U.S. Interference in Nicaragua is not of now
By Jorge Capelán
U.S. interference in Nicaragua did not begin with the return to power of the Sandinista Front in 2007 nor with the defeated coup attempt of 2018, it has been an ingredient of its entire history.
Interference was permanent during Somoza’s dictatorship, during the 1980s and also during the so-called “long neoliberal night” between 1990 and 2006. During that period, the U.S. Embassy did not rest for a second in its efforts to destroy Sandinismo and to prevent Nicaragua from being free and sovereign. In this article we refresh the memory of some of those acts of intervention.
The Anglo-Saxon powers began meddling in Nicaraguan affairs as early as the beginning of the 19th century. For example, in 1825, the United States appointed as ambassador to Central America “a diplomat in charge of opposing the construction of a canal in Nicaragua by a Dutch company”, according to the Argentine historian Gregorio Selser in his Chronology of Foreign Interventions in Latin America.
We know quite well all the military interventions of the United States in Nicaragua, from William Walker to the Sandinista struggle, and we also know that the US had General Sandino assassinated at the hands of Somoza, “their son of a bitch”. Nicaragua under Somocismo was a Yankee protectorate. In the U.S. Embassy reports, murdered and tortured Sandinista guerrillas, or peasants thrown out of helicopters were simply called “terrorists”. On the other hand, if any leader of the liberal-conservative opposition was imprisoned, they went to visit him, worried about him and even gave the dictator a (not too hard) slap on the wrist.
We also know what they did in the 80s: They turned Nicaragua into the Syria of those times. They invested hundreds of millions in their so-called “low intensity” war against our people, in addition to applying a brutal blockade and mining our ports. The National Endowment for Democracy (NED) financed the National Opposition Union (UNO) with 12 million dollars of the time for the 1990 elections alone.
The interference continued in the 1990s, now with the participation of European governments through a whole network of NGOs. The objective was to guarantee the implementation of the neoliberal model, and above all to destroy the Sandinista National Liberation Front, yhe political instrument of the people organized and empowered by the revolution in 1979.
The United States soon realized that if they only financed the Liberal and Conservative groups, they would not get very far. The privatization policies they intended to implement generated great rejection among the population, and even the former foot Contra soldiers themselves realized that the promises of land and other benefits they had been given during the war would never be fulfilled.
For this reason, USAID decided to change its strategy and try to corrupt the Sandinista ranks by creating NGOs that had a patina of greater credibility among the population. The idea was to divide the Sandinista Front, discredit the leadership of Comandante Daniel, destroy what was left of the Armed Forces of the 1980s and blackmail the organized people with so-called “aid” from NGOs financed by the United States and Western governments.
For example, a 1996 USAID document entitled “Evaluation of Strengthening Democratic Institutions (SDI) USAID Nicaragua 524-03 16-C-00-5010” stated that “The tactic of supporting institutions that stood in opposition to Sandinista organizations was not particularly successful in terms of building sustainable institutions. Cases in point are the labor and human rights sectors (…) it must be recognized that this tactic did not further the accomplishment of the project purpose to as high a degree as the present tactic.”
The “current tactic” referred to in the document consisted of financing MRS NGOs such as Vilma Núñez’ CENIDH, Ethics and Transparency, Carlos Fernando Chamorro’s Grupo CINCO and many others. For example, one of the first USAID-funded activities of Ética y Transparencia was an observation visit to Fujimori’s local elections in Peru in 1995. The following year would see the dirtiest elections in Nicaragua’s history, in which the Sandinista Front, the front-runner in the polls, was snatched from victory.
Likewise, NGOs of a supposedly broad political character were financed to defend US interests in Nicaragua, for example, the Institute for Studies and Strategies of Public Policies (IEEPP) of the coup leader and now imprisoned Felix Maradiaga, which through seminars and “broad” meetings (i.e., with Sandinistas considered sympathetic to the MRS) tried to generate support for the MRS.
The U.S. government was trying to generate support for U.S. policies, especially its pressure on the Nicaraguan Army to turn over the Soviet SAM 7 missiles received during the war of the 1980s.
At the same time, European governments joined the U.S. strategy by promoting the smear campaign against Sandinismo. At the same time, they blackmailed thousands of Sandinistas active in many of the Western NGOs they financed to distance themselves from the FSLN on pain of losing their jobs or funding. Likewise, some European ambassadors, such as Sweden’s Eva Zetterberg, were known for issuing opinions on internal Nicaraguan politics every week in the media. These opinions generally aimed at attacking the Sandinista Front and in particular Commander Daniel Ortega.
The Zetterberg case is a clear example of the blatant interference of Western governments in Nicaragua’s internal affairs at that time. The ambassador appeared in the media week after week criticizing the Sandinista Front or anyone who in the eyes of the U.S. Embassy was seen as a factor that could improve the adverse correlation of forces that Sandinismo faced during the neoliberal period. In an interview with the Tortilla con Sal website prior to the FSLN’s return to government in 2007, Zetterberg went so far as to say that the IMF and the World Bank “had” to intervene in the country’s internal affairs because “Nicaraguans are incapable of managing their own affairs.”
Under the leadership of today’s Dora Maria Tellez and her cronies, the MRS collaborated extensively with the U.S. government.
Classified State Department cables released by WikiLeaks and analyzed by The Grayzone (06MANAGUA2434_a and 06MANAGUA1961_a) show that Téllez and other leaders of her MRS party met frequently with the U.S. embassy and served as informants for years.
In regular meetings with U.S. officials, Tellez, Sergio Ramirez, Hugo Torres Jimenez, Victor Hugo Tinoco and other senior MRS figures provided intelligence to the United States about the FSLN and Nicaragua’s internal politics in an attempt to prevent the Sandinistas from returning to power. They then helped Washington attempt to destabilize the government of President Daniel Ortega after he won the 2006 elections.
The embassy clearly stated that “the USG [U.S. government] position [is] that the MRS is a viable and constructive option, with whom the United States would maintain good relations” (cable 06MANAGUA1961_a).
The embassy added approvingly, “If the MRS can swing the votes to the FSLN and get some of the undecided votes, it is still a viable option and could be the key to keeping Ortega from winning.”
Prior to the 2006 elections, the MRS chose former Managua mayor and then MRS presidential candidate Herty Lewites, who met with the U.S. ambassador for breakfast assuring Washington that if he won he would maintain close relations with the United States.
Another Lewites, his nephew Israel, then spokesman for the MRS, also met with the embassy to reaffirm his total loyalty. From the published cables it is known that the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), one of the State Department’s main channels for political interference in other countries, had trained 30% of the party’s prosecutors for those elections.
The rest of the story is known: The Sandinista Front won the 2006 elections and determinedly but methodically set about continuing what had been interrupted in 1990. The interference of the United States and European countries continued all the time, but their local “peleles” (wimps or puppets), as General Sandino used to call them, sank deeper and deeper into political irrelevance. The US tried a defeated “color revolution” against the people in 2018 that ended up teaching the whole population what their real agenda towards the country was.
Today Nicaragua has a set of laws and institutional structures that effectively defend it against foreign interference, especially that of the United States. It can be said that since its beginnings as a nation Nicaragua has developed in spite of and against U.S. interference, and that it has achieved its true independence thanks to the popular victories of July 1979 and November 2006.