The situation in Nicaragua

Image: Aboodi Vesakaran


It is undeniable to US responsibility for the economic chaos created in Nicaragua

Um report from the subcontracting company Chemonics International Inc. for USAID [United States Agency for International Development] evaluates the results of various programs developed in Nicaragua between April 2013 and February 2018. Its 61 pages define the objectives and results of the various support programs for 17 Nicaraguan civil society organizations.

Among the objectives of the program was to strengthen the capacity of these organizations “to better defend the demands of citizens through the project of promoting the capacities of civil society”. It was about providing USAID with useful information so that the key organizations – which already received funds from USAID for activities that the project calls “democracy and governance” – could better achieve their common objectives. It was intended to increase the capacity of NGOs to raise awareness and mobilize citizens; “increase the coordination capacity of NGOs and individuals, the private sector and the media to promote awareness, advocacy and activism”.

The project aimed to strengthen communication capabilities through the creation of “digital media tools”. We would later see the content of these awareness and activism campaigns. The document specifies some beneficiary organizations holding seminars with journalists and human rights groups, particularly important for what it describes as a “challenging political context” in Nicaragua.

Participants "learned how to encrypt information on their cell phones, computers and other equipment to prevent cyber-attacks and the manipulation of their communication devices or websites with important information for Nicaraguans." The program's resources also gave NGOs greater capacity to “propose claims and develop specific claims actions”.

A multi-million interference

The document referred to is not the only one on AID's activities in Nicaragua. At the website of USAID, it is stated that “the United States government has provided nearly $2,5 billion in development assistance to Nicaragua, primarily through AID” since its inception in 1962.

According to its current strategy – whose definition can be seen on the internet – USAID “provides training and technical assistance to civil society organizations on international norms and best practices to effectively assert democratic practices and human rights”. Of the 2,5 billion dollars that the agency invested in Nicaragua, 507 million were used in “efforts to stabilize the economy, face rising inflation and pay debts with multilateral institutions”, in addition to the 36,3 million invested “in programs of employment generation” in the 1990s.

Remember that on April 25, 1990, Violeta Barrios de Chamorro took over as president, elected after years of war organized and financed by the United States against the Sandinista government. Held in the midst of the chaos caused by the military intervention, with the economy affected by economic sanctions, there was no possibility of the Sandinistas winning in those elections, considering, moreover, that the US government had promised to continue the war if that happened.

In summary, the United States dedicated millions of dollars to combat the Sandinista revolution in the 1980s, to provoke chaos in its economy, including the resources of the scandal known as “Iran-Contra”, to later contribute millions more to support the plans rebuilding your allies. How can we not recognize the responsibility of the United States for the economic chaos created in Nicaragua, which it later tried to solve with just over 540 million dollars, which proved to be insufficient to reorganize the country's economy, as became evident if we look at the results 30 years after this intervention.

Special interests in a possible interoceanic canal through Nicaragua, in competition with the Panama Canal, made US military interventions in Nicaragua standard policy. As a result, resistance to such an intervention became particularly relevant with the rebellion of General Sandino, assassinated in February 1934 by Nicaraguan political and military forces installed in power by Washington. Since then, Nicaraguan politics has been unable to find a scenario in which Sandinistas and anti-Sandinistas can face each other, without US intervention unbalancing what should be a “normal” political dispute over different views of the country.

The massive intervention of the 1980s gave rise to a new political stage, in which Sandinismo and anti-Sandinismo, deformed, sought to re-accommodate and survive, causing Sandinismo to split, and Ortega to assume power in successive elections, with the opposition increasingly cornered, leading up to the 2018 protests and ensuing repression. The division of Sandinismo following the electoral defeat of February 1990 is one of the events that contributed to the development of the current political order in the country. The arrest, exile, expropriation and stripping of nationality of prominent leaders of the Sandinista revolution of the 1980s can only be seen as the failure of a process that at that time managed to unite a majority will in support of the revolutionary process.

Knowing the programs and resources made available to the opposition by the AID and reviewing its objectives and the period of development of these programs (2013-2018), it is, to say the least, naive to think that the April 2018 protests were a spontaneous rebellion. The opposition came out to overthrow the government and the government responded by killing and imprisoning opponents. As in other parts of the world, another Maidan, another color revolution, generated a confrontation that a development without these interferences could perhaps have avoided.

The refreshing air of Latin America

It is in this context that the Nicaraguan opposition develops an intense campaign to undermine the support of the Latin American “left” for Ortega. This campaign – entitled “The Latin American left with its back to the dictatorship” – is organized by the digital media of the Nicaraguan opposition.

A campaign of this nature could offer the Latin American left an alternative to the Ortega government. But he limits himself to arguing that Ortega's government is not of the “left”. It would be logical to think, therefore, that the “left” is in opposition. But it's not like that.

Given the disarticulation of the opposition, its impossibility to organize itself within the country due to government repression, it defines itself or coalesces behind the objective of overthrowing the government. But it is practically impossible to find an explicit vision of the country they intend to build, the economic order they intend to organize, or their vision of the international scene.

Under these conditions, one way of glimpsing the political character of this opposition is to review the positions of the opposition presidential candidates in the last elections, all of whom were arrested and later extradited and expropriated by Ortega. Real chaos, applied with unacceptable cruelty. There is nothing about this opposition that could be described as “left”, as the media campaign is intended to suggest.

The Latin American “left” is trapped in this game. Between those who rigorously support Ortega and those who consider any support for his government unthinkable, an almost disappearing shortcut has been hidden by the forest. A shortcut that takes us to the Central American house, where two windows need to be opened: one to let out the suffocating Washington air. The other, to let in the refreshing air of Latin America.

new realities

45 years ago, it was unthinkable that Latin America could extend its interests to a region subjected for more than a century to North American influence and interests, born not only from geographical proximity, but mainly from a strategic location, capable of facilitating the transit between the Atlantic and the Pacific.

Today, not only is the situation different, it is rapidly and profoundly changing. In the new world order, a greater Latin American political presence in the region seems both possible and necessary. Asked about the situation in Nicaragua, Brazilian President Lula said he was not very well informed. This no longer seems like a reasonable answer.

The US policy of unilateral sanctions against Latin American countries, whose main expression is the one imposed on Cuba for more than 60 years, despite the practically unanimous rejection, year after year, of the General Assembly of the United Nations, is unacceptable. It would be completely inconvenient for Latin America to see a Nicaraguan government that, in the event of an opposition victory, would join Washington's policy of sanctions against countries in the region. But the Nicaraguan opposition does not speak publicly about these things, although it does so in private.

Just as important sectors of the Latin American left are uncomfortable with the situation in Nicaragua, the opposition carefully avoids defining itself in the political scenario, which some of its representatives prefer to explain by saying that there is no left or right anymore. Naturally, the more conservative sectors, which lead the opposition, feel comfortable on the right.

The Central American Chaos

It is evident that the century of US intervention is not alien to the inability of the Central American countries to organize themselves politically. Nor is he alien to its poverty and economic inequality, the foundation of the wealth of the old North American tycoons, well described by the Costa Rican essayist Vicente Sáenz in his books, still in the first half of the last century.

Costa Rica is the exception in this chaos. But there is an explanation for this. In my view, it was thanks to the work of a remarkable politician, José Figueres, the same man who, in the late 1940s, abolished the national army (something constantly remembered by politicians and academics), but who did something even more important: he nationalized the banking system. This was the key for the country to have the resources to meet the demands of its population better than other countries in the region and to organize a political and administrative order that better responds to these needs.

It is true, however, that since the early 1980s, when the neoliberal model was gaining ground in the world and people were trying to convince us that there was no alternative, a government that claimed to be along the same lines as Figueres began a privatization process that, with AID resources, aimed primarily at the nationalized banks. In the following 40 years, the same party (the social-democratic National Liberation) consolidated the neoliberal path, including a campaign for the approval of the Free Trade Agreement with the United States based on a strategy known as the “Memorandum of fear”. Today, the country also feels that it has lost its way, that a certain order, sustained by a State concerned with the lives of its citizens, has been dismantled little by little.

The Latin American Debt

If the unbalancing factor in Central American politics, particularly in Nicaragua, is US intervention, it is true that the absence of Latin America not only left the whole scenario at Washington's disposal, but also deprived political sectors of other options. Nicaraguans who are not comfortable with the current scenario.

The new Brazilian government chose not to associate itself with the condemnations concerned, with the abusive use of the issue of “human rights”, transformed into a political instrument thanks to provisions that Washington never adhered to, designed especially to make Latin Americans fight among themselves. The Brazilian government expressed its disagreement with measures such as extradition, expropriation and withdrawal of nationality from opposition leaders, but wanted to leave the door open for dialogue. It is not enough to propose an alternative policy whose results will only be visible in the medium and long term. There is a situation developing that requires more urgent attention.

The change of government in Brazil, in Colombia, the position of López Obrador in Mexico, or that of Alberto Fernández in Argentina, are an important basis for the coordination of these policies. Southern political parties need to be present in Central America. A very conservative right, that of Piñera and Macri, of Calderón and Fox, of Aznar and Rajoy, came together to strengthen “freedom and democracy” in the region.

It is inconceivable that Latin American politicians can meet with colleagues like the Spaniard Aznar, precisely when 20 years have passed since the invasion of Iraq, which he justified by swearing to have evidence of weapons of mass destruction kept by Saddam Hussein. His statements at the time can be seen here. With his allies, he has the destruction of a country and hundreds of thousands of dead on his hands.

It is these people who propose to defend “freedom and democracy” in the region. To confront them, we must propose a different vision and organize an alternative that responds to Latin American interests.

*Gilberto Lopes is a journalist, PhD in Society and Cultural Studies from the Universidad de Costa Rica (UCR). Author, among other books, of Political crisis of the modern world (Uruk).

Translation: Fernando Lima das Neves.

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