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The elections of 1990 in Nicaragua were an event of considerable significance. For understanding U.S. policy, and the operative concept of democracy in the dominant political culture, it is important to pay close attention to what was known about them in the preceding months, and the way they were later interpreted. The first of these questions is addressed in this section, published before the elections; the second in the next chapter, written afterwards. To distinguish clearly between these two topics -- what was evident before and hindsight -- I leave this section in its original form.32
In 1984, Nicaragua ran elections that were superior by any rational standards to those conducted in the U.S. terror states. They were observed as closely as any in history by the professional association of Latin American scholars, Western governments and parliaments, and others. The general conclusion was that they were fair and equitable, surely by the standards of the region, more so than the elections in El Salvador celebrated by the U.S. government and media as a triumph of democracy. The U.S. labored effectively to disrupt the elections, as is now quietly conceded. By the rules of the game, these facts are irrelevant. The elections did not take place. Alone in the region, Nicaragua had no elected president, but only a dictator.33
The next election was scheduled for 1990. The official fable here is that the totalitarian Sandinistas agreed to a 1990 election only because of the steadfastness of the U.S. and the contras. In the real world, the only detectable effect of U.S. pressure was to advance the scheduled elections by a few months. The U.S. intervened massively in an effort to disrupt the elections. The embargo and other economic warfare were a clear message to Nicaraguan voters: If you want your children to eat, vote the way we order you to.
By its rejection of the Tela accords and insistence on blocking contra demobilization, Globe editor Randolph Ryan observed, Washington is sending "an implicit message...to the Nicaraguan electorate: If you want a secure peace, vote for the opposition." In a backhanded way, even the New York Times conceded this subversion of the electoral process. Reporting with much pleasure how the collapse of the economy has "alienated" the working class and turned them against the Sandinistas, the Times observed that Managua workers understand that restoration of relations with the U.S. is the key to overcoming the economic crisis and that "the opposition is better suited to the job" than the Sandinistas: "well-publicized foreign donations to the opposition parties here have been interpreted by many Nicaraguans as proof that the opposition, not the Sandinistas, has better access to the foreign money necessary to relieve Nicaragua's crisis."34
In early November 1989, the Bush administration brought the U.S. candidate Violeta Chamorro to Washington for some publicity. President Bush issued a promise "to lift the trade embargo and assist in Nicaragua's reconstruction" if Chamorro wins the election, the White House announced.35
It took no great genius to perceive that the U.S. would continue to torture Nicaragua, with elite support across the spectrum, until it restores U.S. clients to power. This renewed display of the traditional fear and contempt for democracy among U.S. elites, which reached new peaks in the 1980s, could hardly be understood in respectable circles here, however. There was much discussion over proposals to send aid to the opposition or to involve the CIA in covert operations. In comparison with the actual and virtually unchallenged U.S. actions designed to subvert free elections in Nicaragua, these questions are trivialities.
In relative terms, that is; in absolute scale, U.S. financial intervention in support of its clients amounted to over half the monthly wage per person in Nicaragua. The Council on Hemispheric Affairs observes that the equivalent here would be a flow of $2 billion into a U.S. election campaign by a foreign power (a vastly greater sum if we consider comparative wage scales) -- though as distinct from totalitarian Nicaragua, the U.S. does not permit a penny to flow from abroad for such purposes.36
There is nothing subtle about any of this. A Canadian observer mission sponsored by unions and development agencies, along with church, human rights, and academic groups, completed a four-week investigation of the election preparations in Nicaragua just as the garden party celebrating "democracy" opened with much fanfare in Costa Rica. Its conclusion, as reported by wire services (but apparently unpublished here), was that the U.S. "is doing everything it can to disrupt the elections set for next year": "American intervention is the main obstacle to the attainment of free and fair elections in Nicaragua," the report of the mission stated. It added further that the contras were attempting to sabotage the elections. They are "waging a campaign of intimidation with the clear message, `if you support the [Sandinista government], we will be back to kill you'." The Canadian mission estimates that the contras killed 42 people in "election violence" in October.37
One may debate whether it was right or wrong for Nicaragua to rescind its unilateral cease-fire. But it requires considerable naiveté for liberal doves to criticize this action on the grounds that it would undermine the prospect for "a full restoration of US-Nicaraguan relations," which "will not come until Bush can point to an election that he considers fair" (Boston Globe).38 Bush will "consider an election fair" when his candidates win, even if their victory is based on wholesale terror and intimidation, as in El Salvador; otherwise, it is illegitimate. Furthermore, "Bush" can stand as a metaphor for elite opinion generally. The record of the past decade makes this a fairly safe conclusion, and it is only buttressed by a broader inquiry into historical practice.
It would be unrealistic to expect the United States to tolerate a political system that is not dominated by business, oligarchy, and military elements that subordinate themselves to U.S. elite interests. Still less will the U.S. willingly tolerate a government that diverts resources to the poor majority, thus demonstrating its utter failure to recognize the right priorities, and embarking on a course that may have dangerous demonstration effects if the experiment is permitted to succeed. Accordingly, U.S. policy has not veered from the principle that the client terror states must be maintained and the Sandinistas eliminated in favor of elements with a proper understanding of the needs of the privileged in Nicaragua and, crucially, the United States.
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32 Z magazine, December 1990; there are slight and irrelevant editing changes, particularly, changes of tense to avoid confusion. See also chapter 5.
33 See references of chapter 5, note 5.
34 BG, Oct. 26; Mark Uhlig, NYT, Nov. 7, 1989.
35 AP, Nov. 8, 1989.
36 COHA's Washington Report on the Hemisphere, Nov. 8, 1989, reporting estimates by Hemisphere Initiatives.
37 AP, Oct. 26, 1989; Miami Herald, Oct. 27, 1989, brief notice.
38 Editorial, BG, Nov. 2, 1989.