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Nicaragua: Diverse varieties of fraud

Diverse varieties of fraud

By Toni Solo

When Baudelaire addressed his reader in the poem of that name with the tautological salute, "you, hypocrite reader" he was recognising people's unavoidable moral, emotional and intellectual discontinuities. Few evade for long the knot of contradiction, fictions and, sometimes, downright lies people use to lend coherence and identity to what makes up the person they are. Socio-economic realities leave people dealing with the consequences of class conflict and the practical effects on others of what they do.

A handy fiction promoted in recent years among progressive people - politicians, intellectuals, solidarity or community workers, activists of all kinds - has been the suggestion that it is possible to talk about a "coordinator" class that is generically different from a "managerial" class. Perhaps in the last 60 years the most influential description of the managerial class has been James Burnham's, the former North American revolutionary turned reactionary author of "The Managerial Revolution". Wikipedia reports that towards the end of his life, Burnham received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Ronald Reagan.

So it is understandable that progressive people seek to avoid being identified with that type of managerial class, capitalist, neoliberal. But the effort to establish a more benign category of managers, by calling them a "coordinator class" fails to overcome the brute fact that the members of that class do indeed manage limited resources and do definitely control access to those resources. A change of name still leaves those people with the perennial managerial dilemma : how to negotiate democratically the difference between what they, the managers, think and want and what the majority think and want.

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That deep political dilemma shows up very clearly in the processes of intellectual production and distribution. There, people use many means of expression - talking, singing, painting, drawing, filming, making music - to define or represent what people may be thinking or what they may feel. One can work a rich seam of fictions and hypocrisies there, in among the managerial control of those forms of expression. In future it is likely that people will look back on the year 2008 as a classical departure point for that kind of cultural-historical mining. The election of pig-in-a-poke President Barack Obama will take pride of place. But one could argue that elections more decisive than the US plutocrat's continuity beauty contest took place in Venezuela and in Nicaragua.

In the United States President-elect Obama managed to sell his false, trite message of "change" to the tens of millions of people who so longed for an end to the waste of financial, material and human resources in endless wars, in an economy that every year leaves most families worse off, in a society unable to give its people a good education or guarantee them adequate health care. Even before taking office, Obama has made more than clear, by naming Hilary Clinton as Secretary of State and leaving Robert Gates as Secretary for Defence that the militarism, the stupendous spending on armaments and the wars too are going to carry on the same. US miltiary operations in Iraq may be wound down but only so as to crank up aggression elsewhere.

To lead his economic team, Obama has named Lawrence Summers and Timothy Geithner. Obama continues to be advised by Robert Rubin, a director of Citigroup, one of the Wall Street monsters responsible for the collapse of the United States financial system. Rubin and Summers figured among the architects of the financial deregulation that was a main cause of that collapse. Summers and Geithner were responsible for International Monetary Fund and World Bank policies during those institutions disastrous interventions in Russia and Asia during the regional crises of the 1990s.

So there is not going to be any change in the economic priorities of the US plutocracy, just a change in the figure of the President. spectacularly destructive and wasteful military aggression will continue. With Hilary Clinton as Secretary of State one can expect policies towards the world very similar to the ones pursued by Condoleezza Rice and John Negroponte, perhaps taking an unwelcome renewed interest in Latin America. The crises in Mexico and Colombia will deepen. The low intensity wars against progressive governments - especially Bolivia, Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela - will intensify. The diverse modalities of US diplomacy's habitual hypocrisy and sadism - for example against Cuba and Haiti - will probably continue perhaps some cosmetic nips and tucks.

As well as the unprecedented, enormous amounts of money they spent, the US plutocracy also had to waste a great amount of talent in order to sell continuity as if it were change. One can say the same of another variety of fraud, the one used to undermine the triumph of the Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional in the municipal elections of November 9th in Nicaragua. A great deal of money and ingenious planning went into mounting the dishonest allegations of electoral fraud.

In both cases there was plenty of complicit self-delusion by large chunks of the sectors one normally thinks of as progressive or radical. In the US many progressive people, opposed to the war in Iraq, promoters of a more just society, the labour unions, the ethnic minorities convinced themselves that Obama represented genuine change. They did not go to vote saying "we know Obama represents no change, but the other candidate is worse..."They accepted and approved the fraud perpetrated by Obama and his team. As others have pointed out, that team won the Advertiser of the Year 2008 award from Advertising Age magazine, awarded on behalf of the most important advertising businesses in the United States.

In Nicaragua, it was a little different. On losing the local elections quite spectacularly, the biggest opposition party, with its candidate for mayor of the capital city Managua in the lead, cried "fraud!". With their allies in the centre-right Movimiento Renovador Sandinista, they mounted a national and international media offensive. The main false accusations were, absence of electoral observers, anomalies in the organization of the polls and of the count, and the violence in the days following the elections.

It is an open question whether that campaign did in fact fail, because its objectives were not clear. At first sight it looks like a hopeless flop. The campaign did not manage to force a national recount of the votes or a review of the results, But perhaps that was not the campaign's main idea. It seems likely as events have unfolded that a main objective of the opposition in crying "fraud!" was to firm up the shaky pretexts offered by the US and European governments, on the basis of which they have been attacking Nicaragua's Sandinista government for months now. Thanks to the fake opposition accusations they can now go ahead more plausibly and destabilize the successful government programme of President Daniel Ortega.

The allegations of fraud are transparent lies. There were indeed prestigious and authoritative international election observers representing electoral authorities from all over Latin America. The anomalies in the polls were insignificant. A few local problems with party representatives, some polling stations closing early, the obvious planting of election material found in a rubbish tip, a difference in the figures on the electoral authority's web site and the results published in the local press. (That last matter resulted from the different legal treatment accorded to the voting results in their different stages : preliminary provisional results, provisional results subject to appeals and definitive results.)

And then after the elections, the march on Monday November 10th took place in which supporters of Eduardo Montealegre attacked people in the street in Managua. If one watched events on the right wing Channel 2 one heard commentary from the news presenters along the lines of "how dreadful that violence has returned to our streets.... one can only hope the government will realize its mistakes....." That was being said over footage of Montealegre's supporters savagely beat Sandinista supporters.

That back-to-front account of what was really happening was taken and repeated immediately by national and international media. Various prestigious media repeated the lie that government did not permit election observers. This falsehood appeared in "the Economist", "the Independent" and on the BBC's on-line news site. Spain's "El País" called for foreign intervention. "The New York Times" and "the Guardian" did not repeat the worst of the lies but they did report that the violence was provoked by the government. It was not. The opposition began violent provocations on Monday the 10th, continued their provocations all day Tuesday and through part of Wednesday morning. Government supporters responded to those provocations.

But on the basis of that dishonest reporting of the facts,the opposition managed to promote the image of an unstable country with a corrupt government and institutions. The truth contradicts that version completely. The country swiftly returned to normality despite all the opposition provocations. The government continued its important programmes in education, health care, agriculture, support for businesses and social welfare in a markedly more efficient and transparent way than previous governments ever did. That was the reason its candidates at local level won so many municipalities in the elections of November 9th.

It is normal for leaders of the largest opposition party to dissemble the causes of their defeat in Nicaragua's municipal elections. But Nicaragua's main opposition party had a valuable accomplice in its defeat and its response to that defeat. That accomplcie was the Movimiento Renovador Sandinista (MRS) party and its overseas allies - progressive ones as well as reactionary ones.

After allying themselves with the main right wing party - the Liberal Constitutional Party (PLC) - prior to the elections, the MRS called on its sympathizers in Managua to vote for the PLC's extreme right wing candidate in Managua, Eduardo Montealegre. That in itself was extraordinary. More extraordinary yet is the fact that they allied themselves with the very party that set in motion the process that deprived the MRS of its legal status and about which MRS leading light Dora Maria Tellez held a hunger strike in June this year.

Because it was Wilfredo Navarro, the PLC's legal representative who complained to the Supreme Electoral Council that the MRS was operating illegally. After receiving that complaint, the CSE just applied the law as it stood. At the time the MRS accused the FSLN government of stripping away its legal status as a political party. But it was not the government that did so. The PLC did it. Even so, after the elections Dora Maria Tellez appeared at public events with Eduardo Montealegre in support of the PLC. The manoeuvre is glaringly clear. Everything was set up months in advance so as to clear the way for an undivided opposition vote so as to defeat the FSLN candidate in the capital Managua.

Intellectuals and writers like Noam Chomsky, Eduardo Galeano, Ariel Dorfman and Mario Benedetti among others publicly supported Dora María Tellez during her hunger strike. Perhaps that explains in part the silence of progressive media on the elections in Nicaragua. They must surely feel used and foolish. It would be reasonable to feel that way. With very few exceptions there has been almost total silence in progressive media about the elections in Nicaragua in November this year. The contrast with the coverage of the elections in Venezuela is impressive.

There are not many things to explain that silence. One has the rejection of the FSLN's controversial decision to support a law penalizing therapeutic abortion. There's the feeling against President Daniel Ortega caused by accusations - which he and his family have always denied - of sexual abuse, made by his step-daughter. There is the perception that part of the FSLN leadership is too cosy with big business and the IMF. But perhaps the decisive factor is the confusion caused by former FSLN leaders who have abandoned that party and migrated to the Right.

Initially, that migration was to the positions of social democracy. That was the line of Sergio Ramirez in 1994. Various people moved to join Ramirez, little by little, very talented people with plenty of charm and ability. Afterwards, when the FSLN won the 2006 presidential elections, the chances of the MRS winning any significant presence in the National Assembly diminished dramatically. In the National Assembly, the MRS worked together with right wing parties not just in opposition to the FSLN, but also collaborating, for example, in resolutions against the Venezuelan government.

The confusion created by all these factors is substantial. Apart from the case of the intellectuals and writers who supported Dora Maria Tellez there is also the case of the intellectuals who supported the poet Ernesto Cardenal in the absurd case of a civil legal spat over a hotel and a US$1000 fine. Cardenal and his mates manipulated the case in the same exaggerated disingenuous way used in all the other histrionic set pieces the MRS has used to attack the FSLN government.

All these factors could explain the silence on the elections in Nicaragua on the part of influential media like, for example, ZNet in English or Rebelión in Spanish, where highly regarded intellectuals, friendly with the MRS leadership, people like Igancio Ramonet or Noam Chomsky, are very influential. Perhaps that explains why "Le Monde Diplomatique" of which Ramonet is the director, recently published yet another repeat of Monica Baltodano's standard turgid litany against the FSLN. Baltodano is one of those religiously hypocritical opportunists straight out of Charles Baudelaire's bestiary. Here one returns to the matter of the managerial classes and their political dilemma.

The MRS represents a failed political minority in Nicaragua. They allied with the right wing PLC party run by Arnoldo Alemán, currently serving time - albeit very comfortable time under notional house arrest - for corruption. Together with the PLC they have mounted a false, fraudulent campaign alleging the municipal elections of November were corrupt, that the government is a corrupt dictatorship and that the country's institutions, like the Supreme Electoral Council, are all corrupt as well.

The facts demonstrate the contrary. There is no plausible evidence of significant electoral fraud that might change the election results. The government is implementing a successful and participatory programme in favour of the impoverished majority. To defend their role as independent arbiters of the electoral results of November 9th, the Supreme Electoral Council magistrates have resisted huge anti-democratic pressure from the PLC and its allies in the MRS.

The silence of many progressive international media on the local elections in Nicaragua indicates the dilemma of the progressive managerial classes. They are not immune to infection by similar criteria to those propounded by James Burnham. In Nicaragua, for the first time since the 1980s, a majority of people voted for the Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional. That is a truly revolutionary achievement, a personal and political triumph for the FSLN leaders and all its members. Almost without exception, the international progressive media of opinion and analysis did not report it.

Rather than show solidarity with the majority of people in Nicaragua who voted for the FSLN, the managerial class that dominates international progressive media decided to keep quiet. One of the most influential of those media, "Le Monde Diplomatique" published an attack on the FSLN by Monica Baltodano, someone who works with the right wing in the National Assembly at the same time as she criticises the FSLN for working with the right wing in the National Assembly. These positions are not just infantile and pathetic. They are also undemocratic.

In practice, the position of that progressive managerial class validates the false accusations of fraud by the right wing opposition in Nicaragua and their false denunciations of some kind of dictatorship. De facto, their silence seconds the deceitful reporting of the main corporate media. But they do not represent at all what the majority of people in Nicaragua have demonstrated that they think and want.

That indicates, at best, the arrogance of the managerial class that runs its sector of the global processes of intellectual production and distribution. Nobody in Nicaragua is going to consult "Le Monde Diplomatique" or any other similarly prestigious media before seeking to benefit form a better education, better health care, or vital credit they could never have had accessed before. The distance from arrogance to irrelevance is very short.

The MRS leaders have also demonstrated that the distance from irrelevance to reaction is also very short. The international coverage of the municipal elections in Nicaragua demonstrates that progressive media of opinion and analysis can be just as resistant to reality as their corporate counterparts, living in a virtual world according to personal taste. Why read false, hypocritical attacks on the FSLN in "Le Monde Diplomatique" when one can read the same kind of poison in "the Economist"?


Toni writes for http://tortillaconsal.com/

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