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  HOME | Opinion (Click here for more)

Carlos Alberto Montaner: The Stupid Governments of Latin America
Latin American genius Carlos Alberto Montaner on the stupidity of Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua.

By Carlos Alberto Montaner

I am told that Daniel Ortega, the Nicaraguan dictator, ordered a discreet survey to find out what percentage of the country supported him to continue leading the government. Daniel was enraged when he learned the results: only 9% support him. He has two points less than Nicolás Maduro. Those who consider themselves Sandinistas represent 25% of the census, but the Danielistas are a handful that tends to shrink as the crisis intensifies.

And the crisis is unstoppable. It is caused, essentially, by the absence of investments and the paralysis of economic decisions. That is fatal for any government. The good functioning of societies is based on trust, and trust, in turn, depends on the soundness of the institutions. You must be absolutely crazy to bring a dollar to Nicaragua. What sane people do is take their savings to Costa Rica, Panama or Miami, where there are guarantees that they will not be confiscated by those countries’ governments.

Faced with this reaction, stupid governments call traitors those who behave rationally and protect their capital. But they do something even more serious: they steal the national banks’ independence, they control bank deposits, they create corralitos (freezing of bank accounts to avoid bank runs), they devalue the currency to liquidate debts, they seize the dollars or euros sent by the struggling emigrants, and they punish the businessmen by invading or confiscating their properties, although in the rough hands of the government they usually last very little without beginning to have losses, a prelude to their definitive closing.

All this increases uncertainty and distrust. Those who do not have access to dollars acquire valuable pictures, precious stones, gold or anything that retains some international value. I have seen people sending abroad fortunes in postage stamps, spurs for fighting cocks, race horses and even curious relics, false or real, like the fragments of Napoleon’s testicles, carefully amputated in Santa Helena by Dr. Francesco Antomarchi, the Majorcan doctor who dissected the corpse and determined that the emperor died of stomach cancer at age 51.

What will be Daniel Ortega’s next move? He knows he must hold elections, but he is waiting for his image and that of his government to improve. That will never happen. The problem is that everything he does aggravates and worsens his personal situation and the perception of his regime. The OAS ruled that it is a disgusting dictatorship that kills without compassion. The IAPA, after a visit by its president, declared that people’s rights are violated without compassion. There is no human way to improve that image, unless he announces his decision to hold elections earlier and leave the country or stay, if he has the delicate talent that is required to agree a negotiated solution with the opposition.

Although it seems incredible, the worst is yet to come. And the worst is the nationalization of the weak Nicaraguan productive apparatus. I do not know if Daniel still believes in the Cuban model of the eighties, when he embarked on the first Sandinismo because he was a very ignorant young man, but Cuba, which has lost the compass after 60 years of failures, no longer believes in that and is trying formulas to bury the revolution without being noticed and without losing power, two impossible missions.

If I were Nicaraguan, next to Daniel’s departure, I would be thinking about what to do to avoid more revolutions and countermarches. A substantial part of what was achieved after the defeat of the Sandinistas in 1990 has been gone with the wind. The costly effort to save Nicaragua from bankruptcy, to straighten the finances, to end with the hyperinflation, to heal the wounds and to begin to grow again, has been lost.

It is a shame that every so often a catastrophe like this occurs and overthrows coexistence. Well-functioning nations have a remarkable human capital and functioning institutions. They are not governments ruled by special men, but by laws that apply equally to all and in which people thrive not because of their connections but because of their merits.

Is there a country that has done that exercise of tedious lucidity? Yes. Switzerland did it in 1848, after the liberal revolution. They decided never to export mercenaries or engage in wars, or become poor again. They dropped out of stupidity. Today very few people know the name of the president of Switzerland. They don’t have to.

Carlos Alberto Montaner is a journalist and writer. Born in 1943 in Cuba and exiled, Montaner is known for his more than 25 books and thousands of articles. PODER magazine estimates that more than six million readers have access to his weekly columns throughout Latin America. He is also a political analyst for CNN en Espanol. In 2012, Foreign Policy magazine named Montaner as one of the fifty most influential intellectuals in the Ibero-American world. His latest novel is A Time for Scoundrels. His latest essay is "The President: A Handbook for Voters and the Elected." His latest book is a review of Las raíces torcidas de América Latina (The Twisted Roots of Latin America), published by Planeta and available in Amazon, in printed or digital version.


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