the bonehead school of diplomacy

Yesterday marked the 25th anniversary of the World Court decision of the case brought by Nicaragua against the United States. The judgment was a landmark, so much so that world jurists have been marking the occasion with a conference in the Hague to look at the long term effect the ruling had.

Sadly, the impact was less in Nicaragua itself. Despite clear findings by the Court of massive interference by the United States (see here for a summary), when the Sandinistas lost the elections in 1990, the new President, Violeta Chamorro, withdrew the case (and the billions of dollars claimed in damages) from the Court.

Now, 21 years later, another election is in the offing. Some things don’t change. In a briefing last week, a US Embassy staffer in Managua, Matthew Roth, the Political Counselor, said ‘I find every political party in Nicaragua to be feckless, corrupt, nasty and worthless ….  they are disgusting …. and morally corrupt.’

Whilst Roth has obviously attended the Bonehead School of Diplomacy, at least it is an honest and accurate reflection of the contempt US Embassy officials have for Nicaraguans, something which has been revealed previously in a series of rants masquerading as cables from the US Ambassador.

It also reflects that the United States feels it has the right to pick and choose which politicians can win in Nicaragua. It’s support for bogus civil society organisations, such as the Movimiento de Nicaragua, is well known, and is a re-play of previous elections, including the traumatic 1990 election when the Sandinistas lost off the back of a decade long counter-revolution and a devastated economy. They usually also manage to throw their weight behind a right wing candidate, but this time have been unable to either find or engineer one to their liking.

Unable to field a ‘united’ right wing candidate, the next page in the US play book is to discredit the elections. They have been doing this since 2008, adding their voices to the chorus of critics inside Nicaragua. This has also been mixed with a campaign to discredit Daniel Ortega’s candidacy.

Through the use of constitutional contradictions, and deft political maneouvring, Ortega played one part of the constitution (the right of every citizen to be treated the same) against another (the limiting to two terms of any President, and not able to serve more than one consecutive term). The Court ruled in his favour, repeating something which Oscar Arias achieved a couple of years ago in Costa Rica.

Where you stand on Ortega’s candidacy can sometimes be a matter of how you like your politics. Looking at the record of some politicians (Blair’s disastrous second and third terms in the UK), even a one term rule seems very attractive. But Ortega’s candidacy has not been portrayed as a legal challenge or a constitutional conundrum, but more of another step on the road to dictatorship. It is this view that is carried far and wide by the international media, with the other side of the story hardly aired.

Tortilla con Sal have just produced a short film with three of the protagonists at the eye of this particular storm – Roberto Rivas, President of the Supreme Electoral Council; Rafael Solis, a Supreme Court magistrate; and Alba Luz Ramos, President of the Supreme Court. They explain the constitutional challenge issued by Ortega, and how the contradictions were resolved.


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