NICARAGUA: FAVORING CAPITALISM
OCTOBER 22, 1996
The apparent victor for president of Nicaragua is Arnoldo Aleman, a former coffee grower and mayor of Managua, whose strong capitalist leanings made him the favorite over leftist Sandinista leader, Daniel Ortega Saavedra. Unwilling yet to concede defeat, Ortega is calling for a review of the election process, believing there were " a series of anomalies" in the vote. A background report by Charlayne Hunter-Gault is followed by a discussion among two Central American experts and Jim Lehrer.
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CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: (bells ringing in background) -- For more than a decade, Daniel Ortega and his leftist Sandanista government ran Nicaragua. Praised by some as true revolutionaries and denounced by the Reagan administration and others as menace to Central America, the Sandanistas held on to power through a civil war against an opposition army financed by the United States. Thousands died during the conflict.
In 1990, Ortega put himself before Nicaragua's voters and to his surprise and the surprise of many others, he was decisively defeated by Violetta Chamorro. A moderate, Mrs. Chamorro's newspaper editor-husband, Pedro Joaquin Chamorro, was murdered in 1978, as a consequence of his vigorous opposition to the government of longtime dictator Anastasio Samosa.
In her six years in office, Mrs. Chamorro attempted to preside over a government of national reconciliation. She kept Sandinistas in key government posts, including the defense ministry. With Mrs. Chamorro's term up, Nicaragua went into new elections. Once again, Ortega was the major candidate from the left although he had put aside much of his socialist rhetoric. From the right, the major candidate was Arnoldo Aleman, lawyer, coffee-grower, and former mayor of the capital, Managua. On Sunday, nearly 2 million Nicaraguans went to voting booths in rural villages and Managua.
It was a turnout of nearly 80 percent in a country that has been run by right-wing and left-wing dictators for most of the past 64 years since the U.S. Marines' ended their occupation. Aleman claimed victory with almost 48 percent of the vote. Ortega, who was getting 40 percent in the early count, claimed fraud and refused to concede defeat.
JIM LEHRER: Now, the views of two Americans who were there for Sunday's election, Brian Atwood, the administrator of USAID, the agency for international development, and Robert Pastor, a professor of political science at Emery University, director of the Latin American and Caribbean program at the Carter Center. He was part of an observer delegation headed by former President Carter. Mr. Pastor, was the election fair and free?
ROBERT PASTOR: I think the election went quite well, despite the complexity of the election. People turned out in large numbers. There were many party poll watchers. There was respect for the election council. So far, it's gone well, but, of course, it's not finished yet. Less than--about 2/3 of the--of the votes have been counted, and so there's still a way to go.
JIM LEHRER: Do you think Ortega's got a legitimate complaint?
MR. PASTOR: I think he has a legitimate concern. He has not said he wants a recount, nor has he said there's fraud. We met with him yesterday afternoon. He said that he wanted to be able to compare the results that were being published by the election council on a polling station by polling station basis with the results that they have by their tally sheets. That's a reasonable request. We meant with Arnoldo Aleman, and President Chamorro and everyone agreed that was a reasonable request...
JIM LEHRER: So you don't think anything is going to come of this, is that--in other words, you think this is going to be accepted by Ortega once he sees all these papers?
MR. PASTOR: He assured us he would follow the law and respect the results, but they wanted to review to see if there were discrepancies between their tally sheets and the results of the election. At this very moment, his party's representatives are working with the election council to review these very documents. I think one has to await--
JIM LEHRER: Sure.
MR. PASTOR: --this analysis before one draws a conclusion as to how serious the complaints are.
JIM LEHRER: Mr. Atwood, based on what you saw, what did you think of the elections in terms of their fairness and their, and their accuracy?
BRIAN ATWOOD: We issued a statement, realizing of course that we were making this statement before the process was complete, indicating that the Nicaraguan people would see this as a free and fair process. When you have 82 percent of the people voting, that is very significant. I hope the American people listen to this and on November 5, they can come up to that level, but this was really quite something to observe, people standing line for six hours in the rain and in the sun. It was quite a process, and I had the opportunity yesterday morning to meet with Daniel Ortega, and I asked him specifically if he had any problems at that point. That was when only 35 percent of the vote was in. He said he didn't have any problems. He has with him one of his senior advisers is the former head of the electoral council, Mariano Filalios. So I think they know this process.
They know that the OAS has a parallel vote count. They know that the--a local group, Etica Etransparencia, has a parallel vote count as well. I told them that the council, the electoral council, was consulting with these groups and looking at these parallel vote counts. I think he has a legitimate right to ask for a closer examination of the count, but I'll speculate a bit and suggest that perhaps what he's doing is less of a concern about the vote count, itself, than a reaction to Aleman's...what he considers a premature announcement that he is the victor. I think it's gamemanship, I don't think it's serious.
JIM LEHRER: You don't think it's serious? You mean Aleman declared himself the victor before all the votes had been tallied
MR. ATWOOD: We'll I wouldn't go that far, but at 4am in the morning he made an announcement indicated that he had won. And there was a good deal of celebration all day long on the part of his people and, and Ortega's people were concerned a bit about triumphalism, as they called it, so--
JIM LEHRER: And just kind of annoyed ‘em and so they said wait a minute--
MR. ATWOOD: Well I don't know, but I think he has a right to this, to ask for a legitimate right to ask for this count. I think this whole process is being dragged out a little longer. I think you're going to see that the margin is, as it is now, about 48, 49 or maybe 50% for Aleman and about 39% for Ortega.
JIM LEHRER: Mr. Pastor, do you joint Mr. Atwood's speculation on that?
MR. PASTOR: Yeah. I think Mr. Atwood is correct. Part of the reason, part of the motive on the part of the Sandinistas was that Aleman and his party had leaped ahead and claimed victory. You remember in 1990 Mrs. Charmorro had withheld such comments which permitted a more natural sequence to take place. But I'm sure a review of the tally sheets does not need to get in the way of the counting. That counting should continue, but it quite slowly, they've only gotten 2/3s of the way, and that will continue.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Begin with you Mr. Atwood. Tell us about Aleman, the man, this is somebody that is not known--Daniel Ortega, as Charlayne's piece just--we know who Daniel Ortega is.
MR. ATWOOD: That's right. That's right.
JIM LEHRER: But who is Aleman?
MR. ATWOOD: Well, it's interesting. I was there in 1990, as was Bob Pastor and President Carter. Uh, no one knew Aleman at the time. I mean, he was a businessman. He became mayor of, of Managua and did a very good job as a technocrat sort of a person who gets things done.
JIM LEHRER: He's a businessman. What kind of business was he in?
MR. ATWOOD: I'm not entirely sure.
MR. PASTOR: He's a coffee grower.
JIM LEHRER: What was that, Mr. Pastor?
MR. PASTOR: He was a coffee grower.
JIM LEHRER: Coffee grower. Okay. All right. Continue.
MR. ATWOOD: And he did get a lot of things done. He built roads he made the city of Managua look nicer. He served the people of Managua and got quite a reputation for that. I think it's an indication of how far along the democracy has come in Nicaragua that a person that wasn't even on the scene in 1990 is now apparently been elected president.
JIM LEHRER: Mr. Pastor the stories, the pre-game stories like all pre-game election stories said, hey, this was going to be a close election and Ortega had a really good chance of winning, and suddenly this apparent result. Explain that. What happened?
MR. PASTOR: Well, I think actually Daniel Ortega's support did rise quite considerably according to many of the polls. About 3 or 4 months ago he was down about 26 % and its looks now that his level of support is roughly 40 - 41%, roughly the same amount that he got in 1990. But I think that perhaps alot of people perhaps got scared in Nicaragua at the end and decided to shift votes that might have gone to many of 21 moderate candidates that went to Aleman, which gave him a little bit more support at the end.
JIM LEHRER: What do you think about him? Why do we need to know about him, those of us who don't know anything about him, what's the most important thing we should know tonight?
MR. PASTOR: Well, he is a person that heads a coalition that feels very strongly that the Sandinista past is a difficult one and one in his case, his property was confiscated, he was put in prison. Many of the people, as you can imagine, have some hard feelings. They talk less about reconciliation than they talk about rule of law. That may be a good thing in some ways. Nicaragua has reached the point that it should rely on the law, but it also still needs a good deal of reconciliation to heal the wounds of a decade of civil war.
JIM LEHRER: Mr. Atwood, do you agree that those, those wounds are still there between the Sandinistas and the other elements as represented by Mr. Aleman?
MR. ATWOOD: There's a lot of hard feeling that is still there, and I think the campaign rhetoric here didn't help a lot. I think that Mrs. Chamorro.
JIM LEHRER: The campaign rhetoric was really mean on this--
MR. ATWOOD: Pretty tough.
JIM LEHRER: Wasn't it?
MR. ATWOOD: It was pretty tough.
JIM LEHRER: Let's explain. One side, they were saying it's a return to Samosa. On the other side, they were Marxist Sandinistas, right?
MR. ATWOOD: Right. And Aleman has even suggested that we need to have a truth commission. We've had a tripartheid commission. The OAS has been looking into human rights violations. There are some cases that are still being pursued in this process, but six years or more later, I think that we obviously would like to see more of an emphasis on reconciliation. I'm now speaking for our government and would like to see these parties come together. He's going to have to work with the Sandinista block in the assembly, and the assembly will be a more in the next few years.
JIM LEHRER: Moving from politics to economics, for just a moment, Mr. Atwood, what kind of shape is Nicaragua in as a country?
MR. ATWOOD: They've stabilized their economy, something like 13,000 percent inflation since Mrs. Chamorro came to power, and has been ended. They have just this year seen 4.5 percent economic growth. But they still have a long way to go in terms of liberalizing their economy, deregulating their economy, uh, encouraging the agriculture sector. We're a little nervous about Mr. Aleman's plans for reconciling these property problems, as Bob has mentioned, and want to work with him during a transition. The one nice thing about this system of government is that he has a three-month transition, as we do in this country, so we'd like to talk to him. We obviously want to be development partners with the new government.
JIM LEHRER: How would you describe the state of life in Nicaragua, politics aside, Mr. Pastor?
MR. PASTOR: Well, I think Mrs. Chamorro did a very good job during the last six years in trying to get the economy on a relatively solid foundation, and last two years of growth had been good, but still Nicaragua is today the second poorest country in the hemisphere with unemployment approaching half of the working population, so there's a long way to go. I think that life has become more spirited, more open, freer, much more peaceful than it was six years ago, but people are still very poor, and inequities are very great. So there's a lot to be done.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Gentlemen, thank you both very much.