Nicaragua municipal elections: a welcome setback for imperialism
Another setback for US imperialism in its own “backyard”
When 2007 concluded with the narrow referendum defeat of the constitutional changes proposed by the government of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, Uncle Sam held his breath and prayed that 2008 might mark a setback for the revolutionary democratic challenge confronting it in a growing number of countries in its so-called “back yard”. Sadly for the reactionaries, 2008 has been another year of advance in many of these countries. Having won the Bolivian presidency in 2005 with around 54% of the vote, Evo Morales went on to win last August’s recall referendum with over 62%, delivering a national unity mandate which strengthened the patriotic forces in their struggle to prevent the well-heeled secessionists of Santa Cruz pitching the country into civil war. Across the region, ALBA (Alliance for a Bolivarian Alternative) continued to roll out its ambitious plans for cross-border cooperation on economic development, food security and resistance to subversion. And then, as 2008 drew to a close, the 9th November local elections in Nicaragua marked a further anti-imperialist milestone.
With the announcement of the final results on 20th November, it turned out that the FSLN (Sandinista National Liberation Front) had won 105 of the 146 municipalities, including the capital city of Managua where Alexis Argüelles defeated Eduardo Montealegre. The Constitutional Liberal Party Alliance (PLC Alliance) won in 37 while the Nicaraguan Liberal Alliance won in four. (The divisive MRS group of former FSLN members ruled themselves out of the count by refusing to comply with electoral law.) The FSLN increased its number of municipalities from 87 to 105 while the PLC saw a reduction from 58 to 37 municipalities. The FSLN won 13 of 17 departmental capitals. In short, for the first time since 1990, when a combination of US-funded Contra terrorism and “democratic” manipulation had reversed the Sandinista (FSLN) revolution, the FSLN-led unity coalition has succeeded in roundly defeating a united electoral front of the right-wing opposition.
Already in January 2007, following earlier divisions in the right-wing camp, the Nicaraguan people had secured for themselves an FSLN-led coalition government. This at once announced a series of programmes to reduce the appalling levels of poverty. “Zero Usury” assisted small business start-ups in the towns, whilst “Zero Hunger” supported low-income families in the countryside. “Streets for the People” patched up neglected urban areas, whilst “Houses for the People” provided affordable accommodation for the urban poor. All of these popular programmes, along with medical and literacy programmes, were helped by Venezuela and Cuba. The FSLN policy of giving support to small and medium scale agriculture also won it a degree of support from those sections of the business community not wholly in the pocket of US imperialism.
In addition to these progressive domestic policies, the FSLN leadership has established a clear anti-imperialist line in its foreign policy. Progressive forces around the world have welcomed the solidarity Ortega has extended to Iran (noting that Iran’s policy is in pursuit of peace and justice, and describing Iran as “the biggest victim of terrorism”), to Abkhazia and South Ossetia (whose independence he boldly hailed), and to those resisting oppression in Colombia (referring to FARC leader Manuel Marulanda as a “dear brother”, and denouncing the Uribe regime’s slaughter of Paul Reyes, one of seven members of the FARC secretariat).
Black propaganda against FSLN in the pre-election period
Now, with last November’s victory in the local elections, the FSLN has demonstrated its ability to consolidate its progressive leadership in the teeth of both a newly united right wing opposition and a most vicious campaign of destabilisation orchestrated by Washington. Right from 2007, the return of the Sandinistas drew howls of protest from reactionaries everywhere. Given the huge popularity of the poverty reduction measures, they had to concentrate on the manufacture of allegations about the supposed corruption and repression of the FSLN leadership, not stinting on the vilest unsubstantiated slurs against individuals.
We should note that this pattern of “regime change” subversion is familiar indeed. The MDC seldom dared openly attack the hugely popular Third Chimurenga in Zimbabwe, the most radical democratic redistribution of land outside of a socialist country since the French Revolution. Instead they served the turn of reaction by spreading lies about the “cronyism” of ZANU-PF and the “authoritarianism” of comrade Robert Mugabe.
Neither in Zimbabwe nor in Nicaragua is this subversion simply the work of local reactionaries with a particular axe to grind. Rather it follows a long train of “colour revolution” bandwagons, all supposedly dedicated to “strengthening democracy” – by violating the sovereignty of nations and buying votes. One such US-funded bandwagon, “Ethics and Transparency”, has not allowed its “non-partisan” status to prevent it from taking part in political demonstrations against the FSLN’s supposed “dictatorship”. Another, IPADE, poses as a “non-partisan” advocate of democracy – and then organises conferences at which leading reactionaries like former Mexican president Vicente Fox are invited to launch attacks upon the FSLN along sectarian party lines.
The run-up to last November’s municipal election saw a huge intensification of the black propaganda offensive against Ortega and the FSLN leadership. The opposition took maximum advantage of their effective stranglehold on the privately owned media. In particular the Chamorro clan own the two biggest circulation newspapers, and also manage two influential current affairs programmes on TV.
With these propaganda advantages, the opposition was able to confect a series of media stunts with the aim of hobbling FSLN’s electoral advance. The ex-Sandinista splinter group MRS, for example, picked a fight with the electoral authorities by refusing to comply with the electoral rules binding on all parties in Nicaragua, and then cried foul when this refusal led to its loss of legal status. This deliberate own-goal then formed the basis of a massive publicity effort (running all the way to a 12-day hunger strike staged by the MRS leader and reported slavishly by capitalist newshounds worldwide) aimed at painting the government as dictatorial – as well as affording the MRS splitters a pretext for recommending voters to support the openly right-wing candidates of the PLC in preference to their former comrades of the FSLN. This latter piece of treachery ensured the maximum degree of unity amongst opposition forces – which notwithstanding went on to spectacular failure.
The lengths to which the MRS was prepared to go to open the door for the right wing can be judged from the catchy slogan with which they ran all through 2008: “Ortega y Somoza son la misma cosa” – or “Ortega and Somoza are the same thing”, linking this message with images of the assassination of the real dictator, Anastasio Somoza, in 1980. Given all the scaremongering about limits supposedly being placed on freedom of expression, it is somewhat remarkable that this subliminal invitation to the feeble minded to assassinate the current democratically elected head of the republic should have escaped unscathed!
Shameful statement from Nicaragua “Solidarity” Campaign
It is not unknown for yesterday’s solidarity campaigns to turn into today’s apologists for imperialism. The Anti-Apartheid movement made creditable efforts in support of the liberation struggle in southern Africa, before its successor body Action for Southern Africa (ACTSA) allowed itself to become the pawn of MDC reaction in Zimbabwe. A similar volte face appears to have overtaken another one-time “solidarity” movement.
On 4 November the British group calling itself “Nicaragua Solidarity Campaign” (NSC) issued a shameful statement on the imminent municipal elections. The NSC was founded back in the 80s to give support to the Sandinista revolution. Yet today it seems that it has turned on its head, and is instead providing a left-liberal cover for imperialism’s “regime change” offensive.
After correctly noting Ortega’s presidential victory in 2006 “despite blatant US interference”, the statement recalls his declaration at the time when the FSLN lost power in 1990, to the effect that the FSLN would “govern from below”. We are told that accordingly “large numbers of FSLN activists … set up NGOs (non-governmental organisations) or went on to lead social movements”. And yet, exclaims the NSC, such activists are the very “individuals and organisations which the government is now accusing of destabilising Nicaragua with support from the US and EU”. Goodness, they are only doing what Ortega himself suggested, and look what thanks they are getting!
It is only as an aside that we are informed that some remained loyal to the FSLN, some joined the MRS (which has just distinguished itself in the annals of renegacy by telling everyone to vote for the right wing PLC), and some “left party politics”. Yet the ability of the Nicaraguan people to unite behind a common anti-imperialist leadership is hardly a side issue. NGOs and social movements which take their cue from the FSLN are one thing. NGOs and social movements which take their cue from the MRS, or who suppose that all difficulties of political orientation can be resolved by championing “non-sectarian grass roots activism” versus all “sectarian party politics” – are quite another. How is the FSLN to govern at all, whether from “above” or from “below”, if not by political leadership?
The NGOs which the NSC wishes to shield from criticism are said to include those “defending human rights and press freedom”, as well as “women’s organisations calling for the ban on therapeutic abortion to be reversed”. We have already seen the role of organisations like “Ethics and Transparency”, with human rights and democracy on their lips and dollars stuffed in their back pockets. And can we assume that first on the list of priorities of those campaigning for press freedom is the expropriation of the oligarchy’s stranglehold on the mass media?
As for the question of abortion law, a number of observations should be made. Imperialism does not wish to oust the FSLN in order to promote abortion rights for Nicaraguan women. Rather, it seeks to reassert its neo-colonial grip on the region, pushing back democratic advance on every front and condemning millions to a future of poverty, ignorance and rising infant mortality in which every life choice will be cruelly narrowed, not alone the “right to choose”. Withholding support for the FSLN on the grounds that Ortega, in line with a religious prejudice shared with a great number of his countrymen and women, endorsed an anti-abortion statute does nothing for women’s rights. All such posturing does is lend a bourgeois feminist gloss to imperialism’s “regime change” offensive. Women’s rights in Nicaragua, alongside the democratic rights of every citizen of the republic, can only be advanced in the revolutionary democratic struggle against imperialist oppression.
In an article in Tortilla con Sal (http://www.tortillaconsal.com/nica-elections-2008.html) Toni Solo noted that:
“Local opposition-aligned NGOs have also played a vital role in developing the anti-government campaign, just as they did in Haiti prior to the coup against President Aristide and as they continue to do in Venezuela, targeting the government of President Hugo Chavez. Recently, the Nicaraguan government moved to prevent non-profits among those NGOs making illegal use of foreign donations to fund anti-government political activities. The Chamorro media empire combined with NGOs, foreign government representatives and right wing politicians to promote an international uproar. As if any country in the world would tolerate such blatant abuse of funds donated by foreign development agencies.”
The NSC statement takes particular exception to the government’s insistence on thoroughly scrutinising the financial web linking foreign aid agencies like Oxfam with some local NGOs which have fallen under suspicion of using charity funds for “money-laundering, embezzlement and political subversion”. One might reasonably assume that people on British high streets forking out a fiver for some charity cards would be quite happy to know that someone is making sure that their generosity is not being abused in this way. However, this diligence on the part of the government has these “solidarity” gentry huffing with outrage. Why, some international organisations “have had their offices raided and have been ordered to produce accounts”, adding dramatically: “in one case for the fifth time”! The very thought!
The NSC make the grudging concession that “the Nicaraguan government has the right to ensure that NGOs comply with their own statutes and to enforce Nicaraguan law relating to NGO accountability”, but only to clear the decks for making the unsubstantiated assertion that “legal processes” are being used “to stifle legitimate critics of the government”. In this way the Sandinistas are blamed for “polarising” society, to the detriment of “the most impoverished, those whom both the Sandinista government and the NGOs and social movements are supporting”. So all is now clear. It is those who wage the political struggle against imperialist interference who are the real enemies of the poor. And presumably, it is those who assist imperialism by giving a left-liberal slant to the propaganda onslaught against the Sandinistas who are thereby expressing the most heartfelt “solidarity” with the Nicaraguan people!
Having made it clear that the FSLN are indeed the villains of the piece, the NSC feels able to conclude its statement in true parson’s style, calling on “all sides in this conflict to lay aside their differences in order to create the necessary conditions for a national dialogue”. We can rest assured that Managua will treat this advice from an “honest broker” with all the respect it deserves.
As a last footnote on the role of NGOs: On the very day that the final election outcome was officially announced, on 20 November, the European Common Fund for “democratic governability” of NGOs met in Managua, reportedly to evaluate the projects of 55 Nicaraguan organizations that they currently support – presumably to see if they are getting value for money! NGOs are certainly independent of the elected government of Nicaragua. How independent some of them are from imperialist governments is quite another question.
After the FSLN victory, imperialism ratchets up its destabilisation efforts
Once it became clear that, despite all the misinformation and slanders, the elections had not at all gone as Uncle Sam had hoped, imperialism effortlessly reverted to plan B: declare the election invalid. The BBC duly reported that US state department spokesman Robert Wood was of the opinion that “political conditions that existed during the campaign were not conducive to free and fair elections”. Another US State Department spokesman, Sean McCormack, offered the view that “There are real concerns about the integrity of the vote.” TV pundits were hired to tell us all that there were no election observers, that the elections were run by bent rules, and that the violence that erupted after the results came in was instigated by government sympathisers. Newsreaders might be forgiven for losing track of which continent they are lying about, so woodenly is the propaganda line trotted out, whether it concerns would-be “regime change” in Belarus, Zimbabwe or Nicaragua!
Firstly, it is not true that there were no election observers. Wilfredo Penco, head of the Council of Latin American Electoral Experts, one of three groups of Latin American electoral tribunal members which observed the Nicaraguan municipal elections, judged the elections to have been carried out “in conformity with Nicaraguan law and in conformity with international standards.” He added that “beyond isolated incidents and skirmishes, the municipal elections in Nicaragua were clean elections,” at the same time noting that there had been a subsequent media campaign against the election results based on political and economic interests which had resulted in destabilization and a lack of recognition of what was a democratic process.
What most certainly is true is that the relevant authorities declined to accredit every man and his dog with official observer status, especially when the volunteers included no less than the aforementioned Ethics and Transparency front for imperialism! Ortega sensibly noted that such would-be monitors were “financed by outside powers”, and had no legitimate role.
Secondly, elections in Nicaragua are supervised neither by the FSLN nor by the government but by an independent Supreme Electoral Council comprising seven magistrates. At present the affiliation of the magistrates is split evenly between FSLN and the PLC, with a non-affiliated president holding the balance. It is revealing that, of the three PLC-affiliated magistrates, two were expelled from their own party because they could not bring themselves to denounce the clear legitimacy of decisions taken by the electoral council!
Blood is on the hands of imperialism
As for the post-election violence, those who point the finger of blame at the FSLN might like to explain what purpose it could possibly serve for the victors in the municipal elections to turn from their triumph at the ballot box to initiate street violence? In the immediate aftermath of the election, it was a few hundred thugs unleashed by the Constitutional Liberal Party Alliance (PLC), egged on by Eduardo Montealegre (the defeated mayor of Managua), which staged provocations against citizens celebrating the outcome of the election. Journalists working for the FSLN radio station, Radio Nuevo Ya, suffered cowardly personal attacks. One was stabbed seven times and another, after being ambushed, saw his car set ablaze.
As it became increasingly clear that the final election tally would officially confirm the Sandinista landslide, the anti-democracy provocations became more frenzied. The right wing planned to hold a march on 18 November to attack the legitimacy of the elections, organised behind the slogan “All against Fraud!” This attempt to substitute the will of a reactionary mob for the popular mandate of the majority of the Nicaraguan people was resisted by thousands of Sandinista supporters who flooded onto the streets in defence of democracy. After the inevitable clashes that ensued, in the course of which reporters from Sandinista radio and TV narrowly avoided lynching, the day reportedly ended with the destruction of three opposition radio stations.
On 20 November, addressing a victory rally, President Daniel Ortega blamed the opposition for initiating the post-election violence, noting that “The Sandinista Front has never gone out into the streets to protest after losing an election as the right did one day after the voting. They should accept the results and get to work for the development of the country.” On the following day First Lady Rosario Murillo assured a massive rally in Managua that “We will continue to oppose foreign agents with the cultural beauty and symbols of the people of Nicaragua, our people, who know about struggle and honour.”
In Venezuela, too, fresh success crowned the efforts of progressive forces on 23 November when the pro-Chavez United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) won 72% of the governorships and 58% of the vote in local elections marked by a very high turn out, 65% of the electorate. Despite some losses (notably the mayoralty district of the capital, Caracas) the result was another milestone in the struggle of the Venezuelan people for independence and development.
For the people of Venezuela and Nicaragua, as for every other people of the region who claim the right to independence and development free from interference, it is clear that much more struggle lies ahead. November’s Sandinista triumph over the combined forces of reaction, however, gives grounds for hope that Nicaragua will stand firm in the battles that lie ahead. We are proud to show our solidarity with the people of Nicaragua and to wish them every success.