Kristin in Nicaragua

protests and politics

Last week there were somewhat violent protests in front of the US embassy in Managua, with allies of the current FSLN administration, often referred to as "Orteguistas" for their support of President Daniel Ortega, demanding that US Ambassador Robert Callahan resign and leave the country, throwing rocks and mortars, and defacing the wall outside the embassy. Callahan has expressed concern about the Nicaragua Supreme Court’s recent decision to modify the constitution to allow for re-election (in the US, it is reported that John Kerry, chair of the Sen. Foreign Relations Committee, has voiced similar concern). Re-election is a highly politicized issue, and it’s hard to give it justice without going into a lengthy conversation about contemporary Latin American politics or the history of US intervention/imperialism in the region. However, suffice it to say that the political climate here and now is incredibly polarized - supporters of Ortega argue that with another 5-year term (election in 2011), his plans for improving public education, healthcare, and implementing a wide range of "popular participation" programs in benefit of the poor will have a better chance of success. Opponents, on the other hand, including one of the main daily newspapers, continually lambast Ortega as having "Dictatorial" intentions and accuse Venezuela’s President Chavez of manipulating Nicaraguan politics. It’s hard to know exactly what to think about all this - it’s a complex and often confusing state of affairs. On one hand, I feel that the violent protests at the Embassy last week were out of proportion to any threat the US currently poses here, despite the official US support of opposition parties through programs such as the "National Endowment for Democracy" (e.g. US taxpayers are paying to train leaders of opposition parties here, which the FSLN views as a destabilizing threat). It also bears noting that the vast majority of my Nica friends and colleagues oppose the violence of the protests, and many who are Sandinista supporters oppose the current Ortega regime, saying, for example, "Sí, soy Sandinista, pero no Orteguista". It also bears mentioning that other Latin American governments have made similar constitutional amendments to allow re-election (namely, US allies Uribe in Colombia and Arias in Costa Rica), and the US has not expressed disapproval. In sum, it’s an incredibly complex time for Latin American politics and will continue to play itself out as nations such as Nicaragua engage in an ongoing experiment with "Democracy"...

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