Nicaraguan solidarity

[Note: Nicaragua Solidarity has replied to this article here.]

Is there any significant difference between the political intervention of the North American solidarity movement in Nicaragua and that of the US government’s ambassador? The recent deal on fuel and fertilizer between the Association of Nicaraguan Municipalities and the Venezuelan authorities has helped everyone concerned about Nicaragua by clarifying political allegiances. As might be expected, the Nicaraguan social democrats’ flagship newspaper El Nuevo Diario covered the deal in a misleading, dismissive way.

Less expected was a factually mistaken account from the main US solidarity organization Nicanet in one of its information bulletins. The managerial solidarity class in North America and elsewhere needs to review what is leading them to behave similarly to the US ambassador to Nicaragua. They even use similar vocabulary. Several elements are tangled up in the matter.

The inevitability of taking sides is there and the inescapable criteria of class on which those choices tend to get made. Also there is the relation between solidarity-based interventions and their impact on local politics. In Nicaragua, one wonders at the convergence between comment from foreign solidarity and peace activists and poor reporting by local social-democrat media with a very clear anti-FSLN bias.

Intervention – hubbub and diversion

Currently, the issue of intervention looms large as a result of US ambassador Trivelli’s flamboyant violation of diplomatic rules.(1) The attention devoted to Trivelli’s behaviour is beside the point. Or perhaps it is the point. The US representative in Nicaragua is duty bound to intervene in local politics because that is US government policy and has been ever since President Monroe’s declaration back in the 19th Century. Focusing on Trivelli’s intervention is largely irrelevant. Demanding an end to it is delusional.

Will the intervention be any better or more acceptable because it happens in private? Are we to suppose that the diplomats of other NATO countries are not having quiet but purposeful conversations with Nicaraguan political power-brokers out of the public eye? Obviously, intervention is going on all the time. It may be important to demand appropriate behaviour from Trivelli, but the point at issue – whether any variety of intervention is acceptable and if so what kind – tends to get lost.

AMUNIC and the Venezuela cooperation agreement

The Venezuela-AMUNIC cooperation deal is a good place to look at these matters. On April 23rd  the Bolivarian News Agency reported(2) that President Chavez had announced the imminent signing of various agreements with 151 Nicaraguan municipal authorities. The report said that Dionisio Marenco, FSLN mayor of Managua, would represent the Association of Nicaraguan Municipalities at the signing. On April 24th, El Nuevo Diario in a report(3) on Daniel Ortega’s meeting with President Chavez, mentioned that 51 local authorities would sign the agreements. Only a careful reader would have noted later in the same report that the deal would benefit all the more than 150 Nicaraguan local authorities regardless of political affiliation.

In an April 26th report (4) El Nuevo Diario reported the signing of the agreements, mentioning that 53 mayors took part. Shortly afterwards Nicanet sent out the following in a report on the deal in its April 25th hotline “On April 22 FSLN presidential candidate Daniel Ortega and Managua’s Sandinista Mayor Dionisio Marenco met in Venezuela with President Hugo Chavez and the Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA.  PDVSA will sell oil to the Nicaraguan Association of Municipalities (AMUNIC), an association of the 51 Nicaraguan municipal governments controlled by the FSLN/Convergencia.  The oil will be sold to the municipalities at market rate, but 40% of the price can be paid over 25 years.  This will allow municipalities to sell lower priced gasoline to transportation cooperatives providing a solution, especially in Managua, to the problem that bus owners can’t break even at the current fare and Managua workers and students can’t afford an increase.”

So another canard, damaging to both the FSLN and to the Venezuelan government, enters the Nicaraguan election rumour-mill.  One can predict the propaganda line: “Venezuela intervenes in the Nicaraguan elections by only helping FSLN municipalities – look, even Nicanet says so”. El Nuevo Diario can truthfully say it did not misreport the facts. The careless editors at Nicanet, who almost certainly relied on reports like those in El Nuevo Diario, messed up.

AMUNIC represents over 150 municipal authorities. The FSLN controls 85 of them. The cooperation agreements were signed by 53 municipal representatives some of whom were from Nicaragua’s other political parties, as well as from the FSLN. The cooperation agreements will benefit all the municipal authorities who are AMUNIC members regardless of political affiliation. The Nicanet report – which may have changed on their web site by the time this article appears since the error is so egregious – suggested that only FSLN municipalities will benefit from the cooperation agreement, which is not the case. This silly mistake highlights  the tendency of foreign solidarity groups to misrepresent FSLN initiatives in accordance with the line of the FSLN’s local social democrat enemies like Herty Lewites and his supporters.

Inaccuracies and wishful thinking

An article last year by Joe DeRaymond(5) is a another useful example of the kind of inaccuracies and wishful thinking about Nicaragua that create confusion, deliberately or otherwise. Writing about the presidential elections in 2001, DeRaymond notes,  “Daniel lost despite an overwhelming victory by the FSLN in the municipal elections of 2000.” But there was no overwhelming victory in the municipal elections in 2000. The FSLN barely won a third of Nicaragua’s municipalities.

DeRaymond goes on to observe in the same article of May 2005, “In March of this year, the Sandinistas again won the municipal elections in overwhelming fashion.” But the municipal elections were in November of 2004 and  the FSLN-Convergencia won 85 municipalities – a massive advance on the performance in 2000. DeRaymond pretends that the FSLN under Daniel Ortega made no electoral progress between 2000 and 2004. He does this because his false assertion backs up the inaccurate argument he seeks to advance, an argument that just happens to be one put about by the enemies of the FSLN.

When one looks for what kind of politics North American solidarity activists want, one gets a sobering prequel to the intervention of US ambassador Paul Trivelli. In his article DeRaymond quotes approvingly a message from Nicanet in 2000 that states, “We look forward to the day when the entire leadership and grassroots base of the FSLN again provide strong, idealistic leadership for that struggle.” which seems vague but unobjectionable.

But in the meantime, Nicanet said in that 2000 message, “The Nicaragua Network remains in solidarity with the most democratic sectors of the Sandinista movement that are working to improve the lives of Nicaragua’s poor and oppressed. We recognize that these Sandinistas can be found within the Sandinista party structures and outside them and even (in a few cases) within the party leadership.”

But “solidarity with the most democratic sectors” is uncomfortably like what US ambassador Paul Trivelli has been saying  about Nicaraguan politics too. For saying it he has been attacked by North American solidarity activists. In fact, they both claim the right to decide who are the “democratic” sectors and who are not. The sheer contempt this implies for the wishes of the Nicaraguan people is astonishing. Trivelli and Nicanet and DeRaymond seem to want us to believe that the FSLN and the Liberal Constitutional Party are Nicaragua’s largest parties by accident.

They want us to believe that the sandinista dissidents who have walked away from the FSLN are somehow more “democratic” than outstanding Nicaraguan politicans from other parties like Julia Mena, Jaime Morales, Agustin Jarquin and Miriam Arguello, among many others. This is what Paul Trivelli wants people to think too. All those individuals work closely with Daniel Ortega in the FSLN/Convergencia alliance. This uncomfortable fact completely undermines dissident sandinista claims, retailed repeatedly by Nicanet and others, that Daniel Ortega is an especially tyrannical politician.

Puffing Herty Lewites

Back in May last year DeRaymond put clearly the point of view of North American solidarity activists who support the sandinista dissidents grouped around Herty Lewites. It may be worth quoting what he wrote at length:

“The current struggle within the FSLN is more than a struggle between Herty Lewites and Daniel Ortega. It is about a party re-establishing its ability to be the party of the poor majority, the people most affected by the brutality of the neo-liberal economic system. Lewites has become a threat to Ortega not because he has the support of the US, but because the bases of the FSLN and the majority of people of Nicaragua want change, and Ortega does not offer it. If Lewites has the support of the United States Ambassador as Tony Solo states in his recent Counterpunch article, “Nicaragua on a Dollar a Day, Forever”, I believe it is only because the Ambassador knows this will hurt Lewites in the eyes of Nicaraguans. As an FSLN candidate who will carry through with a Sandinista program, it would be a different story, I believe. We don’t yet know what program Herty Lewites would propose for Nicaragua, for example, whether he would support or oppose the neo-liberal policies that have been ruinous for Nicaragua’s poor. But he deserves a chance to present his program to the people in the type of party primary that the Danielistas have now cancelled.”

Ok then. Here we are a year on in. Lewites programme? No one knows. Would his foreign policy support Cuba and Venezuela? Don’t know. What’s his energy policy to deal with soaring oil prices? Don’t know. What’s his agricultural policy? No one can tell you. Health? Education? Um, sorry, no one knows.

When the crucial vote came in Nicaragua’s legislature on the Central American Free Trade Agreement Lewites refused to clarify his position. Why? Most likely because he supported CAFTA but didn’t want to say. When asked about CAFTA just before that decisive vote, Lewites supporters like Victor Tirado and Monica Baltodano refused to answer questions on the issue, as did Lewites himself.

What do we know about Lewites? We know he was expelled unanimously from the FSLN by an assembly of the party’s members. We know he has had several meetings with ambassador Trivelli, and other leading US government representatives. We know he has had lengthy discussions with Eduardo Montealegre, the preferred candidate of the Nicaraguan oligarchy and the US embassy.

We know he waited until it was very clear that majority opinion was hostile to the gross interventionist behaviour of ambassador Trivelli before commenting critically in the mildest possible terms. We know he loses no opportunity to make personal attacks on Daniel Ortega. It could not be clearer that Lewites is an opportunist deliberately reserving his positions on the entire range of policy issues so as not to alienate some group whose support he needs.

This, surely is the very definition of an opportunist. And yet who is it that the North American solidarity activists tag “opportunist”? Obviously, Daniel Ortega. Brynne Keith-Jennings suggests in the article “The Meddlesome Ambassador Trivelli” already referenced, “Although Ortega’s rhetoric frequently challenges the role of the US in Nicaragua, in recent years, he has proven to be more a political opportunist than an ideologue or potential threat to the United States. He has not said that his government would renege on current IMF loans or otherwise alter the US-supported neoliberal reforms that the US define as “sensible economic policies”. Regardless, it should be the Nicaraguan people, not U.S. policymakers, who decide whether or not he deserves a second term in office.”

Indeed. And this is yet another example of the counterfactual determination of North American solidarity activists to rubbish the FSLN and Ortega. The recent deal with Venezuela is a clear example of the progressive, anti-neoliberal domestic and foreign political and economic policies of the FSLN and very much in opposition to US government economic dictates for countries like Nicaragua. Ortega and the FSLN have consistently defended that party’s commitment to anti-imperialism, political pluralism and a mixed economy. 

This is in very sharp contrast with Herty Lewites studied refusal to define a political programme. Likewise, Keith-Jennings and people who argue similarly should explain in what sense the FSLN and Daniel Ortega do not represent a potential threat to the United States. Do they think so many leading members and supporters of the Bush regime as well as the US ambassador devote so much time, energy and resources to attacking the FSLN and Daniel Ortega because they have nothing better to do? Do they think the enduring relationship between Ortega and Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez is mere “rhetoric”?

It is self-evident that as solidarity activists – however poor we may be financially – we form a comfortable managerial class. We manage valuable resources unavailable to the vast majority of Nicaraguans. The natural alliances of our class are with the kind of people who are grouped around Herty Lewites – mostly agreeable and articulate media and NGO types. It is pleasant to think of ourselves as principled idealists. But class will always out and we should be alert to that.

The gross errors of fact published by Nicanet and Joe DeRaymond, trivial in themselves, point at best to lazy wishful thinking – at worst to deliberate and determined political intervention against the FSLN. So too does Brynne Keith-Jennings’, counterfactual note about FSLN economic policy. The fact that North American solidarity activists seem to be at one with ambassador Paul Trivelli in promoting Herty Lewites as an appropriate “democratic” presidential candidate against Daniel Ortega gives plenty of pause for thought. It is not unfair to ask what difference there is between their clear anti-FSLN political agenda and that of the US government.

toni solo is an activist based in Central America – contact via

1. “The Meddlesome Ambassador Trivelli. Whose Democracy is the US Supporting in Nicaragua?”, Brynne Keith-Jennings Counterpunch April 22nd/23rd 2006
2. “Venezuela firmará convenios con 151 alcaldías de Nicaragua el 25 de abril” Agencia Bolivariana de Noticias 23/04/2006
3. “Que Pasa”, Daniel? “¿Vamos a ganar?”, Cables combinadas, El Nuevo Diario 24/04/0206
4. “PDVSA y 53 alcaldes forman Alba Petróleos de Nicaragua”, Cables combinadas. El Nuevo Diario 26/04/2006
5. “Autumn of the Revolutionary. Another Look at Daneil Ortega and the Sandinista Struggle”, Joe DeRaymond, Counterpunch may7th/8th 2005

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