Above photo: El 19 Digital.
Since the house arrest of former president Violeta Barrios de Chamorro’s daughter Cristiana Chamorro for money laundering and other crimes, the US and international assault against the Sandinista government has grown. This is the continuation of an ongoing attack against Sandinismo that began long before the US and its regime change agents took advantage of Chamorro’s arrest. Precisely because the coup d’état against the Sandinista government failed in 2018 we see a continued offensive against Nicaragua. To achieve their goals, the US and its agents are throwing the kitchen sink of dirty tricks against the Sandinista government. One of the most damaging aspects is that the western media repeats US government and Nicaraguan opposition media disinformation talking points. They tell you that the government is pursuing these individuals because President Ortega wants to eliminate opposition to assure his re-election. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Nicaraguan Political Reality
President Ortega, according to multiple polls including the latest poll, is scheduled to easily win the upcoming elections.
Nicaraguan presidential elections will take place on November 7th, 2021. The latest poll, conducted by M&R consultants, show that Daniel Ortega has over 60% support in the Nicaraguan population. By contrast, the opposition support hovers around 20%. This elevated approval for the opposition is likely because the poll only asked about support for the opposition in general, not any particular individual. Approval for any one individual in the opposition is much lower. Therefore, the current government actions have nothing to do with Daniel Ortega being afraid of an election loss. On the contrary, it is beneficial for President Ortega to run against various opposition candidates, as is scheduled to happen with four parties and two alliances of parties running presidential and vice presidential candidates as well as candidates for National Assembly and Central American Parliament Deputies. Opposition candidates legitimate the electoral process when Ortega does win. And note: As part of the media reality show about Nicaragua, some individuals who are jailed (for reasons explained below) are presented as “pre-presidential candidates.” The term “pre-presidential candidate” is fiction, used both by the Nicaraguan opposition and western media. There is no such thing. According to Nicaraguan law, the parties who had signed up to participate (in May) were scheduled to put forward their presidential candidates between July 28th and early August 2021. They did.
Those jailed are targeted for what they do, not their opposition to Sandinismo. Many media outlets, organizations, and individuals loudly state and organize around their opposition to Sandinismo in Nicaragua. Only those who violate the laws are targeted.
The arrests are associated with ongoing investigations of Nicaraguan non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and individuals who receive money from the US government and in effect are US agents. One of the best known is the Violeta Barrios de Chamorro Foundation (VBCF) which has received millions of dollars from the US Agency for International Development (USAID) to create and fund opposition media in Nicaragua. The Prosecutor’s Office points out that the “funds were mostly destined to finance one of the main programs of the VBCF, ‘Media for Nicaragua Program,’ but that in practice the funds were destined for other purposes that were not within the Foundation’s scope, such as financing individuals and organizations that sought to destabilize the country’s economic and social development.” The Public Ministry informed the public that the VBCF is being investigated for laundering of goods and assets, set out in articles 282, 410 and 412 of the Penal Code, Law No. 641, to the detriment of Nicaraguan society and the State of the Republic of Nicaragua, and for carrying out “illicit acts.” Among those accused – and currently under preventative detention – are Cristiana Chamorro, Pedro Chamorro; and their first cousin, Juan Sebastian Chamorro from the Foundation for Economic and Social Development (FUNIDES). In addition to these individuals, others are accused of similar crimes, and some of those are fugitives including Carlos Fernando Chamorro. At least ten people are accused of money laundering (or aiding in it).
Many of the above, along with at least 28 others, are accused of the crime of conspiracy to undermine national integrity, according to articles 410 and 412 of the Penal Code. Nicaraguan journalist William Grisby has reported widely on US funding and reported that the National Endowment for Democracy (NED, a CIA cutout), USAID, foreign governments, and US foundations like the Soros Foundation, gave money to Cristiana (and other opposition) through the Chamorro foundation as well.
An initial audience was held against Luis Rivas, charged for illegal possession of firearms, manufacture, trafficking and use of restricted weapons, substances or explosive devices, and conspiracy. Rivas is executive president of the bank, Banpro of Group Promerica, in Nicaragua and, according to his LinkedIn page, is also COO of Group Promerica since 2018. In 2019, Salvadoran media revealed that the Promerica S.A. bank was involved in a money laundering scheme in El Salvador. According to Diario1, Banco Promerica helped the Texis narco-trafficking cartel of El Salvador launder about US$370.3 million.
Felix Maradiaga is accused of participating in a conspiracy to impair the national integrity of Nicaragua. He has openly called for unilateral coercive measures (commonly known as sanctions) to cripple Nicaraguan society. Before and after the 2018 US-backed coup, Maradiaga was funded by the US government through USAID and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) not only to disseminate propaganda against the government, but also to lay the groundwork for regime change. His organization, Institute for Strategic Studies and Public Policy (IEEPP), for example, trained young people who later were involved in the 2018 coup.
According to a Trinchera de La Noticia report, the National Democratic Institute (NDI) – which according to their own report receives support from NED, USAID, US Department of State, as well as other foundations and corporations – funded a network of media ventures in Nicaragua. In the middle of this network is Maradiaga’s NGO, IEEPP, and a business, Expediente Abierto, S.A., which was run by Javier Meléndez, Maradiaga’s business partner. According to the report, Meléndez closed Expediente Abierto S.A. after receiving about US$2.5 million annually, although it is unclear if they received funding exclusively from NDI or for how long. The report also notes that Melendez’s wife Deborah Ullmer, is currently (as of this writing) NDI’s Regional Director for Latin América and the Caribbean. Ullmer, according to her profile on the NDI website, was the “chief party for a USAID/Office of Transition Initiative’s program in Nicaragua.” According to the USAID website, the Office of Transition Initiatives (OTI) “supports U.S. foreign policy objectives by helping local partners advance peace and democracy. OTI provides fast, flexible, short-term assistance targeted at key political transition and stabilization needs…. OTI’s programs serve as catalysts for positive political change.” In other words, they engage in “regime change” efforts against governments targeted by the US.
Not surprisingly, a new USAID plot, Responsive Assistance in Nicaragua, RAIN, was created in 2020 to topple the Sandinista government should the FLSN coalition win the upcoming elections.
These are just examples of the kind of people being accused by the Public Ministry. The legal framework for these investigations rest on Nicaraguan law, including The Penal Code, The Law for the Regulation of Foreign Agents and The Law to Defend the Rights of the People to Independence, Sovereignty, and Self-Determination for Peace.
Why is the Government Doing This?
In his June 23rd 2021 address, President Ortega stated: “Here we are not accusing politicians; we are not accusing candidates. Here, we are accusing criminals who have launched an assault against the country, against the security of the country, against the lives of its citizens by, once again, organizing another April 18 [date the last coup attempt began in 2018], another coup d’état, to carry out what they call ‘regime change.’ This is what we are pursuing; this is what we are investigating, and this is what will be punished, in due time, as the laws require.”
The United States is leading the charge against the government of Nicaragua. The most recent direct attack is a new package of sanctions called the RENACER Act, passed by the US Senate under unanimous consent. In the House, the RENACER Act has been voted out of one committee but not the other committee which has to approve it before sending it to the House floor for a final vote.
There is still one way to stop RENACER. Please call and write the chairwoman of the House Financial Services Committee, Rep. Maxine Waters. Phone calls are best: her office number is 202-225-2201 (California office: 323-757-8900); please leave a comment on the comment line. You do not have to be a constituent to contact her as the Chair of the Financial Services Committee regarding legislation before her committee. Then call the Financial Services Committee directly with the same message: 202-225-4247. Thank you!
This legislation is set to compound the problems generated by the NICA Act. For example, any Sandinista “party member” could be sanctioned. There are 2.1 million card-carrying FSLN members and together with their families and others, they are part of the about half of the population who identities as Sandinistas. The RENACER Act shows that empire is a bipartisan project in the United States.
For anyone who thinks the US is a friend, it is important to note what the US is doing in the Northern Triangle of Central America. Just like Trump, President Biden keeps some immigrant children who cross the border “unauthorized” in unacceptable conditions, has extended some Trump-era immigration policies, and is continuing neoliberal looting of the Northern Triangle nations, one of the key reasons people are migrating to the US. Biden’s policies will fail spectacularly. To preempt the inevitable, Biden sent US vice-president Kamala Harris to deliver a clear message to people in Central America who will be further displaced by neoliberalism imposed from the US: Do not come! The new head of USAID, Samantha Power, recently traveled to Central America to make sure US interests and dominance continue to reign in the Northern Triangle, which they hope to expand to Nicaragua.
The Nicaraguan government is investigating and has indicted individuals who, with US support, directives, and funding, were planning to carry out destabilization efforts in Nicaragua – including a coup d’état, should Ortega win in November – that would have inevitably led to economic disaster and loss of life. These US agents are accused of serious crimes that would be serious crimes in the US and any country in the world.
Because the US has not been able to get “its” parties in power through elections since the ones in 2001, and because it has no hope of getting “its” people in through democratic elections, the US has taken the alternative illegal route of attempting to overthrow a constitutionally constituted government.
The US propaganda campaign and the ongoing destabilization efforts will continue after the probable Sandinista win in November, according to the RAIN document. The US-funded individuals, many of whom will go to trial soon, had other options. Rejecting imperialism, they could have run US-free campaigns, providing alternatives to the political project Sandinismo offers. But they didn’t. It is much easier to ask Uncle Sam to install them in power rather than do the hard work of taking their (failed) political vision to the Nicaraguan population. Because the opposition is embroiled in infighting, the US knew that no candidate would be able to beat the Sandinistas and all of their social and economic advances for the people since 2007.
What can we expect moving forward? Five opposition parties/coalitions have signed up to run presidential candidates against Daniel Ortega (from the FSLN coalition). Walter Espinoza from PLC, Guillermo Osorno from CCN, Marcelo Montiel from ALN, Gerson Gutierrez from APRE, and Mauricio Orue from PLI are all opposition presidential candidates from a range of opposition parties/coalitions. Thus far, there is no indication that these parties/coalitions have received foreign funding. Are they under fierce pressure from the US to withdraw so as not to legitimize the electoral process? It is unclear. These parties have a vested interest in participating because, in addition to presidential candidates, they are also running candidates for the National Assembly, and the Central American Parliament. If they don’t run, they risk not having their members as Deputies in these important bodies.
The US is attacking Nicaragua because this small country does not bend to its will. This has nothing to do with democracy or human rights. This offensive is a continuation of long-standing hatred toward Sandinistas. US geopolitical imperialist interests are the only reason the Sandinista government is under siege. The US will not let the threat of a small nation doing what is best for its people against US-imposed neoliberal looting inspire other nations.
The Sandinista government, under Daniel Ortega’s leadership, enjoys massive support in Nicaragua, particularly among the working class and no matter how much the US tries to hide this fact, it will not go away. While the scant support for the opposition is bought and paid for, Sandinismo is anchored in moral, ideological, and historical opposition to empire that feeds its militancy, old and new. No amount of US money can erase or overcome Sandino’s and Fonseca’s conviction, which give Sandinistas a sense of collective historical purpose. Sandinismo lives in Nicaraguan society as a revolutionary seed in the heart of its people, waiting to bloom. The imperialist assault against Sandinismo highlights its revolutionary importance not just in Nicaragua but to the entire region. As long as Sandinistas are in power, the world will know that independence is possible, that socialist policies are better able to provide prosperity to people, and that it is only through complete sovereignty that governments can prioritize the citizenry. Along with Cuba, Venezuela, and Bolivia, Nicaragua demands respect and will not be bullied, even under the harshest of circumstances.
No US-backed neoliberal plan, if one is ever proposed, will come close to El Plan Nacional de Lucha Contra La Probreza, 2022-2026, the Sandinista government’s plan against poverty for the next few years.
For us in the West, these are facts. For Nicaraguans, this is their lived experience. Consequently, Sandinismo is here to stay, with Daniel Ortega at the helm.
Yader Lanuza is a Nicaraguan scholar who teaches sociology at the University of California, Santa Barbara.