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A Lesson in Parallel Government

Today's lesson in parallel government comes to us from Nicaragua, courtesy of the Envio academic journal, volume 32, number 380 of March 2013.


Rosario Murillo, Nicaragua's First Lady, is also essentially a minister, as her husband President Daniel Ortega put her at the head of the National Council on Communication and Citizenship in January 2007, shortly after he was "reelected". One of her early inventions was a new political structure called Councils of Citizen's Power (CPCs). They weren't overtly connected to the FSLN political party but were ostensibly to promote civic participation. Who can argue with that? And anyway, the councils were in line with a 1993 Law of Citizen's Participation. The political opposition, still strong in 2007, effectively blocked them from becoming officially-recognized state structures or from being either assigned state functions or administering any part of the national budget. So they instead became the channel for all extra-budgetary funding provided by Venezuela.

The next step happened inexorably. Ortega procured government decision-making powers the law denied them by granting the CPCs plurality of seats in the National Economic and Social Planning Council (CONPES), which had been created in 2001 to encourage citizen participation in decision making. He then put his wife Murillo at the head of CONPES, which immediately stopped meeting and basically ceased to exist. Meanwhile, the CPCs gained in strength, voice, and resources and became clearly the more powerful voice. And now they became more overtly tied to the FSLN party. The FSLN party became reorganized around them, and their power grew as their administrations decided who would receive the various benefit packages provided by Venezuelan largesse. Political endorsements required for anything from getting a job, study grant, license, extension of some deadline, identity card, party membership card, or even medicine flew strictly through the CPCs, tying important administrative requirements to executive power.

Job done!