TODAY NICARAGUA – If he wins the presidency of Nicaragua, the first international trip that presidential candidate Arturo Cruz would make would be to Costa Rica.
The INCAE Nicaragua professor since 1994 and a former Nicaraguan ambassador to the United States, fears that the Daniel Ortega regime is capable of boycotting the presidential aspirations that arise from the opposition.
However, he is confident that at the end of the day, Nicaraguan civil society, international observers and voters will make a change.
“If a qualified majority is achieved in the National Assembly, then we could greatly accelerate the recovery of the institutions. In other words, detach them from the (FSLN) party control and put them at the service of all,” said Cruz in an interview with La Republica, who considers that Nicaragua is not a Republic, but a 16th century monarchy.
What prompted you to run the presidency of Nicaragua?
During the more than 25 years that I have been a professor at INCAE, I have had the opportunity to live with students from all over Latin America. I have been teaching about political economy, political science and history. And always my students, to whom I owe so much, insisted that at some point I should make an effort to participate in public life.
On the other hand, in the current circumstances in which Nicaragua finds itself, after the social outbreak of 2018, with the repressive state that has been installed, the deep economic crisis, has forced me to seriously consider my participation in political life. I believe in my abilities, in my democratic values, in my experience of so many years teaching.
For this reason, I feel the commitment to contribute to the democratic reconstruction of the country and of course, to offer Nicaraguans an authentic nation plan.
Will it be possible to have a transparent and reliable electoral process?
Everything is still uncertain in Nicaragua. In May, the deadline for the Organization of American States (OAS) resolution urging the government to carry out electoral reforms expires. Some spokesmen of the regime have advanced the intention of carrying out some reforms, it is not yet known how deep. However, we are optimistic, we know that the international community has its eyes on these elections.
In the same way, within the country, the different opposition organizations are in a process of uniting for the November 7 elections and trying to pressure from different spaces so that the enabling conditions are given to go to vote.
Do you think that the presence of international observers could help make the process more transparent?
Undoubtedly. In fact, the OAS resolution that asks the Ortega government to carry out electoral reforms before May 2021 implies acceptance of the international and national observation. In all elections since 1990 in Nicaragua, international observers have played a fundamental role in the legitimacy and transparency of the process.
In recent electoral processes, there has been a rejection by the current government for electoral observation, to the point of prohibiting national observer bodies from participating in the process. But we are sure that taking into account the significance of these elections, international observation will be present.
It has been criticized that you were part of the Contra and later in 2007 you were Ambassador of Nicaragua to the United States. Is this a contradiction? What led you to accept this position in the government of Daniel Ortega?
I was ambassador in Washington from 2007 to 2009 and I did it for the “national interest” because in that context there was concern with the return of the Frent to power and the progress of relations with the United States should be protected.
There was great concern and uncertainty about the return of war, military service, hyperinflation, CAFTA and the Millennium Challenge Account. My decision to accept the position was also based on the requests of prominent national political actors, the private sector and the proposal of former President Jimmy Carter of the United States. But I served the country, not Ortega, and I did not do it because I shared an ideological affinity. In all my interventions in political life, I have put Nicaragua first above all else.
Daniel Ortega was elected in 2007 to the position and by 2022 when his term expires, he will have 15 years in power, what do you attribute to having achieved so many consecutive re-elections if Nicaragua is a country with many deficiencies in terms of opportunities and poverty that is estimated at 37%?
It is a complex issue to answer. But as I have always said in many interventions, one of the main abilities of the Ortega government, when he came to power in 2007, was its rapprochement with the private sector, with some sectors of the church, with the United States. That allowed him to generate tranquility outward, that the mistakes of the past would not return. And inwardly, build a policy of consensus with the private sector that allowed significant economic development.
On the other hand, let us not forget that for a decade the Ortega government relied on Venezuelan cooperation, which to some extent represented a parallel budget. At its peak, it had about US$500 million a year. With these flows of resources, he managed to implement something that I said at the time, a model of “responsible populism”, which basically consisted of solving the immediate needs of the poorest people in the country. However, if there is something that I also noticed at the time, it is that any economic progress is useless without the construction of democratic institutions.
Do you have full confidence in the Supreme Electoral Council of Nicaragua?
I believe that right now in Nicaragua no one can say that they trust the Supreme Electoral Council. Only if we are in total naivety could we not see that this power will continue to be controlled by the FSLN until the correlation of forces changes in the National Assembly. However, it is not the first time that we have a Supreme Electoral Council totally controlled by the ruling party.
In 1990, remember that Dr. Mariano Fiallos was president of the CSE, that no one could doubt that he was not a Sandinista. And even under these conditions, the Sandinista electoral machinery was defeated. Undoubtedly, it is important who is in charge of the electoral power, but in the current circumstances, we have other factors that are also decisive for success, one of them is the massive participation of the citizenry.
Do you think that President Ortega will take advantage of the position to boycott other presidential candidacies? how?
In today’s Nicaragua, anything is possible. We are in a 16th century Monarchy, not a Republic. We are aware of the legal framework that this regime has been building. One of them is the so-called “Law for the Defense of the Rights of the People.” A law that prohibits Nicaraguans who lead or finance a coup, alter the constitutional order, incite foreign interference, and promote terrorist acts from running for popularly elected positions. And since we are in a country where the law does not rule but rather the whims of the ruling couple (Ortega and his wife and vice president Rosaio Murillo), this is one of many laws that can be used against any candidacy. But I do believe that as the opposition unites and the formula that will finally confront Ortega takes shape, these laws will take a back seat.
Suppose that you won the elections, how long would it take for Nicaragua to take a turn for the benefit of the citizens?
I have always insisted that you have to speak to people with clarity and transparency. Democratizing Nicaragua will require a complex effort. This authoritarian regime did not take over the state overnight. If a qualified majority is achieved in the National Assembly, then we could greatly accelerate the recovery of the institutions. In other words, detach them from the party control they have and put them at the service of all. On the other hand, for our nation plan to be effective we must first achieve a minimum political stability. But I can say with total security that there will be a great transformation in Nicaragua in the short term, but without losing sight of the fact that for our country to emerge from underdevelopment we require a constant effort from many administrations.
What are your main proposals to recover democratic institutions and reactivate the economy in Nicaragua?
The first thing I would like to say is that, looking at events today in their proper measure, I am convinced that the three main problems in this country are corruption, confrontation and impunity. It is these problems that have this country in poverty, in backwardness, in the lack of employment, in permanent uncertainty.
I want people to know that if we enter this electoral battle it is to win, not to be a testimonial force and I say this with conviction. The first step is to recover the institutions and everyone’s money. We must achieve that with a qualified majority in the National Assembly. In the country there is a great demand for justice, we can achieve that with a regeneration of the judiciary, which is only possible from the Assembly.
At this stage, we are listening to people, to different sectors. Workers, merchants, peasants, small businessmen, students. We believe that we must first listen to what the people want so that together we can make a national plan that reflects the true demands of the nation. We are working on that.
What do you think of the commercial and economic integration of Central America?
I believe that it should be a platform with clear objectives and interests, not an abstract ideal. Likewise, it must promote foreign direct investment and become an export platform to the United States, which is our main market because we are economically part of its commercial ecosystem. All commercial and economic integration is complicated because diverse and often conflicting interests have to be coordinated and aligned. However, Central American integration has to be open to take advantage of our advantages and the opportunities of the world market. Closed schemes have not worked for a long time, they tend towards protectionism that hinders our participation in the world market. And let us remember, without integration in the world market, little progress we can offer to our societies.
What changes could we expect in the bilateral relationship with Costa Rica in a possible government of yours?
I have always argued that Nicaraguan prosperity is closely linked to Costa Rica. As president, my first international trip would be to Costa Rica, because Nicaragua has much to thank Costa Rican society and its institutions. How can we not thank a society that has received and given space to hundreds of thousands of Nicaraguans, whether as political refugees and economic migrants? I will work so that relations between Nicaragua and Costa Rica are closer and more profitable for both countries.
You present your latest research on the 300 years of the colony in commemoration of the bicentennial of independent living. What was your motivation for writing this book?
I want to tell you that many years ago I wrote a doctoral thesis on the 19th century in Nicaragua, specifically on the experience of the so-called Conservative Republic. However, I always had the desire to analyze the colonial period, taking into account that we have lived longer under the colonial yoke than as an independent nation. In fact, while studying my doctorate, one of my professors told me that if I wanted to understand 19th century America, I had to study the colonial period, because deep down, the 19th century is the continuation of the colony without the king. It was thus that I dedicated myself then to synthesize as best as possible those three hundred years of colonial history, which undoubtedly transcended to the Nicaragua of today.
Although your analysis focuses on Nicaragua, you also make some comparisons with Costa Rican society at that time. What features of the Costa Rican colonial society are maintained today?
Since its beginnings of independent life, Costa Rica has had a more idealized vision of its past than the rest of the Central American countries. The opposite happens in Nicaragua, the general conception of our past is that it is something terrible that we cannot overcome. What is fascinating about Costa Rican society in its history is that little by little it approached its idealized vision, they turned an ideal into reality, and thus surpassed, in my opinion, their colonial heritage.
Arturo Cruz, Presidential Pre-Candidate in Nicaragua
• Professor at INCAE Nicaragua Business School since 1994
• Ambassador of Nicaragua to the United States and Canada
• A visiting professor at the Higher School of Economics and Business (ESEN) in El Salvador
• Doctor in History from the University of Oxford in England
• Master’s degree in international relations from Johns Hopkins University at its headquarters in Washington
• Degree in Political Science from the American University