[Marxism] Circles Robinson: US Meddling Nothing New in Nicaragua

Walter Lippmann walterlx at earthlink.net
Fri Nov 3 18:08:34 MST 2006

US Meddling Nothing New in Nicaragua
By Circles Robinson*
November 3, 2006

An attempt by the US State Department and a number of legislators to
sway the vote in Sunday's general elections in Nicaragua, population
5.6 million, is par for the course; United States meddling in the
Central American nation's affairs is nothing new.

In the last century alone the US sent in troops to occupy Nicaragua
from 1912 to 1933; backed the brutal Somoza dictatorship for 45 years
with weapons and economic support (1934-1979); trained and financed
the "Contras" to fight the Sandinista revolution (1979-1990); poured
money into the campaign of Violeta Chamorro in 1990; and openly
supported the subsequent campaigns of Arnold Aleman in 1996 and
Enrique Bolaños in 2001.

Washington once again turned its eyes to Nicaragua early in the year
when polls showed that new election rules and a deeply divided
anti-Sandinista vote clearly favored a comeback of Daniel Ortega from
the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN).

The bill, pushed through in 2000 by Ortega and Aleman's benches in
the National Assembly, allows a candidate to win on the first round
with 40 percent of the vote or only 35 percent if no other contender
has 30 percent.

Besides Ortega, the other three main candidates in the November 5th
balloting are economist Edmundo Jarquin of the center-left Sandinista
Renovation Movement (MRS); coffee farmer and the outgoing vice
president Jose Rizo of Aleman's right wing Liberal Constitutionalist
Party (PLC); and banker Eduardo Montealegre, the US choice from the
newly formed right wing Nicaraguan Liberal Alliance (ALN).

Right Wing Liberals bitterly divided

Convinced that around 60 percent of the Nicaraguan population would
never vote for Daniel Ortega had made things relatively easy for the
US to get its way in the 1996 and 2001 elections since the vote was
totally polarized between two candidates, Ortega and Aleman and
Ortega and Bolaños.

Now the new rules and increased dissatisfaction with over 15 years of
free market and low social investment policies put that assuredness
on ice.

The key factor affecting the anti-Sandinista vote is the division
that occurred within the Liberal Constitutionalist Party (PLC).
Shortly after taking office in 2002, Enrique Bolaños, who was Arnoldo
Aleman's VP during the previous term, betrayed the PLC strongman and
prosecuted him on corruption charges. Aleman received a 20-year
sentence, which he is "serving" while free in Managua with some
travel and political restrictions.

Bolaños had never said a word about corruption while serving as
Aleman's vice president and the PLC swiftly closed ranks around their
leader expelling Bolaños from the party and leaving him to carry out
his term with a small minority of deputies he pried away from Aleman.

Stagnation set in with a president unable to pass legislation as the
PLC often allied with Ortega's FSLN. The chasm between the Liberals
continued to deepen.

US dumps Arnoldo

As the elections approached the US then dumped its old ally, the
disgraced Arnoldo Aleman. US Ambassador Paul Trivelli said his
government opposes both the FSLN and PLC and made no secret that
Washington prefers the ALN candidate, Eduardo Montealegre.

"I believe the Nicaraguan people know that the pact (between Ortega
and Aleman) remains alive and a vote for the PLC (Rizo) is the same
as voting for the FSLN," said Trivelli.

PLC vice presidential candidate Jose Alvarado replied by saying: "I
believe the US ambassador doesn't understand Nicaraguan." The PLC
believes its superior organizational strength and having won the last
two elections deserved recognition.

On October 13 around a thousand US citizens and dozens of social,
solidarity and religious organizations sent an open letter to
Ambassador Trivelli rejecting his statements. "Such behavior would be
unacceptable and unlawful if foreign diplomats attempted to influence
elections in the United States. The United States cannot claim to
support free and fair elections while it attempts to control and
manipulate the voting in Nicaragua."

A new battleground

When Ortega received open support from Venezuelan President Hugo
Chavez the US State Department stepped up its meddling to keep
Nicaragua in its fold and out of the clutches of the Latin American
integration movement spearheaded by Chavez, Fidel Castro and Evo

For Bush administration ideologues seeking a new battleground, Chavez
providing cheap fertilizer, discount oil and free eye operations
through FSLN channels, and publicly expressing his preference for
Ortega to win the elections, was sufficient to put a bigger motor on
the wheels of intervention already in motion.

However, numerous private meetings and public appeals by Bush
administration emissaries and the ambassador, all the way up to the
last week of the campaign, were unable to convince Rizo to throw in
the towel and pave the road to a Montealegre victory.

Iran-Contra ghost contradicts Bush administration

The State Department plan also received a setback from an unexpected
corner when Oliver North, architect of the illegal covert arms supply
to the "Contras" in the 1980s, dropped in on Managua to support Jose
Rizo and demand Montealegre, the White House choice, withdraw from
the race.

While North said his trip to Nicaragua was to visit old friends, he
referred to the public letter he sent to the State Department stating
that its support for Montealegre was counterproductive and increased
chances for an Ortega victory.

"Unfortunately those who implement US policy in Nicaragua have been
blind to the reality of Nicaraguan politics," said North adding, "The
country only has two important parties: the FSLN and the PLC."

Ambassador Trivelli was quick to say that North's support for Rizo
would have little effect saying the colonel has not been an official
of the US government for many years.

Last minute fear campaign

Looking for fertile ground to mount a last minute fear campaign
against Ortega, Montealegre and his US-backers turned to the delicate
topic of family remittances, estimated to bring in from $700 million
to a billion dollars a year to thousands of Nicaraguan families from
relatives in the United States, Costa Rica, El Salvador and other
countries. The figure exceeds the country's exports.

In a speech during the 27th anniversary celebration of the Nicaraguan
revolution this past July 19, Ortega said his government would seek a
way to establish a mechanism to bring the remittances without
commission or intermediaries. The plan was immediately attacked by
Montealegre and Rizo as a way to put controls on foreign exchange.
Shortly after, Ortega retracted but the campaign to instill fear in
those who send or receive remittances has increased.

An editorial Wednesday in La Prensa newspaper stated: "It's easy to
imagine that if Ortega wins the elections a lot of people will begin
to withdraw their bank deposits, especially those in dollars,
producing a great flight of foreign exchange."

Continuous TV ads run by Montealegre and Rizo highlighted the out of
control inflation and shortages that existed in the 1980s under
Ortega, while failing to mention the US blockade and the Contra war.

Several Republican members of the US Congress then chimed in with
threats to push through a freeze on sending remittances altogether.

FSLN vice presidential candidate Jaime Morales called the proposal of
US representatives Dana Rohrabacher, Ed Royce and Peter Hoekstra to
block remittances "cruel and inhumane." He also assured that an
Ortega government would respect private property, the free market and
the family remittances.

A month earlier Congressman Dan Burton publicly stated that
diplomatic and economic relations between the US and Nicaragua would
likely suffer if Ortega were to be elected.

Congressman Tom Tancredo upped the ante by saying the FSLN is a
pro-terrorist party. He warned that if Ortega returns to power all
bilateral cooperation with the US would be interrupted. Tancredo has
played an active role in promoting harsh anti immigrant laws
including support for building a wall between Mexico and the United

Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS) presidential candidate Edmundo
Jarquin, who has criticized both the US and Venezuela for taking
sides in the campaign, said the proposal to block family remittances
if Ortega wins constitutes meddling. "I want to repeat, we are
against all foreign interference in the political process of
Nicaragua, independent of where it comes from. For us there is no
'good' interference."

The Ortega camp has used the US intervention to attack the rival MRS
since it has not specifically been targeted by Washington. While not
hiding Washington's support for Montealegre, Ambassador Trivelli has
told Nicaraguan voters not to cast their ballots for Ortega or Rizo,
and that doing so could bring grave consequences.

The US enforced a crippling commercial and financial blockade on
Nicaragua during the last Ortega government in the 1980s.

Foreign investment threatened

A loss of potential investment is another focus of the fear campaign.
The message from the Bush administration couldn't have been clearer.
Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez stated on October 19 that an
Ortega victory would put US investment in Nicaragua at great risk.

To try and influence voters desperate for employment, Gutierrez said
three US firms are ready to invest 230 million dollars and generate
123,000 jobs but are waiting first to see the election results. He
warned that it would be unlikely that the investment would take place
if Ortega wins.

The commerce secretary also said implementation of the Central
American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) could be endangered with an
Ortega government, this, even though the FSLN withdrew its opposition
to the accord allowing its smooth passage in October, 2005.

Gutierrez further stoked the fire by saying another 220 million in US
aid programs would be in jeopardy under Ortega.

*Circles Robinson is a US journalist based in Havana who is covering
the Nicaraguan elections. His articles and commentaries can be read
at www.circlesonline.blogspot.com

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