Ivan's Place
In honor of the greatest moralist who never lived
Copyright © 2004 by Bill Becker

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Nicaragua — The 1984 Election

Return to Introduction and Nicaragua Table of Contents.

NOTE: The complete report by the Latin American Studies Association on the 1984 election, in searchable PDF format, is available here.

The Reagan administration justified his atrocious contra war against the peasants of Nicaragua partly by the argument that the Sandinistas had not held an election. In essence, the message was: We will kill you until the Sandinistas allow you to vote them out.

But, in fact , the Sandinistas had in September 1980 promised that elections would be held in 1985, and from 1981 on they engaged in serious discussions with all political sectors of the population toward that end. The Sandinistas proved to be highly flexible in accomodating the legitimate concerns of even their most implacable opponents. These discussions culminated in the Electoral Law, finalized by the Council of State in March of 1984.

Because President Reagan's war created a need for a propaganda victory, in December 1983 the Sandinistas outfoxed Washington by scheduling the first post-triumph election earlier than originally planned—for Sunday, November 4, 1984, two days before Americans woud decide whether President Reagan should continue to lead the country. (More on the choice of date below.)

With few exceptions, the rest of the world was adamantly opposed to Reagan's terrorist activities in Nicaragua, and, along with most of the Nicaraguan people, hoped that if the Sandinistas won as expected, Washington would accept the results and call off President Reagan's Orwellian-named "freedom fighters". This was of course a naïve hope, as Secretary of State George P. Shultz made clear: "with or without elections we will continue our policy of pressuring Nicaragua".

Defending Nicaragua against the contras severely strained the young Nicaraguan economy, so several European nations helped out: Norway gave $800,000 for paper, campaign activities, and the election itself; Sweden contributed $400,000, and also provided technical asistance through the Swedish Electoral College; Finland gave $450,000 for electonic calculators, 500 rolls of calculator paper, 700 tons of newspring, and hundreds of gallons of printer's ink.

Because it was a given that the administration would say the election was rigged if the Sandinistas won, and also that the U.S. mainstream media would not stray outside the anti-Sandinista "frame" created by Washington for reportage on the election, the SEC and the revolutionary junta gave hundreds of international observers virtually unlimited access to every aspect of the election process. The hope was that some measure of the validity of a Sandinista victory would seep through the muck created by the Washington-Fourth Estate axis. (Another naïve hope, as it turned out.) I was fortunate to be included as a member of the high-powered observing team fielded by US Out of Central America, a Marxist outfit based in San Francisco. (Where else?)

See the Reference & Resource page for my sources. The full Latin American Studies Association (LASA) report on the 1984 election, in searchable PDF format, is available here. It requires the Adobe Acrobat Reader. See the introduction to the Nicaragua pages for instructions on obtaining the free Adobe Acrobat Reader.

I provide a few "in-line" citations to correlate the information I present below with its specific source, but I leave it to the skeptical visitor to read some of the source material, and decide for him- or herself whether my claims are credible. As regards my opinions and editorial comments, I present them without apology.

American CEO's worst nightmare The American CEO's worst nightmare—a Third World citizen organized to oppose the continued domination of her country's labor, resources, and finances by American capital.

This woman works at the Orientale Market, and she will vote for the Sandinistas. She is a perfect representative of the only threat the Sandinistas posed to America: the threat of a good example.

To the red-blooded American patriot who chances to see this page, and to whom the pictures of Lenin, Engles, and Marx prove that but for President Reagan's atrocities, this elderly lady would have been cooking tortillas and beans for hordes of Sandinista peasants on their way to sack Harlingen, Texas, I say simply: take a deep breath, and relax.

In spite of the photos, this woman is as far from being a Soviet-style communist as was Ronald Reagan himself. The Sandinistas and their followers very properly used Marxist analysis to understand the funamental amorality of U.S.-style capitalism, and had implemented a mixed economy incorporating elements of both socialist and capitalist theory.

In fact "communist" was always the wrong term to be applied even to the Soviet Union and its satellites, or to China today. True communism on a large scale has never been tried. As we will see below, the far left parties did not fare well at the polls.

Nicaragua's political departments Nicaragua's political departments, the equivalent of our states. The entire eastern section of Nicaragua, separated from the west by a mountain range, comprises the largest department, Zelaya. Nicaragua's east coast was colonized by the British, and the western section by the Spanish. The east coast is the home of several indigenous peoples, the largest being the Miskitos. The east coast was proseletized primarily by the Moravian Church, if memory serves. English, rather than Spanish, is the non-native language most commonly spoken there. Somoza provided training and staging areas on the east coast, and on some of its islands, for the Bay of Pigs operation against Cuba.

I had hoped to visit the Miskito Coast on one of my trips to Nicaragua, but I never made it.

Nicaragua's electoral regions I do not have a map of the 1984 election's regions, but I assume that they are the same as shown here on the Latin American Study Association's page for the 1990 election.

Nicaragua was divided into nine electoral regions, roughly corresponding to the political map. Each region would be proportionally represented in the 90 elected seats of the 96-seat National Assembly. Thus, Managua, with 27% of Nicaragua's population, was alloted 25 seats in the Assembly.

Within each region, each party fielded the number of candidates equal to the number of seats alloted for the region. After the votes were counted, each party would receive the same proportion of seats as it received in the region. Moreover, votes for a party insufficient to elect a representative from one region would be carried over to another, so that little over 1% of the national vote would seat a representative in the National Assembly. Finally, the losing presidential candidate of any party which achieved the "electoral quotient" of 1/90th of the region's votes was automatically seated as a member. Thus, smaller constituencies were slightly over-represented in the Natonal Assembly.

Nicaraguan political party flags The flags of Nicaragua's 7 contending political parties fly outside the Supreme Electoral Council headquarters. The SEC was the fourth branch of government, and even the bitterest opponents of the Sandinistas did not risk ridicule by critcizing its integrity or autonomy. By all honest accounts, the SEC conducted the election fairly and competently. What irregularities did occur were addressed quickly, and in any case were no more, and usually far less, egregious than those occuring in other Latin American elections, and even some here in the U.S. The electoral commissions of Florida and Ohio would do well to adopt SEC methods of conducting an election.

Senor Arguello Senor Leonel Arguello, a director of the Supreme Electoral Council, informs our delegation about the electoral process. The SEC sent delegations to countries around the world to study various electoral processes and methods, and finally settled on a proportional representation model common to European countries. The Reagan administration refused to allow Nicaraguan representatives to enter the U.S. for the purpose of studying our electoral system.

According to the Latin American Studies Association report on the election, Sr. Arguello was previously a director of the Supreme Council on Private Enterprise (COSEP), the right-wing business group that (illegally) urged abstention from the election, and was essentially pro-contra. COSEP, aligned with two small labor unions, and three small political parties, worked hand-in-glove with the U.S. State Department to sabotage the credibility of the election. I imagine that Sr. Arguello's former business colleagues were not too happy about his participation in the Supreme Electoral Council. The man seated at the far right is Piri Thomas, author of Down These Mean Streets. Also on our delegation was philosophy professor John Gerassi, whom Jean Paul Sartre occasionally baby-sat in France.

Nicargua is a democracy The Supreme Electoral Council assured Nicaraguans that, in contrast to elections held under the Somoza regime, this would indeed be a free and fair election.

Here we see one of many educational posters distributed throughout Nicaragua in the lead-up to the election.

Left: "Nicaragua is an immense school of democracy".

Right: "As good Nicaraguans, we will remember the rules of the game": Legality; Equality; Respect; and Ethics.

For the purpose of obtaining accurate census data, voter registration was mandatory. Voting was voluntary. During the registration process, eligible voters received a registration card, which would be checked against the list at their polling station on election day. Even though voting was voluntary, as protection from possible later intimidation by government officials, or others, who might demand to see a marked registration card as proof of voting, voters surrendered their cards to the SEC. (For example, voting was mandatory in the El Salvadoran election, held earlier in 1984. Failure to vote in El Salvador could be fatal.)

1,560,580 Nicaraguans registered to vote, 93.7% of the eligible population. (No penalties were reported to have been levied against those who did not register.) To make it easy for these voters to cast their ballots the SEC arranged for 3,892 polling stations, and trained 35,000 polling station officials in electoral procedure. This again was in marked contrast to the Salvadoran elections, where the number of polling stations was comically inadequate to serve the population, and access to them was made as difficult as possible. But, at least in El Salvador, the CIA provided the computers and the computer programs for tallying the results.

All Nicaraguan political parties were allowed to send observers to the polling stations.

Voting is easy To vote is easy.

My favorite poster. I had taken one with me when I left Nicaragua, and to my horror left it rolled up behind the urinal pipe in the Miami airport. I've often wondered if the man who found it there simply trashed it, or kept it as a serendipitous token of yet another of America's turbulent political times.

Two ballots will be cast: one for the president and vice-president, received by all voters; the other for the district's National Assembly candidates.

There would be 90 members elected to the National Assembly, which, with the automatic inclusion of the losing presidential candidate from each party, totaled 96 seats.

Below the ballots, the poster shows the 7 steps voters will follow as they exercise their franchise:

1. Enter the polling place.
2. Recieve ballot from CSE poll worker.
3. Enter the voting booth.
4. Mark the ballot.
5. Fold ballot and place in the proper box.
6. Return to get thumb dipped in indelible ink, to prevent fraud.
7. I can't make out the caption here, but I think it urges the voter to congratualte him- or herself on being a good citizen.

At bottom right is a corner of an election poster in one of the languages of the indigenous peoples of Nicaragua's East Coast. This is the Miskito language, I believe.

Two regional ballots A closer view of two regional ballots.

A party's position on the ballot was assigned by lot:

1. Popular Social Christian Party, shared many goals and values with FSLN, but was considered to be to its right.

2. Movement for Popular Action-Marxist Leninist, furthest to the left of all parties, and the most marginal

3. Conservative Democratic Party of Nicaragua, some factions pro-Sandinista

4. Sandinista National Liberation Front

5. Communist Party of Nicaragua, not recognized by Moscow

6. Liberal Independent Party, with a "progressive, nationalist, and revolutionary heritage". (See Andrew Reding.)

7. Nicaraguan Socialist Party, officially aligned with Moscow


Above I mentioned that the Sandinistas needed a propaganda victory to counter the Reagan administration's claims that they did not represent the majority of the Nicaraguan people. I used the term advisedly, following the example of the Supreme Electoral Council itself; namely, that what we call the campaign period here in the U.S. was in Nicaragua—and is perhaps in all of Latin America— frankly called the propaganda period.

The following pictures show the rich variety of propaganda made available to the voter by the respective parties. I do not recall seeing any instances of defacement or destruction of opposition parties' posters or billboards.

We will continue to the front with The Front One sector our group observed was in the city of Juigalpa, a lovely town in the low mountains, about 97 kilometers directly east of Managua as the crow flies. Juigalpa is in the conservative, primarily cattle-raising region of Chontales (electoral Region 5), and was also then home to Nicaragua's most right-wing Catholic bishop, Pablo Antonio Vega.

In spite of the banner "Juigalpa is with Daniel. On to the front, with the Front", the Sandinistas received their lowest level of support in Region 5. (The odd item between the two cars is a piece of toast that got stuck to the slide. I'll rescan it one of these days.)

Popular Social Christian Party Not far downhill on the same street as the FSLN banner, visible in the distance, this banner says that Juigalpa will go with the Popular Social Christian Party.

Communist Party of Nicaragua The Communist Party of Nicaragua.

"Vote for a luminous present and future for our people".

Liberal Independent Party The Liberal Independent Party.

"Country, Liberty, Democracy, Social Justice"

Virgilio Godoy On October 21st, the day after a visit from U.S. Ambassador Harry Bergold, and after two months of active campaigning, PLI candidate Virgilio Godoy withdrew his candidacy for president. Godoy also tried to have the entire party slate purged from the ballot, but was refused by the SEC because he had withdrawn after the deadline.

According to observer Andrew Reding, Godoy's action caused a deep rift between the older, abstentionist faction of the PLI and its younger members, who believed that it was important to participate in the election. The news of Godoy's meeting with the U.S. ambassador was revealed on television by Godoy's own vice-presidential candidate, Constantino Pereira, who stayed in the race and urged PLI members not to boycott the election.

Reding notes "the peculiar phenomenon of Godoyís almost overnight metamorphosis from collaborationist traitor to national hero in the pages of La Prensa, mouthpiece of the Coordinadora".

PLI candidate for Vice-President Each party was given 15 minutes of free TV time each night on the two Sandinista-owned television stations, and could buy as much radio time as they could afford on Nicaragua's nearly 40 private radio stations.

Here we see Constantino Pereira, the PLI vice presidential candidate who defied the U.S. by staying in the race. Godoy later punished Pereira for his integrity by suspending him from the party leadership. The PLI received 9.6% of the valid votes cast, and would certainly have received more had Godoy not thrown the party into turmoil.

Socialist Party "Vote for the Socialist Party of Nicaragua".

Movement for Popular Action-Marxist Leninist "To vote for the MAP-ML is to vote for the working front. Column 2."

My 1978 dictionary translates "frente" as "front", but here it seems more appropriately rendered as "vanguard".

Here "column 2" refers to the second column on the ballot, not to a clandestine commie underground movement.

The Sandinistas Rout Uncle Sam "We continue to the front with the Front"

Another of my favorites. The Sandinistas lead the Nicaraguan people in driving out Uncle Sam. The tragedy is that it did not work out that way.

To strenghten the rearguard "To Strengthen the Rearguard"

Malnutrition was endemic in Somoza's Nicaragua, and the Sandinistas were justifiably proud of their successes in bringing food to Nicargua's poorest. Naturally, then, agriculture was a favorite target of the contras. By August of 1984, up to 50% of Nicaragua's corn and bean crop had been lost to the war, and 25% of the national budget was allocated to defense.

The contras are going to get fucked "The contras are going to get fucked
¡We will smash them!"

When I could not find joder in my dictionary, I suspected that the phrase was a version of the same earthy epithet to be found in all languages. Thanks to my friend, Alfonso, for confirmation.

The location seems to be a tobacco plantation. I am a cigar-lover, but never managed to find high-quality Nicaraguan puros, which were produced pretty much for export only.

Robelo equals Somoza A unidentified member of our group draws our attention to a bit of political grafitti: "Robelo and Somoza are the same thing"

By virtue of his opposition to Somoza, Nicaraguan businessman Alfonso Robelo was a member of the junta that would oversee the rebuilding of Nicaragua after the triumph. It soon became clear to the Sandinistas, however, that such business members as Robelo and Violetta Barrios de Chamorro, with their elitist habits, were really only interested in a less obvious version of Somocismo—the kind, say, beloved of U.S. market-worshipper Milton Friedman and his followers. (These followers included the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, at the time one of the hemisphere's most effective and brutal torturers.)

The Sandinistas were adamant about fulfilling their promises to the poor, though, and when the business types saw that they would have to trim their expectations a little, most of them quit the junta in a huff. Soon they either began carrying water for the Reagan administration (Chamorro, through her newspaper, La Prensa), or worked openly as contra directors (Robelo). Robelo was replaced by Arturo Cruz, discussed below, who ultimatley followed his footsteps into the contra directorate.

After the vote, the harvest After the vote, everyone to the harvest

There is a world of significance behind this simple exhortation.

We were told by our Sandinista guides that the November election date had been set in large part to accomodate the needs of the coffee harvest, which would take place immediately after the election. Arturo Cruz, the pretend candidate of the super-right wing Democratic Coordinadora, itself a wholly-owned creature of the CIA, demanded that the election be postponed to January. The U.S. State Department managed to promote Cruz as being the onlyest, bestest, goodest candidate the Nicaraguan people could possibly hope for. All other parties were to be ignored. The mainstream U.S. media responded like Pavlov's dogs to the bell. (More on this below.)

But, holding the election during the harvest would have strained Nicaragua's security and human resources to the breaking point, given the virtual certainty of stepped-up contra attacks on both the harvest and the electoral process.

Which was precisely the point. After making some serious concessions to Cruz, the Sandinistas finally said "enough," and the November 4 election date stood.

Leticia Herrera Sanchez Women were an important part of the Sandinista movement, although, as I recall it, there was never more than one woman on the 9- or 10-member Sandinista Directorate.

Commandante Leticia Herrera Sanchez was born in 1949, and joined the FSLN in 1964. In 1975-1976, she was an instructor at the FSLN Clandestine Military School. Here, she is a Sandinisa candidate for the National Assembly, representing Managua's Region III.

We were very pleased that Sra. Sanchez took time to speak to us. She was very shy.

War and Protest

Young militia-woman "I have already enrolled in the Patriotic Military Service."

Leticia Herrera, above, was a first-generation Sandinista fighter. A major, highly successful goal of the contra war was to destroy any hope younger, post-triumph Nicaraguans might have for getting an education and pursuing a normal life.

Ronald Reagan-assassin Ronald Reagan, Assassin ... The people of Sandino will not sell out or ever surrender.

Mothers of the Heroes and Martyrs Members of the Juigalpa chapter of the Mothers of the Heroes and Martyrs. The plaque commemorates those who died defending Nicaragua against the contras or against Somoza.

Demonstration at U.S. Embassy in Managua The American religious community living in Managua provided regular opportunities for American visitors to say "hi" to our employees behind the fence at the American Embassy.

Today's demonstrators tied their anti-contra banner onto the embassy gate itself, probably not for the first time. Did this "in-your-face" use of U.S.-government property cause consternation amongst the diplomats inside? Did they debate whether to risk ridicule by politely asking the demonstrators to remove the banner? Should they risk having their pictures being shown around the world as they cut the banner from the fence themselves? Were the John Wayne types, scissors-in-hand, restrained by the more mature, diplomatic types?

50% under 15 years I often wonder if Embassy personnel ever felt the slightest pangs of guilt over Reagan's program.

"Any competent manager of a destructive bureaucratic system can arrange his personnel so that only the most callous and obtuse are directly involved in violence. The greater part of the personnel can consist of men and women who, by virtue of their distance from the actual acts of brutality, will feel little strain in the performance of their supportive functions. They will feel doubly absolved from responsibility. First, legitimate authority has given full warrant for their actions. Second, they have not themselves committed brutal acts."     (Stanley Milgram, Obedience to Authority, Harper & Row, 1974, 1975 Colophon edition, p.122; cited in UNCLASSIFIED, Newsletter of the Association of National Security Alumni, Vol. 3, No. 4, August-September 1991, p.7.)

Such are the moral pitfalls facing those who make a career in the U.S. foreign service.

The Contras Win Some For The Gipper

list of children killed It is likely that these children lived in San Gregorio, and died from a direct contra mortar shell hit on their house. El Nuevo Diario reported that Juigalpa's Bishop Antonio Pablo Vega refused to denounce the killings, "saying instead that 'killing the soul is worse than killing the body and therefore a bomb placed in the soul is more serious'". (Andrew Reding.)

Perhaps the good Bishop felt that these children's souls had been infected with such Sandinista "bombs" as adequate nutrition, medical care, and education. Perhaps he thought that they should have exercised personal responsibility, and refused these "bombs" for their own spiritual good.

U.S. imperialist program

Repercussions of the war

Mercenaries killed Can't win 'em all.

The Election Itself

Waiting to vote Lined up outside the poll. In our own recent election, our officials should have been as efficient and professional as Nicaragua's Supreme Electoral Council. On average, each polling station efficiently served about 400 voters. These folks didn't wait very long to exercise their franchise.

Receiving the ballot The SCE poll worker, wearing the armband, hands a young voter his ballot. It was decided to allow 16-year-olds to vote, partly on the argument that if they were old enough to defend their country, as many did as members of the popular militia, they were old enough to vote.

Assisting a voter Here a poll worker holds the baby of a woman in the voting booth while explaining some aspect of the voting process to an elderly voter.

Entering the voting booth I did not ask if I could photograph a voter actually marking his or her bllot. That would have been wrong.

The ballot booths were even more private than those used in my own home precinct, then in Woodland Hills, California.

Placing the ballot in the box A voter places his presidential ballot in the proper color-coded box.

The idea for the opaque band on the back of the ballot came from an advisor from the Swedish Electoral College. In the Salvadoran election, ballots were tissue-thin, and marks could easily be seen by the armed militia who watched the voter place his or her ballot into a transparent urn.

Counting the votes Counting the votes. As mentioned above, much of material and other assistance to the Supreme Electoral Council came from European countries.

The Results

Preliminary results Barricada is the official newpaper of the FSLN. Its preliminary report shows the Sandinistas ahead with 68% of the vote.

The headline says that a militia force, the TPU, annihilated a contra task force in El Correo. Sub-commandante Enrique Schmidt died in the action. The contras were active throughout the election process.

Final results El Nuevo Diario, a new periodical for the new man.

At the time, El Nuevo Diario was the independent, mostly pro-Sandinista paper.

These early returns differ slightly from the later figures reported by the Latin American Study Association, shown below.

Placing the ballot in the box La Prensa—owned by Violetta Barrios de Chamorro. Chamorro's husband, Pedro Joaquin Chamorro, was an implacable foe of Somoza, and was gunned down by masked thugs in January, 1978. One would think that such an illustrious background of resistance against tyranny would have inspired Chamorro's widow to enthusiastically embrace the Sandinistas' "logic of the majority". Alas, it was not to be. La Prensa received serious funding from the U.S., and produced copy that served U.S. interests very well.

Nevertheless, the Sandinistas allowed La Prensa to publish most of the time. Occasionally the paper would go too far, and the Sandinsitas would clamp down. The howls of outrage from such mainstream U.S. dailies as the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times could be heard even in Managua. After a little cooling down period, the Sandinistas would let La Prensa start the presses again, and the dance would begin anew.

The Chamorro family itself was deeply divided on the contra war. El Nuevo Diario was founded by Chamorro family members disenchanted with the virulently anti-Sandinista, tacitly pro-contra position of the family matriarch. Other Chamorro family members worked at the official FSLN organ, Barricada.

Here the front page is solidly anti-Sandinista. Taking the figures shown on their own terms, the headline—Voting under great apathy—is a real knee-slapper. No honest observer of any election in the world would consider an 82% turnout as evidence of "great apathy." In fact, the La Prensa staff writer would have done better to wait a few days. As it turns out, the real turnout was 75% of Nicaragua's registered voters; still a respectable figure, especially under threat of being killed by "freedom fighters" in some areas.

Two other items of interest on this page are the purported opinion of an Austrian observer that the election will not legitimate the Sandinistas, and also that an attempt was made on the life of contra director Alfonso Robelo: They tried to assassinate him in San Jose. Robelo comes out of the attempt unscathed. The hit list for a search on "Alfonso Robelo" in the New York Times archives does not indicate that such an attempt was made during the election period. Nor does Stephen Kinzer mention such an attempt in Blood of Brothers.

Latin American Study Association result table Final result from the report of the Latin American Study Association. The complete LASA report, in PDF format, is available here.

1,170,142 total votes were cast, of which 6.1% were invalid. The FSLN received 63% of the total vote, and 67% of the valid votes. This translated into 61 of the 96 seats in the National Assembly.

The three parties to the right of the FSLN received 29% of the valid vote, and the three parties to the left received 3.8%.

Using the LASA data above, and data from two U.S. government websites: www.eac.gov/election_resources/turn/natto.htm; http://clerk.house.gov/members/electionInfo/1984election.pdf, I figure that Daniel Ortega won the Nicaraguan election with 44% of Nicaragua's voting age population to Ronald Reagan's 31% of the U.S. VAP.

The overwhelming majority of objective observers concluded that the election was conducted fairly and competently by the Supreme Electoral Council, and that all Nicaraguan political parties had been given ample opportunity and resources to campaign and get their messages out to the people without serious hindrance from the Sandinistas.

America, The Land of the Free (Press)

But, the New York Times, ever sensitive to the opinions of Washington—and of its advertisers—took a different position. A few days after the election, the Times editorialist echoes the purported opinion of the Austrian observer as shown on the La Prensa page above: the Sandinistas' electoral victory will not legitimate them.

"Only the naïve believe that Sunday's election in Nicaragua was democratic or legitimizing proof of the Sandinistas' popularity. The result was ordained when opposition parties tamely accepted terms that barred them from power. This plebiscite will not end the struggle for pluralism in Nicaragua. But neither can it serve as justification for recent American policy.

"The Sandinistas made it easy to dismiss their election as a sham. ..."

Nobody Won in Nicaragua, Editorial, New York Times, Nov 7, 1984 pg. A26.

Who are the naïve here, and how did they reveal their naïveté?

"No major political tendency in Nicaragua was denied access to the electoral process in 1984. The only parties that did not appear on the ballot were absent by their own choice, not because of government exclusion. ...

"Opposition parties received their legal allotments of campaign funds and had regular and substantial access to radio and television. The legally registered opposition parties were able to hold the vast majority of their rallies unimpeded by pro-FSLN demonstrators or by other kinds of government interference."



From Sandinista Claims Big Election Victory, by Gordon Mott. New York Times, Nov 6, 1984.

"A member of the [opposition] Popular Social Christian Party, José Lazos said his party 'recognized the percentage of the F.S.L.N. vote.' 'It was an honorable process', he said." [Lazos also confided to the LASA delegation "We received the vote we expected". LASA report, ibid., p. 18. — B.B.]

"A team of observers from the Washington Office on Latin America, a church-sponsored lobbying group, said the electoral process had been 'meaningful' and had provided a political opening in Nicaragua.

"The group, in a statement prepared after the voting ended on Sunday, said the process had been 'well conceived' and had afforded 'easy access to vote with guarantees of secrecy."


"However, [Virgilio Godoy,the PLI presidential candidate who dropped out the day after a visit from the U.S. ambassador] went on to compare favorably Nicaragua's election with presidential elections in El Salvador earlier this year.

'If the US is going to try to be honest in evaluating these elections, it will be a real problem for the Reagan administration,' Mr. Godoy said.

'If the US administration said that the Guatemalan and Salvadorean elections were valid ones, how can they condemn elections in Nicaragua, when they have been no worse and probably a lot better than elections in Salvador and Guatemala.

'The elections here have been much more peaceful. There were no deaths as in the other two countries, where the opposition were often in fear for their lives.'"

Nicaragua vote seen as better run than Salvador's
By Dennis Volman, Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor
November 5, 1984, p. 13.
Managua, Nicaragua



"Reviewing the history of the negotiations between the FSLN and the opposition parties since 1981, and especially during the current election year, Stephen Kinzer, the Managua-based correspondent of The New York Times, told our delegation

'The FSLN gave in on almost all of the opposition parties' demands concerning how the electoral process would be run. Their stance seemed to be, "if any clause of the election law causes serious controversy, we'll modify it." Most of the opposition's complaints about the process had nothing to do with the mechanics of the elections, but rather were more general criticisms of the political system.... What some of these groups want is a complete change in the political system: to abolish the CDSs (Sandinista Defense Committees), get the Sandinistas out of the army, prohibit [incumbent] government officials from running for office, and so forth. In short, they want Nicaraguara to become a parliamentary democracy first, before they will participate. But this isn't Switzerland!' "

(LASA report, ibid., p. 12.)

Thus, the New York Times's own man in Managua contradicts the notion that opposition parties were railroaded by the Sandinistas.

I downloaded eighteen New York Times articles Kinzer wrote about Cruz's campaign-that-was-not-a-campaign. He cites them in his book Blood of Brothers, for the chapter Action Democracy. There is less information about Sandinista flexibility in all eighteen of those articles than in Kinzer's statement above. Maybe Kinzer felt that he had to be more "balanced" in dealing with the LASA delegation than with Times readers.

Above I said that the New York Times was sensitive to the opinions of Washington. I stand by that. On the same day, and on the same page, that the Times's other man in Managua, Gordon Mott, reported a favorable view of the election by an opponent of the Sandinistas (above), State Department spokesman John Hughes said

"The Sandinista electoral farce, without any meaningful political opposition, leaves the situation essentially unchanged."

The Times ignored its own reporter and followed Washington like a puppy follows its master.

Here, Hughes means here exactly what the Times tacitly admits in its editorial, and, to my mind, effectively "approves with faint criticism": The vicious war against Nicaragua's peasants will continue, and more children will die.

But so long as the conflict can be presented within the super-objective, super-balanced, super-professional "he said, she said"; "he believes, she believes"; "it-takes-two-to-make-a-quarrel" reportage that serves Washington so well, everyone will sleep soundly.

Finally, let me close with an anecdote from Andrew Reding, whose commentary on the 1984 election most closely corroborates my own experience, but of course, in more depth:

"One especially revealing experience rose out of an informal roundtable discussion held at the International Press Club in Managua, involving about two dozen correspondents ó roughly half from the U.S. and the rest representing major dailies in Mexico, Colombia, and Venezuela.

"The Latin Americans came angry. Why, they wanted to know, was the U.S. press so exaggerating the importance of Arturo Cruz and his Coordinadora? One of them put the question con brio:

'You people are already there in the morning when he wakes up; you take note of what he eats for breakfast, then you follow in his footsteps all day long, recording his every utterance, his every breath. To be sure, Arturo Cruz is no insignificant figure on the national scene, in view of the powerful domestic and foreign interests he represents; but why are you people so inflating his stature out of all proportion to the very modest level of popular support he has?'

"Two stars of the establishment press in the U.S. responded by saying that their heavy coverage of Cruz was in keeping with basic principles of 'objective journalism.' 'With President Reagan and Secretary of State Shultz making daily pronouncements to the effect that Cruz is the only valid democratic alternative to the Sandinistas, he is a major story and we can hardly ignore him.'

"'You mean to tell us,' said another of the Latin American correspondents, 'that you let the Reagan administration dictate your agenda?' Another pointed out that President Reagan also refers to the guerrillas of El Salvador all the time. How often, he asked, does the U.S. press give them the sympathetic coverage it lavishes on Arturo Cruz?

"These difficult questions elicited confessions about the constraints imposed on correspondents by their editors back home, along with a more combative reply from one of the top correspondents on hand:

'You Latin Americans just donít understand our type of press. We donít take as explicit a political perspective as you do. You ó and the Sandinistas especially ó canít understand our adversarial relationship. The norm here is for cooperation between press and government; our norm ó and itís the same one we use with our government in the U.S. ó is confrontational.'"

The alert reader will of course immediately recognize the somewhat schizophrenic behavior here: in one breath, our two "stars" defend their reporting by saying they can't very well cover anything the White House doesn't want covered; in the next they say that the "norm" used by "our type of press" vis-a-vis the government is "adversarial" and "confrontational".

Reding does not report that any of the 10 or so "lesser lights" of the U.S. press corps who were present protested this glaring, and startlingly obtuse contradiction—perhaps an indication of the awe in which these two "stars" were held.

With this sorry, arguably even tragic, admission to the intellectual and journalistic poverty that permeates America's Fourth Estate, I will close my discussion of the Nicaraguan election of 1984.

NOTE: The complete report by the Latin American Studies Association on the 1984 election, in searchable PDF format, is available here.

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