Envío Digital
 

Revista Envío
Edificio Nitlapán,
2do. piso
Universidad Centroamericana
UCA

Apartado A-194
Managua, Nicaragua

Telephone:
(505) 22782557

Fax:
(505) 22781402

Email:
info@envio.org.ni

Central American University - UCA  
  Number 32 | Febrero 1984
Home Contact us Archive Suscriptions

Anuncio

Nicaragua

US Intervention and Elections in Nicaragua

Envío team

In February 1984, the Electoral Commission of the Council of State will present its proposals for Nicaragua's upcoming national elections. Government leaders have stated that these will be the first truly free elections in Nicaragua' s history, while some opposition parties, which have been demanding elections for some time now, appear less than enthusiastic about the process: “The FSLN is trying to confuse the democratic sectors by giving more importance to the elections” (La Prensa, January 21).

The challenges of holding elections during a reconstruction process, in a country suffering military aggression, is compounded even further by the fact that Nicaragua has no history of free and participatory elections. Elections have been a means of legitimate domination and resolving conflicts within the dominant classes, but have never been an expression of the will of the people. Nor have they ever been free of US interference.

This interference has been a constant of Central American history. “The Embassy” let it be known, with varying degrees of subtlety, which candidates were and were not acceptable, and the mainstream parties rarely put forward a candidate who did not have its “seal of approval.” Just as today COSEP leader Ramiro Gurdián travels to Washington in order to announce his position on the upcoming elections, so in the past did political leaders seek support, not in the cities and villages of Central America, but in the corridors of power in Washington.

Elections have served different purposes during different periods of US domination. At times they have been a vital factor in “fine-tuning” domination, by allowing the dominant classes to negotiate their differences peaceably. At other times they have resembled circus sideshows. This article will examine the relation between US domination and elections during different periods of Nicaraguan history.

1856: The election of William Walker

Spanish colonialism left a legacy of division in Central America. The colonies were related to Spain like spokes to the hub of a wheel, with little contact between the spokes. Thus, upon independence, Central America was a collection of local power centers. In Nicaragua, this led to an ongoing conflict between the moneyed classes of León and Granada. Though these groups called themselves “Liberals” and “Conservatives,” respectively, ideological difference played but a small part in their conflicts. Instead, their dispute revolved around which group would project itself into the center of national power.

This conflict between the dominant classes was exacerbated by the appearance of Americans in the picture. In 1849, Cornelius Vanderbilt arrived in Nicaragua. Vanderbilt organized a trans-isthmus transportation company to provide a safe and cheap route from the American East Coast to California, where the Gold Rush had just begun. Vanderbilt's struggle with his former partners, Charles Morgan and C.K. Garrison, over control of the transportation monopoly quickly dovetailed with the Liberal-Conservative conflict. In 1855, the Liberals, in league with Morgan and Garrison, sought US aid for their cause. This aid arrived in the form of William Walker, an unsuccessful doctor and occasional journalist.

Walker, possessed of a messianic sense of both his destiny and that of the young American Empire, arrived in Nicaragua with 55 mercenaries, whereupon the Liberals named him general and gave him control over their troops. Walker was not without experience in these matters: in 1853 he had invaded the Mexican region of Sonora, creating a “republic” there of which he was, naturally, President.

Though hired by the Liberals, Walker had greater things in mind than helping that faction crush the Conservatives. He had a vision of Nicaragua annexed as a slave state to the US. He hoped to colonize Nicaragua with American citizens and was determined to achieve this goal with blood and bullets. Upon his arrival, Walker became a “virtual dictator,” according to the American chroniclers who recorder his exploits with more than a little national pride. He showed little respect for his “employers,” putting leaders of both political factions in front of his firing squads and overrunning several Nicaraguan cities. Within months, there were 600 mercenaries in Nicaragua, along with 500 American “businessmen” ready to take up arms should the need arise. All the Americans had become naturalized Nicaraguan citizens almost as soon as they arrived, thereby enjoying full civic rights.

In May 1956, in the midst of a civil war, the Liberals called “national” elections in which only the inhabitants of León and Chinandega could participate. By this point, Walker distrusted the Liberals as much as the Conservatives, fearful that the factions would soon unite to rid the country of his presence, with help from the other Central American nations. This fear, as well as a certain arrogance nurtured by his recent victory against Costa Rican forces, led Walker to call his own elections, “for the benefit of the Americans,” as he bluntly put it. He hoped that by having himself elected he could combine his military power with a civil power he had not yet been able to dominate entirely. Walker was encouraged in this plan by the fact that Augustín Vijil, a Catholic priest whom Walker had sent to Washington as his personal representative, had been accepted there as Nicaragua's ambassador.

Walker's elections were held on June 29, 1856, in the central departments of the Pacific region. Walker ran along with three other candidates under his control. Nicaraguan and American soldiers were allowed to vote. Long lists of non-existent voters were drawn up to convince Nicaraguans and, more importantly, Americans of the widespread participation in the exercises. Walker won handily. Despite the fact that Nicaragua's Constitution specifically prohibited direct election of the President or the holding of that office by either a military officer of a foreigner, Walker assumed the presidency on July 12, at the age of 32. A week later, the US officially recognized his government.

Walker named a Cabinet made up entirely of Nicaraguan ministers and American Vice ministers. In one of his first actions, he decreed English to be an official language so that, from then on, all commercial or government documents would be equally valid in English or Spanish. He confiscated the property of “enemies of the state,” a measure designed, in Walker's own words, “to place a large proportion of the land of the country in the hands of the white race.” (The first land confiscated from these “enemies” was made up of more than 40 farms, worth $753,000. The farms were auctioned off to Americans.)

On September 22, Walker reinstituted slavery in Nicaragua. Slavery had been forbidden in Central American upon independence, and its abolition had been one of the major demands of the protagonists of the independence struggle. The Nicaraguan Constitution decreed the loss of all citizens’ rights to any person who dealt in slaves.

Walker's ambitions served to unite, temporarily, the Central American peoples, who defeated Walker militarily, forcing him to flee Nicaragua in 1857. In 1860, while trying to return via Honduras, he was captured and shot by the Hondurans in Puerto Trujillo, site of present-day Puerto Castilla, the American military training base.

President Walker’s thought

The following excerpts are taken from William Walker, The war in Nicaragua, 1860. Note that he always referred to himself in the third person.

“By this act must the Walker administration be judged; for it is the key to its whole policy. In fact the wisdom or folly of this decree involves the wisdom or folly of the American movement in Nicaragua; for on the re-establishment of African slavery there depended the permanent presence of the white race in that region.”

“The introduction of negro-slavery into Nicaragua would furnish a supply of constant and reliable labor requisite for the cultivation of tropical products. With the negro-slave as his companion, the white man would become fixed to the soil; and they together would destroy the power of the mixed race which is the bane of the country.”

“From the future, if not from the present, we may expect just judgment. That which you ignorantly call 'Filibusterism' is not the offspring of hasty passion or ill-regulated desire; it is the fruit of the sure, unerring instincts which act in accordance with laws as old as the creation. They are but drivellers who speak of establishing fixed relations between the pure white American race, as it exists in the United States, and the mixed Hispano-Indian race, as it exists in Mexico and Central America, without the employment of force. The history of the world presents no such Utopian vision as that of an inferior race yielding meekly and peacefully to the controlling influence of a superior people. Whenever barbarism and civilization, or two distinct forms of civilizations, meet face to face, the result must be war.”


1928: Supervised elections

The ruins left by the war against Walker helped open the way for an agreement between Liberals and Conservatives. The Conservative families from the city of Granada remained in power for 30 years. When Nicaragua entered the international market as a coffee-producing country, structural reforms become necessary. These would be attempted during Zelaya’s Liberal presidency.

Zelaya's politics had a pronounced nationalist flavor. His plans to use European capital to open an inter-oceanic canal through Nicaragua provoked a strong reaction in the US. The US decided to cut its diplomatic relations with Nicaragua, thereby pressuring Zelaya to resign from the presidency. Shortly afterwards, war between Liberals and Conservatives broke out again. In 1912, using the pretext of the need to defend US lives and property, the US government responded to a call by the Conservative, Adolfo Díaz, and invaded Nicaragua with 2,700 Marines.

Except for a few months’ interruption, this intervention lasted until 1933. It was to have a decisive influence on the history of the country and the future behavior of the different political groups. The support of the US ambassador and government became indispensable for those who wished to take power or maintain it.

Three presidential elections took place in Nicaragua between 1912 and 1925, and the Conservatives won all three. The US provided observers for these elections and took part in making changes in electoral rules. On August 3, 1925, the Marines left Nicaragua after installing a Conservative-Liberal alliance in power. A crisis was to arise at the end of the very same month. The Marines disembarked again in 1926, this time in Bluefields. Under the familiar pretext of defending US lives and property, they came to fight for the Conservatives. The US handed the presidency to its unconditional supporter, Adolfo Diaz. Juan Bautista Sacasa, the Liberal who should have been designated President in accordance with the nation's Constitution, received backing from the Mexican government for his “Constitutionalist war.”

A pact for peace in the US backyard

The US was afraid that the nationalist Mexican government, which supported the Nicaraguans Liberals, would attempt to take control of certain parts of Central America. The US saw the diplomatic support and the weapons provided for Sacasa by the Mexican government under the presidency of Calles as a challenge to its domination in a region it considered even then as its own backyard. The “Memorandum on Nicaragua,” written by former Assistant Secretary of State Robert Olds in January 1927, was very clear on that point: “If a country ever had a special interest in a particular area, there can be no doubt that this is the case of the United States with respect to the countries to the south of the Republic of Mexico. Until now the whole world has always tacitly admitted as much.” (Translated from Spanish).

In January of 1927, while the US Congress was in recess, intervention was increased with the arrival in Nicaragua of 16 warships, 215 officers, 3,900 soldiers, and 865 Marines. The US government justified its intervention by declaring that it held proof that Mexico “was exporting the Bolshevik revolution to the Central American republics.” (Translated from Spanish.) “Secret” documents and previously unknown statements were presented as evidence. A campaign based on this “evidence” was launched by the US press, which had close economic ties with the oil companies that already owned almost all the important Mexican oilfields. Olds told the news agencies that Mexico's objective was to “establish Bolshevik authority in Nicaragua in order to insert a hostile wedge between the United States and the Panama Canal.” (Translated from Spanish.)

Some members of the US Congress and significant sectors of public opinion in Europe, Latin America and North America refused to believe the accusations against Mexico. They also expressed their opposition to US intervention in Nicaragua. In a period of two weeks, the US government had to use eight different justifications in its attempt to sell the idea that intervention was necessary. Unrest grew to the point that President Coolidge was forced to find a means to withdraw his troops, while providing for a lasting reconciliation within Nicaragua and producing a favorable reflection of US foreign policy: 1928 was to be an election year.

The formula Coolidge presented was that of “supervised elections.” The person chosen as the President's special envoy to promote this new formula was Henry L. Stimson, a New York lawyer. He arrived in Managua in April 1927. In a secret meeting, Stimson reached a verbal agreement with General Moncada, the Liberals' military leader. Both Liberals and Conservatives committed themselves to laying down their arms—thereby ending the civil war—and accepting US military presence while the United States organized a new and “apolitical” army, the National Guard. The accord also included the acceptance of the plan for supervised presidential elections in 1928, with the understanding that the US would support Moncada’s candidacy. From Stimson's point of view, a Liberal victory in elections supervised by the US after 15 years of Conservative governments would destroy the myth that Washington always supported the Conservatives. Moreover, with their unconditional submission to the US, the Conservatives had lost a great deal of popularity with the common people.

Only one thing was not taken into consideration in this plan: a Liberal general named Augusto C. Sandino, who decided not to go along with the pact made by his superior officer.

A new period of national history begins

“He [Moncada] glibly attempted to convince me once and for all of the need to give in. He said that it would be crazy to fight the United States of America, a powerful nation with 120,000,000 inhabitants. He said that there was nothing that I could do with the 300 men at my command and that we would meet the same fate as the prey caught between the paws of a tiger: the more we moved, the deeper it would dig its claws.

“From that time on, I had a deep feeling of disdain for Moncada. I told him that it was our duty to free ourselves or to die in the effort…

“I could not remain indifferent to the position adopted by a traitor. The insults that were hurled at us from outside Nicaragua came to my mind at that time. Depressed, sad, not knowing how to react, I spent three days on the El Común Hill. I did not know if it was best for us to lay down our weapons or to defend the country. I did not want my soldiers to see me cry, so I sought solicitude.

“I isolated myself and did a great of thinking. I could hear a strange voice saying: “traitor! “With this, I broke out of my reflections and decided to fight, understanding that I was the one who had been called to protest against the betrayal of our country and its ideals. I realized that Nicaragua's sovereignty could only be defended with bullets and that there was no reason for the United States to intervene in our family affairs. That was when I published my first manifesto.”

(Augusto C. Sandino, May 1927)
Sandino's decision transformed a fruitless civil war that had lasted for years into a long war of national liberation, the first guerrilla war to be fought on the American continent.

The supervision formula

The supervision proposed by Stimson stipulated that the presidents of the National Elections Council and of the 13 departmental councils had to be US citizens, each of whom would be assisted by one Conservative and one Liberal. These US citizens would be responsible for counting the votes and would have the right to veto candidates and arbitrate disputes between the two parties over electoral matters. In other words, the proposal called for an all-embracing and clearly unconstitutional electoral power.

The electoral law in force at the time was the Dodds Law, which had governed the 1924 elections. It had been written by Harold Dodds, doctor of political science at the University of Princeton, following Washington's notification to Managua in 1920 that the latter's electoral legislation needed modification.

The supervisor who, according to the Stimson Plan, was to be appointed by the US President turned out to be General Frank Ross McCoy, a member of the US Army's General Staff. One of his first tasks was to cooperate with an expert from the State Department and consult with Dodds in order to write up regulations for the supervised elections.

A journalist's view of McCoy

Carleton Beals, the first and only US journalist to interview Sandino during the war against the Marines (1928), wrote this about McCoy:

“General McCoy is a man with an iron will. He is extremely logical and follows a straight and narrow line. His strong jaw allows no compromise. After consultation with Generals Chowder, Kellogg, Hughes and others, he formulated a plan for the supervision of elections in Nicaragua. Once the plan was established, it became a sort of Holy Bible in which no one could dot the i's or cross the t's. This man became Moses on Nicaragua's Mount Sinai with his Ten Commandments (the electoral law, which the Nicaraguan people call the McCoy Law). His law had to be passed even if Hell froze over. Nothing that might happen in Nicaragua could make him change his program even one iota. There can be no doubt that, without the unlimited support of the powers that be in the United States, General McCoy would have been a smashing failure. With all that power, he could have the Nicaraguans build a staircase to Mars. However, the general bragged of being a practical and stubborn man. He thought he had discovered an ideal plan for the salvation of Nicaragua, a perfect democratic utopia… a utopia that he blindly presented and fanatically explained.” (Translated from the Spanish.)

Nicaragua's 1911 Constitution, still in force in 1928, specified that Nicaragua's legislative body was responsible for carrying out the elections. For this reason, the Stimson proposal began to meet with strong opposition from the Nicaraguan Congress, where the Conservatives were in the majority. Fearful that they would lose the power they had held for so many years, the Conservatives at first spoke out against the supervision plan. The US resorted to all sorts of tactics in an attempt to reach a bipartisan Nicaraguan consensus that would overcome the proposal's unconstitutionality. They even turned to Charles Lindbergh, the famous pilot, who was very popular at that time in Nicaragua and all over Latin America. They entrusted him with the mission of speaking before the Nicaraguan Congress of the advantages to be found in supervised elections. Lindbergh knew how to fly, but he was unable to convince anyone with his words.

As the elections drew closer, however, and it become increasingly apparent that the Conservative Party was going to lose, its opposition to the supervision plan began to soften. Eventually, the Conservatives decided to cooperate with the Americans, realizing that only by doing so would they have the chance of returning to power someday.

Municipal elections were to be held toward the end of 1927. McCoy advised the Marines to stay close to the polls and ordered them not to forbid alcohol. Moreover, he ordered them to drive the drunks to the polls so they could vote. Although the supervision process had not yet begun, McCoy and the American Embassy personnel witnessed dishonest electoral practices. This gave them a reason with which to justify supervision of the presidential elections.

As the election date drew near, the major obstacle for the elections and their public image began to take shape. This obstacle was General Sandino and his “crazy little army,” as Gabriela Mistral had called it with admiration and affection. Although Sandino was keeping the Marines in check, McCoy insisted on insulting him publicly. In 1928, the May 13 edition of the Washington Evening Star called him “nothing more than a slippery little man roving around in the mountains.” (Translated from Spanish). Sandino was a constant harassment to the US troops, and Moncada helped convince McCoy that Sandino was a dangerous “rebel” by explaining how Sandino hoped to create a “Bolshevik” in Nicaragua.

McCoy was willing to hold elections at any cost. As their date drew very near, he began to take drastic measures. The first of these was to dismiss all local civilian authorities in the northern departments because he suspected them of being Sandinistas. They were replaced by Marine officers. When McCoy discovered that Blanca Araúz, a telegraph operator in San Rafael del Norte (Jinotega), was Sandino’s wife, he decided to put US military forces in total control of the national telephone, radio and telegraph systems for a certain period of time before the elections. McCoy also offered Sandino an amnesty proposal in exchange for a promise to have his army lay down its arms. Although McCoy never publicized this offer, he seemed to have a great deal of confidence that it would bring results.

After rejecting two other candidates proposed by the Conservatives, McCoy gave his approval to Adolfo Benard, who thus became Moncada’s official opponent. One month before the elections, these two candidates publicly assented to a high-level Washington decision to keep the Marines in Nicaragua even after the presidential elections and to provide US supervision again for the following elections.

By this time, another of Washington's “peace-making” institutions had already been created. At the outset, the National Guard was directed by US military officers. Less than a month before the elections, Dana Munro, the US commercial attaché in Nicaragua, wrote to the office of the Secretary of State that: “The National Guard is an instrument of the State Department's Nicaraguan policy, and anything affecting its organization and efficiency is of capital importance to us.” (Translated from Spanish).

The elections took place on Sunday, November 4, with 5,642 Marines and 1,869 National Guardsmen providing armed surveillance throughout the country. Five war cruisers with 1,500 more Marines ready to disembark were stationed off the Nicaraguan coasts. US sources estimate that approximately 90% of the 148,831 Nicaraguans registered for the elections in September and October cast ballots on November 4.

The Marines transported the ballot boxes to Managua by mules, carts, and boats that crossed Nicaragua's rivers and lakes so McCoy could count the votes. As expected, Moncada won. The total electoral expenses amounted to $190,000, two-thirds of which was used to pay the huge army of supervisors.

McCoy was very satisfied when he left Nicaragua. He was convinced that he had been the promoter of a “peaceful revolution.” However, although the head supervisor had gone home, the supervising Marines remained in Nicaragua, and their presence led Sandino to step up his struggle.

In July of 1929, the head supervisor for the 1930 congressional elections arrived in Nicaragua. Captain Alfred W. Johnson, the chief of naval intelligence, was accompanied by 56 US supervisors and 200 Marines. Their job was to guarantee that the election of 9 (out of 26) senators and 22 (out of 43) Congressional representatives would run smoothly. As had been foreseen, the victory went to the Liberals.

Mayor F.B. Price was designated as the supervisor for the municipal elections of 1931, which the Liberals also won. Moncada helped his party defeat the Conservatives by using tricks that not even the Americans were capable of preventing. This led Stimson, who had by then become Secretary of State, to propose that Washington again furnish supervision for the 1932 presidential elections, which it did.

These elections were won by the Liberal Sacasa, the US favorite. By this time, President Hoover was willing to withdraw the Marines, seeing that for almost five years they had been useless against Sandino's forces. The National Guard seemed to be consolidated, and the US was to leave this new army under the direction of a man who enjoyed their fullest trust: Anastasio Somoza García.

One month after the Marine's withdrawal, Sandino signed an armistice with Sacasa. He tactically offered to put the experience of his peasant army at the disposal of the new President. He also sought to demonstrate the unconstitutionality of the new army that the US had created in Nicaragua. Somoza had Sandino assassinated on February 21, 1934.

1957: Family elections consolidate the Somoza dynasty

With Sandino dead and his army leaderless, the National Guard savagely attacked the Sandinista cooperative movement in the north of the country. Somoza, the “Liberal” on whom the US was to concentrate its full support, had a clear road to the presidency through the power of the National Guard, which he directed. After militarily forcing Sacasa to resign, Somoza won the 1936 elections, thus beginning the family dictatorship that would last for 43 years.

In 1939, Somoza dissolved the Congress and convened a Constituent Assembly that reformed the Constitution, lengthening the presidential term from four to six years. In this way, he remained in power until 1947. Advice from the US and pressure from his followers caused Somoza to refrain from seeking reelection in 1947. Both of the former were afraid that strong anti-Somocismo could cause armed opposition to develop. Although he did not run himself, Somoza did run his own candidate, Leonardo Argüello, who, with obviously fraudulent tactics, managed to accumulate more votes than the actual victor, Dr. Enoc Agüado. Only 26 days later, Somoza led a coup d'état against his candidate and installed his own uncle in power. Following the signing of agreements with the Conservative Party, Somoza García was reelected President in 1950.

His agreements with the Conservative Party were broken in 1955, and Somoza announced that he would be a candidate for the 1957 presidential elections. Two new political groups, the Socialist-Marxist National Renovation Party, which did not last for very long, and the National Union for Popular Action, from which the present Social Christian Party originated, formed an alliance with the Conservative Party of Nicaragua and the Independent Liberal Party in order to challenge Somoza and attempt to prevent his reelection. This alliance, which was called the Forum for the Defense of the Republic, was severely repressed.

On September 20, 1956, the Liberal Party held its national convention, in which Somoza García was nominated as the party's presidential candidate. On the night of the 21st, his nomination was celebrated in León's social club. Rigoberto López Pérez, who had ties with the progressive movement of the time, wanted to hasten the beginning of the dictatorship's end. He shot Somoza, wounding him fatally. He himself was killed on the spot by the National Guard.

The official newspapers attempted to convince the people that Somoza had not been seriously wounded. The director of Washington's Walter Reed Hospital was rushed to Nicaragua with a team of US doctors. They transferred the wounded man to the Panama Canal Zone, while in Nicaragua a state of siege went into effect. The National Guard, under the direction of Anastasio Somoza Debayle, one of Somoza García’s sons, jailed and interrogated well- known opposition leaders.

There was a tense climate of instability. Somoza's death represented a heavy blow to the dictatorship at a time when splits within the National and outbreaks of reformist liberalism were threatening the dynasty. While the people of Nicaragua awaited a coup d'état, Washington was trying to tie loose ends together. On September 28, the Nicaraguan Congress unanimously elected Somoza's oldest son, Luis Somoza Debayle, to be responsible for the presidency. Luis was already president of the Congress. In 1955, his father had had the Constitution reformed in order to eliminate the nepotism clause that prohibited the President's close relatives from holding positions in the nation's congressional body.

Somoza died on September 29. At his burial, Thomas Whelan, the US ambassador, expressed the full support of his country's government for the Somoza family, for Luis as the successor to his father, and for the general manner in which the Somoza dynasty was running the country. His words restrained what was still a hesitant movement against the dynasty from within the army. In his first official speech, the new President responded to the support from Washington: “On behalf of the people of Nicaragua and myself, it is only proper to give public thanks to the friendly government of the United States of America for the invaluable help rendered to us during those hours of trial in which all attempts were made to save the life of he who was steering our destinies.”

While he exercised the presidency, Luis was nominated as the Liberal Party's candidate for the 1957 elections. The Conservative Party succeeded in mobilizing some sectors of certain cities with the slogan “We've had enough,” but, in reality, it practically abstained from participating in the elections. As had happened in previous campaigns, a phantom Conservative Party was created to provide the elections with an appearance of legality. They took place on February 3, 1957, and, according to the official figures, 434,892 of the 490,108 votes cast were for Luis Somoza. In one of his first messages to the people after being elected, he espoused the causes for which his father had fought, one of them being the “continental harmony over which the United States presides.”

Luis and his brother Anastasio would rule Nicaragua from 1957 to 1979, with the exception of two brief periods in which Somoza allies were allowed to assume the presidency while real political power remained in the hands of Anastasio as head of the National Guard. Anastasio's first election in 1967 was most infamous for the slaughter of hundreds of Nicaraguans gathered at an opposition rally on January 22, 1967. As his term neared its end, the new ruler of the Somoza dynasty sought to prolong his power through a pact with the Conservative Party. This “Agüero-Somoza Pact” of 1971 formed a triumvirate composed of one Conservative and two Somoza appointees to rule the country from 1972 to 1974. Though the maneuver did maintain Somoza’s power, it was also a final blow to the legitimacy of the traditional party system. In 1974, Somoza was reelected with 95% of the vote, according to official results. Reelection had been made easier by the fact that the country’s electoral law had disqualified nine of the ten opposition parties, a move that increased the opposition's awareness of the futility of electoral opposition.

This awareness was obviously one of the factors creating sympathy for the FSLN's efforts to overthrow the dictatorship. In June 1979, the Catholic Bishops of Nicaragua would explicitly make the link between the long history of Somocista electoral frauds and the growth of broad-based support for the insurrection: “The legal subterfuges of the past closed the peaceful path towards democracy.”

Some thoughts from Somoza Debayle

In Nicaragua traicionada, journalist Jack Cox published the following remarks made to him by Anastasio Somoza Debayle after his overthrow and only months before being killed in Paraguay.

“With respect to the United States, I don't feel like an 'outsider', and I'm not in any way.

“At that time (in 1946), I could correctly say that I knew more about the United States than about my own country. I'll never lose my ties with the United States. I'm not a foreigner when I'm in the United States, and I don't refer to the United States from an outsider's point of view. The United States will always be a part of me, and, in my heart, I'll always be a part of the United States of America.”

Conclusion

We noted in the introduction that traditional Nicaraguan elections were a means of legitimating and “fine-tuning” domination. How well did the elections we have examined here perform these functions? It is obvious that, while William Walker's electoral exercise in 1856 may have won him extra support in the US, it did little to convince the people of Central America of his legitimacy, as they chased him from power a year later.

The elections of 1928 are probably the clearest example of the use of elections as a key element in a strategy of domination. Certain perceptive minds in Washington saw that only a resolution of the traditional conflicts within the ruling classes would allow them to cope with the challenge of popular insurrection, a challenge symbolized at the time by Sandino. Such a resolution of Liberal-Conservative tensions could be achieved through an electoral process. Yet there was no unity in the US behind this electoral policy. If there had been, Somoza’s seizing of political power would not have been tolerated.

Ironically, successive Somocista electoral frauds demonstrated the truth of the 1928 electoral strategy. These frauds robbed the dynasty of whatever appearance of legitimacy it still had and increased frustration within the non-Somocista faction of the dominant classes. This frustration in turn created an opening for the FSLN.

The foregoing history demonstrates that the challenge facing Nicaragua today is not merely that of holding elections, but of holding elections that are not influenced by US involvement, elections that are an expression of the will of the Nicaraguan people, not of a few local politicians and their allies in Washington.

Print text   

Send text

Up
 
 
<< Previous   Next >>

Also...

Nicaragua
Between Kissinger and Contadora

Nicaragua
Jalapa: A Symbol for All Nicaragua

Nicaragua
US Intervention and Elections in Nicaragua
Envío a monthly magazine of analysis on Central America
GüeGüe: Web Hosting and Development