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U.S. International Electoral Observation Delegation 

The Nicaraguan Elections: U.S. Government Promotes Fear and Divisiveness to Ensure Right-wing Victory

By Paul Baizerman

On November 4 Nicaraguans went to the polls to elect a president, vice-president and deputies for both the National Assembly and Central American Parliament. The right-wing Liberal Constitutional Party (PLC) beat the National Convergence, a left center coalition led by the Sandinista Front for National Liberation (FSLN), in all of these races, with wealthy businessman Enrique Bolaños defeating Daniel Ortega for the presidency.

I was the leader of an international delegation organized by Tecnica which the CST/JBE and the FSLN invited to observe the elections. The delegation had 36 members from different regions in the United States. The union confederation and I coordinated all the logistical aspects of the delegation which included placing observers on election day, transportation, training and a press conference. We divided the delegates into teams. The Sister City/State organizations went to their respective Nicaraguan sister cities (Colorado/Teotecacinte, Milwaukee/Ticuantepe, Rockland County, NY/San Marcos, Blacksburg, VA/San Jose de Bocay). The rest were divided into teams in Managua, each accompanied by at least one member from the union. We were trained by lawyers from the FSLN in all aspects of the voting process and given booklets and forms to refer to and fill out with what we specifically witnessed at each polling place. We rotated polling places within three larger voting districts in Managua.

We named the delegation the U.S. International Electoral Observation Delegation/Benjamin Linder. We were in Nicaragua to represent the ideals of our compañero who was slain by the U.S.-supported contras. Our mission was to promote peace and friendship between Nicaraguans and North Americans and to support Nicaraguan democracy and sovereignty.

We were all certified by the Nicaraguan government's Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) to visit any polling place in the country where we could observe all aspects of the voting process and even question any anomalies we might encounter by the CSE representatives or the observers representing the political parties (fiscales). The parties had fiscales at every polling place in the country totalling about 50,000 per party.

In the words of fellow delegation member Daniel Kovalik, Co-Counsel of the United Steelworkers of America, "As an official election observer, I had the honor of watching Nicaraguans, many elderly, poor and infirm, stand in line for hours in the hot sun to cast their vote. Simply put, I received a class in democracy." It s important to note that the voting took place on a Sunday and that there was less than an 8% absentee rate.

Was there fraud?

Aside from some relatively minor problems, hundreds of thousands of Nicaraguans and international observers insured that the actual voting was fair. There were basically no serious complaints filed on the day of the election. The experiences of the Tecnica delegation, many of whose members stayed up all night to watch the count, can be summed up in two words: Slow, but clean. However, even on voting day, some of us experienced politicization of the process by the government-appointed CSE functionaries. At one polling center I was approached by CSE reps who, after noting that I was a North American observer, pleaded with me to stay at the station because "the son-of-a-bitch Sandinistas were going to cause trouble when the vote was counted".

The real problems took place where René Nuñez of the FSLN said they would--at the computer center. At the time of writing of this article, one week after the voting took place, and after several shut-downs of the system, the total vote for the deputies to the National Assembly and the Central American parliament is still not available. As in our country, the number of deputies from each party will determine the balance of power between the executive and legislative bodies. The CSE blamed the delay on technology (much of it was donated by the U.S. ambassador). Ex-President Jimmy Carter and his troops from the Carter Center said the process was too political, too slow and too cumbersome since the data had to be processed at various election transfer stations. He also criticized the U.S. government s unrelenting and open interference in the elections. Since the vote was counted and witnessed at all the polling stations, why was it that a week later the results for Congress are still up in the air? The Carter Center and the FSLN had agreed to a "rapid count" which would gather the results from all the stations.

The delegation: A response to U.S. government intervention

The impetus for the delegation was a letter sponsored by Bishop Thomas Gumbleton and sent out by Mr. Kovalik and myself criticizing U.S. government interference in the Nicaraguan elections. It was subsequently sponsored by about 100 groups and individuals. We had it printed on July 17 in both major Nicaraguan newspapers. In this message to the Nicaraguan people we stated, "We, the undersigned U.S. citizens, wish to express our grave disapproval of our government s current attempts to influence and undermine the outcome of the upcoming national elections in Nicaragua. We are well aware of the fact that the U.S. government, through the embassy in Managua and the State Department is engaged in a campaign to strike fear in the hearts of Nicaraguan voters so as to insure that candidates favorable to its interests are elected in November." We continued, "The U.S. government has no right to try to influence or determine the outcome of the Nicaraguan elections, just as it had no legal or moral right to militarily intervene in Nicaragua during the 1980s. The U.S. is now trying to raise the specter of such past intervention to scare Nicaraguans into voting the way it wishes. Regardless of who you may choose in November we shall stand with you in supporting this choice and opposing any attempt of the U.S. to intervene to alter that choice."

When U.S. Ambassador Oliver Garza wasn't threatening, he was out on the campaign trail with Bolaños. On October 16 both were present in the same communities in Matagalpa giving out food assistance. At first Bolaños said that his presence with the U.S. diplomat was "by chance". He later admitted that he had been invited by the U.S. embassy to host the "Food for Work" program financed by USAID. He said he was invited to the event because "he was campaigning nearby."

The U.S. began its intervention before June and sowed their campaign of fear. U.S. officials publicly stated that an FSLN victory could lead to a discontinuation of U.S. aid to Nicaragua as well as a return to the U.S. s "oppositional policy" of the 1980s. This threat was a clear reference to the U.S. support , at times in violation of U.S. law, to the contra war. Although, the terror campaign tactics didn’t fully blossom until September 11, the U.S. government s first decisive objective was accomplished on July 18. The U.S. had convinced the prominent Conservative Party candidates for president and vice-president to withdraw so that all anti-FSLN votes would flow to the PLC and Bolaños. A three-way split meant a likely Sandinista victory. At the last moment the Conservative Party put up a token presidential ticket that received about two percent of the vote. They in fact instructed their followers to vote for the PLC on the presidential ballot and to vote for the Conservative Party for delegates to the National Assembly.

Why was the U.S. government so afraid that the right-wing PLC candidate was going to lose? Besides the fact that every poll taken throughout the campaign, including several by the U.S. embassy, indicated that the FSLN/National Convergence was ahead, the conditions within the country were ripe for a change in government, an FSLN victory. There was extreme corruption and government theft, 60-70% unemployment or underemployment, the Central Bank and 101 municipalities are technically bankrupt, banks were failing, and there was severe hunger in rural areas and malnutrition throughout the country.

The party platforms and the issues

The PLC's two major themes were more jobs and their ability to address Nicaragua’s ills (Si, se puede). Enrique Bolaños, the actual vice-president of the present government, faced a dilemma since he was tainted by the corruption attributed to President Alemán. (Even the U.S. embassy acknowledged this corruption.) He was in a bad position to confront one of the campaign’s most relevant issues. Therefore, he based his campaign on ferocious attacks against the FSLN and its presidential candidate Daniel Ortega, based on their alleged terrorist connections. Libya was one of the darts Bolaños threw at the FSLN. What he failed to mention was that Nicaragua has had formal diplomatic relations with Libya since 1972 and has just signed an extensive agreement of cooperation between the Libyan and Aleman government.

Bolaños supporters also fanned unemployment fears. CST/JBE union leaders said that sweatshop managers in the free trade zones told workers that if Ortega won, the factories would move out of the country. The union leaders didn’t believe this threat but said that the workers were in a panic since there are over 35,000 jobs in the various FTZs. Gilberto Wong, the PLC government s appointee as the director of the FTZ corporation and PLC campaign advisor was relentless in his threats about foreign investment leaving Nicaragua. He became more emphatic after September 11th when he described himself as "proudly imperialist" and said, in referring to the U.S. war on terrorism, "I would feel proud if my son would die in that fight". His son lives in Miami.

The FSLN strategy was to change dramatically since the revolution of the 1980s by being inclusive rather than exclusive, thus forming the National Convergence (CN). The CN attracted former Sandinistas who had joined other political parties, some Conservative Party and PLC leaders, ex-contras and high officials of Violeta Chamorro s government (e.g. Former Minister of the Presidency Antonio Lacayo). Their vice-presidential candidate Augustin Jarquin is a member of the Social Christian Party and had been Comptroller in the Aleman government but was subsequently imprisoned for exposing massive corruption in the government. The FSLN/CN platform addressed the economic and political crisis facing the Nicaraguan people. They made a major issue of ending corruption, FSLN Organizational Secretary Rene Nunez told the Tecnica observers. By ending mega-salaries for government officials, tax cheating by businesses and outright theft from government, he said, enough money could be made available to start 120,000 micro-enterprises and give college scholarships. These enterprises could increase national food production for about one million people (25% of the entire Nicaraguan population) as well as provide employment. The FSLN/CN also called for monies for health, education and social needs, autonomy for the Atlantic Coast, the settling of the property questions and no military draft.

September 11th--the final blow

September 11 was to mark the beginning of the end of the FSLN chances. From the day of the tragedy on, the U.S. government and the PLC became relentless in presenting the vote as democracy (PLC) vs. terrorism (FSLN). The U.S. made it crystal clear that a Sandinista victory was unacceptable, painting the Sandinistas as terrorists and associating the FSLN with war, repression, shortages and human rights abuses. A full-page ad published in La Prensa several days before the election declared that "George W. Bush supports Enrique Bolaños." (At the bottom of the page in fine print it said the ad was paid for by Jeb Bush.) The ad stated, "Daniel Ortega is an enemy of everything the U.S. represents. Further, he is a friend of our enemies." We must remember that President Reagan put Nicaragua on the list of terrorist nations during the contra war. The implications were another U.S. embargo or even a possible military campaign against Nicaragua if the FSLN won. Bolaños became more emboldened and demanded a debate with Ortega that would include only one issue--terrorism. This would have been the only presidential debate of the campaign had it been held.

A contradictory reality was presented on the front page of El Nuevo Diario just days after September 11 with the large headline "Bin Laden was a Contra", followed by a smaller one which read "The Frankenstein that the CIA created." The article addressed the history of President Reagan’s aid to the contras during the 1980s when Saudi Arabia and Brunei had given millions of dollars to finance the war against the Sandinista government. The writer claimed that when the U.S. Congress blocked funding for the contras, the clandestine Iran-contra policy was put into effect and Osama Bin Laden was likely one of the principal envoys in the transfer of the money, given his close ties to the Saudi government and his history of fighting "evil empires".

Nevertheless, in my conversations with friends and FSLN supporters, I was told timidly that many of them would not vote for the FSLN because they were afraid that an FSLN victory would lead to increased hardship and violence as a result of U.S. policies. The U.S. government and the PLC had turned the election into a referendum on whether the majority of Nicaraguan people would vote their interests and hearts (the FSLN) or their fears (PLC/U.S. Government).

Let the delegation's voice be heard

Tecnica viewed the primary role of the delegation was to oppose the belligerent message of our own government. Once again, Bishop Gumbleton of Detroit issued a letter, this time to Secretary of State Powell, part of which was printed in an article in El Nuevo Diario. The bishop stated, "I have been aware for some time that the State Department has carried out a campaign to plant fear in the hearts of the Nicaraguan voters in an attempt to deter them from voting for the FSLN." The letter also said that the recent statements from the U.S. alleging that the FSLN has ties to supporters of terrorism "represent the most blatant form of hypocrisy in light of the fact of the U.S. support of the contras, which itself constituted a direct support of terrorists on the part of the U.S. government."

In interviews on four radio stations prior to the elections I contrasted the U.S. government s role to that of the delegation. I said that we are here as neutral observers to help insure that the elections are clean, democratic and transparent. In spite of which party we as individuals might favor to win, it is not our role to propagandize or intervene on behalf of any political party during the election period. The Nicaraguan people have the exclusive right to express their preference without foreign pressure or influence. At a press conference which also received extensive TV, newspaper and radio coverage I again hammered away at the "George W. Bush" ad and spoke about the need for the U.S. to continue giving aid to Nicaragua no matter which candidate won. Addressing the events of September 11 I said that the U.S. role in the Nicaraguan elections was contrary to their stated role in seeking allies in the fight against global terror.

Who won, who lost?

The decisive winner of the Nicaraguan election was the Bush administration and the Nicaraguan rich. The losers are the overwhelming percentage of the population who suffer from poverty and lack of basic human services such as health and education. The FSLN/CN program and campaign was broad, constructive and successful until September 11. Many of us may have preferred a candidate other than Daniel Ortega. But the fact is that anyone in the FSLN would have been painted the same way since it was political, not personal issues that struck home. Neither the FSLN nor the Nicaraguan people were capable of defeating the strongest super-power in the history of mankind at this time.

Our support, projects and solidarity with the Nicaraguan people and their organizations (the unions, sister cities, women’s and environmental movement, NGOs, etc.) must continue so that they can build institutions that will defend the popular struggles.

Delegation list

Paul Baizerman, 775 East 19 Street, Brooklyn, NY, 718-859-4706,

Daniel Kovalik, USWA, Five Gateway Center, 8th Floor, Pittsburgh, PA 15222

Ellen Barfield, 814 Powers Street, Baltimore, MD 21211,

Lawrence Egbert, 814 Powers Street, Baltimore, MD 21211, ( see above)

Bonnie Bone, 1509 Union Street, Alameda, CA 94501,

Jonathan Cloke, 14 Pentland Gardens, Edinburgh, Scotlan, EH106NW ,

Janet Fine, 5 Bayard R., #909, Pittsburgh, PA 15213,

Joseph Fine, 5 Bayard Rd., #909, Pittsburgh, PA 15213,( see above)

Steve Herrick, @CEPAD, Managua,

Robert Leslie, 839 North Superior Avenue, Decatur, GA 30033,

Anthony Liuzzi, 1442 Osceola Ave., St. Paul, MN 55105,,

Joan Roney, 304 East 83 Street, apt. 4D, New York, NY 10028,

Robert Siegel, 444 East 86 Street, Apt. 36J, New York, NY 10028,

Jared Zimmerman, 432 First Street, Glenwood, MN 56334, ( not available or see Anthony)

Ardenne Bunde, 839 North Marshall Street, Milwaukee, WI 53202,

John Douglas, 3566 North Murray, Shorewood, WI 53211,

Robert Malone, 3900 16th St., NW, #625, Washington, DC 20011,

Steve Watrous, 2455 West Juneau Ave., Milwaukee, WI 53233,

Cleta Ciulla, 103 Gedney Street, Apt. 6E, Nyack, NY 10960,

David Harmon, 1402 Blake Ave., Glenwood Springs, CO 81601,

William Mahoney, 1409 Pine View Place, Golden CO 80401, ( not available)

Laura Marasco, 156 Orchard Lane, Glenwood Springs, CO 81601,

Seth Walton, 156 Orchard Lane, Glenwood Springs, CO 81601,( not available)

George Baldwin, 533 North Rouse Ave., Bozeman, MT 59715,

Marc Becker, 33 Grimm Dr., Kirksville, MO 63501,

Cheryl Musch, 3209 Atwood Ave., Madison, WI 53704,

Tanya Cole

Kurt Berggren, 412 East Huron St., Ann Arbor, MI 48104,

Melissa Gerke, 810 Yarmouth Court, San Diego, CA

Jeremy Turner, 1888 Kalakaua Ave., Apt. 3103, Honolulu, HI 96815,

Dale Wimberley, 2708 Wellesley Ct., Blacksburg, VA 24060,

Phyllis Ponvert, 719 South 7th. St.,Ann Arbor, MI. 48103,

Sarah Burgess, 182 Bowen Street, Apt. 13, Providence, RI 02902,

Suzanne Wopperer,9820 Cotrell Terrace, Silver Spring, MD.20903,

(United States Institute of Peace, 1200 17th NW ,2nd floor,Washington, D.C.20036-3011)

Jacqueline Wopperer, 33 Harbour Pointe Common , Buffalo New York, 14201

2001 Nicaraguan Elections

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