Causes of Continuing Conflict in Nicaragua-A View from the Radical Middle

Saturday, April 1, 1995

World attention has wandered but neither the Contra war nor the Sandinista Revolution in Nicaragua has ended. Promises to former Nicaraguan Democratic Resistance combatants, better known as Contras, of protection and help with restarting their lives have been systematically broken. A second breath granted to the Sandinistas by President Violeta Chamorro has resulted in continuing threats to U.S. interests. Nicaragua, which has often generated political problems for this country, continues to do so because we failed to seize the moment in 1990. Since then $2.1 billion in foreign aid, including more than $1.5 billion in U.S. taxpayer dollars, has bankrolled Nicaraguan retrogression toward a patriarchal, nondemocratic political system. The primary aid beneficiaries, in an uneasy but symbiotic alliance, have been the pro-Chamorro elite and and the Sandinista senior cadre. The resultant political system fits an analytic model centered on identity and ethnicity. The core is dominated by a postcolonial Europeanate global tribe with political values that favor self, family, and private fortune over the nation and the poor. From this perspective recent Nicaraguan history, including the Sandinista Revolution, becomes simply a variant on traditional intraelite rivalries for power, with the peripheral masses, including the United States' erstwhile allies, the big losers. Current U.S. policies reinforce this nondemocratic process. New ones are needed. In addition to real, not minimal, democratization, these should include demilitarization, disarmament, and aggressive observation of the 1996 elections. Current political biases built into U.S. aid should also be reversed, and the Organization of American States' protection for our former allies should be reinforced. It is not too late to recover from the mistakes of 1990.