By Rita Jill Clark-Gollub, an active member of Friends of Latin America in Maryland, and Assistant Editor/Translator at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs.
The corporate media is again awash with accusatory articles about Nicaragua, claiming that the government is disqualifying political opponents to give the FSLN an easy win in this year’s elections. Let’s take a look at what is actually happening, from new laws, to eligibility of political parties, to treatment of those accused of crimes. It is a combination of people engaged in real crimes claiming to be presidential candidates before they get arrested, an incredible amount of U.S. regime change money flowing into the country for years, and Nicaraguan government institutions trying to put a stop to it.
The first and most important element of context is that Nicaragua is a country under attack. Since the 2018 coup attempt, documents have come to light indicating that the leaders of the violence were receiving tens of millions of dollars from such CIA front groups as USAID and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) through programs to “promote democracy” and “facilitate transition”—code words for regime change. Additionally, as revealed in August 2020, there is an ongoing USAID coup plot called Responsive Assistance in Nicaragua (RAIN) which seeks to ensure that this year’s election results in a government to the liking of the U.S. The document even admits that the FSLN is likely to win in a fair election, in which case a “sudden, unanticipated transition” may be necessary. Finally, there is a very active effort in the U.S. Congress to impose additional and far-reaching sanctions on Nicaragua: the RENACER Act. Its “targeted sanctions” take blunt aim at virtually half the population—including all government officials and members of the FSLN party and their family members. This would be an unprecedented escalation of unilateral coercive measures that could potentially plunge this financially stable nation into the economic hardship currently being experienced by Cuba, Venezuela, and Iran.
The various branches of the Nicaraguan government have responded. First, some important laws have been passed by the legislature in the past few months. The Foreign Agents Law (modeled on an 83-year-old law in the U.S.) requires nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to give an accounting of any foreign funding they receive, including who its donors are, what money was received, the purpose of donations, and a description of how the money was spent. This information needs to correspond to the NGO’s financial statements. Another recently enacted law is the Law to Defend the Rights of the People to Independence, Sovereignty, and Self-Determination for Peace. The law says, among other things, that those who fund or lead a coup d’état or who facilitate or encourage economic or other sanctions against the Nicaraguan State or its citizens, may be charged with treason and prevented from holding public office. The Ministry of Justice is in charge of prosecutions under these and other laws.
Legal recognition of political parties and elections governance
Legal status has long been an issue given the infighting and splintering of opposition parties, particularly since the 2018 coup attempt and despite the best efforts of the U.S. embassy in Managua to form a united opposition. But new electoral reforms allow parties to receive government reimbursement for election campaigns, even if they enjoy less than 4% support. While polls show that if the opposition can unite around a single candidate, it could potentially garner up to 21% of the vote, such unity has remained elusive; meanwhile, the FSLN has consistently polled upwards of 60%. This makes it hard to swallow reports in the corporate media of the government eliminating opposition parties to ensure an FSLN victory. One such story is that of the Party for Democratic Restoration (PRD) which recently lost its legal recognition. But this was not done at the initiative of the government; rather, board members of the PRD itself asked the Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) to annul its status because they accused the evangelical pastor leading the organization of ignoring the party’s own statutes and forming an alliance without its members’ agreement.
Another favorite theme of Nicaragua’s detractors is that the Supreme Electoral Council (CSE), the fourth branch of government that oversees elections, is biased in favor of the FSLN. Recent electoral reforms included some of those suggested by the Organization of American States after the 2016 election. A new CSE was elected in May that includes one-third members from outside the governing party despite the FSLN having a super majority in the National Assembly, as detailed by Louise Richards in NicaNotes of three weeks ago. This CSE is also one of the most diverse electoral bodies in the region, including several indigenous and Afro-descendant persons, and a female majority. But Washington is still upset with its composition since none of its favorite politicians were elected by the National Assembly.
Enforcement of laws to protect national sovereignty
Last week the Director of the Violeta Barrios de Chamorro Foundation (FVBCH), Cristiana Chamorro, was charged with money laundering and placed under house arrest after she refused to account for the millions of dollars she received from USAID and other U.S. government agencies and foundations in recent years. The day before, U.S. journalist Ben Norton published an extensive exposé of how her Foundation has been used to channel millions to an assortment of opposition NGOs and media outlets favorable to U.S. regime change plans. One of the most scandalous revelations in this article is how the vast network of Nicaraguan opposition media outlets has been cultivated and nurtured by USAID and the NED. Anyone who has been watching Nicaragua knows that these supposedly “independent” media in Nicaragua have been the main source of Nicaragua news reported here in the United States. In other words, in my country most people get information about Nicaragua from the CIA!
The sums of money that Nicaraguan journalist William Grigsby, Ben Norton, and others have revealed are astronomical for a poor country of 6.5 million people. In fact, the USAID website indicates that since 2015 it has spent US$160,586,742 on Nicaraguan NGOs. This sum must be put into context. It amounts to US$24.70 per person in Nicaragua. If a hostile foreign power wanted to do this to the United States, it would have to spend US$8.2 BILLION to cover the US population of 331 million. A comparison of the wealth of the two countries makes the figure even more outrageous. Nicaragua’s GDP is around $12 billion, while the GDP of the US is around $21 trillion—that makes the U.S. economy more than 1,750 times larger than Nicaragua’s. We can multiply US$160,586,742 by that figure to see that for the U.S. economy this would be like a hostile infusion of US$281 BILLION. No wonder Nicaragua has begun to ask for an accounting of the money. US citizens, who were so alarmed by reports of Russian interference in US elections, should be equally concerned and alarmed by this massive US interference in the elections of small countries like Nicaragua around the world.
A sad corollary to this is that Nicaragua is not receiving aid funds from the U.S. that it would like to receive and that might actually help people. The country was blocked from receiving COVID relief funds from multilateral organizations until the end of 2020; after Nicaragua took the first and hardest blows from hurricanes Eta and Iota in November 2020, it received only a fraction of the aid the U.S. sent to Honduras and Guatemala; and Nicaragua is excluded from the COVID-19 vaccine assistance that the U.S. recently decided to provide to other countries.
Cristiana Chamorro’s own statement about the propriety of her funds is rather bizarre: “The US State Department rejected the charges of money laundering against the Violeta Barrios de Chamorro Foundation based on audits they conducted that did not find evidence of money laundering or diversion of funds.” Not only does she expect the fox to guard the henhouse, she has forgotten which country she lives in. The charges against her also include depositing Foundation money into her personal bank account.
Chamorro and her supporters are calling this a political prosecution. Although at the very end of May and as the seriousness of the charges against her became apparent, Ms. Chamorro announced her intent to seek the opposition alliance’s nomination for president, she was never a viable candidate, was barely visible in the polls, and was never a model of “independent journalism.” Most importantly, not prosecuting her because she claims to be a candidate would be against Nicaraguan law. As Italian journalist Fabrizio Casari says, “That Daniel Ortega may fear her candidacy looks like hyperbole. [But] to think that the judiciary should stop the process just because she is a self-appointed candidate would be politicization of justice.”
The aforementioned Law to Defend the Rights of the People to Independence, Sovereignty, and Self-Determination for Peace is being applied in some high-profile cases. Arturo Cruz, a businessman who had also thrown his hat into the ring for the opposition coalition’s nomination, was apprehended on June 5 upon arrival at the airport from the United States with a large sum of undeclared foreign currency. The prosecutor’s office indicates that there is strong evidence that he was in the United States calling for and collaborating in efforts to impose sanctions on Nicaragua, and that he was paid for this. Some wonder whether he brought in a briefcase full of cash because he wanted to be arrested, knowing that it would play well in the mainstream press. And on June 8 Felix Maradiaga was charged with violating that same law and also arrested. Maradiaga, a Harvard-educated Aspen Fellow who is a long-time recipient of NED funds through his own NGO, became notorious during the 2018 coup attempt as one of the masterminds of the violence. He benefited from the amnesty granted by the government in 2019 to all those involved in crimes related to the 2018 violence, and since then he has been traveling to the U.S. and international organizations, openly advocating for sanctions to be imposed on his country. Given the animosity he has created for himself among average Nicaraguans, it is astounding that he could call himself a presidential candidate. As we go to press, another person was arrested on June 8 and charged under this law. Juan Chamorro García had also been publicly calling for sanctions against his country to help facilitate the overthrow of the government. He has received millions of dollars from Washington, primarily through his NGO FUNIDES, some of it channeled through his cousin Cristiana at the Violeta Barrios de Chamorro Foundation.
Yes, the new laws to protect the country from foreign interference are being enforced, and there are likely to be more arrests. People are being prosecuted based on evidence, regardless of name recognition and social status.
Commentators have noticed another aspect of U.S. hypocrisy, which is that it complains when legal action is taken against its allies in Latin American politics, but turns a blind eye when clearly contrived legal maneuvers are taken against its enemies. This happened when Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was prevented from running for election in Brazil and Rafael Correa was forced into exile from Ecuador, to name just two examples of “lawfare” waged against leftist politicians with US support.
What can we do?
It is very important for those of us in the solidarity movement to remember why the current Nicaraguan government is polling so strongly among the people: it has rejected neoliberal capitalism in favor of protecting the people and planet with policies that have brought more prosperity to more Nicaraguans since 2007 than at any other point in the nation’s history. For this it has incurred the wrath of the corporate-dominated government of the United States. Our role in this situation remains the same as it has always been: to advocate for our country to stop spending our tax dollars to meddle in other countries’ affairs. That is, to allow the Nicaraguan people to forge their own path, unencumbered by the old U.S. neocolonial mindset that purports to know what is best for people in other countries.
This week marks the four-year anniversary of the passing of an important Nicaraguan leader, Fr. Miguel d’Escoto, who was Foreign Minister in the 1980s and President of the UN General Assembly in 2008-2009. A quote of his is very apropos of this moment: “It is totally incomprehensible that anyone would call themselves a democrat while at the same time seeking the sponsorship of Washington for their electoral aspirations.” Some recorded interviews give more insights into his thoughts about the U.S.-funded opposition in Nicaragua, Daniel Ortega’s continuation in office, and how the U.S. government defines democracy. Reviewing them is a great way to get guidance for this moment and honor the legacy of Fr. Miguel: “The United Nations Is Beyond Refo rm…It Has to Be Reinvented”–Fmr. UN General Assembly President Miguel d’Escoto | Democracy Now! And “Reagan Was the Butcher of My People:” Fr. Miguel D’Escoto Speaks From Nicaragua | Democracy Now!
By Nan McCurdy
CSE Swears in Departmental and Regional Electoral Councils
The Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) on June 6, swore in people for the 102 positions, including proprietary and alternate officials, for the 15 Departmental and two Regional Electoral Councils. According to a CSE press release, out of the 17 Electoral Councils, 50% plus one are presided over by women: nine women have been appointed as presidents along with eight men; and out of the 51 positions of proprietary members of the Departmental and Regional Electoral Councils, 26 are held by women and 25 by men. An FSLN member is President of nine Departmental Councils in Managua, Esteli, Leon, Carazo, the RAAN, Masaya, Boaco, Matagalpa, and Nueva Segovia. In these nine Departments the First Members are part of the Liberal Constitutionalist Party (PCL). A PLC member is the president of the Departmental Councils in eight Departments: Rivas, the RAAS, Madriz, Chinandega, Granada, Rio San Juan, Jinotega and Chontales and in those departments the position of First Member is held by a member of the FSLN Party. The Electoral law awards the top positions in these bodies according to the percentage of the vote they received in the last election . (Radio La Primerisima, 6 June 2021)
CSE Describes Who Can Be Candidates
On June 3 the Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) issued a decision that the legally registered parties must present candidates for elective offices who comply with the requirements established by the Constitution and the laws of the Republic. It is the obligation of the CSE “to ensure compliance with the provisions of the Constitution of the Republic regarding the requirements set forth in Article 143.” That article states: “To be President or Vice President of the Republic the following qualities are required:
1) To be a national of Nicaragua. Whoever has acquired another nationality must have renounced it at least four years before the election takes place.
2) To be in full enjoyment of his/her civil and political rights.
3) To have reached twenty-five years of age.
4) Have resided continuously in the country for the four years prior to the election, unless during said period he/she fulfills a diplomatic mission, works in international organizations or studies abroad.”
The CSE points out that citizens may not be registered as candidates for elective office who do not meet the qualifications, who have impediments or are prohibited in accordance with the Political Constitution of the Republic of Nicaragua, Law No. 1040,
Law for the Regulation of Foreign Agents, and Law No. 1055, Defense of the People’s Rights. Law No. 1055 in Article 1 establishes: Nicaraguans who head or finance a coup d’état, who alter the constitutional order, who foment terrorist acts, who carry out acts that undermine independence, sovereignty, and self-determination, who request foreign interference in internal affairs, who call for military interventions, who organize with foreign funding to execute acts of terrorism and destabilization, who request economic or commercial blockades and financial operations against the country and its institutions, and those who demand, exalt and applaud the imposition of sanctions against the State of Nicaragua and its citizens, and all those who harm the supreme interests of the nation contemplated in the legal system, shall not be eligible for elected office.”
The decision of the CSE establishes that it must “comply with the constitution and laws. The CSE must follow up on any behavior contrary to such provisions by any candidate or citizen who wants to be a candidate.” (Radio La Primerisima, 3 June 2021)
US$17.5 Million from US and Europe to Fund Fake News for 2018 Coup
[The brilliant Brazilian educator Paulo Freire, a leading advocate of critical pedagogy wrote that manipulation of public thinking “is an instrument of conquest” and an indispensable means by which the “dominant elites try to conform the masses to their objectives.”]
The Violeta Barrios de Chamorro Foundation received at least US$17.5 million from US agencies and foundations as well as from European organizations from February 2017 to July 2018, leading up to and during the 2018 coup attempt. US$16.7 million was given by US agencies and foundations to finance media terrorism [lies, fake news and distortion to foment assassinations and hate, destabilize and create chaos in Nicaragua] to incite and maintain the coup attempt. The Foundation also received €679,530 from Europe. The attempted coup left families in mourning, many people traumatized as well as much destruction and severe damage to the economy resulting in unemployment.
The Foundation’s Director, Cristiana Chamorro, was accused by the Public Prosecutor’s Office of the crimes of abusive management, ideological falsehood, along with money laundering, and given house arrest on June 2, 2021.
From the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) on Nov. 11, 2017, the Foundation received US$564,134 for a project “promoting independent journalism and freedom of expression.”
On March 9, 2018 the Foundation received US$6,722,325 from two of the Soros Foundations owned by New York-based tycoon George Soros. For the project, “independent and transparent journalism,” it received US$6,148,325 and from the Open Society Foundation on July 26, 2018, it received US$574,000 for the “independent journalism and citizenship” project.
The 2017-2018 funding of opposition media and journalists through the Chamorro Foundation by USAID, NED and Soros Foundations was US$16,696,312 million just before and during the attempted coup. This is only part of US funding provided by agencies like USAID, NED, IRI, Freedom House and foundations with close ties to the Council on Foreign Relations. Just USAID spent more than US$160 million on opposition organizations between 2015 and 2021.
Europeans also supported the coup attempt. The Foundation received €679,530 sent by European organizations, including OXFAM-INTERMON, EIRENE BMZ and HIVOS. On March 18, 2018, OXFAM-INTERMON gave €121,000 to “strengthen the media;” on May 21, 2018, EIRENE BMZ gave €348,000 for “Promotion of a Culture of Peace” project; June 9, 2018, HIVOS gave €210,000 to the project “Defending Freedom of Expression.” [This amounts to about US$828,695 in dollars.]
Several so-called “independent” journalists received money directly from the Chamorro Foundation: Luis Galeano, María Lily Delgado, Miguel Mora Barberena, Dino Andino, Gerald Chávez, Roberto Mora, Lucía Pineda, Wendy Quintero, Jenifer Ortiz, Héctor Rosales, Álvaro Navarro, Uriel Hernández, Uriel Pineda, Carlos Salinas, Jackson Orozco, Leticia Gaitán, Fidelina Suárez, Patricia Orozco and Anibal Toruño.
Much of the US-funded opposition media apparatus in Nicaragua was designed and funded by the US after the FSLN won the 2006 elections after 17 years out of power. A subversive front of newspapers, magazines, television stations and programs, radio stations and programs, websites, news agencies, and social media pages has been formed. Journalists and media outlets were paid for by the US (through the USAID, NED, and US foundations) and administered by the Chamorros, who specialized in fake media campaigns to try to promote anti-Sandinista hatred and mistrust of the government and, later, the 2018 coup. (Radio La Primerisima, 2 June 2021)
Juan Sebastian Chamorro Detained
A former official of the government of Enrique Bolaños (2002-2007), Juan Sebastian Chamorro García was arrested June 8. He is the fourth person arrested in the last five days for breaking the Foreign Agents Law or that of Defense of the Rights of the People which sanctions those who request foreign interference like economic sanctions. All four now in custody have promoted the intervention of the United States in Nicaragua and the isolation of the country from international support, with the purpose of overthrowing the democratically elected government of President Daniel Ortega. Chamorro received millions of dollars from the US government primarily through his NGO, FUNIDES. (Radio La Primerisima, 8 June 2021)
Investigation of Cristiana Chamorro for Money Laundering Continues
The Public Prosecutor’s Office continues investigations in the money laundering case against Cristiana Chamorro, Director of the Violeta Barrios de Chamorro Foundation and daughter of former president Violeta Barrios de Chamorro. Chamorro was granted house arrest during the investigation. (Radio La Primerisima, 3 June 2021)
Arturo Cruz Investigated for Requesting US Sanctions against Nicaragua
On June 6 the Public Prosecutor’s Office filed a request for a 90 day extension to investigate Arturo Cruz Sequeira, for attempting against the Nicaraguan society and the rights of the people, according to Law No. 1055 entitled “Law for the defense of the rights of the people to independence, sovereignty and self-determination for peace.” In accord with article 253 of Law 1060, the extension of the investigation and judicial detention is due to the seriousness of the crime: provocation, proposition and conspiracy to undermine the national integrity. Because there is the probability that Cruz could obstruct the process, the Public Prosecutor’s Office requested that he be placed at the order of the Fifth Criminal District Court, within 48 hours for a special hearing for the protection of constitutional guarantees. The judge agreed to the Prosecutor’s request, extending the term for the detention and investigation for up to 90 days. On June 7 the Fifth District Criminal Court held a Special Hearing for the Protection of Constitutional Guarantees, requested by the Public Prosecutor for Cruz Sequeira. [Cruz was detained at the airport as he returned from Washington DC.] (Informe Pastran, 6 June 2021)
Felix Maradiaga Arrested for Acts that Threaten the Country
The National Police reported on the June 8 arrest of Félix Maradiaga Blandón, for breaking Law No. 1055 “Law for the Defense of the Rights of the People to Independence, Sovereignty and Self-Determination for Peace.” He is accused of requesting foreign interference in Nicaragua’s internal affairs and carrying out acts of terrorism and destabilization against the population. Maradiaga demanded the imposition of sanctions against Nicaragua and its citizens and harmed the supreme interests of the nation, according to the press release. The press release said that police will carry out all pertinent investigative procedures and will refer Maradiaga to the competent authorities for his prosecution and determination of criminal responsibilities. (Radio La Primerisima, 8 June 2021)
CABEI President Praises Good Management and Excellent Relations
Nicaragua and the Central America Bank for Economic Integration (CABEI) signed two loans on June 2 for US$100 million for the acquisition of vaccines against Covid-19 and for US$18.5 million for the improvement of hospitals nationwide. During the activity, CABEI president Dante Mossi noted that the bank is financing a total of 25 projects with Nicaragua, due to the good management and excellent international relations between the bank and Nicaragua. Mossi and the Minister of Finance and Public Credit, Iván Acosta, said that the two agreements will allow Nicaragua to continue the battle against the Covid-19 pandemic and strengthen the hospital network system. (Radio La Primerisima, 2 June 2021)
UNESCO Representative Congratulates Nicaragua for Not Closing Schools
The Regional Representative of UNESCO, Julio Carranza, congratulated Nicaragua on June 3 for the effort to maintain face-to-face classes during the health pandemic, he said it was a very wise measure. He emphasized that the Covid-19 pandemic has had the strongest impact on the education system worldwide. Despite online education strategies, he said that the quality cannot be compared with the face-to-face modality. “Nicaragua through the leadership of the Ministry of Education and the Government has had an exceptional trajectory compared to other places, because they have tried to maintain as much as possible the face-to-face classes and this will be noticed in the short and long term in different statistics,” said Carranza. On June 3, the Education Ministry held a workshop on capacity building for education advisors with the participation of the regional representative of UNESCO. (Radio La Primerisma, 3 June 2021)
Mechnikov Institute in Nicaragua to Supply Vaccines to Latin America
The Méchnikov Latin American Institute of Biotechnology (ILBM), a vaccine plant with Russian technology, is working to become a supplier of Covid-19 vaccines for Latin America. The general manager of the ILBM, Stanislav Uiba, explained that “negotiations are progressing with several partners to start producing anti-covid vaccines at the Mechnikov Institute,” where emphasis is placed on those biological products that need a temperature of between two and eight degrees Celsius for their preservation, given the particularities of the Latin American region. He also said that the ILBM seeks to start producing the Russian vaccine CoviVac, developed and produced by the Chumakov Federal Scientific Center. He mentioned that ILBM’s main product is flu vaccines, and it collaborates with regional institutions such as the Pan American Health Organization’s Revolving Fund, a solidarity cooperation mechanism through which vaccines, syringes and related supplies are purchased on behalf of its member states. (Canal 2, 4 June, 2021)
First Quarter Economic Information is Positive
The Central Bank published first quarter 2021 information on the economy which shows recovery: in this first quarter the GDP registered an inter-annual growth of 3.4%. April remittances totaled US$170.8 million, an increase of 39.8% over the same month last year (US$122.2 million). (Informe Pastran, 8 June, 2021)
Weekly Covid Report
The Health Ministry reported that during the week of June 1 to 7 there were 136 new registered cases of Covid, 111 people recuperated, and 1 death. Since March 2020 there have been 6,085 registered cases of Covid, 5,716 have recuperated and 188 deaths. (Radio La Primerisima, 8 June 2021)