“Construimos Nicaragua” Programme
This document constitutes the draft programme of the social and political movement called “Construimos Nicaragua” [“Let’s build Nicaragua”], which we submit for the consideration of its readers, to initiate a public debate, in all social sectors, regarding the urgent tasks that we need to push forward for a genuine democratisation of Nicaragua.
Programme for the democratisation of Nicaragua: Returning the right to decide to the people!
The days of struggle, which started in April 2018, are forging and consolidating a strong sense of collective national identity, in favour of democratisation and justice, in a way that had not occurred in our nearly 200 years of independent history. This identity is coming together around symbols and fundamental values: the blue and white flag, inextricably linked to republican democracy; public freedoms; citizen participation in matters of the State; and a strong sense of social equity and genuine solidarity.
The democratic struggle started by young people has given rise to the possibility to reconstruct and re-found our nation on foundations of democracy, justice and social equity. The enjoyment and exercise of public freedoms, as well as absolute respect for citizens’ rights, should never again depend on the will or choice of any government. All sectors of the population (young people, students, women, workers, farmers, indigenous people, etc.) should recover our popular sovereignty to re-found a new Nicaragua, creating a Social and Democratic State of Law on new foundations, which entails permanently eradicating the use of violence, repression or intimidation from a position of power, with the intention of perpetuating one’s power or of limiting and impeding the exercise of these freedoms and rights.
The fundamental decisions of Nicaragua should not be taken by small oligarchies, but by large majorities of men and women, through democratic and deliberative processes, with all information on the table, and in which the widest of sectors can participate. Through this, our society can transition from discretion and the arbitrary and personal use of power, to a social interaction increasingly regulated by laws, norms and policies that are implemented in the most impartial, transparent and objective manner possible: i.e., with the absence of discrimination and punishment for some, and privileges and “prizes” for others.
Currently, the institutions of the State have lost their public nature, having been subordinated completely to partisan control and discretionary use by those in power. A start in transitioning to the new Nicaragua, where national public institutions that fulfil their function of providing public goods and services and are capable of guaranteeing confidence, security and certainty to economic agents and to all citizens, is urgently needed.
Nicaragua needs a radical democratic revolution to build national public institutions that can be kept relatively isolated from pressure of economic groups and those in power, and that are focused on the professional and efficient delivery of their objectives and responsibilities, establishing mechanisms that ensure transparency and accountability, and that allow for citizens’ control over the institutions that administer power.
In this context, we, a group of young people, men and women from all social strata, have agreed to launch a new political organisation called “Construimos Nicaragua” [“Let’s Build Nicaragua”], an inclusive, horizontal, democratic and progressive political movement with the objective of propelling structural changes for the sustainable development of Nicaragua.
Construimos Nicaragua is a social and political movement in which Nicaraguans can find the opportunity to give our opinion and participate, in order to achieve our political, economic, social, cultural and environmental aspirations.
The mission of Construimos Nicaragua is to give every Nicaraguan the opportunity to promote and defend their rights, to achieve a full, just and prosperous life.
We therefore present our proposal for a political programme, which we submit for the consideration of all citizens, for their study, criticism and refinement, as only united will we be able to achieve the immense task of democratising Nicaragua for the benefit of the overwhelming majority.
THE 16 FUNDAMENTAL POINTS FOR FOUNDING THE NEW NICARAGUA
- Free and sovereign National Constitutional Assembly
The men and women of Construimos Nicaragua, many of us not having been born during the period of the revolution, consider that the first thing we must do is dismantle the status quo that was established at that time, and which is rooted in the institutions created during the dying days of the revolution of 1979.
Sovereignty and decision-making capacity must be returned to the people, that is to say, to all citizens. This fundamental principle of democracy has been systematically denied in Nicaragua’s history. The institutions of the State need fundamental reorganisation. This can only be achieved by derogating from the Constitution of 1987 and its subsequent reforms, and debating and enacting a new democratic Constitution, which brings together as a minimum the topics that we set out further in this document, and that brings the Nicaraguan State to the modernity of the 21st century.
- Limits on the re-election of elected public officials
Re-election is not a problem of principle in democracy, everything depends on the political culture and the electoral system and if it is sufficiently democratic to respect popular will.
Nevertheless, it is a key discussion point in Nicaragua, as the emergence of the dictatorships of José Santos Zelaya (1896-1909), Anastasio Somoza and his successors (1937-1979), as well as the new dictatorship of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo (2007-2018), has been linked to presidential re-election.
For this reason, and taking into account that a good government is not improvised, presidential re-election must only be permitted for a second term, such that the new election becomes a plebiscite on the first mandate. Following a second term, there must be an absolute prohibition on presidential re-election, with unamendable ‘eternity clauses’ in the new Constitution that prevent a third presidential term.
- A new electoral system
A total reform of the electoral system is needed, with the passing of a new Electoral Law that ends the bipartisan system, inherited from the Somoza era and which served as a cover for the establishment of a new dynastic dictatorship. A new Law of Political Parties and Associations must be passed. This law, which should also be of constitutional rank, should permit the creation of political groupings, associations and parties, at a municipal, departmental, regional and national level.
The obstacles created by the constitutional reforms from the year 2000, which require a minimum of 4% for a party to retain its legal personality, should be removed, as it limits the right of minorities to representation. The myth of dictatorships, that only traditional parties should exist, must be destroyed. Democracy rests on the principle of diversity, and respect and protection of minorities.
However, above all, the monopoly of political parties, who are the only ones that can nominate candidates, must be ended. There must be a new emphasis on the ability of citizens to stand as independent or non-party-affiliated candidates, in any type of election, including presidential elections. This should prioritise young people, who have traditionally been marginalised from political activity, playing a greater part in the destiny of the country.
The election of deputies (members of the National Assembly), should be by department or by district, ending the election of national deputies. A proportional right of representation of minorities, especially of indigenous people, should be guaranteed, in every type of election.
The functions exercised by the Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) should be decentralised in different institutions (identity cards, parties and associations, organisation of electoral processes, etc.) and completely reorganised, not only with the participation of political parties but also organisations of civil society, who must carry out the tasks of audit and monitoring.
The new electoral system must comprise the partial or total renewal, halfway through each presidential term, of the deputies of the National Assembly. The dates of legislative elections should coincide with municipal and regional elections, which should take place every two years. In this way, elected officials will know that their positions will always be dependent on assessment of their performance, and the will of the electorate.
To be eligible for popular election, candidates must be fit and proper. In addition, the 50/50 Law, which guarantees the presence of women on electoral ballots which open the door for their participation in positions of political decision-making, must be retained and complied with.
- System of direct election and revocation of magistrates, and other senior officials, under citizens’ control
The capacity to choose and remove magistrates, as well as other senior officials of other State powers and institutions, should be returned to the citizens. The vicious circle in which the executive power proposes candidates to be magistrates, who end up being approved through agreements and negotiation between deputies, who generally obey the interests of the party that included them on its electoral lists, nullifying the decision-making capacity of the citizens who elected them, should be terminated.
Through an established percentage of votes the selection of magistrates by deputies, the problem is resolved through political transactions or pacts, the deputies thus turning themselves into the main voters, negating popular will. This type of indirect election allows for the creation of political circles and castes, which are a denial of democracy.
It should be established that the holders of executive power – deputies, mayors, councillors, members of the regional governments, all elected officials – are subject to public evaluation, through recall referendum. In this way, any elected official, having completed a third of their mandate and faced with a petition for dismissal signed by a set number of citizens, should have the capacity to call a by-election in that particular case, so that it is the electorate who decides whether the official continues in their post or not.
- Restructuring of judicial power
Democracy is, ultimately, the government of judges. These officials are those who adjudicate on the freedom of persons, the future of their goods, and settle political conflicts. Whoever controls judicial power, controls the State and political power. For this reason, a profound reform and restructuring of the judicial system is needed. Magistrates and judges should be elected directly by the people, and should be subject to citizen control every two years, when mid-term elections take place.
Judicial careers should be subject to periodic controls. Only the people, through the vote, can decide if a judge continues in their position for a further period. The re-election of judges and magistrates should be subject to a limit, no more than three periods, to give way to the training of new judges and magistrates.
A commission formed of recognised jurists and national and foreign academics should examine and review the resumes of the aspirants, and these would be the candidates to be passed on for popular scrutiny. Political parties could not campaign in favour of candidates, on pain of disqualification.
The Supreme Court of Justice (CSJ) should decentralise its functions, such that administrative functions are not mixed with jurisdictional functions, and with those of control and punishment. Deputies cannot be candidates to be judges or magistrates. This is about constructing a new judicial power which supervises the functioning of public administration and of democracy, in conjunction with the citizens.
Protection should not be a recourse, but a judgment, as is the case in Latin America. A Constitutional Tribunal should be created, whose magistrates will not obey political parties but rather the mandate of the citizens.
- Permanent fighting of corruption
In Nicaragua corruption is an endemic issue in all State institutions, and has become part of political culture: roles subject to popular election and public service have been transformed into paths to illicit enrichment. Therefore, the fight against corruption should be permanent and at all levels. Corruption is one of the main causes of increasing poverty and social inequality. It is not possible to combat poverty without at the same time combating corruption. In addition, corruption corrodes and weakens democratic institutionality, annulling existing legality, encouraging impunity and social chaos.
Existing laws against corruption are not being applied because the institutions of the State that have responsibility for combating it, such as the Comptroller General of the Republic (CGR), the General Prosecutor of the Republic and the various courts of justice, have been victims of the phenomenon of the concentration of power, which centralises the mechanisms of election of magistrates and other senior officials only in the deputies of the National Assembly. These deputies are elected through political parties’ lists, and so these parties hold a monopoly on public representation.
Anti-corruption legislation should be modernised, administrative procedures simplified as much as possible, and a new Public Purchasing Law and Law of Conflict of Interests of Public Officials should be passed, establishing online procurement so that everyone can see pricing and technical specifications, contemplating citizen participation at all levels, and developing electronic government to the fullest extent possible.
Transparency should be made a new fundamental right, as a key factor in strengthening social trust, and a sense of participation and joint responsibility in the construction of a shared destiny. Public information should never be treated as if it were private. The public has the right to know about all matters, however complicated they may appear. Officials who violate this principle of access to public information, will be subject to severe penalties.
In the same way, all officials should be subject to an obligation to render account every 3 months of expenditure, investments or purchases made, before a general assembly of public sector workers, with participation from the general population. The result of these reports should be put on the website of the relevant institution.
In all State institutions, an assembly of public servants should be organised to create commissions of citizen control, charged with monitoring execution of the budget, plans for purchases and public procurement, with legal routes to make any necessary complaint. Any whistle-blower making a complaint could not be dismissed nor subject to administrative reprisals, unless it is proven that the complaint was baseless.
The new Constitution should establish as a new principle that there is no immunity for crimes related to corruption. All goods acquired through acts of corruption or money laundering are subject to imprescriptible rights; it is the State’s obligation to pursue them until they are recovered, and the guilty parties prosecuted and punished. Officials convicted of acts of corruption by final ruling will be disqualified for life from running for public office or roles of public service, as well as prohibitions from supplying the State or contracting with public administration.
- Professionalising and dignifying public service
Radical democratisation is needed so that those working in public administration will never again be hired or dismissed based on their party membership or loyalty, but instead based on their capabilities and competences, and that the career of civil service will be respected.
The Law of Civil Service should be governed by the principle of merit and capability of aspirants; we must eradicate a culture of distribution of roles by political pacts and compromises, or by electoral quotas. Equally, reforms should be promoted that allow young people to make a career in public service in a dignified form and with facilitation of access.
- A fair taxation system
The taxes of all Nicaraguans form part of the sacred national patrimony, and should not be used or diverted to enrich small groups. The collection of taxes should be based on transparency, social control and the principle that taxation paid should be proportional to income. Thus, society will have the necessary resources to cover social costs and guarantee the minimum functioning of democracy, and the construction of a medium and long term national development plan that manages to transcend changes of government.
- Incorporating new rights in the Constitution
Respect for human rights in Nicaragua will never be limited by any government putting arguments of “national sovereignty” ahead of in the validity of international treaties on this subject.
New fundamental rights should be incorporated and applied, such as gender equality, and other specific women’s rights, which should be put into effect in all State institutions and at all levels of social life.
In the same way, a basic income should be established for people who live in poverty. This is the only way to end the political patronage that so harms democracy, and allows the state to protect those who are in most need.
Nicaragua should be proclaimed to be a Social and Democratic State of Law, governed by fundamental rights, the absolute principle of respect and equality before the law, citizen control over matters of the State, and the protection of the environment.
The right of rebellion or insurrection against dictatorial or dynastic governments should be reinstated as a fundamental and essential right of the Nicaraguan people.
Equally, procedural protections should be reformed or newly created: the function of the police should be to investigate crimes and, within a period of no more than 24 hours, remand the suspect to the judicial authorities. In its investigations, the police must be subordinate to the Prosecution Service, which should have responsibility for managing investigations and collection of evidence. Detention could only be imposed where caught in flagrante delicto, or by judicial order.
Trial by jury should be reinstated in all cases, and special courts should be abolished.
Nicaragua should also come into the 21st century and promote the access of all children and young people to information technology and the internet.
- Reorganisation of the Army and the Police
The role of a small, highly centralised and repressive army that has been played by the National Police in the current civic insurrection, obliges us to rethink the role of the police forces. The police should play a very important role in guaranteeing citizens’ security, in the context of the growth of drug-trafficking cartels and organised crime in Central America.
To avoid the National Police being a small mercenary army in unconditional service of a dictatorial government, the functioning should be decentralised to create municipal police forces, which remain subject to national coordination or command, but whose members are recruited within the community and subject to local authorities. The naming of the chief of police in each municipality, as well as their tenure in the position, will be through direct citizen election. The president of the republic’s monopoly of power over the National Police should cease; power must be shared with local authorities.
The National Police should take a Community Police approach, made up of community members on a rotating basis, with a reduction in administrative footprint and permanent officialdom. More women should be incorporated into the chain of command of this Community Police.
In the same way, the role and concept of the National Army should be re-evaluated. The collective trauma due to the implementation of national military service during the civil war (1982-1990) has, conflictingly, allowed for the evolution of the National Army into an institution increasingly isolated from the people.
In times of peace, the Army should have a significantly reduced size, and be comprised of citizens who at regular intervals offer their civil service within the armed forces. In addition, more women should be incorporated into the Army’s chain of command.
This should not only defend national sovereignty against drugs trafficking and organised crime, but also exercise a social function in the most vulnerable social sectors, protect and conserve natural resources, look after protected areas and defend the environment, making it possible for young people to become part of this upon their first employment and receive technical training. This is the only way to avoid having an Army of soldiers, receiving a full-time salary, disconnected from the people. Neither the Army, nor its officials, should have different companies or businesses to finance retirement systems from the majority of the population, or privileges of rank that promote social inequality.
Given the significance of this topic, a special referendum should be held regarding the reorganisation of the National Army and the National Police, so that the people can decide democratically what path to follow.
- Educational revolution, academic freedom and independence of universities
Nicaragua will never rise out of poverty if it does not succeed in raising the educational level of its population.
Nicaragua is losing the unique opportunity of the “demographic dividend”, so far as tens of thousands of young people do not have the opportunity to study and work. There is a false dichotomy between primary and higher education: the two are complementary. For this reason, there must be academic freedom and universities must be autonomous, in order to train the technical workers and the professionals that the country needs.
Primary and secondary education should include a topic of civic education, so that pupils learn from a young age how the State works and what the principles of democracy are.
In the framework of the basic income, it should be guaranteed that all children can finish primary and secondary school. To this end, 15% of the Gross National Product (GDP) should be allocated to public education. State resources should be devoted to developing public education, and should not subsidise the businesses that are private schools and universities. Universities should never be subject to political power or partisan control.
The professions of teaching and scientific research should be promoted and protected by the State.
Social innovation and entrepreneurship should be encouraged by the State to expand the employment prospects of recent graduates, so that they can enter the world of work. Equally, a Law of First Youth Employment should be passed, under which universities and companies would coordinate to facilitate recent graduates’ access to work, and to improve the relationship between professional courses and market demand.
- The role of the State in the Economy
Given the lagging behind of productive forces in Nicaragua, the State should play a key part in promoting economic development, being the only way to end migration and poverty. Within the framework of a social market economy, the main public services (water, health, education, energy and communications) should be in State hands. The acceptance of mixed companies in these areas, and the percentages of private shareholding (national or foreign), depend on the needs of any given case.
There should be a state bank to promote the financing, with fair interest, for subsistence farmers and artisans, as well as small urban and rural producers. To avoid political patronage and corruption that could lead to its insolvency, workers and clients of the state bank should be allowed to form a committee for the verification and monitoring of loans, focused on citizen participation.
The profits of private banking should be regulated by means of a fair interest policy, so they do not exploit the population.
- Agrarian reform and environmental protection
The agrarian reform that was carried out under the revolution of the period from 1979-1980 was reversed in subsequent decades. A process of concentration of land has operated and now there are new landowners. This process was possible because subsistence farmers did not have the technical or financial assistance to allow them to develop agriculture or livestock holdings. The rural population should not only be guaranteed the right to land, but rural women should also have the right to be the owners of land. A state bank which has as its main function the development of the rural economy is also needed. The State should guarantee a policy of fair prices for rural products.
Agricultural production in Nicaragua rests largely with small and medium producers. These sectors need to grow through incremental improvements in output and productivity, rather than through the expansion of the agricultural frontier, which has degraded watersheds, caused sedimentation and the disappearance of water sources, and destroyed biodiversity.
Protected areas, like Bosawás and Indio Maíz, should be expanded, and new ones created. Protecting the natural capital of the country – water, soil, forests and biodiversity – should be a priority, and the State should ensure that it is used in a sustainable way.
Agrarian reform should have an ecological focus on safeguarding land, forests, water and the environment. Limits should be defined for agricultural land, there should be no planting of crops on hills or slopes, and land suitable for cattle farming should be identified. Extensive livestock farming should cease, instead promoting the creation of modern farms, with breeds of cattle that allow an increase in production without needing to destroy forests. Rural and indigenous communities should be the protectors of the forests. A process of reforestation and of protection of natural reserves should be promoted, with the aim of conserving the water of rivers and lagoons.
- In favour of genuine autonomy on the Caribbean Coast
The elevation of the autonomy of the Caribbean coast to constitutional rank in 1995 was a significant advance, but the real effects of the Statute of Autonomy of the Regions of the Caribbean Coast of Nicaragua have more form than substance. The main decisions regarding the economic resources of the Caribbean Coast and the investment of those resources, in reality are not competencies of the Regional Councils, nor of the indigenous communities, but instead of the central government, which continues to limit the right to autonomy of the native population.
As well as the customs, language and culture of the indigenous population, who should administer and protect natural resources, their forms of community organisation should also be protected.
If it is true that, thanks to the efforts of indigenous communities, there has been progress in the titling of communal land, but as long as there is no title clearance (saneamiento) of this land, the Caribbean Coast’s autonomy will remain a fiction.
- Increasing municipal autonomy
Municipal autonomy has been enshrined in the Constitution since 1987, but in reality, and despite the existence of the Law of Municipalities, municipalities are subordinate to the central government. The role of the State in society should be put into effect through the municipalities. The national budget should be invested in municipalities. The role of central government should be reduced, and its functions decentralised to the municipalities. The State structure should rest with municipalities, who should control education, supply of drinking water, monitoring of public services, police services, sanitation and protection of the environment.
The democratisation of Nicaragua will happen through the transfer of more power and national resources to municipal governments.
- Reconstruct the Central American Nation
In the 21st century the countries of Central America are intimately connected on an economic level, but not at a level of state superstructure. What happens in any country or countries of Central America, has repercussions on the others. SICA [the Central American Integration System] has played a large role as a project for the unification of national economies, but has not achieved this goal. The confirmation of PARLACEN [the Central American Parliament] was an important development on a political level, but it has very limited functions. We should advance further. The same deputies of national legislative organs should also be the PARLACEN deputies, so that there is no separation and ignorance of the regional reality.
We should move forward to the convocation of a Central American Constituent Assembly that could allow for the creation of a Central American confederation or federation.
Managua, Nicaragua, 14 and 15 September 2018