In a recent article on Nicaragua, Frank J. Kendrick of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs (COHA), an American NGO, 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 the 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 scaremongering 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 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 that 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 American eyries.
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 former 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 neoliberal policies imposed by governments strong-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 Your Partners....
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 unmistakable sign of US decline surely has the ultra-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 investment options.
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 privatization, for example, a move that 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 Moore
So that is why over the last few weeks American 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 Supreme Electoral Council. Ambassador Barbara Moore has publicly urged the largest Liberal Alliance party the PLC to clean out politicians she criticizes 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 exemplified 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 centralized 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 media.
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 politicians 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 that will be 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 recognized 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 attaché at the embassy in Managua from 1995 to 1999.
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, that 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 to have recently declared 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 rumors 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 remittances that provide 15% of Nicaragua’s foreign exchange and on which huge numbers of Nicaraguans rely to survive from one month to the next.
Or, if the FSLN wins, trade barriers will be thrown up against Nicaraguan goods, US "aid" will be cut, and people will be unable to visit relatives in the US. All these fears will be awakened and fed by relentless propaganda from anti-FSLN politicians 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 battleground as Venezuela.
toni solo is an activist based in Central America. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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