Democracy or CAFTA?: Why is Zoellick in Nicaragua

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellickis in Nicaragua to try to break up a bizzare left-right alliance that has paralyzed and threatened to derail the government of President Enrique Bolaños.  The U.S. is justifying its involvement in Nicaragua's domestic affairs by claiming that it is acting to protect democracy, but it seems more than coincidental that Zoellick, who served as U.S. Trade Representative from 2001-2005 is the official who has been dispatched to Nicaragua at a time when the deadlock in the Nicaraguan National Assembly is preventing the country from ratifying the Domincan Republic-Central American Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA.) Nowhere is the cliche that "politics makes strange bedfellows" truer than in Nicaragua.  United only by their hatred of President Bolaños, Sandinistas and right-wing allies of jailed ex-President Arnoldo Aleman have formed an alliance known as "el pacto" that has largely paralyzed the Bolaños government by derailing its programs in the National Assembly.

"El pacto" is certainly undemocratic.  But it has had the serendipitously democratic effect of preventing the National Assembly from taking up the ratification of DR-CAFTA, a trade agreement opposed by the country's poor majority because of the agreement's devastating effect on workers and farmers. National Assembly President Rene Nuñez, a Sandinista, has prevented the agreement from coming to the floor of the National Assembly. On September 21, he suspended the National Assembly session indefinitely because not enough members formally signed in.  Members of the pro-Bolaños Blue and White faction suggest that this occured because members of the pro-Aleman Constitutional Liberal Party conspired with the Sandinistas to prevent the Assembly from holding the session in order to keep DR-CAFTA from passing the Assembly.  The U.S.-based solidarity group, Nicaragua Networkreports that:

Despite the fact that the Constitutional Liberal Party (PLC) deputies went out of their way to make it seem like they were pushing for DR-CAFTA to be discussed, Orlando Tardencilla, a Blue and White deputy, questioned whether this really was the case. According to Tardencilla, the Liberal-Sandinista pact has an agreement not to allow DR-CAFTA through the legislature in the near future. The PLC must, however, appear to be lobbying in favor of the
trade agreement so as not to lose face among its right-wing voters.

The fact that this development coincides with the dramatic increase in U.S. pressure to break the gridlock that keeps Bolaños from governing effectively certainly raises questions about the real motive behind Zoellick's trip to Nicaragua.

If Zoellick really is just interested in promoting democracy he has a funny way of showing it. The The New York Times reported today that:

 Robert B. Zoellick, the American deputy secretary of state, warned Nicaraguan business leaders today during his visit here that they should not support political parties that are trying to unseat the nation's president if they hope to continue doing business with the United States.

He also threatened reductions in U.S. aid if Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega wins next year's election. Reuters reported yesterday that:

Zoellick has noted that Nicaragua is in line to receive $175 million from the U.S. Millennium Challenge Account program, which aims to reward countries that pursue political and economic reforms, and said that money may not be available if Ortega and his allies come to power.

This marks the continuation of a campaign launched by the State Department earlier this year to convince Nicaraguan voters that a vote for the Sandinistas would distance the country from the U.S.  The U.S. has mounted similar campaigns in previous Nicaraguan elections.

Once again it becomes clear that the only rights the State Department is really interested in preserving in Nicaragua are the right of U.S. businesses to have a government friendly to their interests and the right of the U.S. to keep its old enemies out of power.

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About Sean Donahue

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Sean Donahue is a poet, healer, activist, and freelance journalist wandering through New England.