Unicorn Hunting In Nicaragua -
Ignoring US Intervention
by Toni Solo,
ZNet, July 24, 2005
In a recent article on Nicaragua, Frank
J. Kendrick of the US Council on Hemispheric Affairs NGO (COHA),
managed to write extensively on the country without mentioning
two crucial issues facing the country right now (1). Curiously,
Kendrick's analysis of Nicaragua omitted continuing sinister US
government intervention in Nicaragua's internal politics as well
as vitally important arguments about the Central American Free
Trade Agreement (CAFTA). Political battle lines in Nicaragua are
now being drawn for a presidential election that is still more
than a year away in November 2006.
Kendrick also omitted that US client
President Bolaños won the election campaign in November
2001 on promises of more employment and scare-mongering about
spurious opposition party links to "terror" But Nicaragua's
unemployment has increased to levels several times worse than
the bogus official statistics and FSLN representatives have made
many denunciations of all terrorism, including the US-sponsored
variety carried out by self-confessed murderers like Luis Posada
Carriles and Orlando Bosch. The facts of daily material life for
ordinary people in Nicaragua contradict ridiculous suggestions
that Bolaños is tough on corruption. At the mercy of grossly-underpaid
and resentful public officials in general, people regularly find
themselves propositioned for bribes by shark-like traffic police.
On beaten-up rural roads, one can readily
find by huge billboards advertising another massive social advance
by the Bolaños "New Era" government - for example
a wretched two classroom school that should cost no more than
US$2300, at the very outside. But even the propaganda sign says
the cost was twice that. What does that mean? It means corrupt
building contracts, inflated supervisory expenses and above all,
inflated debt to the international financial institutions who
loaned the cash to make the project happen. Details like these
escape comfortable analysts churning out "balanced"
pro-Bolaños, pro-US government propaganda from their North
Nor does COHA's Kendrick note that the
current troubles of President Bolaños result from yet one
more goof by former Secretary of State Colin Powell. When Bolaños
was doing very nicely thanks in a de facto coalition with the
left wing opposition FSLN, Powell visited Nicaragua and told Bolaños
to break it up. Bolaños obeyed and his authority went downhill
from then on. That detail also calls into question the emphasis
so many critics lay on alleged FSLN support for disgraced fromer
President Arnoldo Aleman. The FSLN worked closely with Bolaños
to ensure that Aleman could be put behind bars.
Impoverished majority carry the can
For now, it seems the poor majority in
Nicaragua will continue to suffer increasingly harsh economic
privation with their accustomed stoicism. They have endured deepening
poverty for the last fifteen years as a result of neo-liberal
policies imposed by governments stong-armed into compliance by
the international financial institutions backed, as usual, by
the United States. Their stoicism may well be put to yet more
severe trial soon, as energy prices continue to rise and Central
American economies suffer even more inflationary pressures from
the recent revaluation of the Chinese yuan.
But assuming the elections go ahead more or less normally, Kendrick
suggests a three way electoral battle. He may be right in that
at least, but it is a glib account of the underlying political
reality. More realistically the political battle in Nicaragua
is between the traditional ruling classes and their allies and
the Sandinista FSLN party and its allies. That divide defines
the forces content to submit to US imperialism and the forces
willing to resist it, overwhelmingly the FSLN.
Nicaraguan party political polka - take
The political vehicles of the traditional
ruling classes in Nicaragua are the various Liberal parties and
the Conservative Party. Chaotic disarray exists among those parties
as a result of the falling out among thieves represented by the
imprisonment of corrupt ex-President Arnoldo Aleman. That created
space for a third party which represents wealthy and middle-class
political interests who can find a comfortable niche in neither
the dominant PLC Liberal Party nor the FSLN. So, hoping to fill
that third party space, former Sandinistas like leading businessman
Herty Lewites are now tentatively exploring coalitions with dissident
Liberals like Eduardo Montealegre and Jose Antonio Alvarado as
well as with other parties.
For the United States government such
a state of affairs is troubling. Originally, it seemed good news
for the Embassy that Lewites was flying an electoral kite against
FSLN leader Daniel Ortega. A divided FSLN would have suited the
US government nicely. But now the electoral shenanigans are slipping
and slithering off course. A divided Liberal Party will deliver
the FSLN Nicaragua's presidency and a working majority in the
National Assembly. For the Bush regime, composed largely of people
nostalgic for the glory days of Iran-Contra, a Sandinista presidential
victory in 2006 would make for a very public supper of crow pie.
A small country far away....who cares?
It may seem crazy that a tiny country
like Nicaragua should demand such attention from the United States
government. But the US has been unable to roll back left wing
political parties in El Salvador or in Nicaragua. Nor, so far,
has it been able to get the Central American Free Trade Agreement
(CAFTA) rubber stamped through the Nicaraguan legislature or the
Costa Rican legislature. This unmistakeable sign of US decline
surely has the ultre-macho Bush regime rattled.
The outcome of the political battles over CAFTA is fundamental
for the future of Nicaragua and US regional designs. CAFTA is
only formally a trade agreement. Mutual benefits for Central America
from CAFTA are absolutely minimal. Its fundamental effect is as
an investment deal, handing Nicaragua and the other Central American
countries on a plate cheap to US corporate investors. CAFTA is
the logical culmination of the 1980s Caribbean Basin Initiative
which lured regional economies into deeper dependency on US markets.
Now the US is using that dependency to stitch up in a legally
binding treaty its dominant control of the region's trade and
Among many other negative effects, CAFTA
will spell the end of the road for most of Nicaragua's small and
medium sized farmers and will close down small retailers. It will
deny affordable medicines to ordinary people and hand over Nicaragua's
already ravaged natural resources to foreign investors. CAFTA
will improve the legal context for water privatisation, for example,
a move which the World Bank and the IMF have so far failed to
force Nicaragua to adopt, despite their best concerted efforts.
The deal will also increase Nicaragua's indebtedness, as it will
need further massive credits from the World Bank in order to meet
many of CAFTA's more onerous conditions.
But an FSLN victory in 2006 would mean
an anti-CAFTA, pro-Cuba, pro-Venezuela government in Managua.
It would embolden the formidable FMLN opposition in El Salvador
and provide a strong regional voice supportive to the heroic Zapatistas
in Mexico and to other popular movements in Guatemala and Honduras.
Prospects for radical change inside Nicaragua itself would likely
be limited to wider access for impoverished families to health
and education services. A Sandinista victory would also mean more
investment in resources for small and medium rural producers and
urban small businesses in Nicaragua -the very people so direly
threatened by CAFTA.
The lady vanishes : goodbye ambassador
So that is why over the last few weeks
United States government representatives have steadily ratcheted
up the pressure on Nicaraguan politicians to support US government
wishes. Several leading Liberal politicians have had their entry
rights to the US withdrawn as well as officials of Nicaragua's
Supereme Electoral Council. Ambassador Barbara Moore has publicly
urged the largest Liberal Alliance party the PLC to clean out
politicians she criticises as corrupt.(2)
Last year when lame-duck President Enrique
Bolaños was threatened with legal action for election irregularities
Moore threatened that the US might suspend aid if the action went
ahead. Moore also lobbied openly on the formation of the Executive
Committee of Nicaragua's National Assembly for 2004, alleging
that this was at the request of supporters of Enrique Bolaños.
Maybe that's why this month the Bolaños government awarded
Moore their highest decoration - the Grand Cross of the Order
of José de Marcoleta. Moore's term as ambassador ended
on July 15th. She moves on to take up a post as a political adviser
to the US military's Southern Command. Moore originally took over
the interventionist baton from her predecessor Oliver Garza.
Garza is notorious for having campaigned
openly for Enrique Bolaños during the 2001 presidential
election campaign while US ambassador. His brand of barefaced
imperial intervention was exemplifed on that campaign's election
night. According to Daniel Ortega's Vice-Presidential candidate
Agustin Jarquin, early on the morning after the elections, Garza
marched into the centralised national count centre and demanded
to meet with Roberto Rivas the head of the Supreme Electoral Council.
He told Rivas to stop the count and restart it after changing
some of the personnel. Incredibly, Rivas complied. True to form,
that outrageous incident never made the international mainstream
Wheeling out the Black Knights
Garza returns to Nicaragua any day now
to a specially created post as interim charge d'affaires alongside
existing charge d'affaires Peter Brennan. There is little doubt
that Garza has been recalled with orders to knock heads together
in the traditional political parties and get an electoral formula
organized capable of beating the FSLN in 2006. It may be harder
than last time as PLC Liberal politicans are angry that the US
has denied several of them visas to travel to the United States.
Recently, Supreme Electoral Council president, Roberto Rivas also
had his visa cancelled.
The new ambassador to Nicaragua trying
to calm things down and get anti-FSLN politics back to business-as-usual
will be Paul Trivelli. Trivelli is likely to read from a more
suave, subtle "good cop" script, against "bad cop"
Garza's role as a recognised hard man. But Trivelli himself is
no pushover. He is a master of the "democratization"
discourse that US diplomats are so adept at spinning while managing
to ignore the grotesque and disgraceful record of US terror and
repression in the region.
While Director of Central American Affairs
for the Department of State during the presidential election in
El Salvador in 2004, Trivelli justified blatant US intervention
in the election, saying, "We said that we would not hesitate
to express our opinion on issues that affect our bilateral relations
and that we will continue reacting to the actions and statements
of the FMLN during the campaign." (3) Trivelli knows Nicaragua
well. He was trade attache at the embassy in Managua from 1995
And the big guns go range finding
Apart from these diplomatic reinforcements,
former US Sub-Secretary for Hemispheric affairs Otto Reich gave
controversial interviews in the local media over the last week.
Right wing daily La Prensa asked provocatively whether the US
would accept a dubious FSLN victory in 2006. Reich replied, equally
provocatively, he would expect the United States to learn from
what he called Hugo Chavez's fraudulent victory in last year's
Venezuelan presidential recall vote.(4)
On the Canal 2 TV channel he called on
Nicaraguans to demonstrate against recent legislative cooperation
between the PLC Liberal party and the FSLN. Critics of those parties
refer to that cooperation as "el Pacto" - perhaps best
translated as "the Deal". Similarly, Reich's successor
Roger Noriega was reported by local media recently declaring controversially
that Liberal politicians have to choose whether they want to be
"friends or enemies" of the United States.(5)
As the anti-FSLN campaign develops, the
US and its local allies will use all the old threats and rumours
they have used in the past. For example, if the FSLN wins then
US immigration authorities will crack down on tens of thousands
of illegal Nicaraguan migrants in the US and force them to return
home. Or, if the FSLN wins, the US will restrict the family remittaces
which provide 15% of Nicaragua's foreign exchange and on which
huge numbers of Nicaraguans rely to survive from one month to
Or, if the FSLN wins, trade barriers
will be thrown up against Nicaraguan goods, US "aid"
will be cut, people will be unable to visit relatives in the US.
All these fears will be awakened and fed by relentless propaganda
from anti-FSLN pòliticians who depend on the US to back
them up as they bend the rules so as to win elections. They did
it in 1995 and in 2001. They will try it on again in 2006.
No analysis of Nicaragua makes sense without
noting the constant intervention by the US government in the country's
internal affairs. That intervention only becomes more blatant
at election time. At this year's 26th anniversary of the Sandinista
revolutionary triumph on July 19th, half a million people packed
into the former Plaza de la Revolución - now called the
Plaza de la Fe - to celebrate. That previously unreliable gauge
of support may finally translate into an electoral victory for
the FSLN next year. The US government has already lined up an
experienced team of diplomat-wreckers to stop it. Nicaragua, the
acid test for US imperial authority in the region, will likely
prove as vicious an electoral battle ground as Venezuela.
toni solo is an activist based in Central
America - contact via firstname.lastname@example.org
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