It appears as though history is repeating itself in Latin America. Democracies continue to be subverted by ruthless tyrants who show no respect for the constitutions of their own societies. Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, is one such example, but now the Sandinistas’ Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua is carrying on the trend. Ortega is seeking to overturn the constitutional ban on his running for reelection next year by intimidating and subverting the judiciary. He has now threatened to sack judges opposing his plans. This development spells disaster for Nicaragua and danger for the United States.
Many Nicaraguans and international observers disregarded the risks posed by Ortega’s return to power in 2007. “Left-wing radicalism … had little to do with Mr. Ortega’s comeback,” asserted Peruvian writer Alvaro Vargas Llosa in the New York Times. Sean R. Singer, writing in the National Interest, felt so moved as to describe Ortega as a “born-again free trader.” And the Los Angeles Times editorialized that under Ortega “Nicaragua is no security threat to the United States.”
Unfortunately, these individuals were gravely mistaken. Within two months of returning to office, Ortega confided to perennial Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi his plans to emulate the Libyan model of “direct democracy” – the standard euphemism for the top-down, febrile populism of third world dictatorships.
Since returning to power, Ortega has opposed every American and democratic interest. Nicaragua, for instance, was the first country after Russia to recognize the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, the two Russian-backed break-away republics within the Republic of Georgia.
While Iran has been defying international demands to curtail its nuclear program, the two countries have signed numerous energy and trade agreements. Indeed, Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was present at Ortega’s inauguration and Ortega told the press during Ahmadinejad’s stay that the “revolutions of Iran and Nicaragua are almost twin revolutions.”
Iranian funds have poured into the country, but little visible development has occurred, indicating that the funds have had other, less reassuring uses. On a visit to Iran in 2007, where he was extended the unprecedented honor of being greeted at the airport by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Ortega addressed a mass meeting entitled “World Resistance Forum,” in which he trumpeted his admiration for Iranian-backed terrorists, shouting with clenched fists, “Viva Iranian nation, Viva Islamic combatants, Viva Latin American and Asian nations until ever-lasting freedom and victory!”
Over the years, Iran has deployed its own agents and Hizballah terrorists to attack its enemies – Jews, Israelis, Iranian exiles, anti-Tehran activists – under the diplomatic cover of its embassies.
It was these operatives who, in 1994, murdered hundreds in the bombings of the Israeli embassy and a Jewish community center in Argentina. But Argentina is distant from the U.S. In contrast, Nicaragua lies immediately south of Mexico, with its oil and gas industries lying close across the border; excellent terrorist targets in themselves.
Over the years, poor Nicaraguans have streamed north through Mexico into the U.S. in search of jobs. But who now might be among them? Investigative journalist Todd Bensman has reported on the clandestine entry already given by the Nicaraguan government to 21 unidentified Iranians last year – the very sort of occurrence that preceded the Argentina bombings.
The problem would be less acute if Ortega was simply another democratic leader who could be replaced by an election. But that is looking increasingly unlikely.
Ortega, a three-time election loser, only returned to power thanks to collusion with a former indicted president, Arnoldo Alemán. This eventuated in the control of the Nicaraguan courts and election authority by Ortega’s Sandinistas. Rewritten election rules permitted Ortega to win on the first ballot with a mere 38 per cent of the vote. He thus became president with a smaller number and slice of the votes than in his two earlier, failed presidential bids.
Ortega appears to be a fervent believer in Stalin’s loosely translated maxim – “The people who cast the votes decide nothing. The people who count the votes decide everything.”
Municipal autonomy in Nicaragua is today in tatters. Mayors have been dismissed – the most recent being Hugo Barquero four weeks ago. Councils have been stacked. And in the 2008 municipal elections, already-stacked electoral authorities disqualified two opposition parties prior to the vote, banned international observers, and blessed untold electoral fraud, which gave Ortega control of 105 of Nicaragua’s 153 municipalities.
Now, with presidential elections over the horizon, Ortega has ignored congressional opposition to renewing the tenure of the electoral tribunal judges that blessed the 2008 election fraud and extended their terms by presidential decree.
He has also orchestrated an illegal vote by three supreme court judges and three “alternate” judges installed by him to lift the constitutional ban on his re-election.
Ortega’s effort to breach the constitutional barriers to prolong his rule mirror Manuel Zelaya’s similar effort in Honduras last year. Zelaya was unsuccessful and deposed for his illegal efforts, but he lacked Ortega’s advantages – a compromised judiciary and a subverted electoral tribunal.
Ortega looks set to stay and the threat he poses is real. Infiltration of Iranian agents into Mexico has become a frightening possibility that magnifies the security risks to the U.S.
Few seem to be taking notice.
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