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In honor of the greatest moralist who never lived
Copyright © 2004 by Bill Becker

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Nicaraguan Election, February 1990

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NOTE: The complete report by the Latin American Studies Association on the 1990 election, as a 4MB searchable PDF file, is available here.    This file requires the free Adobe Acrobat Reader. Download the Reader here.

I was again fortunate to be able to return to Nicaragua, this time as an observer of Nicaragua's second free election.

I went to Nicaragua this time with Witness For Peace, a faith-based peace and justice organization best described in its own words:

"WFP was founded in 1983, as the Contra War raged in Nicaragua. We established an ongoing presence there and sent U.S. citizens to accompany the Nicaraguan people in war zones and to document the "human face" of the Reagan Administration's military policy. WFP led the way in bringing the brutal facts of those policies home to the U.S. public through grassroots education and large-scale media outreach. During this initial period, WFP established its successful model of merging the powerful forces of on-the-ground documentation, assertive media strategies, a dynamic delegations program, and stateside grassroots mobilization."

In a very real sense Witness for Peace volunteers were America's first "embedded" reporters of the post-Vietnam era. In contrast to today's "embedded" journalists in Iraq, however, WFP reporters were real thorns in the side of the administration, rather than cogs in Washington's well-oiled disinformation machine.

In Nicaragua's first free election (1984), 67 percent of Nicaraguan voters chose the Sandinistas to continue their "preferential option for the poor," which the revolutionary junta had immediately implemented upon taking power in July of 1979. By following the "logic of the majority," the Sandinistas had transformed the lives of Nicargua's desperately poor campesinos with an adequate diet, health care, literacy, and most important of all, hope.

The significance of the Sandinistas' 1984 victory derives from the fact that since 1981 this same Nicaraguan majority had been under attack by president Reagan's Orwellian-named "freedom fighters," the contras. But, the Reagan administration was obsessed with eliminating of the Sandinistas, and refused to accept their victory. Five more years of brutal punishment of Nicaragua's poor majority followed. It was in this context that the 1990 election was held. (Nevertheless, the election can be considered as fair and honest as any ever held in Chicago.)

The election was originally scheduled for November, but at the urging of several Central and Latin American presidents, President Daniel Ortega agreed to move it up to February. His opponent would be Doña Violeta Barrios de Chamorro. Violeta Chamorro was the widow of world-reonowned journalist Pedro Joaquin Chamorro, editor and owner of the newspaper La Prensa and implacable foe of the dictator Anastasio Somoza. La Prensa passed into Doña Violeta's hands when her husband was machine-gunned to death by unknown assailants on January 10, 1978. Chamorro's murder became an important catalyst for the popular uprising that toppled the Somoza dictatorship, and which brought the Sandinistas to power.

When the Sandinistas took control of the government in July, 1979, they invited Doña Violeta to be a member of the revolutionary junta that would begin to chart Nicaragua's new future. She accepted, but left in 1980 after it became clear that the Sandinistas weren't kidding: they really did mean a "preferential option for the poor." Over time, as Chamorro became a symbol of opposition to the Sandinistas, she also effectively handed the control of La Prensa over to Washington's various propaganda and funding agencies, both covert and overt.

For the 1990 election, Washington pursuaded Chamorro to lead a hodge-podge coalition of 14 opposition parties that went by the acronym UNO: United National Opposition. It is no accident that this was also the acronym of the Washington-based civilian directorate of the brutal contras: United Nicaraguan Opposition. More on this below.

On this page I do not presume to present a documentary record of the election, but rather to show the essentials of the Nicaraguan electoral process as we observed them. Whereas the election procedure itself was squeaky-clean, it is preposterous on its face to claim that it was an exercise in democracy. The Bush administration made it perfectly clear that the punishment would continue if the Sandinistas were re-elected. Sadly, America's mainstream "free press" reported the election process from beginning to end with a servility that made the former Soviet press look revolutionary.

For a comprehensive discussion of all aspects of the election, see ELECTORAL DEMOCRACY Under International Pressure, Latin American Studies Association, March 15, 1990.    NOTE: This is a 4MB searchable PDF file, and requires the free Adobe Acrobat Reader. Download the Reader here.

Finally, I apologize for what is perhaps an excessive display of pictures; they will take a long time to download for those who are still on dial-up (like me). I simply want to pay tribute to those shown in the photographs below. I hope that some one or more of them may find themselves here someday.

1stmtg Here we are at a WFP orientation session in Miami prior to leaving for Nicaragua.

blessings We're lined up to receive forms or information ... or something.

gailpharesWitness for Peace organizer Gail Phares speaks to us.

After we finished our orientation and had received our various materials, we were given one more task: enter into a private moment of "discernment." This would be our own personal meditation on whether we really felt capable of meeting whatever challenges we might face in Nicaragua. If, after pondering the worst that might happen to us, anyone who felt they could not fulfil the requirements was asked to opt out, so as not to burden the other delegates. There would be no stigma attached to such an honest personal assessment.

Most of us had been to Nicaragua before, and knew what the physical conditions would be like. We also knew the subtext of this element in our preparations: in the highly unlikely event that we were attacked or kidnapped by contras, were we ready to die in witness to our commitment to the Nicaraguan people?

This was not an unthinkable prospect. On August 6th, 1985, a Witness for Peace delegation began a journey down the Rio San Juan, which becomes the border between Nicaragua and Costa Rica between El Castillo, in Nicaragua, and the Costa Rican village of Las Tiricias. This was the area where Eden Pastora's contra bands operated. Upon learning of the delegation's plans, Pastora warned that "The armed men of ARDE ... have the order to fire on wolves in sheep's clothing. We will not be to blame for the lives of Communists disguised as Sandinistas or for the lives of politicians disguised as shepherds of peace."

The next morning, a group of contras on the Costa Rican side fired shots over the boat, and ordered the group to disembark. The delegation was taken on a difficult march on primitive mud-slick trails to a village where William, the contra leader in charge, waited for instructions from his superiors. Later, the chief leader, Daniel, arrived and told the delegation that his contras were "neither ARDE or FDN (the largest contra group). We are Nicaraguans in exile, an independent anti-communist group." Daniel was later identified as a fugitive who had stolen 120,000 cordobas from the Sandinista government in 1983. After Daniel presented his case, the hostages were released unharmed.

I myself am a thoroughgoing, non-pacifist secular humanist. Nevertheless, I knew that if we were unfortunate enough to be caught in a contra action of some kind, I would simply follow the lead of the group. If that meant going passively to the wall to be shot, so be it. At the same time, considering the international focus on the elections, I figured the probability of such an event to be virtually zero. So, for me in 1990, it was an easy decision.

(After we arrived in Nicaragua, at one of our nightly gatherings after a day of observing election preparations, Witness for Peace member Anne Barstow related her earlier experience as a short-term volunteer living for two weeks in a remote village which had twice been attacked, and once burned down, by the contras.

Well after she and her family had gone to bed this particular evening, Anne heard gunfire not far away. Soon, a WFP long-termer burst through her door and said that the contras were on their way. There was no safe place for Anne and her family to flee to, so she should have her passport ready in case the contras came to her door. As instructed, Anne prepared for a contra intrusion, and was of course very frightened. But she soon calmed down, and came to realize that whatever happened, she was in exactly the place she should be. She drifted off to sleep, and "had the most life-affirming dream."

The next morning she learned that the contras bypassed her neighborhood.)

mapOur delegation will be broken into groups by denomination, and we will cover the western side of Nicaragua, pretty much from top to bottom, I think. I don't believe that WFP sent observers to the region east of Nicaragua's mountainous central spine, but I could be wrong on that.

I will travel with the ecumenical contingent, comprised of smaller religious groups outside the mainstream Southern Baptists, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, etc. We will be assigned to Region V, Boaco, and will be billeted in the town of the same name.

photoidAngel poses for his official photo id badge, issued by Nicaragua's Supreme Electoral Council, the fourth branch of the government. As in 1984, the SEC organized and ran the election.

Kathryn waits her turn.

laprensa 2 Doña Violetta's newspaper, La Prensa, was vehemently opposed to the Sandinistas, received major funding and advice from Washington, and was sometimes censored or shut down by the Sandinistas for prinitng material designed to spread panic and dissatsfaction.

Sandinista censorship and closure of La Prensa were always deplored by the U.S. mainstream media, ever eager to prove that the Fourth Estate was no slacker in the patriotism department. Can we imagine what would have happened to the owners of the Los Angeles Times, say, if the U.S. were under attack by the Soviet Union, say, and they printed anti-government propaganda on paper purchased with Soviet money.

As it happened, Doña Violetta's own family was divided between the Sandinistas and their opposition. Francisco Goldman, writing in the February, 1990 Harpers Magazine, noted that one of her sons ran the Sandinista newspaper Barricada, and that Barricada printed an essay by his sister Claudia, who wrote "the enemies of my father are in the UNO."

Goldman also wrote that La Prensa quoted George Bush as saying that the embargo against Nicaragua would be lifted only if the Sandinistas are defeated.

The headline at bottom right of the page says that UNO has detected "double [voter] registration." In fact, the registration procedures made multiple registration quite difficult.

article"The contra denies plans to attack observers." How nice of them.

I don't know what paper this article appeared in.

barricada 1The Sandinista paper Barricada reports that Jean Kirkpatrick, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, has accepted an invitation to be the honored guest at a fund raiser for Doña Violeta on February 7th.

This is appropriate, because Kirkpatrick won her stars by formulating a distinction between Soviet-supported dictatorships and U.S.-supported dictatorships: Soviet client states really were dictatorships, but our client states were merely authoritarian regimes. Looks like Shakespeare was wrong after all.

Kirkpatrick also had a contra band named after her. I often wondered if the contras that she inspired sent her photographs of their victims for her wall.

barricada 2"Leon demonstrates the absolute advantage of the FSLN." It was not to be.

echamorroFormer contra director Edgar Chamorro speaks to us at the motel where we stayed before dispersing to our various areas.

Chamorro is a distant relative of the UNO candidate, Violeta Barrios de Chamorro. He was a respectable member of the Nicaraguan upper class, so Washinton wooed him to make the contras more respectable, too.

The seduction worked; Chamorro took his place alongside former Coca Cola héfe in Nicaragua, Adolfo Calero; former Sandinista junta member and businessman Alfonso Robelo Callejas; and Washington's prize catch, former junta member and Nicaraguan Ambassador to the U.S. Arturo Cruz.

But, Chamorro had more integrity than his elite compatriots. After four years of increasing discomfort, he lost his job as a contra director when he leveled serious citicisms of the brutal behavior of the contras, who were led by former members of Somoza's Guardia Nacional. Chamorro then put his insider's knowledge to good use toward educating the American people and Congress as to the real nature of president Reagan's "freedom fighters."

On January 9, 1986 the New York Times printed him under the title Terror Is the Most Effective Weapon of Nicaragua's 'Contras'. He explained that "it was premeditated policy to to terrorize civilian noncombatants to prevent them from cooperating with the government." How did they do this? With "hundreds of civilian murders, mutilations, tortures and rapes, ... of which the 'contra' leaders and their C.I.A. supervisors were well aware." And, there is probably more information on the Sandinistas' benign goals in the following statment by Chamorro than in the total 10 years of previous mainstream reporting and editorializing on them:

"The Sandinistas, for all their faults, have made enormous advances in education, housing, and health care, issues of vital importance to Nicaragua's poor majority. Unfortunately, the 'contras' burn down schools, homes, and health centers as fast as the Sandinistas build them."

See the Affidavit of Edgar Chamorro, submitted to the International Court of Justice
Case Concerning Military and Paramilitary Activities In And Against Nicaragua.
(Note: This 374KB, searchable PDF file requires the free Adobe Acrobat Reader. Download the Reader here.)

onuvenrepHere a United Nations delegate, left, informs us about how the UN will monitor the election.

prtcandidate We hear from a candidate, right, of the Partido Revolucionario de los Trabajadores (PRT—Revolutionary Workers Party) a Trotskyist organization. I'm pretty sure, but not certain, that this man was the PRT's candidate for President. I spent more time taking pictures than making notes; pretty sloppy journalism, really.

unorepHere we meet with an UNO representative, a lawyer. Wayne, on the right, was a Witness for Peace long-termer, and our delegation leader and mentor. If memory serves, he was working on a Masters degree in international relations, or some such field. Words fail me in expressing my regard for Witness for Peace volunteers like Wayne.

monsignorWe meet with a representative of the mainline church in Nicargua.

In Nicaragua, Catholic loyalties were divided between Rome and the "liberation theology" currents that had developed out of the activities of the Latin American Episcopal Conference. These currents led to a theological concept of "the preferential option for the poor," adopted by the Sandinistas as mentioned above.

However, liberation theology did not set well with the Roman church hierarchy, and Nicaragua's Archbishop Obando y Bravo was elevated to the rank of Cardinal as a reward for his sophisticated opposition to both the Sandinistas and the priests and nuns who promoted the "logic of the majority."

In contrast to El Salvador's Archbishop Romero, who was assassinated for ordering the Salvadoran military to stop the wholesale slaughter of innocent people, Obando y Bravo never once criticised the contras for the atrocities they committed against the Nicaraguan peasantry. Was he afraid that the contras would kill him if he did? Hardly.

boacomayorWe meet with the Sandinista mayor of Boaco. Boaco is primarily a cattle-raising district, dominated by wealthy, anti-Sandinista, pro-contra landowners.

Portraits of FSLN founder Carlos Fonseca, and the original Sandinista, Augusto Sandino, hang on the wall.

boacocandidateI'm sure that this man is one of the challengers to the mayor shown in the previous photo. My notes do not show his party however.

cardenalCatholic priest and Sandinista Minister of Culture Ernesto Cardenal.

bendanaGeneral Secretary of the Nicarguan Foreign Ministry Alejandro Bendaña.

jewishpoetHere we are meeting with a Jewish poet. After they took power, the Sandinistas were accused of appropriating Jewish property and driving Jews out of the country. We knew that there were indeed few Jews in post-triumph Nicaragua, but this woman told us that the charges were fundamentally untrue. I don't have enough information on the subject to be sure one way or the other.

ftijerinoWe speak with Flavio Tijerino in Boaco. If memory serves Sr. Tijerino had been a well-to-do cattleman, but gave up his wealth for a simpler life. He supported the Sandinistas.

jtijerinoWe are at the home of Juan and Piedad Tijerino. Juan, with the crutches, is Flavio Tijerino's brother. Juan is a well-to-do cattleman. Even though he is not a Sandinista, he is running for a seat on the National Assembly for the Sandinistas.

Piedad Tijerino is a member of the Nicaraguan feminist group AMNLAE, the Asociación de Mujeres Nicaragüenses "Luisa Amanda Espinosa," Region V.

The man in the stiped shirt is a Sandinista Army colonel, who knew far more about his country's history than the average U.S. colonel knows about America's.

I often thought that a useful strategy for the anti-intervention movement would be to arrange tours of the U.S. for such well-to-do, pro-Sandinista Nicaraguans as the Tijerinos. They would educate Americans about Nicaragua's mixed economy; to the fact that it was possible to be wealthy in Nicaragua (so long as you didn't de-capitalize and treat your workers badly); and to the real progress that the Sandinistas had made, and would continue to make if they were allowed to do so. Later, I realized that Washington would have prevented that strategy by invoking the McCarran-Walter Act, designed to prevent Americans from becoming polluted through contact with foreigners who were critical of the U.S. Kind of like in the Soviet Union.

ciaunomuralA great mural showing the relationship between the CIA and UNO.

fslnrallyA typical Sandinista rally; where I don't know.

unosupportersA group of UNO supporters show me the trademark "We're Number One" sign.

postersSome propaganda. As can be seen here, there was virtually no defacement of the hundreds of posters that we saw.

niunonifsln"Neither UNO nor FSLN. Vote P.R.T."   (Revolutionary Workers Party) A supporter of the United Revolutionary Movement, MUR, has added a tag, but did not deface the PRT message.

The PRT and the MUR were leftist parties that refused to join the U.S.-created UNO coalition. The Nicaraguan Communist Party, which was aligned with the Soviet Union, as I recall it, did join the UNO, though. This was undoubtedly a sneaky move by the Soviets toward obtaining U.S. military secrets.

1956-1989 billboardI can't find a note describing this billboard. I welcome information about it.

sevota5"Vote for #5." A pro-Sandinista poster showing all of the candidates, with Daniel Ortega dominating the line-up.

Doña Violeta had broken her leg, and was carried around everywhere she went. Her plight undoubtedly won her at least a little sympathy.

respetamos "Respect the opinion of others." A Supreme Electoral Council poster.

clinicA rudimentary health clinic. Such clinics were routinely destroyed by the contras.

This photo is the first of a purposeful sequence.

bill&toddlersYours truly at a day care center. Day care centers like this were also contra targets, whether occupied by children or not.

I don't have the name of the town we're in here, but I'm pretty sure it is where we learned that we had a mole in our midst.

At one of our regular meetings of the entire WFP delegation, held for the purpose of sharing our experiences and also our feelings, one of our members expressed her sense of shame at being an American.

Another member of the group was observed taking notes — a highly suspicious activity in this context. She was confronted by her neighbors, and it was learned that she had been taking notes all along; she was a spy sent by a conservative Kansas newspaper.

There followed a lengthy discussion among us all as to whether we should send our somewhat inept Mata Hari packing. As I recall, the decision was to let her continue on with us, because we figured that if she had a shred of integrity, she would come away with a more positive view of the electoral process.

I don't know which religious denomination she had infiltrated, and I somehow didn't bother to learn the name of the Kansas newspaper she worked for. Nor do I remember if she stayed with us, or returned to the States. Perhaps if she ever visits this page, she will send me a message with the details.

breastfeedAnother Sandinista effort to improve children's lives.

washfloor"If your infant is still crawling, be sure the floor is clean, and wash your hands before eating. "

Campaign for the defense of the life of the child.

daniel&child"Everything will be better."

Daniel Ortega holds a child as an expression of the Sandinistas' deep and genuine comittment to improving life for Nicaraguan children.

unoposter "Woman: The people need your voice and your vote. Register and vote for UNO. The women of Nicaragua are the majority."

This UNO poster captures the essence of Washington's program: "Elect Doña Violeta or your children will continue to die."

As clearly shown in the following photo:

contraaid A bit of background: In March of 1988 the contras and the Sandinistas had agreed on a 60-day cease-fire. Congress rewarded the contras for signing the cease-fire agreement with a $47.9 million "humanitarian" aid package. Formally, the aid was confined to "assistence for food, clothing, medical services and shelter in accordance with the cease-fire." (Los Angeles Herald Examiner, March 31, 1988.)

Informally, of course, food, clothing, medical services were essential for a continuation, albeit in an somewhat attenuated fashion, of the contra attacks on the Nicaraguan peasantry. The contras revealed the real plan by "violating a truce days before a formal 60-day cease-fire was set to go into effect." (Herald Examiner, above.)

The picture above was taken in the Witness for Peace long-term headquarters, where I spent an unplanned night after missing my plane out with the rest of the delegaton.

The map—Six Months of "Humanitarian" Activity by the Contra—shows WFP-documented contra attacks from April to October, 1989:

Killed: 38 civilians, 31 military.
Wounded: 27 civilians, 21 military.
Kidnapped: 66 civilans, 1 military.
Raped: 2 civilians.
Voter registration interrupted: 2.
Cooperatives destroyed: 1.
Towns shelled: 2.

Thus did the Nicaraguan people learn what was in store for them if they didn't elect Doña Violeta. This was the real meaning of the UNO poster above, urging Nicaragua's women to vote for UNO.

Witness for Peace note On July 27, 1989, The New York Times printed a report on item #27 on the above map, an attack on a military post that guarded the hamlet of Llano Grande: MANAGUA REPORTS A RISE IN ATTACKS.

The reporter was Mark Uhlig, who had replaced super-star correspondent Stephen Kinzer in late January of that year.

This note was included on the copy of the article I received from Witness for Peace. (I cannot explain the 1-week discrepancy between the dateline of the article, July 26, and the "3 weeks" the WFP teams purportedly spent trying to get Uhlig to cover the story, an effort presumably begun immediately after the July 11 attack. Perhaps overwork and stress.)

In any case, it seems clear that WFP staffers worked for at least 2 weeks to get Uhlig out to Llano Grande. To my mind, their delight and pride at this "breakthrough" article is strong evidence that both Uhlig and his predecessor-mentor Kinzer felt a thinly disguised disdain for, and boredom with, the Witness for Peace mission in Nicaragua.

Up to late October, 1989, the Sandinistas observed the cease-fire, even though the contras had regularly violated it. On October 21st, 19 Sandinista soldiers were killed by contras while on their way to register to vote. On October 28th, President Daniel Ortega announced that the truce-that-was-not-really-a-truce was over. On November 1st, the Sandinista Army would begin attacking contra positions.

The "frame" in which this decision was overwhelmingly reported by the mainstream press was that Ortega was making a big mistake, that he would be — indeed, should be — blamed for the failure of the efforts to stop the contra war. On the other hand, in his October 30th analysis of Ortega's decision, Ortega Threat on Contras Carries Risks for Regime, the Los Angeles Times correspondent in Nicaragua, Richard Boudreaux, had this to say:

"Despite his considerable efforts to make peace with the Contras and hold internationally supervised elections, Ortega has been frustrated by lingering distrust and a failure to secure Western aid to rebuild his destitute country."

I am perhaps exaggerating, but only slightly, in saying that the leading clause in this comment is virtually the only positive statement about Daniel Ortega and the Sandinistas made by a male Los Angeles Times reporter in the entire 9 years of coverage of the war. I suggest, too, that the contradictions contained in this statement alone could be unfolded into a Ph.D. thesis in Journalism.

crapgameThis game went on every night just a few steps from our hotel. I don't know what the game was called.

lindabobkarenLinda Dycus, Bob Hinshaw, and Karen, whose last name I don't have. Linda was, and still is, an attorney in Kansas City, MO. Bob is an anthropologist who studied the Panajachel area of Guatemala. At this time Karen is a minister, but I don't remember the church.

Bob and Linda and I were Unitarians. Bob and Linda hit it off, and married not long after the election. I will travel with them again.

linedupFebruary 25, 1990.

It's morning of election day, and voters are lined up at their local JRV. (Junta Receptora de Votos)

My notes do not clearly say just what our itinerary was. I think that our ecumenical contingent was broken up into groups of 4 or five, and each group may have traveled to more than one JRV during the day, so as to monitor the process as widely as possible.

Later, after the polls closed, our group remained at a particular JRV and kept on eye on the ballots through the counting process. Then we accompanied the ballots back to the SEC regional headquarters in Boaco.

jrvguardOne of several electoral cops we saw guarding JRVs. They all carried Russian-made AK-47s. One of the barrels, I noticed, was completely stopped up with dried mud.

setupboothSetting up the voting booth. Total privacy.

bannerdownTaking the FSLN banner down. No propaganda was allowed within a few hundred feet of a JRV.

cseassistantA Supreme Electoral Council assistant proudly displays his credentials. CSE assistants will adminster the process at each JRV.

municipalballotA ballot for local offices: mayors, councils, ... My guess is that this picture was taken after the polls closed, and this particular ballot had been nullified because it had been marked for more than one slate of candidates.

presidentialballotA similarly invalid presidential ballot.

initialballotEach party was allowed and encouraged to send observers, called FISCALES, to the JRVs, so as to ensure that there was no cheating.

The fiscales inspected each ballot to ensure that it had not been pre-marked, and then each of them initialed the back. Not all parties had the resources to send fiscales to every JRV.

towardboothA voter has received his ballot and heads for the booth.

As in the 1984 election, each ballot had an opaque stripe on the back, opposite the circles in which the voter registered his or her choice. Without the stripe, someone might be able to see marks through the paper and correlate them with particular candidates even if the ballot was properly folded.

This mechanism had been suggested by a Swedish adviser to the Supreme Electoral Council.

exitboothAnother voter exits the booth after voting.

ballotinboxA voter places his folded ballot in the box.

thumbdipWe will stay through the poll-closing and vote-counting at this JRV, at Escuela Tierra Azul.

Linda photographs a voter dipping his thumb in indelible ink after voting. This was to prevent multiple voting. Doña Violeta's newspaper, La Prensa, reported that the ink came off easily. I dipped my own thumb in the ink, and it was still there in late March. Kathryn, in the yellow shirt, looks on in the background.

ballotboxesThe polls have closed, and the ballot boxes are full.

There were three ballots: one for Assembly members, one for President and Vice-president, and one for local offices.

openingboxesTime to count 'em.

countingCounting the votes. This will be a slow process.

The two men on the right, in the hats, are the only two FISCALES (observers) at this JRV. Most likely one representing UNO and one for the FSLN.

kathrynsleepingKathryn takes a break.

waynesleepingWayne too. I stayed up through the entire process, until we returned to the hotel early next morning.

alldoneThe votes are counted, and the ballots are put in the heavy yellow bags and sealed.

I recall that there was at least one, possibly two, recounts.

signingoffThe FISCALES sign off on the integrity of the vote at this JRV.

officialtelegramThe official telegram to SEC headquarters, most likely the one in Managua. The numbers transmitted by wire are expected to match the numbers on the paper ballots in the final count.

The telegram shows that the Sandinistas won handily at this JRV, with UNO coming in a distant second. The closest third party is the far-left, Marxist but not Soviet-aligned MAP-ML.

This is contra country, with lots of wealthy ranchers. Naturally, the vote at this JRV confirmed our faith that Daniel Ortega and the Sandinistas would win the election.

ballotstotruckThe ballots are carried to the truck for transport to Boaco.

loadingballotsLoading the ballots on the truck.

ballotsinboacoFinally—Boaco. It was a long and very bumpy ride.

electoralcopsboacoMore electoral cops.

ortegaconcedesNext morning. We watch Ortega concede. Lots of us cried.

Like everyone else, I too had expected him to win, but I was not really suprised at the result. After 9 long years of unspeakable suffering at the hands of the world's most powerful nation, the Nicaraguan people finally cried "uncle."

lasaHere we are meeting with the Latin American Studies Association delegation. The LASA report on the election, ELECTORAL DEMOCRACY Under International Pressure gives the results:

1,420,584 valid ballots were cast for president, 86% of Nicaragua's registered voters.

Washington-backed Doña Violeta won 777,552 (54.7%) of those votes, and Daniel Ortega won 579,886 (40.8%).

1,418,934 valid ballots were cast for National Assembly candidates. UNO won 764,748 votes (53.9%) and the FSLN won 579,673 (40.9%).

The discerning visitor will see in these numbers a significance that was utterly lost on U.S. mainstream reporters, editorialists, and pundits — or, rather, utterly ignored so as not to offend Washington. More on this below.

OlofPalmecenterThe Olof Palme Center in Managua. Olof Palme was the progressive Swedish Prime Minister who was felled by an assassin's bullet on February 28, 1986. The Scandinavian countries were perhaps the most supportive of the Sandinistas' preferential option for the poor.

My rather literal translation here is sure not to capture the poetry of the Spanish rendering of Palme's statement affirming the soverignty of small nations:

"When the integrity and independence of a small country is violated, a tremor of anger and disquiet runs through the spirit of the people of other small countries.

"Therefore, respect for international law and for our common obligations according to the charter of the United Nations are one imperative requirement to a future of peace and security."   — Olof Palme —


internationalistsInside the center, hundreds of internationalist supporters of the FSLN espress their pain, their anger, and their continued solidarity with the FSLN.

I think that's our WFP mentor Wayne in the red shirt, but I can't be sure.

DEscotoOrtegaapplaudNicarguan Foreign Minister Miguel D'Escoto and President Daniel Ortega applaud the internationalists.

WillsonDEscotoU.S. peace activist Brian Willson sits with Miguel D'Escoto. Brian is the Vietnam Veteran who lost his legs when a train ran over him at a protest at the Concord Naval Weapons Station on September 1, 1987.

My apologies for the fuzzy pictue, but I figure the world can't see too much of Brian, fuzzy or not.

mysterywomanI just couldn't resist those eyes. I hope this woman sees herself here someday, and recalls with pride the great battle we fought against a slow-moving, monstrous crime.

leavingtown Kathryn and Don Irish on the truck taking us to the airport. I was able to reconnect with Don in 2010, and I asked him about his experience observing the election. He soon sent me his report about the election process and results from very remote village of Los Chinamos, where he had been assigned. Sadly, I somehow got distracted, and I forgot about it. I recently found it in my files, and I have posted it here. I learned today (27Sep17) that Don died on April 14, 2017 at 97 years.

Don Irish obituary. Don was an amazing man.

A few observations:

I have several times in the above record made disparaging comments about the Fourth Estate in the overall coverage of the Reagan program against the Sandinistas. I stand by those comments.

The media overwhelmingly framed the election as if it were solely a referendum on the Sandinistas' governance and program, as if 9 years of brutal military attack, and an economic embargo designed to cripple the Sandinistas' ability to make even the slightest progress could not possibly have worn down the people's early support for them. (That the Sandinistas did make progress was because of help from the European countries. As I indicated above, that progress was never mentioned by the media.)

Let me go beyond my earlier critical remarks and suggest here that the reporting, editorial, and even moral failures of the media were, in a word, breathtaking. To wit:

  • Christian Science Monitor, February 28, 1990. Chamorro's Upset:
    "... the victory of Violeta de Chanorro was another stunning assertion of democracy in a year of such surprises."

  • Christian Science Monitor, March 6, 1990. What in the World Is Going On?:
    The Monitor answers its own question: "The vote is mightier than the gun. ... What fighting couldn't accomplish, a free election appears to have done: the Sandinistas lost."

  • Christian Science Monitor, March 15, 1990. La Democracia, Si!:
    "In Panama and Nicaragua, the end of dictatorships was hastened by the United States. This does not, in our judgment, taint these new democracies. When given a fair chance, the voters in Panama and Nicaragua elected both President Endara and President-elect Chamorro with large majorities. The expression of popular will in both lands is unmistakable."

  • February 27, 1990, a big day at The Los Angeles Times. Abraham F. Lowenthal of the Interamerican Dialogue praises the election under the headline Credit Efforts of Diplomats, Not Guns of Warriors.

    Perhaps Lowenthal had former Deputy Secretary of State Elliot Abrams in mind. Abrams had also acted as a major player in making sure that the contras got their guns. Abrams says in the Times Ask Not If, but How, to Aid Liberty. [After the election, the Bush administration dropped Nicaragua like a hot potato.]

    The Times editorialist calls the UNO victory a "triumph of democracy," and, perhaps with tongue-in-cheek, congratulates the Nicaraguan people on their "good judgment and decisiveness."

  • The Los Angeles Daily News, March 2, 1990:
    In Nicaragua a victory for open U.S. support for democracy, David Shipler of the Carnegie Institute for International Peace reckons that "in dislodging the Sandinistas, Nicarguan voters have done peacefully what the U.S.-backed contras could not do violently."

There were a few honest commentators. After the election, in March, Edgar Chamorro, seen above, was in Los Angeles. Mike Emery, the chair of the Journalism Department at California State University, Northridge, California, convened a panel of election observers at CSUN (including himself): Chamorro; some CSUN Latin Studies professors; Marc Cooper—a highly respected journalist and journalism professor; and—much to my surprise— me. (I was of course very honored to be included, and my respect for Chamorro was enormously deepened at a pre-panel breakfast with him. Mike and I had been friends since 1974, when we worked together on behalf of the United Farm Workers Union, and we were also together on La Marcha Por La Paz En Centro America.)

Chamorro's message, shared by all of us on the panel, was that the Nicarguan people "were not electing a president, they were electing a way out." In the Los Angeles Times article the next day, I was surprised to see in print my own accusation that the Times had been guilty of "'demonizing the Sandinistas' in its election coverage." That made my day.
(Nicaragua Election Was Neither Free Nor Honest, Ex-Contra Leader Charges, Los Angeles Times, March 15, 1990, p. B5.)

Dennis Marker of Witness for Peace, observed that "what we've learned is that the U.S. is willing to kill 30,000 people, to maim tens of thousands of others, and to completely destroy an economy in order to get a sovereign nation to elect who we want them to elect." (National Catholic Reporter, March 9, 1990. P.7.)

A Vote Against Annihilation, reads the headline over Phil Roettinger's Los Angeles Times Op-ed, February 27, 1990. Roettinger is the ex-marine and former CIA officer who led the overthrow of the democratically elected president of Guatemala, Jacobo Arbenz, in 1954. Arbenz, like Iran's Mossadegh, had asserted Guatemala's sovereignty agaisnt corporate America, and suffered the same fate as did Mossadegh.

The moral bankrupcty of the media is perhaps best represented by the Los Angeles Times, which in two casual statements revealed what all mainstream media players knew. On July 15, 1989, 7 months before the election, the Times reckoned that "despite Reagan's scary rhetoric, this country's problems with the Sandinistas were never that serious." (Nicaragua's Next Decade, July 15, 1989.) Two days after the election, the Times wrote "there never was much reason for the contras to exist, and now there is none." (Now Comes the Hard Part, February 27, 1990.)

The obvious question is: Why didn't the Times ever take on the cause of poor Nicaraguan peasants who were literally being butchered for reasons the Times itself admitted were bogus? Had even a minority of America's major papers joined in true outrage over the cruel and unusual punishment Reagan and Bush dished out to Nicargua's campesinos, the war almost certainly could have been stopped.

The answer to that question is obvious: there's money in them thar' Third World countries. The same transnational corporate interests that adored Reagan also owned the media. (They still do.)

Let me close this discussion with an observation on the 1990 Nicaraguan election by Noam Chomsky:

"Suppose that some power of unimaginable strength were to threaten to reduce the United States to the level of Ethiopia unless we voted for its candidates, demonstrating that the threat was real. Suppose that we refused, and the threat was then carried out, the country brought to its knees, the economy wrecked and millions killed. Suppose, finally, that the threat were repeated, loud and clear, at the time of the next scheduled elections. Under such conditions, only the most extreme hypocrite would speak of a free election. Furthermore, it is likely that close to 100 percent of the population would succumb.

"Apart from the last sentence, I have just described US-Nicaraguan relations for the last decade."

[See the complete op-ed by Chomsky in Nicaragua: Reference & Resource.]

"Apart from the last sentence, I have just described US-Nicaraguan relations for the last decade." Here Chomsky refers to the fact that after 10 years of brutal punishment, 41% of Nicaragua's voters still supported the Sandinistas. Two days after the election, the Los Angeles Times itself reported

"A Los Angeles Times survey of returns from a nationwide sample of polling places showed the Sandinistas winning only in one of Nicargua's nine regions: Esteli. They were rejected by a larger margin in rural areas than in the cities, but ran virtually even in rural zones hit hardest by the civil war." Chamorro Wins in Nicaragua, Los Angeles Times, Tuesday, February 27, 1990. P.A4

Ran virtually even in rural zones hit hardest by the civil war!!    Had there been no war and no embargo; had the U.S. treated the Sandinistas with the respect they deserved, and helped them rebuild Nicaragua according to the logic of the majority, they would have been re-elected. Nicaragua today would be the healthiest and happiest country in Latin America—if not the hemisphere.

NOTE: The complete report by the Latin American Studies Association on the 1990 election, as a 4MB searchable PDF file, is available here. This file requires the free Adobe Acrobat Reader. Download the Reader here.

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