Thousands of years of human experience have repeatedly confirmed the slightly counterintuitive maxim that “actions speak louder than words.”
This dictum has remained impervious to the most crafty sophistry that our greatest minds have produced, and it certainly makes no exception for America’s romanticized fascination with “free elections.”
Certainly, the American may have a difficult time observing how his country’s actions have thoroughly belied her professed commitment to free elections. To the Latin American, however, it is not so difficult.
Throughout the 1980s, America did its talking in the region in the form of death squads, torture and terrorism. The Central American terror campaign funded, trained and not infrequently joined by American forces, conveyed to the peoples of El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala and Nicaragua more effectively than any treatise could’ve that leftist populist movements were not to be supported.
If in 1984 the people of Nicaragua didn’t get the message that a vote for the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) was a vote for an increase in American sponsored terrorism, it was certainly clear by 1990. After suffering over 50,000 deaths and unspeakable barbarism for nearly a decade, they learned their lesson and voted FSLN candidate Daniel Ortega out of office.
Thus, it is all the more remarkable that Daniel Ortega was returned to power by the very same Nicaraguan voters last Sunday. The Latin American shift to the left has now come full circle.
After enduring a sanguinary decade of paramilitary torture and then an equally disheartening decade of America’s neoliberal policies, Latin America now appears daring enough to undertake what it knows to be anathema to its powerful northern neighbor: free elections. How can this possibly be explained? Have Latin Americans not sufficiently learned their lesson?
In Nicaragua, there can be no doubt that the voters have not forgotten that lesson. The brutal memories of the US organized terrorists, the Contras, are still all too fresh in the collective memory; the name of Daniel Ortega can scarcely be uttered without evoking the suffering inflicted the last time he was voted in.
Violent abuses, such as rape, torture, maiming children, limb amputation, eye gouging, castration and genital mutilation, were considered the rule rather than the exception for the Contras.
No, the brazen attempt at a free election cannot be considered a result of a collective amnesia. It is in fact a testament to their desperation that Nicaraguans seem willing to risk horror a second time.
With over 80 percent of the population living on $2 a day, it becomes increasingly difficult to check the prospective gain of Mr. Ortega’s social policies against the loss of another round of American terrorism.
Of course, Mr. Ortega has done all he can in order to obviate another axis of evil between American policymakers and their Central American henchmen.
If he was to campaign on a platform of true justice, his first priority would be the organization and training of an America-based terrorist group for use against the U.S. government; perhaps it would be under the auspices of an eccentric commentary editor for a collegiate newspaper.
But the old Sandinista leader is far too prudent for that. Since the election, he has relentlessly attempted to assuage the warlike pretenses of the U.S. global empire. With multiple assurances that his revolutionary days are behind him, Ortega has stated his desire to “maintain economic stability” and “attract foreign investors.”
So far has he gone in attempting to spare Nicaraguans from another reign of terror that he has even pledged to support the principal manifestation of what he terms “savage capitalism”: CAFTA (Central American Free Trade Agreement).
Whether this will be good enough for America is difficult to say. In an uncharacteristic moment of human decency, Belgium apologized to the Congolese people for its “irrefutable portion” of “moral responsibility” in the 1961 murder of Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba.
But America is far from Belgium; they haven’t even apologized for their own role in Lumumba’s killing, let alone expressed mild remorse about the terrorist actions of the 1980s.
It is unknown what course events will take, but the impudent attempt of Latin America to defy American values by attempting free elections will undoubtedly remain a source of international fixation in the years to come.