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Nicaragua also attempted to maintain its trade links with the U.S. and the West, and succeeded in doing so through the mid-1980s despite U.S. efforts. But Washington naturally preferred that they rely on the East bloc, to ensure maximal inefficiency and to justify our defensive attack on these "Soviet clients." The U.S. also blocked aid from international development organizations, and, after failing to displace the FSLN, sought to destroy private business in Nicaragua to increase domestic discontent and undermine the mixed economy (a major and predicted effect of the Reagan embargo, and the reason why it was bitterly opposed by the Nicaraguan opposition that the U.S. claimed to support).21
So enormous was the devastation left as Somoza's final legacy that a World Bank Mission concluded in October 1981 that "per capita income levels of 1977 will not be attained, in the best of circumstances, until the late 1980s" and that "any untoward event could lead to a financial trauma." There were, of course, "untoward events," but such facts do not trouble the ideologues who deduce Sandinista responsibility for the subsequent debacle from the doctrinal necessity of this conclusion. A standard rhetorical trick, pioneered by the Kissinger Commission, is to demonstrate Sandinista economic mismanagement by comparing living standards of the eighties to 1977, thus attributing the effects of the U.S.-backed Somoza terror to the Marxist-Leninist totalitarians. 1977 is a particularly useful choice because it was a year of "exceptional affluence" (UNO economist Francisco Mayorga).22
Despite the horrendous circumstances, Nicaragua's economic progress through the early 1980s was surprisingly good, with the highest growth rate in Central America by a large margin, an improvement in standard of living in contrast to a substantial fall for the rest of Central America and a somewhat lesser fall for Latin America as a whole, and significant redistribution of income and expansion of social services. In 1983, the Inter-American Development Bank reported that Nicaragua's "noteworthy progress in the social sector" was "laying a solid foundation for long-term socio-economic development." The World Bank and other international development organizations lauded the "remarkable" Nicaraguan record and outstanding success, in some respects "better than anywhere in the world" (World Bank).23
But U.S. pressures succeeded in terminating these dangerous developments. By early 1987, business leader Enrique Bola¤os, well to the right of the UNO directorate, attributed the economic crisis in Nicaragua to the war (60%, presumably including the economic war), the international economic crisis (10%), the contraction of the Central American Common Market (10%), and decapitalization by the business sector and government errors (20%). The Financial Times estimates the costs of the contra war at $12 billion; Mayorga adds $3 billion as the costs of the embargo. Actual totals are uncertain, but plainly fall within the range of the "untoward events" which, the World Bank predicted, would lead to catastrophe.24 The idea that the U.S. might pay reparations for what it has done can be relegated to the same category as the notion that it might observe international law generally. The press blandly reports that the Bush administration is "exerting sharp pressure" on the Chamorro government, informing it that "future United States aid to Nicaragua will depend on" Nicaragua's abandonment of "the judgment of as much as $17 billion that Nicaragua won against the United States at the International Court of Justice during the contra war."25 The U.S. holds Nicaragua hostage while eloquent oratory flows in abudance about the sanctity of international law and the solemn duty of punishing those who violate it. There is no perceptible sense of incongruity.
In chapter 8, we reviewed the thoughts of the Carter doves (Pastor, Vaky, Vance). With a sufficiently powerful microscope one can distinguish this left-wing perspective from that of the right, for example, the Pentagon official who informed the press in 1988 that a small number of U.S.-backed terrorists could "keep some pressure on the Nicaraguan government, force them to use their economic resources for the military, and prevent them from solving their economic problems." Or the State Department insider who is reported to have observed in 1981 that Nicaragua must be reduced to "the Albania of Central America." Or the government official who informed the press in 1986 that the U.S. did not expect a contra victory, but was "content to see the contras debilitate the Sandinistas by forcing them to divert scarce resources toward the war and away from social programs"; the consequences could then be adduced as proof of "Sandinista mismanagement." Since this understanding is common to hawks and doves, it is not surprising that there was no reaction when it was reported in the Boston Globe, just as no reaction was to be expected to David MacMichael's World Court testimony on the goals of the contra program cited earlier, crucially, the effort to pressure Nicaragua to "clamp down on civil liberties" so as to demonstrate "its allegedly inherent totalitarian nature and thus increase domestic dissent within the country." We need not comment further on the enthusiasm with which the educated classes undertook the tasks assigned to them.26
It thus made perfect sense for the U.S. command to direct its proxy forces to attack "soft targets" -- that is, undefended civilian targets -- as SOUTHCOM commander General John Galvin explained; to train the contra forces to attack schools and health centers so that "the Nicaraguan government cannot provide social services for the peasants, cannot develop its project," as contra leader Horacio Arce informed the press (in Mexico).27
The Maynes-Sciolino left did not object to these policies in principle. They had no fundamental disagremeent with the conclusion of George Shultz's State Department that "Nicaragua is the cancer and [is] metastasizing" and that "the Sandinista cancer" must be removed, "by radical surgery if necessary."28 Furthermore, the Carter doves effectively set these policies in motion. They can therefore claim to have succeeded in their aims, as the election showed. Their only fault was excessive pessimism over the prospects for terror and economic strangulation; in this respect, the judgment of the right was correct, and it is unreasonable for the left to deny that their right-wing opponents had a sounder appreciation of what violence can achieve. We should give "Credit Where Credit is Due," as Time admonished, recognizing that terror and economic warfare have again proven their salutary efficacy. Thus left and right have every reason to be United in Joy at the triumph of democracy, as they jointly conceive it: Free choice, with a pistol to your head.
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21 Walker, Nicaragua, 67f.; Michael Conroy, in Walker, ed., op. cit.; La Prensa (Managua), April 20, 1988, and Stephen Kinzer, "Anti-Sandinistas Say U.S. Should End Embargo," NYT, Jan. 12, 1989.
22 Conroy, op. cit.; Mayorga, chapter 7, p. 232.
23 Ibid., 232-3, 223, 239; Diana Melrose, Nicaragua: the Threat of a Good Example? (Oxfam, 1985); Sylvia Maxfield & Richard Stahler-Sholk, in Walker, ed., op. cit.; Kornbluh, op. cit., 105f.
24 Culture of Terrorism, 52; Andrew Marshall, Financial Times, Feb. 27; Christopher Marquis, Miami Herald, Feb. 21, 1990.
25 Mark Uhlig, "U.S. Urges Nicaragua to Forgive Legal Claim," NYT, Sept. 30, 1990.
26 Chapter 8, p. 296; State Department official cited by Thomas Walker in Coleman and Herring, Central American Crisis. Government official cited by Julia Preston, BG, Feb. 9, 1986. MacMichael, see p. 297, above.
27 Necessary Illusions, 204f., 71-2; Culture of Terrorism, 43, 219-22; chapter 2, p. 79f.
28 Bill Gertz, Washington Times, Dec. 5, 1988, citing a leaked classified State Department report.