Which side is Canada on? In Central America, it is clear that the Trudeau government is actively serving US interests in the region.
A recently leaked United States Agency for International Development (USAID) document highlights “the breadth and complexity of the US government’s plan to interfere in Nicaragua’s internal affairs up to and after its presidential election in 2021.” The stated aim of this strategy is to replace President Daniel Ortega with “a government committed to the rule of law, civil liberties, and a free civil society.” Highlighting Washington’s aims, the Gray Zone’s Ben Norton notes, “the 14-page USAID document employed the word ‘transition’ 102 times, including nine times on the first page alone.”
Recently, Canada’s representative to the Organization of American States (OAS), Hugh Adsett, joined five other countries in calling on the OAS Secretary General to organize a special session focused on human rights and democracy in Nicaragua. At the recent OAS meeting Adsett criticized Nicaragua, saying the COVID-19 pandemic “should not be used to weaken democracy.”
Ottawa has supported a number of OAS resolutions and initiatives targeting Nicaragua’s government. Along with the US, Paraguay, Jamaica and Argentina, Canada was part of the 2019 OAS High-Level Diplomatic Commission on Nicaragua, which Managua blocked from entering the country. The commission claimed there was an “alteration of constitutional order that seriously affects the democratic order” in Nicaragua. Despite this claim, the group failed to win majority support at the OAS General Assembly.
Ottawa has cancelled aid to Nicaragua and sanctioned officials in the government, one that was labelled by former US national security adviser John Bolton as part of a “troika of tyranny” (also including Venezuela and Cuba). Ortega’s administration is part of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA), which was formed in response to North American capitalist domination in the hemisphere.
While the Nicaraguan government isn’t perfect, since the Sandinistas won power in 2007, poverty rates dropped substantially in the nation of six million people. The government expanded access to electricity in rural areas and doubled the proportion of electricity from renewable sources to over half. Access to drinking water has increased, and a number of health indicators have also improved. What’s more, the role of women in Nicaragua’s parliament grew sharply while the country’s murder rate remained a fraction of its northern neighbours. According to a July 2019 UN report, there were 8.3 murders per 100,000 Nicaraguans compared with nearly 70 per 100,000 people in El Salvador and Honduras.
A little more than a year after his third consecutive election victory, a protest movement challenged Ortega’s presidency. The uprising, which began in 2018, was unleashed by proposed social security reforms pushed for by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The IMF alerted Nicaragua the year prior that, in the absence of reform, the cash reserves of the Nicaraguan Social Security Institute would be depleted by 2019 (in the end, pension benefits were largely maintained with the government offloading most of the cost on to employers).
Despite what would be a relatively working class-friendly reform, many student organizations and NGOs aligned with the country’s major employer federation, the wealthiest Nicaraguans, and the conservative Catholic Church to oppose the government. Many of these groups were directly financed and trained by the US government’s National Endowment for Democracy, USAID and Freedom House (the latter has been linked to the CIA). Moreoever, the movement was greatly influenced by Washington, which has long been powerful in the small, impoverished country.
The protests quickly turned violent. At least 22 police officers were killed and as many as 300 lost their lives in politically-charged violence during 2018. The mainstream media in North America and internationally connected NGOs quickly blamed the Ortega government for numerous human rights violations, ignoring the role of rightist elements within the protest movement. This reporting also overlooked public knowledge that opposition rebels had been attacking government supporters for years. In March 2016, the New York Times published a sympathetic story headlined “Ortega vs. the Contras: Nicaragua Endures an ’80s Revival” about anti-government rebels targeting police stations and Sandinistas in rural areas.
Still, Canadian officials blamed the Ortega government—either implicitly or directly—for the violence. Between April 23 and July 18, 2018, Global Affairs Canada put out at least four press releases critical of the situation in Nicaragua. Then Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland’s statements became steadily stronger as she demanded an immediate end to the “violence, repression, arbitrary detentions and human rights violations” and for “the government of Nicaragua to help create the conditions for safe, peaceful, and constructive discussions.” Subsequently, Freeland questioned Ortega’s democratic legitimacy. In June 2019 she declared, “Canada will continue to stand with the people of Nicaragua and their legitimate demands for democracy and accountability.” Despite pressure from Western governments, Ortega won the election in a landslide.
The Liberals have repeatedly raised the conflict in Nicaragua in various international fora. At a Women Foreign Ministers Meeting in Montréal in September 2018, Freeland said Nicaragua was one of “the pressing issues that concern us as foreign ministers.” The situation in Nicaragua was also discussed between Freeland and Brazil’s Foreign Affairs Minister Aloysio Nunes at the third Canada-Brazil Strategic Partnership Dialogue a month later.
In August 2018, the Liberals officially severed aid to the country, and Canadian funding for five major government-backed projects was also withdrawn.
Ten months later Canada sanctioned nine Nicaraguan government officials, including ministers and the president of the National Assembly. Individuals’ assets were frozen and Canadians were prohibited from dealing with government figures. These sanctions were adopted in coordination with Washington. A June 2019 media note released by the US State Department declared “Canada’s sanctions actions today illustrate the international commitment to Nicaraguans’ cause, signaling clearly that President Ortega’s insufficient and self-serving measures are not nearly enough to address Nicaraguans’ demands for democracy, basic rights, and freedom from repression.”
The Liberals’ stance toward Nicaragua contrasts sharply with its treatment of fellow Central American nation Honduras. While Canada condemned Ortega, severed aid to Nicaragua and sanctioned government officials, it continued to deliver aid to Honduras after Juan Orlando Hernández defied the constitution by running for a second term as president and then brazenly stole the election. Is it a coincidence the Honduran regime maintains investor friendly laws and toes the US line on foreign policy?
The Liberals regime change efforts in Nicaragua are rife with hypocrisy, and part of a broader pro-US, pro-corporate policy in the hemisphere. All those who support the principle of non-intervention in the internal affairs of other countries must oppose these acts of imperialism against a country that has long been the victim of American interference in Latin America.
Yves Engler has been dubbed “one of the most important voices on the Canadian Left today” (Briarpatch), “in the mould of I.F. Stone” (Globe and Mail), and “part of that rare but growing group of social critics unafraid to confront Canada’s self-satisfied myths” (Quill & Quire). He has published nine books.