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Does Nicaragua Under President Ortega Deserve Progressives’ Support?

March 03, 2022
Does Nicaragua Under President Ortega Deserve Progressives' Support?





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UC Santa Barbara Sociology professor William I. Robinson and the Nicaragua-based writer John Perry debate whether Nicaragua under President Ortega con be considered a leftist government, whether US intervention is a factor in that country, and whether the recent presidential election was legitimate.


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TRANSCRIPT


Greg Wilpert

Welcome to theAnalysis.news. I’m Greg Wilpert. The relatively small Central American country of Nicaragua continues to stir up much debate among Progressives around the world, especially following the last presidential election, which was held on November 7th. Incumbent President Daniel Ortega was re-elected to a fourth term that election and his wife, Rosario Murillo, as Vice President. Critics of the Ortega-Murillo government charged them with undermining the country’s democracy for arresting up to seven individuals who were said to be considering to run for President. Also, over 100 remain arrested following protests in 2018. The Ortega government charged many of them with treason for having received money for political activity from the U.S. Government and for not having disclosed their funding sources.


Meanwhile, on Ortega’s inauguration day in January, the United States government under [Joe] Biden issued more sanctions against leading government officials. Given this and other developments in Nicaragua, to what extent does it make sense to call the Sandinista government, which in the 1980s was a beacon for the revolutionary Left in Latin America, a progressive government. How deep is the U.S. involved in undermining or potentially overthrowing Ortega? And was the November presidential election fair in the first place?


These are some of the questions we will be exploring today in a debate between an Ortega critic who once was a supporter of the Sandinistas and who had worked in the Ortega Foreign Ministry in the 1980s and a current supporter of the Sandinista government. The critic is William I. Robinson, Professor of Sociology at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Also, he recently was an editor of the special issue of the Journal on Latin American Perspectives on Nicaragua. On the other side, we have John Perry, a longtime writer on Nicaragua for many different news outlets and lives in Masaya, Nicaragua. Thanks, William and John, for joining me today.


William Robinson

A pleasure to be on.


John Perry

You’re very welcome.


Greg Wilpert

So, let’s start with you, John. As I mentioned in the introduction, there has been a lot of debate on whether Nicaragua should be considered a Leftist or progressive government. Since that’s a very large question, let’s narrow it down a little bit and look more specifically at the extent to which Ortega, who has now been in office since 2007, has insured or failed to ensure the population’s social and political human rights. What’s your take on this, John? Let’s try to limit this intervention on all of them actually to about three to four minutes.


John Perry

Let’s start by saying that the Sandinistas one power, of course, first in 1979, but were very limited in what they could do during the 1980s because of the sanctions from the U.S., intense sanctions and the Contra war that was financed by the U.S. They won elections in 1984, which weren’t recognized by the U.S. and then they lost elections in 1990, which led to 16 years of corrupt neoliberal government, in which time the country fell back into misery effectively. Hundreds of children weren’t going to school. The high levels of poverty, the health service was in collapse. There were daily power outages. For example, the community where I live had no electricity for over a year.


Then Daniel Ortega regained the presidency in 2007. So I just want to say some of the things that have been achieved in those 15 years, bearing in mind that I live in the third poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, yet we’ve seen a complete transformation, for example, of the health service. The government has built 23 new hospitals, all very modern hospitals. I was in one only a week or two back. This meant that the government dealt with COVID effectively during the Pandemic, whereas children had to pay for various aspects of schooling. There was a high level of absenteeism from schools under the neoliberal governments. Now there’s free education right up to the University level, and schoolchildren get a free lunch, which is very important in tackling malnutrition.


In fact, there’s been a massive reduction in poverty. I know William disputes these figures, but I think the government claims that poverty and extreme poverty have been reduced by half. I think the evidence is there on the streets. You simply don’t see the children without shoes, the children with malnutrition that we used to see 15 years ago. Then we’ve seen drinking water coverage improved massively from only half the country to nearly all of the country, the same with electricity, and now 70% of electricity is renewable. There have been tremendous advances in the position of women, so the World Economic Forum said that Nicaragua was fifth in the world in gender equality, having been 90th in 2007. It’s become the safest country in Central America.


So during the period of the violent coup attempt in 2018. Which no doubt we’ll talk about later. Of course, things got very bad, but the country has recovered very quickly, and it now has the lowest homicide rate in Central America again. One of the lowest in the whole of Latin America. The lowest femicide rate in the region.


It’s been well prepared for disasters. So that’s when Hurricanes Eta and Iota hit the country, and it hit Honduras and Guatemala at the end of 2020. There were very few deaths here, unlike those other countries, and the communities recovered quickly. There’s been a tremendous boost in recognition of Indigenous territories, with all Indigenous communities now having autonomous government systems.


I think that’s why, essentially, you mentioned the election result, Greg. That’s why 66% of Nicaraguans voted in November 2021. And why, whether they were ardent Sandinistas or not, or just simply wanted a stable government and continued economic growth, why 75% of the electorate voted for the present government.


Greg Wilpert

So, William, what’s your take? Then on Nicaragua’s fulfillment of social and political rights. And what’s your response to John?


William Robinson

Yeah, well, I’m not going to speak about the elections and some of John’s claims because I know we’re going to come back to that in the latter part of the interview. But Greg, before I start, I want to correct something you said in the introduction. You said that these people have been arrested and been put on trial, and that’s what’s taking place this very week because they received money from the United States. That’s not true. A couple of them have. Actually, Dora María Téllez and many others have just been sentenced to 13 years in prison. Supposedly the actual charge is a conspiracy to damage national integrity. What they were accused of is social media. Their tweets and their Facebook accounts, where police intervened in them and presented them as evidence. That was the only evidence for those who have been tried. Where the police said these are tweets and this is Facebook posts and in tweets and Facebook posts, what they were doing was criticizing the government. It is illegal now to criticize the government. It’s called a hate crime. It’s called a violation of national sovereignty when you criticize the government. But I know we’ll come back to that later, but I wanted to correct you on that.


Here’s the thing that the international Left is genuinely confused about Nicaragua because of Nicaragua’s history and the rhetoric coming out of the Ortega regime. Ortega has been remarkably adroit in using radical-sounding anti-imperialist language rhetoric to strike this reflexive chord among supporters in the international Left. But we need to be careful not to confuse appearance with essence and rhetoric with reality. We want to look at the actual programmatic contents of the Ortega regime. And what we see is there’s nothing revolutionary, there’s nothing socialist. It’s a repressive capitalist regime.


Now, I know I only have a few minutes, but I want to take the story back briefly. After the Sandinistas lost power in 1990, a new Sandinista bourgeoisie arose. They arose because they appropriated for themselves public property. The revolution had 60% of the country’s property, and resources made public as part of the 1980s revolution that was appropriated by the inner circle around Ortega, who would now become a new millionaire class. They’ve joined the ranks of the country’s elite. They joined the ranks of the country’s capitalist class. They’re heavily invested in tourism and agro, industry and finance and import/export and subcontracting for the sweatshops for the Maquiladoras. They now share an affinity of class interests with the traditional bourgeoisie in Nicaragua.


Let’s remember how Ortega came back to power. In 1998, he signed a pact with the extreme right Constitutional Liberal Party and the person who was President Arnoldo Alemán, a millionaire businessman in himself, and one of the most corrupt figures in all of Central America.


They signed a pact of co-governance. Then Ortega went on to meet with Cardinal [Miguel] Obando Bravo, who at the time was the hierarchy of the Catholic Church hierarchy because he wanted Church support. He promised and then delivered on his promise to pass the most restrictive anti-abortion law in all of Latin America. Even if you’re a child who is raped and even if your life is in danger, you can’t have an abortion, or you’re thrown in jail and in front of Obando Bravo and the media, he said, I’d like to have a confession and apologize for the sins of the Sandinistas in the 1980s. Then, they met on the Eve of Ortega returning to power in late 2006, early 2007. Ortega and his representatives met with COSEP. COSEP is a Superior Council for Private Enterprise. That’s the big association of big Nicaraguan capitalists.


They said we’re going to give you everything you want economically as long as you don’t question our monopoly of political power. They signed a pact of co-governance. So until 2018, from 2007 to 2018, Ortega co-governed with the capitalist class.


Now, what is the economic program that Ortega has pursued? This is laid out in the 2006 document what the economic program was going to be, and it has been carried out. First of all, it promised that economic program, when Ortega came back to power, absolute respect for private property, unrestricted freedom for capital, no capital controls, no progressive taxation, attracting transnational corporate investment, promoting free trade, expanding agro-industry, and rolling out, which is exactly what’s happened, the welcoming map to transnational capital with ten years across the board tax holiday. Corporate tax receipts plummeted after Ortega took office.


Let me conclude, let me just make just one other point on this. This is a lot to discuss here. Ortega is compared to the pink tide is a very big mistake to say that Ortega is part of the pink tide in Latin America. Let’s remember what MAS[-IPSP] [Movement for Socialism (Movimiento al Socialismo)]did when it came to power, what Rafael Correa did when he came to power in Ecuador, what [Hugo] Chávez did when they came to power. They nationalized resources, and then they heavily taxed transnational corporations.


Not only has nothing been nationalized in Nicaragua, but 96% of the economy is in the hands of the private capitalist class. And again, tax holidays, they’re not even taxed. Remember that Chávez — I’ll conclude with this. Remember that Chávez led the Latin America-wide charge against the Free trade area of the Americas, that — you were in Venezuela at the time Greg — [George] Bush Jr. Was imposing on Latin America. Chávez led that charge and successfully undermined this free trade area of the America’s Agreement.


Distinct to that, in 2006, all of the social movements in Central America have mass mobilization against the Central America Free Trade agreements, which was the local counterpart to the continental one. Ortega came to power, ignored those social movements, ignored the demands of the mass base in Nicaragua to reject that treaty and openly embraced the Central American Free Trade Agreement. I mean, I could go on. We have very little time to.


Greg Wilpert

You’ll get another chance. So let me give John a chance to respond, and I’ll have to fairness, give you a little bit more time as well. So what do you say to all of that, John?


John Perry

Nobody’s disputing that this isn’t a mixed economy. The important thing to emphasize is the tremendous role of small and medium enterprise in the economy. Over half of national income is produced by small businesses and only 30% from the big businesses that William is talking about. Nicaragua remains, having a big rural population. It produces well over 80% of its own food. It’s close to food self-sufficiency. It’s been a tremendous workshop for co-operativism.


So there are well over 5,000 cooperatives employing nearly half a million people. There’s a specific Ministry in the government, Metcalf, the Family Ministry, which is unique in Central America, which engages with small businesses right down to individual women running small shops on the side of the road, and it engaged with one and a half million people last year through its 20 local offices. So, yes, it’s a mixed economy, but it’s a mixed economy that works for ordinary Nicaraguans, which is, I repeat, why they voted for the current government in November’s election.


Greg Wilpert

I just wanted to add just one other thing to what John said, that recently with regard to the anti-abortion law, I saw that it has never been enforced. So some people who support the government say at least, well, that’s not really much of an issue, in addition to the fact that Nicaragua has a huge amount of women participating in all levels of government, much more than any other country in Latin America. So I don’t know if you want to address that as well in your response.


William Robinson

Well, I’ll say with what you just said, it’s never been enforced. That’s totally false. Rosa is a twelve-year-old girl who was raped by her stepfather, and this is when Ortega came back to power. She had to be smuggled out of the country to Costa Rica to get an abortion. Then she couldn’t return because she was told that the twelve-year-old would go to jail. Later on, they were forced to back down.


I want to say John is saying this is a mixed economy. Well, it’s a mixed economy in which 4% of the economy is in the hands of cooperatives or small businesses, but 96% of the economy is in the hands of capital. It controls all sectors of the economy. He mentioned these early improvements, and by the way, I published several books on Nicaragua, and I published dozens of articles. I recognized these early improvements, but where did they come from? Because the improvements he mentioned are all up until 2014, 2007 to 2014.


Three things accounted for those improvements. That John mentioned, first of all, there was a massive influx of transnational corporate investment. Secondly, all of Latin America, not just Nicaragua, experienced what we call the super commodities boom up until 2013-2014. So all of this money came into Nicaragua, and it’s true that they used some of that to build hospitals and schools. I applauded that at that time. But the biggest source of income that was used was four to $5 billion in a Venezuelan subsidy as part of the ALBA [Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America] program to Nicaragua. So that’s when we saw these improvements. The economies and then the Venezuelan funds dry up, and then the super commodities boom is over, and the economy starts to deteriorate in 2015, and the government moves on to implement all of these neoliberal measures prescribed by the IMF [International Monetary Fund].


I’ll conclude with this. This is the key thing. John is saying the government claims this reduction in poverty. I’ve studied this very carefully. The most reliable source for this, for the reduction in poverty, is FIDEG. FIDEG stands for International Foundation for the Global Economic Challenge. It’s a Managua-based and was a government-supported research Institute run by Alejandro Martinez Cuenca, who is an Ortegista. He’s not in the opposition.


His organization has carried out household poverty surveys every single year since Ortega came back to power. Ortega used to support these annual surveys. What they showed is that poverty went down from 2007 to 2014 from 44.8% to 39%. So we’re talking about approximately a five and a half percent reduction in poverty. Of course, that was positive. Then from 2015, when there’s no more Venezuelan subsidy when commodity prices go down, poverty goes right back up by 2019-2020. It’s right where it started.


I know I’m running out of time. John says that there’s no malnutrition. Actually, international agencies tell us malnutrition is on the rise again and so forth. But again, just have a few minutes to comment here.


Greg Wilpert

John, let me give you the last word on this particular topic because you haven’t used all of your time yet.


John Perry

Let me just say that FIDEG does receive money from the USA. I don’t know anything about it, but FIDEG does receive U.S. aid money. It’s also important to know that the World Bank figures which William has said are collected by the government. Yes, they are collected by the government, but they are collected under the supervision of the World Bank. I checked with somebody about this when William made this point before, and he said they do have to have their results ratified by the World Bank before they’re published.


I think the important thing is really just to emphasize that, yes, it’s a fixed economy, but the size of the small and medium part of the economy is almost uniquely big in Latin America. The government has made these specific efforts to encourage it and at the same time run these big social programs that didn’t stop until 2014-15. They continued because some of those hospitals I’m talking about, including the most recent one in Chinandega, were built last year. You can see the progress that’s being made since the economy began to recover after the Pandemic. Really, if you’re here, you can see what’s happening.


Greg Wilpert

Let’s move on. We’ll get back actually to some of these issues again in the last topic. Let me ask about international relations because that’s also been a huge issue given the history of U.S. intervention in Nicaragua. As anyone who’s remotely familiar with Nicaragua’s history knows, the U.S. has spent billions of dollars, including the blatant violation of international law and of Congress’s will, trying to overthrow the Ortega government during the 1980s, during the Reagan presidency, and to fund an armed insurgency known as the Contras.


More recently, though, the U.S. Obviously hasn’t been doing that, but it has been spending millions of dollars via the National Endowment for Democracy and the U.S. Agency for International Development, also supporting the opposition, apparently. Also, the U.S. Government has started to introduce sanctions gradually against the Nicaraguan government, or at least government officials. So what effect, if any, would you say have these efforts had on the Nicaraguan economy and its politics? So let’s start with you this time, William.


William Robinson

Well, I want to say, first of all, that there is confusion in the international Left that there are these sanctions on Nicaragua. In fact, even Amy Goodman, right after the elections that were held last November, announced in the broadcast the following day that Nicaragua was experiencing. I’m quoting her, “Ongoing and devastating U.S. sanctions.” John wrote an article in which he said there’s tripling sanctions in Nicaragua. You would never know that that’s completely false. There are no U.S. trade or commercial sanctions currently on Nicaragua.


The United States is Nicaragua’s principal trading partner, and in 2021, trade between the two countries was $6 billion. Nicaragua continues to be a member of the Central American Free Trade Agreement, which gives it preferential access to the U.S. market. The United States has not blocked transnational corporate investments. In fact, in 2021, $700 million was invested by a U.S. based company in the energy sector to build a gas-powered plant, and the company that did that investment is New Fortress Energy, whose owner is Wes Edens, which is a close friend of the U.S. President, of Biden and a financier for the Democratic Party. The United States has not blocked flows of international credit to Nicaragua.


Just between 2017 and 2021, Nicaragua received over $3 billion in credits from international financial institutions, including the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the Central American Bank for Economic Integration, the International Development Bank. I want to point out that this flourishing trade, this lack of any sanctions except the only sanctions are on a handful of top or Ortegistas, and their sanctions are only sanctions on their bank accounts and private holdings and business enterprises in the United States. We want to ask these so-called revolutionaries and Leftists. Why do they have million-dollar bank accounts and enterprises in the United States? Those are the only sanctions.


Now I want to speak about, and I want to say, that this is in such radical distinction to Cuba and Venezuela. Cuba and Venezuela face these devastating all-out blockades, including paramilitary aggression. There’s no military or power military aggression against Nicaragua. So people clump together Nicaragua with these devastating attacks against Venezuela and Cuba. That’s totally false. I want to say something because you mentioned this about the NED, the National Endowment for Democracy and AID [USAID] Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance] funding for the opposition. I wrote the first two books exposing the NED around the world, and I condemn anything the NED, the National Government for Democracy, does around the world. I condemn any U.S. intervention.


But we have to put this in context. It’s true that there’s a $6 million over the last ten years given to these civic opposition organizations in Nicaragua, some of them. But I have analyzed, and I’ve shown that this funding is not aimed in Nicaragua, currently at overthrowing the Sandinista government, is aimed at countering anti-capitalist radicalization of civil society. Not in undermining the Sandinista leadership, and the principal recipients of this NED funding has been COSEP, the capitalist class and the different affiliated organizations that has been co-governing with Ortega.


The NED provides, Moreover, funding to 100 countries around the world. The vast majority of them are close U.S. allies. Guatemala and Honduras combined receive more NED funding than Nicaragua. So obviously, just because the country is receiving any de-funding doesn’t mean that that means that NED is trying to overthrow the government. Colombia receives millions of dollars, the closest U.S. allies in Latin America from NED funding. With regard to the Aid, the Agency for International Development, which is the parent organization, the AID, has given several hundred million dollars to the Ortega government for import-export support for the health and education sector and for many different programs development programs. So Ortega received $200 million since he came to power until 2018 from the Agency for International Developments.


I’ll just conclude with this that Ortega has been broadly praised, all of this up until 2018 by the International Monetary Fund, by the World Bank, and by the AID for its neoliberal economic policies that we condemn anywhere else in Latin America when the IMF and the World Bank prescribe neoliberal policies and if the government is complemented by the World Bank and the IMF, we say, oh, that government’s bad. In Nicaragua, some Leftists are confused and saying, well, look, we should support Ortega, even the IMF and the World Bank like Ortega.


John Perry

Well, let me give John a chance to respond, especially John, you’ve also written on this topic. What’s your response?


John Perry

Well, let’s look at what USAID has spent since 2017. They’ve spent $178 million, and that’s gone into funding hostile media, social media attacks, opposition think tanks, training programs for young people. One was offered training to 2,000 Nicaraguans in so-called party political training. The $178 million is $27 per Nicaraguan. If that was spent in the U.S., it would be $9 billion. It’s a huge amount of money in a small economy. One of the most important programs is called RAIN Responsive Assistance in Nicaragua, which is a specific regime change program that was set up before the elections and is designed to run even if, as happened, the Sandinista government won the elections.


Then in the election year, the National Endowment for Democracy had 22 projects, a number of them working with young people. The agencies in the U.S. of Commission Creative Associates are involved in the interference programs in Cuba to work in Nicaragua. The amount of money going to the opposition just to give one example, in 2021, the Chamorro family, two of whom are under arrest at the moment, received nearly $4 million, which was then channelled to their own media outlets and other opposition media outlets.


In the build up to the violence in 2018. Kenneth Wallach, who is now the Chairman of the National Endowment for Democracy, bragged to the U.S. Congress on June 14, 2018, that they trained 8,000 young Nicaraguans to take part in the April uprising. So what did they teach them? Social media methods, presumably? Did they teach them how to organize violent roadblocks that were set up immediately in many cities? The U.S. Ambassador has been engaged with all of the opposition leaders and with the business leaders in the run-up to 2018 and since to promote the opposition viewpoint.


Clearly, before the 2018 violence, there would be massive provision from somewhere. We don’t know where the money came from, but somebody had ordered thousands of homemade water guns and munitions so that the people at the roadblocks in 2018 were armed as soon as the roadblocks were created. That secret money must have been coming throughout the period of violence in 2018 because money was being brought to the violent thugs, really, who were Manning the roadblocks. Dora María Téllez was seen bringing this money, bringing drugs, bringing food to the roadblocks in Masaya. For example, who paid for that money? There were sacks of local money being carried around to pay the people running the roadblocks.


There was a tsunami of Facebook posts with loads and loads of fake news that convinced many people, including me, for a short while about the fact that the government was killing students. Almost all of the posts were found later to be false. Where did the serious weapons come from? The AK-47s, the carbines that quickly were being used in places like Masaya and Jinotepe. Who was paying for the frequent opposition visits to the U.S.? Who was feeding all of the opposition news stories to the international media, so they never reported anything that was favourable to the Ortega government or, indeed, ever reported the reality of what was happening here in 2018?


William is right to say that the sanctions aren’t as tough as they are against Cuba or Venezuela, but they’re still pretty tough. The U.S. government is picking off individuals within Ortegas government every now and again, identifying them, sanctioning them. That means they can no longer sign international contracts or manage bank affairs. It doesn’t affect them personally because most of them haven’t got accounts in the United States, but they do need to be able to run their ministries effectively.


We’ve seen the indirect effects of sanctions as well. So banks are unwilling to transfer money if you want to bring medical supplies into the country, including during the COVID Pandemic. We’ve seen the relentless media campaigns that aren’t quite sanctioned but get close to it. I was involved in trying to demolish the campaign by PBS NewsHour to portray a Nicaraguan meet as conflict beef, as they call it.


Then we have the whole panic around COVID, where the local media and then joined by international media were saying that COVID was handled totally disastrously in Nicaragua, which is completely dishonest of them because everything here went, relatively speaking, very well. We’ve had travel advice against travelling to Nicaragua, which continues. Many mainstream Airlines are still not serving. Look at the complete picture. Not just individual details like William was focusing on.


Greg Wilpert

Well, let me give William another chance to respond, and then we’ll get back to you again. So, William, what do you think in terms of what John is saying?


William Robinson

Well, I think John is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts. So we have some opinions here which are presented as facts, but we also have some interpretations of this which are simply completely indefensible. So, to begin with, and again, I want to reiterate, I condemn anything that NED does anywhere around the world, including in Guatemala and Honduras, in Colombia, in Brazil, in Purdue, anywhere. The NED head never went to Congress and said we’ve given this money to overthrow the Nicaraguan government. John created those words, which are not in any record anywhere.


He also said that these sanctions are pretty tough and that they affected the government’s response to COVID. That’s simply false. Again, the sanctions are on these individuals’ holdings in the United States. They’re private holdings in the United States. They’re not on any Nicaraguan enterprises. We haven’t discussed the 2018 uprising, and we don’t have enough time to do that. International human rights organizations carried on the ground detailed investigations in Nicaragua. They interviewed anyone and everyone across the board. They condemned the government for brutal repression, for opening up fire on what started out as peaceful protests.


As far as the weapons these sophisticated weapons. They had homemade weapons. Literally, some of them had slingshots. Other ones have these homemade rifles, and other ones they did create their own little mortar weapons. That street fighting and clashes that take place all over the world, they have these petty little homemade weapons. Whereas the army, the police and power military squads with all of the sophisticated weaponry of the army police and the paramilitaries that were supplied by the army and police unleashed this mass repression. The international human rights organizations tell us that, and there were some Sandinistas killed. Both Sandinista political supporters and also Sandinista police were killed. The vast majority of those killed were the students and the popular neighbourhood protests.


We know exactly how those protests started. First of all, the students took to the streets totally peacefully because there was this massive fire in a bio-reserve on the Atlantic Coast, and the government did nothing about it. The younger generation is very environmentally conscious. That was completely peaceful, and in the midst of those peaceful protests in which their heads were clobbered by the police and they were chased off the streets. In the midst of that, the government raised, following IMF prescriptions, neoliberal prescriptions, raised the amount that people had to contribute to pensions and lowered the amount that people will receive from pensions. This is a population already reeling in poverty and unemployment, and underemployment.


With that, workers joined the protest, and other people joined the protest, and the women’s organizations joined the protest, and the police opened fire. The first opened fire was students that were killed in the polytechnic, which the government just closed. Then the whole thing escalated. Then there’s violence on both sides but disproportionate violence because again, you have the army police and the paramilitaries on one side, and you have people with some homemade weapons setting up street barricades, which is exactly how the insurrection of 1979 took place.


I want to conclude, I know again, we always have these time limits. But he said a couple of things about COVID. First of all, the government received an emergency loan of close to $100 million to deal with COVID. So he’s trying to say that the sanctions block the government’s response to COVID. That’s false, John. Secondly, more significantly, the government has been accused of under-reporting the COVID cases and of having a very negligent response.


So, 24 medical associations on the Eve of the elections, 24 medical associations and these are not political organizations. The Association of Nicaraguan Oncologists, the Association of Nicaraguan Pediatrics, Association of Nicaraguan Cardiologists all said that we’re in the hospitals, we’re seeing people dying of COVID, but the government tells us we have to say they’re dying from something else. For that crime of saying that we have this COVID problem. Twenty-four medical associations were banned, their license was revoked. So this gives an idea, I mean, we go into so much more.


This is a family dictatorship. This is a government that acts as a dictatorship anywhere else in Latin America. Greg. I’d like to say something else. I assume I’m out of time.


Greg Wilpert

Yeah. We’ll get back to you again. First, John, what do you have to say.


John Perry

Just on COVID. William, I’m afraid you’re repeating a lot of the lies that were told at the time. Let’s just say the Washington State [inaudible 00:35:31] Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation says that on their judgment, not the government, on their judgment, Nicaragua has the lowest coverage death rate in Central America and a lower death rate than the United States. Let me just tell you that almost 60% of the population are now fully vaccinated, which is only a few percentage points behind the U.S., and well over 80% have had at least one vaccine dose.


Let me go back briefly to the violence because this is very important. William, you mentioned the protests against the pensions. They started on April the 18th, and there were no deaths on April the 18th. They continued on April the 19th when the first three deaths occurred. Now, those three deaths were a police officer, a Sandinista worker who was trying to defend a town hall from being attacked, and somebody who was walking home from work. There were no protesters killed on the first day of those protests. Yes, there were subsequently. But we were then in a period in which 22 police officers were killed and over 900 injured, and many of those had life-changing injuries.


I spoke to a police Inspector who said that one of his officers have been shot in the genitals and then lost his genitals as a result of the violence in that period. Now I live through this violence. So I was in Masaya practically the whole of the period when this violence was taking place. I was able to go to see the town hall the day after it was burned down. I was in tears looking at the houses of friends of mine that were burned down, including my own doctor’s house. The main secondary school in the centre of Masaya was burnt down twice. All the shops were closed for three months. Many of them were looted. The police, who were confined to their barracks from mid-May until mid-June, were attacked every night. During that period in Masaya, three police officers were killed, one of whom was tortured for 24 hours before he was killed, and he was dragged behind a pickup truck before he was actually set on fire at one of the barricades.


Two friends of mine were involved in defending the municipal depot, which was attacked by about 500 people, many of whom had conventional weapons. All of the workers were kidnapped. These two were taken away, they were tortured, and both had suffered grave injuries. One lost his arm. It had to be amputated because it was so badly damaged by being hit by rifle bursts. The people who lived through these violent experiences in cities like Masaya and Jinotepe, parts of Managua and other cities that were completely taken over by these roadblocks. Know that these people did not just have homemade weapons. They had very serious weaponry.


Furthermore, the people brought in to man the roadblocks, particularly at nighttime, were well-known violent elements within society, including people brought in from Honduras or El Salvador gang members from those countries. So this is one of the principal reasons why people rejected the opposition in the elections or rejected the opposition calls to abstain and voted massively for the Daniel Ortega government, because they may not necessarily be Sandinista, but they wanted to return to the stability and calm and safety that existed before 2018.


Greg Wilpert

Actually, what you just said sets the stage for us to move on to the next topic. We’ll get back to some of the other things. Also, I forgot to mention I want to give you both an opportunity, later on, to add on any things that you feel like were left unsaid. So we’ll probably not run out of time to cover everything you’d like to cover.


Just turning to the election now, we’ve kind of set up both the domestic and the international context. Now, as was mentioned earlier, also Ortega, according to the official election results, was re-elected with 75% of the vote and a participation of 66%. Now the big question is, of course, and this is what has been disputed, including by the OAS [Organization of American States] and the Biden administration, arguing that this was not a fair election or not a legitimate election. Now, since we are going back and forth, let me start with you, John. What would you say? Was this a fair and legitimate election on November 7th?


John Perry

Yes, indeed it was, of course. I’m sure that William will start to talk about again about the people who were arrested prior to the election, but none of them were presidential candidates. It’s true that one or two of them might have eventually succeeded to be presidential candidates, but they certainly weren’t at the time when they were arrested. Frankly, I think even if one or two of them had stood, they had very little chance of being elected. So, I think the 2018 violence I don’t want to go back over that. The fact that that was very fresh in people’s memory was very important in the run-up to the elections. Everybody was fearful, me included, that there would be renewed violence, and that was what was being planned by the people who were arrested in the middle of last year in the run-up to November’s election.


I think, frankly, the fact that many of them were put in jail was a reflection of the reception that that received in Nicaragua that there were no protests against them being put in jail. I’ve had loads of conversations with taxi drivers and other people about the response to those people being put in jail, and many of them said we were grateful that they had because that meant that before the elections would be safe. So we have the elections on November 7th. There’s an electorate of 4.4 million. 2.9 million voted, 66% for reasonably high turnout. Of those, 2.1 million voted for the Sandinista party. There were five other parties taking part in the election, including two parties that have formed governments during the neoliberal period. The opposition called for an extension. As you can see from the voting turnout, the extension was limited. Probably there were some, but it was limited. There was still a 66% turnout, and there were only 161,000 invalid votes. People who marked the ballot to say that they weren’t going to vote or wrote something anti-government.


It was notable, I think, that the support for the Sandinistas was fairly even across the country, except on the Caribbean Coast, where it was much higher. Why is it higher? Because of the experience of people thereafter the Hurricanes in November 2020, when the government leapt in and really offered help to those people. I talked to somebody who had been to this small town of Haulover, which was hit directly by both Hurricanes and had to be rebuilt, and he said several people had promised him in the town that all of them had voted for the government in the elections.


All of them had voted, and all of them had voted Sandinista. William will say that there are opinion polls saying that people were going to vote in favour of the government, but there have always been for years two sets of opinion polls that give completely opposite results. The CID Gallup polls, which aren’t related to the International Gallup Organization. Often they are paid for by the opposition M&R polls, which have much larger sample sizes and use face-to-face interviews and ended up giving an accurate prediction of the results on November 7th. Of course, the international media ignore those M&R polls, even though they’re carried out every month.


I just wanted to say something about the safeguards against fraud. I’ve got Nicaraguan citizenship. I voted. When I got to the voting station, there were about 30 people already waiting to vote in a polling station that was only going to have a maximum of about 200 voters. It was quite clear that fraud was absolutely impossible. So electoral registration is tied to ID cards. You have to show your ID card. You have to reproduce your signature. You have to have your thumb Mark to show that you’ve voted.


They’ve been around the pre-election checks the previous July, and 2.8 million voters checked their register in July, which strongly implied they were going to vote in November, and indeed they did vote. Then there were opposition poll watchers in all 13,459 polling stations. The votes are counted at each station, and then the results are posted outside each station so that people can see at the end of the day what the voting was in their area, and they can later see the same results on the Electoral Council website. Those results are still there if you go and have a look.


So the whole idea that there were massive extensions, which is what had been put about in the international press, the idea that the election was a sham in President Biden’s words, is completely wrong. People voted. Whatever they thought about the arrests in the middle of last year, people went out and voted, and 75% of those people voted for the Sandinista government.


Greg Wilpert

William, I’m sure you have a lot to say about this.


William Robinson

It’s hard to know where to begin. John’s methodology here seems to be that he tells his personal anecdotes, that he spoke of a taxi driver, that he spoke with someone who voted, combined with the exact repetition of exactly what the government claims, and that’s the two things that he’s put together here. So you mentioned this poll, which was Enmar consultants, is an Ortagista polling. It was hired by the Sandinistas. He works very closely with the Sandinistas. The leader of Enmar Consultants is Raul Obregon, who is a longtime Ortagista and a friend of Daniel Ortega. So that poll showed that Sandinistas, we’re going to win these elections. He says that their CID Gallup poll was financed by the opposition but based in San José, Costa Rica. There’s no basis for that claim.


The CID Gallup poll showed that 70% of the electorate itself did not feel represented by any political organization. Then after the elections, reported that there was an 80% acceptance rate. There were images coming in. I wasn’t in the country for the elections themselves, but there’s images from all over of empty polling stations and deserted streets. So the thing is, we can’t possibly get accurate figures on the election results.


The Sandinistas exercise absolute control over the Supreme Electoral Council, absolute control over reporting on the results. Independent observers were banned, and journalists were powered into not reporting. There’s too much to discuss here. You have to know that in the crackdown leading up – and by the way, he says they’re not presidential candidates. Well, of course, every time they started, the party started to meet to name them as presidential candidates. They were quickly arrested and thrown into detention and kept there for eight months incommunicado and without trial. So technically, they were not presidential candidates. They were arrested before they could be.


But as part of this crackdown, the regime decreed these series of laws. One is a cybercrime law. The cybercrime law, you might think that means you can’t get into people’s bank accounts. What that means is you can’t use social media. If anything you say on social media criticizes the government, you’re arrested. So many were arrested on the cybercrime law. Another is a hate crime law. You might think that means you can’t be racist by what you think in the United States as a hate crime law. What that means is that whatever the government deems generates hate and discontent among the population.


So we can go on. This is the context in which the elections were held. According to [foreign language 00:48:15], which is also an independent organization, there was an 80% [inaudible 00:48:20] rate, and the government received 19% of the vote. That also coincides with the CID Gallup poll.


I want to say something else. People from outside Nicaragua don’t understand the atmosphere in the country. You cannot go into the street in Nicaragua and unfurl the Nicaraguan flag because the opposition has claimed the Nicaraguan flag as the symbol of its’ resistance. If you’re a student, a 22-year-old student, you go into the streets, a street somewhere and open up the flag. You have to do it for about 30 seconds. Police and paramilitary sweep upon you and arrest you. I want to give an example of the extent to this repression.


Sergio Ramírez [Mercado] was Ortega’s Vice President in the 1980s. He’s one of the most important novelists and most important literary figures in Latin America. He published in summer of 2021. His new novel, Tongolele no Sabía Bailar [Tongolele couldn’t dance]. It’s a fictionalized account of the 2018 mass uprising. So as soon as that was published and when it was published, Sergio Ramírez was abroad in Europe receiving a literary prize.


He was told, We’ve issued a warrant for your arrest. So now he’s in exile, and that book cannot enter the country. It’s contraband material. All of the books entering the country were confiscated in customs. By the way, Amnesty International released a report on the elections. Excessive use, I’m quoting from it, excessive use of force, extrajudicial executions, control over the media, deployment of pro-government and paramilitary squads against protesters, forced disappearance as a strategy of repression. This is Amnesty International.


I’ll conclude. I know we’re always tight on time here, but I want to say something about the Organization of American States because John mentioned it. The Organization of American States met after the elections, and they passed a resolution saying that these elections lacked Democratic legitimacy.


Now, what you won’t be told is that this was a vote of all members of the Organization of American States. There was only one vote of opposition to that resolution, and it was the Nicaraguan government. Even the Venezuelan government voted in favour of that resolution. So, all of the Latin American countries except Nicaragua voted, saying, yes, these were not democratically legitimate elections. So it’s not just Biden claiming that whatsoever. This is again, I just to conclude. The Venezuelan government, an ally of Nicaragua, voted for this resolution saying these elections lacked Democratic legitimacy.


John Perry

You know that the Venezuelan representative of the OAS is Juan Guaidó. It’s not Nicolás Maduro’s government. They were expelled from the OAS, or they left voluntarily. It’s the U.S. puppet Juan Guaidó, who supposedly represents the Venezualan –


William Robinson

We can say Bolivia. We can say Mexico. We can say Argentina.


John Perry

No. The others abstained. William, there were a lot of abstentions.


William Robinson

There were four abstentions.


John Perry

A number voted for the U.S. resolution, but a good number abstained. The point was that the OAS presented its 14-page report on the elections in less than 24 hours after the elections. In other words, they weren’t here, they didn’t know anything about the elections, and they’d probably written the report before the elections took place.


This idea that you can’t go into the street with the Nicaraguan flag it’s just nonsense. People drive around with Nicaraguan flags on their cars. I’ve often been offered Nicaraguan flags to wave or to buy in the street. You don’t give a picture of the chaos that the opposition was in during that run-up period to the election. The electoral Council extended the deadline to allow more time for parties to get their presidential candidates sorted out. Even at that deadline that your position was falling out with itself over who was going to be a presidential candidate, it was pretty obvious that they couldn’t decide between the different contenders.


You say that nobody is there to disprove what was said by [foreign language 00:52:45], this organization, which nobody knows who they are because they don’t publish any details on who they are. Who conducted this survey, which was only a tiny proportion of polling stations on polling day, and it was only for part of the polling day. Yet, if you walked around Masaya, as I did. That day, I walked around and drove around. I visited many polling stations where people are coming and going to the polling stations all day.


It was a Sunday afternoon. So on the hottest part of the day, you could have taken photographs at 02:00 and showed deserted streets, but 2 hours later, when the sun had gone down, you would have been able to show people going to the polling stations again. The idea that people didn’t vote is just absurd. No one who was here, including all of those U.S. observers, admittedly friendly observers who were here, nearly 300 people were here taking part in accompanying the elections, saw the queues at polling stations, they talked to people, they asked them if they were being forced to vote. Many people were told that they were voting for the opposition. If you look at social media in Nicaragua, there’s all sorts of political interchange in which the opposition is critical of the Sandinista government.


You have to ask yourself, where do these laws come from to control social media and control hate crime, as you put it? They come from the tsunami of fake news that was released in April and May 2018, which convinced a lot of people that the police were shooting students. Including messages about deaths that never took place. They went on to persecuting Sandinistas, identifying Sandinistas as Sapo’s with information about where the Sapos could be found or that they needed to be tracked down and killed.


Facebook was a relatively new thing in 2018, and it was grossly misused by the opposition and hence the need for those controlling laws which were approved last year.


Greg Wilpert

Okay, William, I’ll give you the last word on this topic, and then we’ll go to closing remarks.


William Robinson

Again, I don’t know where to begin. John’s giving his opinions, and I again repeat he’s entitled to his opinions, but not his facts. He’s saying that the opposition just published fake news, and that’s why they’re arrested. About the observers, the observers, there are 300 observers. They were all personally invited by the Ortega regime. They were housed comfortably, and they were shuttled around to the exact polling stations. Any information they got about those elections was simply shown to them by the regime and told to them by the regime. Again, I want to repeat, international observers, independent international observers, were barred from going to the country to observe the elections.


I want to say something else here also because there’s too much to cover. This is a nepotistic family dynasty. Let’s remember something. The President is Daniel Ortega. His wife, Rosario Murillo, is the Vice President. All eight of the children are presidential advisers, and they supposedly run public enterprises and public media. In addition to the family’s private, private business Empire, they’re outdoing Trump. Trump had three of his family members, his son-in-law, his


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