A while ago, I wrote a blog about the danger Daniel Ortega posed to the people of Nicaragua, and I commented that unlike the 1980’s, few people are aware of what is happening in that nation.
Now, a Senior Fellow in foreign policy at the Brookings Institution, Kevin-Casas -Zamora, has written a brilliant and important article about Ortega and the sad nation he rules. The reaction of the world to what Ortega has done, Zamora writes, “has been rather muted. It shouldn’t be.” Zamora is right. Decades ago, when the threat of a Soviet presence in our hemisphere overshadowed other concerns, people paid attention to the Sandinista commandantes and their attempt to create a Marxist totalitarian regime in Central America. Now, without such a major geo-political concern, most commentators barely give Nicaragua a glance. But they should think again, and take a good look.
As Zamora points out, it matters a great deal. Political instability in the region is something the Western Hemisphere can ill afford, especially if it leads as well it might to conflict between neighbors in the region, and possible civil war within Nicaragua. Moreover, it could also lead to a major refugee crisis, as Nicaraguans again flee to Costa Rica or El Salvador for a safe terrain, as they have in previous years of conflict. As Zamora writes, “a prosperous and democratic Nicaragua is crucial to stability in Central America.”
Daniel Ortega is moving his nation rapidly to blatant authoritarian rule. Elections are fixed so that the ruling Sandinista party always wins; international observers have been banned from observing election day voting to judge whether it is free or coerced, and government organized mobs- so called turbas- are being used to prevent opposition demonstrations from being held.
Ortega, Zamora writes, “must understand that in a democratic Latin America, nothing less than full electoral transparency is acceptable.” To get Ortega to accept this he suggests that development assistance be used as a lever to pressure him to accept democratic standards of operation. Already Germany, Sweden, Finland and the U.K. have moved to reconsider cooperative links with Ortega’s government. The United States, even under the Bush Administration, has not withheld resources from a $175 million assistance program agreed to in 2005. Zamora is right that the balance due should be “used prudently, but firmly.”
It may be a stretch to compare Ortega to Mugabe, who has killed far more of his own countrymen than Ortega. But he is correct to observe that as bad as Hugo Chavez is, he has allowed elections to occur in Venezuela, and has reluctantly observed defeat for his forces at the polls. In the sense that Ortega does not allow any truly free electoral process to occur, he can be compared to Mugabe in Zimbabwe. The need, Zamora puts it, is for our country and other allies in the Hemisphere “not allow him to morph into” a Mugabe.
It is also true that for the most part, the Left’s love affair with the Sandinistas has all but disappeared. One still finds a few really small ads in The Nation promoting tours of Nicaragua to see the great progress the Sandinistas have achieved for the poor. But the scores of young people who once flooded the country and used to be called “Sandalistas” no longer occurs.
But Ortega still dupes some, speaking as he does the language of anti American imperialism. One wonders whether in the near future, Sean Penn will travel there to write about what a great man Ortega is, and serve up his propaganda to a gullible American audience, as he most recently has done for The Huffington Post and The Nation website.