Another snapshot of the times. Earlier we got a little carried away with the excitement of music in the 1960s, and without getting into music at all here, in the late 70s music found a great wave of authentic excitement again. Anyway, that’s by the way and just in passing into a little bit about the 1979 Sandinista Revolution in Nicaragua. This is another story of the superpower and the poor country.
The poor of Nicaragua had land taken from them by Spanish colonists, reducing them to seasonal migrant work on the elite’s plantations for starvation wages. US plantation owners took ownership of much of this land. In 1912, and when the poor and hungry peasants had been agitating for a living wage and land to grow their own food and revolution was in the air, the US Marines arrived and occupied the country until 1933.
From 1927 until his murder in 1934, Augusto César Sandino led a guerrilla war against the country’s Conservative regime and the American occupiers, gaining great fame around Latin America as a symbol of resistance to imperial domination.
America withdrew from Nicaragua in 1933 having formed and trained the Guardia Nacional to replace the Marines, and Anastacio Somoza used this force to destroy Nicaraguan democracy and establish a dynasty of ruthless military dictatorship for the next 43 years. Sandino was tricked into attending a meeting and murdered by the Guardia Nacional.
The Somoza family took most of the economic growth of Nicaragua through the 50s to the 70s, and after a major earthquake in 1972, helped themselves to the relief money that flowed in. They were strongly supported by the USA during all this time and are completely typical of the kinds of regimes the USA and the West have actively created and supported.
In 1961, the heroic figure of Sandino was invoked in the founding of the Sandinista National Liberation Front who began rebellion against their government. In the early 70s, they were joined by a few hundred Chilean refugees following America’s removal of the democratically elected president there and replacement with a military tyrant.
By 1979, the entire nation were behind the Sandinistas, and they took over the government. The Sandinista government of Daniel Ortega restored stolen land to the peasants, built schools and hospitals, and within four years raised the standard of living to the highest of all the Latin American countries. And the country wasn’t welcoming of any more American investment and what came with it.
The United States didn’t like this kind of thing, especially on their doorstep. As well as imposing a full trade embargo, President Ronald Reagan had long authorised the CIA to set up groups called the Contras to oppose the Sandinistas, funding, training and arming them.
The Contras maintained an intense campaign of terror in Nicaragua against a very popular government. They weren’t Nicaraguans and had no support in Nicaragua, these were mercenary soldiers paid by the CIA, operating from bases outside Nicaragua, in neighbouring countries where the USA had more than a bit of influence. The Contras committed atrocities here, mass murder, rape, torture, burning villages, schools, hospitals. The Contras also mined a Nicaraguan port, an action condemned internationally.
That these vicious terrorists were termed freedom fighters by Reagan was terrifyingly Orwellian. Reagan told Congressmen that they had a choice between supporting him or supporting Communism (a stance that was to be echoed by George W Bush in 2001 when he told the world that it was with the USA or against them.)
In 1983, it was too much for the US Congress and they prohibited funding of the Contras. But the government found a way around this with the neat idea of secretly selling arms to Iran and channelling the money to the Contras.
In Congress investigations, charges were brought against certain people for their support of the Contras, but the charges were dropped because the administration refused to declassify certain documents! Oh well.
The election in Nicaragua in 1984, universally declared to be fair and including US-supported candidates, gave the Sandinistas 70% of the vote. The US press didn’t report this election result at all, instead running with a story about Soviet Mig fighter jets being shipped to Nicaragua, which was not true but made sense to the American reader.
That year, the Republic of Nicaragua took the United States of America to the International Court of Justice, who found that the United States were:
in breach of its obligations under customary international law not to use force against another State", "not to intervene in its affairs", "not to violate its sovereignty", “not to interrupt peaceful maritime commerce", and "in breach of its obligations under Article XIX of the Treaty of Friendship, Commerce and Navigation between the Parties signed at Managua on 21 January 1956.
And the court further said that while the USA encouraged human rights violations by the Contras by the manual entitled Psychological Operations in Guerilla Warfare, this did not, however, make such acts attributable to the USA. The court found that the USA was under obligation to pay reparations to Nicaragua. The United States didn’t pay any reparations and basically do not recognise the ICJ’s or anyone else’s right to hold them to any account.
In democratic elections in 1990, the Sandinistas lost the vote, and they left government. They continued to contest and lose elections. In 2011, Daniel Ortega became re-elected El Presidente again.
Are these notes getting a bit leftist? Among so many stories, why do we raise the Sandinistas, if we’re not really just lefties? This is how it would have been framed, you’re either for the President or you’re for Communism. In Henry George’s world view, there would be free trade in conditions of global economic equity. Of course the Nicaraguans should have their own land and control the resources of their country, free of terrorist attack from an imperial superpower. It was as wrong for the Sandinistas to fight for that as it was wrong for the American colonists to rebel against the British Crown. And when the Sandinistas lost an election, they left power, and contested the next election.
We’re also very conscious that we’re sounding critical of the USA a lot, and this worries us because we love the USA. But, heck, it’s just that the USA keeps coming up, in all sorts of ways. And of course it does, it’s really that big. It’s so big it’s a universe on its own, there are so many different faces to the USA. It has its own sports, and it calls their domestic championships World Series.
It has intervened aggressively, usually nakedly in its own commercial interests, in the affairs of something like 50 countries since 1950, bombing about 27 of them, in the guise of being the world’s policeman. We should apologise to all the countries that we haven’t specifically mentioned, that America has bombed or subverted or corrupted in some way. These places don’t seem to really exist in the American mind, such a universe is the USA; they’re part of the dark and backward outside world that isn’t America.
There’s really two USAs, the rebel land of liberty proclaimed by the likes of Thomas Paine and Benjamin Franklin, a bold land of open roads and rock ‘n’ roll; and the other, the great power that becomes surreptitiously subverted to betray its ideals in corrupt service.
Among everything else the USA has given the world, it’s the country that gave us Henry George and Jimi Hendrix, two Americans warmly embraced by Britain in their time.