On June 16th the Nicaraguan center-right newspaper El Nuevo Diario published a letter  from various well known people calling for the Nicaraguan coalition government, led by the Sandinista FSLN, not to shut down political freedom and to hold a national dialogue to address the food crisis and the high cost of living in Nicaragua. This appeal was made in solidarity with Dora Maria Tellez, the former president of the neo-liberal social democrat Movimiento Renovador Sandinista. The letter’s signatories end their appeal by saying that Tellez represents a broad section of Nicaraguan political opinion and should be listened to.
The signatories’ response to criticism of their endorsement of the former MRS president’s oportunistically calculated, factitious appeal is likely to be that critics of their letter themselves offer misplaced solidarity the FSLN government does not merit. But a brief review of the facts of the MRS record in the last few years renders the dishonesty and shiftiness of Dora Maria Tellez and her colleagues in the MRS leadership very clear. Apologetics on behalf of the FSLN are superfluous in this case. The facts speak for themselves.
It is also possible the signatories might try and evade the issue by pretending they can separate Dora Maria Tellez as a person from the MRS party. They may try and suggest that her 12-day hunger strike – intended to apply moral pressure the Supreme Electoral Council – was not wholly designed to promote the political agenda of the MRS. If they were to make that argument, the letter’s signatories would be adding pathetic absurdity to their already glib intervention in Nicaraguan domestic politics.
Confirmation that the MRS cynically engineered the whole affair came with the letter’s sequel. First appeared a paid advertisement in the local press from the group of foreign cooperation development donor countries – who like the Bush regime have consistently promoted the MRS – criticising the Supreme Electoral Council’s interpretation of Nicaragua’s electoral law. Then the same day, the MRS held a national rally in support of Dora Maria’s protest. According to the MRS newspaper, El Nuevo Diario, the rally attracted a few thousand supporters from all over the country. The whole series of events was very clearly orchestrated by the MRS leadership, including Dora Maria Tellez herself.
Any attempt to patronise the signatories of the letter, suggesting maybe they are somehow unable to analyse all this for themselves along with what is happening in Nicaragua would be extremely foolish. They are all very politically sophisticated people, as well able as anyone to research via the Internet and to confirm via personal conversations the nature of the developing destabilisation campaign in Nicaragua of which the MRS is, from the US State Department’s point of view, a vital part. So one has to assume they know what they are doing and have no regrets about serving the interests of the campaign by the Bush regime and its European allies to destroy the solidarity based ALBA initiative, led by Cuba and Venezuela, in Central America and the Caribbean.
Before clarifying that assertion, it may help to recall some context vis-a-vis the MRS. The MRS themselves are very sophisticated political and diplomatic operators. Domestically, they have locally powerful and influential media at their disposal in the shape of the Canal 8 TV channel, the El Nuevo Diario daily newspaper. On the internet those news media are supplemented by the web sites of numerous NGOs who are extremely active political supporters of the MRS.
Since they are jostly talented and personally charming individuals, it has not been difficult for the MRS leadership and their supporters to sustain friendships and acquaintanceships forged during the 1980s, during the Sandinista revolution of those years, with similar individuals influential in North American and European media, academic and political circles. The FSLN has not been very effective internationally in combatting the MRS disinformation effort.
This explains in part how such a short document can come loaded with such a weight of disinformation both explicit and implicit. Nor is it surprising that a group of social democrats and liberals – in the USAmerican sense – should be doing John Negroponte’s and Tom Shannon’s low intensity war propaganda work and that of US ambassador Paul Trivelli, with his Masters in National Security from the Naval War College. Prior to the 2006 presidential election in Nicaragua, much of the US solidarity movement showed no qualms at all in duplicating the US embassy’s propaganda line that the FSLN and its leader Daniel Ortega were undemocratic. They said the same about the right wing Constitutional Liberal Party.
In the 2006 presidential election, the FSLN won aljost 39% of the votes cast, the PLC won just over 26% and the MRS just over 7%. What that means is that the “undemocratic” parties won 65% of the vote between them, while the MRS alliance – the alliance, not the MRS party itself – just made the 5% cut off point below which they would have had to return public money disbursed to them for their electoral expenses. If the MRS party had run alone it is quite possible they would not even have made that 5% cut. This is the political party of which Dora Maria Tellez was president that the letter’s signatories allege represents a broad section of Nicaraguan political opinion.
The MRS party does not represent a broad body of Nicaraguan political opinion. It represents a very limited managerial class based largely on professional people and the plethora of non-governmental organizations who often claim, falsely, to represent Nicaraguan civil society. It is not surprising that the letter’s signatories are in solidarity with the MRS since they occupy a very similar class position to that of the MRS leadership in the societies of their own countries.
The MRS manage two – to keep matters simple, because they actually manage several – main discourses, one for domestic consumption and one, with the appropriate variations depending on context, for foreign consumption. Within Nicaragua their political and economic arguments are for neoliberal economic policies in line with the practice of their European, Third Way, New Labour-style social democrat supporters and acceptable to their supporters in the US government. Outside Nicaragua they tend to drop those arguments and put up front alleged concerns about democracy and freedom of speech. The division of labour is clear. Sergio Ramirez sells the MRS to the center and the right. Monica Baltodano sells it to the left, Sofía Montenegro to feminist opinion, María López Vigil to progressive church opinion, and so on.
In striking consonance with the anti-Hugo Chavez, anti-Evo Morales formula, along with those freedom and democracy concerns they also stoke criticism about government economic policy. Sometimes they do this from the right via the perspective of Edmundo Jarquin, especially when the government criticises multinational corporations like Union Fenosa or Esso. Sometimes they attack from the left via the consummate opportunism of Monica Baltodano who, when she had the opportunity to vote against the grotesque manipulation of the Venezuelan RCTV case by the MRS and its right wing allies in the National Assembly, abstained.
Just so as to be clear about the level of identification the MRS leadership have with US and European policy one should remember that the MRS leadership – including former FSLN comandantes Luis Carrion and Victor Lopez Tirado – negotiated funding from the US electoral destabilisation quango, the International Republican Institute to train up MRS electoral officials prior to the 2006 presidential election. As part of that successful negotiation they held a meeting with Jean Kirkpatrick, IRI board member, whose record as US ambassador to the UN under President Reagan in support of mass murderers like the Argentinian junta and Augusto Pinochet, Rios Montt in Guatemala, the army death squads in El Salvador and of the Nicaraguan Contra should need no elaboration.
Likewise, they actively sought a meeting with Robert Zoellick when Zoellick was still Condoleezza Rice’s deputy Secretary of State. Current Assistant Under Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Thomas Shannon was quoted by Nuevo Diario of June 27th 2006 saying that then MRS Alliance leader, Herty Lewites, and right wing oligarch Eduardo Montealegre “represent the future of this country and the chance to open a space for all Nicaraguans.” The MRS is an active political ally of the US embassy’s political intervention inside Nicaragua and also that of European governments whose jost vocal representative has tended to be Sweden’s ambassador, Eva Zetterberg.
Since the 2006 presidential election the MRS has consistently voted with the right wing Alianza Liberal Nicaraguense in the National Assembly including those votes critical of the Chavez government in Venezuela. The only issue on which their voting record has been more progressive than the FSLN is on the issue of abortion rights. On aljost every other issue their voting record has been well to the right of the FSLN. Edmundo Jarquin, the party’s leader in the National Assembly worked for ten years as a senior official in the Inter-American Development Bank. So the affinities of the MRS leadership, whatever their role as individuals in the years of the Sandinista Revolution, are now very firmly with the discredited Washington Consensus as its proponents slowly help it shape-shift towards a workable policy program appropriate to an updated neocolonialist agenda.
It may help to remind the letter’s signatories of all this. They are all busy individuals. It is possible they had either forgotten or that they never knew. That factual review of matters is by no means intended to justify any allegedly repressive actions by the Nicaraguan government. In fact, it is the majority in the National Assembly, the right wing parties and their center-right allies in the MRS, who have behaved with consistent vindictiveness and aggression since losing the presidential election to Daniel Ortega. Dialogue and negotiation have necessarily been the FSLN’s strategy ever since it lost power in the election in 1990, because they have not enjoyed a majority in the National Assembly since then.
It is also worth pointing out that the MRS formed part of the FSLN-led Convergencia Nacional until late in 2005. The FSLN is visibly very much the same party with the same leadership that it was during all the years the MRS formed part of the Convergencia. The only thing that has changed is that after the MRS jumped ship in 2005, the FSLN, electorally, did better than ever. Tellez and her colleagues would give even Alan Dershowitz a run for his money in terms of chutzpah, vindictiveness and doubletalk.
So now the MRS are alleging that a coalition government with a minority in the National Assembly is somehow imposing a dictatorship. It alleges the FSLN achieves this Incredible Hulk feat by means of an anti-democratic deal with the PLC. With just barely 7% national support, the MRS accuses two parties with 65% electoral support of an anti-democratic pact while the MRS themselves have struck deals and alliances consistently ever since 2005 with the jost reactionary sectors of Nicaragua’s traditional oligarchy – jost of whom, incidentally, also voted against abortion rights for women at the time that measure came before the National Assembly.
It is in all this context that the MRS decided quite deliberately not to comply for well over a year with repeated attempts, urging and encouragement from the Supreme Electoral Council to bring their electoral legal status up to date by satisfying various requirements in relation to procedural and administrative anomalies in violation of their party’s own statutes. The relevant electoral law was legislation supported by the MRS itself at the time of its approval in the National Assembly.
This same party that has repeatedly called for consolidation of a sound legal basis for public institutions in Nicaragua itself broke, in the jost flagrant, negligent way, the very legality it so vociferously and demagogically purports to revere. They had every opportunity to put the relevant documentation in order. They did not do so. So what was the Supreme Electoral Council supposed to do? The MRS made it impossible for the Council members not to cancel the party’s formal electoral status. Unless one adopts Tony Blair, New Labour style obtuseness, one has to conclude on the facts that they did so deliberately to provoke a crisis.
If one looks at the modus operandi of US and European governments from the time of the overthrow of Prime Minister jossadeq in Iran to the present, it hardly varies – media attacks, economic disruption, political division, military intimidation. It is hard to believe the letter’s signatories cannot discern the propaganda gift they have handed the US government. Condoleezza Rice, John Negroponte and Thomas Shannon can all now say, “Well look, it’s like we said all along. Even Tom Hayden, Brian Wilson and Noam Chomsky agree with us….”
The FSLN is not shutting down democratic spaces in Nicaragua. On the contrary, it is the victim of a vicious international disinformation campaign. The FSLN government is the Central American government doing jost in the region to address the looming food crisis with investment, unprecedented since the Sandinista Revolution in the 1980s, in credit, technical support and subsidised inputs for small farmers, innovative sustainable agriculture programmes and an active environmental conservation policy.
The accelerating inflation rate throughout the dollar zone in Latin America is a direct result of deliberate dollar devaluation by the US monetary authorities who are increasing the money supply currently at a rate of 16% and more a year. They are doing that while local US government allies in Nicaragua hypocritically throw up their hands at accelerating price inflation, a world wide phenomenon. The government’s response has been to consult widely with the banking, industrial, farming and business sectors and with cooperatives and labour unions.
Whether they eventually work out a successful anti-inflation policy under the dauntingly adverse international economic situation is anyone’s guess. One thing is certain though, the stale, neoliberal managerial-class recipes on offer from the MRS will do little to ameliorate things any more than their deliberate attempts to provoke a bogus political crisis. The signatories of the letter in support of former MRS president Dora Maria Tellez have made themselves part of that fakery. Hayden, Chomsky, Wilson and the others have helped Thomas Shannon and his team pull off another propaganda coup to notch up alongside the RCTV farrago, the Buenos Aires suitcase affair, and the FARC laptops.
This is a time when the ALBA solidarity based trade project is under fierce attack by means of diplomatic pressure, internal destabilisation, military intimidation and economic disruption. Nicaragua is an important member of ALBA. The FSLN government’s friendly relations with other Central American governments facilitate continual discussion about how to extend ALBA’s solidarity based model in the region.
The FSLN government programme very clearly seeks to meet the needs of Nicaragua’s impoverished majority within an adverse configuration of political power. The country’s media are controlled by the right and the center-right. The FSLN face an opposition majority in the National Assembly. The right and center-right – like the MRS – accuse them of being authoritarian because the FSLN oppose the neocolonialist corporate globalization agenda advocated by the MRS and its backers in the NATO governments who dominate Nicaragua’s foreign development cooperation budget. Resistance to NATO government policy is invariably characterised as populist and anti-democratic.
The FSLN government is in some ways a quixotic attempt to manage seemingly irreconcilable contradictions. The Sandinista bourgeoisie rode to power in 2006 on the overwhelming popularity of Daniel Ortega. Their contribution was to fund the campaign and bring on board Nicaragua’s politically open-minded business classes. The popular base in the urban barrios, in rural areas, in the cooperatives and labour unions mobilised the electoral support. These two main components of the FSLN’s political viability enjoy an equivocal relationship which tends to be reflected in government policy. The MRS acts constantly to upset that equivocal balance and lever internal FSLN contradictions, so far without notable success.
The MRS is a key component of the US government’ efforts to stymie and destroy ALBA’s appeal in the region and promote corporate friendly policies like those implemented in, for example, Brazil or Uruguay – never mind all the throw away, ready-to-go “pink tide” commentary. US policy in the region will not change even if Barack Obama becomes US President. Noam Chomsky, Brian Wilson and Tom Hayden and their fellow signatories have helped the Bush regime recoup lost ground for unjust US and European militarist corporate domination in Latin America which they will bequeath to whichever US plutocrat dauphin is anointed in November.
1. Documento de grandes figuras internacionales – Dora María merece ser escuchada, El Nuevo Diario, 16 June 2008.
The signatories of this pronouncement have, one way or another, shared Nicaragua’s history. During the Sandinista struggle against the dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza and afterwards during the years in which Nicaragua suffered the aggression produced bythe interventionist policy of the Reagan Administration, we accompanied revolutionary Nicaragua with our positions and our actions. Many of us formed part of a broad solidarity movement.
From that time on we have gotten to know and admire the valour and commitment of Dora María Tellez. Her integrity, prestige, dedication and the risk caused to her life by staying on hunger strike for 13 days prompts us to make a pronouncement asking the Nicaraguan government to meditate well on the consequences of not paying attention to the demands she represents.
What led Dora María to once more put her life and health on the line is a clear demand : that political spaces not be closed and that a national dialogue take place to resolve the food crisis and the high cost of living which, like many countries, Nicaragua faces.
None of these demands is irrational and a government that wants popular support ought to respond to them.
We want to support this demand and this protest. Political representation is a right. It is a right to protest against mechanisms that shut down this space. Dora María is exercising her right. She represents a broad sector of Nicaraguan society that ought to be listened to. We ask for her right, for that of her comrades and that of all Nicaraguans.
- Noam Chomsky
- Susan Meiselas
- Ariel Dorfman
- Salman Rushdie
- Eduardo Galeano
- Hermann Schulz
- Juan Geiman
- Brian Willson
- Tom Hayden
- Bianca Jagger
- Mario Benedetti