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Why is Trump now ramping up his attacks on Nicaragua?

Sanctions and even interventions against the small Latin American nation are part of a pattern of desperation from an ailing US empire, writes KEN LIVINGSTONE

A LEAKED document revealed by Nicaragua’s independent “Radio La Primerisima” has shown that the Trump administration is accelerating its plans — illegal under international law — to enforce “regime change” in Nicaragua.

The 14-page plan produced by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) sets out how it expects a contractor to achieve or support a change in government that will be favourable to US interests.

What is prompting this US initiative is concern that the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) party could win the presidential election scheduled for November 2021 and continue policies in terms of the economy and regional affairs that are contrary to the US’s wishes.

The USAID plan, called Responsive Assistance in Nicaragua (Rain), ostensibly aims at “enabling the environment for Nicaragua’s transition to democracy.”

The plan to which the Rain contractor must work is based on three possible scenarios:

“1. Free, fair and transparent elections lead to an orderly transition 2. A sudden political transition occurs following a crisis 3. Transition does not happen in an orderly and timely manner”

The contractor’s immediate task is to aid the right-wing opposition to create internal and international pressure on the Nicaraguan government.

If an opposition victory results, then the work must shift to provide what are euphemistically called “services in support of urgent reforms” — or what we would recognise from the Bolivian coup’s aftermath as the pursuit of a neo-liberal agenda. The plan freely admits that “basic services may suffer temporarily while a new government takes control of their administration.”

But if scenario 2 occurs — “a sudden political transition” or coup, then Rain must be prepared to respond quickly while USAID “ramps up” what it coyly describes as “its new programmatic strategy.”

If the FSLN wins the election — the plan recognises that the opposition is divided and may not even participate in the elections — then Rain must bridge the gap between the old strategy and what is chillingly called “the procurement of more long-term program assistance through other mechanisms.”

The Rain contractor would have US$540,000 to distribute in grants to organisations in Nicaragua to help its work.

USAID has an infamous reputation for funding “civil society” groups and right-wing opposition parties to undermine and oust elected governments of countries that the US sees as detrimental to its interests.

It is often joined in this nefarious work by another US organisation, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). Between 2014 and 2017, for example, NED spent US$4.2 million funding more than 50 projects in Nicaragua, mainly organisations ostensibly concerned about governance, private enterprise and democracy, but in reality focused on providing a co-ordinated strategy and media voice for right-wing opposition groups to confront the government.

This reflects a consistent objective of the United States to regain dominance in Nicaragua since the FSLN won back power in the 2006 elections.

The FSLN’s success came 16 years after losing the 1990 elections, after years of the US-sponsored Contra war had inflicted 50,000 casualties and $12 billion of damage. The US had threatened more of the same, including a pledge to maintain its trade embargo, if Nicaraguans did not vote the right way — for the US-backed right-wing National Opposition Union (UNO) candidate.

This threat — backed up by the Bush administration channelling $49.75 million of “non-lethal” aid to the Contras, as well as $9 million to UNO — replicates many of the same features of the US’s current campaign against Nicaragua.

With obvious echoes of US policies towards Cuba since 1959, Chile in the early 1970s before Pinochet’s coup and Venezuela more recently, the current drive to strangle Nicaragua’s trade and its economy dates back to December 2018 when Trump signed into law the Nicaraguan Investment Conditionality Act (Nica), over two years after the draft legislation was first approved by the US House of Representatives in September 2016.

Following this up, in September 2018 sections of Nicaragua’s hard-right-wing opposition visited Washington to meet with their US allies and call on the US Congress to crack down on Nicaragua.

The day after legislation was introduced proposing stringent sanctions and extraterritorial interference in Nicaragua’s internal affairs, USAID announced a further $1.5 million in assistance “to continue to support freedom and democracy in Nicaragua.”

The Nica Act attempts to use economic pressure to destabilise the country’s government and economy. Its main thrust is to aim to cut Nicaragua off from loans and financial or technical assistance by the multilateral-lending institutions such as the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, Inter-American Development Bank  and Central America Bank for Economic Integration.

Additional powers granted under the Nica Act to Trump as president enable him to block and prohibit financial and other asset transactions — and deny or revoke visas for Nicaraguan government officials, former officials, or people purportedly “acting on behalf of” the government in Managua.

But sanctions alone, in the US’s current analysis, are insufficient to bring about the required “regime change” in Nicaragua, and hence the new wider plan to achieve that goal.

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