The following is posted with Noam Chomsky's permission.
WHO REALLY WON IN NICARAGUA?
IN THE END, IT WAS NO VICTORY FOR DEMOCRACY
By Noam Chomsky
March 4, 1990. Page 71.
[Noam Chomsky was then, and is today, a professor at MIT. At the time of writing this op-ed, he
had most recently authored Necessary Illusions: Thought Control in Democratic Societies.]
"Two crucial features of the elections in Nicaragua have never been in doubt.
First, the United States would not tolerate free elections; second, the facts
would be suppressed here. Both expectations were fulfilled.
"In the early days of the campaign, Violeta Chamorro was brought to Washington
to receive a White House promise 'to lift the trade embargo and assist in
Nicaragua's reconstruction' if she won the election. In other ways, too, it was
made abundantly clear that the United States would continue to strangle
Nicaragua through economic warfare and maintain a low-level terrorist war until
its people accepted US terms.
"Direct reports confirm that people voted for UNO assuming that only its victory
might bring an end to the torture. To speak of a free election under these
conditions is ridiculous. What is astonishing is the scale of resistance to the
Colossus of the North. With 40 percent of the vote, the FSLN remains the only
significant political organization in the country, and one can only guess the
actual level of its support.
"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.
"In 1984, Nicaragua held elections that were superior by any rational standards
to those conducted in the US terror states of El Salvador and Guatemala, a fact
confirmed by a wide array of qualified and neutral (even hostile) observers.
The United States labored effectively to disrupt the elections, as is now
conceded. By then, the United States had already launched extensive economic
warfare and a terrorist war. After the election, both were escalated and
intensified again, with the support of both US political parties, when the
World Court declared them illegal. A weak and tiny country, dependent for
survival on its relations with the United States, could hardly withstand such
an assault for long.
"The next elections were scheduled for 1990. The only effect of US pressure was
to advance them by a few months. By now, the choices were stark: Vote for our
candidate or watch your children starve.
"The first expectation, then, was entirely fulfilled. So was the second: The
crucial facts were barely noted in the massive commentary on the elections, or
the triumphalism as the subversion succeeded. There was some discussion of US
aid to the political coalition it constructed. Its scale was indeed
extraordinary; of course, the United States permits nothing of the sort, even
in peacetime. But this intervention was a mere footnote. The major and decisive
US intervention to ensure that there would be no 'level playing field' was kept
to the remote margins of discussion and was considered legitimate across the
"These facts come as no surprise to anyone familiar with US history and
political culture. There are deep reasons why the United States so consistently
opposes social reform and democracy in its domains, and the conformism of the
educated culture has long been an object of wonder. Henry David Thoreau once
wrote there is no need for censorship in the United States,
because the community agrees on 'what things shall be uttered . . . and not one
in a thousand dares utter anything else.' Extensive studies of media
performance through the 1980s have documented the accuracy of Thoreau's
observation in the case of Central America, and much else.
"As for policy, the historical record of US intervention conforms to the
thinking articulated in top-level planning. Imperial powers have typically
constructed comforting images of their benevolence, conceding errors in an
excess of missionary zeal, and the United States is no exception. But the
internal record reveals something quite different.
"In Latin America, as elsewhere, 'the protection of our resources' must be a
major concern, the influential former State Department planner George Kennan
explained. Since the main threat to US interests is indigenous, we must
realize, he continued, that 'the final answer' might have to be 'police
repression by the local government.' 'Harsh government measures of repression'
should cause us no qualms as long as 'the results are on balance favorable to
"The major threat is persistently identified as 'nationalist regimes' that are
responsive to popular pressures for improvement in low living standards and
production for domestic needs. The United States, in contrast, is committed to
'a climate conducive to private investment' and adequate return on 'foreign
capital.' The Kennedy administration identified the core issue in Latin America
as 'the economic root': 'private US investment' and trade. It has always been
understood that the United States must gain control over the security forces,
which will ensure obedience. One of their tasks, the Kennedy planners
explained, is to overthrow civilian leaders whose conduct is deemed 'injurious
to the welfare of the nation,' and US training will bring them to understand
what that means.
"Since functioning democracy interferes with its objectives, the United States
has consistently intervened to bar it, once again in Nicaragua.
"Democratic forms are tolerable as long as a proper outcome is guaranteed. Take
Honduras. Its November 1989 elections were hailed in the Globe as 'a milestone
for the United States, which has used Honduras as evidence that the
democratically elected governments it supports in Central America are taking
hold.' The two candidates were a wealthy industrialist and a wealthy landowner,
with the same programs. The effective rulers remain the US- dominated military.
The campaign was reduced to insults and entertainment. Human-rights violations
by the security forces escalated as the election approached, aimed at
independent political figures, journalists and union leaders. Starvation and
general misery are rampant, and have increased through the decade of
'democracy.' But there is no major threat to order, and profits flow.
"In short, Honduras is a praiseworthy democracy, and there is no concern over
the 'level playing field.'
"Even El Salvador and Guatemala, murderous gangster states run by the US- backed
military, are considered democracies. Elite opinion expresses considerable
pride in having established and maintained these charnel houses, with 'free
elections' permitted after a wave of mass slaughter, torture, disappearance,
mutilation and other effective devices to destroy the popular organizations
that might have offered a means for meaningful democracy. Even physical
destruction of the independent media and murder of editors and journalists by
the security forces passed virtually without comment -- often literally without
report -- among their US colleagues.
"There is no thought of disbanding the military that controls the terror states.
Rather, it is the Nicaraguan army, guilty of nothing remotely like their
atrocities, that is the threat to order. It will remain so until it returns to
US control, much as Jimmy Carter hoped in 1979, when he sought to retain the
murderous National Guard after Somoza had to be abandoned.
"The basic problem, recognized throughout, is that the United States is
politically weak, though militarily strong. The policy consequences are
obvious. Indochina was a striking example. It was recognized that the enemy was
the only 'truly mass-based political party' in South Vietnam, which therefore
had to be destroyed. Much the same has been true in Central America. A decade
ago, there were signs of hope in this miserable region, with church- based
self-help groups, peasant associations, unions and other popular organizations,
and a government in Nicaragua that was directing resources to the poor. These
hopes had to be drowned in blood and suffocated by starvation and disease, for
there was no other way.
"The lesson of Central America is simple: Violence works. Eastern Europe teaches
the same lesson. It was only when the reigning power retracted its fangs, for
internal reasons, that the popular democratic forces could achieve major gains.
In the US domains, that has not happened. An honest look at what has happened
would teach us a great deal about a topic that we rarely consider: ourselves.
We can be confident that the major instruments of articulate expression will
harbor no such subversive enterprise, though independent minds should have no
difficulty penetrating the mask, and acting accordingly."