From Brexit to Nicaragua : Liberal Contempt for Ordinary People
After the Brexit vote on June 23, no one reading the coverage by liberal media like the U.K.’s Guardian and Independent newspapers, or the New York Times in the U.S., could possibly mistake the fierce anti-democratic, neocolonial metropolis mentality of the attacks against the mainly working class people who voted for Britain to leave the European Union.
That explains a lot about why these newspapers’ coverage of Latin America and the Caribbean has always been hostile to every progressive government in the region. These media outlets’ foreign affairs reporting has consistently attacked progressive governments in Argentina, Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Venezuela, despite all the huge achievements of those governments on behalf of the region’s impoverished majority over the last 15 years.
The latest example of this comprehensive psychological warfare campaign is the Guardian’s attack on Nicaragua’s Sandinista government using the same lazy, skewed reporting and dishonest editorial practice Western liberal media routinely apply to Venezuela, Ukraine, Syria or any other foreign news story the Western elites need to misrepresent for propaganda purposes. Nina Lakhani’s June 26 report “Nicaragua suppresses opposition to ensure one-party election, critics say,” is a text book example of malicious innuendo with close to zero factual content, purposefully edited to obscure and confuse rather than clarify and explain. The most pernicious feature of this kind of propaganda attack is that general readers never see a strong fact-based rebuttal and even if they were to do so would find the detail relentlessly boring. Only specialists are likely to take an interest. So in practice, the liberal and progressive minded public, virtual captives of their own media taste, are entirely at the mercy of liberal media psychological warfare unless they have a special interest in seeking out more truthful reporting.
The most important political reality in Nicaragua since 2011 has been the solid and growing popular support for Daniel Ortega and the Sandinista Front for National Liberation. A poll by a center-right polling consultancy, published over the same weekend that the Guardian’s article appeared, confirmed that 60 percent of people in Nicaragua say they support the FSLN and Daniel Ortega. That augurs a total vote of probably around 70 percent for Daniel Ortega in the forthcoming national elections in November this year. Lakhani’s report ends with a quote from a U.S. academic acknowledging this reality, “The opposition are poorly organized, bereft of ideas and spend too much time fighting amongst themselves …. there’s no one in opposition capable of beating Ortega. He’s too popular – it was always going to be one-horse race.”
But that truth is buried at the end of an arbitrary disinformation pot pourri, jumping from one anti-Sandinista falsehood to another. Much more interesting than the routine falsity of the Guardian’s report is the fundamental assumption underlying it, namely that the opinion of a cosseted, self-interested neocolonial managerial class is worth more than the opinion of at least 60 percent of people in Nicaragua.
This reality was roughly stripped of its usual suave cosmetic makeover by the commentary in all the Western liberal media, almost universally attacking what they regarded as the ignorance and lack of education of the voters supporting Britain’s exit from the European Union. The political expression of that duplicity and cynicism has been the attack on Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the British Labour Party by party MPs largely carried over from the dead-end neoliberal era of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, who are talking openly about splitting to form a new political grouping. So at precisely the moment when the governing right-wing Tory Party is at its lowest ebb since the last general election, these avowed social democrats have chosen to attack the most faithful progressive expression of working class people in Britain. They cannot accept the stark challenge to the privileged status quo of which they are beneficiaries that the June 23 Brexit vote represents. There’s a very clear precedent for this moment in British politics and it comes from … Nicaragua.
After the Sandinista Front lost the 1990 election, a strong debate developed between those who believed in staying faithful to the principles of the Sandinista Revolution and those who believed in a move towards European style social democracy. Daniel Ortega lead those who insisted on fighting to defend strong government intervention in a mixed economy and an anti-imperialist foreign policy. The social democrat faction, led by former Vice-President Sergio Ramirez, argued for a shift to a more free market economic policy and an accommodation with the reality of U.S. power in the region. Through 1993 and 1994, Ramirez and his allies organized a parliamentary coup leading a majority of the 39 Sandinista deputies elected in 1990 to work with right-wing factions, railroading through the National Assembly restrictive changes to the 1987 Constitution with zero popular consultation.
In May 1994, the Sandinista Front held a national party congress in which Sergio Ramirez and his sympathizers lost a series of positions in the party structure while Daniel Ortega strengthened his grass roots support to consolidate his leadership. In the subsequent national elections in 1996, Daniel Ortega lead his party to important electoral success in the legislature with 36 out of 93 seats but, amid blatant electoral fraud, failed to win the Presidency. Sergio Ramirez’s Sandinista Renewal Movement polled a negligible vote, winning a solitary seat in the legislature as a result of questionable adjudication by the head of the Supreme Electoral Council, who was also the wife of the candidate in question. Over the subsequent decade, the MRS went into steady decline eventually disappearing as a formally constituted political party after the national elections of 2006.
There may well be a lesson in that history for Britain’s Labour Party. Nicaragua’s economy and society were in deep crisis in 1994 with opinion extremely polarized and a large floating vote desperate for policies to alleviate the crisis. The right wing only won the presidential elections of 1996 and 2001 by ruthless fear-mongering. Daniel Ortega and the Sandinista Front finally won the 2006 presidential election through astute alliances and positive policy proposals, insisting on national unity and reconciliation. In office, Ortega’s team successfully implemented those policy proposals despite being in a minority in the legislature. Their success enabled the Sandinista Front to win the 2011 election with over 63 percent of the vote, while the MRS social democrats by then had disappeared as a national political force. Parallels between Nicaragua in 1994 and Britain now may seem far fetched, but the political logic is strikingly similar. A progressive, relatively radical leader with a massive grassroots mandate faces a rebellion from a privileged social democratic parliamentary clique in a national context dominated by the right wing.
That configuration of forces may well foreshadow, for the social democrat Labour MPs a steady decline into oblivion and, for Jeremy Corbyn, a clear trajectory into office, if not immediate power. The Nicaraguan precedent will not be lost on Corbyn, who for decades has been a strong supporter of progressive movements in Latin America. What is common to both Britain and Nicaragua is the sheer contempt with which social democrat politicians have treated their party and the cynical opportunism of their timing.
The Brexit vote expresses both ordinary voters’ recognition of that cynicism and opportunism and, certainly in England and Wales, their rejection of it. The attitudes of the West’s social democrat political and media class to progressive political movements in Latin America evince the same obtuse, cynical neocolonial arrogance they apply to their own electorate. And that is why it is a waste of time hoping for a coherent, truthful account of events in Latin America and the Caribbean from media disinformation outlets owned and operated by that political and social class, as the Guardian’s latest inaccurate, phony report on Nicaragua demonstrates yet again.