Saturday, September 25, 2021

Heads They Win, Tails We Lose


So, sorta recently, the USA has been putting the screws to the country of Nicaragua after its people had the temerity to re-elect the Sandinista Party under the leadership of Daniel Ortega in November, 2006.

Okay. A brief background: Nicaragua had long been a feudal, agricultural society and for much of the 20th Century a colony of the United States of America. (Which included an actual occupation by US Marines from 1912 to 1933. An attempt was made to throw-off this feudal/colonial status under a peasant revolutionary, Augusto Sandino from 1927-33.  Sandino succeeded in expelling the Marines but was subsequently assasinated. It was ruled for decades by the super-corrupt Somoza family. (Anastasio Somoza Garcia had been the director the National Guard which has murdered Sandino.) In 1972 a major earthquake destroyed most of the capital city of Managua. President Anastasio Somoza, (son of the scumbag mentioned above) staying true to form, pilfered most of the international aid money sent to help rebuild, destroying his support base among Nicaraguan capitalists. Almost the whole country turned against him. A Marxist rebel movement; the "Sandinistas" (named after Sandino) rose up against him, and, aided by almost the entire country (including capitalists either having been fleeced by Somoza or unable to operate due to the continued chaos in the ruined capital) overthrew his regime. (Not before Somoza and his fascist "National Guard" set-up by the departing US Marines, inflicted a great deal of bloodshed in the regime's last days.)

Washington (at the time under President Jimmy Carter but soon to be replaced by Ronald Reagan) had recognized that the Somoza's had outlived their usefulness and could not fail to support the revolution. (President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was referring to Papa Somoza when he said the famous line: "He may be a son of a bitch, but he's our son of a bitch!") But for the USA, the "revolution" mean simply getting rid of Somoza and putting someone else in place at the head of the same system. This was a non-starter. So, in 1979, after the Sandinistas took power the job was to isolate the Marxists and support the capitalists and others who had only formed the coalition to remove Somoza. "Liberal" political parties were formed and began to make demands upon the Sandinistas (under Daniel Ortega) to rein-in their policies to build schools and health clinics and implement land reforms in the countryside. These were demands that the tiny business class had no democratic heft to make. The majority of the population were (and remain) poor peasants. The Sandinistas ignored much of these self-serving demands. Then the USA fomented divisions among the Sandinistas themselves and also returned the murderous National Guard to launch a campaign of counter-revolutionary terror as the "Contra" rebels.

This was just one of the "dirty wars" that the fascist shit-head Ronald Reagan conducted in Central America in the 1980's. The economic disasters of the "Third World Debt Crisis" and the fall in the price of coffee and other commodities had produced widespread unemployment and increased poverty in these countries. The total inability of their US-puppet governments to address this crisis led to socialist-inspired movments in El Salvador, Honduras, as well as a long-running, often genocidal campaign against regime opponents in Guatamala. 

During the Contra Wars the Sandinistas won the federal election of 1984, enraging Reagan who spewed all sorts of mental diarreah of hypocrisy and self-serving drivel that makes the present-day veneration of him by right-wing asshats self-evidently disgusting. The Reagan, and then the George H. W. Bush administrations continued their campaign of terrorism and economic warfare against Nicaragua and its people, telling them: "We will torture and murder and starve you until you vote the way we want you to vote." In the 1990 election the Nicaraguan electorate took the hint and elected some neo-liberal piece-of-shit government that proceeded to implement the "free market" policies that uniformly bring disaster to the majority and more wealth to the already wealthy.

Argh!!! Why do I do this so often??? I want to write about something current but then I end up writing an extended history to provide background and context. Much of what I wrote you could have found in the links I provided. Oh well.

From 1990 to 2006 the Sandinistas were in opposition. By the time they'd returned to power in 2006 they were greatly changed. Corporate news media would use the term "moderate." Some would say "corrupt" or "right-wing." Regardless, they were back and have remained in power ever since. And, regardless of leftist criticism they've done better for their people than have the governments of neighbouring countries. And, obviously, much better than the genuinely right-wing governments that ruled from 1990-2006.

Everything has not been hunky-dory obviously. The Contra Wars' impact on the economy had been devastating. Nicaragua remains a small, relatively poor, resource exporting economy. It was hit by a major hurricane in 1998 that caused long-term damage. It has been difficult for the Sandinistas to achieve their social goals while maintaining fiscal respectability. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has stated concerns about the Nicaraguan pension plan/social security program INSS. (It's not as if the IMF has a sterling record of economic advice and concern for the downtrodden obviously!) Still, there were problems and the Sandinistas were engaged in negotiations with several groups within the country, including COSEP, the main business lobby group, about how to fund and maintain the INSS. Then, in 2018, things got heated:

Nicaragua’s social security system, INSS, is facing a budget shortfall — that much is true. The IMF said last year that the institution was broke, and called for urgent reforms. The shortfall is actually running at about $75 million a year, or about 0.5 percentage points of GDP. A potential problem? Yes, but far from the calamitous situation that it has been described as.

To address the situation, the Nicaraguan government, together with COSEP, have been at the negotiation table for years. But earlier this month, COSEP backed away from the table, refusing to discuss the issue unless it was linked to a broader fiscal reform plan. The government responded by publishing its proposed INSS reforms, without an agreement, on April 16. That a unilateral action, in a highly charged atmosphere, would elicit a backlash is hardly surprising. But the specifics of the reforms being negotiated might be.

The IMF has recommended slashing benefits by as much as 20 percent, gradually raising the retirement age from 60 to 63 (or even 65), and indexing benefits at a lower level, among other tweaks. COSEP, the group that organized “one of the biggest protest marches,” has largely supported these cuts. Presumably, ordinary Nicaraguan workers would greet such reforms with much less enthusiasm.

And here’s what the government proposed: raising employer and employee contributions to the INSS system over the next few years by 3.5 percentage points and 0.75 percentage points, respectively, and a 5 percent cut to pensions. Yes, benefits would be cut, but by far lower amounts than what the IMF and COSEP have been proposing.

Though largely seen as an ally of Ortega, COSEP reacted to the government’s unilateral move, and the increase in employer contributions to the INSS, by calling for protests. Some civil society organizations (including some that receive US government fundingcriticized the reforms as bad for workers, but are using the same pro-business talking points to do so. Many of those same organizations have actually supported deeper benefit cuts, like those backed by COSEP and the IMF.

Either way, the actual INSS reforms are now moot. Ortega withdrew them this past Sunday. Jaime Wheelock, a former member of the Sandinista inner circle who has more recently been critical of Ortega — including over the past week — told The New York Times: “One good thing about Daniel is that if he’s not right, he’ll back down.” Classic authoritarianism.

That article mentions the role of US funding of many of these dissident groups participating in the protests. (Much more invasive and pervasive that the memes of the St. Petersburg "Internet Research Association" that US-American liberals were having conniptions about from 2016 to the present.) But other sources would have issues with the article's one-sided description of the violence in 2018. Here's John Perry from "The Grayzone" with an alternative point of view:

Third, while the deaths in the protests are a major tragedy, calling them a “massacre” gives credence to the exaggerated and cynically manipulated numbers being used by the opposition. A detailed analysis of casualties in the first two months, which eliminated double-counted and incidents unrelated to the protests, found there had been 119 deaths, divided equally between both “sides.” A recent official count logs 197 deaths by late July.

Ellsberg cites higher figures from reports by the Inter-American Human Rights Commission (IACHR), but they lost any credibility they might have had by jumping to conclusions based on the work of the two local human rights bodies, which both have a long history of open bias against the Sandinista government. Paulo Abrāo, head of IACHR, far from being a neutral observer, openly declared his support for student protesters on May 19 when they had just violently held up a bus full of people returning from a peace demonstration, resulting in various injuries.

Fourth, like the opposition leaders themselves, Ellsberg refers to “peaceful” protesters and refuses to accept the violence which they perpetrated. This has included the murder of 22 police, plus many government officials and Sandinista supporters, the most recent a few days ago in Matagalpa. Several Sandinistas have endured gruesome torture.

She refers to the violent scenes when government forces managed to reopen access to the cities of Jinotepe and Diriamba, in which Sandinista supporters attacked priests and bishops. (Ironically, they were protected by a heavy police escort, the very police the bishops had earlier asked to be taken off the streets.) What she fails to say is how angry people were at the church being used as a place of sanctuary for armed protesters who terrorized these two cities for over a month, holding about 400 drivers and their vehicles hostage on the main highway.

The government would never have been able to remove the hundreds of barricades the opposition erected if they hadn’t had popular support to do so.

Now that the coup has been defeated, much more evidence of violence is coming to light, such as the testimony by Dania Valeska, one of the student protesters, about the arming of the people who occupied one of the main universities (the UNAN).

It's the same shit that hypocritical US elites do with every targeted country: Either they fabricate crimes, or (in cases like Syria and Iran) they wax hyperbolically about enemy crimes while ignoring those of their allies or themselves. They fund opposition groups, including those that engage in terrorism, and use any and all responses by the targeted government as excuses to impose sanctions and make pompous, moronic statements about fighting "dictators" and "tyranny." 

But Jesus Christ! My whole reason for starting this post was to specifically advance the idea that "heads they win, tails we lose." The United States is fomenting chaos in Nicaragua and is using economic warfare to destroy its economy (as it did and is doing in Venezuela, Cuba, Syria and Iran). 

Last year, the US House of Representatives voted unanimously in favor of the Nicaraguan Investment Conditionality Act of 2017 (NICA Act) which would  cut that already-poor country off from loans offered by international financial institutions.

Citing the Alliance for Global Justice, Telesur reported at the time that “‘[t]he Nicaraguan government uses foreign assistance from the international financial institutions to support social spending on health and education which have become an ever larger proportion of the national budget.’” Telesur explained that the NICA Act therefore “poses a serious danger to the Central American nation’s economy and could result in a humanitarian crisis and waves of economic refugees that would flee toward the U.S. border, joining waves of migrants from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador.”

Currently, Nicaragua is the only country victimized by the US-backed Central American Wars which is not also a source of immigrants to the US. This is in no small part due to the Sandinistas’ effective social programs.  As for the Sandinistas’ social programs, eventhe New York Times acknowledged that “[m]any poor people who receive housing and other government benefits support” Sandinista President, Daniel Ortega.

Incredibly, as the US is preparing to build a wall ostensibly to keep out Central American and Mexican migrants, it is poised to exacerbate the very migration problem it claims to want to stop.  This simply defies all logic and notions of morality and decency.


But meanwhile, the NICA Act was getting no apparent movement in the US Senate and appeared to be a dead letter.  And so, right on cue, we witness violent protests in Nicaragua which closely resemble the violent guarimbas which have plagued Venezuela on and off since Nicolas Maduro was elected in 2013.  These demonstrations will surely be used as a pretext to revive the NICA Act in the US Senate.

But please note: Nicaragua is one of the few Central American countries that is NOT a source of migrants seeking asylum at the US border. Isn't that migrant "crisis" a big issue in the USA? Hasn't it been causing all sorts of social and political strife as well as being very expensive?  Now, obviously, any political culture that vomits up absolute human garbage like Donald Trump or Joseph P. Biden is going to fuck things up once in a while. Perhaps these lunatics are incapable of making connections between their policies and those policies consequences? On the other hand, if they DO wreck Nicaragua, they weaken a semi-socialist government that provides what Chomsky and Herman said was "the threat of a good example":

There’s a reason for that. The weaker and poorer a country is, the more dangerous it is as an example. If a tiny, poor country like Grenada can succeed in bringing about a better life for its people, some other place that has more resources will ask, "why not us?"

This was even true in Indochina, which is pretty big and has some significant resources. Although Eisenhower and his advisers ranted a lot about the rice and tin and rubber, the real fear was that if the people of Indochina achieved independence and justice, the people of Thailand would emulate it, and if that worked, they’d try it in Malaya, and pretty soon Indonesia would pursue an independent path, and by then a significant area of the Grand Area would have been lost.

If you want a global system that’s subordinated to the needs of US investors, you can’t let pieces of it wander off.

As well, say that they turn Nicaragua into a hell-hole like Honduras (which itself is a product of US meddling), what then? Then the whole country is opened up to de-regulated exploitation, with zero regulation of labour or environmental issues.  But what about the refugees/migrants that are created? Well, isn't it convenient? Mexico finally has a social-democratic government. Hundreds of thousands of desperately poor people travelling across the country and congregating in hordes on the Mexican side of the US-Mexico border can help destabilize that slightly rebellious government! Xenophobic assholes in the USA support the Republican Party because they're stupid, easily-manipulated idiots who have been trained on who to hate. These shit-heads yammer about "hordes" of "illegal" immigrants and never seem capable of realizing that it is US capitalism that is the biggest threat to their well-being.  The Democratic Party meanwhile can play-act as the party of compassion and tolerance (especially when in opposition) and offer decent people appalled at this human tragedy and their fellow citizens' racist behaviour a supposed solution to vote for. When elected Democrats seem to be able to abandon all their virtuous proposals and only suffer a brief outcry from consistent, committed believers in human rights. Party hacks and partisans tend not to even notice these disgusting inconsistencies.

And, as always, desperate "illegal" immigrants create a docile labour force for US capitalists to exploit. They're docile workers and docile residents as well. US capitalism already has an identifiable group of citizens whom it can abandon during economic downturns: US Blacks. With "illegal" immigrants (created by the US-driven policies of US puppet governments in Latin America, they have yet another segment they can exploit almost with impunity.

The institutions created to police the border and the lives of "illegals" throughout the country create a constituency of authoritarian goons such as ICE that can be depended upon to vote Republican as well as being capable of turning on ANY protest movements together with their brothers and sisters in the police, the Department of Homeland Security and the military. Just another cog in the surveillance/carcerial state.

Finally, there's private profit. 

The Trump administration’s much-publicized increase in immigration enforcement is also increasing the bottom line for for-profit prisons and other companies from the private sector, with many signing multimillion-dollar contracts with the Department of Homeland Security.

“A lot of people imagine immigration detention as being a government-only function, but there are private contractors throughout the entire immigration enforcement and detention system,” said Jeremy Mohler, communications director of the research and policy group In the Public Interest.

“From the moment after an undocumented immigrant is arrested, you have corporations that contract with federal agencies and provide everything from operating detention centers to providing ankle monitors ... all the way to chartered flights if they’re deported,” Mohler said.

So, at long last, ... and now I'm too tired to really say anything about it; ... that's what I meant by "Heads they win. Tails we lose."

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