the election of the Sandinistas in Nicaragua on Nov 4
mean war or peace?
October 31, 2001
LONDON - At least ex-president Ronald Reagan is too ill
to feel the pain. If Daniel Ortega Saavedra and his
colleagues from the revolutionary Sandinista movement are
swept back into power in the coming general election it
won't be Reagan's feathers he ruffles. Still there are
enough old Central American warriors in the top echelons
of the Bush government- Elliott Abrams in the White
House, for example- who perhaps will not be able to stop
their pain reflexes working and once again there will be
pressure for America to send in the CIA to head off an
apparently unfriendly government.
How will they put it? "If we will ignore the
malignancy of Nicaragua it will spread and become a
mortal threat to the entire New World" to quote President
Reagan. Or again, "The Sandinistas are just two days
drive from Harlingen, Texas". Or, as his Secretary of
Defence, Caspar Weinberger boldly stated it, " Defending
the mainland ranks above all other priorities".
Rhetoric like this cost Central America (there were
also left/right civil wars in El Salvador, Guatemala and
Honduras) 200, 000 deaths and left whole villages and
towns decimated. They were unnecessary wars and the U.S.
had no business in fuelling them and supporting a small,
unyielding land-owning class against a small minority of
the underdog who dared to try and use violence against
them. The history books have revealed what many of us
suspected and argued at the time, that the reports of
Soviet support for the rebellions were grossly misleading
and those that spoke of Cuban aid were vastly
exaggerated. We don't have the figures for Nicaragua but
a UN commission (paid for by the U.S. and the European
Union) in its report on the Guatemalan insurgency
published two years ago found that only 3% of the deaths
were caused by the rebels, but 97% were the work of
Five years ago when Ortega tried a run for the
presidency I wrote that I didn't believe anyone but
Senator Jesse Helms would be alarmed if he won (he lost),
but then Bill Clinton was president. Now in the White
House is George Bush who has dangerously re-ignited one
Cold War cause after another and, to judge from his
bombing of Afghanistan, believes that military might
brings you what you want. We should watch this backwater
of American humanity carefully, lest the same tragic
sequence of events start up again. The unhappy experience
of the last century and a half suggests an almost
cyclical process that sucks in the heavy hand of the U.S.
every 20 years or so. Inconsequential and small the
Central American backyard may be, but America's back yard
it will always be.
The way for Washington to look at Nicaragua is its
potential, if given the right kind of help. At present,
years of neglect, combined with drastically falling
coffee prices, combined with a vicious drought have
reduced many to penury, unable even to feed their
families- all this is not in Africa but as Mr Reagan said
only two days drive away from Texas.
The Central American countries have known better
times. In the twenty years following World War 2, their
export-led economies expanded at a handsome 6% a year.
War and the collapse of commodity prices have sabotaged
The old development pattern was marred by fatal
distortions. The benefits of growth were assumed by a
small elite. Indeed the agricultural boom in the 1960s
and 70s caused the increase in landlessness that has been
a major contributing factor to the social unrest and the
civil wars. Except in Costa Rica and Panama government
policies were almost feudal.
To get the economies going again means, first,
emergency help to ease the strain on the social fabric of
these hard-wrought societies. The region is suffering
once again from an acute food-supply shortage. The food
aid Nicaragua receives today is paltry although some more
is in the pipeline. Revolving funds and communal banks
should be set up to finance the coming season's crops.
Also urgently needed are health clinics capable of
mounting mass inoculation campaigns and oral rehydration
programs to eliminate the biggest killer among children,
Add to this, emergency water supplies, latrine
construction, temporary housing and school repairing and
the cause of reconstruction would become like the kind of
war that Nicaragua truly needs. Are there the
inspiration, energy and money in Washington for that, or
is it reserved for the clandestine services that can only
dig Nicaragua's hellhole even deeper?
Reaching those in immediate need is only a first step.
Beyond that is the job of restoring conditions for
restarting economic growth- and that does not mean aid
but, more important, applying those free market
principles that Washington constantly lectures the world
about- removing the protectionism that hurts the
Nicaraguan textile, shoe, vegetable and flower
industries. For Nicaragua it means investing in land
reform, increasing popular education and diversifying
Political memories are so short. All this was said in
a report of a commission chaired by Henry Kissinger over
a decade ago. No one took real notice. By the time the
Sandinistas had given up the bullet in favour of the
ballot the U.S. had lost interest.
But what goes around can come around. Does Bush want
conflict on his Latin American flank too or can he let
the vote in Nicaragua go whichever way its people want
and meanwhile, before and after, give the country the
basic help it more than deserves?
I can be reached by phone +44
7785 351172 and e-mail: JonatPower@aol.com
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