THE United States government is not interested in having a free and fair election in Nicaragua. Instead, it's doing all it can to influence how Nicaraguans vote. The following list of actions would be inappropriate, and in many cases illegal, for another country to undertake during our elections. Yet these are just some of the flagrant violations of Nicaragua's democratic process committed by the US.
Endorsements. President Bush and many members of Congress from both parties have openly endorsed the National Opposition Union (UNO) candidate Violeta Chamorro's campaign to unseat President Daniel Ortega. Statements from the White House and some in Congress imply that Mrs. Chamorro is the only democratic choice, though 10 candidates are running.
Overt Vote-Buying. During 1989, the Bush administration and Congress agreed to spend $12.5 million in US tax monies to influence the Nicaraguan vote. Most of this money has gone through the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), although some has gone directly to UNO. The National Endowment for Democracy was established by Congress to support democracy throughout the world. The NED charter prohibits the organization from supporting one candidate or party in another nation's elections. In Nicaragua, however, NED-supported groups are funding UNO's get-out-the-vote effort, UNO candiate Violeta Chamorro's partisan newspaper, paid UNO poll watchers, and 15,000 paid Nicaraguans selected by UNO to go door-to-door. NED money is not providing those services to other campaigns.
Covert Vote-Buying. In addition to the $12.5 million the US has spent overtly to influence Nicaragua's election, the CIA has provided $5 million in covert money to further strengthen parties in the UNO coalition, according to Newsweek magazine.
Bribery. President Bush publicly told UNO candidate Violeta Chamorro on Nov. 8 that if she won the election he would lift the hostile US trade embargo against Nicaragua. The president did not say he would lift the embargo if Nicaragua had a free, fair, and democratic election, but only if his preferred candidate won.
Contra attacks. During the campaign, contra attacks against civilians, Sandinista Party workers, and Sandinista candidates have increased. Election monitors from both the United Nations and the Organization of American States have condemned the attacks. Yet the contras still receive $4.5 million a month in US aid.
The above-mentioned factors should make it clear that the US is a participant in Nicaragua's election. It is in no way an unbiased judge of this process.
In a recent Monitor, Sen. Richard Lugar (R) of Indiana recommended benchmarks for judging Nicaragua's performance in the election. However, the US's own performance must also be evaluated. Here are some standards:
The US government should agree to accept the election determinations of the United Nations and the Organization of American States. These two international organizations will have the largest monitoring delegations in Nicaragua and, unlike members of Congress or other pro-UNO US election monitors - such as the Center for Democracy - they are not supporting any candidate or party in the election.
The US government should publicly condemn contra attacks against Nicaraguan civilians, Sandinista Party workers, and Sandinista candidates with the same intensity it condemns election-related violence attributed, rightly or wrongly, to Sandinista supporters.
The US government should announce, before the election, that if the UN and OAS certify the election to be free and fair by international and Central American standards, it will lift its four-year-old trade embargo against Nicaragua and explore other ways to normalize relations.
The US government should stop introducing falsehood and conjecture into the debate over the Nicaraguan election. Recent statements include: ``The Sandinista leaders want to cancel the election.'' (Though they are far ahead in independent polls.) Or, ``The Sandinistas plan to steal the vote.'' (Though they have invited unprecedented numbers of international election observers to monitor the process.)
There is still time for the US to reverse its position and support democratic elections in Nicaragua. The Soviet Union has turned over its Eastern European front yard to the will of the people. Now it's time for the United States to allow the same thing to happen in our self-proclaimed back yard: Central America.