“We have made a very important treaty with a people totally unrepresented, a people dominated by our military power…I have never considered the treaty with Nicaragua as a treaty agreed with the Nicaraguan people. We made a treaty with ourselves. We made a treaty with a government that represented us even on the other side of the negotiating table. We made a treaty with a government that was our instrument. It is one of the most indefensible transactions I have ever known in international life.”US Senator William Borah(1)
Nothing much changes even after nearly a hundred years. Corporate war-criminal Robert Zoellick, on his day-job for the US State Department, breezed into Nicaragua last week. He got the kind of slavish welcome he fails to get even from the servile Washington press corps. His visit followed immediately on from an editorial by the State Department Daily (also known as the Washington Post) condemning “undemocratic” sandinista leader Daniel Ortega. On the contrary, Ortega has promoted and defended electoral democracy in Nicaragua since 1984.
Zoellick’s visit was trivial in terms of what he had to say. The usual imperial blarney about promoting democracy accompanied by a typical threat to withhold US$175m in aid if Nicaraguans don’t do what the US government says. The discourse has not changed since 1910. “Do what we want – or else….” One expects such diplomatic speaking-clock declarations from career workhorses like US ambassador to Nicaragua Paul Trivelli. But maybe machiavellian corporate Prince-lings like “call-me-Bob” Zoellick should try a little harder.
Zoellick’s curriculum vitae includes stints as consultant to the corrupt Enron Corporation, adviser to privatisation predator Viventures/Vivendi International(2), associate of the exclusive Precursor Group of investment advisors(3) and as an executive for financial services buccaneering giant Goldman Sachs. The idea that while in government people like Zoellick set aside their corporate ties is absurd. Like all leading functionaries of the US imperial plutocracy, Robert Zoellick contributes to global corruption through the constant osmosis between his public duties and his personal corporate loyalties. Then he has the outright nerve to accuse other people of corruption.
During his visit to Nicaragua, Zoellick met with President BolaÃ±os and his ministers, as well as possible presidential candidates Jose Antonio Alvarado, Eduardo Montealegre and Herty Lewites, members of the business sector and, as individuals, some members of the Constitutional Liberal Party (PLC) of disgraced ex-president Arnoldo Aleman. Among the group meeting Zoellick with Lewites were Luis Carrion and Victor Hugo Tinoco. All three are former leading members of the FSLN Sandinista revolutionary government. The main task for them all was to prostrate themselves metaphorically before the imperial prince in order to convince him they are “democrats” cut, stitched and finished to the taste of the Bush regime.
Herty Lewites : currying imperial favour
Herty Lewites put this spin on it, “It was made clear that the United States can’t come insisting that we sandinistas are not working and struggling for a democratic government. It was precisely for that that they expelled us from the party, for seeking primarily from the party ranks, the democratization of the party.”(4) Lewites has consistently obfuscated the reasons for his expulsion from the FSLN, causing much confusion among FSLN supporters. In fact, he was expelled from the FSLN for failing to abide by its statutes, among which chapter II section 15 of the rights and duties of members of the FSLN states that members of the FSLN are bound to “Conform strictly to party disicpline, obeying all the directives, rules, norms and agreements of the FSLN.”(5) Lewites failed to obey the rules. He was expelled.
Herty Lewites’ meeting with Zoellick confirms the worst interpretations of his split with the FSLN. All the time he talks about “rescuing sandinismo”, what Lewites – a very talented and successful businessman – very clearly means is to embrace US-style “free market” capitalism, and the abandonment of national sovereignty that move entails. Nothing could be further from Augusto Cesar Sandino’s vision of a free, sovereign Nicaragua.
Herty Lewites has never spoken out clearly against the Central American Free Trade Agreement or water privatization. He is perhaps the first politician in Central America to adopt wholesale the utterly cynical modern public relations style of sinister spin-merchants like Tony Blair. Lewites and his supporters are Tony Blair’s neo-liberal New Labour translated for Nicaraguans.
What might someone with Sandino’s vision have said to Robert Zoellick? Several obvious matters of concern leap to mind. They might have expressed dismay and condemnation of US government protection for super-terrorist Luis Posada Carriles, wanted for mass-murder by the Venezuelan government. They might have interceded vigorously on behalf of the five Cuban anti-terrorist heroes languishing unjustly in maximum security US prisons after having been exonerated by an Appeals Court.
They might have urged the US immediately to honour its commitments under the Geneva Conventions by restoring a humane regime to detainees in Guantanamo and bringing them swiftly to a fair trial. Or they might have pressed the US government to respond promptly to an Italian court’s warrant for the arrest on kidnapping charges of US gangster-diplomat Betnie Medero-Navedo, currently First Secretary at the US embassy in Mexico.(6) They might even have questioned US intervention in Haiti.
Very clearly, none of these points were put to Robert Zoellick by Herty Lewites or Luis Carrion or Victor Hugo Tinoco. Instead former revolutionaries Lewites, Carrion and Tinoco pleaded their case for benediction from the war-criminal US government as “democrats”. They did so knowing perfectly well they were dealing with one of the principal State-terrorists responsible for sustaining the colonial occupation of Afghanistan, the fascist occupation of Iraq, the genocidal occupation of Palestine and the rape of Haiti (leaving aside US terrorism against Nicaragua throughout the 1980s). Anyway, they came out of the meeting apparently expecting still to be taken seriously when they talk about “rescuing Sandinismo”. Seldom can public relations rhetoric and actual political behaviour have been so flagrantly self-contradictory.
CAFTA – US protection racket collects its dues
In contrast to Lewites, even the representative of the US-dominated Organization of American States, genial and avuncular Dante Caputo, agreed that Zoellick’s threats on aid were interventionist. When asked about Zoellick’s threat to hold back US$175 from the US Millenium Account aid program, Caputo opined, “Whenever any international financial organization imposes conditionalities, de facto there is intervention.”(7) Few global corporate functionaries like Caputo are ever that candid in public. El Nuevo Diario reported Liberal judge Guillermo Selva lamenting that by welcoming Zoellick, President BolaÃ±os was fixing US$175 as Nicaragua’s price. Selva was reported as saying, “Zoellick didn’t come as a diplomat, but rather as a proconsul giving orders, it oughtn’t to be like that.”(8)
Probably the main purpose of Zoellick’s visit was to slap around the Constitutional Liberal Party (PLC) to push through ratification of the Central American Free Trade Agreement. Despite complaints by leading Liberal figures like Guillermo Selva, the PLC leadership knows who calls the shots. They quickly pressed the Sandinista FSLN to agree moving a vote on the ratification of CAFTA to the top of the legislative agenda in the National Assembly. On the night of Monday October 10th 2005 the infamous deed was done and Nicaragua became formally in the words of Sandinista deputy Alba Palacios, a United States annex “on totally disadvantageous terms”.(9)
Within a few hours of the vote, Daniel Ortega leader of the FSLN and President Enrique BolaÃ±os announced an agreement aimed at ending the almost year long cat-fight between the President and the country’s legislators. So Nicaragua is back to where it was in 2003 when the fatuous Colin Powell visited Nicaragua and ordered BolaÃ±os not to have anything to do with the FSLN. From that point on the hapless BolaÃ±os was doomed to impotence.
At the time, the FSLN struck a deal with the PLC and tried to work out a legislative agenda on that basis, since they had little practical alternative. Among recent agreements was the decision to postpone ratification of CAFTA pending approval of a packet of laws designed to provide greater protection to employees, small farmers and small and medium-sized businesses. When the PLC leadership caved in to imperial pressure in the shape of “put-the-boot-in-harder-Bob” Zoellick, the rationale for the FSLN deal with the PLC vanished.
The voting arithmetic in Nicaragua’s National Assembly is not difficult. The FSLN has 37 seats. President BolaÃ±os can count on 10, The PLC have 42 and there are three or four deputies from smaller parties. Since the PLC loathes BolaÃ±os with the internecine passion generally reserved for traitors, the FSLN and its allies can flirt with either side depending on where its best advantage lies on any given piece of legislation.
From Sandinistas to Montewitistas
So the end result of nearly three years of US diplomacy and heavy handed intervention from the European Union, the Organization of American States, the United Nations and the international financial institutions is circular. Nicaragua is back where it was in 2002 before the bullying visit of clueless US Secretary of State Colin Powell. The main significant domestic variation is the appearance on the scene of the Montewitistas.
Montewitistas are many-faced creatures who have had some difficulty deciding if they are coming or going. Like the goddess Athena from the temple of Zeus, they all sprang fully-formed from the furrowed brows of presidential hopefuls Herty Lewites and Eduardo Montealegre. Former FSLN member Lewites and former PLC member Montealegre have agreed various matters relating to their respective attempts to run for the Nicaraguan presidency. It is their own squalid version of the FSLN-PLC “pacto” which they have enjoyed lampooning for months.
When not grazing on the lush, golden slopes inhabited by the upper echelons of Nicaragua’s business and “non-governmental” classes Montewitistas spend most of the time name-calling and complaining. They cry no one will let them take part in Nicaraguan elections, though the electoral process has not even begun. They cry the Liberal PLC and the Sandinista FSLN are cruel, at the same time as they themselves hurl hearty abuse and threats at both. They cry that only they are clean and good and honest, and run to seek approval from corporate gangsters like Robert Zoellick.
Leading figures among the Montewitistas include former revolutionary comandantes Henry Ruiz, Monica Baltodano and FSLN founder member Victor Tirado. Ruiz and Baltodano have both expounded at length in RebeliÃ³n.org on their reasons for supporting Herty Lewites. People with an addiction to long-winded Mexican novelas may well find their expositions engrossing. But all are very coy about explaining their role as Montewitistas. Nor have they or Victor Tirado or Luis Carrion or Victor Hugo Tinoco explained much about their rapprochement with the gangster regime of George W.Bush.
CAFTA – how big a deal?
CAFTA may have been ratified by the Nicaraguan legislature but its irrelevance to Nicaragua’s underlying problems are clear. It will not provide more net employment. It will accelerate rural depopulation, increasing the social problems in both deserted rural areas and ever more overcrowded cities. Innumerable small and medium-sized business will shut down, unable to compete with giant US rivals. Medicines will likely double in price or worse. Domestic taxes will have to increase anything between 10% and 15% in order to compensate for lost revenue from import taxes.
Nicaragua will lose its food sovereignty. Terms and conditions for workers will deteriorate. Short-term investment cowboys will finish stripping out Nicaragua’s already minimal public sector. The people who will do well out of it all will be the business classes represented by politicians like Enrique BolaÃ±os, the leadership of the PLC, Herty Lewites and Eduardo Montealegre. Another important set of beneficiaries will be leading representatives of the Nicaraguan non-governmental sector picking up lucrative contracts from multilateral and bi-lateral “aid” donors to engage in the charade of assisting victims of policies that should never have been implemented in the first place.
For the FSLN and its political allies the challenge will now be to define strategies of defence and resistance to protect Nicaraguan workers and campesinos from the catastrophic effects for them of deepening enslavement under foreign intervention. CAFTA and the intimately linked Plan Puebla Panama were designed to run on cheap energy in a stable natural environment. Neither of those conditions are likely to apply now or for the foreseeable future.
Natural disasters like those that have regularly destroyed thousands of lives and billions of dollars worth of property will become more frequent as climate change accelerates. The recent horrific flooding in much of Central America and Mexico emphatically reinforces that fact. Venezuela’s role in guaranteeing affordable oil-derived energy will counteract US regional influence in ways that are still hard to work out. CAFTA only contributes negatively to this context. As the majority of people’s standard of living steadily declines resentment and protest will grow. Winning on CAFTA may yet turn out to have been a pyrrhic victory for the US government and its local allies.
1. Reference from Gregorio Selser “Sandino. General de Hombres Libres” Congressional Record of Proceedings and Debates of the 2nd Session of the 67th Congress. Vol LXII, part. 9a, pp. 8941/8942, Washington D.C.2. www.viventures.com and http://lannuairedesfonds.journaldunet.com/fiche/63/viventures/3. Precursor Group does not name its board members on its web site. In 2003 Zoellick was named on their web site as one of their advisers. They are at www.precursorgroup.com4. “Lewites y Montealegre asumen ?pacto de caballeros?. Si inhiben a uno, el otro se retira de contienda.” El Nuevo Diario October 6th 2005.5. “De los miembros del FSLN sus deberes y derechos” Frente Sandinista de LiberaciÃ³n Nacional. 19836. “La justicia italiana emite una orden de arresto por secuestro contra una funcionaria de la embajada de EEUU en MÃ©xico” CrÃ³nica. www.rebelion.org 04-10-2005 7. “Caputo: ?Opinar no significa injerencia?” Edgard Barbarena, Nuevo Diario October 8th 20058. “Clase polÃtica indignada con subsecretario Zoellick. Rita Fletes: ?AlemÃ¡n es ladrÃ³n, pero es nuestro ladrÃ³n?, Nuevo Diario October 6th 2005.9. Personal interview by phone, October 7th 2005.