Latin America Solidarity News November 8th 2006
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Letter in Support of the People of Oaxaca:
A new sign-on support letter has been drafted. Signatories include Tariq Ali, Noam Chomsky, Eve Ensler, Danny Glover, Eduardo Galeano, Michael Moore, Arundhati Roy, Alice Walker, Howard Zinn, and many others. http://tinyurl.com/t36xa
VENEZUELAN PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION BRIGADE Nov/Dec
The Australia-Venezuela Solidarity Network is organising its fourth Brigade to Venezuela, to coincide with the Presidential elections in December 2006. The Brigade is currently
scheduled to start on November 23 and end on the election date December
3 [Running for 10 days], and will also be facilitating the participation of Brigadistas as international election observers. www.venezuelasolidarity.org/?q=node/109.
VISIT CUBA THIS SUMMER
Visit Cuba and see for youself. Dec 26, 2006 -23 January 2007. An
Australasian brigade spends a month in Cuba visiting historic sights,
having discussions with unions and womenâ•˙s groups, staying with
families ∑ and doing a little agricultural labour to express your
support and solidarity with Cuba in the face of the US blockade. Total
costs are about $5000 for fares, accommodation and meals. And there is
also time to lie on a beach, walk along the Malecon and dance in a Havana nightclub.
Contact Ina for info and registration details 09 3031755; firstname.lastname@example.org
Wellington demo in solidarity with people of Oaxaca
Photos on indymedia - http://indymedia.org.nz/newswire/display/71904/index.php
Around a dozen people went to the Mexican embassy in Wellington to express their disgust at the murder of four people in Oaxaca over the weekend and the continuing repression targeted at the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (APPO).
The dozen people taped a poster reading "MURDER, RAPE, TORTURE ON YOUR CONSCIENCE" to the glass door of the Embassy, made lots of noise with drums and demanded to get inside, but the Embassy staff kept the doors locked and all but two remained in the lobby.
As those in the lobby decided to leave, the two people inside the embassy attempted to join them, but embassy staff refused to unlock the door until Police arrived.
Around 10 police officers then proceeded to take the details of the two activists inside the embassy and one who had remained in the lobby (a Mexican citizen), before issuing them with verbal trespass notices effective for two years and allowing them to leave.
Backgrounder 31 Oct 2006
Mexico is my country and we know the main cause of the problem in Oaxaca is that the corrupt government doesn't want to spend in education of lower class citizens, they are racists that don't want to face the needs of the people, they don't care about providing jobs, they don't promote investment, they work only for their own enrichment by corrupt means, they steal from public funds, they steal elections, they sell everything they can and cheap, to friends, to colleagues, corruption in Mexico is at an all time high and possibly among the first three most corrupt nations in the world.
The only kind of investment the Mexican government wants is foreign investment, and they do everything in their power to keep the people poor to offer the cheapest labor force as possible, Mexico is an oil producing country, but the income from the oil sales is never honestly declared and is spent on God knows what because they never meet the needs of the country, they don’t build infrastructure, they don’t provide welfare to needy people, they don’t work for the country, but for themselves, they don’t fight crime, which is at 98% impunity, up from 96% in the year 2000… they don’t fight drug dealers, but instead have non aggression policies towards them, drug dealers contribute for political campaigns and have the freedom to work later as payment for their contributions. 50% of Mexico’s wealth is in the hands of 15% of the population, and there are plenty of millionaires but from 65% to 80% of the population is poor, with around 20 million in the poverty level. Mexican Presidents work for the American Government and the neo-liberal formula has been strongly applied in the last 25 years, which has taken around 50% off of the average working class wages or acquisitive buying power, while creating some of the richest men in the world, the third most richest man in the world Carlos Slim Helú, got that rich about 13 years after buying the Mexican telephone state owned monopoly, and charges for telephone use are the highest in the world. The man’s fortune is 30 billion US dollars and he along with a few other known people control the faith of Mexico along with it’s politics and impose the president of their choice by financing their campaigns and electoral fraud. We call those people “the owners of Mexico”, because that is how they act… Mexico is not a free or democratic country, the government controls the mass media and use them to suppress the news and control what people know and what they ignore, and now that the American control of our country is out in the open and strongly applied, freedom seems like an illusive dream for Mexicans, and Democracy is something that seems so close but so hard to reach.
The problem of Oaxaca started with the electoral fraud that imposed Ulises Ruiz as the governor of the state in 2004. In the month of May of this year, the state teachers union, requested for government funds to improve the education with the acquisition of school materials, which up to that date teachers had to buy from their wages due to low funding from the government, also better wages and funds to improve general conditions since the state is the poorest in the nation and schools need attention to preserve the buildings. So after five weeks of the “sit in” (planton as we call it) manifestation, State and Federal riot Police were sent in to punish the teachers by repressive means, the police were repelled and returned to the take over of the central square they occupied up to June the 14th, but this time ordinary citizens joined them in the protest, so for five months the state governor sent mercenaries to carry out drive by shootings during which up some people were killed, the attacks occurred after dark and the people decided to pile up barricades to prevent free flow of traffic for their protection. Things remained the same, for five months during which negotiations were carried out between the teachers and the federal government, they demanded from the federal government that they remove the state governor and improve funds for schools as a condition for their return to class rooms and on the 19th of October the Mexican Senate deliberated to remove the Oaxaca Governor but decided to leave him in office as the result of the PRI extorting the PAN (official party) to leave Governor Ulises Ruiz as head of the Oaxaca State or they would no recognize Felipe Calderon as the new President knowing that he was imposed by means of electoral fraud, as was negotiated during election day, recordings of deals between the two parties have proven the PRI party sold votes from their candidate to the PAN party candidate to defeat the PRD candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador who was the favorite among the people of Mexico, as the PRI candidate was far behind in the election day preliminary vote count and the PRD seemed to be leading the count.
So after the Senate decided to keep the Governor in Oaxaca, the people did not loose faith and remained in protest with the only demand left on their conditions; to remove Ulises Ruiz from state office… but on October 27th Ulises Ruiz feeling an untouchable, sent his shooters to kill some protesters and stir trouble as a likely plan to have Federal Police sent in to retake the city of Oaxaca from the teachers and the APPO people and American Journalist Brad Will was shot during that afternoon.. The people of Oaxaca had been in control of government offices and a radio station which they took control of after the June 14th repression by State and Federal Police.
They were the authority and kept a hold on the state in demand for the murderous Governor to be removed, among the governor’s faults are corruption, association with criminals, a repressive manner of governing, murder and drunkenness, so their demands were fair and just, but the federal government does not faithfully represent the will of the Mexican people and protect their own as members of the same crime organization in control of the country,… and on Saturday the 28th five planes full of federal police arrived in Oaxaca City and other parts of the State to take control from the teachers and people of Oaxaca, or APPO (People of Oaxaca Popular Assembly) as they call themselves.
On Sunday morning Federal Police had been waiting for orders and had not been fed, so the people provided them with something to eat and drink as some of the policemen had fainted, but in the afternoon they began the repression during which they hurt people and used water cannons with acid mixed in the water and even fired live bullets at them and a couple of people were killed, one of them a young boy. Men, women and children fought and even old people joined in the defense of their positions. By early night police had taken control of the city square and had arrested people. We are still waiting to hear as the events develop.
It is believed the police were actually military forces dressed in police anti-riot gear. [Anon]
The colonial city, shrouded in smoke yesterday, used to present a face of beauty and sophistication to tourists. Picture / Reuters
Caravana Arrives in Oaxaca for Megamarch
The battle of Oaxaca - Independent
Wednesday November 1, 2006 - By David Usborne
A sign on the main road into town carries the simple message, "Welcome to Oaxaca". A centre of indigenous crafts and cuisine, of gorgeous Spanish colonial architecture, of art institutes, literary salons and tranquil contemplation, it has long been a tourist drawcard.
A visitor approaching yesterday, however, would have had good reason to pause. The city, nestled beneath verdant mountains, was partly obscured by plumes of smoke. A smell of petrol filled the air and the highway was littered with tree trunks, rocks and smears of blood - the debris of hand-to-hand violence.
Oaxaca has been sliding since early May into near anarchy amid a fast-gathering and angry popular rebellion that has forced the closure of hundreds of businesses, including almost all its hotels and restaurants, and kept children from school. Laws gave way to lawlessness, as leftist gangs roamed its streets, took control of its radio stations and set up a rag-tag encampment of tents and banners in the 16th-century central square, fringed by forlorn, abandoned cafes.
The crisis has been one the federal authorities in Mexico City, 480km to the northwest, appeared unwilling, or unable, to confront. President Vicente Fox, who leaves office in a month, contended that Oaxaca's journey into chaos was a local problem requiring local solutions.
It became a town where men accused of robbery were tied to trees with placards around their necks detailing their alleged crimes and mothers fought pitched battles with demonstrators using clubs and steel pipes as they tried in vain to get their children back into school.
The target of the loose coalition of unionists, anarchists, students and Indian groups has been state Governor Ulises Ruiz, whom they accuse of political thuggery, intimidation, vote-rigging and corruption. Their single demand, which remains unanswered, has been his resignation. The grievances boiling in the cauldron of Oaxaca exist across Mexico, a country seemingly unable to close the yawning gap between its wealthy and grindingly poor and where full democracy, born only six years ago, remains fragile. After a shoot-out at one of the demonstrators' barricades on Saturday left an American photo-journalist and two other people dead, Fox ordered the Army and federal police at last to retake Oaxaca.
The two-day operation began on Monday when police with automatic rifles took up positions around the city. They began their advance, backed by armed soldiers, water cannons and helicopters. Street by street, they advanced to the centre, pushing aside screaming protesters and breaking up the barricades.
The protesters abandoned their stronghold on the main plaza, the Zocalo, and the bloodbath that some had feared was inevitable appeared yesterday to have been avoided despite more protests. To what extent the movement has been subdued and Oaxaca can return to normality remains uncertain. The tides of rubbish - banners, tents, ad hoc lavatories and cooking stations - left behind were cleared. Luring back the tourists that once formed the backbone of the local economy will take a lot longer.
For visitors, Oaxaca used to present a face of beauty and sophistication. Yet the surrounding valleys are home to some of the poorest people in Mexico. After teachers declared a state-wide strike in May, locking 1.3 million children out of the classrooms, Ruiz eventually sent in police to break up their protests, using poorly trained officers. It was the spark that ignited the far more serious resistance to Ruiz. Local activists swelled the teachers' ranks, calling themselves the Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca. Protesters accuse Ruiz of rigging his election in 2004 - an allegation that hits a nerve across Mexico, whose recent history is littered with claims of elections fixed and manipulated. They accuse him of using thugs to crush and kill his political opponents. It has been a protest against what many perceive as illegitimate government and an expression of frustration with the rift between rich and poor.
The city remains deeply divided. Many residents came out of their homes, their streets still dotted with charred and overturned vehicles, to thank the police for what they consider the liberation of their city after months under siege. "I don't want them to leave. Let them stay," said Edith Mendoza, a 40-year-old housewife. "We were held hostage for five months."
But some among the protesters vowed more resistance, including marching on the Zocalo, declaring that the battle will only be over when Ruiz is ousted. The worst of the violence may yet be to come. Even if it doesn't, the wounds suffered by Oaxaca will need many months to heal. INDEPENDENT
Que Pasa en Oaxaca?, by Michael McCaughan
A virtual state of siege prevails in Oaxaca City where thousands of military police have occupied the central square and surrounding streets, clearing barricades and detaining dozens of opposition activists. The city's emergency services are idle while banks and schools remain closed and the city center, usually bustling with tourists, has the air of a ghost town. The hub of activity has shifted to the Santo Domingo church where thousands of activists gather daily to swap news, make plans and denounce police brutality.
The federal police occupation began on October 28 with an aggressive push toward the Zocalo (town square) which was occupied in June by teachers, students and workers demanding the removal of discredited state governor Ulises Ruiz. The roots of the conflict go back a month earlier when teachers occupied the city square in demand of better pay. This annual protest dates back twenty-six years and the ritual typically ends with a small wage increase being approved. This time, however, Governor Ruiz violently evicted the teachers from the square, provoking a popular uprising.
Workers and students united to shut down government offices and seized local radio and television stations. The state government ground to a halt and Ruiz has gone into hiding, communicating through paid announcements in the press.
"The conflict in Oaxaca is almost over," announced Ruiz on Friday--confirmation, if it was necessary, that his hiding place must be a long way from Oaxaca.
The opposition formed the Oaxaca People's Popular Assembly (APPO), which comprises 200 organizations drawn from 600 villages and towns across the state, all determined to stand firm until Ruiz has left office and with him the federal security forces.
The APPO is a temporary alliance of activists ranging from moderates with links to the ruling party to radicals calling for armed struggle to overthrow the state. In conversation with APPO members this week there was consensus that the time had come to replace traditional political parties with community-based governing assemblies, in keeping with indigenous tradition.
On the eve of the police occupation the teacher's union signed a wage agreement and agreed to go back to work. The push to topple Ruiz would have continued but the core of the resistance movement was effectively neutralized. On that same day, however, government officials opened fire on a group of protestors, killing US citizen Brad Will and raising the profile of the dispute internationally.
Under pressure to resolve the impasse, President Fox dispatched police with orders to retake the square and dismantle barricades around the city. Mexico's congress simultaneously pushed for the resignation of Ruiz, to ease tensions. However the plan backfired as Ruiz refused to step down and appears determined to hang on until the bitter end.
The governor represents the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which ruled Mexico from 1929 until 2000, combining populism with repression. In recent years the PRI has seen its power base eroded around the country, but Oaxaca, where the party has governed uninterruptedly for seventy-seven years, remains a significant fiefdom.
The situation is further complicated by the upcoming handover of presidential power to Felipe Calderón on December 1. Calderón's National Action Party (PAN) needs PRI support to govern effectively in congress and legitimize its candidate's feeble electoral victory. It is believed that Ruiz has demanded the PAN support him in return for PRI cooperation in the coming months.
Meanwhile, the military police have failed to crush the resistance movement. Indeed it is the federal police themselves who now look surrounded and isolated as they camp out in the square. In a dynamic new tactic protestors surge toward the square, chanting slogans and testing defenses at different entry points.
According to internal security documents, the police mission comprises three phases; the retaking of the square and clearing of all major barricades; the seizure of occupied radio and TV stations; and a final phase in which arrest warrants would be served on 200 APPO members and a major clampdown imposed to dampen resistance efforts.
The square was retaken last weekend in a day of violence which saw three people killed, dozens more injured and at least fifty people detained. The APPO militants abandoned barricades rather than clash with heavily armed police, but for every dismantled barricade three more appeared at significant intersections across the city.
On Thursday police engaged in running battles with protestors outside the university campus, where several people were snatched by police and taken by helicopter to a nearby airbase. The local police have also set up a "safe house" opposite a soft drink warehouse, where neighbors have reported cries of torture from "ghost" detainees yet to be formally charged or processed through the courts. There are now seventy-nine prisoners and thirty-seven "disappeared" citizens, sparking a desperate search by concerned relatives.
The authorities believed that by clearing the square, a potent symbol of APPO power, the movement would lose its focus. However, the repression has only multiplied the resistance as students shut down university faculties across Mexico and Zapatista rebels closed down the Panamerican Highway near Guatemala. Radio Universidad, playing a vital role in coordinating APPO activities, has been broadcasting hundreds of declarations of support from around the world.
By the end of the week President Fox had declared that he was leaving the Oaxaca conflict to his successor, Felipe Calderón. At a meeting with stockbrokers this week, Calderón outlined his future strategy for guaranteeing security around the country; "Will it be easy?" he reflected, "No...this is a problem which will take time, money and very probably it will cost more lives. "
Letter from Colombia Positiva! Cameron Sang in Bogotá
I’ve been back in Colombia for over a year now, clocking up more than
four and a half years here in total.
Bogotá continues to change, for both the better and for the worse,
however it does remain a fascinating city to be in.
I continue to try to balance having a life, working to satisfy the bank
manager and working to satisfy my soul. Not that the last two are always
An interesting project I have become involved in is a Non-Governmental
Organisation, working in the area of education and poverty. The goal of
Play’s Cool Foundation is to develop English teaching resources, and
supply them to the greatly under funded and under resourced public
schools in poor areas of Bogotá.
Play’s Cool Foundation was formed by a Colombian family, who had spent a
number of years in Australia, and were greatly impressed with the
quality of the public schools there. They decided to dip into their own
pockets to try to improve the education system and teaching methods in
public schools here. I worked with them late last year, and earlier this
year, teaching in a bilingual private school, testing ideas for the
resources, and recently we have been working to fine tune and expand on
our ideas. This has been an interesting challenge for me, as I have more
experience teaching adults and teenagers, rather than children; however
it is a challenge I have been enjoying greatly.
If this project goes as planned, the method will be somewhat
revolutionary for public schools here, not only for the teaching of the
English language, but teaching as general.
Obviously it hasn’t all been plain sailing, and lack of funds and
contacts with the right people are seriously hampering progress, however
we have submitted the first draft of the first eight units to a
publisher, so hopefully things will start moving pretty quickly soon.
If anyone would like more information, please contact me.
AUGUSTO PINOCHET, the 90-year-old former dictator of Chile, was branded a “grave danger to society” as he was placed under house arrest in Santiago yesterday by the judge investigating his role in cases of torture and kidnapping during his time in power.
Brazil's working class leader wins landslide second term victory:
Brazil's leftwing president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, won a landslide second term in power last night, a month after being forced into a run-off by allegations of corruption.
John Pilger Video: Nicaragua - A Nations Right To Survive:
In 1979, the Sandinistas won a popular revolution in Nicaragua, putting an end to decades of the corrupt US-backed Somoza dictatorship. In this film, Pilger describes the achievements of the Sandinistas and their "threat of a good example".
Up from Below in Brazil The Meaning of Lula's Victory
By ROGER BURBACH
Luis Inácio "Lula" da Silva's resounding electoral victory with over 60 percent of the vote places Brazilian politics on a new footing. While many on the left remain critical of Lula for the limited reforms of his first term, his very victory has consolidated a shift in the country's possibilities for deeper social transformations. As Francisco Meneses of IBASE, the Brazilian Institute of Social Economic Analysis, says, "The country is more polarized, it can no longer move back to the old order. The economy is different and social expenditures have been augmented to a level that is important for the lower strata of society."
A major reason for Lula's resounding victory is due to the support of the poor and dispossesed who make up the majority of Brazil's population. Even in the first round of the elections on October 8 when Lula fell short of an absolute majority, garnering 48 percent of the vote versus his leading opponent's 41 percent, the poor, particularly in the country's impoverished northeast, provided the decisive margin of support. As Darci Frigo of the Land Rights Center in the state of Paraná states, "Agrarian reform may have been limited in Lula's first term, but thanks to the Zero Hunger program and direct income subsidies many families have more food and are better off."
In its international relations a victory by Lula's opponent, Geraldo Alckmin, would have reversed the increasingly independent stance that Brazil has adopted. Alckmin endorsed the neoliberal free trade position advocated by the Bush administration and would have pursued the policy of privatizing the economy that has favored the multinational corporations. Regarding relations with the South, Alckmin attacked Lula for caving in to Bolivia's nationalization in July of the holdings of Brazil's Petrobras. This semi-autonomous state enterprise owned large natural gas reserves in Bolivia that supplied over half of Brazil's domestic natural gas needs.
Lula responded by insisting that he would look after Brazil's interests while respecting Bolivia's national automony. Just this weekend as Brazilian voters went to the polls, Petrobras concluded a new agreement with Bolivia that cedes formal control over natural gas reserves to Bolivia's state owned company and significantly increases the gas revenues that remain in Bolivian coffers. As Francisco Meneses of Ibase notes, "Brazil under Lula is aligning itself with the Southern bloc of nations, not subverting its interests to the United States."
But many in Brazil remain skeptical of the chances for significant advances in a second Lula administration. Marcos Arruda of PACS, a research center on social and economic alternatives based in Rio de Janeiro, is highly critical of Lula. He notes that "the destruction of the environoment, particularly in the Amazon basin has continued apace," and "the government has practiced irresponsible fiscal policies focus on repaying the international debt and keeping national interest rates high while social spending falls far short of what the county needs."
During Lula's first term, most of the country's social movements felt that their agendas were largely neglected as Lula pursued economic and social stabilization policies. Darci Frigo of the Land Rights Center states, "The demands for a profound agrarian reform program advocated by the MST, the Landless Movement, were ignored. Some limited spending was directed to social and educational programs for the landless, but the large landed estates of the country were barely touched as the government encouraged agro-exports."
While Lula in the final election round did come out forsocial spending, Brazil's robust social movements are not sitting idly by, waiting on Lula's volition. Seventeen social movements lead by the MST and the the Unified Workers Central mobilizied in the major cities of Brazil during the final days of the campaign. They released an action manifesto, titled "Thirteen Points for A Social Policy for Brazil." Commiting themselves to "an intensification of the popular and democratic struggles throughout the country" during Lula's second term, they outlined a program that called for profound changes in education, health, fiscal policies, and agrarian reform, all to be carried out "with the effective participation of the people and their social organizations."
As Friar Betto, a radical Brazilian theologican notes, "Lula owes us much based on the promises he has made during his presidential campaigns." Even more than Lula's first campaign in 2002, this election polarized the country's electorate, laying out two distinct visions. Francisco Meneses says, "Perhaps Lula on his own would not change much, but the reality is that the social movements realize that this election is their victory and they intend to sharpen the agitation for real transformations from below."
Roger Burbach is director of the Center for the Study of the Americas (CENSA) and a Visiting Scholar at the Institute of International Studies, University of California, Berkeley. He is co-author with Jim Tarbell of "Imperial Overstretch: George W. Bush and the Hubris of Empire," His latest book is: "The Pinochet Affair: State Terrorism and Global Justice."
11th Hour Election Meddling by the US
Targeting Nicaraguans' Stomachs
By BEN BEACHY
Imagine the following: you and your family decide to remodel your kitchen. Your neighbor, also the principal at your children's elementary school, hears of the plan and immediately states his opposition. He argues that the remodeling project is not the sort of investment your family needs and hints that carrying it out would jeopardize his friendship. Deciding to move ahead with the remodeling anyway, you and your family begin removing the kitchen cabinets one day, but are interrupted by a knock at the door. Your neighbor enters and grimly announces to the entire family that if the remodeling is carried out as planned, he will see to it that your children do not pass another grade in his elementary school.
Your neighbor's behavior, however far-fetched it may seem, is no more ridiculous or offensive than the treatment U.S. political figures have been giving their neighboring Nicaraguans in the last several days. Nicaragua is currently gearing up for its national elections on Sunday, November 5. For the last year, Nicaragua's complicated electoral panorama has been further convoluted by a string of U.S. representatives endeavoring to ward off an electoral victory by Sandinista (FSLN) leader and former president Daniel Ortega. U.S. officials have publicly censured Ortega, attempted to unify his opposition, and threatened that an Ortega win would endanger U.S. financial support. The continuous intervention, however, has failed to unite Nicaragua's divided right or significantly detract from Ortega's base. Now U.S. meddlers are flustered and desperate in the face of recent polls revealing that Ortega is within a few percentage points of clinching the presidential office.
In a last-ditch effort to undermine Ortega, U.S. Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, chairman of the House's International Relations Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigation, sent a letter on Friday, October 27, to Michael Chertoff, Secretary of Homeland Security. Rohrabacher enjoined Chertoff "to prepare in accordance with U.S. law, contingency plans to block any further money remittances from being sent to Nicaragua in the event that the FSLN enters government." The nearly half million Nicaraguans currently living in the U.S. send around $500 million each year to their family members in Nicaragua, according to Nicaraguan economist Nestor Avendaño.
Nicaraguans have reason to believe Rohrabacher may not be bluffing. In the buildup to Nicaragua's 1990 elections, the United States promised Nicaraguan voters that it would continue fueling the decade-old contra war and maintain its economic embargo on Nicaragua, both of which were wreaking havoc on Nicaragua's economy, if Daniel Ortega were reelected as President. Beleaguered by a crippling war, food rationing, and empty supermarket shelves, Nicaraguans opted for U.S.-backed Violeta Chamorro over Ortega. Satisfied, the U.S. then released its stranglehold on the Nicaraguan economy.
Seeing that the FSLN now has a chance to return to power, Rohrabacher seems eager to once again target Nicaraguans' stomachs with callous pressure. Thousands of Nicaraguan families depend on remittances to augment the meager wages paid for picking coffee, sewing jeans in assembly factories, or selling water at intersections. In an economy sacked with underemployment, stagnant salaries, and rising costs, remittances keep Nicaragua afloat by generating an income equivalent to 70% of the country's total annual exports, according to the most recent estimates. Avendaño projects that a U.S. embargo on remittances would prove as disastrous for Nicaraguans as the U.S.-imposed trade embargo of the 1980's. Once again, the hardest hit would be the impoverished majority.
Nicaraguan voters are not unaware of this reality. Nor is Rohrabacher, no doubt. Nicaraguans' direct dependence on remittances is what makes his open threat particularly potent. In the face of a potential Ortega victory, Rohrabacher is striving to make longstanding U.S. interference more personal by pushing Nicaraguans to see a vote for Ortega as a vote against their own pocketbooks.
Rohrabacher's letter is but one voice in a recent cacophony of U.S. meddling. Headlines of the last week have been laden with unsolicited U.S. opinions on Daniel Ortega and the sort of President Nicaraguans should want. The day after Rohrabacher sent his letter, Florida governor Jeb Bush authored a letter published in a La Prensa paid ad. Bush's letter declares that Nicaraguans must choose between a "tragic step towards the past," which he identifies as the "totalitarianism" of the Sandinistas, and "a vision towards the future." Jeb Bush's own vision for Nicaragua's future is revealed at the bottom of the ad, where the Alianza Liberal Nicaraguense party, which is running the U.S.-preferred presidential candidate Eduardo Montealegre, is named as the ad's sponsor.
Just a few pages away from Bush's ad appears an article in which Adolfo Franco, USAID's Assistant Administrator for Latin America and the Caribbean, warns that a FSLN victory next week could limit USAID support for Nicaragua, citing worries that Daniel Ortega might significantly alter Nicaragua's current economic model. USAID's admonition piggybacks on US Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez's more explicit pressure in an interview publicized one week earlier. Gutierrez threatened that an Ortega win could preclude a $230 million combined investment from three foreign companies that would generate 123,000 jobs, a $220 million aid package promised through the Millenium Challenge Account, and implementation of CAFTA in Nicaragua.
On October 29, the day after printing Jeb Bush's letter, La Prensa published an editorial by Otto Reich, former Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, in which he accuses the FSLN of maintaining ties with terrorist groups, a claim that Reich does not attempt to substantiate. Though Reich does not currently hold a position in the U.S. government, he writes as if he does, stating, "If the Sandinistas control the government of Nicaragua, there will be strong pressure in Washington to review all aspects of the bilateral relationship, including remittances." Reich equates a Sandinista victory with "a return to a past of poverty and international isolation." Such a dismal outcome indeed seems likely if the U.S., as the party responsible for the isolation of the past, would implement Reich's thinly cloaked threat of aid and remittance cutoffs.
Ironically, Reich precedes all the above statements with the disclaimer, "No one can tell [Nicaraguans] who to vote for." Jeb Bush, Adolfo Franco, and other outspoken U.S. figures have similarly acknowledged Nicaraguans' sovereign right to pick their own leaders. Unfortunately, such statements come across as meaningless niceties when subsequently contradicted with threats and admonishments against choosing a president not to the U.S.'s liking. As Nicaraguans make their way to the polls on Sunday, they must not only consider "What will this candidate do for my country if elected?" but also "What will the U.S. do to my country if this candidate is elected?" The product of relentless outside interference, this sad reality is profoundly undemocratic.
With numerous internal challenges posed by this election, Nicaraguans do not need to be further encumbered by fears of U.S. reprisal. If U.S. representatives truly wish to see free, unfettered elections in Nicaragua on November 5, they would do well to keep their mouths shut.
Ben Beachy is an educator with Witness for Peace in Nicaragua. Witness for Peace is a politically independent, grassroots organization that educates U.S. citizens on the impacts of U.S. policies and corporate practices in Latin America and the Caribbean. www.witnessforpeace.org