The dictatorship of Daniel Ortega is seeking to win over the populations that opposed him, by increasing the budgets given to the City Hall’s now in the hands of his party after the bogus elections. Winning these townspeople over, however, may prove difficult, because the Sandinista Front has a large unpaid debt pending with the population. That’s the opinion of urban specialist Silvio Prado.
“The exponential increase in funding has two lessons for the entire country. First, [the regime] has no interest in the laws, in this case Law 466. Up until now, they simply refused to transfer the budget allocations mandated under this law, because they didn’t feel like it. The money was withheld to punish and sabotage the governments that weren’t under their political banner. In other words, they were rehashing a logic that utilizes rewards and punishments,” Prado asserted during an interview with the online television news program Esta Semana.
Secondly, he continued, the increase in the budgets can be interpreted as a strategy on the part of the regime to “buy the hearts” of the population that historically opposed them.
The specialist in urban affairs explained that, up until now, the Ortega regime has been operating a hegemonic project that relied on repression and the de facto police state to assure domination. Now, however, it needs a consensus or at least the consent of those it has oppressed. Hence, it is currently seeking to gain support for its political system.
“Since it hasn’t been successful at generating a cultural vehicle to soften the population’s rejection, it is now trying to buy them off with an implicit message: ‘you’ll be better off lining up behind my government and my party than you were under the non-Sandinista governments’,” Prado illustrated.
In an earlier report by Confidencial – “The FSLN increases funding to the City Halls they formerly punished but now control” – the news team revealed that the Ortega regime has increased the budget of certain municipal governments up to 300%. The benefitted City Halls are in towns that had previously elected Mayors from the opposition parties. For years, these city governments were strangled with tiny budgets and frozen bank transfers. The increase comes now that the FSLN has taken over all of the country’s 153 municipalities.
“This has been the final blow to our last vestiges of constitutional democracy with its horizontal and vertical divisions of power. That is, there are no longer independent branches of government, nor autonomous local authorities,” Prado lamented.
The five City Halls slated to receive the greatest budget increases percentage-wise are: El Almendro in Rio San Juan department, Pantasma and El Cua in Jinotega, Murra in Nueva Segovia and La Trinidad in Esteli. Up until 2022, all of these municipalities were governed by the opposition.
The population has been hurt by the regime
Prado thinks it will prove very difficult to buy off the population in these areas, because “there’s been a lot of pain, a lot of grief – the Sandinista Front has a huge unpaid bill pending with the population. There are political prisoners, the dead and wounded, and a great many former townspeople in exile. All of that is an open wound in the population’s consciousness,” he affirmed.
On one hand, he indicated that the Sandinista Party might possibly gain some degree of “legitimacy” for its performance in the municipalities, since they’ll now have the funds to carry out projects that the previous town leaders couldn’t. However, it’s probable that those who are not close allies of the regime will be excluded from such benefits.
“Almost surely, they’re going to execute some showy projects that give visibility to what the new government is doing: parks, plazas, streets, but – watch out – they’re going to do this according to a patronage-centered criteria. In other words, they’re going to favor the neighborhoods or zones that are closest to the local government. I believe that certain penalties will be in force, in terms of the projects they direct towards the anti-Sandinista neighborhoods or zones,” commented Silvio Prado, who is also a sociologist.
Prado admits: “Yes, some aspects of the citizens’ lives will improve, compared with the government they had before. Previously, these Mayors had many difficulties carrying out their projects, because the government shut off the spigot for bank transfers.”j
Caribbean Coast regions still being punished through their budgets
Although the general budgetary allotment for the municipalities increased 79% fork 2023, compared to 2022, the municipal governments of the two Caribbean regions will receive the smallest increase. Several factors can help explain this decision, Prado asserted.
“At first glance, there are technical reasons. The municipalities on the Caribbean regions have always received less, because the formula that’s implemented to calculate the allotments to each municipality is based on four criteria: fiscal equity, efficiency in collecting the Real Estate Tax, the population, and the execution of the bank transfers. Of these four factors, the Caribbean Coast regions always comes out poorly in three of these.”
Another reason, he added, is that the Sandinista Party has less interest in ingratiating itself with this population, for its scarce weight in the national elections. It could also be because “they may receive other types of income through programs more specifically aimed at the Caribbean regions or through the autonomous governments.”
A data analysis conducted by Confidencial showed that the governments of the towns of Mulukuku, El Tortuguero, La Cruz de Rio Grande, and Bocana de Paiwas had municipal budgets above 30 million cordobas in 2018 [approximately US $821,200 at the current exchange rate]. However, after 2018, these budgets were drastically reduced, and now with the current increase, they range from a bare 8.5 million around 13 million cordobas [US $232,652 to US $355,820].
Many internal fissures within the Sandinista Front
In the view of the urban expert, the Ortega dictatorship is currently implementing a de facto single party model, but this won’t be possible over the long run, because in order to install such a government the party must be internally monolithic.
“According to the latest purges we’ve seen, the Sandinista Party has a lot of internal fissures. Rather than a single party model in the style of the Cuban Communist Party, what we have right now in Nicaragua is a family party,” Prado explained.
This system of family domination will mean that when Ortega disappears there’ll be an internal crisis, because the Sandinista Party is tightly tied to the figure of Daniel Ortega. “I believe that neither his wife nor his children have sufficient trajectory or political weight within the Party to become his successors. So, it’s difficult to speak of a future single party, although today we do have that,” Prado concluded.
This article was originally published in Spanish in Confidencial and translated by Havana Times