by William Blum
Captain Ahab had his Moby Dick. Inspector Javert had his Jean Valjean. The United States has its Fidel Castro. Washington also has its Daniel Ortega. For 27 years, the most powerful nation in the world has found it impossible to share the Western Hemisphere with one of its poorest and weakest neighbors, Nicaragua, if the country's leader was not in love with capitalism.
From the moment the Sandinista revolutionaries overthrew the US-supported Somoza dictatorship in 1979, Washington was concerned about the rising up of that long-dreaded beast -- "another Cuba". This was war. On the battlefield and in the voting booths. For almost 10 years, the American proxy army, the Contras, carried out a particularly brutal insurgency against the Sandinista government and its supporters. In 1984, Washington tried its best to sabotage the elections, but failed to keep Sandinista leader Ortega from becoming president. And the war continued.
In 1990, Washington's electoral tactic was to hammer home the simple and clear message to the people of Nicaragua: If you re-elect Ortega all the horrors of the civil war and America's economic hostility will continue. Just two months before the election, in December 1989, the United States invaded Panama for no apparent reason acceptable to international law, morality, or common sense (The United States naturally called it "Operation Just Cause"); one likely reason it was carried out was to send a clear message to the people of Nicaragua that this is what they could expect, that the US/Contra war would continue and even escalate, if they re-elected the Sandinistas.
It worked; one cannot overestimate the power of fear, of murder, rape, and your house being burned down. Ortega lost, and Nicaragua returned to the rule of the free market, striving to roll back the progressive social and economic programs that had been undertaken by the Sandinistas. Within a few years widespread malnutrition, wholly inadequate access to health care and education, and other social ills, had once again become a widespread daily fact of life for the people of Nicaragua.