||U.S. International Electoral Observation Delegation|
Elections, Nicaraguan Style
By Marc Becker
(Originally written for The Monitor, an alternative student newspaper at Truman State University, November 13, 2001.)
In elections in Nicaragua on Sunday, November 4, the conservative Liberal Constitutional Party (PLC) defeated the National Convergence, a left/center coalition led by the Sandinista Front for National Liberation (FSLN). Pre-election polls indicated that the Sandinistas would win, but the United States successfully placed such fear into people that in the anonymous secrecy of the voting booth Nicaraguans voted against their own socio-economic interests. This election reveals much about the nature of freedom, democracy, and terrorism in our world today.
By international standards, in the entire 163-year history of this small, impoverished Central American country, this is only the fourth legitimate, free, and honest election that Nicaragua has ever had. Although the United States purports to subscribe to principles of freedom and democracy, in Central America it has not hesitated to support repressive dictatorships. Considering Nicaragua as part of its backyard, the United States repeatedly has felt free to intervene and mettle in the country's internal politics in order to establish governments more to its liking. This history is deeply etched on the popular psyche of the country, and people are well aware of the heavy costs of opposing that dominant hegemonic influence from the north.
Placed in that context, the outcome of the 2001 elections begins to make sense. Had they won, the Sandinistas promised to implement social policies that would improve the lives of the poor majority of the country. Instead, Nicaragua will continue to be a place of cheap sweatshop labor that exports expensive Liz Claiborne clothes to the United States and lines the pockets of the wealth elite with cash. The United States is very pleased with this outcome.
In 1979, the Sandinistas led a social revolution that overthrew the 46-year brutal Somoza dictatorship and implemented literacy, education, and other social programs. Somoza did have elections, but he or one of his lackeys always won. That did not bother the United States, as he was their closest ally and enforced policies which favored the U.S.
One of the biggest contributions that the Sandinistas brought to Nicaragua was a stable and effective democratic system of government. In 1984, Nicaragua held its first free and popularly contested elections. Like a playground bully, the U.S. refused to recognize the elections simply because it lost to the leftist Sandinistas. Instead, Ronald Reagan rearmed the thugs who had enforced Somoza's brutal rule, called them "freedom fighters," and sent them back in to terrorize the civilian population.
The World Court condemned the U.S.'s "unlawful use of force," essentially meaning international terrorism, for its targeting of civilian "soft targets" (agricultural cooperatives, health clinics, etc.) in Nicaragua. Arrogantly and with contempt, the United States announced that it would not accept the jurisdiction of the court. The United States became a rogue state that did not respect international law and supported terrorism.
In 1990, Nicaragua held its second free elections. This time the Sandinistas bent over backwards to convince the U.S. that the elections would be honest and transparent in a desperate hope that the U.S. would stop their insane terrorist attacks against the small country. The U.S. responded that the attacks would only stop if Nicaragua voted for their candidate. After years of warfare and with a gun pointed at their heads, the people finally cried uncle; the U.S. won the elections.
This story repeats itself again in 1996 and 2001. This year, I observed the electoral process in the rural community of Solingalpa on the outskirts of Matagalpa in northern Nicaragua. Despite some minor irregularities, the casting of votes was free of fraud. In a process that would put Florida to shame, election workers, party officials, as well as national and international observers checked and double-checked each voter and each step of the vote. The result was that it took about a dozen people and an average of two to three minutes to cast each vote, and almost as long to count the votes as it took to cast them. Subsequently, however, the computer tallying of votes for the National Assembly has been very slow which has led ex-president Jimmy Carter to express concern about this process.
As before, the United States made it crystal clear that a Sandinista victory was unacceptable. In what would be a violation of electoral laws in the U.S., Oliver Garza, the United States ambassador to Nicaragua, campaigned actively for the PLC presidential candidate, wealthy businessman Enrique Bolaños, and against the leftist Sandinistas. Florida governor Jeb Bush took out a full-page newspaper ad in La Prensa several days before the election which declared that "George W. Bush Supports Enrique Bolaños." It stated that Sandinista presidential candidate "Daniel Ortega is an enemy of everything the United States represents. Further, he is a friend of our enemies. Ortega has a relationship of more than 30 years with states and individuals who shelter and condone international terrorism."
In a very dirty campaign, the PLC and the U.S. attempted to associate the Sandinistas with terrorism, war, repression, shortages, and human rights abuses. In a meeting on the eve of the elections, however, Ortega expressed his condolences for the attacks in New York and Washington, and proceeded to note that Nicaraguans can identify with our pain because they have also been the victims of terrorist attacks. Ortega strongly denounced terrorist tactics, as do virtually all Nicaraguans.
Ironically, it appears that the U.S. utilized Osama bin Laden in the 1980s to help fund the contras' terrorist attacks on the civilian population in Nicaragua. Despite their repeated use of terrorist tactics in Nicaragua, the United States took significant advantage of the events of September 11 to paint the Sandinistas as terrorists. The election boiled down to the Sandinistas and Daniel Ortega versus the U.S. government, with democracy ultimately being the loser. The United States continues to play its historical role in the region of engaging in intimidation tactics that create fear and terror among the Nicaraguan people.