Pragmatism tempers a revolutionary past

By Rafael Moreno Izquierdo (for Safe Democracy)

Rafael Moreno Izquierdo analyzes Daniel Ortega‘s second opportunity as President of Nicaragua. Despite his friendship with Raúl Castro, Hugo Chávez and Evo Morales, Ortega is not the same revolutionary that we remember from the seventies and eighties. He has managed to temper his revolutionary past with a strong dose of pragmatism to make him effective in the twenty first century. In Moreno Izquierdo‘s opinion, Ortega‘s election will not transform Nicaragua into a capitalist paradise, nor will the Nicaraguan economy model itself off of the highly regulated examples of Cuba or China. The future, therefore, will depend on Daniel Ortega‘s ability to prove that he truly has changed, and on the politicians and businessmen of the United States and Europe to believe him.

IN POLITICS, IT IS RARE TO GET A SECOND CHANCE. Daniel Ortega got it. The question now is what will he do with it? Will he waste it? Or will be able to reinvent himself?

It is clear that this time, Ortega deserved to win. His victory was achieved through democratic means. He had lost four elections in a row, yet his dream to lead the Nicaraguan people without becoming an international pariah, helped him to combine pragmatism with his revolutionary past. And in the end, he persevered.

One can change, but not that much, which is why no one is surprised that Ortega is still best friends with Raúl Castro, Hugo Chávez and Evo Morales: Latin America’s unruly children. However, the new Daniel Ortega is not the same Sandinista revolutionary of the seventies and eighties. He seems to have learned something from the sixteen years he spent in the opposition.

That’s why he has been careful not to antagonize his Yankee counterparts. He cordially received a congratulatory phone call from George W. Bush following his election, and has made it clear that his decision to join Chavez private common market –the Bolivarian Alternative of the Americas (ALBA)– cannot be interpreted as a desire to sever relations with the United States or to leave the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas. The explanation for his actions is purely financial.

Daniel Ortega needs money to put his second revolution into practice. Without it, Nicaragua will continue to be one of the poorest countries on the continent, with a scarce and inconsequential legacy. The Nicaragua that chose Ortega will not become a capitalist paradise, nor will it model itself off the regulated economies of Cuba or China. Ortega has moved on from those days. His challenge now will be to avoid falling into the same cycle of corruption as his liberal predecessors, and to find a model for sustained development without becoming too dependent on aid.

We must understand that Daniel Ortega cannot refuse gifts, despite the fact that they compromise his public image. Chavez knows that the new Nicaraguan president is vulnerable and cannot say no to his offers for economic aid and investment.

Venezuelan aid, therefore, has taken on the most pressing issues in Managua. Money has been poured into solving the problems of electricity (to create 15 generating plants as immediate solutions to the frequent blackouts that sometimes last over ten hours every day), poverty (through public cooperatives), and infant malnutrition, as well as the cancellation of the bilateral debt, which totals over 34 million dollars.

Ortega’s metamorphosis now depends, more than ever, on what the Europeans and Americans are ready to do. The West has no other choice but to rival Chavez and offer the same or greater economic incentives to Ortega. With the proper structural policies, and the elimination of corruption, Nicaragua can and should grow, bettering its economy and the standard of life of its citizens. This is good news for all of us.

However, the strategy should not only be public. The International Monetary Fund, directed by Spaniard Rodrigo Rato, who knows Central America well, will be fundamental in legitimizing Nicaragua’s structural reforms. The multinationals –beginning with the Spanish Union Fenosa— can also play an important role in spurring Nicaragua’s development. If Repsol and other foreign companies accepted to renegotiate their conditions with a Bolivia led by Evo Morales, to compensate the unequal distribution of benefits, they can do it with Managua, without having to force Ortega to radicalize his position.

Yet, the future of Nicaragua depends as much on the politicians and businessmen of capitalist countries, as on Daniel Ortega’s capacity to prove the veracity of his transformation.

We can all benefit from this second opportunity.