[Marxism] Circles Robinson: Big Bucks Campaigning in Little Nicaragua

Walter Lippmann walterlx at earthlink.net
Thu Nov 2 12:31:15 MST 2006

Big Bucks Campaigning in Little Nicaragua
By Circles Robinson*
November 2, 2006

Nicaraguans go to the polls on Sunday after months of saturation
advertising campaigns that have invaded just about every public and
private space.

The candidates include Daniel Ortega, trying to make a comeback after
being voted out in 1990; Jose Rizo, a hacienda owner elected VP with
the current president Enrique Bolaños; Edmundo Jarquin an economist
in his first bid for office; and Eduardo Montealegre a banker and
familiar face in the past two cabinets.

Lavish spending (estimated at well over 20 million dollars) on TV and
radio, billboards, banners, posters, baseball caps, t-shirts and the
massive consumption of fuel at over $3.00 a gallon, feed the illusion
that there are resources available to resolve everyone’s problems
once a winner is elected.

With their sizeable war chests, Ortega, Montealegre and Rizo have
made it possible for large quantities of people to be brought into
the cities for their major caravans or rallies to merge with locals
and demonstrate their numbers. Jarquin’s campaign was underfinanced
in comparison.

Since most of the rural poor cannot otherwise travel, a day off and a
free trip in a truck or bus is often treated like a family excursion.
Many people are said to attend the rallies of more than one candidate
enjoying the festive atmosphere and hoping to get a cap or a shirt.


Daniel Ortega, 61, has been ahead in all the polls from the beginning
of the campaign. After three successive defeats he used a new
campaign strategy designed by his campaign manager and the Sandinista
National Liberation Front (FSLN) communications boss, Rosario
Murillo, his wife. The key words are peace, love and reconciliation.

A frequently used TV ad has the candidate speaking with John Lennon’s
Give Peace a Chance, the campaign song, in the background. “The vast
majority of these families have decided to vote for jobs, peace and
reconciliation. Now more than ever there is a decision to produce a
profound change in our country,” states Ortega.

Huge pink billboards are ever-present throughout the country
proclaiming the FSLN as the solution to the country’s problems with
lettering in white and yellow, colors of the Catholic Church, and
proclaiming that a United Nicaragua will Triumph.

The Ortega campaign is non-confrontational as the candidate seeks a
second chance to govern. Campaign paraphernalia including posters,
t-shirts and caps are massively distributed as part of the effort to
convince the voters.

Murillo’s strategy has included Ortega declining to participate in
any of the many public debates or electoral forums organized by
universities, the media and social organizations. Ortega has also
refused to be interviewed by the press, stating that the couple’s
“pilgrimage” to the voters is all that counts.

Alliances with former enemies have been another important FSLN
campaign strategy, starting with his running mate, Jaime Morales, a
former leader of the US funded “contras” that fought the Sandinista
government in the 1980s. Morales was Arnoldo Aleman’s campaign
manager in 1996 when he defeated Ortega.

Several mid level “contra” leaders have also come on board during the
long campaign convinced by Ortega’s promises to address pending land
and financing problems.

Even more significant was the reconciliation between Ortega and
Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo, the Sandinista revolution’s chief
internal enemy during the revolutionary government Ortega led from

The two have now reconciled and last year the cardinal married Ortega
and Murillo, who have been together for nearly three decades, in a
religious ceremony. The cardinal frequently appears with the
candidate in public.

Murillo and Ortega’s steadfast support for repealing the country’s
therapeutic abortion law, in effect for over a hundred years, is
widely seen as a gesture to the cardinal and the Catholic Church. The
country will now prosecute doctors who practice abortion to save a
woman’s life and the patients themselves will also face hefty prison

During his campaign Ortega used massive vehicle caravans through
rural communities, towns, urban neighborhoods and cities to
demonstrate his party’s superior organizational capacity. The
caravans, as well as Murillo’s and his speeches to the onlookers,
were then rebroadcast in paid 10-20 minute television ads.

When speaking to his followers on the low end of the economic
spectrum, the former president attacks the “savage capitalism” and
the resulting poverty it has brought to the country.

Meanwhile, his running mate assures the private sector that his
government will not carry out confiscations or create a
confrontational climate that would hamper investment.

The FSLN has sharply criticized the United States government for
intervening in the campaign but says an Ortega government hopes to
have respectful relations with the Bush administration.

The candidate and his lieutenants have also praised Venezuela for
offering to help the country with discount oil, fertilizer and in
health care enabling some Nicaraguans to receive free eye operations
in the South American country and in Cuba.


The campaign of the Liberal Constitutionalist Party (PLC), winner of
the 1996 and 2001 elections, concentrated on a two prong attack of
Daniel Ortega, for being a return to the “dark night” of the 1980s,
and Eduardo Montealegre, for dividing the anti-Sandinista vote.

The PLC went to great effort to distance its candidate, Jose Rizo,
62, from his involvement in the corrupt Aleman administration
(1996-2001) and the current Bolaños government in which he was the
vice president.

Rizo also tried to shake any connection to the governance pact
between opposition leader Daniel Ortega and Arnoldo Aleman that
divided up posts on the different judicial, electoral and comptroller
powers to PLC and FSLN members. Ortega and Aleman justified the pact
saying that the two parties represented over 90 percent of the

A Rizo radio ad begins with chants of “Nicaragua First, Nicaragua
First,” the campaign slogan. The candidate then addresses his rural
following. “From the far corners of Nicaragua to the heart of the
country there is only one voice. It demands an end to conflicts and
divisions that only lead to poverty and backwardness. We are going to
progress with work for all, with health care for our children,
because the poverty is the result of our divisions. We are going to
progress with a united and strong government.”

In a TV ad the camera zooms in on Rizo with classical music in the
background. “I can say with pride what our candidates are offering.
My hands are clean of the corruption. We are telling those who made
the pact, which sunk Nicaragua in a backward state, that the
corruption steals the food off the people’s plates. We say never
again to Ortega and the pact.”

Rizo sees rural Nicaragua as his stronghold and addresses much of his
campaign to that sector mobilizing large numbers of the farm
population for caravans and public gatherings including the campaign
finale last Sunday when over 300,000 people converged on Managua.

The PLC campaign painted Rizo as the only candidate that can defeat
Daniel Ortega, to get votes from Liberals supporting Montealegre. He
repeatedly reminded voters of his party’s successful record in
previous elections that took Arnoldo Aleman and Enrique Bolaños to
the presidency.

Rizo shunned the last polls showing him running behind Ortega and
Montealegre in third place, stating that it is the rural population
not included in the polls that will make the difference.

The Bush administration unsuccessfully tried to get Rizo to withdraw
from the race but the PLC candidate did get support from Oliver
North, one of the lead figures in the Iran-Contragate scandal that
equipped the “contras” with covert funds coming from drug and arms

EDMUNDO JARQUIN, 60, ran by far the most inexpensive campaign 
of the four leading contenders, without the money for transporting
supporters or buying much billboard space.

Jarquin’s main strategy was to present his candidacy and the
Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS) as being the honest side of the
legacy left by Augusto Sandino who successfully fought the US
occupation troops in the late 1920s and early 30s, and those that
later made possible the 1979 Sandinista Revolution that ended the
Somoza dictatorship.

A relative unknown to the general population, Jarquin urgently needed
to become a household name when he substituted the MRS candidate,
Herty Lewites, a popular former FSLN mayor of Managua who died on the
campaign trail of a sudden heart attack on July 2.

Calling him the “feo”, or plain faced guy who wants a pretty
Nicaragua, the initial MRS advertising was designed to give the
candidate name recognition and hold on to Lewites supporters.

Following Lewites groundwork, Jarquin took a moderate center-left
stance and said his government would avoid confrontation that would
ruin the country’s chance to progress.

Jarquin has appealed to undecided voters by stressing his
professional reputation as an economist, projecting that he is the
most qualified of the candidates.

The fight against widespread corruption and criticism of what Jarquin
calls the “dirty pact” between Ortega and Aleman was combined with a
call to reduce the State bureaucracy and mega salaries as key
features of the campaign.

In a TV ad containing images of the countryside and artists
performing, Jarquin stated: “I want to tell all you Nicaraguans that
in my government there are going to be some unemployed people because
we are going to reduce the number of Supreme Court Justices from 16
to 9 and National Assembly deputies from 90 to 45 as well as end the
mega-salaries. The millions saved will be invested in programs for
the poorest sectors so they don’t have to emigrate.”

Besides marches and vehicle caravans Jarquin’s campaign activities
often included cultural events featuring concerts by vice
presidential candidate Carlos Mejia Godoy and his group.

Mejia Godoy, who substituted Jarquin as the VP candidate when 
Lewites died, is widely recognized as the country’s most popular
singer/songwriter and the leading promoter of Nicaraguan culture. 
He wrote the main revolutionary songs used before and after the  
fall of Somoza.

Since Mejia is well known throughout the country, he traveled
extensively to promote the MRS cause.

Jarquin and Mejia have made it a point to attend virtually all
election forums to make their party’s intentions known.

EDUARDO MONTEALEGRE of the Nicaraguan Liberal Alliance (ALN) is
using, like Jose Rizo of the PLC, a double edged attack strategy
against Ortega as the enemy that would take Nicaragua back to war and
shortages and Rizo for dividing up the “democratic” votes and giving
Ortega a chance to win on the first round.

Montealegre, a 51-year-old banker, repeatedly uses the polls in his
ads to show he is in second place ahead of Rizo to try and get PLC
voters to switch over to the ALN to stop Ortega.

Both Montealegre and Rizo tried to get the other candidate to drop
out of the race and the United States used its ambassador and several
and congressional emissaries to try and convince Rizo to throw in the
towel and avoid a return of the dreaded Sandinistas.

But it was all in vain. Up to the final day of the campaign on
Wednesday the ALN and PLC candidates carried out a media blitz to
convince voters that casting a ballot for the other was a wasted vote
that would put Ortega in the presidency.

During his radio campaign advertising Montealegre told rural voters:
“I want to tell my brothers from the countryside that I’m going to
develop an investment bank that will guarantee more and better
financing with lower interest for all.”

Montealegre reached out to the private sector with his TV message:
“Liberals and independents, the polls show that only one candidate
can defeat Daniel Ortega. Only one candidate is endorsed by COSEP,”
the organization that represents larger business interests.

Another TV ad uses a news reporter format and says: “Eduardo
Montealegre stated that his principles are very different than those
of Daniel Ortega, who attacks democracy by calling producers and
economists ‘savage capitalists’ forgetting that he and his associates
stole millions from the people of Nicaragua. How can he say he
represents the poor and drive around in a 140,000 dollar Mercedes

The candidate has participated in large caravans and marches, mostly
appearing on foot, as well as rallies trying to project a youthful,
caring appearance.

The US ambassador Paul Trevelli and numerous Bush administration
officials, advisers and Republican congress people have joined the
Montealegre scare campaign warning that an Ortega victory would have
unforeseeable negative consequences for Nicaragua’s future, including
a possible blocking of family remittances and an end to US economic

*Circles Robinson is a US journalist based in Havana who is covering
the Nicaraguan elections. His articles and commentaries can be read
at www.circlesonline.blogspot.com.

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