Nicaragua: When Liberals & Sandinista Dissidents United

It was called the National Coalition for Democracy

Ana Margarita Vijil, former president of the MRS, with Eduardo Montealegre, who headed PLI, during a demonstration. The picture also includes Adan Bermudez y Luis Callejas. Photo: Oscar Navarrete/LA PRENSA

Despite ideological differences, there was a time when liberals and Sandinista dissidents were united. Their goal was the same as today: defeat Daniel Ortega and get rid of the dictatorship.

By La Prensa

HAVANA TIMES – In 2015, the Liberal Independent Party (PLI), led by Eduardo Montealegre, promoted the creation of the National Coalition for Democracy. This was a group where diverse political actors converged with left and right ideologies, victims and aggressors at some point in history, but who then had a common enemy: Daniel Ortega.

The former liberal deputy and member of the PLI, Eliseo Nunez, recalls how the need to create a bloc of all those who were against Ortega and his already authoritarian actions by that time was raised.

Nunez relates that it was after the constitutional reform of 2014 and the concession of the construction of the Interoceanic Canal to the Chinese businessman Wang Jin, which would strip hundreds of Nicaraguans of their lands and properties, that the PLI began to promote this Coalition and invited other political organizations to form an electoral alliance for the 2016 elections.

Gradually, several organizations were integrated until it was formed by the Christian Democratic Union, Liberal Cruzade for Unity, Ramiro Sacasa Guerrerro Constitutional Movement, New Christian Alliance Party, Citizens Action Party, Movement of Caribbean Unity Party, a sector of the Nicaraguan Resistance, and the Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS, now UNAMOS).

Liberals and Sandinista dissidents marched together in the “Protest Wednesdays.” Photo: Oscar Navarrete / LA PRENSA.

All of these were political groupings that ideologically had their differences. Despite that, Eliseo Nunez recalls that the common interest of defeating Daniel Ortega at the polls always came first.

In the beginning, Nunez narrates, there were some recriminations by some against Sandinista dissidents. “There was a feeling initially about the issue of confiscations because there were people who had confiscated and there were people who had been victims,” however, these frictions were quickly overcome because “we were all clear that the problem was Ortega.”

“The discussions were very pragmatic, focused on how to achieve the goal of defeating Ortega at the ballot box,” emphasizes Nunez, and the accusations that could be made against different people did not surface so much in those days.

Liberals and Sandinistas

The MRS joined the Coalition on October 22, 2015. By then, it became customary to see Ana Margarita Vigil, then president of that political organization, alongside Eduardo Montealegre, president of PLI and coordinator of the Coalition, in press conferences, political activities and even public events.

Another person who actively participated in the Coalition then was Suyen Barahona, a member of the MRS. She recalls this group as “a diversity of organizations with different backgrounds. Some were liberals, Christian democrats, others were progressives, as is our case, linked to social democratic networks, but we all agreed on getting rid of the dictatorship.”

The MRS and the PLI were familiar allies too. For the 2011 elections, they had already made an electoral alliance, and some members of the MRS even won a congressional seat. Nunez recalls that both organizations respected each other. “We were clear that we had moments to disagree. Even when we voted differently in the Assembly, it did not mean a rupture, but that we had not reached an agreement,” indicates the former parliamentarian.

By 2015, when the MRS joined the Coalition, they were already old acquaintances with the liberals, so the political coexistence between the two groups was within the framework of respect, say Nunez and Barahona.

Despite ideological differences, liberals and Sandinista dissidents tolerated each other.  Photo: Oscar Navarrete/La Prensa.

Once in the National Coalition, they began actively demanding changes in the Supreme Electoral Council, the Supreme Court, and the Executive Branch. They also demanded reforms so that the 2016 elections would be held under international parameters of transparency and democracy.

Between 2015 and 2016, the Coalition held several demonstrations on Wednesdays. They were popularly known as “Protest Wednesdays” because, on that day every week, opponents demonstrated between the Central American University (UCA) and the Metrocentro traffic circle and marched trying to reach the Supreme Electoral Council, but the Police would put a contingent of riot police to block their path.

On some occasions, members of the Sandinista Youth came to attack the demonstrators, and one day, an armed person shot at the opponents. A person was wounded.

The end of the Coalition

The end of this opposition bloc would come in June 2016. By then, the Coalition had already held more than 60 marches and protests and had a significant political force previous of the November elections that year.

On June 6, 2016, the Coalition announced its presidential ticket for the elections. They were Luis Callejas and Violeta Granera, but two days later, the Ortega regime, through the Supreme Court of Justice (CSJ), stripped the legal representation of the PLI from Eduardo Montealegre and handed it to Pedro Reyes.

Montealegre had five years leading the PLI, and for the 2011 presidential elections, that party became the second political force in the country, but when it was handed over to Reyes, everything collapsed. The PLI was left without any political strength and began to be considered as a “stooge party” to Ortega’s FSLN.

Months after the PLI was handed over to him, Pedro Reyes was expelled from the party, and it was left in the hands of people who played Ortega’s game in the elections.   Photo: La Prensa.

Thus, in a matter of months, Daniel Ortega, through the CSJ, beheaded the main opposition party for that year’s elections. Barahona recalls that this was a hard blow because since 2008, the regime had canceled the legal status of several parties, and in the Coalition, the PLI was the only one with a legal status to participate in elections.

A month later, in July, the Supreme Electoral Council removed 28 PLI legislators and alternates in the National Assembly, who had won their seats in the 2011 elections and did not buckle under Pedro Reyes’ guidelines and the new party leadership imposed by the regime.

“There was a conviction not to give in. We knew that they could relieve us from our position. Still, I don’t remember voices in favor of yielding to what the Sandinista Front requested and for us to submit to the political mercenaries who took control of the PLI,” relates Nunez, one of the deputies removed on that occasion.

Afterward, Eduardo Montealegre made a public announcement at the beginning of August. “Dear friends of the Coalition: I want to inform you that I cannot continue as coordinator of the Coalition. I thank you for the trust you have placed in me. Recent events should lead us to reflect, to look through the road traveled, and to visualize the future, prioritizing, as I have always done, the family, the homeland, and other aspects of a personal nature, such as my health.”

In addition to his resignation as coordinator of the Coalition, Montealegre withdrew from national politics. Since then, he has had no public participation in events or political parties.

CxL and FAD

Montealegre’s announcement put the finishing touch to the rest of the Coalition members, and each organization began to take its own path until it fractured completely. Some, such as Eliseo Nunez and other political actors, considered that the Coalition should continue to be in opposition. In contrast, another faction thought it was better to create a new party and request legal status to participate in elections.

Kitty Monterrey led the latter group, and thus Ciudadanos por la Libertad (CxL, Citizens for Liberty) was born with her as president in September 2016. Some believe that Montealegre is a sort of “godfather” of CxL and that he is the one who makes the party’s decisions behind the scenes.

In 2021, La Prensa asked Montealegre about these allegations, and he responded: “I have no knowledge of CxL or its decisions. As always, things are attributed to me, but mostly unsubstantiated.”

Eduardo Montealegre retired from politics in 2016. Some speculate that he did so because of threats from Daniel Ortega’s Sandinista Front. La Prensa.

While Monterrey founded CxL, Barahona says that MRS, PAC, and other actors felt excluded from the new alliance. “They relaunched the coalition now as Citizens for Liberty, and at that moment, we were excluded without any explanation.” Part of those who were left out grouped to form the Frente Amplio por la Democracia (FAD, Broad Front for Democracy), which ended up being a new non-electoral political alliance and since then set out to continue demanding the restoration of democracy in Nicaragua.

For his part, Eliseo Nunez says he does not remember having felt excluded, but at that time, he told La Prensa that the launching of CxL “was sold as a relaunching, but it was about purging the MRS and some individuals such as (former deputy Carlos) Lagrand and myself. We were not told that the party headquarters was open to us.”

Despite being part of the PLI structure, Nunez decided to take a different path from the new party and not continue doing party politics.

Another person who criticized the action of CxL and took a different path was Jose Pallais. “Citizens for Freedom has prioritized forming a political party and requesting legal status to Ortega, and they think this is the most important thing. We think that that is a strategic mistake because you cannot be going around asking for legal status when democracy is so deteriorated, and if we had already decided not to play Ortega’s game, after suffering Ortega’s exclusion, and have to desist from demanding authentic elections, which is what Nicaragua needs to guarantee stability and progress,” Pallais told La Prensa back then.

Along with Pallais and Nunez, several former PLI members and known figures did not want to continue with the new alliance.

In May 2017, Daniel Ortega’s regime granted legal status to CxL, and since then, they had participated in all elections with the Sandinista Front and other parties considered cohorts. Then in 2021, Ortega took away the CxL’s forcing her into exile.

Currently, the opponents continue to be divided, although Daniel Ortega has attacked them all equally. But Eliseo Nunez considers it is very difficult to establish an alliance as the one that existed in 2015 because there is a large diversity of movements and many new actors. “There are people who enter politics and have not coexisted with those of us who for a long time have maintained the opposition against Ortega, and many of them believe that they have the solution and that those of us who were there before did not,” he noted.

He also believes that there is not much trust among today’s actors, which he says existed in the Coalition of that time. “Trust is built only by working together. Today there is too much diversity. Another concept of unity must be worked out,” Nunez emphasized.

For her part, Barahona considers that after several years, these new actors and those from before 2018 are beginning to coincide in some spaces and efforts. “Something that became quite clear to us is that alone or dispersed, we cannot achieve the objective of democracy and freedom in the country.”

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