October 16, 2005


Daniel Ortega: A victim Of
U.S. Power
(Leigh Saavedra, 16 October, 2005, Crisis Papers)

On February 25, 1990, the people of Nicaragua went to the polls. I videotaped the parade held shortly before that. I spoke with and taped members of the Communist Party who disliked the Sandinistas intensely but agreed that probably they would win because "Nicaragua is not yet ready for Communism." I talked with members of the Marxist-Leninist Party, who found Daniel far far too soft on landowners but agreed that he'd probably win anyway. On that day I taped conversations with people from fifteen different parties, and no one, however opposed to the Sandinistas, seemed to really believe that the coalition put together by the U.S. could defeat the incumbents.

On the night of the election, all of us who were with the press or worked as observers gathered in the huge Olaf Palme building, a gift to the Sandinistas from Sweden. Outside, men with machetes were expertly cutting the grass. Spirits were high and the biggest question was exactly how we would celebrate the victory.

When the results began to come in, no one could understand. More results came in and we realized we were not just getting some non-Sandinista areas in. At some point we realized that the Sandinistas were going to lose, by a notable amount. Almost no one could speak. What first appeared to be logic turned on its ear, upon closer inspection, turned out to be logic in pure form. The winner was going to be the U.S. coalition. People had to take care of their families. U.S. dollars would put a lot of food on the table. Even with that sudden understanding, I was exactly like everyone in the Olaf Palme, stunned.

When we reached the point where it was no longer a question, Daniel had still not conceded. It was early morning and grown men were seen with tears on their cheeks. I waited and waited, wanting -- as did everyone there -- to see Daniel. When we finally heard that he had conceded on the strong advice of Jimmy Carter, who was with him, we knew we wouldn't see him that morning. Everyone was exhausted, and we knew that both he and President Carter would be as well.

I started walking home, several miles away. By the time I neared the El Dorado barrio where I was living it was late enough in the morning that normally people would be out sweeping the never--ending Managuan dust out the front doors. People would be going out for coffee, to pick up a newspaper.

But it was silent. No doors opened. Nothing, as if everyone in the neighborhood was hiding behind curtains. Not a sound or a face until I was ready to turn down the street on which I was living, when a young boy, maybe ten, ran to me with newspapers to sell.

"U.S. Dollars. We get U.S. Dollars." He shouted it over and over.

The election was valid. There were not the questionable machines that the U.S. now has to deal with. Nobody hid boxes of ballots. It was, in truth, and from a literal standpoint, probably more valid than any election the U.S. will ever have again. [...]

Every night I say the equivalent of a prayer that Hugo Chavez doesn't eat anything that hasn't been tested. His is a country of hope now, and I look at it and remember Nicaragua and realize that there is no end to what my own country will do to people who dare to seriously dream of freedom, who dare to question whether the U.S. way is the best way for the rest of the world.

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 16, 2005 11:14 AM

The Left: Just because we're out to get them doesn't mean that they're not paranoid.

Posted by: David Cohen at October 16, 2005 12:30 PM

P.J. O'Rourke's description of Nicaragua's election night and a bummed-out Bianca Jagger sitting in a hotel lobby, head in hands, is still a classic.

Posted by: Fred Jacobsen (San Fran) at October 16, 2005 12:31 PM

The Left: When people vote in a way the Left imagines is contrary to their short-term economic interest, that's false consciousness. When people vote in accordance with their short-term economic interest, why, that is false consciousnesss too. This is called "higher truth."

Posted by: Lou Gots at October 16, 2005 1:11 PM

I swear I thought they could fly.

Posted by: ghostcat at October 16, 2005 2:08 PM

Poor Danny boy. He wasn't really a communist, he was a really nice guy. Even Jimmy thought so. And though he wasn't poisoned, poor Hugo better have his food tasted.

Posted by: jd watson [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 16, 2005 2:34 PM

Thank you for posting this article. It made my day to know that the Sandalistas are still depressed 15 years later.

Posted by: Brandon at October 16, 2005 3:18 PM

Stupid, stupid Nicaraguans. It's enough to drive an honest leftist to drink.

Posted by: Peter B at October 16, 2005 5:49 PM

Fred Jacobsen:

Is that in one of his books? I'd love to know where to read it.

Posted by: Matt Murphy at October 16, 2005 5:55 PM

"When the results began to come in, no one could understand."

Mr./Ms. Saavedra:

Just Google "Pauline Kael" and "Nixon." Read any of the first couple of hits and it will become very clear to you.

Posted by: Rick T. at October 16, 2005 6:00 PM


Yes. It's contained in 'Give War a Chance'. Aside from the hilarious description of Bianca Jagger, he makes the point, relevant to oj's post here, that the conventional wisdom and pollsters were flat wrong. As he explains, why, when living under a murderous tyranny, would Nicaraguans give truthful answers to a stranger-pollster asking them if they intend to support the Sandanistas. Plus he critiques himself as a journalist for not recognizing that long lines at polling places in rural areas at 3 a.m. (before polls open) in the rain, which he observed, probably indicated a citizenry that didn't intend to return Ortega to office.

Posted by: Fred Jacobsen (San Fran) at October 16, 2005 7:02 PM
On the night of the election, all of us who were with the press or worked as observers gathered in the huge Olaf Palme building, a gift to the Sandinistas from Sweden. [...] Spirits were high and the biggest question was exactly how we would celebrate the victory. [emphasis added]
As if anyone needed further evidence of just how far from "objective" Old Media is. Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at October 16, 2005 11:21 PM

I'm confused. You folks sound as though the first time the Sandanistas lost the election that it was something that had to do with the population just deciding that they weren't worthy. The country which had booted the ass of the criminal the U.S. had supported for years out, under terrorist attack by the U.S., as determined by the World Court, and whose economy was ruined, by plan, by the U.S. in order to "win the hearts and minds of the people", i.e., by starving them into compliance, somehow doesn't support the Sandinistas? Sorry, but I hardly think that forcing a poor country into spending what little money they had trying to defend themselves from terrorist attack, and thereby making the economy collapse, can be blamed on the Sandinistas, or proof that the elections were "unspoiled". The country, under the Sandinistas, even while under terrorist attack, still managed to carry our many reforms of which even the hardly radical World Band said were quite successful. Why don't you pseudo-patriots try learning a little bit about history instead of offering unenlightened soundbites based on pop propaganda? Geez! And the few items I've mentioned aren't even controversial. These are the a,b,c's of Nicaragua. But then again I'm sure that the country would have developed more along the line lines you would have preferred if the American citizen who designated himself as Nicaragua's president a few years back(1800's)would have stayed in office. Fortunately, he was captured by the British, sent to Honduras, and was shot.KB

Posted by: KB at October 16, 2005 11:41 PM

USA and Nicaragua
Nicaragua breaks diplomatic relations with the USA after CIA plots to assassinate the popular president, Daniel Ortega.


Ortega had won a free and internationally observed election with 63% of the vote. In spite of this, the USA's President Reagan begins a trade embargo on Nicaragua, secretly mines its ports, destroys agricultural collectives and health clinics, and uses its influence in the World Bank to block previously agreed loans to the country.

Although condemned by the World Court, the USA continues this destabilisation until 1990 when a USA backed party, the National Opposition Union is elected by a small margin.

Posted by: Freedly at October 16, 2005 11:43 PM

Neo-Liberal Nicaragua is a Neo-Banana Republic: The U.S. is still punishing Nicaragua
for attempting to gain independence (Toni Solo, September 2003, Z magazine)


When U.S.-backed candidate Violeta Chamorro won the most observed election ever in Nicaragua in 1990, she promised Nicaraguans that U.S. government aid would quickly put the country back on its feet. After a decade of war, exhausted Nicaraguans took Chamorro at her word. However, U.S. aid currently averages around $38 million a year-a trickle by any standard. Always among the poorest countries in the region, the war and its aftermath have left Nicaragua the second poorest country in the hemisphere after Haiti. Nicaragua has taken 20 years to recover output levels it attained in 1982.

Nicaragua has been a hapless guinea pig for a neo-liberal and neo-conservative experiment-if one can call it that. The neo-liberal treatment is better described as "misery by design" and the neoconservative penchant for democracy has meant corrupt and inept governments installed by means of rigged elections in which U.S. government representatives have actively campaigned for their preferred candidate. An observer may conclude that the U.S. is still punishing Nicaragua for having attempted to obtain its independence and exercise its right to self-determination. One wonders how much longer this torture will continue.

Posted by: Grake16 at October 16, 2005 11:49 PM

1. You guys do recognize that your posts cancel each other out, right?

2. When, exactly, did the Left lose its last shreds of a sense of humor?

Posted by: David Cohen at October 16, 2005 11:59 PM


Everything after "lost the election" is besides the point.

Posted by: oj at October 17, 2005 8:19 AM

KB etc

Don't worry, Anastasio Somoza Portocarrero, who is the son of Anastasio Somoza DeBayle, is in exile in Guatemala, but announced in 2001 that he intends to return to Nicaragua. He was the head of the National Guard under his father and I am sure that Junior will make everything right again.

Posted by: h-man at October 17, 2005 9:54 AM

Although it looks like everything is ok anyway.

Posted by: h-man at October 17, 2005 10:00 AM

Very typical that all of you who piped up earlier are quiet as soon as someone talks "facts" about Central America. I guess it might be because the biased opinions of y'all fits much better into the tenants of the Church of Ronald Reagan.

I don't know how anyone who is not a mass murdered could justify US policy in Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. This isn't about conservatives or liberals; its about a truth as to how the US would like to spread democractic movements to the rest of the world: it doens't, it hasn't, and it has in fact worked towards the opposite end and killed many along the way.

Posted by: IvanTheTerrible at October 17, 2005 4:18 PM


There's nothing wrong with mass murder so long as it serves the spread of liberal democracy. We murdered plenty to defeat Nazism/Communism and it's worked out well for all concerned.


Posted by: oj at October 17, 2005 5:59 PM

"Those who piped up earlier" didn't respond because three late night posts by trolls in a span of six minutes are just not worth the effort.

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at October 17, 2005 7:39 PM