The US embassy and European Union are meeting with right-wing Nicaraguan opposition leaders and pressuring them to unite against elected leftist President Daniel Ortega in the lead-up to the 2021 election.
By Ben Norton, reprinted from Grayzone Project February 7, 2020
A far-right opposition figure in Nicaragua has boasted that the country’s unpopular opposition forces are meeting with representatives from the US embassy and European Union, who have pledged them support in their bid to oust the ruling leftist Sandinista Front government.
According to this rightist Evangelical leader, the US government and EU are pressuring Nicaragua’s badly divided opposition to unite in the lead-up to the 2021 election, with the goal of unseating the Sandinistas.
This frank admission of foreign meddling in Nicaragua’s democracy comes after a violent coup attempt in 2018, in which right-wing groups funded and supported by the US government failed to overthrow the elected president, Daniel Ortega.
The Donald Trump administration has declared the small nation of Nicaragua to be a supposed “national security threat,” and has imposed several rounds of aggressive sanctions on the country, with the aim of destabilizing its economy.
The violence and economic warfare has failed to weaken the popularity of the ruling FSLN party, however. A survey released this January by a mainstream polling firm found that 63.5 percent of Nicaraguans plan to vote for the Sandinistas in the upcoming election, while the opposition really only has the dedicated support of around 11.5 percent of the population.
‘We met with political advisers from the US embassy and the European Union’
On January 30, right-wing leaders from a group called the Civic Alliance for Justice and Democracy (ACJD) held a press conference to announce their expansion as part of a process of “fortifying.”
The ACJD is a coalition of opposition groups, several of which are funded by the US government and coordinate closely with Washington. It was formed in 2018 during the coup attempt against the Sandinistas.
In the press conference and a subsequent printed statement, the ACJD announced that it is in the process of creating “a National Coalition, wide, pluralist, and committed to the change that Nicaragua needs.”
Among the opposition figures at the presser was Saturnino Cerrato, the fundamentalist Evangelical leader of the rabidly right-wing Party for Democratic Restoration (PRD).
Cerrato, a minor figure in Nicaraguan politics who is barely known outside far-right circles, said his party is eager to become part of the right-wing National Coalition, arguing “there is a total opening” for the opposition.
He revealed that this demand for opposition unity is not only coming from inside the country, but also from powerful foreign actors.
“First it is a national demand, from the national community, and next it is also a demand from the international community,” Cerrato explained.
“In these days — the day before yesterday and today — we met with political advisers from the US embassy and the European Union,” Cerrato said in the January 30 press conference, which was livestreamed on Facebook.
The US embassy and EU told the opposition leaders, “We are ready to support a large movement that is formed in Nicaragua,” he recalled.
“And one of the advisers said, ‘We are surprised that it has taken so much time to form that unity,’” he added.
Cerrato said the pressure both from within and outside convinced his party to join the National Coalition efforts.
US and EU backing far-right fringe figures in Latin America
Before the US-backed coup attempt against Nicaragua’s elected Sandinista government in 2018, Saturnino Cerrato was virtually unknown in the country. His PRD party received just over 4 percent in the 2016 general elections.
A 2017 poll by major firm showed that more than 85 percent of Nicaraguans did not even know who Cerrato was or had no opinion of him. Of those who did know the right-wing pastor, they had a mostly negative view of him. (For perspective, this same poll found that 80 percent of Nicaraguans had a positive view of the leftist President Daniel Ortega, and just 11 percent had a negative view.)
A Nicaraguan activist told The Grayzone that figures like Cerrato “don’t have much local influence. But he is an Evangelical pastor who have the ability to influence many Evangelical groups.”
“He does not have a lot of people, he has one of the parties with very few votes,” the activist said. “But after the coup attempt they have tried to become more influential.”
The US government has a long history of elevating fringe far-right figures like these in coup efforts targeting independent leftist governments in Latin America.
In the putsch against Bolivia’s democratically elected leftist government in November 2019, for instance, Washington supported the installation of a Christian extremist with a long and documented history of anti-indigenous racism, Jeanine Añez. Her fringe opposition party also reaped just over 4 percent of the vote in the 2019 general elections.
More US-backed opposition groups leading Nicaragua alliance efforts
The opposition is moving towards greater unity while the Trump administration escalates its pressure campaign against Nicaragua’s government.
On January 31, the acting assistant secretary for the US State Department’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, Michael G. Kozak, tweeted condemnation of the elected Ortega government and expressed support for the major right-wing newspaper, La Prensa.
Owned by the oligarchic Chamorro family, La Prensa is the traditional mouthpiece for the opposition. It has a long history of receiving funding from the US government through the CIA front the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and was indispensable in the US government’s propaganda campaign against Nicaragua during its Contra proxy war in the 1980s.
The January 30 press conference held by Nicaragua’s Civic Alliance for Justice and Democracy featured several other prominent right-wing opposition activists who are backed by Washington.
Among the co-sponsors was Juan Sebastián Chamorro of the powerful Chamorro clan, a wealthy family that has controlled Nicaragua for much of its history. His neoliberal think tank, the Nicaraguan Foundation for Economic and Social Development (FUNIDES), has been bankrolled with millions of dollars by the US government’s soft-power arm the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and used as a conduit for funding smaller opposition groups.
Helping to organize the press conference was the group Blue and White National Unity (UNAB). Like the right-wing Civic Alliance, the UNAB was founded in 2018, in the wake of the failed coup attempt. It is an integral part of the US- and EU-backed efforts to form an opposition alliance. UNAB has even changed its photos on social media to call for a “National Coalition.”
Ben Norton is a journalist, writer, and filmmaker. He is the assistant editor of The Grayzone, and the producer of the Moderate Rebels podcast, which he co-hosts with editor Max Blumenthal. His website is BenNorton.com and he tweets at @BenjaminNorton.
By Nan McCurdy
New Film on Nicaragua
“Nicaragua – the April Crisis and Beyond”, a film by Dan Kovalik and German Gutierrez
Nicaragua Most Secure Country in Central America
A recent study published by the InSight Crime research center finds Nicaragua has one of the lowest homicide rates in Latin America and the Caribbean. According to this research, Nicaragua ranks fourth in Latin America with 7.5 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants, a rate only surpassed by Ecuador, Argentina and Chile. In Central America, Honduras is the nation with the highest homicide rate with 41.2, followed by El Salvador with 36 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants, Guatemala has 21.5 and Costa Rica 11 homicides, respectively. Nicaragua surpasses countries like Peru, Dominican Republic, Uruguay, Panama, Brazil, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Colombia and Jamaica, among others. In its annual balance of homicides, InSight Crime analyses the murder rates in each country, as well as the factors that influence these rates. In the case of Nicaragua, after an increase in violence in 2018 due to the attempted coup, the levels recorded in 2019 fell to the levels of 2017 and 2016. (Informe Pastran, 2/5/20)
Criminals Create Climate of Insecurity in Bonanza
The relatives of the four young Mayangnas who were atrociously murdered by a criminal group on January 29 in the municipality of Bonanza, North Caribbean Autonomous Region, filed a formal complaint with the Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office on Feb. 5. Mayangna Professor Elías López Sebastián denounced the murder of his son by a criminal group and expressed fear because of the general citizen insecurity generated by such groups that want to take over their territories. “What happened that day was unforeseen; we were working the land. That group arrived at night and murdered my son and then burned the house, so we ask the government to intervene to bring about justice,” Lopez said in his mother tongue. Linda Rosa Gutiérrez said that her son was atrociously murdered by this criminal group and she asked for justice and support. “We are poor, indigenous people. This is so painful as a mother, and I ask for the full weight of the law,” she said. For his part, Melvin Davis, also from the Alal community, denounced the murder of his 22-year-old brother, who was fishing when he was tortured and killed. “We want the government to intervene to get these criminal groups out of the territory. If they are free it can happen again,” he said.
All of the complainants stated that a police post is needed in the communities to guarantee security in the reserve since they are remote territories. They all repeated that these criminal groups are people who dedicate themselves to murdering, raping, and then go into hiding in the large extensions of Mayangna territory. This endangers the native peoples who are the ancestral and legal owners of these lands and who are not armed or prepared to face their criminal acts. “They are criminals who intimidate the Mayangna community with weapons in order to take the properties and sell them,” said Professor Lopez . The complaints were received by Attorney Darling Rios, who stated that there is a comprehensive plan for immediate attention to the affected families and for rebuilding their homes. She said that police investigations continue. (Radiolaprimerisima, 2/6/20)
Man Attacked at UCA Demands Justice
José Leonel Suazo, who works as a gardener in a Managua hospital and was savagely attacked by a group of anti-government delinquents at the Central American University (UCA), demanded justice in that case on Feb. 5 saying his rights were violated. In declarations to Juventud Presidente, Suazo explained that when he went to seek information about studying English at the UCA he had no idea that he would be savagely attacked. “I was there to preregister for English; when I was leaving, I found that the gate was closed and that there was a protest. They were yelling at me but I didn’t think about it because I thought it wasn’t me, but then they jumped me and took my phone, and they began to beat me,” said Suazo. One of the attackers hit him with a belt on his back, while others kicked him, at which time the UCA security guards arrived but the situation got worse. “Suddenly I felt the blow on one part of my hand and that is why it is so swollen. They held me and hit me one after the other,” added Suazo. They demanded to see his documents, which he showed them. When they found a card from the National Police Commissariat they continued beating him. “They said I was a policeman, however the card does not say that I am a policeman; I am a gardener, I make an honest living, I work in a hospital,” he stressed.
Suazo asked the authorities at the Central American University to expel his attackers. “I am asking that my rights be respected; it is regrettable that a human rights organization such as the IACHR has not taken a stand on my case, so I am going to take precautionary measures, I am going to demand my legal rights. Today it happened to me, we don’t know who it will happen to next.” Short documentary here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_jd9lG5FYZg (Radiolaprimerisima, 2/6/20)
Workers, Government and Businesses Agree on Increase in Minimum Wage
The National Minimum Wage Roundtable agreed to increase the minimum wage for workers in the country who earn the lowest salary as of March 2020. The president of the Nicaraguan Council of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (CONIMIPYME), Leonardo Torres, said, “In order to fulfill the principle of dialogue and consensus for making key decisions for the economy and the supreme interest of the nation, CONIMIPYME has yielded in its proposal and supports an increase in the minimum wage of 2.63% as of March.” (Informe Pastran, 2/6/20)
Thousands Walk to Support Nicaraguan Women’s Rights
Sandinistas took to the streets around the country Feb. 8 supporting the progress on gender issues being made by the Sandinista Government. With the chant “We dream big in Nicaragua,” Janice Ruiz said that women support the government: “Here we are, the women of Bilwi, reaffirming the determination we have to continue moving forward with this government that has restored the rights of all women, we raise a single cry for the future: “Thank you President Ortega for all the effort and support for the Miskito, Mayangnas, mestizo and Creole women.” (Canal 8, 2/8/20)
Improvements on Granada Highway
Nicaragua Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure (MTI) Oscar Mojica announced that the improvement project on the Granada-Malacatoya highway began today. The US$7.28 million project will benefit 39,927 inhabitants in ten communities of the Department of Granada. Funding for the project comes from the General Budget of the Republic. (Nicaragua News, 2/5/20)
More Support for Small Coffee Producers
The Ministry of the Family Economy (MEFCCA) is allocating US$589,622 to support 400 small coffee growers in the Departments of Nueva Segovia, Estelí, Jinotega, Madriz and Matagalpa. This is part of the Strategy for the Development and Transformation of Coffee Growing that the Government is implementing in support of sustainable development of the sector. (Nicaragua News, 2/5/20)
Major Investment in Sports and Recreation in 2020
In 2020 new baseball and soccer stadiums will be built as well as multipurpose courts. Four new parks similar to the large Luis Alfonso Velázquez Park in Managua will be built. Marlon Torres, executive director of the Nicaraguan Institute of Sports said that during the government of Enrique Bolaños an average of US$800,000 was spent annually, but since President Daniel Ortega took office the sports budget has increased year by year to US$14.5 million that will be invested in 2020, a growth of 639%. “This is good news for Nicaragua, for sports, families and athletes, because we are going to have new sports infrastructure.” (Informe Pastran, 2/5/20)
Nicaragua Highlighted as Great Tourist Destination
The Sun, a British newspaper, has included Nicaragua among its 10 “hottest” destinations for 2020. Travel editor Lisa Scott notes that a “new chapter has opened for the Central American country,” and that it is “not surprising” that Nicaragua is being recognized as a key emerging destination, for its volcanoes, biological diversity and rainforest. “The Sun” is the best-selling newspaper in the UK, reaching 4.2 million readers and 8.5 million unique daily users of its digital platforms.
Also, The Intrepid Travel platform is launching its annual ‘Not Hot List’ which highlights a selection of lesser-discovered destinations that deserve attention and among them have placed Nicaragua as a destination to visit. Intrepid Travel assures that “Nicaragua has seen a resurgence in tourism, which allows the return to the land of lakes and volcanoes, where nature is uninterrupted, the food is delicious and the boarding of a volcano is really a bit scary but exciting.” (Informe Pastran, 2/10/20)