Chomsky Criticizes “Autocratic” Nicaraguan Government, Urges Ortega to Call for New Elections

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International human rights groups say that over 300 people have died in Nicaragua since the protests erupted in April and that the vast majority have been killed by pro-government forces. Earlier this week, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega rejected calls to step down from power, amid mounting protests and civil unrest. We speak to Noam Chomsky about the current crisis and the role of the U.S. in Nicaragua in the 1980s.

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

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to continue on the situation in Nicaragua. In a rare interview, the Nicaraguan president, Daniel Ortega, recently rejected calls to step down from power amidst mounting protests and civil unrest. This is President Ortega speaking on Fox News on Monday.

PRESIDENT DANIEL ORTEGA: [translated] We were elected by the voters. So, there have been electoral periods, there are term limits, and our electoral period ends with the elections of 2021, when we will have our next elections. And then we’ll have to see who will be voted in for the new administration.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that’s President Daniel Ortega. Nicaragua’s main business association has been demanding Ortega hold early elections, to which Ortega has responded Nicaragua “is not private property.” International human rights groups say over 300 people have died since their protests erupted in April, anti-austerity protests, and that the vast majority have been killed by pro-government forces. In June, we spoke with former Sandinista leader Alejandro Bendaña, who served as the Nicaraguan ambassador to the United Nations and secretary general of the Nicaraguan Foreign Ministry during Ortega’s rule, during the Sandinista rule in Nicaragua, from 1979 to 1990. This is what Bendaña had to say on Democracy Now!

ALEJANDRO BENDAÑA: One has to remember key historical facts. The Sandinista revolution began in 1979 and ended in 1990 with the electoral defeat of Daniel Ortega. But this has not spelled the end of Ortega, because for 17 years he worked tenaciously to get back into power. But to do this, he got rid of his potential competitors and many old Sandinista backers. He embraced corporate capital in Nicaragua. He adopted the most retrograded positions of the church and entered into an alliance, and reached an understanding with the U.S., so that he was able to barely win the presidency in 2007. But by that time, he himself is no longer a Sandinista. Yes, the trappings, the colors are still there, but his entire government has been, in essence, neoliberal. Then it becomes authoritarian, repressive.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Alejandro Bendaña, who served as President Ortega’s, Nicaragua’s ambassador to the United Nations, as well as secretary general of Nicaraguan Foreign Ministry during the Sandinista rule first time around, '79 to ’90. Students are saying that, overwhelmingly, it's the government that’s killed the people. What are your thoughts, Noam?

NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, in 1990, it’s true that the—first of all, there were plenty of problems even in the '80s, but by the standards of the region it stood out as almost a stellar record—bad but by the standards of the region. In 1990, the President Bush, first President Bush, essentially informed the population of Nicaragua that either you vote for our candidate, or else the Contra war, the terrorist war, continues, and harsh sanctions will strangle the country. And, indeed, at the point of a gun, the population voted the Sandinistas out, and partially for internal reasons. There were many things they were doing they shouldn't have. Since then, it hasn’t been anywhere near as bad as the other Central American countries, the ones that are, more or less, overwhelmingly, influenced by the U.S. But there’s been a lot of corruption, a lot of repression. It’s autocratic, undoubtedly. The opposition is nothing to write home about, either, for the most part. So, it’s by no means a pretty situation. One would hope that negotiations could reduce the tensions. And my own view is that I think it would be a good thing for Nicaragua if Ortega were to call early elections and allow them to be run without corruption and brutality. But that doesn’t look as if it’s—it’s hard to hard to see a simple way out at this point. It’s a very unfortunate situation.

We should bear in mind that in the early 1980s the situation was extremely hopeful in Nicaragua. Even the international institutions, like the World Bank and others, were praising the progressive steps being taken by the Sandinistas. The country was full of hope, excitement, literacy campaigns, dealing with poverty. With the almost—U.S. intervention actually began in the mid-19th century and had been horrible all the way through, but they were beginning to pull themselves out of it—until the U.S. terrorist war began. We should bear in mind that the United States is the only country ever to have been condemned by the International Court of Justice for international terrorism—technically, unlawful use of force—and ordered to pay substantial reparations to Nicaragua for the attack that it was carrying out. Of course, the U.S. refused, refused the World Court’s jurisdiction. The World Court was condemned not only by the government, but even by the press. New York Times condemned it as a hostile forum because it had ruled against the United States, so of course you don’t have to pay any attention to it. The U.S. even vetoed a Security Council resolution calling on states to observe international law. And then the Contra war went on, the sanctions went on, the other forms of subversion continued, and the hopes were pretty much smashed. You could just see the changes in expectations and attitudes. And one result was internal corruption, repression, and then it’s now imploding. But again, it’s a very ugly and unfortunate situation—nothing remotely comparable to the countries that have been under the U.S. thumb throughout the period.

But I think the point that—going back to the immigration crisis, which is actually a moral crisis in the United States, and comparably in Europe, we should bear in mind that the immigrants do not want to leave their countries. They would be very happy to stay in their own countries instead of coming here to unpleasant and harsh situations. They can’t, because we have ruined their countries. So, the first step in dealing with the immigration crisis should be to help reconstruct and rebuild what we have destroyed, so they won’t be fleeing from the homes where they would like to live. Now, that’s certainly within the means of a super-rich country like the United States with incomparable advantages. That’s step one in dealing with the immigration crisis—again, a moral crisis, not an immigration crisis.

Secondly, conditions should be established so that legal—what’s called legal immigration—I don’t like the term, but what’s technically called that—would be facilitated, with decent conditions, plenty of entry points, lawyers provided pro bono with U.S. support for immigrants so they could plead their cases, and decent conditions for the applicants to survive—nothing like putting them in camps and stealing their children away from them—and facilitating the kind of appeals for asylum that are granted under international law. That should be automatically assumed in a—certainly in a rich country like ours. That’s the second step.

We might also recognize that there are countries that have somehow managed to deal with the huge flood of immigrants, poor countries. So, take Lebanon, poor country. Probably 40 percent of the population are refugees at this point, driven out from Israel by the Israeli—several Israeli wars, '48, ’67, Syrian refugees, Iraqi refugees fleeing from the U.S. invasion of Iraq. It's a poor country, and there are plenty of internal problems, but they’re somehow surviving with 40 percent of the population refugees. The same is true of Jordan, another poor country. Kenya, Africa, another poor country, has a huge number of refugees. Bangladesh has taken in huge numbers of refugees fleeing from Burma. But the rich countries of the world—the United States, European Union—the ones who have an overwhelming responsibility for the circumstances from which the refugees are fleeing, they can’t help with it. They can’t deal with it. Too much for us. Go somewhere else. Go to a poor country, but not go to the countries of the perpetrators of the conditions from which you’re fleeing. I mean, it’s a grotesque moral crisis throughout the industrial world.

AMY GOODMAN: We’ll be back with Professor Noam Chomsky on the shakeup of the Democratic establishment and the news you’re not getting, in 30 seconds.

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