NicaNotes: The OAS, or the “Ministry of Colonies”

By Jemima Pierre

(Jemima Pierre is an editor and columnist for Black Agenda Report, the Haiti/Americas Team Co-Coordinator for the Black Alliance for Peace, and a Black Studies and anthropology professor at UCLA.)

[This article was first published on April 27, 2022 in Black Agenda Report]

Headquarters of the Organization of American States in Washington, DC. The OAS has supported regime change and destabilized governments in many countries in Latin America.

In the wake of the expulsion of the Organization of American States from Nicaragua, we need to revisit one of its major crime scenes: Haiti.

On April 24, 2022, Nicaragua’s Sandinista government officially booted the Organization of American States (OAS) out of their country. Foreign minister Denis Moncada called the OAS a “deceitful agency of the State Department of yankee imperialism” and in an official statement, the Nicaraguans proclaimed that they “will not recognize this instrument of colonial administration, which does not represent at any time, the sovereign union of our Latin and Caribbean America, and that…violate[s] rights and independence, sponsoring and promoting interventions and invasions, [and] legitimizing coups.”

In response to Nicaragua’s break with the OAS, many in the imperialist west will undoubtedly speak self-righteously about the Central American republic’s lack of “democracy.” Others, on the left, will correctly point to the OAS’s long-standing role in undermining democracy – to the support the organization has given to regime change in Bolivia, Honduras, and, especially, Venezuela, where the OAS recognized unelected stooge Juan Guaidó as president.

However, to really understand the undemocratic, demagogic, and racist history of the OAS, we need to return to one of its major crime scenes: Haiti.

In no small part because of the OAS, Haiti is currently a de facto colony administered and controlled by foreign, white rulers: the U.S., France, Canada, and the European Union. With an outsized involvement in Haiti’s political bureaucracy, it has had a clear and incontrovertible role as a tool of western imperialism and white supremacy. A brief review of the past two decades reveals its meddling in Haiti’s politics and democratic processes, all to support US interests while undercutting Haitian self-determination and sovereignty.

In 2010, in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake in Haiti, with hundreds of thousands dead or displaced, many counseled against holding national elections. Yet the US, France, and Canada forced Haiti to carry on with the vote, pumping $29 million dollars into the country for logistical support. But, in the run up to the elections, Haiti’s partisan electoral provisional council (CEP) banned the most powerful political party – Fanmi Lavalas, founded by former president, Jean Bertrand Aristide. The first round of the elections was notably flawed (because of the exclusion of Fanmi Lavalas, voter turnout was low, with 71% of registered voters staying away from the polls). Those displaced because of the earthquake were disenfranchised. Moreover, of those votes cast, a high percentage were irregular. Nevertheless, the first round of elections saw the first place go to conservative candidate Mirlande Manigat, and second place to Jude Celestin (who was endorsed by sitting president Rene Preval). US-backed, neo-Duvalierist Michel Martelly, of the new PHTK party, came in third place. Members of the Haitian political and activist community called for the cancellation of the elections. However, according to Wikileaks , the US demanded that Martelly replace Celestin in the run-off despite his third place position.

For this to work, however, the white rulers mobilized the OAS. The OAS was the first organization to affirm the integrity of the flawed and dubious election of 2010. It put together an “Expert Electoral Verification Team, ” composed of seven members, six of whom came from three western countries – US, France, Canada – and one from Jamaica. It must be remembered that it was these same three western countries that were behind the 2004 coup d’état that overthrew Haiti’s democratically elected president, ushering in the subsequent UN military occupation, which was ongoing at the time of this presidential selection. These countries are also key members, along with the OAS and the European Union, of the Core Group (of foreigners) that continues to be Haiti’s colonial master. The OAS “Verification Team” discarded some votes and changed the results to ensure that Martelly came in second place, affirming his position on the run-off ballots, thus ensuring two right wing candidates as finalists in the election. Haitian officials at first refused to accept the OAS recommendation. However, the US and other Core Group countries threatened to withhold post-earthquake relief. To consolidate this position, Barack Obama’s Secretary of State Hillary Clinton flew down to Haiti and threatened Preval with exile if his government did not change the results of the election to allow Martelly  on the run-off ballot.

This is how Haiti came to be under the corrupt and murderous “Parti Haïtien Tèt Kale” (PHTK) neocolonial government.

The OAS would strike again in the effort to help the white rulers keep their PHTK puppets in power. This time, it was during the political and electoral crisis of 2015-2016. As Jake Johnston of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) correctly stated, “The brazen intervention, backed up by threats of aid cutoffs and visa sanctions, has inextricably tied the fate of the OAS in Haiti with Martelly and his political party, Parti Haïtien Tèt Kale (PHTK). The 2015/2016 electoral process did little to dispel those concerns.”

Haiti’s “sham elections,” as they were called, occurred in August and October of 2015, after massive public protests forced Martelly to organize legislative, local, and presidential elections.  By this time Martelly was running the country by decree – a move that the OAS and Haiti’s other rulers supported – after allowing the terms of the Haitian senate to expire without elections. The result of Martelly’s actions were to leave Haiti without a functioning government. Despite extreme low voter turnout, electoral fraud, violence, and the destruction of ballots, the OAS, along with the UN (and the Core Group), immediately congratulated the country for its peaceful and “well-organized” elections. The OAS would later verify the election of Martelly’s handpicked successor, Jovenel Moïse as he proclaimed victory in a set of fraudulent elections in 2016.

Moïse’s tenure was marked by nonstop protests, both for corruption and theft of PetroCaribe funds, and for refusing to step down at the end of his mandate, which many in Haiti argued was in February 2021. Moïse, whose rule continued the legacy of PHTK’s corrupt and kleptomaniac practices, seems to have received the most direct support from the OAS. His relationship with OAS’s Secretary General, Luis Almagro, helped him survive his lack of legitimacy.  The OAS provided cover for Moïse during the PetroCaribe protests, offering to put together an “OAS-sanctioned commission” to investigate claims of corruption. In return, Haiti voted against Venezuela’s democratically elected government of Nicolas Maduro, and in favor of the unelected Juan Guaidó.

When the Haitian masses were protesting Moïse’s refusal to step down at the end of his term, on February 7, 2021, Almagro released a statement unilaterally determining that Moïse’s term actually was to end in February 2022. This move went directly against the OAS’s own charter that declares that the organization does not have the power to “intervene in matters that are within the internal jurisdiction of the Member States.” Haitian leaders protested , arguing, “President Moïse cannot determine the duration of his term of office, in the same way that the Secretary General himself could not define his own mandate according to his interpretation of the OAS Charter.” Nevertheless, Moïse stayed in power, ruling by decree, until he was assassinated in July 2021.

The forced elections in Haiti, in 2010/2011 and 2015/2016, are only the most recent in active OAS actions to deny the people their human and political rights.

It must also be remembered that since 2004, Haiti has been under foreign occupation that began as full-fledged military control and continues through the political/colonial control of the country by the UN’s Core Group. The Core Group , an unelected, self-styled council of foreign western representatives, “plays an active, interventionist role in Haiti’s everyday political affairs.” The OAS is an active member of the Core Group.

Going back slightly further in time, Haiti would not be under western colonial rule by 2004 without the aid of the OAS in 2000, when its representatives interfered in Haiti’s legislative elections under President Aristide. Here, after admitting that the May 2000 elections were, as Yves Engler reported , “a great success for the Haitian population which turn out in large and orderly numbers to choose both their local and national governments,” the OAS did an about face and labeled the elections “deeply flawed.” The reason? Because the US and the other western powers did not like the election results and their clear affirmation of the popularity of the Aristide government. The Haitian opposition and the western powers then used the OAS claims to not only undermine these democratically elected officials, but to also call into question Aristide’s presidential mandate.  Anxious to dispense with Aristide, the US imposed an economic embargo on his government, while organizations such as the National Endowment for Democracy and USAID funded youth and other “opposition” groups against his government. This led directly to the 2004 coup d’etat, and the full destruction of Haiti’s sovereignty.

When recounting the history of the OAS’s unending assault on Haitian democracy and Haitian people, we see clearly an organization that acts in the service of the US-led white western imperial order. In this sense, we have to understand that the OAS is but one of the many western “international” organizations that uphold an unequal racial and economic order. To the OAS, we can add the UN, the IMF, the ICC, the WTO, NATO, and others.

Nicaragua’s decision to kick out the OAS should be saluted. The rest of our people in the region – a region that Joseph Biden arrogantly calls “America’s backyard” – could only be so lucky. Instead we are stuck with an organization that Fidel Castro called a “Ministry of Colonies,” that “has a history that collects all the trash of 60 years of betrayal of the people.”

By Nan McCurdy

World Bank Congratulates Nicaragua for Excellent Project Management
The Nicaraguan Finance Ministry participated in the World Bank 2022 Spring Meetings held virtually on April 22. In remarks during a bilateral meeting between Finance Minister Iván Acosta and the World Bank, the vice president of the Bank, Julio Jaramillo, stated that “the World Bank would like to congratulate Nicaragua for the excellent management of its project portfolio, a recognition of this is that the country continues to achieve the highest disbursement rate in Central America.” He added that “the Bank maintains its commitment to Nicaragua to support the fight against COVID-19 and strengthen the public healthcare system of the country through additional financial resources.” (Nicaragua News, 25 April, 2020)

Good News from Last Ten Days
The People’s Republic of China approved US$60 million in cooperation for the construction of low-income housing in Nicaragua. Also, the Central American Bank for Economic Integration (CABEI) approved US$200 million to alleviate the rise in fuel prices. In the first quarter of 2022 the country earned US$1 billion from exports, an increase of 15.25% compared to the same period in 2021; Nicaraguan coffee took first place in exports due to a 42% increase in price, followed by gold and then livestock. Products with the greatest inter-annual increase were coffee with US$81.21 million, beef with US$31.73 million and gold with US$19.99 million more. Forty-nine percent of food and beverage industry exports went to the Central America region in 2021, according to the Guatemalan Chamber of Food and Beverages. The Nicaraguan government has been assuming 100% of the increase in electricity and cooking gas costs and about 70% of the increase in gasoline and diesel. Now it will also cover 100% of the increases in fuel costs. (Informe Pastran, 29 April 2022)

New School in Indigenous Community Built and Equipped
The Education Ministry reported that US$444,115 was invested to build and equip the Simeón Walls School in the Kuanwatla Indigenous community in the Prinzapolka municipality of the North Caribbean Autonomous Region. The financing is part of the Project for Improvement and Rehabilitation of Educational Centers carried out by the Government to ensure access to free and quality education. (Nicaragua News, 25 April, 2020)

Solar System Inaugurated in South Caribbean Community
The National Electricity Company inaugurated a 167-panel solar system in Arenitas community in the Pearl Lagoon municipality of the South Caribbean Autonomous Region, benefiting 870 inhabitants. The funding of US$360,336 was provided by the General Budget with support from the Export and Import Bank of South Korea and is part of the Supply and Installation of Solar Panels in Rural Areas Project of the National Program for Sustainable Electrification and Renewable Energy, implemented by the Government. (Nicaragua News, 25 April 2020)

Nicaragua in the United Nations
At the 21st session of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, Carlos Alemán Cunningham, Coordinator of the Autonomous Regional Government of the North Caribbean Coast outlined the progress made in the restoration of the rights of Indigenous peoples through the country’s legal framework including the Constitutional recognition of territorial, property, cultural, political, and social rights. Nicaragua implements special community health models in the autonomous Caribbean regions and a regional autonomous education system. Nicaragua has granted land titles to Indigenous communities in the Autonomous Regions of the Caribbean as well as the areas of the Bocay, Indio and Maíz Rivers. Aleman Cunningham also said that Nicaragua will continue working to strengthen the coordination and joint planning mechanisms for the governance of the autonomous regions to continue restoring the rights of Native Peoples. (Radio La Primerisima, 30 April 2022)

50 New Ambulances and 50 Trucks for Health Centers and Hospitals
As part of the efforts to strengthen capabilities for immediate response to medical emergencies, the Ministry of Health delivered 50 fully equipped ambulances and 50 pickup trucks to healthcare centers and hospitals throughout the country. The US$3.1 million for the vehicles was provided by the General Budget. (NicaNotes, 28 April, 2022)

More Fetal Surgeries
Doctors at the Bertha Calderón Women’s Hospital in Managua performed 20 surgical procedures on babies with health problems in April including 13 intrauterine fetal surgeries (in the mother’s womb), and seven surgeries performed immediately after birth. The first fetal surgery in the mother’s womb was performed in 2021 by a group of specialists led by Dr. Néstor Pavón, the first fetal surgeon in Nicaragua. The surgery was to correct the problem of spina bifida in a fetus at 6½ months of pregnancy. (Radio La Primerisima, 2 May 2022)

WFP Supports the School Meal Program
The representative of the World Food Program in Nicaragua, Gloria Testolín, has highlighted the government school meal program saying, “The emblematic School Meal Program is an important investment in the new generations.” Testolín said she was pleased to see “that also in the National Plan to Fight Poverty, the North Caribbean Coast is well highlighted as a region of attention, investment and programs.… We act in the country with a Strategic Plan for the period 2019-2023, which has been developed with the Government and approved by our Executive Board…and it is in line with the National Development Plan because it was developed in 2017, 2018, and with the Plan to Fight Poverty.” She said that the WFP supports the government’s sustainable food systems, the whole thematic of integrated risk management, and adaptation to climate change. Small producers and cooperatives are also supported. (Informe Pastran, 2 May 2022)

Nicaragua Elected Chair of Sustainable Tourism Committee for the ACS
Nicaragua was elected to chair the Special Committee on Sustainable Tourism for the period 2022-2023 in the XXVII Ordinary Meeting of the Ministerial Council of the Association of Caribbean States (ACS). Nicaragua also supported Venezuela which was elected as Chair of the Special Committee on Disaster Risk Reduction. Nicaragua stressed the importance of taking up the application of the People’s Republic of China to join the Association of Caribbean States as an Observer State, noting that China is the second largest trading partner of Latin America and the Caribbean and its programs like the Silk Road Economic Belt and Road, the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, and the Global Development Initiative are in line with the priorities outlined in the Plan 2022-2028 of the ACS. (Informe Pastran, 2 May 2022)

Successful Meeting with Potential Investors
Businessmen from Italy and France expressed great interest in investing in Nicaragua, highlighting very important aspects like security and economic stability. Nicaraguan diplomats in Belgium held a meeting with businessmen Lucio Gros and Giovanni Rinaldi, who reside in that nation. At the request of the investors, this meeting was held with the objective of exploring investment possibilities, identifying the country as the first and best option in the Central American region. They considered Nicaragua first because of its internationally recognized security and because of the stable economic conditions. They see Nicaragua as an ideal country to live in, among other things, because of its natural beauty, privileged climate and the peace enjoyed there. The diplomats shared information regarding economic development and growth of foreign direct investment, incentive policies for investment, as well as data on agricultural production and clean and renewable energies, sectors in which they expressed interest in investing. (Radio La Primerisima, 29 April 2022)

Students Will Commemorate “National Dignity Day”
The Education Ministry will hold a day of activities to mark May 4, “National Dignity Day” in commemoration of Augusto C. Sandino’s rejection of the Pact of Espino Negro on May 4, 1927, the beginning of the rebellion that became the National Liberation War led by Sandino against US military intervention. The main demand of Sandino and his peasant army was for the Marines to leave Nicaragua which they finally did in 1933. Schools throughout the country will hold exhibitions, art festivals, video forums and sports events to commemorate this date. (Radio La Primerisima, 2 May 2022)

USA TODAY: 5 Reasons to Visit the Corn Islands in Nicaragua
On April 26, USA TODAY highlighted the Corn Islands for their beauty and affordability.  The article says: “Comprised of two islands, Big Corn and Little Corn, these Caribbean gems offer blinding white sand beaches, turquoise bays, super-welcoming locals and a taste of what places like Thailand were like 20-plus years ago. Relatively hard to get to and off the main Caribbean radar, you’re in for a treat if you make the effort to come here.” Although Little Corn Island takes longer to get to, the author writes, “Little Corn Island has no roads or cars, everything comes in by boat and one of the main pastimes here is sitting along the beachfront of the island’s only real ‘village,’ and watching activity on the boat pier come and go.” See article: Here (USA TODAY, 26 April 2022)