Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Herty Lewites

The unexpected death of Herty Lewites, who died from a heart attack Sunday in Managua, has thrown the Nicaraguan presidential elections, scheduled or November into even greater turmoil. Herty, as he was always known, was the candidate for the Movimiento de RenovaciĆ³n Sandinista (MRS).

Herty unfortunately had a slim chance of being elected; even though he was the most liked and trusted of the candidates. His split with the Sandanistas left him in the muddy middle waters with a new, untried party and a split base of support. Herty was involved with the overthrow of Somoza and spent the 1960s and 70s involved with arms smuggling along with positions in the Sandinista government. He was jailed in the US for arms smuggling at one time. His success as Minister of Tourism in the 1980s and as mayor of Managua 2000-2005 earned him a reputation for efficiency and honesty. Managua under his leadership became cleaner, safer and more modern, and is now one of the safest cities in Latin America.

Herty was viewed as a moderate leftist. He proposed to improve education and to spend more on health and housing. His goal was for Nicaragua to overcome its position as one of the poorest countries in Latin America through investment in alternative energy and tourism, not by rejecting CAFTA and embracing the Chavez/Castro model as Daniel Ortega has proposed.

Herty was expelled from the Sandinista Party in February of 2005 over a dispute with Ortega, regarding the party’s selection of a presidential candidate. The FSLN, once all powerful and unchallenged, lost its credibility due to corruption scandals and the "Pacta" between Ortega and imprisoned crook Arnoldo Aleman designed to divide the major branches of the government between the two parties. The pact, Ortega's dictatorial rule of the party alienated Sandinistas. Heroine of the Revolution and former Minister of Health Dora Maria Tellez formed the Movimiento de RenovaciĆ³n Sandinista (MRS) in 1994. They were marginalized until Herty rejuvenated the party.

Both the right and the left are split in Nicaragua. The PLC of Aleman is split between hardliners and more moderates as well. The PLC candidate Jose Rizzo is seen as a stooge of Aleman. As current defeated and powerless president Bolanos can attest, Aleman continues to call the shots. The more moderate candidate of the right Eduardo Montealegre is a US-educated diplomat running as the Alianza Liberal Nicaraguense (ALN) candidate on an anti-corruption platform. He is also considered a better candidate and is more trusted and liked than Ortega and Rizzo.

Sadly, the fight will be between Ortega and Rizzo. The question remains where will Herty's votes go, figured at about 15%. Will they stick to the left and go to Ortega or switch to the right wing but popular Montealegre?

Herty Lewites has forever changed Nicaraguan politics by energizing the MLS and demonstrating that left can free itself from the domination by Daniel Ortega and his corrupt and bankrupt past.

As an interesting aside, Herty was Jewish, certainly an anomaly in Roman Catholic dominated Central America. He was the descendent of a Jewish family that settled in Nicaragua and became prosperous shop owners. The Mercado Israel Lewites still operates in Managua as does Hertylandia, his amusement park.

No comments: