The US, EU, and OAS are launching a new coup attempt against Nicaragua’s Sandinista government, refusing to recognize its 2021 elections. The Grayzone observed the vote on the ground, and dispels myths aimed at discrediting the process.
By Ben NORTON
Millions of Nicaraguans went to the polls on November 7, 2021, re-electing the leftist Sandinista Front and President Daniel Ortega by a large margin.
The Joe Biden administration refused to recognize the results, however. The United States and its allies in the European Union and the Organization of American States (OAS) have instead launched what essentially amounts to a new coup attempt against Nicaragua’s Sandinista government.
On November 10, President Biden signed the RENACER Act, which will impose more crushing sanctions on Nicaragua. Washington’s escalating campaign of economic war was supplemented by the OAS’ claim that the election was “illegitimate.”
This campaign of hybrid warfare aimed at overthrowing Nicaragua’s Sandinista government has many parallels with the ongoing US coup attempts against Venezuela and Cuba, as well as the military putsch the OAS oversaw against Bolivia’s elected socialist President Evo Morales in 2019. Indeed, it involves many of the same tactics and players.
Following the line of Washington and Brussels, international corporate media outlets have spread an array of demonstrably false claims about Nicaragua’s 2021 elections, incorrectly reporting, for instance, that the government banned anti-Sandinista parties, that is imprisoned opposition candidates, or that voter turnout was negligible.
Unlike the foreign reporters spreading these falsehoods from Florida, Costa Rica, or Spain, The Grayzone was on the ground in Nicaragua to observe the electoral process.
This reporter, Ben Norton, visited 4 different polling stations in various parts of Chinandega, one of the largest cities in the country.
There, I spoke to more than a dozen average voters, to hear their experiences and get their perspectives on the election. Everyone I interviewed said the process was clean, fair, and transparent, and that they were able to vote without any difficulties.
There is so much propaganda and fake news in the corporate media trying to discredit Nicaragua’s elections. I visited 4 voting centers, and there were a lot of people voting in a very efficient, quick, and transparent process.
Don’t believe me? Well, I interviewed voters. Watch: pic.twitter.com/62lBFBywah
— Ben Norton (@BenjaminNorton) November 9, 2021
Myth: the opposition was barred from participating in Nicaragua’s 2021 elections
Although its correspondent Natalie Kitroeff was reporting from Mexico, not Nicaragua, the New York Times leveled several baseless accusations against the Sandinista government in an attempt to discredit its electoral victory.
Among the most absurd of these claims is that Nicaragua prevented opposition parties from participating and closed voting stations.
This is simply false. There were a total of seven different alliances participating in Nicaragua’s 2021 elections: five national opposition parties (all of which were right-wing), another regional opposition party on the Caribbean Coast, and finally the leftist Sandinista Front-led alliance, which itself consists of nine parties.
The following parties competed in the November 7 elections:
National opposition parties
- Constitutionalist Liberal Party (PLC)
- Independent Liberal Party (PLI)
- Alliance for the Republic (APRE)
- Nicaraguan Christian Way (CCN)
- Nicaraguan Liberal Alliance Party (ALN)
Regional opposition party on Caribbean Coast
- Yapti Tasba Masraka Nanih Aslatakanka (YATAMA)
- Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN)
- Nationalist Liberal Party (PLN)
- Christian Unity Party (PUC)
- Alternative for Change (AC)
- Nicaraguan Resistance Party (PRN)
- Multiethnic Indigenous Party (PIM)
- Yapti Tasba Masraka Raya Nani Movement Party (Myatamaran)
- Autonomous Liberal Party (PAL)
- Progressive Indigenous Movement Party of the Moskitia (Moskitia Pawanka)
Today is election day in Nicaragua. I visited 4 voting sites, interviewing voters (video coming soon)
Things are very calm, and the voting process is totally open and free, with 7 options on the ballet (6 opposition)
The onslaught of corporate media propaganda is so ridiculous pic.twitter.com/SDroqtdVWn
— Ben Norton (@BenjaminNorton) November 7, 2021
The Sandinistas created a system of political autonomy for Nicaragua’s eastern Caribbean Coast, responding to requests for self-determination by the large Indigenous and Afro-descendent communities there.
This meant that, in the two separate zones of the North Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region (RACCN) and South Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region (RACCS), there were seven options on the ballot in the election for regional lawmakers.
Everywhere else in Nicaragua, there were six options on the ballot, five of which were anti-Sandinista opposition parties.
Myth: voter turnout was negligible
Another unfounded accusation spread by foreign corporate media outlets to attack the integrity of Nicaragua’s elections is that voter participation was supposedly very low.
According to official results from Nicaragua’s Supreme Electoral Council (CSE), the Sandinista Front won 75.87% of the total of 2,921,430 votes, with 65.26% turnout.
The main opposition party, the PLC, got 14.33%. The other four opposition parties each got 3% or less.
Western governments sought to discredit these electoral results by claiming the CSE is unreliable. But anyone even vaguely familiar with the history of recent Nicaraguan politics can see that this 2021 outcome is highly consistent with both polling and past results.
And in the 2011 elections, which were monitored by the Carter Center, European Union, and OAS, the Sandinista Front won 62.46% of the vote.
Moreover, the results in the 2021 election are unsurprising when one considers the months of opinion polling before the vote. The most respected, and really only credible, apolitical polling firm in Nicaragua is M&R Consultores. (CID-Gallup did an extremely inaccurate study on behalf of the right-wing opposition, which was plagued with problems and heavily criticized for its bad methodology.)
The latest poll from Nicaragua’s top firm shows the leftist Sandinista Front remains by far the most popular force, while support for the right-wing opposition is tiny
69% approve of President Daniel Ortega’s gov’t
73% say it gives them hope
76% feel the country has progressed pic.twitter.com/jpviNSmHQ6
— Ben Norton (@BenjaminNorton) May 26, 2021
When considering these polls in combination with past elections, the 2021 results appear utterly unsurprising. But the cold, hard data did not interrupt the wave of disinformation flowing from corporate media across the world.
Several major news outlets published the dubious claim that only 18.5% of Nicaraguans participated in the vote. In each case, the source was a shady, little-known organization called Urnas Abiertas, which appears to have fabricated the figure out of whole cloth.
Indeed, Urnas Abiertas has not published any raw data publicly, and scarcely exists as an organization.
Urnas Abiertas calls itself a “citizen observatory,” but has no technical credentials to speak of. Its official website and social media pages contain no concrete information about the group and do not even disclose the identities of its staff members.
The report it published after the election is totally anonymous and is just four pages long (in both Spanish and English). The document does not include any of the raw data it supposedly collected. It vaguely describes its methodology in two brief paragraphs, without identifying any of the people who purported to run a massive secret monitoring operation.
The organization’s previous reports are also anonymous, not naming any authors or researchers, and, once again, do not contain raw data or detailed information about methodology.
Moreover, the logos at the bottom of these past reports show that Urnas Abiertas collaborates with a series of right-wing opposition groups in Nicaragua that are funded by CIA cutouts.
In fact, only two people have been publicly identified with this shadowy organization, and both are partisan right-wing activists who work in the Western government-funded nonprofit-industrial complex, without any technical background or experience in election monitoring.
The man most closely linked to Urnas Abiertas is Pedro Salvador Fonseca Herrera, an anti-Sandinista activist sponsored by the European Commission – a clear conflict of interest, given the EU’s refusal to recognize the election and its role in openly funding and supporting the extremist opposition in Nicaragua.
Fonseca Herrera previously worked in Washington, DC as a “consultant” for the Organization of American States (OAS) in 2017 and 2018, during the violent OAS-backed coup attempt in Nicaragua.
Before that, Herrera organized with the regime-change lobby group Techo, which also happens to be the former employer of the only other known person associated with Urnas Abiertas, Olga Valle López.
Valle López’s LinkedIn profile shows that she, too, has worked with Techo, which is funded by Latin American governments and major Western multinational corporations, and pushes their interests in Latin America by destabilizing left-wing states.
Fonseca Herrera and Valle López were identified as “researchers” with Urnas Abiertas in an event in October organized by the US government-funded Wilson Center and the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA), a Western state-backed lobby group.
The event, a panel discussion titled “Nicaragua 2021 elections: A painful plan to end with democracy,” did not even pretend to be impartial; it explicitly aimed to discredit the country’s vote weeks before it even took place. The host, from International IDEA, referred to the forthcoming vote as an “electoral farce.”
Fonseca Herrera and Valle López spoke alongside US government-funded right-wing Nicaraguan and Venezuelan opposition figures, and their inflammatory comments made it extremely clear that these two anti-Sandinista activists are political operatives, not impartial electoral observers. They had already established their conclusion that Nicaragua’s election was supposedly illegitimate weeks before it even took place.
The panel discussion was in fact the presentation of a report of the same name that Urnas Abiertas published in a joint effort sponsored by International IDEA and Venezuelan right-wing activists at the Universidad Católica Andrés Bello (UCAB).
Unlike the other reports published by Urnas Abiertas, this document named the authors: three foreigners from International IDEA, two Venezuelan anti-Chavista activists, and just two Nicaraguans: Olga Valle y Pedro Fonseca.
In other words, this document that purported to inform people about the situation on the ground in Nicaragua was almost entirely written by non-Nicaraguans outside of the country. And it had the support of a Western government-funded lobby group and Venezuelan right-wing activists at UCAB, a key hub for the anti-Chavista opposition.
UCAB, one of the most elite private universities in Venezuela, is run by the Catholic Church, which has played a major role in coup attempts in both Venezuela and Nicaragua. At the beginning of the US-sponsored putsch in Venezuela in 2019, UCAB hosted coup leader Juan Guaidó. The university is directed by Francisco José Virtuoso, an ultra-conservative priest who openly supported the coup attempt and Guaidó.
In short, Urnas Abiertas is a tiny fringe group run by two young anti-Sandinista activists with no expertise in election monitoring. It is not even clear if they are physically in Nicaragua or outside of the country – although they do have the support of Western governments and the right-wing Venezuelan opposition.
These clear conflicts of interest and Urnas Abiertas’ flagrant lack of credibility did not however stop the Los Angeles Times from publishing a puff piece praising Urnas Abiertas and claiming without a shred of evidence that it secretly mobilized 1,450 volunteers at 563 voting centers across Nicaragua to observe the election.
Considering Urnas Abiertas has fewer than 1,300 followers on Twitter, it seems extremely implausible that such a miniscule outfit could secretly mobilize 1,450 electoral observers, especially without attracting attention from the government. But this did not stop corporate media from printing the absurd claim.
US government-funded opposition media outlets in Nicaragua also amplified the shadowy group’s unsubstantiated allegations of 81.5% abstention in the 2021 election. But once again, they presented absolutely zero evidence to back up these claims.
All indications show Urnas Abiertas to be nothing more than an opposition front group posing as a monitoring organization – and with the stated intent of discrediting the Nicaraguan election results before the vote even took place.
Myth: Nicaragua arrested opposition presidential candidates
An even more common accusation made by Western capitals and corporate media outlets to discredit Nicaragua’s 2021 election is that the Sandinista government arrested seven “presidential hopefuls” from the right-wing opposition.
The figures who were detained have been variously described in the international media as “precandidates” or “possible challengers.” But in reality, not a single one was an actual registered candidate.
On the November 7 election, there were indeed six different presidential candidates to choose from. President Ortega was not even the first name or face on the ballot. (Number one was Walter Espinoza Fernández, the presidential candidate from the PLC.)
As for the opposition figures who were detained several months before the election, The Grayzone documented how they were arrested for conspiring with a foreign government (the United States), taking millions of dollars from Washington in a large money-laundering scheme to organize a violent coup attempt in 2018, in which hundreds of Nicaraguans were killed and the country was destabilized, and in which right-wing extremists hunted down, tortured, and murdered Sandinista activists and state security forces, even setting some on fire.
That the opposition leaders who were detained received millions of dollars from the US government to carry out these operations is an undeniable matter of public record, confirmed by documents from CIA cutouts such as the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
In any other country on Earth, these figures would have faced similar, if not more severe legal consequences. Accepting millions of dollars in funding from a foreign state as you attempt to violently overthrow your elected government is illegal everywhere on the planet.
But when Nicaragua enforces its laws – even when they are laws modeled after long-existing US legislation – Washington condemns the country as “repressive” or “authoritarian.”
The United States, European Union, and OAS habitually refer to violent criminals as “political prisoners” after they are arrested in Nicaragua. People arrested for murder and rape have ended up on US-sponsored “political prisoner” lists.
In one high-profile case that caused a national scandal in Nicaragua, a charged murderer who had been active in the violent tranque barricades in the 2018 coup attempt was arrested, but later dubbed a “political prisoner” and released under pressure by the US, EU, and OAS. It was not long before he returned to his violent ways, stabbing his pregnant girlfriend to death.
Another US-designated Nicaraguan “political prisoner” was let out of jail, only to be caught again with explosives and guns, planning a terrorist attack on a pro-Sandinista mayor’s office.
.@BenjaminNorton traveled to Jinotepe, Nicaragua to report the shocking story of how the US and OAS lobbied for the release of violent criminals behind a 2018 coup attempt
One man they called a “political prisoner” stabbed his pregnant girlfriend to deathhttps://t.co/6fA6TZOgmO
— The Grayzone (@TheGrayzoneNews) February 28, 2020
If an opposition figure is arrested for violating a law in Nicaragua, in an offense that would be punishable in any country, Washington often reflexively responds by dubbing that person a “political prisoner.” If they are wealthy and powerful, the US claims they were a “presidential hopeful,” even if they made no effort whatsoever to go through the legal process of officially registering as a candidate.
This is a way to try to maintain impunity for US-backed coup-plotters and money-launderers. It is the geopolitical equivalent of the strategy that Washington-sponsored insurgents in Hong Kong openly espoused in the New York Times: “use the most aggressive ‘nonviolent’ actions possible to push the police and the government to their limits,” and then frame that state’s self-defense against foreign aggression as a form of “repression” and “authoritarianism.”
One of the reasons the United States was particularly furious about Nicaragua arresting the coup leaders it had cultivated is because Washington clearly had made plans to repeat the putschist strategy that saw it appoint Juan Guaidó as so-called “interim president” of Venezuela.
US government officials and their right-wing Central American allies not-so-subtly hinted that they planned to recognize right-wing oligarch Cristiana Chamorro as the unelected “interim president” of a parallel Nicaraguan coup regime. When she was arrested for money laundering in June, it foiled their new destabilization plot.
Nicaragua has an election in November and concerns are growing the US may try to impose a fake “interim president” like Juan Guaidó
The US State Dep’t special envoy and right-wing Central American leaders recently referred to opposition oligarch Cristiana Chamorro as “president” pic.twitter.com/MmGIquS2dC
— Ben Norton (@BenjaminNorton) March 24, 2021
Myth: there were no foreign electoral observers and journalists
Another myth spread by foreign media outlets is that there were no foreign observers and journalists in Nicaragua for its 2021 elections. This is yet another massive distortion.
The Nicaraguan government did prevent the Organization of American States (OAS) from sending observers, given the US-funded group’s well-documented role in orchestrating a right-wing military coup in Bolivia in 2019.
But there were hundreds of foreigners accredited to accompany the elections, from more than two dozen countries, including:
- United States
- Puerto Rico
- Dominican Republic
- Costa Rica
In total, there were 232 foreigners accredited from 27 countries, 165 to accompany the election and 67 as journalists.
They monitored voting centers in all 10 departments of Nicaragua (Managua, Masaya, Estelí, Chinandega, León, Granada, Matagalpa, Rivas, Chontales, and Carazo), as well as both Caribbean Coast autonomous regions (RACCN and RACCS).
The Nicaraguan government chose to use the term acompañante (meaning someone who accompanies) to refer to these international monitors, rather than “observer,” because of the history of so-called observers from the OAS and EU meddling in the country’s internal electoral process on behalf of the anti-Sandinista opposition.
225 people accredited to accompany Nicaragua’s election have visited voting centers in 10 departments; Esteli, Chinandega, León, Rivas, Chontales, Matagalpa, Masaya, Granada, Carazo and Managua, and two Autonomous Regions; RACCN and RACCS. pic.twitter.com/YlGX04euG4
— Kawsachun News (@KawsachunNews) November 7, 2021
The final misleading charge spread by the New York Times and other corporate media outlets to delegitimize the 2021 elections is that Nicaragua barred parties from holding large public rallies. This is technically true, but not because of political reasons, but rather due to Covid-19 health restrictions.
In fact, the Sandinista Front itself has not held an official rally since March 2020, before any cases were discovered in the country. Many foreign nations have imposed much harsher restrictions, while banning protests and attacking demonstrators with no outrage from the self-declared “international community.”
Latin American left warns of US-OAS coup attempt in Nicaragua
The United States has a long history of blood-soaked meddling in Nicaragua. The US military invaded and occupied the Central American country numerous times in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Then Washington helped install the right-wing dictatorship ruled by General Anastasio Somoza, which it subsequently propped up until the Sandinista Revolution of 1979.
In the 1980s, the CIA waged a terrorist war on Nicaragua, arming and training far-right Contra death squads that, as one of their former leaders admitted, “burn down schools, homes and health centers as fast as the Sandinistas build them.”
Since the violent coup attempt failed in 2018, the US government has been escalating its economic warfare on Nicaragua. Late that year, the Donald Trump administration implemented the NICA Act, which imposed aggressive sanctions on the small Central American nation.
Several more rounds of US sanctions on Nicaragua followed in the next two years. Then, on November 3, in a flagrant form of election meddling, just four days before the 2021 election, the House of Representatives voted 387-35 to pass the RENACER Act, which will hit Nicaragua with a new round of economically punishing sanctions.
The Grayzone reported on a September Congressional session hosted by neoconservative lawmakers, where participants made it clear that Washington had been preparing a brutal campaign of economic warfare against Nicaragua, while also planning to expel the country from the Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) and Organization of American States (OAS).
On November 9, the OAS officially announced that it had rejected the results of Nicaragua’s elections, branding them “illegitimate.”
This declaration was published almost exactly two years to the day after the OAS did the same in Bolivia, spreading false accusations of “fraud” in order to justify a military coup against the country’s democratically elected president, Evo Morales.
We reject the results of the illegitimate elections in #Nicaragua.
I urge countries of the OAS to respond to this clear violation of the Democratic Charter during its #OASassembly.
— OAS (@OAS_official) November 9, 2021
In a clear reflection of its ulterior motives, the OAS held a neoliberal “Private Sector Forum” calling on foreign corporations to invest in Latin America on the same day it denounced Nicaragua’s elections.
The conference perfectly encapsulated the corporate priorities of the coup-sponsoring OAS. Among its most notorious participants was the far-right president of Colombia, Iván Duque, who only came to power thanks to the illegal vote-buying scheme of a drug lord named Ñeñe Hernández, at the orders of political kingpin and US asset Álvaro Uribe.
“Por una América renovada: el rol del sector privado en la recuperación económica y social”
— OEA (@OEA_oficial) November 9, 2021
As a victim of US-OAS meddling, Evo Morales immediately recognized the warning signs in Nicaragua, and cautioned about the coming coup.
In statements on Twitter after the vote, Morales congratulated “the honorable people of Nicaragua, which in a demonstration of courage and democratic maturity chose brother Daniel Ortega as constitutional president, despite a campaign of lies, blackmail, and threats by the US.”
The former Bolivian president said the United States is attacking “the democratic will and sovereignty of Nicaragua,” and, “The victory of Ortega is the defeat of yankee interventionism.”
When US President Joe Biden demonized Nicaragua’s 2021 vote as an “electoral pantomime,” Morales retorted, “The only ‘pantomime’ is acted out each day in the White House, where so-called ‘presidents,’ instead of serving their people, follow the orders of transnational corporations, the weapons industry, and the CIA.”
While Cuba, Venezuela, and other leftist leaders in Latin America congratulated the Sandinista Front and Ortega for their victory, warning of US destabilization efforts, there is a new generation of young, NGO-cultivated, liberal reformist leaders in the region who are much softer on imperialism.
In Chile, Gabriel Boric – the face of the liberal nonprofit-industrial complex – condemned the Sandinistas and affirmed his “solidarity” with right-wing oligarch Cristiana Chamorro, a scion of the most powerful dynasty in Nicaragua, and the daughter of Violeta Barrios de Chamorro, the first neoliberal president to take power after the Sandinista Revolution thanks to a massive CIA meddling campaign.
Similarly, the foreign ministry of Peru issued a statement denouncing Nicaragua’s elections. It was the latest sign of the debilitation of the country’s newly inaugurated left-wing President Pedro Castillo, whose proudly anti-imperialist Foreign Minister Héctor Béjar was forced by the military to resign just weeks after entering office.
Béjar warned the forced resignation and the right-wing takeover of Castillo’s foreign ministry was “a soft coup, or the beginning of it.”
So while progressive forces enjoy a resurgence in parts of Latin America, the left is also divided between an older generation of revolutionary anti-imperialists and a newer generation of NGO-backed, media-friendly social democrats who acquiesce to US empire.
President Ortega vows resistance against US meddling
For his part, President Daniel Ortega has vowed to continue resisting US and European attempts to meddle in his country’s internal affairs.
The Nicaraguan leader delivered a fiery speech on November 8, the day after the elections, commemorating the 45th anniversary of the killing of Sandinista Front founder Carlos Fonseca Amador by the US-backed Somoza dictatorship.
“It is impossible for Nicaraguans – and I would say for Latin Americans and Caribbeans – it is impossible to stop talking about the interventionist policies, the expansionist, colonialist policies of the United States of America and the European countries,” Ortega said.
“We are under the threat of the yankee empire, under the aggressions of the yankee empire, and under the threats of the European colonialists. And I’m not the one saying that; they’re saying it,” the Nicaraguan president added.
“They believe that we are their colony, and they want to tell us how to behave, and they want to decide what type of democracy we should practice,” Ortega continued. “They continue with their colonialist practices, to dominate these lands. But not for good, but rather to subjugate them and exploit them, and involve them in their expansionist and warmongering policies.”
Reflecting on his country’s long history of resistance, the Nicaraguan leader declared that its people would not give in to another foreign conquest.
“In the end, they could not defeat Sandino,” he declared. “Whichever [US] president came to power, whether Democrat or Republican, he came to try to oppress Nicaragua. But he always was met with resistance, with heroism, with the fighting spirit of the Nicaraguan people.”