Tuesday, November 07, 2006
The US intervention in Nicaragua during the 1980s was characterised by an underground invasion, using Honduras-based former National Guards in collusion with Argentinian Nazis to recruit Nicaraguan peasants and train them in the methods of terror. CIA-provided intelligence enabled them to target clinics and schools, the kinds of institutions that the Sandinistas had built up to improve health and literacy. They tortured, raped and terrorised their way through Nicaragua, often carrying out terror that would later be laid at the doorstep of the Sandinistas (driving out Miskito Indians and preventing their return, for instance). On top of this strategy, an annually renewed embargo was imposed, which effectively bled Nicaragua dry. After a decade of terror that claimed about 30,000 lives (and it would have been more had the US been in possession of the state, as in El Salvador), elections were held under threat of further annihilation. There had been elections in 1984, in which the Sandinistas easily took over two thirds of the vote, but while credible observers regarded them as fair, Western media outlets followed the United States in describing them as rigged, marked by state terror and so on - this during a massive US-led war on the country. Toward the end of the 1980s, it was that the Contras could not win militarily, and were eager for a peaceful settlement: the US blocked this several times, but finally let up with the proviso that elections could be held and that if the UNO led by Violeta Chammoro did not win, the terror war would resume, and the blockade would continue: if she did win, peace and aid would be forthcoming. Moreover, anyone who queued up to vote for her would receive $40. She won, with slightly less than 55% of the vote. That farce was considered a free election and greeted with the usual howls of approbation. In subsequent elections, the anti-Sandinista parties have repeatedly invoked the terror of the 1980s as a reason not to vote for the FSLN.
At any rate, that era of American terror, which was part of a wave of suppression that engulfed the entirety of Central and much of Southern America, is now routinely referred to as a "US-backed insurgency". This is the standard view. I mentioned Paul Berman's enthusiastic 'anti-totalitarian' backing for the Contras a while ago. I was reading through his New Yorker article from 1996 this morning, partly to remind myself of what I hate his guts, and I was struck by the fact that if you only read his accounts, you would not understand that there was a US-led blockade, that there were free elections in 1984, that the elections in 1990 were grotesquely fixed and staged in the context of national terror and deliberate impoverishment, that the Contras repressed and killed their alleged supporters etc; you would instead come away with the inference that the Contras had developed as a domestic insurgency against a commie government trying to take away the peasants' land and stop them from selling goods in their local market place, that they perhaps had bad leadership and some extremist fringes but were essentially a force for democracy, that the 1990 elections were the first elections to have taken place since the 1979 revolution, that there were no problems with them, and that they demonstrated not the success of US terror but the unpopularity of the Sandinistas. So degraded is this man's probity that he relies, throughout this lengthy piece, on several days of conversations with a former Contra fighter. He is not completely ironic in describing the Sandinistas as "atheist, totalitarian, Cuban, satanic and anti-peasant". But Berman's views more or less reflect those expressed by Washington at the time, not to mention the overwhelming consensus of the media.
And so, if we witness a repeat blockade and another round of putschist terror, we will hear from people like Berman that Ortega is at any rate an old totalitarian who has abandoned his support for abortion rights, cuddles up with the Catholic Church, likes Castro too much and hangs out with Chavez.