U.S. Interference in Nicaraguan
Election Process Causes Ortega to Fall Behind in Polls
August 29, 2001
As a result of continued U.S.
interference in the Nicaraguan presidential election process, Sandinista
(FSLN) party candidate Daniel Ortega has been overtaken in the polls by
Liberal Constitutionalist party candidate Enrique Bolaños. Bolaños
stands at 38.6%, Ortega 35.8%, and Conservative Party candidate Alberto
Saborío 4.5%, according to an August 24 article
in the Nicaraguan newspaper La Prensa.
U.S. interference in the
Nicaraguan electoral process has taken three forms:
- direct pressure on the
Conservative Party so that its popular candidate quit the race;
- public warnings against a
Sandinista victory; and
- the allocation of
relatively huge amounts of money to "assist" in the election.
Nicaragua Election: Direct
U.S. pressure on the Conservative party
The Conservative party used
to have a far more popular candidate, Noel Vidaurre, who was taking a good
share of the electorate in the polls. There was talk in Nicaragua that
without Vidaurre in the race, Bolaños would have a much better chance of
defeating Ortega, since Vidaurre's supporters would be expected to switch to
Bolaños proportionally more than to Ortega.
The Conservatives are in an
alliance with a number of other parties. Vidaurre was strongly in
favor of opening up the Conservative slate for lower offices to candidates
from the other groups in the alliance. After the head of the
Conservative Party, Mario Rappacciolo, decided against this course of
action, Vidaurre and his running mate quit the race on July 17.
The Conservative party's
replacement candidate is, as expected, garnering a much lesser share of the
vote than Vidaurre, and also as expected, Bolaños picked up more of the
defectors than Ortega.
The U.S. played a critical
role in Rappacciolo's decision and Vidaurre's subsequently quitting the
race, according to a July 18 article
in the Nicaraguan newspaper El Neuvo Diario:
- Rappacciolo extended a
visit to Miami just so he could meet with several members of the U.S.
Congress. The Representatives are said to have pressured him to
close up space within the Conservative party so that Vidaurre would
resign and the party could then throw its support to the Liberal
candidate, Enrique Bolaños.
- A delegation of Republican
Congressmen, headed by Cass Ballanger (R-NC), visited Managua in July
and let it be known that the Conservative party support should go to
Bolaños to ensure an Ortega defeat.
- The week of Vidaurre's
resignation, Rappacciolo met several times with U.S. State Department
officials in Managua.
- The morning of Vidaurre's
resignation, Rappacciolo had breakfast with the U.S. Ambassador to
Nicaragua, Oliver Garza.
- As La Prensa
summarized it, under a headline referring to "North American
Pressure and Interference to Line Up All Groups Against the FSLN":
A breakfast yesterday
with U.S. Ambassador Oliver Garza, and several meetings with officials
of that country’s State Department the previous week, seem to have
been too much pressure for Conservative Party President Mario
Rappacciolo who decided to put an end to what they were calling the
Nicaragua Election: Public
U.S. warnings against a Sandinista victory
According to the British
newspaper the Guardian,
a high-ranking U.S. State Department official and former ambassador to
Nicaragua, Lino Gutierrez,
made it clear in a barely
coded address to the American chamber of commerce in Managua that the US
would not look kindly on the Sandinistas' re-emergence.
Observers say the message
was that those opposed to the Sandinistas should bury their differences
or suffer the economic consequences.
That same message was later
couched in diplomatic language by a State Department spokesman In Washington
on July 24, who said
we will continue to have
serious concerns about the Sandinistas, absent clear commitments from
candidate Ortega that he is now prepared to embrace democratic policies.
And again, according to the Maryknoll
organization, U.S. Ambassador Garza has publicly warned in Nicaragua that,
should the FSLN win without changing its policies, the U.S. would not change
its hard-line policy toward the Sandinistas.
Most disturbingly, Garza made
the statement while standing with a group of recently arrived U.S.
troops. A photo of himself and the troops was widely circulated in the
Nicaraguan national news media.
This symbolism -- most likely
deliberate -- is quite powerful in Nicaragua, where people have raw
memories of the 1980's contra terrorist war the U.S. organized, financed and
directed against Nicaragua the last time the Sandinistas were in
power. Indeed, "many people have expressed the fear that if the
Sandinistas are returned to office, a renewal of the 1980s war with the U.S.
would be likely."
(In another ominous sign, a
delegation of former contra leaders went to Washington in April to seek help
in preventing a Sandinista electoral victory.)
Allocation of huge amounts of U.S. money to "assist" in the
As discussed in more detail
in a previous column, the
U.S. has allocated $5.6 million for "monitoring" and other
"help" in the upcoming Nicaraguan presidential elections.
(That number may be changing somewhat, according to an official I spoke to
at the U.S. Agency for International Development, which will administer the
funds. The final number will likely be at least the figure reported on the
Proportional to the relative
populations of Nicaragua (4.4 million) and the United States (280 million),
the $5.6 million is the equivalent of a foreign country spending over $356
million to "assist" in a U.S. presidential election.
Such an action would cause an
enormous uproar here, and never be tolerated. Remember the trouble
caused by the much smaller Chinese contributions in the 1996 presidential
Indeed, how would the U.S.
react were government officials of an infinitely more powerful nation to
pressure the Republican or Democrat parties to change their candidate
slate? Or if such foreign officials warned the U.S. people of dire
consequences were the election to go in a way not desired by that foreign
The U.S. behavior in
connection with the Nicaraguan presidential election is obscene, treating
that nation as if it's a colony, or a wholly owned subsidiary.
Unfortunately, but not
surprisingly, the U.S. press has reported virtually nothing about this.
[Here's a link to a group opposing U.S.
intervention in Nicaragua. The group urges people to call their
Representatives and Senators to demand an immediate end to all U.S.
interference in the Nicaraguan electoral process, and for people to also
call the press to demand that they cover this story.]