Nicaragua and the Spurious Legality of the Elites

The abuse of quasi-legal mechanisms to further the political objectives of the Western elites has long set a clear precedent for similar contemporary abuses in Latin America. For example, the Special Tribunal in Lebanon has targeted Hezbollah and other Lebanese political allies of Syria. The Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia targeted Serbian government functionaries resistant to NATO demands. The International Criminal Court has persistently and unjustly targeted independent African leaders like Laurent Gbagbo, former President of Ivory Coast or Libya’s leader Muammar al Gaddhafi, prior to his brutal murder. This abuse of international judicial mechanisms has now been successfully applied in Brazil and Argentina after a trial run against President Fernando Lugo in Paraguay. The coup against Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff is the climax of a year long process which, for the moment, has abruptly halted the advance of progressive change in Latin America.

Tortilla con Sal
September 5th 2016

Michel Temer’s coup regime in Brazil and Mauricio Macri’s neocolonial regime in Argentina have zero legitimacy, resorting to ever more intense repression both in the streets and in the courts. Former presidents Lula da Silva in Brazil and Cristina Fernandez in Argentina both face spurious legal action aimed at denying them participation in future elections. Right wing usurpation of power in Brazil and Argentina is very real setback showing up the weaknesses of progressive political forces in Latin America and the Caribbean. One reaction to that is to identify where we have been naive, so as to learn and avoid making the same mistakes. The fact that great masses of people understand the historic need to overthrow capitalism and work for regional integration is a huge political achievement. But, firstly, it was foolish to forget the inherent volatility of capitalism and thus fail to plan adequately for the political effects of a crash in commodity prices. Secondly, it was also foolish to think that merely getting elected to government might be sufficient to roll back centuries of oligarchic rule by ruthless elites.

Global corporate capitalism renders notional the fundamental elements of what most people think of as democracy in a nation state : transparency, participation, rule of law, respect for basic rights, institutional good faith. That fundamental truth gets forgotten amid the seductive jargon of modish concepts like “asymmetric war” or “fourth generation warfare” which obscure the reality that we are up against an eternal, ancient enemy, greedy, murderous, treacherous and cunning, namely the Latin American oligarchs and their Western patrons. Current political and social phenomena are rooted in the past, both in the centuries of colonial genocide, rapine and enslavement and also in more recent contemporary history of the last fifty years or so.

Internal coups are not new in Brazil, for example, nor in the rest of the region. The coup against President Dilma Rousseff or the attempted constitutional coup under way in El Salvador, or the selective  political intervention in Guatemala via a UN anti-corruption commission, are striking now mainly for the contrast they offer to the notoriously brutal military coups of the 1970s or even the 2009 coup in Honduras. From the elite point of view, murderous military dictatorships like those that seized power in Uruguay, Chile or Argentina are now neither practicable nor desirable. These days the elites have learned how to cloak their antidemocratic power grabs with an appearance of legality.

In Argentina, the Macri regime colludes with corrupt public prosecutors and judges to attack Cristina Fernández and imprison Milagro Sala. In Brazil, corrupt right wing politicians collude with allies in the criminal justice system to abuse the country’s democratic constitution. In Honduras, the justice system represses legitimate dissent and covers up political killings as part of the national crisis of violent crime. In El Salvador, the constitutional division of the Supreme Court has disqualified legislators and overturned hard won gains like the country’s Amnesty Law so as to destabilize the FMLN government.

From the Southern Cone right up to Mesoamerica, progressive governments are subverted by regional corporate media controlled by local oligarchies and their Western patrons. It is no surprise that these same elites, in tandem with their media control, purposefully manipulate the justice systems they themselves designed. Pepe Mujica has remarked, “Sometimes powerful folks invite us to eat with them at their table and, out of courtesy, we do so, but it’s the table of those powerful people, not ours.” That metaphor of the trap of self-deceit and even corruption inherent in acceding to existing institutions is one revolutionary movements should be aware of in every component of the established political status quo.

None of this is new or the result of Obama’s much vaunted “smart power”. Even 30 years ago, imperial strategists wrote in Proposal Five of the Santa Fe 2 document that “To really promote human rights, the US should help strengthen the region’s judicial systems”. The document itself is worth reading because it gives the imperialist take on the concept of hegemony, recognizing the danger of the region’s progressive and radical movements learning how to manipulate their respective countries’ political systems, especially if they develop practical judicial know how. Seldom has the enemy offered us a clearer policy recommendation. Among the few revolutionary political movements paying attention was Nicaragua’s Sandinista Front for National Liberation.

Despite, or maybe thanks to, losing the 1990 elections, the FSLN made sure thousands of its revolutionary militants finished law school, enabling effective Sandinista predominance in the country’s legal system, displacing the oligarchy’s control of that constitutional power. Without that predominance the Sandinista Front would itself have fallen victim to the same kind of legal maneuvers that have stymied progressive change elsewhere in Latin America. What naive progressive opinion views as manipulation of democracy in reality are the very moves making meaningful democracy possible at all.

Faith in an essentially benign, equitable rule of law can be a fatal error, causing untold suffering, if it validates the very elite criteria that make sinister capitalist global dominance possible in the first place.

In the end what’s in play is the outcome of a conflict between two opposing rationalities. On the one hand, the West’s failed Enlightenment project, evident in the collapse of corporate consumer capitalism, the global environmental crisis and the role of liberal social democracy as merely an alibi for centuries of Western genocide and enslavement against the majority world.

On the other hand, progressive governments in Latin America have advanced the truly democratic and sustainable socialist project of solidarity-based cooperation derived from love and respect for the human person and Mother Earth. Faith in an essentially benign, equitable rule of law can be a fatal error, causing untold suffering, if it validates the very elite criteria that make sinister capitalist global dominance possible in the first place.