Why is the American policy towards Nicaragua not working?
After the US-Russia summit in June, there was no apparent irony in President Biden’s response to a question about election interference. ” Let’s be clear “, he said. “How would it be if the United States was seen by the rest of the world as directly interfering with the elections of other countries, and everyone knew it?” But of course, much of the world takes this point of view; by an account the United States intervened in no less than 81 elections between 1946 and 2000, many of them in Latin America. Biden’s question reveals a fundamental flaw in shaping US foreign policy: Why do its leaders seem incapable of judging how US actions are viewed by ordinary citizens in the countries they affect?
Allow me to try to fill this gap from the point of view of Nicaragua, subject of American intervention for more than a century. First, a bit of history: according to Stephen kinzer, the American overthrow of Nicaraguan President-elect José Santos Zelaya in 1909 was the first example of American regime change in mainland Latin America. This led to the Marines occupying the country until 1933, when national hero Augusto Sandino ousted them. His assassination in 1934 led to 45 years of brutal dictatorship, in which the United States was complicit. The Sandinista revolution ended this in 1979, but Ronald Reagan then sponsored the “Contra” forces. including atrocities, combined with an American blockade, led to the narrow defeat of President Daniel Ortega for re-election in 1990.
When Ortega was subsequently re-elected in 2007, interference resumed under the banner of “promoting democracy”. As William Robinson has it underline, in practice, this means destabilizing measures that include sanctions, international media and propaganda campaigns, paramilitary actions, covert operations and much more. Writing in 2018 in Global Americans on the recent involvement of the United States in Nicaragua, Benjamin Waddell bluntly described it as “To prepare the bases of the insurrection”.
In 2018, according to the US Department of State, “The Nicaraguan people rose up peacefully to call for change.” But for most Nicaraguans, even those opposed to the government, the coup attempt that began in April was anything but peaceful. It shut down the economy for three months and destroyed the country’s previous security. Living in one of the hardest hit towns, Masaya, I had first experience destruction: burnt friends’ houses, ransacked shops, destroyed public buildings and armed groups threatening anyone who appeared to be a supporter of the government. Two friends who were defending the municipal depot during its looting were kidnapped and tortured, one of them so badly that his arm had to be amputated.
Dialogue attempts failed, but peace was restored in July 2018 when police and volunteers intervened to clear roadblocks guarded by criminal elements that had paralyzed towns. Although characterized as acts of state-sponsored violence by human rights bodies, these actions, in which the police were ordered to minimize casualties, were greeted with relief by most people. . Hundreds of arrests were made, but 493 people convicted of the violence were published in a conditional amnesty in June 2019.
The government has launched a massive construction program, investing in roads, schools, hospitals and housing, both to stimulate the economy and promote a sense of normalcy. Once again the country has become one of the safest in Latin America. Then, in 2020, other disasters struck: COVID-19 in March and two major hurricanes in November. As the economy was hit again, the damage was contained: Nicaragua had one of the smallest drops in GDP in Latin America last year.
Did the United States help recover what is still the second poorest country in the hemisphere? No. On $ 88 million in cash and other aid sent to Central American countries to fight COVID-19, the government of Nicaragua received nothing. Nicaragua is also one of the few Latin American countries to have received no vaccine donations in the US so far. Instead, US sanctions dissuaded international agencies like the World Bank invest in the country until they restart in response to the pandemic. But that doesn’t mean the United States has stopped directing money to Nicaragua. After regime change efforts failed in 2018, the United States stepped up them ahead of the upcoming November 2021 election. For example, a $ 2 million called program RAIN (“Reactive Assistance to Nicaragua”) aims to achieve “an orderly transition” from the current Ortega government to one “committed to the rule of law, civil liberties and a free civil society”.
Frankly, such actions are likely to have little impact on the outcome of the elections. Three months from the end, the polls spectacle constant support for the Ortega government (in mid-July, 62.8% of those intending to vote) compared to the opposition (22.8%). Polls also show that the events of 2018 and the recent American intervention are fresh on people’s minds, and that they do not want a return to violent conflict, reject foreign interference and prioritize restoration of the economic growth versus other issues.
This is why the recent arrests of opposition activists, although receive a lot of attention internationally, are viewed with indifference by many Nicaraguans with whom I have spoken, or are even welcomed. Many of those detained, including former Sandinistas like Dora María Téllez who organized the roadblocks in Masaya, are linked to the violence of 2018; several went to the United States to demand tougher sanctions against their own countries; one, journalist Miguel Mora, call for the Ortega family to be kidnapped and hosted radio shows about the best way to murder them.
People also ask why, if the United States has its own laws against foreign interference in the elections, and arrested 535 people accused of attacking the Capitol in January 2021, he opposes Nicaragua taking similar measures against those who receive foreign money or try to overthrow the state. Coincidentally, while the European Union has followed the United States’ lead in applying sanctions, it also provides European-wide legislation limit foreign influence in elections covering roughly the same issues as Nicaragua’s new laws.
Here are some other facts that should weigh in on U.S. foreign policy. Nicaragua is open to American markets: it has more American trade than any other country in the region and hosts American companies like Cargill, Walmart and others. Its stability and security mean that it sends few migrants to the United States, while Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala have sent more than 2 million migrants to the United States since 2014. The region is struggling to cope with the current pandemic, but the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington said that Nicaragua has the lowest death rate in the Americas, with the least strain on its hospital system. Deprived of American aid, she has not turned to China for vaccines, like El Salvador, but keeps close ties with the American ally Taiwan. In American courts, Honduras is described as a narco-state, its government officials would have facilitated the processing and shipping of cocaine to the United States. By contrast, Nicaragua is more efficient than its neighbors to discourage drug shipments from South America. The United States is speaking out against alleged human rights violations in Nicaragua, but largely ignoring the dire human rights record of the “northern triangle” countries.
In a meeting with Central American foreign ministers in June 2021, Antony Blinken urged governments “Working to improve the lives of people in our countries in a real and concrete way”. It can be argued that Nicaragua is a regional leader in this regard. Nicaraguan Foreign Minister, in a bilateral meeting with Blinken, call for a “friendly, respectful and equal relationship between sovereign states”. The United States should respond by offering the hand of friendship. He should drop the sanctions, stop his efforts to “promote democracy” and reconsider why it has taken so long to consider sending Nicaragua a share of the vaccines it has given to the rest of Latin America.
Independent Media Institute
This article was produced by The economy for all, a project of the Independent Media Institute.