FSLN Sandinista march Nicaragua Managua

Right-wing Nicaraguan opposition boasts of support from US and EU in campaign to oust Sandinista gov’t

The US embassy and European Union are meeting with right-wing Nicaraguan opposition leaders and pressuring them to unite against elected leftist President Daniel Ortega in the lead-up to the 2021 election.

By Ben Norton

A far-right opposition figure in Nicaragua has boasted that the country’s unpopular opposition forces are meeting with representatives from the US embassy and European Union, who have pledged them support in their bid to oust the ruling leftist Sandinista Front government.

According to this rightist Evangelical leader, the US government and EU are pressuring Nicaragua’s badly divided opposition to unite in the lead-up to the 2021 election, with the goal of unseating the Sandinistas.

This frank admission of foreign meddling in Nicaragua’s democracy comes after a violent coup attempt in 2018, in which right-wing groups funded and supported by the US government failed to overthrow the elected president, Daniel Ortega.

The Donald Trump administration has declared the small nation of Nicaragua to be a supposed “national security threat,” and has imposed several rounds of aggressive sanctions on the country, with the aim of destabilizing its economy.

The violence and economic warfare has failed to weaken the popularity of the ruling FSLN party, however. A survey released this January by a mainstream polling firm found that 63.5 percent of Nicaraguans plan to vote for the Sandinistas in the upcoming election, while the opposition really only has the dedicated support of around 11.5 percent of the population.

‘We met with political advisers from the US embassy and the European Union’

On January 30, right-wing leaders from a group called the Civic Alliance for Justice and Democracy (ACJD) held a press conference to announce their expansion as part of a process of “fortifying.”

The ACJD is a coalition of opposition groups, several of which are funded by the US government and coordinate closely with Washington. It was formed in 2018 during the coup attempt against the Sandinistas.

In the press conference and a subsequent printed statement, the ACJD announced that it is in the process of creating “a National Coalition, wide, pluralist, and committed to the change that Nicaragua needs.”

Among the opposition figures at the presser was Saturnino Cerrato, the fundamentalist Evangelical leader of the rabidly right-wing Party for Democratic Restoration (PRD).

Cerrato, a minor figure in Nicaraguan politics who is barely known outside far-right circles, said his party is eager to become part of the right-wing National Coalition, arguing “there is a total opening” for the opposition.

He revealed that this demand for opposition unity is not only coming from inside the country, but also from powerful foreign actors.

“First it is a national demand, from the national community, and next it is also a demand from the international community,” Cerrato explained.

“In these days — the day before yesterday and today — we met with political advisers from the US embassy and the European Union,” Cerrato said in the January 30 press conference, which was livestreamed on Facebook.

The US embassy and EU told the opposition leaders, “We are ready to support a large movement that is formed in Nicaragua,” he recalled.

“And one of the advisers said, ‘We are surprised that it has taken so much time to form that unity,'” he added.

Cerrato said the pressure both from within and outside convinced his party to join the National Coalition efforts.

Nicaragua opposition US EU Saturnino Cerrato Civic Alliance
Saturnino Cerrato speaking at the Nicaraguan opposition Civic Alliance press conference on January 30, sitting next to Juan Sebastián Chamorro

US and EU backing far-right fringe figures in Latin America

Before the US-backed coup attempt against Nicaragua’s elected Sandinista government in 2018, Saturnino Cerrato was virtually unknown in the country. His PRD party received just over 4 percent in the 2016 general elections.

A 2017 poll by major firm showed that more than 85 percent of Nicaraguans did not even know who Cerrato was or had no opinion of him. Of those who did know the right-wing pastor, they had a mostly negative view of him. (For perspective, this same poll found that 80 percent of Nicaraguans had a positive view of the leftist President Daniel Ortega, and just 11 percent had a negative view.)

A Nicaraguan activist told The Grayzone that figures like Cerrato “don’t have much local influence. But he is an Evangelical pastor who have the ability to influence many Evangelical groups.”

“He does not have a lot of people, he has one of the parties with very few votes,” the activist said. “But after the coup attempt they have tried to become more influential.”

The US government has a long history of elevating fringe far-right figures like these in coup efforts targeting independent leftist governments in Latin America.

In the putsch against Bolivia’s democratically elected leftist government in November 2019, for instance, Washington supported the installation of a Christian extremist with a long and documented history of anti-indigenous racism, Jeanine Añez. Her fringe opposition party also reaped just over 4 percent of the vote in the 2019 general elections.

More US-backed opposition groups leading Nicaragua alliance efforts

The opposition is moving towards greater unity while the Trump administration escalates its pressure campaign against Nicaragua’s government.

On January 31, the acting assistant secretary for the US State Department’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, Michael G. Kozak, tweeted condemnation of the elected Ortega government and expressed support for the major right-wing newspaper, La Prensa.

Owned by the oligarchic Chamorro family, La Prensa is the traditional mouthpiece for the opposition. It has a long history of receiving funding from the US government through the CIA front the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and was indispensable in the US government’s propaganda campaign against Nicaragua during its Contra proxy war in the 1980s.

The January 30 press conference held by Nicaragua’s Civic Alliance for Justice and Democracy featured several other prominent right-wing opposition activists who are backed by Washington.

Among the co-sponsors was Juan Sebastián Chamorro of the powerful Chamorro clan, a wealthy family that has controlled Nicaragua for much of its history. His neoliberal think tank, the Nicaraguan Foundation for Economic and Social Development (FUNIDES), has been bankrolled with millions of dollars by the US government’s soft-power arm the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and used as a conduit for funding smaller opposition groups.

Helping to organize the press conference was the group Blue and White National Unity (UNAB). Like the right-wing Civic Alliance, the UNAB was founded in 2018, in the wake of the failed coup attempt. It is an integral part of the US- and EU-backed efforts to form an opposition alliance. UNAB has even changed its photos on social media to call for a “National Coalition.”