On Sept. 21 the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill called the Nicaraguan Investment Conditionality Act. The proposed law is now before the U.S. Senate. The legislation was sponsored by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the extreme right wing U.S.-Cuban Republican party lawmaker, patron of super-terrorist Luis Posada Carriles and unlamented mass-murderer Orlando Bosch. Her proposed law threatens to apply a U.S. government veto to loans from international financial institutions unless Nicaragua complies with U.S. demands in relation to “the rule of law and an independent judiciary and electoral council in Nicaragua; independent pro-democracy organizations in Nicaragua; free, fair, and transparent elections under international and domestic observers in Nicaragua in 2016 and 2017.” The legislation mandates use of the U.S. veto in international financial institutions like the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank, potentially affecting over US$200 million in development loans for Nicaragua.
This latest U.S. political extortion takes place in a regional context where an illegitimate right-wing regime has usurped power in Brazil. In Argentina, a cynical regime of repressive, “free market” ideologues dishonestly stole into power last year, fooling voters with downright lies about future prosperity and democratic freedoms. At the same time, the U.S. government and its European allies fund and support opposition groups in Venezuela to destabilize the country’s progressive government. Similarly, they are working out the most effective way to subvert Cuba’s revolutionary government, offering soft concessions while rigidly enforcing a genocidal economic blockade, now almost 60 years old. In Central America, the U.S. government and its European allies are working with the right wing opposition in El Salvador to undermine the Frente Farabundo Martí government under President Sánchez Cerén. Now comes this long expected attack on Nicaragua’s Sandinista government.
Nicaragua’s tiny right wing opposition actively requested right wing U.S. legislators to approve the NICA law and much has been made of this by various lazy, inaccurate media in Latin America. For example Pedro Brieger’s hit-and-miss website Nodal sub-headlined a report cross-posted from the anti-Sandinista La Prensa news outlet “the main opposition force, the National Coalition for Democracy decided not to present candidates, denouncing the elections as a ‘farce.’ ” Describing the National Coalition for Democracy as Nicaragua’s main opposition force is outrageously, ridiculously untrue. The parties comprising the Coalition barely register among the 0.5 percent “Other parties” in national opinion surveys by respected polling organizations. The Coalition itself cannot present candidates because it has not registered with Nicaragua’s electoral authorities. Another tiny opposition group, the misnamed Sandinista Renewal Movement, sent its president Ana Margarita Vigil to Washington to lobby for the NICA legislation. During her visit, Vigil even posed in a photo opportunity with Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.
But it is wrong to think that these tiny right-wing opposition groups, almost completely irrelevant inside Nicaragua, wag the dog. Since the lackluster performance of the Nicaraguan right wing in the 2011 national elections, the U.S. authorities have, at least for the moment, given up on their habitual cynical exploitation of the ambitions of Nicaragua’s anti-patriotic right wing. With the NICA legislation they are clearly turning to a policy of overt intervention via economic and other sanctions of the kind they tried unsuccessfully after the 2008 municipal elections when the Nicaraguan right wing, led by corruption tainted banker Eduardo Montealegre, convinced the U.S. and European Union authorities to cut around US$100 million in development cooperation funding to the Sandinista government based on false accusations of electoral fraud. That was in 2009, in the very depths of the global recession following the collapse of Western financial markets. Back then, Nicaragua could turn to Venezuela for help, which Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez made readily available. Now the U.S. right wing and their regional allies have attacked Venezuela’s economy and they believe the time is right to turn the financial screws on Nicaragua.
It is a mistake to think the U.S. elites and their proxy government have not been paying attention to events in Nicaragua since President Daniel Ortega took office in January 2007. What the U.S. authorities, and U..S opinion generally, smugly failed to predict was the incredible success of President Ortega’s government programs in all areas of national life. Nicaragua’s economy has grown consistently at close to 5 percent a year while its neighbors mostly struggled to achieve levels of growth between 2 percent and 3 percent. The old cliché about the threat of a good example holds good. Nicaragua’s mixed economy program based on socialist principles favoring people at grass roots has proved far superior to the neoliberal trickle-down voodoo policies of its neighbors. As soon as El Salvador’s new government under Frente Farabundo Martí President Sánchez Cerén began to implement similar socialist inspired policies, the Salvadoran right wing and its North American and European allies went into overdrive to block funding for his government's programs.
Nicaragua has been a thorn in the side for the U.S. authorities also for its uncompromising anti-imperialist interrogation of Western countries’ policies on issues like climate change or how to manage sovereign debt, on trade justice, on nuclear proliferation and a wide range of other international issues. The North American elites and their Western allies are accustomed to deferential compliance from small countries like Nicaragua. Instead, Nicaragua, as a member of the Group of 77+China countries within the United Nations system, calls into question Western policies across all those major global issues. Nicaragua also defends Palestine and the Saharawi Republic, recognized Abkhazia and South Ossetia after the Georgia-Russia war, condemned NATO’s aggression against Libya, expresses solidarity with Syria’s government and has very close relations with the Russian Federation and with Iran. The U.S. right wing’s formulation of the proposed NICA law expresses clearly the long standing U.S. “with us or against us” policy made very explicit by President George W. Bush.
So in one sense the NICA legislation is a political expression of pent up dissatisfaction at Nicaragua’s Sandinista government among the United States elites. But in a more immediate sense, the NICA legislation will have more electoral impact in the U.S. than in Nicaragua’s national elections next Nov. 6. The NICA legislation reinforces Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s threat to roll back normalization of U.S. relations with Cuba and shows how both U.S. presidential candidates are desperately scraping the bottom of the electoral barrel in competition for the most reactionary sections of U.S. voters. Times have changed. The U.S. and Europe are in crisis and need all the consumer markets and investment opportunities they can get. The NICA legislation may well cost Nicaragua some hundreds of millions of dollars in development loans for a couple of years. That will be a blow. But Nicaragua’s is a very different economy now from the comatose country bequeathed in 2007 after almost a decade of U.S. driven war and 17 years of counterproductive U.S. tutelage. The regional context too is unrecognizable from 16 years ago. In Latin America, the region’s right wing, far from acting out of self confidence, is acting out of desperation. Soon, their current contrived ascendancy will dissipate, along with the declining relative power and influence of the United States itself.