By Jorge Capelán, Tortilla con Sal.
You wrote wanting to know what makes me convinced that people like Fernando Chamorro (and, broadly speaking, the so-called “Renovadores”) have ulterior motives, and in that case, what those motives are. You also want to know if Nicaragua is doing as well as alleged at the moment.
Let me start by your final question: Nicaragua is doing very well, indeed. It is still a very poor country and, of course, it has the smallest economy in the region, with the lowest GDP per capita and low yields per hectare in agriculture, etcetera, but it is very fast finding its feet, I dare to say, for the first time in its entire history.
FIDEG’s independent UN-funded study from June this year, confirms a strong tendency towards poverty reduction, especially in the countryside—the most affected part of the population. Poverty in that sector has fallen from 67.8% in 2009 to 62.8% en 2010 and 61.5% 2011. Extreme rural poverty (according to experts, the hardest to eliminate) has fallen from 11.2% in 2007 to 5.5% in 2011. The Gini inequality index has fallen from 0.41 in 2005 to 0.34. According to the Economic Commission for Latin America (CEPAL), Nicaragua’s poverty reduction has been second only, in Latin America, to Venezuela’s.
Employment has increased by 40% since the Sandinistas came to power, the economy has grown considerably. Today, Nicaragua is, along with Panama, the fastest-growing economy in Central America. Exports have doubled between 2006 and 2011 and Foreign Direct Investment has more than tripled. Last year, Nicaragua had the highest rate of increase in formal employment (employees registered with the Social Security Institute) in all of Latin America, with 8.9% – it was the only country above 6%.
The other day, FAO’s representative in Managua, Luis Mejía, announced that the country, from having been regarded as a strong candidate to become a so-called “failed state”, today is on its way to achieve the UN’s Millennium Development Goals, not only in agriculture but also in key sectors such as education, health and the preservation of soil and water resources.
I could go on for hours lining up all the figures but, as I wrote in my article last year, it’s a reality one can see with the naked eye. The country is making progress by the week in virtually every respect, from laws that give women at least half of public offices at every level in municipal and public administration to the citizens’ tax compliance and garbage collection. The country is steadily becoming more organized by the standards of many other poor countries similar to Nicaragua around the world.
All this development has strong roots. It is not only dependent on the Venezuela’s important aid. Overall, foreign aid so far this year has increased by over 17% in spite of Venezuelan aid falling somewhat. This is due to a very realistic policy by the Sandinista government, which is able to build strong alliances with many different countries from Iran to Japan, from Russia to South Korea and from the People’s Republic of China to Taiwan – as well as some European countries which, like Luxembourg and Germany, but most importantly Spain, in spite of the claims of Western media, continue to work with Nicaragua. This foreign policy has neither compromised the country’s independence (as its vocal performance in various international forums shows) nor has isolated it.
The Sandinistas are making this country work for the very first time in its history. They have not obliterated the contradictions in society, but they are building a framework so that those contradictions can be resolved for the benefit of the whole country.
For example, the cooperative movement and labour unionization have had explosive development since 2007 and minimum wages have increased considerably. But this has not meant that capitalists are fleeing the country – on the contrary, they are investing here. This is because the Labor Ministry in today’s Nicaragua acts as a real mediator in the negotiations between employers and workers. Before 2007, the only way the poor had to defend their rights was to resort to violent actions. In that context, not even the rich felt safe.
Today, basic services function relatively well both for the general population and for so-called economic actors: big and small capitalists, as well as the strong cooperative and associative sector, which today accounts for about 70% of the jobs and 40% of GDP. Appropriate policies of credit have enabled consolidation of the vital small and medium business sector, which some estimates suggest make up 70% of Nicaragua’s economy.
Back in 2005, nothing worked: transportation, electricity, water supply, nothing. Today, education and health care are free, urban transportation is subsidized, as are basic foodstuffs. Many poor people have access to cheap credit and so on. That kind of stability has meant a lot for the Nicaraguan people as well as for business, which in turn results in the strengthening of the country’s economic foundations. These kinds of policies run contrary to 17 years of neo-liberal dogma that led the country do the brink of collapse in 2006.
What is the situation today? An overwhelming majority of the population thinks this government is good for the country.
They basically agree upon the assertion that the Police and the Armed Forces are doing a good job, that Daniel Ortega is a good leader who respects democracy, that institutions broadly speaking function better today, that the Sandinistas have won the elections fairly and so on. That doesn’t necessarily mean that everybody identifies himself as a Sandinista, nor that there are no criticisms. What it means is that the political discourses that portray today’s Nicaragua as a “dictatorship” or even as a “family fiefdom” have been totally discredited in the eyes of most Nicaraguans.
According to CID Gallup’s latest poll (CID Gallup is regarded as being favourable to Nicaragua’s policical opposition), 55.9% of Nicaraguans regard themselves as FSLN’s supporters whereas only 8% say they support any of the opposition parties. 35.4% define themselves as “independents”, a heterogenous group of sectors that either are somewhat positive, indifferent, or outright oppositional towards the Sandinistas. Those supporting the government today are roughly the same 64% who voted for Ortega during the last elections, even taking into account those who did not vote.
CID Gallup cannot be suspected of a pro-Sandinista bias. What these numbers show is a profound crisis for all political discourses that are radically confrontational towards the FSLN and Daniel Ortega. They show that the opposition line followed to the present has failed because it has not been able to offer any solutions to the problems of the country. On the other hand, the poll shows that the priorities of Ortega’s administration: to fight poverty, to guarantee the basic social rights of the people and to create jobs, were the ones that were most in touch with both the real and perceived needs of the country.
According to CID-Gallup’s study, 86.1% of the Nicaraguans trust the Army; 73.2% trust the Police and 65.3% trust the FSLN. 80.1% mistrust the opposition. 75.5% have a positive view of Daniel Ortega. His wife and Sandinista leader, Rosario Murillo, scores even higher than him. 74.3% think Daniel Ortega won last year’s election and 66.4% think he did so with the right figures. Such opinion numbers are hardly the ones to be expected for a country in the brink of collapse, which is how much of the Western media portray Nicaragua.
Such media routinely silence what an overwhelming majority of the Nicaraguan people think. Those media are entitled to a negative view of what this government does. But if they were serious about their job, they should start a discussion about what this government has been doing right in order to get and hold its current levels of support.
It is an understatement to note that a big dose of slander and hypocrisy taints all discourses about corruption and democratic institutions in Nicaragua today. Within the region, Nicaragua is not a country in the grip of drug lords as it is the case in other Central American countries or Mexico. Actually, the drug cartels have not been able to establish themselves in this country due to the effectiveness of the police and the armed forces and the country’s migration and judicial authorities.
A strident chorus of small but influential groups have claimed fraud on the local elections in 2008 (when you were here to visit Nicaragua) and also last year when Daniel Ortega was re-elected. But they have never presented any substantive evidence of such fraud to the electoral authorities. They have set up web sites and published tons of leaflets, books and articles, but they have never submitted any of the alleged evidence to due administrative or legal process. The reason for this is that there never was any electoral fraud beyond minor anomalies that would not have affected the results.
The members of the Supreme Electoral Council have been roughly the same people during the past 15 years. When Liberals regularly won elections from 1996, through 2001 and up until 2006, those officials were not seen as corrupt. It was only when Daniel Ortega showed that he was serious about making some changes to the existing neoliberal system that problems with the Electoral Authority began. The Liberal parties in the parliament consistently reneged on their Constitutional obligation to appoint new members to the Supreme Electoral Council and other institutions. So Daniel Ortega was forced to issue a presidential decree ordering those officials to stay in office as long as the National Assembly did not appoint their replacements – a commonly used procedure in many other countries all over the world when contradictions between the executive and legislative branches of power arise.
This video (http://www.tortillaconsal.com/video1.html ) gives an authentic account of the constitutional issues of which the opposition made so much through 2010 and 2011. It contains innformative interviews with members of the Supreme Electoral Council and the Supreme Court of Justice. It speaks volumes about the cynicism and hypocrisy of mainstream corporate media and their local Nicaraguan allies that this and similar material is only available on avowedly pro-Sandinista web sites.
By and large, last November’s elections took place in an exemplary atmosphere of civic participation, except for some isolated hot spots where violent incidents had been planned in order to disrupt voting. In such areas, some groups of liberal sympathizers actively went out in search for Sandinistas in order to terrorize them. There were some deaths on both sides. In another area, several schools used as voting centres were burned down by the Liberal mobs.
Before the elections, some incidents took place, such as a shooting against a procession with thousands of people in August last year, when a Liberal faction staged a provocation handing out political propaganda during a religious activity. Another incident was a provocation staged by a small group of youths, one of whom chained himself to a statue as tens of thousands of Sandinistas were marching towards Managua’s Plaza de la Fe to celebrate Somoza’s overthrow on July 19th 1979. Suddenly, one of the Sandinistas fell into the trap and punched the enchained youth in the face, which was promptly recorded and broadcasted as a “proof” of the “Sandinista mob’s” violence. In fact, the 19-year-old Sandinista who hit the provocateur was judged and found guilty for what he did.
These acts of violence are not the product of massive frustration or rage about injustices or wrongdoings by the authorities. They are provocations deliberately planned in order to get pictures and videos that later can be publicized abroad with the aim of constructing an artificial, virtual reality.
All international observers, even the OAS and the EU, ratified the Sandinista victory last November. Opposition leaders claimed fraud and based their accusations on certain criticisms expressed by the representative of the head of the mission of observers of the Organization of American States (OAS), Dante Caputo. In his report, Caputo made several recommendations about aspects that should be changed in future elections in order to improve the quality of the electoral process. Since then, several leaders of the opposition have said that the coming local elections in November this year lack credibility because the country hasn’t followed OAS’ recommendations.
However, this week, OAS’ representative in Nicaragua, Ricardo Seitenfus, said that he was quite satisfied with the changes of the Electoral Law adopted by the National Assembly earlier this year – changes that have been approved by the same politicians who claim there was a fraud. Seitenfus said that although the wording in the reforms wasn’t the same as his organization would have used, the adopted changes followed the spirit of OAS’ recommendations.
The OAS can certainly not be suspected of a pro-Sandinista bias. In fact, the OAS has been harshly criticized by the Sandinista government on many issues. The opposition’s claims of a fraud in those elections turned out to be a smoke screen to camouflage their own poor electoral showing, their complete lack of a plausible political programme and the abysmal failure of their disparate factions to unite.
It is legitimate for people opposed to the FSLN government to say that some judges or some Sandinista officials may be corrupt, that institutions should be more efficient, that bureaucracy affects the State’s administration, that Sandinista organizations have one failing or another. Indeed, responsible opposition politicians and bodies like AMCHAM or COSEP regularly point to problems they perceive in current policies and propose alternative ones.
But it is quite another thing to make the utterly grotesque, factitious allegation that Nicaragua is becoming a dictatorship like Somoza’s, that the country is a family fiefdom or that corruption is rampant, which are routine claims by people like Fernando Chamorro, Vilma Nuñez de Escorcia, Dora Maria Tellez and other “Renovadores”, along with other NATO-country sponsored groups. That is to force a truly violent rupture from reality, no matter how broadly one might choose to define it.
Take things like the prohibition of therapeutic abortion (abortion when the mother’s life is in danger – which also means common cases of very young pregnant girls). I and many other people are against that law – but we are a small minority. One thing is to criticize that, but another thing is to ignore that the medical regulations demand that the doctor will save both the mother’s and the child’s life, leaving much room to the doctor’s discretion and interpretation. Besides, in such cases the health authorities are demanded to put all the resources at their disposal in order to guarantee the well-being of the mother and all her family. That still does not make the prohibition right, in my opinion, but nor does it mean that the Nicaraguan State is mass-murdering its children, as some Western-funded feminists in Nicaragua, and some big Western NGO’s claim in their smear campaign, using figures it is impossible to check.
Those smear campaigns ignore that both maternal and child mortality is going down very fast because free health services today are available to many women who never had received appropriate medical attention in their lives before. Those smear campaigns also ignore the fact that this year the National Assembly passed a law on violence against women which meets the most advanced standards and resembles the most progressive laws on the matter in Europe.
After the Sandinista victory in the last elections, Nicaragua’s National Assembly ranks among those with highest female representation in the world, and after the coming local elections, the representation of women as mayors and local councillors will increase dramatically, as recently enacted legislation demands that every party includes at least 50% female candidates in their lists. If women get that much power, it is reasonable to expect that they will manage to pass laws according to their interests in all areas, including, for example, the issue of abortion.
Opposition claims collapse on any rational appraisal. It is surely a weird kind of patriarchy that guarantees at least 50% of political power to women. Only a weird kind of rampant corruption would dramatically multiply the number of asphalted roads, paved streets or new buses, massively extend electrification, add numerous airport and port facilities, massively upgrade classrooms, or build new health centres and hospitals. If violence is widespread, why then has Nicaragua in recent years attracted record numbers of tourists? If it has a repressive state, why then are its armed forces the most underpaid and the smallest in the region?
There are two kinds of realities in Nicaragua. One reality belongs to a historical heritage of economic, political, and in some senses, even cultural underdevelopment – that structural reality will take years if not decades to be overcome. It demands a generational change in the country – a change that is underway, as the FSLN’s recent policy of electing at least 30% of young people in all party decision-making structures at all levels shows. And there’s another reality of dramatic changes taking place – a reality that, as little as the first one, can hardly be denied.
Carlos Fernando Chamorro and his like never cried “Dictatorship!” under 17 years of neoliberal rule when every day they saw those structural traits of Nicaraguan society such as corruption, pervading class-privilege and poverty. When they vociferate today, they are not acting in good faith. When they claim “Repression!” after actions that leave mostly policemen (often women officers) in hospital, they are not acting in good faith. When they complain about isolated acts of violence by Sandinistas (a virtually non-existent phenomenon today) but keep silent on the several deaths of Sandinistas in recent years, at the hands of violent extremist right wing groups, they are clearly not contributing to solve problems, but to exacerbate them.
It is important to bear in mind that countries like Nicaragua, in the era since independence from Spain, have never had a fair chance to build a Nation State. All contradictions between poor and rich, native peoples and European descendants, men and women, old and young, have been permeated by colonial and imperial powers. The Spanish Conquest decimated the male population of Nicaragua in a matter of years and took the lives of hundreds of thousands. Millenary civilizations and forms of social organization were destroyed or severely altered overnight.
The whole region’s inchoate independence happened after the collapse of Spanish rule and the ensuing bitter struggle between local elites. Very soon the US showed interest in Nicaragua, Central America’s largest country and the only one apart from Panama with a promising inter-oceanic route. You will no doubt know about William Walker’s invasion and of his plans to establish slavery in Nicaragua. Most countries in Central America have been invaded by the US and no country that once invaded escaped a further subsequent interventions. Nicaragua itself was invaded on numerous occasions.
By manipulating key sectors of the local elites and the impoverished majority population, the US has always attempted to keep Nicaragua’s Nation-Statehood within the framework of a subjugated and docile producer of export goods or of a springboard for US imperial troops. For example Anastasio Somoza’s support played a key role in the CIA’s Bay of Pigs fiasco in Cuba.
In Nicaragua’s first modern era elections, it was US marines who managed the counting of votes – so the results were the right ones, from the US point of view. When Sandino forced them out of the country, the US authorities arranged his murder and rewarded the murderer with dictatorial control of the country’s riches. For over forty years, Anastasio Somoza ruled over Nicaragua, sharing part of the spoils with the Conservative elite. Together, they packed the Supreme Court (6 Liberals, 4 Conservatives) and established a pecking order ruled by the principle of big bucks for friends, beatings for dissidents and bullets for the belligerent. “Peace” reigned for 45 years and Nicaragua’s CONDECA troops were in charge of the Central American franchise of the US Southern Command. The poor died before their time of curable diseases, and worked for miserable wages. Those who cared about the situation were called “Sandino-communists”.
It is common knowledge that to change all this, the Sandinistas, supported by the vast majority of the Nicaraguan people, had to fight a bloody war against Somoza. After Somoza, they had to fight another bloody war against the US government trained, equipped and funded Contra, to defend the new nation they were trying to build up. In the end, after 10 years of that proxy war and of merciless economic blockade Nicaraguans were again forced to vote under US government menaces of military aggression. But it was no longer US marines who controlled the counting of votes and the guns in the country were no longer all held by the US Southern Command and the CIA.
In 1990, it may be the case that Nicaraguans were forced to vote against their own Revolution, but for the first time in history, they had a Nation that ultimately belonged to them. They had the 1987 Constitution, written with their massive participation. They had a politically institutionalized autonomous solution for the integration of the Atlantic Coast. Of equal importance, they had a police and a military created, not to massacre their own people, but to serve it.
Besides all this, for the first time in their history Nicaragua’s impoverished majority had a political party, the FSLN, that expressed their needs and aspirations. The opposition UNO electoral alliance that won the 1990 elections was just an ad hoc mishmash of interest groups financed by at least 20 million dollars from the CIA and the National Endowment for Democracy while at the same time the Contras continued their “armed propaganda” provocations from Honduras under the benevolent eyes of the OAS and other observers, even in the weeks before the election.
Subsequent to the 1990 election, the Bush (Sr.) administration, as well as the Clinton administration after him and later the Bush (Jr.) administration, had a clear set of priorities in order to get Nicaragua back to the colonial status assigned to it prior to July, 19th, 1979:
To neutralize, if not to destroy, the FSLN by fomenting division and weakening its ties to its political base among the most impoverished sectors of society;
To neutralize, corrupt and if possible destroy, the Army
To co-opt, corrupt and if possible dismantle, the national Police born out of the revolution.
They failed to do those three things even over 17 years. Now the Sandinistas are back in government and doing very well.
I think all this gives sufficient context in which to try and answer your first and second questions: Who are the “Renovadores” like Carlos Fernando Chamorro? What is their agenda?
First, it has to be said that an overwhelming majority of the Sandinistas who have disagreed with the policies of FSLN or Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo at various times since 1990, today either sympathize with this government or are actively engaged in the processes of change taking place in the country. Many of the people who supported the so-called “Renovadores” have returned to the FSLN. A large number returned after they saw MRS leaders Edmundo Jarquín and Dora Maria Tellez openly campaigning with the extreme right wing candidate Eduardo Montealegre on the ticket of Arnoldo Aleman’s hopelessly corrupt PLC party in the 2008 municipal election for Managua and then again for extreme right wing gerontocrat Fabio Gadea during the 2011 Presidential elections.
I know many people who until recently were very critical of Ortega and the FSLN and today support his policies. I work for a radio station, La Primerisima, which, trhoughout the neo-liberal period became known for its critical support of FSLN and for its criticisms of the organization. Nobody in the FSLN today discriminates against us for that. I myself publicly stopped doing solidarity work for the party after the infamous “pact” with Arnoldo Alemán, a political agreement between the country’s two largest parties, at the end of the 90’s. Nobody has ever told me I was a traitor or anything like that.
It turns out that the “pact” divided the opposition and allowed the Sandinistas to win, first, key municipal elections and then, in 2006, the Presidential elections in the first round.
Actually, most “Renovadores” come from a list of people with high posts during the revolution back in the 80’s, many of them with heroic contributions to the struggle against Somoza – something nobody in today’s Nicaragua disputes. Many of them were FSLN deputies in the post-1990 National Assembly, and, largely instigated by former FSLN Vice-President Sergio Ramirez, decided to build a purportedly social-democratic fraction, abandoning the political program on which they had been elected. In 1995, this faction became the “Movimiento Renovador Sandinista” (Movement for Sandinista Renewal), also known as the MRS or “Renovadores”.
This group allied itself with Nicaragua’s political right wing in order to change a number of Articles in the 1987 Constitution. Besides enabling a favorable future shot at the presidency for politicians like Violeta Chamorro’s son-in-law, Antonio Lacayo, and the “Renovador” Sergio Ramírez, those changes were tailor made to try and ensure that the FSLN would never return to power, especially with Daniel Ortega at the helm.
Sergio Ramirez and his “Renovador” deputies did all this against the will of hundreds of thousands of Sandinistas who had elected them into office as became clear in the 1996 elections when they won barely 6% of the vote and the FSLN was able to regain control of its legitimate parliamentary representation.
It is against this background that one can see the significance of the “pact” with Arnoldo Alemán, and later, the validity of the September 2010 decision by the Supreme Court to declare inapplicable the reformed constitutional Article prohibiting the re-election of Daniel Ortega – because it contradicted prior fundamental equality provisions in the 1987 Constitution. When the Renovadores along with the Liberals hastily passed those ill-conceived reforms in the National Assembly, they didn’t realize that such a reform conflicted with a higher-ranking paragraph stating that no citizen should be discriminated against in his or her right to run for office at all levels.
The President of the Supreme Court explains this in the above mentioned video. Neither the Renovadores nor the Liberals said anything when these same criteria were applied by the respective countries’ Supreme Court’s in favour of Óscar Arias in Costa Rica or Álvaro Uribe in Colombia. The matter only became a “problem of democracy” when it applied to Daniel Ortega.
One fact that highlights the ruthlessly machiavellian opportunism and downright double-talk of those same “Renovadores” accusing Ortega of being a master manipulator, is that they were the FSLN’s allies during those years of the “pact” with Arnoldo Alemán they so much criticize today. Back then, Dora Maria Tellez, Edmundo Jarquin and Herty Lewites (qepd) saw no serious democratic flaws in the Sandinistas. But today, when the FSLN are back in government, the Renovadores call the Sandinistas “fascists” – and argue, on the other hand, that the Liberals, especially oligarch robber baron Eduardo Montealegre’s faction, are true democrats after all…
When the “Renovadores” meet left-leaning foreigners, they show off their revolutionary credentials and language, but when they act in Nicaragua or in Central America, they ally themselves with the most extremist, corrupt forces of the right. So, for example, in the last elections in El Salvador, they issued a public letter calling on the Salvadorans to vote for ARENA (the party that created the death squads during the war in the 80’s) so as to prevent a victory for FMLN – an ally of the Sandinistas. In June 2010, Edmundo Jarquín, then leader of the “Renovadores”, wrote a piece with the extravagant thesis that Ortega’s “dictatorship” was worse than putschist Roberto Micheletti’s in Honduras. A week earlier, he had participated in a workshop on “transparency and governance” at the University of Tegucigalpa in an operation designed to whitewash the bloody coup and subsequent repression that cost hundreds of lives of Honduran citizens and continues to this day.
These “Renovadores” are both a political party, a network and a fraternity. They can be seen inside the Liberal right-wing parties or outside, working from an externally constructed “civil society”. They can be found acting as members of organizations or as individual personalities whose careers have been boosted by international prizes like Vilma Nuñez de Escocia and Carlos Fernando Chamorro. Always published by the same outlets, La Prensa and El Nuevo Diario (and the NATO countries’ global corporate propaganda media), they have one thing in common – their dependence on foreign money, most prominently European, but also from the United States.
The “Renovadores” political course cannot be understood without reference to a foreign agenda attempting to influence Nicaraguan politics in order to prevent the country from achieving independent, sovereign development.
The funding of US political intervention through NGO’s goes a long way back in Nicaragua’s history. In fact, together with the Philippines and Chile, the country was among Washington’s first laboratories after the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and its network of “toxic” (politically-financed) NGO’s was first built in 1982. One of the network’s founders, Allen Weinstein, declared in 1991: “A lot of what we do today was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA”, meaning to fund, counsel and even lead all kinds of organizations that may consciously or unconsciously serve US geopolitical objectives in a given country at a given moment.
During the 80’s, the NED channeled at least 20 million dollars to organize UNO, the political opposition’s united front against the Sandinistas, while at the same time, via scams like Irangate, the US government continued financing and training the Contras under the table. This model of political intervention through networks of purportedly “non-governmental” organizations (in reality, consciously engineered Fifth Columns) has been used and widely documented, from the process of preparation of the invasion of Panama in 1989 to the coups against Chavez in Venezuela in 2002, against Aristide in Haiti in 2004 and also in the so-called “color revolutions” in countries from Serbia and Georgia to the Ukraine.
In spite of having achieved its main geopolitical goal, after the 1990 elections, the State Department did not abandon its efforts to manipulate Nicaraguan society through political intervention. USAID documents from that time show frantic activity in order to influence groups all over the political spectrum intended to weaken and divide the Sandinistas.
USAID supported all the networks they had built during the 80’s in order to win the 1990 elections, but they knew that those groups would not be able to attract a considerable number of supporters away from the FSLN due both to the elitist character of their reactionary right-wing agenda and, in many cases, to their outright criminal nature, since many of them had been involved in the narcotics network that was part of what became known as the Iran-Contra scandal.
In order to influence the Sandinistas, they also attempted to integrate some of them into a kind of progressiveness that could be functional to the neo-liberal project around abstract ideas such as “transparency” and “governance”. One of the pioneering groups in this regards was the right-wing CPDH human rights organization.
On the other hand, accompanying US manipulation of the NGO sector, a number of European NGO’s had been active in the country since the revolutionary decade of the 80’s, channelling considerable amounts of aid from countries such as Sweden, West Germany, France, and so on. As those European countries began to re-align their foreign policies with the Washington Consensus and the objectives of US Foreign policy, those networks shifted from being sympathetic to the Sandinista project, to embrace policies based on the “free market”, unregulated capital flows and privatization. Donor governments’ political control over development cooperation started to tighten. As part of that process, these donor governments actively undertook to co-opt the NGO sectors in their respective countries.
Back then, many Nicaraguans worked with NGO’s, and as neo-liberal policies of privatization became a general phenomenon in the country, many more people, previously employed in the public sector, were forced to work for them. All the popular movements that the Sandinistas built in the 80’s were forced one way or another to apply for funds from big and small NGO’s in order to finance their activities. Many of them were co-opted over time, as is the case with the members of the so called Coordinadora Civil and the formerly well-respected Centro Nicaragüense de los Derechos Humanos, CENIDH, both today are politicized appendices of the North American and European embassies.
The 1996 election campaign saw a clash between those wanting to consolidate the neoliberal order at the behest of the US and the EU and those seeking to retake the revolutionary path the country followed after the toppling of Somoza’s dictatorship in 1979 (the FSLN). Discontent with neoliberal politics gave much support to the Sandinistas and Daniel Ortega looked strong in the polls and most observers saw the possibility of an uncertain two-round election.
The US supported the Liberal mayor of Managua, Arnoldo Alemán. US influence led all influential voices across the right-wing spectrum to publicly encourage the people to vote against Daniel Ortega. However, facing the scenario of an uncertain two-round election, the US authorities and Aleman’s PLC party staged a massive fraud in order to prevent both a victory of Ortega in the first round and so avoid a two-round election altogether. “This was the fraud: elections so murky that they made it impossible to see clearly what the will of Nicaraguans really was in many parts of the country,” wrote local political analysts at the time.
In order to stage the fraud, the USAID made use of groups to the right and to the “left”. Former Sandinista intellectuals and functionaries were either manipulated or recruited in order to legitimize well-funded “electoral observation” organizations with a strong rightist bias created by the USAID such as Ética y Transparencia, which still today ranks among the main Nicaraguan recipients of grants from the National Endowment for Democracy.
Prior to the actual fraud, the Nicaragua’s Supreme Electoral Council had been carefully destabilized in order to prevent it from reacting to the massive irregularities that would take place. In this work, “Renovadores”, were also instrumentalized. One of them, Rosa Marina Zelaya, was president of the CSE and oversaw a controversial post-electoral administrative process which ensured her partner Jorge Samper won one of the few seats gained by the MRS.
Among the reforms to the Constitution passed by the “Renovadores” in the National Assembly in order to prevent a Sandinista victory, was a change in the electoral law which took away from the Supreme Electoral Council the power to appoint the heads of the electoral authorities in the departments of the country on account of their competence on electoral matters, giving it to the political parties, which would base their decisions on purely partisan considerations. This move gave Liberal politicians decisive control over the electoral body in the departments where they held strong majorities.
US State Department’s pressure to politicize an electoral body that had already organized Nicaragua’s first two truly democratic elections, the one in 1984 and the one in 1990, where the Sandinistas lost power but immediately recognized the defeat, proved to have devastating effects. The president of the electoral authority resigned, and just weeks before the election, the “Renovador” politician Rosa Marina Zelaya was appointed CSE president, thus enforcing the National Assembly’s reforms.
Current CSE president Roberto Rivas, the object of ceaseless vilification by the MRS and its right wing allies has himself criticized the wholesale confusion and corruption of the 1996 elections under Rosa Marina Zelaya’s administration when he was a relatively junior CSE official. Rivas has questioned how it is that the same people who accepted that chaos and confusion back in 1996 when their side won, now question the legitimate results of well organized elections which they have lost.
Furthermore, the United States managed to overrule UN electoral advisers who argued for various independent observer groups so that different charges of irregularities could be cross-checked and validated by the electoral body. Instead, the US and its “Colonial Ministry”, OAS, favored an engineered “unified” organization of Nicaraguan elections’ observers.
The Civic Group “Ethics and Transparency” (Ética y Transparencia), the largest of the local observation agencies, had 4.200 observers on the ground. It was to this organization, and to others such as the CAPEL NGO (a Costa Rica based electoral observation network created by the NED back in the 80’s with the aim of influencing Nicaraguan elections), that some 3.5 million dollars’ worth of political US money was channeled in 1996. (See William I. Robinson, “A Faustian Bargain”).
To most Nicaraguans, the composition of “Ethics and Transparency” was blatantly partisan with a strong anti-FSLN bias. The lack of credibility of this organization forced the US American operators to introduce some cosmetic changes in it.
It is here that Carlos Fernando Chamorro, former editor of the FSLN daily Barricada, comes into play: He was made a member of the clearly biased Ética y Transparencia’s board of directors. Former Sandinista human rights network CENIDH reluctantly joined the group, which ultimately and in spite of its strong criticism of the elections, ended up lending authority to the Western view that, in spite of serious flaws, the elections should be regarded as legitimate. At the same time, openly Sandinista social movements such as the Movimiento Comunal were carefully kept out of the allegedly politically plural “Ética y Transparencia”.
The elections had so little “transparency” that they made it impossible to clearly see the electorate’s preferences in various parts of the country. Nothing worked, neither the voters’ IDs nor the electoral material. Many voting centres changed venue the very same day of the elections and the counting of the votes took many more hours that expected. In Managua alone, hundreds of voting centers weren’t counted amounting to the votes of close to 70.000 people. In the hours after the elections, thousands of votes as well as voting protocols were found in the ditches of the Capital. Elections in the Liberal-controlled departments of Managua, Matagalpa, and Jinotega, which alone accounted for half of the electorate, were in a state of chaos.
The same night of the election, with only 2.7% of the electoral centers counted (about 50.000 votes out of a universe of over 2 million voters), the Liberal Arnoldo Alemán proclaimed himself the winner and the international corporate media followed suit. Most international observers from the big NGO’s and Western governments flew back to their countries or rushed to the beautiful Nicaraguan beaches to enjoy some long awaited vacations in the tropics. The big networks did the same as Nicaragua again fell in the media shadow. Only Nicaraguans and self-financed observers from small solidarity groups as well as USAID’s hard-core operators were left face to face on the ground to sort out the mess.
Although in the coming weeks and months the Sandinistas succeeded in forcing the authorities to carry out a recount of the votes, the process was done in such a disorderly manner, and the votes to be counted had been so widely tampered with, that the official results did little more than to increase Aleman’s advantage, most of the 20 participant parties being almost wiped out from the political scene. To Daniel Ortega and the Sandinistas, the elections had been “legal” but hardly legitimate. Most Nicaraguans were suspicious about the outcome.
Ética y Transparencia was one of the organizations that contributed to bestow this electoral farce with a thin coat of legitimacy in a country that had managed to organize two very difficult and exemplary elections before and whose people were firmly determined to settle its internal conflicts through peaceful means in view of the traumatic lessons it had learned from history. In power remained the same highly voracious and corrupt elites that have ruled Nicaragua during most of the country’s history.
The US had succeeded once again in imposing the imperial status quo in Nicaragua and, in the wake of this intervention, built the main components of what later would become an externally engineered “civil society” with its “right” (Liberal) and “left” (“Renovador”) factions.
Let me make a brief pause at this point to make the following reflection:
99% of the Nicaraguans, from the last peasant family deep into the mountains in Matagalpa to Daniel Ortega, to the large majority of those who do not agree with the Sandinistas today, never want another war like the “low intensity” war that the US waged against this people in the 80’s. I lived and fought through that war and I can guarantee you that it was terrible. When the Sandinistas lost the 1990 elections, some small groups advocated that the FSLN should not hand over the power to the Contra leadership. Daniel Ortega was firm: the power must be handed over and regained through political work. Almost everybody agreed with him. Even those who didn’t agree at that moment later told me they were glad the FSLN chose the political path.
Nicaraguan politics have always been totally corrupted and distorted by imperial influence. That corruption was never more rampant than during the 17 years of neo-liberal rule between 1990 and 2007. The challenge for Daniel Ortega and the Sandinistas was, and still is today, to build up a country with the people living here. They cannot import new, ideal, uncorrupted citizens from some other planet.
The FSLN has had to rebuild a country using the strength of a political movement with a base of about 40 per cent of the electorate, trying to increase that base and to use the spaces of power that come with having the biggest and strongest political force. They had to do it negotiating with all political forces – including the “Renovadores”, who had betrayed them, and with Arnoldo Alemán, who had stolen the 1996 elections.
By the year 2000 it was clear that the “Renovadores” were aligned with US and European Union interests. In the 2001 presidential elections and in the 2004 local elections, their electoral oversight officers received training from the International Republican Institute – a strange thing for a social-democratic party to accept indeed! What is more, before the 2006 elections, the CSE found out about this training, discovering that the documents used were copies of the old, outdated electoral law with many paragraphs that were not applicable anymore in the country’s electoral process.
As you probably know, Carlos Fernando Chamorro runs a media NGO called CINCO which is a regular beneficiary of money from the US and other governments. CINCO’s sister organization MAM, the Movimiento Autónomo de Mujeres (Women’s Autonomous Movement) operates under the leadership of CINCO board member Sofía Montenegro. CINCO allows Chamorro to run or finance several rabidly anti-sandinista outlets, whereas MAM focuses on “women’s rights”.
It is important to understand that CINCO is a non-profit organization subject to the authority of the Ministerio de Gobernación. MAM on the other hand is a political organization, not a non-profit, which in recent years was part of the MRS Alliance and took part in national and municipal elections.
In March 2010, I found out that Chamorro’s CINCO was receiving money from USAID’s program CamTransparencia which was run by Casals & Associates, a subsidiary of the Pentagon’s contractor DynCorp. This is serious, taking into account DynCorp’s record of involvement in various US-sponsored wars and interventions all over the world. Casals & Associates’ involvement in Nicaragua goes back to 1995, also as a USAID contractor running an “anti-corruption” project. As I noted earlier, 1996 saw the big electoral fraud against Ortega.
According to official figures (search for “oda data site:gov” in Google), during 2010, CINCO received at least 40,500 dollars from the NED – that money comes directly from the US State Department. One of CINCO’s associates, Red Nicaragüense por la Democracia y el Desarrollo Local, received USD 51,979 in 2008; USD 55,000 in 2009 and another 55,000 in 2010 from the same source.
According to WikiLeaks cable 10MANAGUA240 from February 22nd, 2010, Sofía Montenegro from MAM requested USD 100,000 to the US ambassador in Managua, Robert J. Callahan. The project was focused “on the promotion and defense of women’s civil rights, but would by its nature reach a broader community”, wrote Callahan, and he added:
“MAM is known to the Embassy and has a proven track record of not only promoting women’s rights, but promoting democratic values in the general population. As various civil society groups begin to coordinate their efforts to counter an increasingly authoritarian government, MAM has been an instrumental player in the creation and operation of the civil society network Citizens’ Union for Democracy (Union Ciudadana por la Democracia, UCD). For these reasons, Embassy Managua fully supports S/GWI’s funding of MAM’s project. Following is the proposal as presented by MAM.”
In October, 2010, Carlos Fernando Chamorro received the María Moors Cabot Prize from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism – a prize that every year is given to the most vocal journalists who advance the US interests all over the world. Just to give you an idea of the prize’s character, I’ll mention that he shared it with Miami Herald’s Tyler Bridges, who specialized in writing stories about the production of weapons of mass destruction in Iran-financed dairies in Bolivia (that’s fantasy, not journalism), Norman Gall who among other things is a member of the board of the Fernand Braudel World Economy Institute together with US-exiled former Bolivian president Gonzalo Sánchez de Losada – an individual whose extradition Bolivia continues to demand on charges of genocide after a massacre of 60 demonstrators in 2003, and Catalonian La Vanguardia’s journalist Joaquim Ibarz, widely known for his pathological invention of sheer lies about Hugo Chavez.
The figures above are the tip of the iceberg. Much of the money is triangulated in ways that are difficult to track without using a great amount of resources. Besides US government funding, there is a considerable amount of money coming in from European governments. US$40,000 in Nicaragua will pay good US$500 salaries over 80 months. Many journalists here make little more than US$350 dollars or even less. These sums are trivial in Europe but can buy many consciences here in Nicaragua.
Nor should one forget the episode in 2008 in which it was discovered that CINCO, in clear violation of its non-profit status, had been channelling tens of thousands of dollars to Sofia Montenegro’s Renovador political organization MAM. Much of that money was from OXFAM UK. That subterfuge was clearly designed to permit development cooperation funding to be diverted for political purposes. At the time Chamorro raised a scandal about government “repression” to cover up his and Sofia Montenegro’s abuse of aid money for political purposes.
It may also be worth noting that the Ministry of Government investigation into CINCO’s activities discovered that CINCO routinely sub-contracted work to four private companies whose boards included Chamorro family members. So when Carlos Fernando Chamorro sounds off about nepotism in the Nicaraguan government, he himself has funded his own brand of nepotism with foreign taxpayers’ money. This is just one more example of Chamorro’s ingrained cynicism and hypocrisy.
The use of smear and disinformation is massive with regard to Nicaragua and the Sandinistas and has been going on for much longer than the campaign against Chavez in Venezuela or Correa in Ecuador. We actually need people who come here, see with their own eyes what’s going on and to spend less their time with people like Carlos Fernando Chamorro and fake-progressive “Renovadores”. I know it’s very difficult for journalists to get through in the West with stories about this country that go against prevailing opinion. But if you can convince any of your friends (journalists or otherwise) to come here with fresh eyes, I’m sure they’ll be surprised at what they’ll find.
And, of course, you are always welcome in Nicaragua.