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2006-10-26

In Echoes of Past Intervention, Bush Administration Opposes Nicaraguan Frontrunner Daniel Ortega

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Election monitors from the Organization of American States have warned the Bush administration not to interfere in the upcoming presidential election in Nicaragua. The Bush administration has openly opposed the front-runner Daniel Ortega. The Sandinista leader is trying to regain power for the first time since 1990. We speak with veteran Nicaraguan human rights defender Vilma Nunez. [includes rush transcript]

Election monitors from the Organization of American States have warned the Bush administration not to interfere in the upcoming presidential election in Nicaragua. The Bush administration has openly opposed the front-runner Daniel Ortega. The Sandinista leader is trying to regain power for the first time since 1990.

The OAS singled out Paul Trivelli, the U.S. ambassador to Nicaragua, and U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez for meddling in the November 5th election. In recent weeks a number of current and former U.S. officials have warned about the consequences of an Ortega victory. On Tuesday Oliver North traveled to Nicaragua and said a victory by Ortega would be "the worst thing" for the country. North is the former White House aide who was at the center of the Iran-Contra scandal in the 1980s when the Reagan administration secretly helped arm the Contras to fight Ortega and the Sandinistas.

Last week U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez said an Ortega win could scare off foreign investors and jeopardize Nicaragua’s participation in CAFTA. Three weeks ago Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld visited Nicaragua but denied he was meddling in the election.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld: "I don’t get involved in politics in the United States so you can be certain that I’m not going to get involved in politics in Nicaragua."

Last month Republican Congressman Dan Burton also visited the country and warned that foreign aid would be cut off if Ortega was elected. Criticism of the interference from Washington is increasing. Over 1,000 U.S. citizens recently signed an open letter to the U.S. embassy in Nicaragua. It read in part: 'The United States cannot claim to support free and fair elections while it attempts to control and manipulate the voting in Nicaragua.'

The open letter was published as an ad in two of the country’s largest newspapers. Meanwhile Daniel Ortega has criticized his opponents of being too close to Washington.

Daniel Ortega: "They are all the same, they are all financed by the North Americans, they are all backed by the capitalist media–who accumulate their capital through savage capitalism. That is who they are backed by. They are all taking over and delegating themselves and saying they are going to the best administrators, to those that have forced savage capitalism onto Nicaragua."

On Wednesday, Nicaraguan attorney and human rights activist Vilma Nunez testified on Capitol Hill about the U.S. role in her country. In the 1970s, she was held as political prisoner during the Somoza dictatorship. Vilma Nunez became the first female judge in Nicaragua and now serves as the President of the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights. She joins us now from Washington D.C. together with Katherine Hoyt who will help with translation — Katherine is the national Coordinator of the Nicaragua Network.

  • Vilma Nunez. Lawyer and prominent human rights defender for over 40 years. She was a political prisoner under the dictatorship of Somoza in Nicaragua–then served as the Vice President of the Supreme Court of Justice during the 1980s. Dr. Nunez was first woman Judge in the history of Nicaragua. Currently she is the President of the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights and serves as the Vice President of the International Human Rights Federation.
  • Katherine Hoyt. National Coordinator of the Nicaragua Network.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Three weeks ago, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld visited Nicaragua, but denied he was meddling in the election.

DONALD RUMSFELD: I don’t get involved in politics in the United States, so you can be certain I’m not going to get involved in politics in Nicaragua.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Last month, Republican Congressman Dan Burton also visited the country and warned that foreign aid would be cut off if Ortega was elected. Criticism of the interference from Washington is increasing. Over 1,000 U.S. citizens recently signed an open letter to the U.S. embassy in Nicaragua. It read, in part, "The United States cannot claim to support free and fair elections while it attempts to control and manipulate the voting in Nicaragua." The open letter was published as an ad in two of the country’s largest newspapers. Meanwhile, Daniel Ortega has criticized his opponents as being too close to Washington.

DANIEL ORTEGA: [translated] They are all the same. They are all financed by the North Americans. They are all backed by the capitalist media, who accumulate their capital through savage capitalism. That is who they are backed by. They are all taking over and delegating themselves and saying they are going to the best administrators, to those that have forced savage capitalism on Nicaragua.

AMY GOODMAN: On Wednesday, Nicaraguan attorney and human rights activist, Vilma Nunez, testified on Capitol Hill about the U.S. role in Nicaragua. In the 1970s, she was held as a political prisoner during the Somoza dictatorship. Vilma Nunez became the first female judge in Nicaragua, now serves as the President of the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights. She joins us now from Washington, D.C., together with Katherine Hoyt, who will help with translation. Katherine is the national Coordinator of the Nicaragua Network. We welcome you both to Democracy Now!

VILMA NUNEZ: Gracias.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. Can you talk about why you’ve come to Washington, D.C., and spoke on Capitol Hill?

VILMA NUNEZ: [translated] First of all, I am here in the United States for the meetings of the Inter-American Human Rights Commission of the OAS, of the Organization of American States, and those meetings concluded yesterday. United with the help of U.S. solidarity, like the Nicaragua Network and the Quixote Center/Quest for Peace, we thought it was an opportune time to present the situation in Nicaragua of the negative influence, interference, of the United States in the elections in Nicaragua, which will be happening on the 5th of November.

To speak of interference of the United States in Nicaragua is nothing new. This is all of our history. Nevertheless, we feel that the interference that we’re seeing now with these upcoming elections has no precedent. We would want to say that besides the intimidating and threatening statements of the public officials that you listed in your introduction, we feel that Ambassador Trivelli, in his actions and statements, has gone far beyond the diplomatic rules established in the Vienna Conventions, which govern the relationships between countries.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Vilma Nunez, can I ask you about the — I’d like to ask you, what have been some of the specific actions that the U.S. ambassador has taken in Nicaragua that have you concerned?

VILMA NUNEZ: [translated] So, the ambassador, for example, has made very strong negative statements about, for example, the candidate of the Constitutional Liberal Party, Jose Rizo, whom he classifies as a delinquent, and also the candidate of the Sandinista Front, FSLN, Daniel Ortega, to whom he attributes epithets of the strongest kind. And so that Trivelli has not only said you can’t vote for this candidate and you definitely shouldn’t vote for that candidate, but he has selected a candidate and says that people should vote for Eduardo Montealegre.

So the Nicaraguan people are not going to be able to vote the way they would like to vote, because they fear that the United States — because it’s threatened either to do something or not to do something, to take something away from the relationship between Nicaragua and the United States — they fear a repercussion similar to what happened in the 1980s with the Contra War. So Trivelli has gone around from town to town interfering in the local actions around preparing for the elections and even has tried to influence the observer groups.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the significance of both Defense Secretary Rumsfeld going to Nicaragua and Oliver North?

VILMA NUNEZ: [translated] After the trail of different U.S. officials that we’ve had that have come through to Nicaragua making interventionist statements, everybody was prepared to hear an interventionist statement from Secretary Rumsfeld. He came for a meeting of the ministers of defense of the western hemisphere. He must have felt the atmosphere in Nicaragua and decided that it wasn’t a good moment for him to speak, and he said that he would not comment on Nicaraguan politics. But we do know that in private he has been doing the same kind of work on the subject as other U.S. functionaries.

And as for Oliver North, he is a particularly unfortunate person to visit Nicaragua because of his past. He also is intervening in the internal affairs of Nicaragua by coming in to try to rescue a candidate that Ambassador Trivelli and other State Department officials have pushed aside. So his very presence inspires fear, and that was his goal, was to put fear into the hearts of the Nicaraguan people remembering what happened in the 1980s in the war against the people of Nicaragua.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And, Katherine Hoyt, I’d like to ask you, as a member of the Nicaragua Solidarity Network, the work that Americans are doing here to try to have an impact or counter these moves of the Bush administration, in terms of Nicaragua.

KATHERINE HOYT: Yes, we, with other organizations, including the Quixote Center/Quest for Peace and a group of U.S. citizens also in Nicaragua, have been trying to get the word out whenever there are interventionist actions. And we also sponsored two delegations to Nicaragua, and there’s a report from the first one on our webpage, www.nicanet.org, that people can read. And we published, of course, those two ads in the Nicaraguan newspapers to try to get the word out to the Nicaraguan people that we repudiated the intervention of our government and they should vote their consciences.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we want to thank you both for being with us. Judge Vilma Nunez, former justice of the Nicaraguan supreme court, she had been imprisoned under the dictatorship of Somoza. And also Katherine Hoyt, who heads up Nicaragua Network, translating for the judge. Thank you both.

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