Revolution #70, November 26, 2006
The Election in Nicaragua, and the Real Nature of U.S. Democracy
National elections were held in Nicaragua in the first week of November. Several candidates ran for the office of presidency in this impoverished country of fewer than 6 million people. The vote was monitored by 17,000 Nicaraguan and foreign observers spread throughout the small nation, and 8,000 Nicaraguan soldiers were mobilized. The Washington Post said there was a “large turnout” for the vote. Gustavo Fernandez, head of the 200-member delegation from the Organization of American States, announced that the situation around the elections “has been calm, and there is no reason to think this will change.”
During his 2005 trip to several Latin American countries, George W. Bush had declared that “I think it’s very important for us always to reconfirm the importance of democracy in our hemisphere.” But events leading up to and following the recent elections in Nicaragua reveal just what it is that Bush and his crew mean when they talk about bringing democracy, liberty, freedom and so on around the world.
Prior to the election, Nicaragua saw what the Houston Chronicle described as a “chorus line of U.S. officials,” issuing open and veiled threats about what would happen if the vote didn’t go the way they wanted. The threats were focused around one of the presidential candidates, Daniel Ortega. The Chronicle’s South American bureau chief, John Otis, wrote that U.S. officials “launched a volley of verbal grenades” to “discourage voters from electing Sandinista leader Ortega” (“U.S. Playing Favorites in Nicaraguan Election, 8/20/06). Mark Weisbrot of the Center for Economic and Policy Research noted that Bush administration officials and other assorted reactionaries “did everything but threaten to invade.” (“U.S. fails in bid to derail Ortega presidential bid,” Christian Science Monitor, 11/7/06)
Daniel Ortega led the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) guerrilla movement which toppled Anastasio Somoza, a brutal U.S.-backed dictator, in 1979. After Somoza’s downfall, Ortega and the Sandinistas headed Nicaragua until 1990. Throughout this period, the U.S. under the Reagan administration funded and trained death squads—known as “Contras” because they were openly counter-revolutionary—who left a trail of murder, rape, and pillage across the country. The Contras killed about 30,000 people—Sandinista officials as well as many peasants, indigenous people, workers, students, and others.
Immediately after the elections in 1984 that declared Ortega president, the U.S. mined Nicaraguan harbors. A Reagan administration memorandum said the goal of this military blockade was to “advance our overall goal of applying stringent economic pressure…and to further impair the already critical fuel capacity in Nicaragua.” The U.S. established open and covert bases in the neighboring countries of Honduras and Costa Rica as launching pads and training grounds for the Contras.
In 1986, the secret (and illegal) arming and funding of the Contras began to be exposed with the leaking of reports that the Reagan administration had sold missiles and other weapons to Iran in exchange for the release of a high-level CIA official being held hostage in Lebanon. Reagan aide Oliver North used profits from this deal to buy arms for the Contras. A major scandal revealed a massive global operation in which the U.S. got its allies and puppets to help fund the Contra war. North and other Reagan officials were caught lying on these matters during Congressional hearings. But one thing that remained covered up during these Iran-Contra hearings was that the Contras’ funding relied heavily on drug smuggling. The CIA gave big drug traffickers an “offer they couldn’t refuse”—U.S. drug and customs agencies would leave them alone if these traffickers helped airlift and finance the flow of arms to the Contras. Robert Gates, who is set to replace Rumsfeld as Bush’s Secretary of Defense, was the deputy head of the CIA in the early 1980s when the covert operations backing the Contras were in full swing.
The Nicaraguan people’s resistance against the U.S. imperialist dominators and their vicious puppets was just and righteous. But Ortega and the Sandinistas never led this struggle in a way that was aimed at real liberation from imperialism. Rather, they were revisionists—phony communists—acting in service of the global interests of the Soviet Union, when that country was an imperialist rival to the U.S. And the Sandinistas lost their grip of power after THE elections in 1990. In the past few years, Ortega has done everything he could to convince Washington that he would be a cooperative partner in the exploitation of the Nicaraguan people. He changed the Sandinista colors from red and black to pink and turquoise. He chose a former Contra to be his vice presidential running mate. He renounced the pseudo-Marxism he once espoused and openly declared himself a proponent of capitalism—and he himself has become a very rich man.
Ortega’s cravenness hit a new low days before the recent election, when he threw the weight of the Sandinistas behind a reactionary law banning all abortions in Nicaragua. The new law mandates 4- to 8-year prison sentences for doctors and other health care providers who perform abortions, even to save women’s lives, as well as for women who get abortions. As a woman from the group Women’s Autonomous Movement in Managua said, “This is a return to the Middle Ages for women’s rights.” (“Therapeutic Abortion Banned in Pre-Election Frenzy," Inter Press Service, 10/28/06)
But even with all this, major U.S. ruling class forces clearly weren’t about to forget or forgive when it came to Ortega and the Sandinistas. Even if they weren’t going for a thoroughgoing revolution, the Sandinistas remain a target of U.S. venom because of their past role in the struggle in Nicaragua, especially in an area the U.S. imperialists consider their “back yard.” And so the recent Nicaraguan elections saw a campaign against Ortega by a vengeful “chorus line” of U.S. officials.
U.S. Ambassador Paul Trivelli called Ortega “a tiger who hasn’t changed his stripes” and threatened to close off U.S. and international aid to Nicaragua—which is already the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Republican Congressman Dana Rohrabacher threatened to legally ban Nicaraguans in the U.S. from sending money back to their home country—which would cut off the largest source of foreign revenue for Nicaragua. Rohrabacher asked Bush’s Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff to “prepare in accordance with U.S. law, contingency plans to block any further money remittances from being sent to Nicaragua in the event that the FSLN enters the government.” Rohrabacher further ramped up the thinly veiled threat of economic, political, and even military measures by declaring that a Nicaragua headed by Ortega would be “pro-terrorist.”
Others flying down to Managua to denounce Ortega included right-wing Congressman Dan Burton, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and Oliver North, who declared that “it’s good to be back.” The U.S. threats have continued after Ortega was declared victor in the presidential election. Carlos Gutierrez, Bush’s Secretary of Commerce, wrote that Nicaragua’s trade with the U.S. and U.S. aid to Nicaragua “will be endangered” with Ortega’s victory.
Think about what would happen if the situation were reversed—if it was the Sandinistas who sent thousands of observers to “monitor” the elections in the U.S., bankrolled certain candidates, threatened dire consequences if the vote did not go their way…and had the power to actually follow through on those threats. The fact that the reverse can—and did—happen, with the U.S. political establishment and the mainstream media treating this as perfectly reasonable and acceptable, points to the reality of power relations involved here.
The elections in Nicaragua were held with a gun—a very large caliber gun—held by the U.S. and pointed at the people of that country, in order to enforce the imperialist domination of this oppressed country. This is what the imperialist gangsters mean when they speak of democracy.
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