As Sandinista faithful continue to celebrate Daniel Ortega’s “overwhelming triumph” in Nicaragua, in international diplomatic circles the Sandinista landslide is starting to look more like a Pyrrhic victory.
During Tuesday’s assembly of the Organization of American States (OAS), the U.S. government expressed serious concerns about the fairness of Nicaragua’s electoral process and criticized President Ortega’s commitment to democracy.
Julissa Reynoso, the U.S. State Department’s Deputy Assistant Secretary for Central America, expressed her government’s “deep, deep disappointment” in the Sandinista government, and called the state of democracy in Nicaragua “sad news.”
Reynoso said the United States—Nicaragua’s main trading partner—believes there are serious threats to democracy in Nicaragua and is “seriously concerned with the irregularities in the recent Nicaraguan electoral process.”
Reynoso said the U.S. is not alone in its disappointment in Nicaragua, although if those sentiments are shared by others, she certainly expressed them the loudest.
“The world over has raised voices of concern about what has happened in Nicaragua,” she said. “The OAS, the organization most firmly committed to the defense of democracy in the Western Hemisphere, has an obligation to take up this issue and ensure that the democratic aspirations of the Nicaraguan people are fully and completely protected.”
Reynoso urged the OAS to issue its final report on the Nicaraguan elections “immediately” so that the hemispheric body could “assess all available responses.”
Some Washington hardliners think the U.S. shouldn’t recognize Ortega at all.
U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, called Nicaragua’s “so-called election” a “complete sham,” adding “Daniel Ortega made sure of it.”
The congresswoman said Ortega’s candidacy was illegal, and accused him of “forcing his way onto the ballot.”
“The U.S. and other responsible nations cannot recognize the outcome of this stolen election,” Ros-Lehtinen charged.
OAS lists anomalies, difficulties
Back in the OAS, Ambassador Dante Caputo, of Argentina, presented the hemispheric organization with his electoral mission’s preliminary report on the Nicaraguan elections. Caputo, who headed the OAS observation mission here earlier this month, raised concerns about various “anomalies” and “difficulties” he encountered during the process. He said Nicaragua’s entire electoral system has “structural failings” that “need to be revised urgently.”
Though he says overall the elections were “an advance for peace because there wasn’t major violence despite the repeated predictions” of armed violence, the lack of war was the kindest observation he made about Nicaragua’s handling of the elections.
Caputo’s list of criticisms was extensive. He criticized the Sandinista government for failing to accredit domestic observers, for creating a state of uncertainty about the legality of various candidates, for creating major confusion with the accreditation of opposition poll watchers, for putting voting stations under the unchecked management of Sandinista loyalists, for blocking the entry of opposition poll watchers, and for preventing the OAS mission from doing its job monitoring the elections.
Ambassador Caputo said the fact the OAS observers were prevented from entering 20 percent of the voting stations they visited on election day “seriously deterred” the mission from getting a complete picture of the electoral process, therefore failing to comply its objects satisfactorily.
“This represented a serious alteration to our evaluation of the process and a non-compliance (by the Nicaraguan government) with our procedural agreement,” he said.
Instead of congratulating Ortega on his victory, Caputo limited himself to saying that the “CSE results indicate that Daniel Ortega was reelected.” He noted that no other country has officially challenged those results.
Still, the international community’s response to Ortega’s reelection has been lukewarm. In addition to the left-leaning bloc of ALBA countries led by Venezuela, Ortega’s most important international recognition has come from a relatively short list of nations: Russia, Brazil, Chile, Peru, Uruguay, Panama, Honduras and El Salvador.
Some countries, such as Mexico and Spain, have released short statements congratulating the Nicaraguan people for voting, yet not mentioning Ortega or acknowledging his victory.
Meanwhile, other international support, such as the enthusiastic congratulatory notes from North Korea, Syria, Saudi Arabia and South Ossetia, hardly seem to help Ortega’s position. Even Taiwan’s eager celebration of Ortega’s reelection has a sad ring to it, as the Asian country tries desperately to cling to its few remaining friends in the region in its struggle for international recognition.
Other countries are either remaining quiet (Costa Rica gave an official “no comment”) or are raising concerns with varying pitches of alarm.
Canada has questioned a “serious weakness in the electoral process,” and the most of the EU has remained silent, with the exception of Spain’s vague acknowledgement that Nicaragua did, indeed, have an election.
U.S. leads the charge
The United States is being the least reserved in its criticism. And it’s using the Nov. 6 elections as a rallying cry in the OAS.
“What happens to one democracy within the OAS affects all of us,” Reynoso said Tuesday. “We have a legitimate concern when democracy is being undermined in any member state. It is therefore critical to the collective defense of democracy in this hemisphere that our organization focuses keenly on the current challenge to democracy in Nicaragua.”
Not everyone is heeding the cry, however. The ALBA countries, which in the past have said an attack on one ALBA country is an attack on all, are pushing back.
“There is a profound discrepancy between the intensity and vigor of this sermon and the moral authority (that the U.S. has) to come and give lessons to a country that deserves respect preciously because its (political) leadership liberated it from a dictatorship that was backed and installed by the country that is now the great certifier and greater monitor (of democracy),” said Venezuelan Ambassador Roy Chaderton.
The Venezuelan envoy, who seemed to briefly get lost on a tangential argument that took him around the global and through history, touching on various unrelated talking points such as U.S. filibuster William Walker’s invasion of Nicaragua in the 1850s and the more recent electoral mischief in Afghanistan, eventually remembered what the subject of the day was and lauded Nicaraguan democracy as “an example for other countries in Latin America.”
Nicaraguan Ambassador Denis Moncada also defended his government, comparing Reynoso’s criticism to “The Knox Note”—a reference to an infamous letter sent in 1909 by U.S. Secretary of State Philander Knox to the Nicaraguan Ambassador in Washington, demanding the resignation of Nicaraguan President José Santos Zelaya.
Likening Reynoso’s criticism to The Knox Note is a serious allegation of foreign meddling that might have caused more of a stir in the OAS had the reference not been completely lost on a chamber full of diplomats whose knowledge of early 20th century Nicaraguan political history is probably rusty.
Nevertheless, Moncada stood his ground, even though it’s not clear how much of Reynoso’s criticism he actually understood. (After Reynoso spoke, Moncada, who doesn’t speak English, took the microphone and complained that she spoke too fast for the translator to keep up in his earpiece).
But he delivered his lines anyway.
“In Nicaragua we are building a democracy— an inclusive democracy , a popular democracy , an inclusive democracy [sic], not a democracy of elite. It’s a democracy that is inclusive with participation from workers, campesinos and the business class,” he said.
“Nicaragua has made the decision to live in peace, tranquility and democracy. We will continue on the good path towards unity, stability and, more security and governability, reinstituting rights and promoting development with social justice and environmental justice and struggling sustainably against poverty,” Moncada said, sounding a bit like Nicaragua’s first lady and communications director Rosario Murillo. “Nicaraguans supported a government that has been at their service. And that’s why they decided to continue with their project that is Christian, Socialist and in solidarity, depositing their vote with firmness to construct (a country) in harmony, solidarity and fraternity.”
Arce: actions speak louder than words
Washington political analysts consulted by The Nicaragua Dispatch this week say the U.S. government may drag its feet on acknowledging Ortega, but most likely won’t dig in for a hard-line stance against the reelected Sandinista government.
And in Managua, administration insiders claim they’re not worried about the current political noise, because they think it will fade soon.
“No one denies the triumph of the Sandinista Front, no one dares to say there was fraud here and no one dares to say the elections are null and should be done over,” Comandante Bayardo Arce, Ortega’s economic advisor, told The Nicaragua Dispatch.
Arce calls the U.S.’ reaction to the elections “careful and prudent,” but says even if Uncle Sam doesn’t come out and share a victory cigar with Ortega, the U.S. is still recognizing his victory in its actions.
“They don’t have to recognize (officially),” Arce said. “They recognize in the sense that their embassy is here, and they maintain their programs with our government and that’s a way of recognizing.”
Plus, Arce said, it’s in the best interests of the U.S.—and everyone else—to accept the new Ortega government and work with the Sandinista administration to help Nicaragua prosper and develop.
Arce says, “What the United States needs to recognize, instead of questioning a triumph that no one questions, is that we have done a good job with the economy, we have done a good job with citizen security, we have done a good job with the war against drug-trafficking and terrorism .. Are they really going to risk all that? And for what?”