BEN NORTON: This is Ben Norton with The Grayzone. I just sat down for an interview with Michael Campbell, a foreign policy advisor to Nicaragua’s President Daniel Ortega, and an alternative representative for Nicaragua at the Organization of American States.
We discussed Nicaragua’s historic decision to leave the OAS. We talked about attempts to discredit Nicaragua’s November 7, 2021 elections. And we discussed the importance of Nicaragua’s Caribbean Coast, and the political autonomy for people of African descent and Indigenous communities in Nicaragua.
Michael Campbell, thanks for agreeing to an interview.
Nicaragua has just made the historic decision of leaving the Organization of American States. Can you talk about why Nicaragua decided to do this?
MICHAEL CAMPBELL: Thank you very much, first first of all, for the interest in interviewing us. Nicaragua has historically been under attack by the Organization of American States.
Why we decided to leave, I think it comes because of the latest round of attacks, particularly because the Organization of American States assumed a most aggressive attitude against Nicaragua after our – before, during, and after our most recent electoral process. As some would say, that was the last drop that poured over the glass.
Because here in Nicaragua, we are very proud of the way that we conduct elections. Elections in Nicaragua are a way of ensuring peace. Every single electoral process has a very high voter turnout, especially when it’s national elections. This has been the trend, because everybody takes part in this process.
We are not only electing the president and the vice president of the republic, but we’re electing national, regional, and departmental congressmen and women. We are electing congressmen and women to the Central American Parliament. And everybody feels represented in this process.
It’s not only Sandinistas that participate in these elections. Other political parties also do their campaigns. And the supporters of these political parties also exercise their right to vote.
In this past election, almost 3 million Nicaraguans [went] to each one of the voting stations to cast their vote for the candidate of their choice. Out of this, a little bit over 600,000 were votes for other political parties that there were that are not the FSLN.
All of these these people exercised their right to vote as defended by the constitution, as defended by the charter of the OAS, the inter-American democratic charter, the charter of the United Nations, the declaration of human rights.
Yet the OAS secretary general, from even before the elections, began to criticize and even declare that our electoral process was fraudulent. The secretary of state of the United States even made declarations saying that our elections were a “sham.”
These things were repeated within the forum of the Organization of American States. So it’s just this was the last drop of attacks against the dignity, the sovereignty of Nicaragua. And we decided that this could not continue anymore.
Keep in mind, the attacks of the OAS against Nicaragua have have happened throughout our history, from the existence of the organization itself. After 2018, the attacks against Nicaragua became even worse.
We have tried to show the truth to the member states, and the secretary general and other members of this organization have chosen not to listen to the truth, but instead to join in the campaign against the government of Daniel Ortega and Vice President Rosario Murillo, against the people of Nicaragua.
We have repeatedly presented information to the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights. We have shared information with the member states, the truth about what’s happening in Nicaragua, what has been happening in Nicaragua since 2007. It is in the hands of the member states and is in the hands of the secretary general.
But they choose to reject the truth and instead join in this campaign against Nicaragua, a campaign that is aimed at overthrowing the government of Nicaragua.
And this is something that we have decided that we will not accept anymore. We have a responsibility to the people of Nicaragua to defend the constitution, to defend the sovereignty of the country.
And that is why we decided to take the historical step of denouncing the charter of the OAS, based on article 143. So you denounce the charter and you begin the process of withdrawing.
So now a two-year period has to go by before we are fully released from this organization. And every time we speak, we will do the countdown – 300 and something days to come out of the OAS, 240 days to get out of the OAS. We hope it doesn’t come to that.
But our decisions, that we make in a sovereign manner, are not taken lightly. We have decided to make this historic, this transcendental step because of the aggressions of this organization.
BEN NORTON: I observed the elections. I was part of a delegation of international accompaniment to see the vote. And I went to Chinandega. I saw with my own eyes; it was a free and transparent process.
But you mentioned something very interesting: Not only did the OAS claim that the vote here was illegitimate; it actually claimed that before the vote even happened, the November 7 elections.
Before November 7, the OAS was releasing declarations saying that the election was not free and fair, that it was not legitimate. How would the OAS know? Is it clairvoyant?
MICHAEL CAMPBELL: Even if the OAS had an electoral observation mission on the ground, how how could they criticize an electoral process that takes over a year to plan? That includes establishing voting stations, over 13,000 voting stations were established throughout the country.
It includes designing the ballots. It includes making sure that your voter IDs are properly delivered to all of the citizens of the country, verifying that they have their voter IDs, that everybody knows exactly where to go, how to go, at what time to go. It includes consulting the laws and the norms and procedures with the political parties.
It’s not a process that happens just during one day. So these electoral observation missions that the OAS speaks so highly about, that they endorse so highly, in reality, when they do their observation, they only look at a very small part of what an electoral process entails.
Here in Nicaragua we are very proud, for example, that we use a very detailed voter registry. This registry can tell, first, the registry is delivered to every single political party; it’s placed on the wall of every voting station; it’s inside the voting table.
And it tells you – you have an active registry, which is people that vote continuously during every election, so you know that their address is verified.
And then you have a passive registry. These are people that might have been out of the country during the last election, but that the last place that they voted was in X or Y voting station.
So we have these two things there. Inside the voting table, the voter registry has your photograph, your voter ID, and your address.
When the vote is taking place, you have to present your your ID card. The ID card uses QR codes, bar codes, detailed biometric data. It includes a perpetual number. Our ID number is perpetual, and it’s unique for every single citizen.
So for the OAS, or the secretary general of the OAS, or for any electoral observation mission from the OAS to claim that our election is fraudulent is preposterous; it’s ridiculous.
And Nicaragua has gone to great lengths, with its political parties and with the structure of the Supreme Electoral Council, to make sure that the custody, the chain of custody of the vote is insured.
Every single ballot has a sequence that is only – it’s a number sequence that is only approved by the members of that specific voting station. So every member there gives one number; they come up with with one single digit number; and that has to be on every single ballot within the voting station, for the ballot itself to be valid when the time for counting happens.
And then you have the monitors for each one of the political parties. Every single political party has a monitor within each one of the voting stations, at least one monitor. We had over 175,000 monitors throughout the 13,000 and plus voting stations.
So come on, who do you want to compare us with?
Nicaragua has an independent Supreme Electoral Council that is composed by more than one political party. The United States doesn’t have this.
Other countries in the region can’t guarantee the security, the transparency of the electoral system that Nicaragua has.
And we we assign, as I mentioned before, we assign such importance to to the electoral process because that’s the only way to ensure peace.
If people can vote freely, if people can know that their candidates can compete freely, then people are are less likely to enter into conflict.
And yes, the Frente Sandinista had an overwhelming victory, but this is not because in any way or form the vote was manipulated, or the electoral process was manipulated.
It is because the Frente Sandinista, since [it returned to power in] 2007, has delivered to the people of Nicaragua over a decade of prosperity. We have seen improved roads; we have seen electricity; we have seen potable water; we have seen security; we have seen economic growth, free education being reinstated, access to health being reinstated, free and quality access to health being reinstated, and handling the Covid-19 probably better than any country in this hemisphere.
That’s why the FSLN had such an overwhelming majority of the vote in this election. It’s not because in any way or form the elections were tampered with.
I mean we look a little bit at international news, and I don’t think the United States can claim that. I mean gerrymandering, just gerrymandering would disqualify them to even compete in the same category as Nicaragua.
And I remember, during the [US] elections in 2020, we were opening voting stations while the [US] Post Office was closing areas to where people can deliver the vote.
And as I said, our Supreme Electoral Council is an independent body, an independent power of the state composed by more than one political party. Usually the political parties with the largest – the first and second place of the political parties of the last election have have most of the members. But all political parties have some degree of representation in this body.
In the United States, it’s the governor’s office that are the ones that conduct the elections. I don’t know if you can claim that a governor that belongs to X or Y political party is an independent electoral body. I don’t know. It’s a long haul.
But Nicaragua wouldn’t interfere. We wouldn’t comment about the elections in another country. Every country has to conduct their electoral process based on their own culture, their own tradition, their own norms.
We think that the best way to conduct elections is the way that we are doing it, with an independent power of the state, which is our Supreme Electoral Council.
But well, having said all of that, we we believe that we did our best, and the Nicaraguan people have spoken, and organizations like the OAS should respect the right, the sovereign right of the people of Nicaragua.
BEN NORTON: You, Michael Campbell, are also an alternate representative for Nicaragua before the Organization of American States. You have in fact participated in different meetings that were held by the OAS.
What was your experience like communicating with members of the organization, and also with representatives from other member states?
MICHAEL CAMPBELL: Well Covid-19 and the pandemic has made the usual work of dialogue and and lobbying with the member states a little bit limited.
Nicaragua is very respectful of each one of the member states, every single member state that is represented in the OAS. We try to make sure that they have information about what is happening in our country.
With most of the member states, the relationship is cordial, is respectful. Other member states are much more aggressive against Nicaragua, and even though they talk a lot about dialogue and cooperation and seeking how to how to reach out with Nicaragua, the truth is that’s completely false.
Some member states have chosen to set up a a barrier and to carry out an interventionist agenda, usually an agenda that is led by the United States against Nicaragua.
Every time that we speak in the OAS, especially when we’re speaking on issues directly related to Nicaragua, we have always asked the organization, the secretary general, and the member states to abide by the principles of international law, to stick to the charter of the United Nations, and to stick to the charter of the OAS.
When these member states choose to push the interventionist agenda and seek to violate these principles that I just mentioned, or try to attack Nicaragua, Nicaragua’s right to sovereignty, self-determination, and independence, then we defend it, we defend our country, we defend our people.
We deliver our statements in defense of what we think is right for the people of Nicaragua, in defense of the people of Nicaragua.
The unfortunate thing about the Organization of American States is, most of the organizations that exist throughout the region, throughout the world, are organizations in which your participation is voluntary, in which decisions are made by consensus, in which cooperation and solidarity are the ultimate goal, in which addressing the needs of the peoples of the region that they represent is a priority.
The Organization of American States has stopped being that, has never been that. I think from when it was founded, it was founded with this idea of a [US] office for Latin America.
I think it was Fidel Castro that called it a “ministry of the colonies,” some way to administrate the governments of this rambunctious region, hemisphere.
And that I think, by becoming that type of organization, that seeks to impose, instead of an organization that seeks to bring people together, to allow us to dialogue, to deal with common threats, to take advantage of opportunities, is the failing, is the great failing of the OAS.
Like I said, we are not withdrawing from the OAS lightly. We have taken a beating since 1940-something when the organization was created. And we still have to deal with the OAS for another two years.
But we have the decision that we have made, we have made it taking into account all the different elements, taking into account the history of Nicaragua, the history of our relationship with the organization, and the recent terrible aggressions against our people.
BEN NORTON: The anti-Sandinista opposition media here in Nicaragua, much of which is funded by the US government, in fact personally attacked you, because you used a term in a recent OAS meeting, “golpista” – that is, “coup-monger” is the best translation, people who organize coups, in the OAS.
Can you respond to the criticisms of you using the term golpista, or coup-monger, to refer to OAS officials?
MICHAEL CAMPBELL: If you join a campaign to overthrow a constitutionally elected government you are a conspirator, a coup conspirator, you are a golpista. If you don’t like the term, stop doing it!
We we don’t we don’t feel any joy in calling you a golpista. We wish we didn’t have to deal with any coup conspirators.
But the fact is, in 2018, a coup, an attempted coup was orchestrated, funded from abroad, weaponizing a few NGOs and media platforms here, receiving millions of dollars from abroad, to try to overthrow a government.
And then, when we defeated the coup, the elements of the conspirators apparently were were picked up by some of the member states that continue this aggression against Nicaragua.
How should we call it? What should we call you? You are standing up and you’re trying to continue the effort of overthrowing a government. You are a coup conspirator.
If you don’t want us to call you a coup conspirator, stop promoting the coup. It’s easy! I think that is the best way to say it.
BEN NORTON: Something that is not that well known is that, in fact, one of the founding members of the OAS was the Somoza dictatorship here in Nicaragua in 1948.
You mentioned that the OAS has long been a very biased institution. The majority of its funding comes from the US government. It was created by Washington in a conference that it organized in Colombia in 1948, at the beginning of the cold war.
So many people in Latin America have criticized the OAS for a long time. But it does seem that there is a shift happening in Latin America.
Mexico in fact this September hosted a historic summit of the CELAC, the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States. Many people in Latin America are saying that the CELAC could potentially be an alternative to the OAS.
In fact it was Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez who helped to create the CELAC with the goal of eventually replacing the OAS.
Revolutionary governments in the region have long criticized the OAS. You mentioned Fidel Castro and Cuba referred to the OAS as the “ministry of the yankee colonies.”
But even liberal governments, much more centrist governments, in recent years, such as the government of Argentina, the government of Mexico, even they have been openly criticizing the OAS.
Do you think that with Venezuela leaving in 2019, Nicaragua on the path to leave now, with the coup in Bolivia in 2019, do you think that the OAS is on its last legs and that it might be replaced by another organization?
MICHAEL CAMPBELL: I think the fact that Nicaragua has chosen today to denounce the charter and begin withdrawing is because we consider it a failed organization. It’s an organization that is betraying its mandate.
Venezuela, as you mentioned, Venezuela is a very interesting case. Venezuela did the same thing that Nicaragua did. Venezuela denounced the charter and began to to withdraw from the organization.
What has the OAS done now? And this is with the – many of the member states are still supporting this representative of [Juan] Guaidó, an impostor, being there sitting down, there voting against Nicaragua.
This impostor, playing the role as a representative of who? Not a representative of the Bolivarian people of Venezuela. But there he is, he’s not only signing the resolutions against countries like Nicaragua, against countries like Haiti; he is also being a promoter of these documents.
And that just goes to show you really where the organization stands, and to what lengths it’s ready to go to try to destabilize, or intervene in, or overthrow governments in this region.
Mexico has been very forceful in denouncing the secretary general, in particular.
BEN NORTON: Luis Almagro.
MICHAEL CAMPBELL: Luis Almagro, yeah the secretary general of the OAS. Other countries also have denounced them.
Bolivia has denounced, of course, the coup that they they faced in 2019. Other member states also denounced the way that the organization is being conducted.
To go from there to take the important step of denouncing the charter and withdrawing from the OAS is another story.
We believe that that was the best decision for us, the best sovereign decision for us, and every other country would have to make the decision for themselves.
In the meantime we will continue working for the Nicaraguan people, and also continue participating in good faith in other organizations that exist within the region, and which we believe coincide more with our principles, and our beliefs, and the needs and challenges our people face.
BEN NORTON: Do you think that CELAC or potentially another organization could play a more positive role than an organization like the OAS in the region?
MICHAEL CAMPBELL: Most definitely. Like I said, all the other organizations, almost all the other organizations in which Nicaragua participates, are organizations that are based on clear mandates, that are based on principles that really help the region, or the countries, the member states of the organization, to deal with the challenges that they face, to take advantage of opportunities, to promote dialogue, respect, to strengthen the relationships between the member states.
The OAS only seeks to promote conflict, only seeks to promote division. There isn’t any real strong role that the Organization of American States is playing in helping to foster greater cooperation in the region, to help us to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic, just to give you right now an immediate example.
So I think, at this point, almost any organization can replace the Organization of American States.
CELAC, decisions inside CELAC are based on consensus. That means that, in order to take a decision, countries need to dialogue, they need to work together.
Mexico right now has had the presidency of CELAC, and I have to say that they have played a very forceful, a very important role in getting the organization back on track and strengthening the organization.
We in the meeting in Mexico, we approved declarations, well the political declaration of the organization that covers several issues, from climate change to Covid-19, to the rights of Indigenous and Afro-descendant people, to fostering greater cooperation, to dealing with infrastructure challenges, to dealing with debt challenges within the region.
So you can immediately, as a member state, you can immediately relate to what CELAC produces, and everybody can relate to the language that is being used. And it fosters, as I said, fosters greater cooperation and dialogue.
And I think our countries need to need to look at CELAC as a very important project, a very important vision, that we must continue to strengthen. Not only as an alternative to the OAS, leave the OAS alone – this is an organization that is on track to implode, if it continues working like that.
Let’s work hard on a project in which all of us share, all of us can relate to.
BEN NORTON: You are also the representative of Nicaragua before the Association of Caribbean States. And here in Nicaragua, there is actually political autonomy for the Caribbean Coast, which you and your family are from.
Can you talk about your experience in the Association of Caribbean States, how it’s different from the OAS, and what is the importance of the Caribbean Coast in Nicaragua, and what is the importance of its political autonomy?
MICHAEL CAMPBELL: The history of the Caribbean Coast of – the history of Nicaragua, which includes a colonization model implemented by the Spanish on the Pacific Coast, and a colonization model implemented on the Caribbean region – even though the Caribbean region was never colonized, what was established was a British protectorate – these two experiences of colonization is what gives Nicaragua its identity, this multicultural, very diverse identity.
The Caribbean Coast of Nicaragua has autonomy because of that history, that different history of colonization.
We, from as early as the 1700s, the Caribbean Coast of Nicaragua, which then was the Miskitu Coast, had its own form of government, had its own currency, had economic and political relations with the Caribbean islands, with decisions related to – legislations were approved, we had our own flag from as early as the 1700s.
So that is the basis for us to have political uh political autonomy.
The Miskito Coast, on the Caribbean, ceased to exist in 1894. In 1894, the government of José Santos Zelaya, in partnership, in alliance with the Marines of the United States, took over the Caribbean Coast, and they annexed the region.
So imagine, this is 1894. One of the first experiences of interventionism in US foreign policy was actually in Nicaragua, as early as as 1894. They had done other, I think a few other experiences had happened before, but 1894, as early as 1894, the United States are playing an interventionist role in Nicaragua.
Of course José Santos Zelaya was overthrown a little bit after that.
BEN NORTON: By a US military intervention.
MICHAEL CAMPBELL: By another US military intervention. But so in 1894, the Miskito Coast became the Caribbean Coast of Nicaragua, annexed.
From 1894, up until the Sandinista Revolution in 1979, the land, the rivers, the natural resources, the ports, the relationships were taken away from the Indigenous and Afro-descendant people of the Caribbean.
The oligarchy of Nicaragua, represented here on the Pacific Coast, they wanted to have the resources; they wanted to have the forest, the lumber, the fishing grounds, everything; but they didn’t want to have any relationship with the Indigenous and Afro-descendant people.
It’s until 1979 when the FSLN overthrows the dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza Debayle and begins the process of consulting with the people on the Caribbean Coast as to how they want to develop their region, how they want to organize their development process.
And the Indigenous people and Afro-descendants of the region said they wanted autonomy. Autonomy is a way of ensuring self-determination, a way of guaranteeing that your culture and your traditions are taken into account when you are developing public policy, autonomy to make our own political decisions about how we want the region to to grow.
So from 1979, different levels of consultations took place. That ended in 1987. In 1987, Nicaragua approved its political constitution, a new, brand new political constitution. And article 8 of that constitution is the first one in the history of Nicaragua to recognize the multi-ethnic and pluri-cultural nature of the nation.
So the Indigenous people and people of African descent didn’t exist in Nicaragua legally until the political constitution of 1987.
BEN NORTON: Created by the Sandinistas.
MICHAEL CAMPBELL: Created by the Sandinista government. And along with this political constitution of 1987, law number 28, which is the autonomy law for the Caribbean, also was approved.
This is 1987, and the Sandinistas “lost” the election in 1990. I say “lost” because everybody knows the history around how that electoral process happened.
From 1990 up until 2006 [the neoliberal era when the Sandinistas were out of power], the people in power were the same ones that didn’t want to have anything to do with the Indigenous people and people of African descent before 1979. So nothing happened in terms of government policy during that period.
When the FSLN comes back to power in 2007, the national human development plan is put forward. And within that plan, we have the a specific strategy for the development of the Caribbean Coast of Nicaragua.
And that strategy includes strengthening the regional governments, demarcating and titling Indigenous and Afro-descendant land.
I don’t know if you know, but about 37,000 square kilometers of Nicaragua’s land is Indigenous and Afro-descendant communal land. This is the size of Honduras and Belize together. And we have demarcated and delivered that back.
And the Indigenous and Afro-descendant people decide about how to use their resources, their natural resources, fishery, lumber, etc., how to promote their culture, how to conduct justice, how to make sure that traditional medicine is incorporated into the health system, etc.
So autonomy is this – it’s the way to ensure that political decisions are taken based on the culture and the traditions of the Indigenous and Afro-descendant people, and that these are adequately visibilized in the life of the nation.
BEN NORTON: Michael Campbell, thanks for joining The Grayzone for this interview.
MICHAEL CAMPBELL: Thank you very much, thank you very much Ben.
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