On Monday morning, several patients, a few children among them, sat on a couple of benches next to the dentist office at the Edgard Lang Health Center, located in the San Judas neighborhood of Managua. The place was packed. Someone asked for a nurse who had not arrived yet, while another person asked for an appointment. They didn’t even stop to look at the mural behind them, which promoted reasons to vote for the ruling Sandinista party. “We have practiced and will continue to practice democracy,” it read.
Weeks ago, when the pro-government media publicized a call for university scholarships, it was reported that applicants were to send a request through a letter addressed to Daniel Ortega. The same goes for a housing program called Bismarck Martínez, named after a Sandinista militant who, according to the FSLN, was murdered in 2018. In activities, both large and small, the president known for having long periods of absence is omnipresent, and is presented as the great benefactor.
Ana Quirós, director of the NGO Centro de Información y Servicios de Asesoría en Salud (CISAS), which was confiscated in 2018, questions the FSLN ‘s use of social necessities purely for electoral purposes. “It is the responsibility of the State, not of the FSLN, to comply with work in health, housing, and feeding of the citizenry, and it cannot be that a party or a person appropriates revenues from what it does with the taxes paid by Nicaraguans. He is usurping state resources for his campaign,” says Quirós via telephone from Costa Rica, where she relocated after she was expelled by the Ortega government in November 2018.
Between March 5 and 7, the Matagalpa Mayor’s Office, located 130 kilometers north of Managua, inaugurated a soccer stadium in which 88 million córdobas (approximately 2.5 million dollars) were invested. However, the FSLN mayor, Sadrach Zeledón, acknowledged to the official media that the project received exonerations as part of a state policy. “If it had not been exonerated we would be talking about 99 million córdobas”, he detailed as an achievement.
A day prior to the event, FSLN fanatics showed their excitement. Fidel Moreno, political secretary of the FSLN in Managua – which is historically linked to Real Estelí, the team that played against the local team – arrived at the site in a surprise visit. Photographs were taken with him and uploaded to social networks.
On the day of the ribbon cutting, guarded by dozens of police officers who broke the image of normality imposed by the authorities, the mayor of Matagalpa welcomed residents, supporters of his party, who traveled in their own vehicles and in buses provided by the municipality.
Mayor Zeledón told the local officialist media that everyone should be grateful to those who made this project possible with their support, which writes a page in the history of the department and in that of national sports. “We have to thank our Commander President Daniel and our Vice President Rosario. Let’s give them a round of applause, because it is through them that this extraordinary work in Matagalpa has been possible,” he told the crowd that at the end of the program.
The opposition in jail, and the FSLN on the campaign trail
In Nicaragua, there are two opposing pictures that portray how political rights are exercised with less than eight months to go before the November elections, and without any electoral reform to guarantee free elections with international observation. On the one hand, opposition leaders are besieged by the Police in their homes and have no possibility to meet or participate in political activities and, on the other hand, FSLN supporters carry out activities in neighborhoods and public institutions to promote the reelection of the Sandinista caudillo, using all State resources at will.
In November 2020, the machinery was set in motion by the FSLN, projecting Ortega, the only candidate that the party has had since 1984, as the 2021 candidate. The first lady and vice-president Rosario Murillo and Ortega himself are in charge of the strategy. The presidential couple’s circle of power includes their children and several loyal ministers, but the most prominent is the president of the National Assembly, Gustavo Porras. Last December, he assured that they will not dispute power in 2021, but that “we are going to defend the power of the revolution”.
Weeks later, the legislator justified the laws of “foreign agents”, the censorship of “false news”, “traitors to the homeland and the establishment of life imprisonment”, which have been pointed out by the opposition as a threat to inhibit potential presidential candidates, as a necessary scaffolding to fulfill his political objectives.
Porras is the main executing arm of the Electoral Victory Units (Unidad de Victorias Electorales, in Spanish) which work in the neighborhoods in coordination with local police authorities and district and departmental political secretaries.
The Electoral Victory Units (EVUs) were installed last November to commemorate the 44th anniversary of the assassination of FSLN founder Carlos Fonseca Amador. In order to achieve its political mission, the ruling party counts on a number of affiliates, which until 2009 was slightly more than one million people, a figure that has not been updated after the state repression, and whose number remains unknown given the incorporation for reasons of convenience of some of its members.
From electoral commandos to the EVUs
Sociologist Elvira Cuadra, an expert on security issues, considers that the EVUs replace the former electoral commandos with a monitoring and political control function.” The main function is political surveillance over the citizenry and the promotion of the Government’s campaign activities taking into account that they have lost significant support as a result of the socio-political crisis of 2018,” Cuadra explains.
The researcher warns that repression plays a central role in the electoral process. Taking into account that every election year there is an upturn in political violence, “it is not strange that this happens in 2021, especially because these elections have a particular meaning for the population in that they are conceived as the real possibility of making a political change by peaceful and democratic means”.
A source from the Government party confided to CONFIDENCIAL that the main task of the EVUs is to guarantee an electoral network, formed by unconditional militants, and to do grassroots political work in the run-up to the elections. To achieve this, they will give talks on history, but also on the “program of the National Government and of the Mayoralties in execution”, “that of the Government in the next five years” and “defending the vote for the FSLN”.
In a UVE, identified on Facebook as Mauricio Duarte, it can be seen that several members of this community have recently started receiving “democratic history”. Immediately, the goal in general terms is the characterization of the voters in the Voting Reception Boards, which according to the Electoral Law, are 400 people per board. The idea is to determine how many are with them, who are opponents and those who are undecided. With the latter, they could try to convince them with political clientelism, with the adversaries “they will not waste time”.
This same source confirmed that Porras acts as a sort of super minister among his cabinet peers, since he is the coordinator of the social area and supervises the activities in the department of León, in the west of the country.
Fidel Moreno, on the other hand, works under the orders of the presidential couple and keeps a close eye on the capital, where most of the population is concentrated. Both are the most trusted officials in the circle formed by the presidential couple.
Guiomar Irías, president of the Institute of Municipal Development, supervises Masaya; Bosco Castillo, Minister of Youth, Carazo; Isidro Rivera, vice-minister of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, Rivas and Granada, while the rest of the departments are the responsibility of experienced political secretaries such as Francisco Valenzuela, in Estelí; Pedro Haslam, in Matagalpa or Leónidas Centeno, in Jinotega.
“There are national commissions by area where they determine actions, investments, budgets and operational calendars when it comes to allocating central resources to a certain municipality or department”, he added.
The Minister of Finance, Iván Acosta, coordinates the National Commission of Production, Consumption and Budget, which is made up of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, the Nicaraguan Institute of Agricultural Technology, the Ministry of Economy, the National Electricity Transmission Company and the National Disaster Prevention System. Programs such as the technological bonus for cattle ranchers and farmers, fairs by municipality, and the Zero Usury program are managed there.
Meanwhile, the National Infrastructure Commission is coordinated by retired Major General Oscar Mojica, Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure, with responsibility for highway programs and macadam roads that they consider strategic.
At the local level, the meetings that the FSLN structures hold in the communities of the country, of which they publish some photographs, are usually convivial gatherings where they help clean parks, or invite people to recreational activities, but they take advantage to send a political message.
In November 2020, when the EVUs were installed in Managua, the political secretary of the ruling party in District V, Luis Enrique Balladares, said to media related to the Government that they are part “of the trenches for the defense of the vote, because in 2021 we are going to guarantee the people the triumph of the FSLN”.
The documents for the “electoral contest”, which are used as a basis for their work for Orteguismo are called “Lights on Lights”, attributed to Murillo and addressed to political secretaries, which was published in December by CONFIDENCIAL, in which a territorial organization is proposed for the process and the dissemination of popular state works to project the Government.
The second text is presented as “a Christian and solidary plan, for dignity and unity for the common good 2021 (February)”.
The FSLN campaign resources
Although economist Otero doubts the financial capacity of the Government to dispose of funds for the FSLN electoral campaign, the regime closed last year with US$ 764 million in the state coffers which came from the International Monetary Fund and the Central American Bank for Economic Integration. Donations were also received after the impact of hurricanes Iota and Eta, which hit the Northern Caribbean and the departments of Matagalpa, Jinotega and Madriz, in November 2020.
The Minister of Finance, Iván Acosta, projects a new scenario, in which the executive increased the amount destined to public investment in this electoral year from 25 billion to 32 billion córdobas, prioritizing areas such as infrastructure, drinking water or housing construction.
In the government’s plan it was stated that funds were injected into social spending: health, education and public order and security. The development of two departmental hospitals, five primary hospitals, and the vaccination against covid-19, in which they promise to put 1.18 million vaccines throughout the national territory, are also expected. If they materialize, these works together with the attempt to revitalize the economy, will be visible during the electoral campaign to project a good image in the economic management of Ortega and Murillo.
Otero says that if the Government can make some “royalties”, they will do so from the funds that they collect, because the cooperation that is arriving in the country against coronavirus is “coming in material form and the agencies are disclosing what is donated. They have a pretty tight budget belt”.
The propaganda machine
On a social media account called “Daniel presidente 2021”, lawyer Azahálea Solís found herself as an object of ridicule by Sandinista fanatics at the beginning of March, in a meme in which she receives the coronavirus vaccine from the hands of Daniel Ortega. Right there she shouts “Viva Daniel” in an improbable scene because of her status as a member of the opposition, a member of the critical Autonomous Women’s Movement and aunt of a young man arrested for political reasons twice since 2018, a political prisoner for more than a year and one of the 125 prisoners of conscience who remain in Ortega’s jails.
“They put my face on another body. I don’t wear that kind of blouse,” Solis says of one of the ruling party’s ongoing strategies: smear campaigns against political rivals.
In the last weeks, they have also attacked Felix Maradiaga, the presidential pre-candidate of the National Blue and White Unity, the media critical of the presidential administration, the Chamorro family – their obsession when the target is the oligarchy – and, in contrast, an over-dimensioning of the propaganda of the works of the State can be seen in the same networks.
On social networks, CONFIDENCIAL found that the UVE have published the attack against the opposition, articles to justify the confiscation of the facilities of independent media and again, the propaganda in favor of Ortega in recent weeks.
The anniversary of the death of former Venezuelan ruler Hugo Chavez occupied a special place in the UVE agenda, following Murillo’s monologue at noon on March 5 on the TV networks and radio stations controlled as private companies by the party: channels 2, 4, 6, 8 and 13, Radio Ya, Radio Sandino and Radio Nicaragua, among others.
Murillo’s omnipresence contrasts with the prolonged absences of Ortega, whose public appearances have been reduced to seven activities since September 2nd. In all cases the Institute of Telecommunications and Post (Telcor) ordered radio and television networks, according to public records, to disseminate campaign messages of the FSLN candidate for reelection.
In one of those TV chains, on January 11, Ortega called for a “national dialogue”, but after the November 7 elections, to build the great alliance that, according to him, collapsed because the objective of “our enemy was to collapse” Nicaragua, referring to the 2018 opposition demonstrations that the Executive qualifies as a failed coup attempt.
“But after much patience the people said ‘No!’ Now it’s about working so that after this year’s elections, a great national agreement can be installed, a great national dialogue, so that what was approved in the Constitution can walk again,” Ortega said in allusion to the alliance he maintained for more than a decade with big businessmen.
Last March 9, on the pro-government Channel 4, during the news program Multinoticias, a spot was broadcasted with images of health brigades in the neighborhoods, of supposed advances in housing programs, and of hospitals under construction – while the regime maintained the censorship order against the independent media. A woman’s voice says: “Only Sandinismo has the will to assume and develop these projects”, while these words can be read: “The people do not stop. Always going beyond. Daniel”.
This article been translated by Ana María Sampson, a Communication Science student at the University of Amsterdam and member of our staff*