This November seventh the people of Nicaragua will go to the polls and vote. The following six parties will be running against the Sandinista Front for National Liberation (FSLN Alliance)
- Constitutional Liberal Party (PLC)
- Christian Path Party (CCN)
- Nicaraguan Liberal Alliance Party (ALN)
- Alliance for the Republic Party (APRE)
- Independent Liberal Party (PLI)
- Yapti Tasba Masraka Nanih Asla Takanka Party (YATAMA)
They will do so despite claims in the international press that Daniel Ortega has cleared the field of his political opponents. They will do so in the wake of a violent and well-funded coup attempt which took place in 2018. They will do so despite a global pandemic.
Like other countries Nicaragua election law requires political parties to meet certain benchmarks in order to get on the ballot. In general, it’s a lower bar than the U.S. sets for third parties or for write-in candidates. Having said that one party which failed to meet the criteria (and not for the first time) claim to have been excluded from the elections. The MRS (Movimiento Renovador Sandinista) which back in January changed its name to UNAMOS (Unión Democrática Renovadora) is comprised largely of Nicaragua’s cultural elite; Sergio Ramirez, Gioconda Belli, Carlos Fernando Chamoro, Felix Maradiaga, Oscar Renee Vargas, Dora Maria Tellez, Sophia Montenegro, Azalea Solis, Vilma Núñez and others.
In The Country Under My Skin Gioconda Belli recorded her experience of the years leading up to the overthrow of the Somoza regime. During the 1970’s she worked as a courier for the Sandinistas, clandestinely delivering plans, letters and other documents for the revolutionary cause. At one point in the memoir she was in Cuba at a formal dinner attended by Fidel Castro. She flushed at the thought that Castro was flirting with her, but when he pulled her aside to speak he said, “Daniel Ortega, he’s the one.”
Like Gioconda Belli, a good number of the former MRS members took part in the revolution and since the 1990’s have distanced themselves from Daniel Ortega. During those same years they became very active in the NGO sector and are based largely in the capital city. Although this group has little support outside of Managua, they have tremendous reach internationally because they tend to speak English or were educated in the United States and because of the relationships they forged in the 1980s when large numbers of international solidarity workers came to Nicaragua to take part in the socialist experiment.
Since Daniel Ortega’s victory in the 2006 elections, for those former Sandinistas, it has been a case of sour grapes. Over the course of the past decade or so they have increasingly moved to the political right, forming alliances with the oligarchs of old and accepting large amounts of money from the United States through the National Endowment for Democracy and USAID. But to a large extent those individuals descended from the upper-classes, so really, the rift is not all that surprising. According to Nils McCune, an agronomist with a PhD who has deep ties to Nicaragua, during that same period Daniel Orgeta remained on the ground helping regular working-class Nicaraguans to defend the gains made during the 1980’s, including the land reform. For that reason the Sandinista base continued to hover at about 32%.
What is really staggering is the extent to which Robinson is willing to be completely dishonest in order to advance his claim that Nicaragua, the FSLN and Daniel Ortega have abandoned socialism.
Not long ago, William Robinson, a professor at UC Santa Barbara, falsely claimed that the biggest beneficiary of U.S. funding was the Nicaraguan government itself. The assertion is part of a left attack advanced by Robinson which rests upon the rather fabulous premise that the U.S. is actually well-disposed towards Nicaragua’s socialist government. Accepting Robinson’s claim one would have to forget former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s depiction of Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua as a ‘Troika of Tyranny’ and dismiss the sudden rehabilitation of Eliot Abrams who championed the Contra War that resulted in the death of 30,000 Nicaraguans. One would have to overlook the extent to which the Biden administration, in foreign affairs at least, has opted for continuity with Trump era policies. But what is really staggering is the extent to which Robinson is willing to be completely dishonest in order to advance his claim that Nicaragua, the FSLN and Daniel Ortega have abandoned socialism.
Funded by U.S. tax dollars, the NED and USAID operate with some level of transparency and anyone with a computer can verify the allocation of funds for themselves on their respective the websites. In this article Benjamin Norton shows the extent to which the U.S. has funded the adversaries of the FSLN government and large chunks from the NED and USAID websites are embedded into the text. The piece is an exhaustive inditement of U.S. funding for regime change objectives.
Before 2007 USAID funded projects such as infrastructure but when Ortega took office those allocations were immediately suspended and since that time the sole emphasis has been on ‘democracy building’ with funding going exclusively to adversaries of the present government. But Robinson needed to fudge the truth about the millions of dollars the U.S. has invested in destabilizing Nicaragua (over thirty million in 2020 alone) because he has aligned himself with an opposition that has benefited from U.S. largess and that within Nicaragua are widely recognized as the architects of the 2018 coup attempt.
These adversaries including a number of former Sandinistas who belonged to the MRS (now UNAMOS), have, since 2007, tenaciously sought to undermine the Ortega/Murillo government. Meanwhile, the effectiveness of the government programs, not to mention the stellar handling of the Covid 19 pandemic, have made an electoral challenge an impossibility. Even if all of the opposition parties managed to coalesce under one umbrella, at most they might be expected to receive 25% of the vote. The problem is even worse for UNAMOS which as stated have little support outside of Managua and have never polled above 6%.
The article by Ben Norton linked to above shows the direct relationships between the U.S. funding of media sites like 100% Noticias that routinely employs fake news and that during the crisis of 2018 invoked calls for violence. Oscar Renee Vargas, for example, repeatedly appeared on the channel and called on protestors to go to the neighborhood of El Carmen and storm the presidential residence. Hundreds of people will die, Vargas admitted, but it’s what we need to do.
Astro turf has been the foundation of many an NGO in Nicaragua: an LGBT rights group, indigenous rights group, a peasant organization and fake environmental interests. Youth in Managua and in other cities were cultivated by media platforms and ‘democracy building’ classes taught by pro-U.S. pro-neoliberal professors like Felix Maradiaga. While all of those efforts combined received no more than a fraction of public support, they provided photo ops, a presence on social media and a barrage of anti-government messaging that would be used in the left attack; in other words, the appearance of civil society and marginalized groups at odds with a socialist government which claimed those very groups as part of its base.
Additional context may be helpful for understanding the present moment with respect to the new wave of anti-Orgeta propaganda, the legitimacy of the elections and the current investigations taking place within Nicaragua. The integrity of the 2021 elections was brought to the forefront months earlier when a leaked document outlined a second coup attempt scheduled to take place around the November 2021 elections. Jill Clark-Gollub of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs (COHA) wrote: “The document even admits that the FSLN is likely to win in a fair election, in which case a “sudden, unanticipated transition” may be necessary. The planned subterfuge was called Responsive Assistance in Nicaragua or RAIN.”
Investigations presently taking place within Nicaragua range widely from tax evasion and money laundering to violating the country’s Foreign Agents Law, (modeled after a similar law in the U.S. and passed in the Chamorro years) and a more recent law which is basically an anti-sedition law. The arrests have been characterized as a round-up of political opponents by Daniel Ortega prior to the election although none were actual candidates and claims of exclusion had to do with meeting those benchmark requirements in order to qualify as a political party. In the high-profile case of Christiana Chamorro, she was neither a candidate nor was any political party willing to adapt her to the position.
In retrospect, the arrest of Hugo Torrez who attempted to enter the country with a suitcase of undeclared currency is viewed as an intentional provocation. But it was the arrest of Christiana Chomorro that sparked outrage as the Chamorro clan for all of Nicaragua’s history has been the most powerful family in the county. Over seven past presidents, a media empire, luxury hotels and production plants that manufacture soaps and detergents, cooking oil and agricultural products; the Chamorros preside over an empire and are linked to the Lacayo clan through marriage. Both names appeared in the Panama Papers.
As the president of the Violetta de Barrios Chamorro Foundation, Christiana Chamorro has received over seven million dollars in 2020 alone. Those funds were distributed to a range of other media organizations including the only significant print newspaper La Prensa of which she was Vice President. Allegedly some of the money also ended up in her personal bank account and there are questions about the money which continued to flow after the foundation closed its doors. International mainstream media have relied heavily on reports by LaPrensa—viciously anti-Sandinista as described by Ben Norton—and other Chamorro controlled entities for their own reporting. Carlos Fernando Chamorro runs an on-line site called Confidencial as well as media groups Invermedia and Promedia, and the influential media organization CINCO. All have received millions in USAID and NED funding.
More recently COSEP president Michael Healy Lacayo was arrested and charged with money laundering and attempting to undermine the democratic process. COSEP stands for the Supreme Council of Private Companies and represents the private sector within Nicaragua but does not include small or family-owned businesses. Nicaraguan journalist William Grigsby of the popular show Sin Fronteras revealed that Healy as well as COSEP’s vice president have received monthly payments of eight thousand dollars from Washington based NGO, International Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights. According to Grigsby Healy met with publicist María Fabiola Espinoza, in June about a disinformation and smear campaign to discredit the elections.
Within the United States mainstream media decried Russian interference in the presidential election of 2016. With obsession, American journalists pursued the Russiagate narrative at the expense of all else, but the claims proved to be largely exaggerated. In the case of Google, the amount of advertising purchased in rubles was a mere $4,000 and that money could not be directly tied to the Kremlin. Yet, Nicaraguans are expected to look the other way in the face of direct and substantial interference.
During the coup attempt Healy was president of the agricultural private sector and some have suggested his Columbia business interests tie him to narco-trafficking. Ohers presently facing legal problems have violated the terms of the amnesty which followed the political violence of 2018. Medardo Mairena participated in a massacre which took place in the small town of Morrito located in a very rural part of the country. The attack left four police officers and a school teacher dead. Years before the coup attempt Mairena fled Costa Rica under the shadow of human trafficking allegations. In the words of Noam Chomsky, “The opposition in Nicaragua is nothing to write home about.”
As Americans we can’t imagine someone from the Rockefeller dynasty confined to house arrest, let alone a wide-spread sting operation against the likes of Jamie Diamond and Lloyd Blankfein. Following the global financial collapse of 2008, we had little choice but to accept the wisdom of Barak Obama when he said that no laws had actually been broken. As Americans we can only tweet or retweet on behalf of underdogs like Steven Donziger, the human rights lawyer who has been criminalized for defending indigenous land rights against fossil fuel giant Chevron and winning.
Chuck Kaufman, National Coordinator at The Alliance for Global Justice offered this, “My opinion is that nothing we, as solidarity activists, could have done to explain the reality in Nicaragua and nothing that the government could have done would have appeased the United States or caused them to recognize the validity of the upcoming presidential election.”
As the revolution plays on, so does the propaganda. Willaim Robinson is one among many who have been willing to carry water for an opposition that has lost all credibility within Nicaragua. Paul Lafferty, Mary Ellsberg, Margaret Randall and Bianca Jagger have collectively attempted to discredit the elections. The greatest deception practiced by all of those just mentioned is the never-ending pursuit of propping up a faction of upper-class elites who would gladly deprive the majority of Nicaraguans of the right to self-determination.
At a recent news conference Josep Borrell, representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs stated, “They (the FSLN) will be up against candidates from five little-known right-wing parties — the only ones cleared to participate by the government electoral body." Chuck Kaufman responded, “The Liberal and Conservative parties have been the dominant political parties in the country. Wars were fought over which one would govern. You can hardly call them "little known."
Like Robinson and others, Borell was willing to falsify the record. The extent to which legacy media have been leading the charge in anti-Ortega propaganda itself underscores the kookiness of Robinson’s position. Individual writers for the New York Times or The Guardian may occasionally diverge from the script but on the whole they back up the Washington consensus particularly where Nicaragua is concerned and always have.
The tendency is to follow the template when describing the opposition who once upon a time were Sandinistas—forgetting how they fell into the millions of dollars extended by Washington, let alone into the arms of Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio—poor little red riding hoods. During the coup attempt just after tweeting about ‘the repression’ Vilma Nunes and Azalea Solis were photographed in Metro Centro, a shopping mall in Managua. Felix Maradiaga was caught bloodied by his own hand with a ketchup packet and thus was branded Felix ‘ketchup’ Maradiaga and opposition student Veleska Sandoval disappeared for a few days, then resurfaced with a different hair color. She later claimed that while missing she had been held by the government and tortured. While in Miami, opposition youth took selfies with members of the white nationalist group Proud Boys.
Meanwhile, barely affected by the pandemic and with an economy that continues to thrive, life in Nicaragua for most people has never been better. I’ve seen shopkeepers who don’t even support the government run down the street in order to give police officers a can of soda. That is the trust between the community and the police (fifty percent of whom are women), which the coup attempt tried to break. But they didn’t do it.
Generally speaking, that is still what people want to know. Did the police who report directly to Daniel Ortega open fire on the student protesters. Yet when one presents supporters of the opposition with solid evidence: the Viper confession, video of Felix Maradiaga wielding a gun, or the leaked audio of Silvio Baez, they suddenly lose interest.
The first report by the CENIDH (A human right organization headed by Vilma Núñez) was filled with anomalies. Had any reporter searched individual names and reviewed local news reports they would have realized that the victims were not university students and most had nothing to do with the protests. Yet Núñez had claimed that every death had occurred in the context of the protests. The body of one victim was allegedly recovered from the technical university known as UPOLI. That was done intentionally because On Saturday April 20 of 2018, hundreds of people received a call through What’s Ap. “They’re shooting at us!”
That particular victim was not a student. That particular victim was nowhere near UPOLI. He was a government worker and had been in Managua for a doctor’s visit. He had just called his wife to say, all good about to get on the bus when he was shot by a sniper. Additionally, given the claim that police had simply opened fire on protesters and given the considerable number of females in attendance, it didn’t make sense that every victim, forty-five in total, was male. Two thirds of the victims had been killed by a bullet wound to the head, neck or chest, a sign that snipers had been used. My experience and research into the events which took place at that time are recorded here and here.
Following the violence of 2018, the response of the government despite the dozens of FSLN buildings which were burned to the ground and despite wide-spread destruction; over fifty ambulances were damaged, clinics were burned, primary schools were burned, public universities which had been converted into bases of operations for criminal gangs were heavily vandalized; and despite police officers, government workers, ordinary citizens and Sandinistas who were killed; despite all that, the response of the FSLN government, incredibly, was to offer an across-the-board amnesty to those who had participated. But the amnesty came with conditions that stipulated an end to illegal activities. The coup attempt destroyed a one-billion-dollar-a-year tourism industry and the government can’t afford further destruction and destabilization efforts.
All things considered, the loyalty of William Robinson, Margaret Randall, Paul Lafferty and Mary Ellsberg to their old friends in Nicaragua is rather remarkable. Robinson in particular has been on the march with his left attack. He joined Alejandro Velasco for a panel discussion called ‘Left Perspectives’ which was hosted by NACLA. Velasco is another academic, one who has been funded by the Ford and Mellon Foundations and the chair of the board of NACLA has a high-level post at the Rockefeller Brothers Foundation.
The panel was a left perspective to the extent that it emphasized the amount of transnational capital in Nicaragua while social gains that the government had achieved were disparaged. Needless to say, supporters of the present government were noticeably absent. The panel did not mention the FSLN’s biggest accomplishments, that of universal healthcare and universal education. Nor did they mention the plethora of infrastructure projects including roads, bridges, electricity and potable water. They did not mention that about 80% of the county’s electric comes from renewable sources. “There’s a lot of trade,” Leonor Zuniga stated. There were nods all around and I supposed we were to think that ‘a lot of trade’ was a bad thing.
The amount of direct foreign investment in Nicaragua turns out to be about average for the region. A bit higher than El Salvador’s, less than Guatemala although Guatemala’s population is much greater. As one would expect there is far more direct foreign investment in Costa Rica and Panama, (the most neo-liberal countries in the region). El Salvador averaged 107.72 USD Million from 1999 until 2021; Nicaragua averaged 164.48 USD Million from 2006 until 2021; Guatemala averaged 234.51 USD Million from 2004 until 2021; Costa Rica averaged 475.78 USD Million from 2000 until 2021; Panama averaged 565.65 USD Million from 1990 until 2021.
Given that Nicaragua remains the most under-developed country in Latin America, Robinson’s big claim seems like a pretty cheap shot. But so much of what Robinson and the other panelists say is false that one barely knows where to begin. The country is largely agrarian and if ‘under-developed’ has a negative connotation, it shouldn’t. Small-scale farming and local markets are what is needed in the face of climate catastrophe. In truth, Nicaragua’s popular economy has received much praise as a model for environmental responsibility.
Google the word agroecology together with the word Nicaragua and page after page of academic studies, news articles and analysis are there to read. As to the question, has Ortega responded to the base which he has always claimed to represent, the answer is clearly yes. The Zero Hunger program distributed up to $1,500 of livestock and seeds (with training) throughout rural communities, tens of thousands of campesinos received land titles and over 80,000 women have received small business loans. (The CARUNA credit union was one of the first buildings destroyed in the coup attempt).
Subsidized public transportation, (managed through cooperatives) and subsidized electricity, in addition to greater access to schools, clinics and public housing projects have also strengthened and expanded support for the government. The FSLN base remains rural and agrarian, comprised mainly of small farmers and vendors and over 5,000 cooperatives that work in what is called the popular economy. The international agroecology organization Via Campesina is present and active in Nicaragua. Food security and food sovereignty is a big part of Nicaragua’s independence; it is the only country in the region that does not have a trade imbalance with the U.S.
Live from Nicaragua, Uprising or Coup is a Reader, produced by the Alliance for Global Justice with the help of international solidarity activists. Nils McCune wrote the introduction to the section on the popular economy.
“A major explanation for the success of the FSLN since 2007 is that public policy has treated the people working in the informal sector not only as citizens with social rights, but as producers with economic might within the national economy. While the formal private sector represented politically through COSEP employs about 15% of Nicaraguan workers, the informal sector employs upward of 60%.” (p. 225)
According to McCune there are 400 large business operating within Nicaragua and over 100,000 micro and small enterprises. He emphasizes the role the government has played in promoting and assisting small farmers. “Access to land and product resources, combined with a public policy that favors small-scale producers, has led Nicaragua to produce between 80% to 90% of its own food.”
A few pages later, one finds this insight by Orlando Nunez Soto, “Nicaragua’s popular economy is the largest in Latin America. It owns a higher percentage of the land, has the most access to credit and is the most organized. This is a different approach from the socialist culture where the state owned the economy which we’ve seen didn’t work from either an economic or political viewpoint. This is what we call Socialism from the bottom up.”
Robinson deliberately misrepresents the truth and does so repeatedly. His claim that protests in the zonas francas have been repressed by the government is completely false. Neither did Ortega ‘bring them back’ as Luis Carrión suggested in the panel discussion. Like the abortion ban and CAFTA, the free trade zones were inherited from previous administrations. According to Jorge Capelán, Latin American journalist and political analyst, “Before Ortega had even taken office, he had met with labor representatives to address working conditions and exploitation in the FTZs. Today they are considered well paid and stable employment.”
In Nicaragua, agreements regarding social security contributions and wages (that are periodically adjusted to keep pace with inflation) are negotiated through a tripartite; the government, trade unions and the private sector. Employees in the private sector receive full benefits and protections including an annual bonus (aguinalda) and severance pay if let go without cause. Walmart workers in Nicaragua have more benefits and protections than their counterparts in the United States.
When the negotiations stalled in 2018, the government came down firmly on the side of the worker. COSEP had endorsed the recommendations of the IMF which called for raising the retirement age by five years, cutting the little pensions altogether and privatizing the health care system. The government proposal raised the contribution of employers by 3% and that of employees by less than 1%. The five percent cut to existing pensions was a trade-off for expanded health services which the pension union had agreed to. But that was all reported incorrectly. Amy Goodman of Democracy Now even doubled-down on the idea that the protests were anti-austerity.
Employers with more than fifty employees now pay 23% into the social security system for each employee and those with less than fifty employees pay 22%. (The information which Robinson provided as a link is outdated). The contribution of the employee is 7%, less than half what employees contribute in the United States. I have personally known Nicaraguans who have worked hard to improve their English in order to get jobs at call centers (that operate in the free trade zones) because they are seen as a ticket out of poverty.
When convenient Robinson relies on World Bank figures, but throws them out when not. In this manner he disputes that poverty has been cut in half as World Bank statistics show. Yet, I feel certain that poverty has been drastically reduced because I’ve seen it with my own eyes and so have others. It’s hard to reason that an academic with a concentration in Central America would not understand that a fixed minimum wage would be relative to cost of living, but perhaps we should not be all that shocked by Robinson’s academic dishonesty.
In her book Virtue Hoarders: The Case Against the Professional Managerial Class,Catherine Liu asserts that during the past decades of neo-liberalism, managerial values have replaced professional values. Liu is herself an academic and that trade-off, she claims, has been especially present within academia. Vivek Chibber, a professor at New York University and author of The Class Matrix faults an elitist left for the disastrous state-of-affairs which he posits have characterized the past few decades. In an interview with Jacobin, Chibber explained:
“With the decline of class politics, class analysis, class views in the 80’s and 90’s you now slide into a radicalized and highly nationalized view of the global south and north but through that internal politics of the north and it’s not a surprise therefore that from the 90’s onward just as these understandings of empire have more or less completely replaced Marxist and socialist conceptions of empire, you also get internally in the U.S. a very racialized view of poverty and wealth, of political dynamics replacing a class based view on the left, with the left itself.”
The claim that Ortega came to power through deals with powerful elites is one which is often repeated. ‘The government of Peace and Reconciliation,’ was the undertaking that brought Daniel Ortega into office back in 2007. But where the matter is fairly transparent, detractors always paint the picture as under-handed and dubious. One has to remember the extent to which the population has historically been polarized by inequality and particularly by the Contra War. The project of reconciliation was instrumental in reconstituting the possible in Nicaragua. Any steps forward required a grand gesture towards unity.
A working relationship with the business community was necessary not only because of the moribund economy which the FSLN inherited in 2007 (infrastructure was in shambles and electricity was scattershot even in the capital of Managua), but also, one can assume, to dimmish immediate efforts to sabotage the newly formed government by Washington. The spirit of cooperation also decreased the prospect of capital flight which took place in the 1980s. Consider also, the majority of Nicaraguans are young and want to work and an amicable relationship with the business community helped in terms of job creation. But Robinson operates through a lens of historical amnesia, as if none of those factors mattered, as if imperialism doesn’t exist, as if the U.S. has not worked ardently to overturn one Pink Tide government after another.
Conversely, the analysis of René Rojas is useful because he understands that much of what Pink Tide countries have been able to accomplish has been constrained by inherited, structural traits. He writes, “How can we thoughtfully assess left governments’ willingness to challenge elite power without first mapping the contours of what was feasible?” In other words gains and failures need to be assessed based on the reality of what is possible given the power and control elites have historically held in the region as well as the quest for dominance by the United States.
His analysis finds that the majority of the Pink Tide countries attempted to carry out similar agendas: to reverse the damage done by neoliberal policies, to tackle the worst problems like hunger and extreme poverty and provide basic services, (some would be free and others subsidized). Although his focus is primarily with Argentina, Venezuela and Bolivia, one can see that progress in Nicaragua has followed a similar trajectory. After Ortega took office school fees were immediately dropped. The zero-hunger program was administered based on need and essential services like electricity and public transportation were subsidized. Despite Robinson’s derisive attitude of how benefits have been deployed, the reality is that if it were just a matter of winning popularity, of gaining votes, services would be concentrated in the urban areas or the in-between places where clusters of the population reside. But just the opposite has been the case. Basic services like electricity, roads, bridges and drinking water have been taken to the most remote areas of the country.
For those who managed throughout the 1990s to hold on to the gains made by land reforms those properties have been officially titled. Nicaragua has actually achieved more than what has been possible in other countries (universal healthcare and education, collective bargaining, communal councils). And they have avoided some of the pitfalls which have proved to be handicaps such as Venezuela’s failure to diversify and what Rojas sees as Bolivia’s ambivalence toward efforts to organize labor in the natural gas and mining industries.
Looking ahead, it’s hard to predict the future. If the claim by William Robinson that the role played by transnational capital is truly significant, that might be the very thing which could prevent Nicaragua from becoming another Venezuela. The last thing Nicaragua wants to see is another wave of job loss. In other words if AMCHAM (the American Chamber of Commerce) leadership are willing to recognize that the coup attempt was a gamble which did not pay off, those sectors may be content with the present state of general prosperity. But that alone will not guarantee an end to interference by Washington. If further subterfuge or sanctions are put into place, will the government move to advance the revolution through more extraordinary means? What Robinson fails to recognize are the contradictions which often exist between the interests of capital and U.S. geopolitical goals.
Another factor at work is the growing perception within the U.S. that sanctions are ineffective nd punitive. William Robinson seems aware of that as he declares his opposition to sanctions but that doesn’t stop him from supporting an opposition that has lobbied Washington heavily to take any and all measures against the present government. Another assertion Robinson makes which is odd is that some aspect that others don’t understand is changing within Nicaragua. It’s a very nebulous sort of prediction and I didn’t know what to make of it. But it seems pretty clear that where things are actually shifting is within the United States itself.
The Left in the U.S. is stronger now than at any other point in my lifetime. This renaissance is especially evident among the generations which followed my own, namely Y and Z or those born after 1980. Popular podcasts like Chapo Trap House, Eclectic Radical and Alex Hochuli’s, Aufhebunga Bunga identify not only as left, but as socialist. As well, a panoply of on-line platforms have emerged including: Jacobin, Vanguard, Left Reckoning and Bad Faith. The protests which erupted in response to the death of George Floyd were the biggest the U.S. has seen since the 1960s and hundreds, probably thousands of grass-roots organizations that have formed to respond to all manner of issues from material aid for protesters to debt strike coalitions. The new new left is authentic, pro-labor and anti-imperialist.
This renaissance marks a return to substance with a new generation that is aware of the influence peddling by foundations and think-tanks through the philanthropy of the billionaire class. They are not culled by mainstream media. The groundswell may have the capacity to restore real educational values that have suffered in the face of careerism and demand spaces that are free of corporate influence and control. In the future academics like William Robinson and Alejandro Velasco may find themselves challenged, if not out flanked by a new cadre of thinkers and writers.
Collectively, this emerging left may be able to defeat sanctions and given the real humanitarian crisis at the U.S./Mexico border due to migrations from the northern triangle (El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras), as well as Haiti, it will be up to all people of conscience to challenge the policies that have created the crisis. In this context, Nicaragua deserves to be recognized as a model of stability and the safest country in the region—further destabilization is not an option.
Last year the electricity sector in Nicaragua was nationalized. And the coup attempt did come at a price for the private sector. They lost their seat at the table of the committee that forms economic policy and representatives from the popular economy gained that seat. Secondly, the private sector had to accept the social security reforms which they had rejected in 2018 and which the government then withdrew, given the crisis. Additionally, the alternative tax on large business was tripled from 1% to 3%. Lastly, a loophole which allowed high-income residents to avoid paying into social security was closed. Robinson’s fictional tale of business hegemony and a consensual U.S. position towards the government are exposed by this article in which the State Department derides Nicaragua as an inhospitable business environment for foreign investors.
There’s a tremendous dichotomy between the news we see coming out of the international press and the sentiment here within Nicaragua. I live in Granada where people are out celebrating four nights a week. The Calzada which is closed to traffic and where the tables and chairs of restaurants cover the street, is often as busy as it once was at the height of tourist season. The vast majority of Nicaraguans don’t give a toss about Stephen Kinzer, Paul Lafferty or William Robinson. They are not concerned about some article which appeared in the New York Tims Review of Books. The attitude is similar towards the propaganda produced by Univision or CNN Espanol.
Nils McCune often refers to ‘historical memory’ which I understand to mean the conscious recognition of past imperialism and how that effects the continued struggle for autonomy. Nicaraguans have transcended the influence and false reality created by the billionaire, capitalist class, not only in the media but also through international NGOs which enabled the myth that the government is authoritarian. In that sense they have freed themselves which leaves them able to think for themselves, understand their own experiences and make decisions which are, at least for now, unclouded by the shadow of the United States and all that has meant in the Southern Hemisphere.