State Dept. Travel Alert Shows Continuing US Interference in Nicaragua
By Chuck Kaufman
The US government plays a long game when it comes to foreign policy regardless of who sits in the Oval Office at any particular time. For over 100 years since the US Marines occupied Nicaragua from 1912-1933, who governs in Managua has been a priority focus of US policy. Ronald Reagan made “regime change” in Nicaragua one of his top foreign policy objectives from the day he took office in 1981. Nicaraguans had to fight a nine year defensive shooting and economic war. That war, which cost 40,000 Nicaraguan lives and exhausted the people and the economy resulted in the 1990 Sandinista electoral defeat to an opposition unified and funded by the US government – the first victory of the Reagan-created National Endowment for Democracy (NED). The Sandinistas accepted their electoral defeat and Daniel Ortega became the first president in Nicaraguan history to peacefully transfer power from one party to another when he placed the presidential sash over the head of Violeta Chamorro.
The Sandinista Front for National Liberation (FSLN) remained the largest party in Nicaragua so, for successive US ambassadors, political unification of the anti-Sandinista opposition was their top priority task. From the 1990s through today, the tactics used by the US have switched from violence to “democracy promotion” and public actions to delegitimize the FSLN. In 2006, a delegation I led several months before the presidential election was told by US Ambassador Paul Trivelli, “I have between $12-$13 million to spend on this election.” We were also told by a staff person of the International Republican Institute, one of the four core groups of the NED, “We created the Movement for Nicaragua.” Incidentally, Violeta Granera, current president of Movement for Nicaragua, was to be Eduardo Montealegre’s running mate this year until he dropped out after he lost control of the historic Independent Liberal Party (PLI) which he had hijacked five years ago. (The PLI was founded in 1944 when it broke from Somoza’s Nationalist Liberal Party and declared itself in opposition to the dictatorship.)
Funding the political opposition and creating and funding so-called non-partisan civil society groups like Movement for Nicaragua, through NED and USAID, has become the preferred tactic of US regime change strategy. We have seen its success not just in Nicaragua, but in all those “color” revolutions in countries of the former Soviet Union and today most vividly in Venezuela.
But, in 2006 Nicaraguans ignored the threat of renewed war in hope that a new Sandinista government could defend them from the very real hunger and impoverishment they were experiencing from 17 years of US-backed neoliberal governments. Daniel Ortega was elected with a 38% plurality which he expanded to a 63% vote in 2011 and if people’s lives continue to improve, he will be elected by an even larger margin this November.
The US has learned to live with Ortega for a number of reasons. Disunity in the opposition, Sandinista cooperation on the DR-CAFTA free trade agreement, Nicaragua’s aggressive fight against drug trafficking, and the rather amazing improvements in living standards which have meant that Nicaraguans are not among Central Americans flooding the US border to escape violence and economic dislocation, are the lead reasons for the new-found US tolerance for Sandinismo.
However, as I wrote in the beginning, US foreign policy plays a long game. The objective of the State Department under the Obama administration is to return the US to its former position of dominance over Latin America which broke with US hegemony thanks to the Pink Tide governments, especially under the leadership of Venezuela. Foggy Bottom’s career imperialists know that ousting Daniel Ortega is not politically feasible now, but they are devoted to blocking the FSLN from political hegemony in Nicaragua.
They have not stopped funding the anti-Sandinista opposition or civil society groups like Movement for Nicaragua. They continue to pursue the narrative that the government is a threat to democracy and that the electoral system is flawed. And just the other day on June 29, they took a shot at disrupting Nicaragua’s growing economy and especially its tourism industry by issuing a State Department Travel Alert.
The Alert opens in bold with “The Department of State alerts U.S. citizens about increased government scrutiny of foreigners’ activities, new requirements for volunteer groups, and the potential for demonstrations during the upcoming election season in Nicaragua. “ Sounds ominous. Actually, it sounds sort of like our own electoral season. The Alert claims “The Government of Nicaragua has indicated it is worried about the safety and security of travelers.”
I’ve seen this claim nowhere except in the State Department Travel Alert. Nicaragua is the safest country in Central America – including Costa Rica. Political violence is rare, mostly confined to rival political factions occasionally mixing it up with a few bruises as the main outcome. Often it is the police that end up with the most bruises! Candidate assassinations are, to my knowledge virtually unknown, and the police are far less militarized than police in the US, not to mention those of their neighbors. A US citizen/permanent Nicaraguan resident who participated in a delegation I led to Honduras a couple of years ago wrote to me after the delegation that she was so frustrated because her rural neighbors wouldn’t believe that Hondurans are afraid of the police!
The Alert is retaliation for Nicaragua’s expulsion of two US diplomats who were working with private businesses concerning exports to the US without notification or coordination with Nicaraguan Customs, and the third was a professor at the United States Army War College who was researching the proposed canal on a tourist visa and without notifying Nicaraguan authorities.
But the Travel Alert is also just one more example of US interference in Nicaragua. The goal of US foreign policy remains to impose US hegemony on Nicaragua. Even though they have no internal vehicle to carry that out today, their objective is to continue to create the conditions to do so in the future. Nicaragua has every right to suspect US officials given the long history of US intervention and the more recent examples in Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador of US diplomats working directly with the opposition to undermine national stability. We need to remain vigilant as well. We must play as long a game defending Nicaragua’s sovereignty as our government plays to crush it.
Inter-American Development bank approves US$45 loan to improve maternal and infant health. The loan will finance outreach programs, hospital infrastructure improvement, and purchase of diagnostic equipment for health centers throughout the country. (El Nuevo Diario, June 23)
The Foundation for Economic and Global Challenge ( FIDEG ) reports that between 2009-2015 Nicaragua reduced the percentage of families living in poverty by 10% to 39% and those living in extreme poverty by 20% to 7.6% The survey also showed that poorer households increased their consumption more than households in general indicating that economic growth has been inclusive. (El Nuevo Diario, June 29)
US Ambassador Laura Dogu expanded the invitation list for the US Independence Day celebration from the traditional 300 Nicaraguans and foreign diplomats to 1,000. An entire cross section of Nicaraguan government officials led by Foreign Minister Samuel Santos, the anti-Sandinista opposition, civil society, big business, and the diplomatic corps were treated to Dogu’s reflections about the significance of US independence for the hemisphere. (Informe Pastran, July 1)
A new M&R poll shows that at least 75% of voters intend to participate in the November election, similar to the participation level in 2011. Daniel Ortega has an 81.7% favorability rating against a 10% unfavorable. Other declared candidates scored in the single digits for both favorable and unfavorable probably indicating that they are little known by voters. (El Nuevo Diario, July 2)