This blog post is prepared for Friends interested in the current situation in Nicaragua. This Spring the Ortega government proposed some relatively modest changes to its Social Security (Health Care) and Pension programs. As these changes would have reduced benefits, protest demonstrations began. When the police & army responded with force, a cycle of violence was initiated. Protesters are now calling for the resignation of Daniel Ortega and his wife Chayo, the Vice President. In the past few months, several hundred protesters, and a number of policemen, have been killed. Protesters blockaded major highways for two months, but recently bulldozers and the police were used to clear the roads, with further casualties among protesters. The Catholic Church has tried to function as a mediator between the two sides, but with limited results. The OAS has called for elections. The Sandinista Youth has terrorized protesters and this intimidation has included actions of police and government officials.
Since the 19th century, the U.S. has frequently intervened in Nicaragua, almost always with unfortunate results (please see attached outline). Part of this history has been semi-hidden. The U.S. has created organizations whose purpose is to influence the political affairs in other nations, including agencies that also perform legitimate services, like USAID. Others have been created specifically to influence politics, including the NED (National Endowment for Democracy), currently headed by former U.S. Secretary of State Madeline Albright, and the National Democratic Institute (NDI, https://www.ndi.org/).
Leaders of the current unrest in Nicaragua have included the MCJ (Movimiento Civico de Juventudes). The MCJ is run by Davis Jose Nicaragua Perez, who’s an officer in the NDI. Another leader of the current unrest in Nicaragua is Yerling Aguilera, who works with the IEEPP (Instituto de Estudios Estrategicos y Politicas Puublicas). IEEPP is funded in part by the NED. All of these interconnections are explored in the following TeleSur piece.
Lidia Mendez, the facilitator of my Nicaraguan NGO Posibilidad (www.posibilidadnicaraguense.com) reports that the word on the street in Nicaragua is that U.S. troops have been positioned in both Costa Rica and Honduras, but I haven’t been able to confirm this in the media. My concern is that this has been the Modus Operandi of the U.S. in the past, and repeatedly so.
I ask Friends to please consider this essay (and the attached information) and, if moved, please contact their Representative and Senators and discourage further U.S. meddling in Nicaragua, and especially any use of military force.
Noam Chomsky – the recent history of U.S. actions in Nicaragua:
1970-1987: The contra war in Nicaragua
Noam Chomsky’s account of the US-backed “contra” counter-insurgency in Nicaragua against the left-wing government brought to power on the back of a popular mass movement from below.
It wasn’t just the events in El Salvador that were ignored by the mainstream US media during the 1970s. In the ten years prior to the overthrow of the Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza in 1979, US television – all networks – devoted exactly one hour to Nicaragua, and that was entirely on the Managua earthquake of 1972.
From 1960 through 1978, the New York Times had three editorials on Nicaragua. It’s not that nothing was happening there – it’s just that whatever was happening was unremarkable. Nicaragua was of no concern at all, as long as Somoza’s tyrannical rule wasn’t challenged.
When his rule was challenged, by the [popular, left-wing] Sandinistas in the late 1970s, the US first tried to institute what was called “Somocismo [Somoza-ism] without Somoza” – that is, the whole corrupt system intact, but with somebody else at the top. That didn’t work, so President Carter tried to maintain Somoza’s National Guard as a base for US power.
The National Guard had always been remarkably brutal and sadistic. By June 1979, it was carrying out massive atrocities in the war against the Sandinistas, bombing residential neighborhoods in Managua, killing tens of thousands of people. At that point, the US ambassador sent a cable to the White House saying it would be “ill-advised” to tell the Guard to call off the bombing, because that might interfere with the policy of keeping them in power and the Sandinistas out.
Our ambassador to the Organisation of American States also spoke in favor of “Somocismo without Somoza,” but the OAS rejected the suggestion flat out. A few days later, Somoza flew off to Miami with what was left of the Nicaraguan national treasury, and the Guard collapsed.
The Carter administration flew Guard commanders out of the country in planes with Red Cross markings (a war crime), and began to reconstitute the Guard on Nicaragua’s borders. They also used Argentina as a proxy. (At that time, Argentina was under the rule of neo-Nazi generals, but they took a little time off from torturing and murdering their own population to help re-establish the Guard – soon to be renamed the contras, or “freedom fighters.”).
Ronald Reagan used them to launch a large-scale terrorist war against Nicaragua, combined with economic warfare that was even more lethal. We also intimidated other countries so they wouldn’t send aid either.
And yet, despite astronomical levels of military support, the United States failed to create a viable military force in Nicaragua. That’s quite remarkable, if you think about it. No real guerrillas anywhere in the world have ever had resources even remotely like what the United States gave the contras. You could probably start a guerrilla insurgency in mountain regions of the US with comparable funding.
Why did the US go to such lengths in Nicaragua? The international development organization Oxfam explained the real reasons, stating that, from its experience of working in 76 developing countries, “Nicaragua was…exceptional in the strength of that government’s commitment…to improving the condition of the people and encouraging their active
participation in the development process.”
Of the four Central American countries where Oxfam had a significant presence (El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua), only in Nicaragua was there a substantial effort to address inequities in land ownership and to extend health, educational and agricultural services to poor peasant families.
Other agencies told a similar story. In the early 1980s, the World Bank called its projects “extraordinarily successful in Nicaragua in some sectors, better than anywhere else in the world.” In 1983, The Inter-American Development Bank concluded that “Nicaragua has made noteworthy progress in the social sector, which is laying the basis for long-term socioeconomic development.”
The success of the Sandinista reforms terrified US planners. They were aware that – as José Figueres, the father of Costa Rican democracy, put it – “for the first time, Nicaragua has a government that cares for its people.” (Although Figueres was the leading democratic figure in Central America for forty years, his unacceptable insights into the real world were completely censored from the US media.)
The hatred that was elicited by the Sandinistas for trying to direct resources to the poor (and even succeeding at it) was truly wondrous to behold. Just about all US policymakers shared it, and it reached virtual frenzy.
Back in 1981, a State Department insider boasted that we would “turn Nicaragua into the Albania of Central America” – that is, poor, isolated and politically radical – so that the Sandinista dream of creating a new, more exemplary political model for Latin America would be in ruins.
George Shultz called the Sandinistas a “cancer, right here on our land mass,” that has to be destroyed. At the other end of the political spectrum, leading Senate liberal Alan Cranston said that if it turned out not to be possible to destroy the Sandinistas, then we’d just have to let them “fester in [their] own juices.”
So the US launched a three-fold attack against Nicaragua. First, we exerted extreme pressure to compel the World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank to terminate all projects and assistance.
Second, we launched the contra war along with an illegal economic war to terminate what Oxfam rightly called “the threat of a good example.” The contras’ vicious terrorist attacks against “soft targets” under US orders did help, along with the boycott, to end any hope of economic development and social reform. US terror ensured that Nicaragua couldn’t demobilise its army and divert its pitifully poor and limited resources to reconstructing the ruins that were left by the US-backed dictators and Reaganite crimes. The contras were even funded by the US selling arms to Iran, in what became known as the Iran-Contra Affair.
One of the most respected Central America correspondents, Julia Preston (who was then working for the Boston Globe), reported that “Administration officials said they are content to see the contras debilitate the Sandinistas by forcing them to divert scarce resources toward the war and away from social programs.” That’s crucial, since the social programs were at the heart of the good example that might have infected other countries in the region and eroded the American system of [much higher-grade] exploitation and robbery.
We even refused to send disaster relief. After the 1972 earthquake, the US sent an enormous amount of aid to Nicaragua, most of which was stolen by our buddy Somoza. In October 1988, an even worse natural disaster struck Nicaragua – Hurricane Joan. We didn’t send a penny for that, because if we had, it would probably have gotten to the people, not just into the pockets of some rich thug. We also pressured our allies to send very little aid.
This devastating hurricane, with its welcome prospects of mass starvation and long-term ecological damage, reinforced our efforts. We wanted Nicaraguans to starve so we could accuse the Sandinistas of economic mismanagement. Because they weren’t under our control, Nicaraguans had to suffer and die.
Third, we used diplomatic fakery to crush Nicaragua. As Tony Avirgan wrote in the Costa Rican journal Mesoamerica, “the Sandinistas fell for a scam perpetrated by Costa Rican president Oscar Arias and the other Central American Presidents, which cost them the February  elections.”
For Nicaragua, the peace plan of August 1987 was a good deal, Avrigan wrote: they would move the scheduled national elections forward by a few months and allow international observation, as they had in 1984, “in exchange for having the contras demobilised and the war brought to an end….” The Nicaraguan government did what it was required to do under the peace plan, but no one else paid the slightest attention to it.
Arias, the White House and Congress never had the slightest intention of implementing any aspect of the plan. The US virtually tripled CIA supply flights to the contras. Within a couple of months the peace plan was totally dead.
As the election campaign opened, the US made it clear that the embargo that was strangling the country and the contra terror would continue if the Sandinistas won the election. You have to be some kind of Nazi or unreconstructed Stalinist to regard an election conducted under such conditions as free and fair – and south of the border, few succumbed to such delusions.
If anything like that were ever done by our enemies… I leave the media reaction to your imagination. The amazing part of it was that the Sandinistas still got 40% of the vote, while New York Times headlines proclaimed that Americans were “United in Joy” over this “Victory for US Fair Play.”
US achievements in Central America in the past fifteen years are a major tragedy, not just because of the appalling human cost, but because a decade ago there were prospects for real progress towards meaningful democracy and meeting human needs, with early successes in El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua.
These efforts might have worked and might have taught useful lessons to others plagued with similar problems – which, of course, was exactly what US planners feared. The threat has been successfully aborted, perhaps forever.
From What Uncle Sam Really Wants, by Noam Chomsky.
Chomsky is of course an American citizen, and so “we” and “our” refers to the US. The article has been edited slightly by libcom – US to UK spellings and a few small details have been added for the reader new to the topic.
Nicaragua and the United States:
A Simplified History, by Charlie Janney:
Pre Columbus: Western Nicaragua populated by several farming peoples, related by culture and language to peoples in Central Mexico. Nahuatl speakers including the Niquirano were the largest group with smaller tribes in the SW and in the highlands and interior mountains. Estimated population 1 million. The Caribbean coast was sparsely populated with tribes of hunter gatherers.
1520’s to 1821: Spanish Era. Brutal domination with attempted destruction of native culture. Estimated 200,000 slaves sent to Peru, widespread decimation by novel European diseases. Caribbean coast dominated by Afro- Indigenous Miskito tribe. Census in 1548 showed only 11,137 natives remaining in Western Nicaragua. British piracy & mischief frequent during this period.
1821: Nicaraguan Independence
1830 to 1860: British influence and exploitation increase in Eastern Nicaragua. Struggles ensue between Britain and the U.S. over an overland transport route across Nicaragua and construction rights for a possible Nicaraguan canal. Repetitive internecine political struggles and multiple American incursions (1850’s) culminate in Tennessee soldier-of-fortune William Walker claiming the Nicaraguan Presidency (1856-57). Walker is expelled and then executed in Honduras (1860). Uniting against Walker fosters harmony in Nicaraguan politics.
1909 to 1934: U.S. Marines occupy Nicaragua. Nicaraguan politics related to this occupation were complex. Occupation resisted by Augusto Sandino and followers. Post departure of Marines (in 1933 due to the depression) internecine fighting ensues. Anastasio Somoza (supported by U.S.) captures and executes Sandino.
1936 to 1979: The Somoza family rules Nicaragua until ousted by the Sandinistas. The Somozas are corrupt and brutal rulers who funneled riches to their associates, stratifying society and further polarizing Nicaraguan politics. The U.S. fully supported the Somoza family throughout this period.
1979 to 1990: Sandinista Era characterized by some successful social programs, but tarnished by some harsh and punitive behaviors toward domestic opponents. A brutal & frequently immoral Contra war was waged against the Sandinistas, with extensive military assistance from the U.S. The International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled in Nicaragua v. United States (1986) that the U.S. had committed war crimes during the Contra War and awarded Nicaragua reparations. The United States has ignored the ICJ ruling.
1990 to 2017: Nicaraguan politics remained polarized and dysfunctional, but political violence was much decreased. Nicaragua struggled to deal with her extensive, extreme poverty and great challenges posed by globalization, rapid population growth and environmental issues, especially misuse of pesticides. Population in 1950 – 1 million. Population in 2012 – 6 million.
U.S. Influence (1776 to Present): Since its inception, the United States has had a very mixed history in its treatment of other nations. Some activities overseas have been beneficial, and some have been spectacular in their positive effects. Other U.S. activities overseas have not been helpful. Unfortunately, U.S. activity in Nicaragua has often been detrimental.
Added on 8/28/18. An interview about recent Nicaraguan history: