be a serious campaign to overturn immunity.

When allegations of the sexual abuse broke women's organisations spoke of being inundated with calls and visits from women who were survivors of sexual abuse and domestic. Just Zoilamerica Narvaez speaking out gave other women the courage to break the silence and also take on machismo.

I am not that optimistic about support for women's struggles though I will be so happy to be proved wrong. Maybe it is the case of the optimism of the will and pessmimism of the mind.

AN said...

I do agree. the vilification of the woman victoim in the Zuma trial was disgraceful, becasue she may have been telling the truth, and the left has a responisbility to empower women victims of abuse to come forward and know they will be given solidarity.

This gives the lie to those on the left who oppose the principle of womens self organisation, on the basis of some mystical power of class unity.

But I know one thing - womens' cause will not be helped by Ortega defeated by the right.

Louisefeminista said...

Overall I agree with what you say (and certainly what you say about autonomy)and even about the right winning against Ortega.

But.... I still am pessimistic.

AN said...

But it is a mixed situation, there are clear gains for women in Venuuezuela - as shown for example this viseo from Global Womens strike:
Hablemos del Poder /Talking of Power

Louisefeminista said...

I know more about the situation in Nicaragua re: women than Venezuela. Thanks for the links anyway. I need to read more about women in Venezuela.