By George Pauk, M.D. (Dr. Pauk is a member of the AFGJ board and participated in the Nicaragua Network delegation to investigate US interference in Nicaragua’s 2011 national election.)
A delegation organized by the Nicaragua Network just returned from a ten day investigation of the role of the United States in the upcoming November 2011 Nicaragua elections. Following the lead of previous years’ delegations, it concentrated on and delved deeper into the many paths of frank US imperialism against the sovereignty of Nicaragua. The delegation will be making a full report of findings of US government financing of wasteful and improper intervention in the politics of that nation.
I was a slightly unusual member of the delegation as I am a board member of the sponsoring organization: Nicaragua Network and the Alliance for Global Justice. The group was a dream delegation ably led by Katherine Hoyt. It was made up of fifteen members most of them experts on Latin America with diverse and extensive experience in Nicaragua. Many had years of academic study and also of personal living experience in Latin America. Some of them also had experience as election observers. They understood the history of Nicaragua and often pointed out to us the historical inconsistencies of some of the propaganda diatribes we heard from “democracy promoters”.
We were received in friendly fashion, as is always the case in Nicaragua, but in some cases were subjected to very frank and obviously biased and incorrect political statements by the spokespersons for the so-called “democracy promotion” organizations. Some of them seemed to think that we would assist them in obtaining more dollars from our government. We learned much as we followed the money trail.
We were given a general impression that the Obama administration had cut back slightly or was late in providing the huge funds that are usually distributed to the opposition groups. Yet, the organizations seemed hopeful that our USAID (Agency for International Development), NED (National Endowment for Democracy), NDI (National Democratic Institute for International Affairs), and IRI (International Republican Institute) would come through with more dollars in the coming months before the election. We were “impressed” with their large, usually too cold air-conditioned offices, their glossy materials, the large staffs and plans to distribute “per diem” funds to large numbers of recruits.
The delegation met with officials from the US Embassy, Nicaraguan government officials including President Daniel Ortega and his staff, leaders of several other Nicaraguan political parties and alliances of parties, and several US and Nicaraguan non-governmental organizations.
A consistent pattern was found of organizations campaigning against the present Nicaraguan government using funding from the United States government. We found that USAID is continuing to be the major distributer of funds to Nicaraguan groups to provide training in so-called “democratization” and media skills.
The points that the opposition is trying to raise are: illegality of the candidacy of President Ortega, misuse of the national “cedula” (identification) card, and the potential lack of voting observers (even though President Ortega has said that the invitation of observers will be announced in August). These are issues that the Nicaraguans will have to work out for themselves and were beyond the scope of the Nicaragua Network delegation.
In one meeting, the leaders of the Association of Nicaraguan Journalists (APN) frankly told the delegation that they intended to recruit and train news media reporters to oppose the re-election of President Daniel Ortega and to play a double role as reporters and unofficial electoral observers. The APN is funded by the US government through the International Republican Institute headed by my Arizona Senator John McCain. The IRI supposedly helping Nicaraguan media, particularly radio stations, to provide fair and balanced coverage of Nicaragua political news. I suspect that they are concentrating on the radio media because most of the written press has been and continues to be virulently anti Sandinista.
The blatant and biased misuse of these funds appeared to be well known to the US Embassy USAID staff. Jan Howard, the thirty-year experienced USAID officer for the embassy, acknowledged, “Sometimes they get a little carried away.” Personally, I felt the presence of gross incompetence at the Embassy where we were thoroughly scanned and our passports held until we left the fortress. As an indignant taxpayer, I suggest that we change the name of the US Agency for International Development to USPAID, the P being “Political.”
The delegation was affronted by the poor performance of our Embassy staff in Nicaragua. A top “diplomat” of the Embassy told the delegation, in the presence of a large group of visiting students, that he considered that all of the country’s political parties are “feckless, corrupt, nasty and worthless.” The delegation was shocked by these comments by Matthew Roth, the political officer of our US Embassy.
In the past, our government has engaged in a panoply of actions that would not be tolerated in the US. Either directly or covertly through the funded international organizations, we have urged, pressured, and even organized a united opposition in past Nicaragua elections. In 1990, the US backed a candidate and organized her coalition with more money per voter than the combined funds of our candidates (Bush and Dukakis) spent per voter spent in 1988. In the 2001 and 2006 presidential elections, the US embassy openly supported one candidate opposed to Daniel Ortega.
In the past, our ambassador to Nicaragua has even engaged in overt campaigning with opposition candidates while distributing USAID food packages. Today, the appointment of a new ambassador is being held back by some of our extremist politicians who want a tough ambassador.
The apparent strategy of our State Department has been to unite the opposition to emulate our two party system. In the current cycle, a representative of the Constitutional Liberal Party implied to our delegation that the party has privately been encouraged by the US Embassy to withdraw from the race.
The delegation also heard continuing concerns about the possibility of politically leading public statements and economic or military threats from US officials. These have occurred strategically late in the campaigns in1990, 1996, 2001 and 2006. Now, for instance, an assistant to the mayor of Estelí brought up the persistent fear that some Nicaraguans have of US intervention as a consequence of the murderous Contra War of the 1980s. He was concerned that once again some voters would be influenced by threats from our government. A few of the right wing loose cannons of our Congress continue to make threats of military intervention to Nicaragua. They also sometimes threaten to stop remittances that families here send to their relatives in Nicaragua. It is quite unclear to me how personal funds that people in the United States send to their families in Nicaragua could be stopped by our government, but it continues to be an insidious and mean threat usually publicized just before an election.
We noted the usual personal warm friendship and cooperation of the Nicaraguan people. The delegation noted reports and evidence that poverty conditions are significantly improved in recent years. Major improvements during the term of the present government include continuous electrical supply, initiation of free school programs, free health care, and poverty reduction, literacy and housing programs. It seems likely that these issues will bear a greater influence on the Nicaraguan elections than interference from the US government.
It is a strange situation that the American public allows its government to foster poor relations with Nicaragua by continuing blatant and costly internal political interference. Personally, I feel that Nicaragua continues to be a very important front for the neoliberal and military control movement. It seems to be the primary model for intervention in many other nations. Any loss in Nicaragua is taken as a serious affront to our extreme right wing politicians. Unfortunately, this has been and continues to be a major influence in our Latin American policy.
We continue to: impose trade policy that hurts small business and deepens poverty, insist on joint military exercises just before elections, seek permanent military bases and threaten military and economic intervention. Actually, many observers note an emerging weakening of our control of Nicaragua. This appears to be a major influence on the growing spirit of independence of many other nations.
In summary, the Nicaragua delegation was a great success. AfGJ and Nicaragua Network have found an ugly seam in our foreign policy and are making it public in the hope that the people of our nation will stop the subversive and illegal interventions. A report of the detailed study by this very talented group will soon be available. There are many important considerations to be examined and much promotion of the truth to be done here.