This week’s Guest Blog returns to the subject of Nicaragua’s Nov. 6 elections from the point of view of Brian Willson who was invited as an official observer.
by S. Brian Willson, November 25, 2016
On November 6, Nicaragua held its national elections, two days before the US electoral theater of the absurd. I was asked to be an official election observer for the Nicaragua elections, one of 63 total from 44 countries. My first exposure to Nicaragua occurred in early 1986, thirty years ago, during the Reagan Contra terrorist war (1981-1990) ravaging the entire society with murders, rapes, arsons, and assassinations, attempting to overthrow the Sandinista (FSLN) -led revolution.
It was a welcome relief to be outside the US during our elections. Despite a constant barrage from the US State Department of the corruption in Nicaragua (pot calling the kettle black), the unsafe conditions in and danger to tourists (more hypocritical rhetoric, since Nicaragua is far safer than all the other countries in Central America, and safer than the US), and more than a million dollars of funding from the US’s National Endowment for Democracy (NED) to fund dissent against the Nicaraguan government (more imperial meddling), the FSLN (Sandinista Liberation Front Party) won 70 of the 92 seats (76%) in the National Assembly, and its Presidential candidate, the much maligned revolutionary fighter Daniel Ortega, won with 72.5% of the vote of 3.8 million registered Nicaraguans.
The polling stations were generally located in schools or community centers, were well organized with trained volunteer staff, extremely safe and nonviolent, and voting was by very colorful/pictorial paper ballots. There was no intimidation, and it was very orderly. As observers, we could watch wherever we wanted to, inside and outside the polling stations.
The Ortega-Murillo government has been systematically demonized by the US for years. Though there are genuine issues relating to political policies and personal behavior of some members of the Nicaraguan government, they pale in comparison to the grotesque behavior of US politicians, and the country is not bombing, intervening, or torturing people around the world. Its programs elevating the status of the poor, expanding land reform, improving education and health care for more people, building transportation and communication infrastructure, and committing itself to assuring a high percentage of the nation’s energy from renewables (wind, solar, hydro, geothermal), and its control of drug trafficking while experiencing relatively low crime levels, makes it a nation that is exemplary compared to most others.
S. Brian Willson, as a 1st lieutenant, served as commander of a US Air Force combat security police unit in Viet Nam’s Mekong Delta in 1969. He is a trained lawyer who has been an anti-war, peace and justice activist for more than forty years. His psychohistorical memoir, “Blood On The Tracks: The Life and Times of S. Brian Willson” was published in 2011 by PM Press. A long-time member of Veterans For Peace, he currently resides in Portland, Oregon
- On US Thanksgiving Day, while we were eating turkey, Nicaragua was dealing with twin natural disasters: Hurricane Otto, which originated in the Caribbean and crossed Costa Rica and Nicaragua along the two countries border, and an undersea 7.0 Richter Scale earthquake in the Pacific off the coast of Nicaragua and El Salvador which caused a tsunami alert and waves 6 feet above normal. Costa Rica numbered 10 deaths from Hurricane Otto. Although Nicaragua evacuated 10,143 people into 125 shelters from 69 communities and had 817 homes destroyed or severely damaged, it had no casualties. Nicaragua did have one death when a woman on the Pacific Coast died of a heart attack attributed to the tsunami alert. Most of the hurricane damage occurred in El Castillo and San Carlos in the municipality of Rio San Juan. SINAPRED, Nicaragua’s disaster agency, has been doing large-scale disaster response drills and trainings beginning soon after the Ortega government came into office in 2007. The multi-agency trainings, including the Army, fire departments, schools, hospitals, and the general public paid off on Nov. 24 with Nicaraguans ready to deal efficiently with two natural disasters that could have seen significant death and injuries. The government announced that it has a US$187 million line of credit with the Inter- American Development Bank for mitigation of effects of natural disasters. By Nov. 29, only 248 people remained in shelters. (El Nuevo Diario, Nov. 25, 28)
- The Inter-American Development Bank announced a US$87 million loan for the purpose of improving rural roads (often called farm-to-market roads) on the Caribbean Coast from remote areas of the Department of Matagalpa to Bluefields. The loan is for 40 years at 1% interest. The Ortega government has a goal of building 200 kilometers of rural roads this year. (El Nuevo Diario, Nov. 23)
- National Police Chief Aminta Granera reaffirmed her commitment to further integrate women into the police force. “The Nicaraguan Police have a high level of female participation that is above most other Latin American countries,” she said. Over 35% of police are women and they hold 33% of leadership positions within the force. (Nicaragua News, Nov. 23)
- Prevencion Integral magazine published an article calling the Better Work-Nicaragua Program “one of the most successful initiatives worldwide with respect to occupational safety in the Free Trade Zone sector. The article also noted that improvements in health and occupational safety, good paying jobs, and fair treatment of workers are ensuring better results for companies affiliated with the program. William De Goof, who was conducting a Better Work workshop in Managua, stressed the importance of the workshop and its positive impact on the protection of workers’ rights, promotion of dialogue, and job stability in the Nicaragua Free Trade Zones. Better Work is a US Labor Department program initiated while Hilda Solis was Secretary of Labor during President Obama’s first term. (Nicaragua News, Nov. 23, 28)
- The Sandinista government has increased access to favorable financing for new home purchases by increasing the price of homes covered by the low-cost housing credit from US$20,000 to US$23,000 and a special subsidy for homes costing up to US$32,000 that lowers interest rates by 2.5% Nicaragua Chamber of Construction President Rodrigo Pereira predicted construction sector growth at 15% next year thanks to public and private investments injecting greater dynamism in the construction sector. He added that formal construction jobs, meaning jobs that pay into social security, have more than doubled under the government of President Daniel Ortega from 14,400 in 2010 to 36,000 this year. (Nicaragua News, Nov. 23, 28; El Nuevo Diario, Nov. 23)