Politics in El Salvador : Echos of Nicaragua

Special to The Rag Blog

‘The Salvadoran Right has capitalized on the chaos in Nicaragua to further their negative campaign to defame the left-wing Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) party.’

By Leah Wilson / The Rag Blog / December 11, 2008

See ‘Open Letter to Nicaragua Solidarity Activists’ by Chuck Kaufman, Below.

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador — The results of Nicaragua’s municipal elections on November 9, 2008, and the post-election violence and calls of fraud have saturated El Salvador’s newspapers throughout November.

The Salvadoran Right has capitalized on the chaos in Nicaragua to further their negative campaign to defame the left-wing Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) party and its presidential candidate Mauricio Funes and vice-presidential candidate Salvador Sánchez Cerén who have a 13 point lead over the governing right-wing Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) party. As ARENA — which has had an openly close relationship with the Bush administration and implemented neoliberal and repressive policies under the Bush camp’s guidance — realizes the likelihood of El Salvador taking a left turn in the presidential elections in March 2009, they have stepped up the efforts of their campaign.

Fuerza Solidaria is doing much of the dirty work. It’s an organization that was founded by right wing Venezuelan Alejandro Peña Esclusa with the sole purpose of stopping the leftward turn that many Latin American countries have decided to take. The primary message of their print, TV, and pamphlet campaign is the same US-interventionist rhetoric seen in every Salvadoran election: if the FMLN wins, your relatives living in the US will be deported and remittances sent home from the US (which amount to over $3 billion dollars a year and sustain the Salvadoran economy) will come to an end. So far, the US government has made no attempts to clarify the lies being propagated using their name, despite declarations of neutrality for the 2009 elections.

The violence, chaos and accusations of fraud that followed Nicaragua’s November elections, along with the United States’ freezing of Millennium Fund social project money for Nicaragua after the elections, has added a new dimension to the campaign against the FMLN. While Fuerza Solidaria has played a part in this new effort, it is primarily the right-wing owned media that have taken the lead. I am including an open letter from the US-based solidarity organization Nicaragua Network that contains more information on the Nicaraguan government and the actual events of November 9 and the aftermath — something you will not find in the mainstream media.

La Prensa Gráfica and the Diario de Hoy (unaffectionately known as the Diablo de Hoy by many Salvadorans) are two of the most widely circulated dailies in El Salvador. They are also owned by right-wing businessmen who consistently do the work of the ARENA party in their coverage of national and international events. Throughout the month of November, articles highlighting the violence in Nicaragua were combined with references to the FMLN’s historic ties to Nicaragua’s governing Sandinista Front for National Liberation (FSLN) party. Accusations of FMLN participation in the post-election violence were rampant, often substantiated by photos of one person wearing an FMLN T-shirt in a group of masked Sandinistas and testimonies of journalists who supposedly saw cars with Salvadoran license plates. The story of the freezing of Millennium Fund money, of which El Salvador is currently a recipient, was also front-page news.

So, currently in El Salvador I found myself thinking a lot about Nicaragua. I knew that the Salvadoran Right’s use of the chaos there was just part of their campaign tactics (which judging by the polls have proved mostly ineffective in swaying the opinions of the people of El Salvador); however, I wanted a better analysis of Nicaragua outside of the El Salvador lens. In my efforts to make sense of the Nicaragua elections and better understand the very complex political situation there, I read lots of materials; but the open letter pasted below from the Nicaragua Network not only gave me that clarity that cannot be found in the mainstream media, but it helped me better understand the nature of international solidarity in general and Central American solidarity specifically.

Open Letter to Nicaragua Solidarity Activists
By Chuck Kaufman / December 9, 2008

[Chuck Kaufman is national co-coordinator of the Nicaragua Network.]

The Nicaragua Network has received many notes and emails about our coverage of Nicaragua in recent months. Some think we’re too supportive of the government of President Daniel Ortega, while others think we are too critical. Still others have written to thank us for what they consider to be balanced information in a highly polarized situation. We welcome the dialogue and constructive criticism and are encouraged that so many people are still paying attention to Nicaragua and the US role in that small, poor country.

In my more than 21 years on the national staff of the Nicaragua Network, it has never been more difficult to determine the best way to present the information and analysis we provide to solidarity activists in the United States. In the 1980s we saw our mission to be to explain to the US solidarity community the actions of the Sandinista government in the context of the brutal US-manufactured contra war and economic sabotage. That resulted in the appearance of uncritical support of the Sandinistas on our part.

In the era of the neoliberal governments, news and analysis was easy. We opposed neoliberalism, US domination, and the efforts to wipe out the gains of the Sandinista revolution. Today our work is more difficult because there are both positive and negative aspects of the current government’s political project, and there are divisions within Sandinismo about how to move forward. Our staff and board have had many long phone and email conversations in an effort to sharpen and balance our analysis.

Many people came to their love of Nicaragua after the 1990 electoral defeat of the Sandinistas, and thus have no experience with the Sandinista revolutionary period. This is especially true in the Sister City movement which began in the 1980’s but it is the only sector of Nicaragua solidarity to add significant new members after the 1990 electoral defeat. I have the greatest respect for the sister city groups; they are the ones who have stuck with their partners in Nicaragua through thick and thin while many of those whose solidarity was motivated primarily by ideology have long since moved on to other progressive causes. I am not for a moment implying that people in sister city groups are apolitical; a conversation with our board, most of whom represent sister city groups, would dispel that error quickly.

Still, it is hard for anyone who joined the solidarity movement after 1990 to understand the historical importance of the FSLN to those of us who traveled to – and supported – Nicaragua in the 1970s and 1980s. After 1990, the neoliberal Nicaraguan governments worked hard to eradicate the memory of the Sandinista revolution and the Sandinista struggles to protect the Nicaraguan people from attacks by the US-sponsored contras. Our government and corporate media worked equally hard to eradicate those memories in the United States. However, many of us in the Nicaragua Network haven’t forgotten.

I think it would be useful, both for new and older solidarity activists, if we review the roots of the Nicaragua Network to better understand the context in which we develop our current information and analysis.

The Nicaragua Network was born 30 years ago this coming February 24 at a conference in Washington, DC. A number of major cities already had solidarity committees working to support the Sandinista armed liberation movement. They decided they needed national coordination to make their work more effective. So, the Nicaragua Network was formed first and foremost to provide solidarity support to the Sandinista Front for National Liberation (FSLN) and its struggle to overthrow, by force of arms, the brutal US-backed Somoza dictatorship.

The Sandinista triumph on July 19,1979 was met with joy not only in Nicaragua but here in the United States as well. The wedding of the Sandinista socialist program with liberation theology’s “preferential option for the poor” created what Oxfam-Great Britain later called “the threat of a good example.” The Empire was quick to strike back. I don’t need to go into the whole history of the illegal and immoral contra war and the relentless efforts by the US government and the corporate media to vilify and delegitimize the Sandinista government, both before and after it became a duly elected representative democracy in 1984.

The campaign of misinformation, disinformation, and outright lies was enthusiastically waged by the US corporate media, led by the Washington Post and New York Times. I was surprised when someone referred us to an article in the New York Times to demonstrate the Nicaragua Network’s bias. When have we ever been able to believe a word about Nicaragua that was printed in the New York Times? When reporters like Raymond Bonner tried to report factually and impartially from Central America, they were demoted or fired. Bonner eventually received an apology, but the New York Times bias never changed.

So yes, there is no question that the Nicaragua Network has its own bias. Our bias is in favor of democratic socialism (not to be confused with social democracy) and a preferential option for the poor. We don’t hide it, and we make no apologies. While the government of President Daniel Ortega may fall short in the area of democratic socialism, it is our judgment that it is demonstrating a proven preferential option for the poor. We view the mission of the Nicaragua Network to be to stop the US government from once again denying Nicaraguans the opportunity to achieve greater economic and social justice. The most fundamental mission of the Nicaragua Network is to stop our government from intervening in Nicaragua’s internal affairs.

As evidence of the Ortega government’s preferential option for the poor, I would cite as an example that it will have eliminated illiteracy by July 2009 and the majority of municipalities have already been declared free of illiteracy. That is due, in part, to the fact that the first action of the new government was to eliminate school fees. This bold action enabled more than 100,000 additional children to attend school. During the neoliberal years, many parents weren’t able to send their kids to school because of school fee policies dictated by the IMF and World Bank. For adult literacy the Sandinista government has implemented the Cuban literacy program “Yes, I Can!” and even extended it to the Miskito and Mayagna (Sumo) indigenous languages.

That is just one example. The free health clinics are once again staffed and stocked with medicine so that patients receive medicine, rather than prescriptions they couldn’t afford to fill under the right-wing governments of 1990-2007. Cooperation with Cuba and Venezuela has given several thousand people back their sight after cataract surgery, and free operations in the hospitals have saved uncounted lives. The Sandinista government has also resurrected the small and medium farming sector, the historic backbone of Nicaragua’s economy, which wasn’t even in the National Development Plan Ortega inherited from his predecessor Enrique Bolaños.

The Zero Hunger program has provided 32,709 poor families with animals, seeds, fertilizer, etc. so they could become food self-sufficient and sell their surplus. Zero Usury has provided low interest loans to small farmers and merchants so they can earn a livelihood and feed their families. Houses for the People is putting roofs over the heads of families that previously lived in shacks built of anything they could find. Project Love is working to eliminate the tragedy of child labor. The subsidized food distribution centers are all that stand between some families and malnutrition. The Sandinista government is taking steps to feed, clothe and house its people despite skyrocketing food costs and the greatest crisis in capitalism in 80 years. I think these programs mean something; and what they mean for the lives of real people is more important than the howls and outrage among the political class in Nicaragua and abroad.

Do we think the Ortega government is perfect? No, and even a casual reading of the information and analysis we have produced over the nearly two years of his presidency will demonstrate that fact. We continue to criticize Sandinista support for criminalizing therapeutic abortion. We have criticized violent excesses of Sandinista supporters during the recent electoral process. And we have cautioned that the effort to monitor foreign funding of nongovernmental organizations not be used as an excuse to persecute women’s rights groups.

But, do we think the Ortega government is better than another right-wing, neoliberal government beholden to US masters? Absolutely. Just imagine how much worse the people of Nicaragua would be suffering in the current economic crisis if US-favored Eduardo Montealegre had become president in January 2007 instead of Daniel Ortega. How much worse off in the current economic crisis would poor Nicaraguans be in the absence of the anti-poverty programs of the current Sandinista government? The answer should be self evident.

I personally find it hard to get excited about the claims by the right-wing of fraud in the recent municipal elections. I think the claims are much greater than the reality. Of course, the US advisers and funders of the right-wing parties know all about stealing elections. Maybe they assume that all elections are as crooked as the ones in Florida and Ohio. My analysis is that the FSLN received more votes than the opposition. The biggest stink was made about the mayoral election in Managua, but an independent poll right before the election showed FSLN candidate Alexis Arguello with a 5 point lead, and that’s what he won by. Frankly, I think the supporters of Ivy League trained oligarch Eduardo Montealegre just can’t believe that a barrio born former boxer beat him. I’m delighted, and I can’t imagine why any U.S. solidarity activist would want to see Montealegre, the corrupt banking buddy of the Bush regime, as mayor of Nicaragua’s capital city.

The FSLN played by the European-US “liberal democracy” rules in 1984, 1990, 1996, 2001, and 2006. In 1984 the US forced the major opposition candidate out of the race, when it was obvious he would lose, so they could claim the election was not legitimate. In 1990, the US spent more per voter on the Nicaraguan election than Democrats and Republicans combined spent per voter on the 1988 US presidential election.

In 1996 the election was blatantly stolen by the Constitutional Liberal Party with US technological assistance as well as funding. Jimmy Carter and Oscar Arias told Ortega he had to accept the fraudulent results to prevent a civil war. He did, just as he accepted the 1990 returns resulting in the first peaceful turnover of power from one political party to another in Nicaragua’s history. The result of the 1990 election doomed Nicaraguans to 17 years of hunger, poverty, and the loss of nearly everything they had gained from ousting the Somoza dictatorship.

Is it any wonder if some in the FSLN might have been determined not to suffer losses in this year’s municipal election, or that certain international election observers, who had certified previous fraudulent elections as “free and fair,” were not invited to observe this one? (There were other certified international observers, however, and the political parties had poll watchers just like in US elections.) I find it hard to fault the logic even if I don’t approve of all the methods. And if the fraud was as blatant as the charges claim, why won’t the Constitutional Liberal Party present its “evidence” to the Supreme Electoral Commission where they hold an equal number of seats as the Sandinistas? Sure, some of the media events were impressive and disturbing, but that’s not the same as following the constitutionally mandated mechanisms for proving fraud.

The FSLN won the majority of municipalities in the previous election and, by all account; most of the Sandinista mayors did a good job. With the additional boost of the Ortega government’s anti-poverty programs over the last two years, I don’t find it surprising at all that they made further gains this year. The surprise would be if they hadn’t.

One of the tried and true tactics of the so-called democracy building programs of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and US Agency for International Development (USAID) is to manipulate polls, quick counts, and the corporate media to cast doubts on the legitimacy of elections. Look at the Ukraine election of 2003, where they succeeded, and the Venezuelan recount vote of 2004, where they failed, to see similarities to the reactions to the Nicaraguan municipal elections of 2008.

What does surprise me is that some people in the US continue to fail to recognize the treachery of our government and credulously read and listen to the US corporate media. How many times must it be proven that the US government and corporate media lack any commitment to democracy when the outcome doesn’t conform with their perceived “interests” before some people learn to read the propaganda?

So the Nicaragua Network will continue to expose and oppose US intervention in Nicaragua and elsewhere. We will continue to support governments that show a preferential option for the poor. And we’ll continue to oppose right-wing neoliberalism wherever it rears its ugly head. We’ll continue to fight disinformation by putting out true information about the Sandinista government’s anti-poverty programs, and we’ll continue to criticize its excesses of authoritarianism.

We won’t get the balance right in each and every case, but I firmly believe that if you examine the body of our work from the perspective of our historical mission, on the whole we are right where we should be. We welcome constructive criticism when solidarity activists believe we are off the mark and we always welcome dialogue.

The Rag Blog

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1 Response to Politics in El Salvador : Echos of Nicaragua

  1. Vladimir says:

    Really interesting and informative (and a leisure for eyes after digging rightists thrash and deliriums in blogs)! Thank you for posting this!

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