Nicaragua is standing firm against U.S. imperialism

Flags of Nicaragua and the FSLN

By Fiona Edwards

Nicaragua has a long and proud history of resisting U.S. imperialism and fighting for its independence. In the decades following the Sandinista revolution in 1979, which saw the Nicaraguan people overthrow the U.S. backed dictator Somoza, successive U.S. administrations have sought to crush the revolution and restore U.S. control of the country.

The Nicaraguan people have struggled courageously to defend their right to determine their own future in the face of Washington’s assaults. From resisting the U.S.’s contra war of the 1980s to opposing the devastating impacts of neo-liberalism in the 1990s and early 2000s, which was imposed on the country following an electoral defeat in 1990 of the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) in an election taking place under the direct threat of military attacks by the U.S. armed and backed contras, the Sandinistas have led a relentless struggle to defend Nicaragua’s sovereignty and improve the living standards of the Nicaraguan people. 

It was therefore a great honour to be invited to join the Nicaraguan people and guests from across the world to celebrate the 44th Anniversary of the Sandinista Revolution on the 19th July 2023 and reflect on their long, intense and victorious struggle for self-determination.

It is a struggle that continues today.

Five years ago, in 2018 the U.S. launched a major intervention with the goal of overthrowing Nicaragua’s democratically elected Sandinista government. This U.S. orchestrated coup attempt severely destabilised Nicaragua and caused a major political, economic and social crisis in the country. The coup was defeated after a few months of turmoil and the Nicaraguan people have spent much of the past five years recovering from this attack.

At the same time Washington has been significantly escalating its foreign policy aggression in recent years at the global level with the goal of preserving the U.S.’s hegemony. A new cold war is underway, which has seen also the U.S. deliberately provoke a hot proxy war in Europe against Russia and simultaneously increase the U.S.’s military build-up against China with the increasing threat of hot war spreading to Asia.

Nicaragua, alongside other progressive forces in Latin America, has firmly rejected Washington’s new cold war agenda. Nicaragua is instead pursuing an independent foreign policy which is necessary to defend the interests of the Nicaraguan people, including advancing the country’s social and economic development.

Massive support for the Sandinista revolution

The mainstream Western media’s portrayal of Nicaragua as an unpopular, isolated and authoritarian regime defies reality.

According to the latest polling, conducted in July 2023, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega enjoys an approval rating of 79% – the highest level of support since he was elected in 2006. 82% of the population believe that the government works for the interests of the general population.

Following the U.S.’s attempted coup in 2018 President Ortega’s approval rating dropped from 78% in 2017 to 36.8% in 2018 as the country was plunged into economic turmoil.

The extremely high approval rating of President Ortega today is a vindication of the Nicaraguan government’s success in defeating and recovering from the destabilisation caused by the U.S.’s intervention in 2018 and confirms the popularity of the Sandinista revolution.

The support that Nicaragua has internationally was clearly reflected in the celebrations marking the 44th anniversary of the Sandinista revolution.

Representatives from governments across the world attended the event including from Cuba, Honduras, Mexico and Venezuela in Latin America, alongside Angola, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Mozambique and Nigeria from Africa as well as Russia, Iran, Palestine, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Abkhazia, Belarus and South Ossetia. Representatives of social movements, journalists and academics from across the world were also in attendance. 

Nicaragua’s economic recovery

The U.S.’s attempted coup inflicted severe damage to Nicaragua’s economy – which was worsened by two major hurricanes and the global economic slowdown precipitated by the Covid-19 pandemic. The U.S. sought to compound Nicaragua’s economic difficulties by imposing sanctions, including the NICA Act which was introduced in December 2018.

As a result, from 2018-2020 Nicaragua experienced a severe economic crisis, with a cumulative loss of 8.7% of GDP and a 16% increase in poverty.

Since 2020 Nicaragua’s economy has been recovering, with a growth rate of 10.3% of GDP in 2021 and 4% of GDP in 2022.

Nicaragua’s average annual growth rate over the 5 year period between 2018 and 2022 was 0.2% of GDP. In 2018, 2019 and 2020 the economy declined which was followed by a recovery in 2021 and 2022. As a result Nicaragua’s economy has essentially been restored to where it was just before the attempted coup in 2018.   

It should be noted that before the U.S’s coup attempt in 2018, Nicaragua had maintained strong growth rates – 4.6% of GDP in 2016 and 4.7% of GDP in 2017 – making it one of the strongest performing economies in the region. Nicaragua’s economic policy of increasing investment was important to this success.

In a meeting with Professor Jose Antonio Zepeda, a Member of the Nicaraguan National Assembly and General Secretary of the ‘Anden Nacional’ education union, he told me the following:

“The United States came along and destroyed the economy {in 2018}. Yet even in the face hurricanes, the pandemic and the attacks from the United States and European Union we still have economic growth. Imagine what we could do without aggression.”

Nicaragua pursues ‘win-win’ cooperation – a clear alternative to U.S. domination

Today the United States is becoming even more aggressive in its foreign policy. The tremendous economic rise of China, which has seen over 850 million people brought out of poverty in 40 years, is regarded in Washington as an existential threat to the U.S.’s global dominance. In response the U.S. has launched a new cold war.

This new cold war is aimed not only at stopping the economic development of China but it also aims to prevent other countries throughout the world pursuing win-win economic cooperation with China and other countries such as Russia, despite the fact that such a dynamic benefits the global economy and advances the pursuit of global development.

That Nicaragua is pursuing an independent foreign policy, which includes developing its relations with Russia and China in particular, is regarded as intolerable by elites in Washington that continue to see Latin America as their ‘backyard’ or as U.S. President Biden ridiculously expressed in January 2022, the U.S.’s ‘front yard’. The framework, that the U.S. should dominate Latin America, remains the framework.

However, the rise of China does represent an alternative model of international relations for countries in Latin America and elsewhere in the Global South. Instead of a relationship based on dominance, China offers a relationship based on ‘win-win’ cooperation, mutual respect and respect for sovereignty.

National Assembly Member Professor Jose Antonio Zepeda very clearly explained the difference between Nicaragua’s relationship with the U.S. and its growing relations with China and Russia. He said:

“We are bombarded with the idea that China and Russia are the aggressors. U.S. troops have been on our soil seven times, so we are very clear who promotes military aggression because we have experienced it.”

Professor Zepeda then explained that Nicaragua’s relations with Russia and China operated on the basis of “no aggression, just support” with “no conditions.”

During the global pandemic Russia was the first country to provide Nicaragua with vaccines, followed by Cuba, at a time when the U.S. and Europe were hoarding supplies of vaccines for themselves and countries in the Global South struggled to obtain any supplies.

The development of ‘win-win’ relations between Nicaragua and China has accelerated in recent years.            

In December 2021 Nicaragua restored diplomatic relations with China, switching its diplomatic recognition from Taipei in Taiwan to Beijing. Following on from this, one month later in January 2022 Nicaragua and China signed several key agreements including a Memorandum of Understanding with China’s Belt and Road Initiative

A number of investment agreements between Nicaraguan state institutions and Chinese companies were signed in February 2022 to develop projects in the areas of energy, health, infrastructure, among others. The objective of the commitments is to develop road, port, railway and hospital infrastructure, water and sanitation projects in addition to renewable energy.

In April 2023, Nicaragua and China started their first major project together – building affordable housing. The first phase of this project will see 920 units of housing built in Managua along with a central square, sports fields and other facilities. Overall a total of 12,035 units of housing will be built once the project is completed.

Currently Nicaragua and China are negotiating a comprehensive free trade agreement. More than 60% of Nicaragua’s exports currently go to the United States, and it is a key goal of the Nicaraguan government to diversify its exports.

In a meeting with Maritza Espinales, a trade union General Secretary (FEITUN) and Member of the Nicaraguan National Assembly, she explained that it is vital for Nicaragua to not only “diversify the economy” but also “develop value added” industries too.

The experience of other countries in Latin America shows that through cooperation with China this is possible. Bolivia’s socialist government, for example, has recently agreed deals with Chinese and Russian companies to develop its lithium industry with total investment of US $1.4bn

The Bolivian state company YLB is at the heart of this process with a view to develop the economy through creating a ‘value added’ lithium industry to process this vital material in the country instead of exporting it unprocessed. This project will see a Bolivian state company cooperate with Chinese and Russian firms to industrialise the Bolivian economy.

This represents a stark contrast to the U.S.’s approach of imposing privatisation and extracting commodities unprocessed which has kept Latin American economies under-developed.

Support Nicaragua’s struggle for independence and development 

Despite relentless attacks from the U.S. – including the devastating coup attempt in 2018 – Nicaragua continues to stand firm and defend its sovereignty and right to self-determination.

It should also be noted that Nicaragua’s pursuit of an independent foreign policy, which rejects the U.S.’s new cold war agenda, is a growing trend in Latin America.

President Lula in Brazil, Latin America’s largest and most influential country, has been clear that Washington’s new cold war is not in the interests of the people, instead favouring international cooperation and a “war on poverty” – a priority shared amongst progressive forces across the region.

In Latin America’s war on poverty China is a key ally. Not only can China’s experience in lifting 850 million people out of poverty in just four decades be studied and learnt from, but also the fact that China today is the world’s most rapidly growing major economy makes it a key economic partner for countries throughout Latin America seeking a path of development. The importance of Nicaragua’s growing economic relations with China can therefore not be under-estimated.

The Sandinista revolution has massive support within Nicaragua. Progressive forces across the world should have no hesitation in supporting Nicaragua in its fight for sovereignty, in opposing U.S. interference and sanctions and in supporting the country’s struggle to pursue an independent path.

The above article was originally published here at Eyes on Latin America

Image: Cropped version of ‘Nicaraguan-Sandinista-British Columbian Flags on Pole – Maderas Beach – North of San Juan del Sur – Nicaragua’. Author: Adam Jones,  licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.