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Toni Solo: Nicaragua - From Sandino To Chavez

Nicaragua : from Sandino to Chavez

by Toni Solo

"I come from the north american embassy where I had a conference with ambassador Arthur Bliss Lane who has assured me that the government in Washington supports and recommends the elimination of Augusto Cesar Sandino, considering him to be disruptive of peace in Nicaragua."
- Anastasio Somoza to National Guard colleagues. February 21st 1934. From "Sandino, General de Hombres Libres" by Gregorio Selser.

The US government's murder of Augusto Cesar Sandino marked the culmination of US government efforts to destroy Nicaragua's independence. Those efforts first came to a head in 1910 with the use of the battle cruiser "Paducah" to protect pro-US rebel forces holed up and cornered in Bluefields on the Nicaraguan Atlantic Coast. US imperial military muscle smoothed the way to the presidency for a US company employee, Adolfo Diaz.

Diaz oversaw the imposition of penal financial and trade terms through the Knox-Castrillo treaty and the renunciation of Nicaragua's territorial sovereignty in the Chamorro-Bryan treaty. In 1912 thousands of marines under General Smedley Butler disembarked at the Pacific port of Corinto to crush Nicaraguan Liberal party efforts to reclaim the country's sovereignty. One of the baser hypocrisies of contemporary US collaborators in the Nicaraguan ruling classes is the public lip service they pay to Liberal martyr Benjamin Zeledon who died fighting US marines at that time.

Spiralling contemporary political crisis

Reviewing the Adolfo Diaz period one realises that patterns of US imperial behaviour, of Nicaraguan domestic resistance and oligarchical betrayal, have changed little in the intervening century. Right now, a sell-out government of mediocre placemen struggles to maintain some shred of legitimacy, using a border dispute over the Rio San Juan with Costa Rica as a smokescreen to cover its failures. As of writing, a handful of senior government ministers have skipped the country to avoid judicial process for electoral finance offences. Sandinista opposition leader Daniel Ortaga persistently calls for dialogue. President Bolanos equally persistently insists on pre-conditions underwritten by foreign allies.

The US State Department and the local US embassy intervene openly, giving orders and making threats to local politicians, demonising anyone who resists their will. The dominant Nicaraguan oligarchy hurry to impose yet another US-authored treaty - this time the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA). They expect to do well out of it themselves, while CAFTA's terms leave Nicaragua's poor majority and the country's precious natural resources at the mercy of US corporate investors.

Just as in 1910, it suits the United States and its allies who call the shots for more vulnerable countries through control of the World Bank and the IMF to suggest that Nicaragua is especially corrupt and especially poorly governed. It is an image promoted precisely to explain away the hopeless results of their own crass institutional and political intervention in Nicaragua's internal affairs. Self-serving interpretations of the current crisis in Nicaragua projected abroad by the Organization of American States, the international financial institutions, the US State Department,the European Union and the United Nations leave out a fundamental fact. If Nicaragua is in crisis it is because those organizations' own interventions have fomented one to serve their own ends against the interests of Nicaragua's impoverished majority. Maybe a good place to start is with the issue of corruption.

Do as we say......

Foreign officials love to point the finger at former presidents Arnoldo Aleman and Daniel Ortega, pretending that current President Enrique Bolanos is some kind of Mr. Clean. But look who's talking. The IMF and the World Bank have a disgraceful record of setting up vulnerable countries economies for international corporate predators. Remember Argentina's economic meltdown? Giant Wall Street financial houses made fortunes for their shareholders before hanging Argentina's people out to dry - all under the benevolent gaze of the IMF and the World Bank. Argentina is just one of many similar examples of IMF and World Bank infamy.

The international financial and trade institutions are hotbeds of corporate crony corruption. Bush-Cheney groupie Paul Wolfowitz heads up the World Bank while former French financial giant Credit Lyonnais pin-up Pascal Lamy runs the World Trade Organization. These people are little more than smarter, bigger-scale operators than your average racketeer. The outcome for ordinary people who are their victims seldom varies. The poor and vulnerable pay dearly while characters like Wolfowitz and Lamy plot yet more loot-and-pillage ops with the global corporate elite they represent.

Po-faced international financial bureaucrats get their message reinforced by political accomplices in the US and Europe. But few take seriously strictures on corruption from a US regime responsible for the billion dollar corporate scams perpetrated in Iraq or the current corporate pork-and-gravy pell-mell after the disasters in the southern US. The European Union too is rife with corruption. Just a few years ago the whole European Commission resigned in recognition of their responsibility in failing to rein in corrupt abuses.

Their cosmetic symbolic gesture changed little. EU bureaucrat-speak about "transparency" covers up persistent corporate wheeler-dealing behind the scenes and significant mis-management of resources as regular minor scandals - like that around Eurostat - make very clear. The cases of individuals like French President Jacques Chirac, former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, current Italian President Silvio Berlusconi, the sleaze-ridden Blair government in the UK, all indicate how prevalent corruption is in Europe. Clearly, few countries and certainly not the European Union or the US, have any business lecturing impoverished countries like Nicaragua on corruption. Still, they do.

The Nicaraguan version

During Violeta Chamorro's 1990-1996 presidency, anti-Sandinista media and politician's took pleasure in lambasting Daniel Ortega and the Sandinista FSLN for the so-called "piñata" (a children's party game with a scramble for caramels as the prize). The outgoing 1990 Sandinista government recompensed its soon-to-be-redundant functionaries with gifts of State-owned property, vehicles and equipment. Subsequently, Violeta Chamorro's cronies had few qualms about helping themselves with a large spoon to great dollops of public resources under the auspices of wholesale IMF and World Bank mandated privatization, as well as more routine self-enrichment at public expense.

But it was the 1996-2002 administration headed up by Arnoldo Aleman and Enrique Bolanos who took self-aggrandizement by public officials to extremes in Nicaragua only matched by the former Somoza dynasty. They bled well over US$100 million from public coffers. Much of the money went on doubling up official salaries on the quiet. That fact explains why so many of Aleman's Constitutional Liberal Party (PLC) still support him and view Bolanos as a contemptible turncoat. It explains much of the breakdown of presidential authority in the country.

Nicaragua has no established permanent civil service. Almost all public officials lose their jobs with every change of government. So people naturally seek to provide for an uncertain future while they have the chance. Is the revolving door system between public and private corporate life much different in the US or Europe? Is Tony Blair's widely publicised entree to the board of war-providers-to-the-empire Carlyle Group anything more than a fat payoff for political services rendered? No wonder people in countries like Nicaragua view US and European strictures on corruption with healthy scepticism.

And so it goes with all the other wails of lamentation so beloved of foreign officials in Nicaragua. The politicised judiciary, the legislative assembly dominated by big party machines, small parties struggling for electoral viability - all are common fixtures in many countries around the world, in the US particularly. But foreign officials in Nicaragua regularly pronounce and expound as if none of it has ever happened anywhere, ever before. Such pap is loyally repeated by domestic parrots in Nicaragua's political and media classes.

Nicaragua is awash with latter-day Adolfo Diazes and Emiliano Chamorros. President Enrique Bolanos and his ministers as well as opportunist "centrist" wannabes like Eduardo Montealegre and Herty Lewites regularly and insistently denigrate "El Pacto" - the political deal between the dominant Sandinista and Liberal parties. They use the term "El Pacto" well knowing it is loaded with all the history of shameful betrayals of which Nicaragua has had more than its fair share. So far the Nicaraguan media have strung along with the one-way propaganda ridicule.

It is striking that Nicaraguan journalists never point out to Bolanos that his deal with the US embassy and other foreign governments stinks as badly as the Chamorro-Bryan and Knox-Castrillo treaties ever did. They never point out to Montealegre and Lewites, who have publicly declared a deal to collaborate, that their own "Pacto" is at least as questionable as that between the leadership of the FSLN Sandinista party and the PLC Liberal party. It is by no means necessary to support Arnoldo Aleman or Daniel Ortega in order to note the rank hypocrisy and cynical opportunism of astute political sharpsters like Lewites and Montealegre and desperate failures like President Bolaños.

Fundamentals of the crisis

Nicaragua is like the rest of Central America, only more so. The major social issues are widespread poverty and demographic migration. The major economic issues are unemployment and under-investment. The major environmental issue is water-resources management. The energy crisis provoked by oil price rises only makes these existing problems worse. As ever, foreign governments and the corporations they serve are only interested in Nicaragua for what they can get out of it.

They seek cheap labour to inflate their profits, disinvesting in their own countries in the name of the "free market". They want good transit infrastructure for their own strategic and business purposes, not for the integral purposes of Nicaragua's population. They want high profits from the sale of Nicaragua's natural resources, for their share-holders, not for people in Nicaragua. If they can finish off stripping Nicaragua's public resources under privatizations extorted by IMF conditionality, all the better. For them a weak government in Managua is good policy.

They want to deregulate capital controls to be able to shift their hot-money off-shore as and when they need, for both financial and political reasons. They want equal or preferential treatment in comparison with local national businesses because "a level-playing field" means hugely one-sided advantages to them, given their massive international resources. They want investment rules that shift arbitration outside national jurisdiction where corporate-friendly judges will tend to rule in their favour and against the interests of distant impoverished masses. All this the IMF and the World Bank are anxious to make happen as tools of the US government and its allies.

It is that external imperialist dynamic - ripping off people in Nicaragua to serve foreign interests - that has provoked the country's political crisis. The European Union, the United States, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the United Nations, the Organization of American States and a plethora of other smaller foreign and mulitlateral outfits all play their part one way or another in this systematic gangsterism. It is all smeared over with a film of obnoxious moralistic posturing.

So long as Arnoldo Aleman played ball during his presidency, none of these organizations spoke out, just mumbling discontent from time to time in the wings. Now they stick up for Aleman's former accomplice, Enrique Bolaños. Suave foreign barbarians like US Ambassador Paul Trivelli, following on from his interim predecessor Embassy Charge d'Affaires Oliver Garza, openly attack the opposition Sandinista and PLC political parties. European Union spokespeople question perfectly legitimate attempts by the National Assembly to subject electoral finance irregularities to judical process - exactly what led to the political demise of Christian Democrat strongman Helmut Kohl in Germany.

The double standards are self-evident. Perhaps the most interesting response is the lack of one in the Nicaraguan media. Almost uniformly the two main dailies El Nuevo Diario and La Prensa and virtually all the television media editorialise mimicking foreign spokepersons. They seem to be playing a game of pretending that there is some unquestioned mushy "centrist" "moderate" social-democrat-style political "modernity" that all "reasonable" people should support.

One practical effect of that is that they seldom press flavour-of-the-month favourites like Herty Lewites or Eduardo Montealegre to define political positions - on CAFTA for example, or on water privatization, or education and health policy. Real politics appear to have been abandoned while the crisis floats through a kind of weightless make-believe that self-serving foreigners are in fact humanitarian altruists entitled to intervene, whose only concern is the best for the Nicaraguan people. One has only to consider the fates of Iraq, Palestine or Haiti to realise what these foreign interests really represent.

Let's put a figure to that. Plenty of small Nicaraguan community organizations deliver education, health and social services to people on tiny budgets thanks to the gutting of central government by foreign intervention. A typical example would be a community development outfit with a budget of US$60,000 a year delivering a mixture of services to about 400 people a month. So the total number of direct and indirect beneficiaries would be around 1800. Now, that figure US$60,000 constitutes a typical annual salary and benefits package for just one middle level foreign official working for their government or some mulitlateral outfit like the UN or the World Bank. So please don't let's hear that they are in Nicaragua for the good of the Nicaraguan people - that sum just don't add up.

From Sandino to Chavez

The US government organized assassination of Sandino may have marked a kind of ending. But in other ways his murder only postponed matters. Towards the end of his short life Sandino was calling for coordinated action throughout Latin America to confront US regional and continental ambitions. If any one person has inherited and taken up Sandino's vision it is Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez. The resemblances are hardly accidental.

When Chavez calls for Latin American unity and regional economic integration based on a continental social charter, he is taking up again the business Anastasio Somoza tried to have buried in Managua's Larreynaga field that February night in 1934. Like Sandino, Chavez believes people in Latin America can and should sort out their political and economic arrangements to suit themselves without foreign impositions. That is why the United States government would like to have him killed. That is why European governments cravenly refuse to denounce US intervention.

The traditional oligarchy in Nicaragua wants their country to be a colonial adjunct of the United States as they always have done. In that they seem to be supported by "centrist" and social-democrat style politicians like Eduardo Montealegre and Herty Lewites. They, like the Liberal PLC party, dominated by Arnoldo Aleman will deal with imperial agents like Paul Trivelli in the local US embassy so long as they get an appropriate share of whatever political benefits and perquisites are on offer.

The only political force in Nicaragua openly and determinedly defending Nicaragua's independence is the Sandinista FSLN. The tension between Adolfo Diaz-style sell out to US imperial scheming and Augusto Cesar Sandino's vision of Nicaragua's place within a united sovereign Latin America is again defining politics in Nicaragua. The energy crisis and Venezuela's obviously decisive role in any resolution it may have lend an unpredictable new dynamic to an old pattern of regional politics.

Sandino's vision of Latin American dignity and autonomy, renewed and revitalised by Hugo Chavez, simply refuses to die. Both the US government and the European Union are anxious to keep Nicaragua as a loyal, secure satrapy of the US empire. Nicaragua is a country traditionally perceived to be strategically important for its location on the American isthmus. Just as it did in Haiti, the European Union will support the US government in doing whatever it takes to squash potential moves towards autonomy by Nicaragua through alignment with Venezuela. The current crisis in Nicaragua should be seen in that overall context.


toni solo is an activist based in Central America - contact via

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