Fire This Time
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Fire This Time

Why has Nicaragua’s democratic election been attacked by Canada and the USA?

Young Nicaraguan organizers with the Sandinistas (FSLN) celebrate on the night of the Presidential elections in November, 2021

January 2022 was an important month for the people of Nicaragua. It tested their commitment to defending their sovereignty and self-determination in the face of increasingly brutal U.S.-led sanctions and aggression.

On January 10, Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo, of the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), began their newest terms respectively as the president and vice-president of Nicaragua. The National Assembly of Nicaragua, where 75 of the 90 parliamentarians are from the FSLN, was sworn into office on January 9.

It is no coincidence that, also on January 10, the United States and the European Union announced increasing sanctions on this newly re-elected government in Nicaragua. These were the latest in a series of cruel measures imposed by the United States, Britain, the EU, and Canada.

The re-election of President Ortega and Vice President Murillo for another term, and the continuation of the FSLN majority in the National Assembly, are significant victories for the people of Nicaragua. They voted to continue their support for a government with an agenda that prioritizes housing, healthcare, and education.

Daniel Ortega, president of Nicaragua

In the face of escalating U.S.-led imperialist attacks on Nicaragua, the re-election of President Ortega and the Sandinista government was also a vigorous defense of Nicaragua’s sovereignty and self-determination. This sentiment was echoed throughout the streets of Nicaragua, during peaceful and well-organized elections held on November 7, 2021.

November 7, 2021, Elections in Nicaragua — An Eyewitness Account

As one of two representatives from the Fire This Time Movement for Social Justice in Canada, I joined with over 165 international accompaniers and more than 40 independent international journalists to observe the elections. Together, we visited 10 of the 15 states in Nicaragua and over 60 voting centres.

There are many remarkable aspects to voting day in Nicaragua, including young people’s active presence and participation as polling station organizers, elections workers, and scrutineers representing various political parties. In Nicaragua, the voting age is 16 years. We saw many young people come with their families or friends, exercising their right to vote.

Also important to the election day was the many ways that the people of Nicaragua expressed to us their commitment to defending their electoral process and democracy. From people waiting in line to vote, to people gathered on the streets celebrating the voting day, Nicaraguans of all ages and backgrounds were eager to share with our international delegation their strong opposition to U.S. meddling in their internal affairs. This sentiment was shared by many, not just members of the FSLN political party.

Voting table during the Nicaraguan elections, an election worker displays the ballot

Despite being portrayed as an uncontested election by the mainstream media in the U.S. and Canada, there were five opposition parties on the electoral ballot. We were able to speak to their representatives, who also demanded that the internal affairs of Nicaragua be left to Nicaraguans to decide.

Their decision on that day was loud and clear. Regardless of the desire and effort of the governments of the U.S. and Canada to delegitimize the election, the government, President Daniel Ortega, and the people of Nicaragua say otherwise. The November 7 election was a landslide victory for President Ortega and the Sandinista government. With a voter turnout of 65%, the FSLN won over 75% of the votes in the elections for the Presidency, Vice-Presidency, National Assembly, and the Central American Parliament.

Nicaragua Under U.S. and Canadian Sanctions

Just three days after the election, U.S. President Biden signed into law the most brutal sanctions against Nicaragua to date, the RENACER act (“Reinforcing Nicaragua’s Adherence to Conditions for Electoral Reform Act of 2021”). Part of this legislation, which received bipartisan support from Democrats and Republicans in the Congress, calls on the U.S. government to “pursue closer coordination with Canada and the EU on diplomatic efforts and targeted sanctions to promote free, fair, and transparent elections.”

Canada has no disagreements with this closer coordination. The Trudeau-Liberal government stands firmly beside the U.S. in its sanctions regime against the people of Nicaragua. In the last three years, the government of Canada has also imposed three rounds of sanctions against Nicaragua, while at the same time joining with the United States in interfering in Nicaragua’s internal affairs.

Moreover, on November 8, 2021, Melanie Joly, Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, stated, “Nicaragua’s November 7 elections do not reflect the will of the Nicaraguan people.” Subsequently, on November 15, Global Affairs Canada announced additional sanctions against Nicaragua, stating, “Canada welcomes the decisive actions taken by its international partners, including the United States and Britain, and will continue to work with them to leverage support and put pressure on the regime to restore democracy and respect human rights.”

Another tool that the U.S. government and its allies use in this vicious campaign is the Organization of American States (OAS). This organization is largely discredited in Latin America and the Caribbean for acting as a puppet of the United States, while it attempts and carries out coups in the region. On December 8, the OAS voted to invoke the Democratic Charter against Nicaragua, formalizing the claim that Nicaragua was no longer a democracy. Predictably, the United States and Canada voted in favour. This vote, which could have eventually led to the removal of Nicaragua from the OAS, was mostly symbolic, however, as Nicaragua has announced its exit from the OAS.

Canada’s Liberal government also stood side-by-side with the government of the United States during the 2018 U.S.-backed coup attempt and violent destabilization campaign against the Sandinista government of Nicaragua. While U.S.-backed mercenaries were building barricades and torturing supporters of the FSLN, Global Affairs Canada stated, “due to the deteriorating situation, Canada suspended direct bilateral financial assistance to the Government of Nicaragua in accordance with Global Affairs Canada’s internal development policies. Canada continues to support the people of Nicaragua through projects implemented by non-governmental and international organizations.”

Yet it was these very same “non-governmental and international organizations” to which the U.S. and E.U. were funnelling money, as they worked to foment the violent coup attempt. Independent journalist Ben Norton has thoroughly uncovered this money trail. He found, for example, that at least $4.4 million had been provided to Nicaraguan opposition groups between 2016–2019 through the National Endowment for Democracy in the U.S.

Whether in 1985, 2018 or 2022, the United States and its allies, including Canada, have shown time and time again that it does not have any interest in democracy or human rights for the people of Nicaragua.

The U.S. and Canada’s hypocritical democracy narrative for Nicaragua

To understand the scale of U.S.-led intervention in Nicaragua and the great depths of its hypocrisy when the U.S. and Canada demand “democracy” or “human rights,” it’s important to understand that imperialist attacks on Nicaragua did not begin in 2007 when President Ortega was elected.

In July 1979, the Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua overthrew pro-U.S. right-wing dictator Anastasio Somoza. From 1982 to 1990, an estimated 30,000 people were killed as the U.S. government trained, armed, and funded a counter-revolutionary war with thousands of mercenaries. The Contras, as the counterrevolutionaries were known, unleashed terror upon the people of Nicaragua. In 1985 alone, the U.S. Congress approved $27 million in so-called ‘non-lethal aid’ to the Contras. At the same time U.S. President Reagan imposed unilateral coercive economic measures on the revolutionary Sandinista government.

During the U.S.-backed war on Nicaragua, the government of Canada was utterly silent about U.S. crimes. In 1986 Gerald Caplan, a political columnist for Toronto Star, wrote a letter to Macleans magazine, where he explained, “Mr. Mulroney [the then Prime Minister] has of course vigorously condemned state terrorism, but in this case, the sponsoring state happens to be Ronald Reagan’s [the then President of the United States]. What will he now do while we await the news that a Canadian has been murdered in Nicaragua by American trained and armed terrorists about whom Reagan said: ‘God bless them. It makes me a contra too’?”

Meanwhile, the government of Canada also turned a blind-eye to millions of dollars in arms sales to the Contras that were brokered through individuals and corporations in Canada. This includes the Montreal-based Trans World Arms which was exposed in U.S. government investigations into the Iran-Contra affair as having received over $2 million USD for a secret arms shipment to the Contras.

After bringing so much death and destruction to the people of Nicaragua, the governments of the U.S. and Canada have no right to claim they are concerned about “democracy” or “human rights” in Nicaragua.

Why is the Government of Canada Attacking Nicaragua?

So, if the government of Canada isn’t concerned about the people of Nicaragua, why is Canada joining the United States’ campaign to demonize the government of President Ortega and destabilize Nicaragua?

For one, Canada has had its bloody hands in Nicaragua for over 100 years, largely through the mining industry. Although Nicaragua is largely a rural country, with a population of just over 6.6 million people, it has large gold reserves that continue to be exploited by Canadian mining companies. They get rich from the backs of the people of Nicaragua. Canada-based Calibre Mining Group has three mining operations covering the Western, Central, and Northwest regions in Nicaragua. Likewise, the Canadian Mako Mining Corp. runs an open-pit gold mine, which claims to rank as “one of the highest-grade open-pit gold mines globally.”

Neo-liberal governments, including the one preceding President Ortega and the Sandinistas in 2007, are known for their willingness to serve the interests of foreign companies. So, it is no wonder that the government of Canada prefers a neo-Liberal government to one that defends the interests of Nicaraguans.

However, Nicaragua poses another threat to the U.S. and Canada: the Sandinista government’s commitment to independence and sovereignty.

Nicaragua’s Dangerous Example!

In the days immediately following the November 2021 election victory, the Ortega government reaffirmed its commitment to independence from imperialism. On November 19, 2021, it announced it was leaving the Organization of American States (OAS), following in the footsteps of Venezuela and Cuba. As Dennis Moncada, the Foreign Minister of Nicaragua, explained, “We have been very clear, and we say that we do not accept foreign interference, nor interventions, that try to meddle in the internal concerns of our country…And the reason that we have denounced the OAS is because of the policy and attitude, primarily by the United States and the countries subordinated to it, that try to direct and impose the internal policies of Nicaragua and maintain a permanent policy of interference and interventionism, disrespecting the dignity of the Nicaraguan people.”

His words affirm that there is a changing balance of forces in Latin America and the Caribbean. Political power is shifting towards poor, working, and oppressed people. Countries such as Nicaragua, alongside Cuba and Venezuela, and newly elected governments in Peru, Argentina, Bolivia, and Honduras, are showing that, through regional cooperation which excludes the United States and Canada, it is possible to build an alternative to the U.S.-controlled IMF and World Bank.

Another example of this alternative is China’s Belt and Road Initiative, a massive international trade infrastructure development project with 140 member countries to date. Nicaragua joined the Belt and Road Initiative in January 2022.

In just the last five months, the sentiments expressed by Foreign Minister Moncada have been echoed across Latin America and the Caribbean. They are evident from October’s statement released by ALBA (the Bolivarian Alternative to the Americas) supporting Nicaragua’s democratically-elected Sandinista government, to agreements made at the XXII meeting of Foreign Ministers of CELAC (Community of Latin American and the Caribbean States) held in Argentina in January 2022.

In Defence of the People of Nicaragua

In 2018, under the Trump Administration, national security advisor John Bolton declared that Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua are a “Troika of Tyranny” — openly expressing concerns that these three countries could stand in the way of the U.S. attempts to control the region.

Despite brutal sanctions, blockades, propaganda, and outright attacks — levelled at all three countries, their resistance to U.S. pressure continues to strengthen. In turn, the Biden administration is carrying out the same cruel policies as the Trump administration, and the government of Canada continues its collaboration to make sure that it can maintain its slice of the pie in the region.

While in Nicaragua, I witnessed the fierce dedication of the Nicaraguan people to its sovereignty and self-determination. I also saw the pain and the horror of the U.S.-backed Contra wars that ripped their country apart. The people of Nicaragua know what is at stake — and we, as peace-loving people in Canada, have the responsibility to stand with them.

Alison Bodine and Azza Rojbi, delegates from the Fire This Time Movement for Social Justice to the elections observation delegation in Nicaragua, November 2021

Originally published at https://www.thecanadafiles.com on March 21, 2022

Also published in the Fire This Time Newspaper, Volume 16, Issue 3–4

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Fire This Time is a revolutionary socialist newspaper reflecting the struggles of oppressed people for building a new world.

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Alison Bodine

Alison Bodine

Peace Now! @mawovan Anti-war and Social Justice Activist Writer & Researcher @ftt_np