Monday, August 03, 2009

Readership Dissent on COHA's Piece, "Nicaragua Under Daniel Ortega's Second Presidency: Daniel-style Politics as Usual?"

What is going on with COHA regarding Nicaragua and Honduras? You have recently published some very shabby articles. I critiqued an earlier article by Frank Kendricks about Nicaragua and now fee the need to critique the most recent by Nidy Sarria.

I am going to lift up some quote from the article and comment on them. The quotes are in italics as follows:

“A close examination of Ortega’s second presidency also reveals crude manipulations of the Nicaraguan electorate, shameless seizures of power and under-the-table deal-making”

No such close examination has been made by COHA. What are you talking about?

“(The first Sandinista government [1979-1990] was also marked by corruption and controversy, including human rights violations and numerous scandals”

Those were allegations that came from the Reagan administration, but independent observers found much less corruption in the Sandinista government than in Costa Rica or the other countries of Central America. Human rights violations of the period were almost exclusively by the Reagan-sponsored (illegally) contras.

“Ortega lost the 1990 presidential election to Violeta Barrios de Chamorro, with some help from the CIA”.

The Bush administration put more than $10 million into Violeta’s campaign, in violation of both US and Nicaraguan law. President Bush declared in a press conference after his invasion of Panama and shortly before the 1990 elections in February: I hope the people of Nicaragua are paying attention. A clear threat to the people of Nicaragua about what they could expect if they did not vote correctly.

“Ortega came up with the devious scheme to devote his efforts to lowering the minimum percentage of votes required to win an election””

The scheme was originated by Aleman and accepted by Ortega. While all Sandinista supporters would have preferred that Ortega not even speak to a slimebag like Aleman, his strategy worked, as, much to the dismay of Aleman, it provided the Sandinistas with a victory in 2006. Without the pact, Ortega would have won the first round of the election and lost the second, as the Embassy would have, as it did in every election since 1984, forced all of the opposition parties into a coalition to defeat the Sandinistas.

“The breakaway Sandinista faction MRS, directly suggested that Ortega’s pact with former President Aleman manipulate the election by gaining control of the electoral council responsible for conducting the election”.

The Supreme Electoral Tribunal, which supervises all elections as an independent entity, had exactly the same makeup in 2006 when Ortega was declared the victor, as it had in 2000, when Bolaños won for the Liberals. The pact did not change that at all.

“Consistent with Marxist ideals, social spending in Nicaragua is under the control of the Sandinista party”.

Why is the ruling party’s control of social spending a “Marxist ideal”? The Republicans and Democrats have done that for generations in the US.

“this has infuriated Nicaraguan voters who had been convinced that Ortega had made significant shifts to the right”

None of these folks voted for Ortega. His 38% of the vote was from the very solid block of Sandinista voters. None of the Liberals or Conservatives voted for him.

“This emphasis on state control of public finances was espoused by the Sandinistas in the 1980s”

In what country does the state not control public finances? What is the point here?

“Many Nicaraguans, most notably swing voters, recall Ortega’s past history of distributing private property among loyal Sandinistas and now fear that they will be witnessing future nationalization of privately held businesses and property

There are virtually no swing voters in Nicaragua. What is Orgega’s “past history of distributing private property among loyal Sandinistas”? From 1990 to 2006, Nicaragua witnessed a shameless sellout of publicly-held entities, like the power company, to private and foreign corporations for virtually nothing, which resulted in major increases in the cost of electricity. Most Nicaraguans would deeply appreciate the nationalization of such formerly-owned utilities.

“His grab for power is most evident through the massive allegations of voter fraud in the 2008 municipal elections”

This could have been written by the American Embassy. The “massive allegations” were just that. Massive allegations are not evidence. No evidence has been presented to date to support such allegations. How can COHA simply repeat these allegations as though they were fact?

“Some parties were not allowed to field their candidates, creating a situation in which many voters were forced to choose between parties they did not necessarily support”

This is the allegation made by the MRS, a dissident group led by former Sandinista Vice President Sergio Ramirez. He tried to take over the Frente Sandinista in 1993 and was soundly trounced by the rank and file. He formed the MRS to support his candidacy for the presidency ever since. The MRS has never managed to get more than 7% of the popular vote. The Electoral Law that was passed by the Bolaños government in 2004 has a requirement that in order to be on the national ballot, any party has to field a majority number of candidates in every part of the country. The Supreme Electoral Council gave the MRS an extra year to meet that requirement, but they never did, so by the law that was passed before the Sandinistas came to power, the MRS was blocked from fielding candidates, for lack of candidates, not by any political manipulation by Daniel Ortega. And it was Wilfredo Navarro, the Liberal Party’s legal representative, who made the denunciation about the illegal activities of MRS, which led to their exclusion. The Sandinitas were only spectators in this activity.

“the FSLN decided not to accredit independent local observers as well as most international monitors, including observers from the European Union, the Organization of American States, and the Carter Center, preventing them from effectively overseeing the actual election process”.

Having watched many of these international groups give approval to openly fraudulent elections in 1995 and 2000, the Sandinistas were rightly skeptical about allowing them to observe again. Around 150 election observers monitored the elections and agreed they were well-organized, free and fair. These were professional electoral specialists from the Protocolo de Tikal group, the Protocolo de Quito group and the Council of Latin American Electoral Experts. Together they represented observers from the electoral authorities of around a dozen Latin American countries.

“The opposition claims that marked ballots were dumped after the November 9 election, that non-FSLN party members were refused access to some of the vote counting sessions, and that some of the tallies from polling places could have been altered”.

Such allegations without any evidence ever being presented are totally specious and should not be repeated by a group that professes to be somewhat objective, like COHA.

a segment of the Nicaraguan media has been a steadfast critic of the Ortega administration, criticizing the shortcomings of his government by exposing the government’s multiple acts of corruption as well as frequently condemning the administration through other means. Students, too, represent a significant segment of the anti-Ortega opposition, organizing through online social networks such as Facebook and Twitter, and assembling through marches, protests, and other forms of recalcitrant behavior”” .

Virtually all of the Nicaraguan media, with the exception of the Sandinista TV channel, is engaged in what can only be called pamphleteering. Very little of their publications could come anywhere near the basic standards for journalism. Unfounded allegations and outrageous “spins” are the mainstay of La Prensa and El Nuevo Diario. So-called scandals are frontpage news, without any evidence ever being presented. In the USA these papers would have gone broke years ago from lawsuits for libel and slander. In so-called dictatorial Nicaragua, they publish such junk daily.

The students who oppose the Sandinista government are nearly all from middle and upper-middle class groups. What else is new?

“it seems that for the moment, his (Ortega’s) hold on power is firm. Bolstered by his core base of supporters, as well as his proclivity for matching broad social moves with shameless political manipulations

What are these “shameless political manipulations”? More allegations without evidence.

“Ortega has even called for changes in the constitution in order to extend term limits and eventually allow him to run for reelection

At the 30th Anniversary celebration of the Sandinista victory over Somoza, Daniel Ortega suggested that the Constitution be changed to allow reelection (as in the US, for instance; or in France, Britain, Germany, Italy, Brazil, etc., etc.), with the addition of a Recall Referendum mechanism that would allow the people to recall a president if they became dissatisfied with his/her performance in office. Sounds pretty good. We could have used something like that around 2005 in the US.

Throughout the article the use of the terms “Marxist”, “Marxist-inspired”, etc., is sprinkled, without any suggestion of what they mean. This is normally called yellow journalism, and is not worthy of publication by COHA.

“This public appeal has been condemned by Nicaraguan opposition lawmakers, although this initiative is the least of his malfeasances.”

When COHA refers to “the least of his malfeasances” without reference to anything specific, I fear you are leaving yourselves open to a lawsuit for libel under US law. Out of respect for your more-than-thirty years of excellent work, I suggest you be more careful about editing such articles.

Fred Morris

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