‘People Power’ Nicaraguan-Style
In a stunning victory for the courageous people of Nicaragua, the repressive Sandinista regime was soundly defeated in its effort to secure through elections the right to rule which it had only enjoyed previously by force of arms. This is cause for jubilation not only on the part of Nicaraguans but also for those in Central America and other parts of the hemisphere whose security was directly, or indirectly, threatened by Sandinista aggression. For that matter, the results of the election in Nicaragua represent a triumph for freedom-loving people everywhere.
Two points are worth noting about this outcome, however. First, the opportunity it promises for democracy and peace in Nicaragua is basically that which was pledged — but ultimately denied — by the Sandinistas when they came to power following the 1979 revolution. More than a decade of Sandinismo misrule and oppression have evidently done nothing to diminish the Nicaraguan people’s longing for rights they expected to obtain when the previous dictator, Anastasio Somoza, was deposed.
Second, this Sandinista defeat is all the more remarkable for the extraordinary lengths the Nicaraguan government went to to preclude that result. As documented in an earlier Center analysis released prior to the election (This is No ‘Free and Fair’ Election, No. 90-15, 20 February 1990), the Sandinistas clearly employed a broad range of techniques designed to rig the vote and deny the opposition a popular mandate.
Unfortunately for the Sandinistas, their efforts to steal the election — which sympathetic international observers like Jimmy Carter and Elliott Richardson trivialized or dismissed out of hand — instead of proving decisive merely served to reduce the size of Violeta Chamorro’s margin of victory. It is worth noting, however, that if there been no subterfuge on the part of the Managuan regime, the final tally would likely have shown an even more sweeping repudiation of Daniel Ortega and his organization by the people of Nicaragua.(1)
In fact, the conditions under which the Nicaraguan election went forward would not have been judged "free" or "fair" had they taken place in Chile or South Africa — to say nothing of in Jimmy Carter’s state of Georgia. Such conditions must not now be so legitimized by the Nicaraguan election’s international observers as to enable communists elsewhere — notably in Eastern Europe and the Baltic states — to succeed where their Sandinista colleagues failed, namely in thwarting the popular will.
Democracy’s Victory in Nicaragua is by No Means Assured
Unfortunately, there is considerable evidence that the Sandinistas who tried to steal this election will now, having lost it, attempt nonetheless to retain control. Statements made during the campaign and subsequent to Ortega’s acknowledgement of defeat smack of a determination to preserve the Sandinistas’ domination over the military, the secret police, and the government bureaucracies. Their recent demand that the Nicaraguan resistance be disbanded at once as a precondition to a peaceful transition appears tantamount to anti-democratic extortion.
Indeed, only by carefully monitoring the following will it be possible to determine the true extent of Sandinista willingness to accede to the Nicaraguan electorate’s clear desire for a wholly new government with new people and radically different policies:
- Will the Sandinistas continue to insist that the Nicaraguan armed forces remain de factode jure linked to the Sandinista party? if not
- Will the Sandinistas try to coerce the victorious President-elect Chamorro into accepting what would amount to a coalition government, with Sandinista officials in key positions such as those controlling (and staffing) the military, the secret police, the banks, educational institutions, and the media, communications and transportation sectors of the economy?
- Will the Sandinistas agree to terminate all support for the communist guerrillas in El Salvador and other violent groups at once? This would require, among other things, that the guerilla front, known as the FMLN, no longer be permitted to operate out of Nicaragua; that command and control sites supporting the subversion in El Salvador from Nicaragua be dismantled; and that arms and money supplied by the Soviet Union, Cuba or other sources no longer transit Nicaraguan territory.
- Will the Sandinistas agree to end all cooperation with the intelligence and military services of the Soviet Union, Cuba and other Eastern bloc nations? Such activities should be displaced by cooperation between the Chamorro government and democratic elements in Eastern Europe with a view to sharing insights into how best to root out and eliminate communist totalitarian organizations.
It is especially important that the Sandinistas not be allowed to render Mrs. Chamorro a figurehead by retaining effective control of such portfolios as that of the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces and Minister of Interior (responsible for the security services).
Defining a Constructive U.S. Policy
The United States should be fully prepared to help a Nicaragua truly free of Sandinista rule. Provided the foregoing questions are answered affirmatively, this country should adopt a policy approach designed to foster the political and economic environment the people of Nicaragua so clearly demand. Under such an approach:
- The United States should facilitate the cease-fire announced yesterday by Ortega and call for the establishment of a international mechanism for its supervision under the auspices of the Inter-American Defense Board (IADB) of the Organization of American States.
- The U.S. government should urge that Mrs. Chamorro not only reduce the size of the existing Nicaraguan military establishment(2) but that she announce the creation of an entirely new national army. Such a military force should be an all-volunteer one, with conscription ended and conscripts presently serving released from their obligations as quickly as possible. The opportunity to participate in the new armed forces should not be denied on the grounds of prior duty with either the Nicaraguan resistance or the Sandinista party army.
- Until such time as this national democratic military is in place, however, the contras should not be forced to disband. They remain the single most effective lever to ensure that the Sandinistas respect the will of the people of Nicaragua. Instead of becoming a party to the demands of those who seek the immediate liquidation of the resistance as a fighting force, the United States should make it clear that the contras will continue to receive funding for humanitarian and resettlement purposes at present levels until such time as the Chamorro government has been fully empowered in accordance with its mandate and the new national army created. At that point, both the resistance and Sandinista forces should be disarmed under the supervision of the IADB.
- The United States should take the lead in creating an international support group for Nicaragua (modeled after that organized to assist Guyana) consisting of the United States, Japan, Venezuela, Mexico and the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank. This group would work with the new Nicaraguan government to develop and support a multi-year economic recovery plan.
- As part of this recovery program, the United States should seek to revive the Central American Common Market and the Central American Bank for Economic Integration. These institutions — which foundered due to Sandinista policies in the early 1980s — are urgently needed to stimulate intra-regional trade and economic growth.
- The United States should foster democratic institutions in Nicaragua by promoting contacts between U.S. (and, possibly, Costa Rican and Venezuelan) industry, labor, educational groups, health care specialists and agricultural experts. One example of such an effort can be found in the contacts now taking place between such American organizations and reformist groups in Eastern Europe. In addition, planning to renew Food for Peace aid to Nicaragua should begin at once.
- The United States should bring Nicaragua into the Caribbean Basin Initiative and the attendant preferential tariff treatment.
Democracy’s spectacular victory in Nicaragua has amply demonstrated the wish of the Nicaraguan people completely to repudiate the Sandinistas and their policies. It should be no part of America’s role now to urge Mrs. Chamorro to compromise her mandate or share it with the Sandinistas. Instead, the United States must encourage through every means at its disposal the full empowerment of Mrs. Chamorro’s government and the realization of the promise of peace and freedom offered by her election. Only by so doing can this country help ensure that genuine democracy takes root and prevails in Nicaragua.
1. One indication of the magnitude of Sandinista abuse of the electoral process may be found in the results of a preliminary review and statistical analysis of the Nicaraguan registration rolls conducted Borge and Associates of Costa Rica. Of roughly 70,000 names examined to date, approximately one in ten was a duplicate. This suggests that the Sandinista vote total may have been inflated by as much as ten percent (i.e., closer to a 60-30 split).