Necessary Illusions Copyright © 1989 by Noam Chomsky
Chapter 4: Adjuncts of Government Segment 9/10
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Meanwhile, the U.S. Treasury Department announced a new ruling that barred import of Nicaraguan coffee processed in a third country, which "will not be considered sufficiently transformed to lose its Nicaraguan identity." It suffices to replace "Nicaraguan" with "Jewish" to know to which phase of history this edict belongs. "The language echoes definitions of ethnic purity in the Third Reich," the Boston Globe observed.54

During the same months, negotiations on a political settlement broke down through the device of demand escalation by the contras, no doubt following the State Department script. Each new government agreement, going far beyond the terms of the long-forgotten peace accords, simply led to new demands. In their final effort to prevent an agreement, the contras submitted a new list of demands on June 9, 1988, including: immediate freeing of all people imprisoned for political or related common crimes; the right of draftees to leave the army as they choose; forced resignation of the Supreme Court Justices (to be replaced by decision of the contras, the opposition, and the government, thus ensuring Washington's clients a 2-to-1 majority); restoration of or compensation for seized contra property distributed to smallholders and cooperatives (benefiting mainly Somoza supporters); suspension of government military recruitment; opening of contra offices in Managua and licensing of "independent" television stations (which means, in effect, stations run by the United States, which will quickly dominate the airwaves for obvious reasons of resource access). All of these actions, some unconstitutional, were to be taken by the government while the contra forces remain armed and in the field. Reviewing the record, the Center for International Policy observed that the goal could only have been "to torpedo the negotiations and throw the issue back once more to a divided U.S. Congress." Julia Preston commented that "the contras' six-page proposal appeared to be a farewell gesture rather than a negotiating document," with its "sweeping new demands" followed by their quick departure from Managua before negotiations were possible.55

The government of Nicaragua urged resumption of the talks, receiving no response from Washington or the contras, who added new demands. Even Cardinal Obando, who barely conceals his sympathy for the contras, urged them to return to the talks, to no avail. There followed what the Council on Hemispheric Affairs described as "a CIA-managed campaign of provocation and internal disruption inside Nicaragua," which "established a false crisis atmosphere" in which Congress could turn to new aid for the contras. Congressional doves implemented legislation providing renewed aid, while warning the Sandinistas that military aid would follow if Nicaragua continued to stand alone in the way of peace and democracy or attacked the contra forces, who reject negotiations and carry out atrocities in Nicaragua.56 The media trailed happily along.

As the Reagan administration drew to a close, it was becoming less realistic, and less necessary, to rely on contra terror as an instrument to punish Nicaragua for its efforts to direct resources to the poor majority, to improve health and welfare standards, and to pursue the path of independent development and neutralism. Despite levels and forms of military support unheard of in authentic insurgencies and domination of large areas of Nicaragua by U.S. propaganda, the United States had failed to create a viable guerrilla force, quite a remarkable fact. A new administration, less intent on punishing disobedience by sheer terror, would be likely to join the elite consensus of the preceding years, which recognized that there are more cost-effective ways to strangle and destroy a small country in a region so dependent on relations with the United States for survival. They are capable of understanding the assessment of a World Bank Mission in October 1980, which concluded that economic disaster might ensue if Nicaragua did not receive extensive foreign assistance to overcome the effects of the destruction and robbery of the last Somoza years: "Per capita income levels of 1977 will not be attained, in the best of circumstances, until the 1990s. 57 With private enterprise wrecked and the economy ruined probably beyond repair by U.S. economic warfare, the resort to violence -- costly to the United States in world opinion and disruptive at home -- had lost much of its appeal for those who do not see inflicting pain and suffering as ends in themselves. There are, surely, other and more efficient ways to eliminate the danger of successful independent development in a weak and tiny country.

We can, then, become a "kinder, gentler nation" pursuing more "pragmatic" policies to attain our ends.

Furthermore, although the government-media campaign succeeded in wrecking the peace accords of 1987 and their promise, nevertheless forces were set in motion that the administration could not control. Illegal clandestine support for the contras became more difficult after the partial exposures during the Iran-contra affair, and it was no longer possible to organize overt congressional support for the contras at the extraordinary level required to keep them in the field. As the level of supply flights reduced in early 1988 along with prospects for renewed official aid, the proxy forces fled to Honduras and might well have been wiped out had it not been for the dispatch of elite U.S. military units -- the "invasion" of Honduras by the United States, as the mainstream media there described it, the defense of Honduras from Sandinista aggression in the terms of U.S. discourse.

Elements of the contras can and presumably will be maintained within Nicaragua as a terrorist force, to ensure that Nicaragua cannot demobilize and divert its pitifully limited resources to reconstruction from the ruins left by Somoza and Reagan. A persistent U.S. threat of invasion can also be maintained to guarantee that Nicaragua must keep up its guard, at great cost, while commentators ridicule Sandinista paranoia, Jeane Kirkpatrick-style. But it will no longer be necessary to depict the contras as the people, united, rising against their tormentors, sturdy peasants struggling against Soviet "hegemonism," as the media's favorite experts had soberly explained. By early 1989, we read that "Sandinista claims that the contras were merely U.S. mercenaries gained new credence among Nicaraguans... The contras are viewed as an army of Nicaraguans who thought they would get well-paid, secure jobs from the United States but guessed wrong."58 Low-level terror, "perception management," and "containment" will compel the Nicaraguan government to maintain a high level of military preparation and internal controls, and along with economic and ideological warfare, should suffice to secure the achievements of Reaganite violence, even if the further goal of restoring Nicaragua to the "Central American mode" must be ruefully abandoned. That is what the future holds, if the domestic population of the United States permits it. The task of the media is to ensure that they do.

The devastating hurricane of October 1988, with its welcome prospects of mass starvation and vast long-term ecological damage, reinforced this understanding. The United States naturally refused any aid. Even the inhabitants of the demolished town of Bluefields on the Atlantic Coast, with longstanding links to the United States and deep resentment over Sandinista methods of extending Nicaraguan sovereignty over the region, must be deprived of sustenance or building materials; they must starve without roofs to shield them from the rain, to punish the Sandinistas. At the outer reaches of mainstream criticism of Reagan administration policies, the Boston Globe explained in a Christmas message why the United States is sending no assistance after the hurricane. Under a picture of Daniel Ortega, the caption reads: "Nicaragua has received little US humanitarian aid because of policies of President Daniel Ortega."59 The U.S. allies, intimidated by the global enforcer and far more subject to U.S. propaganda than they like to believe, also refused to send more than very limited aid. Some professed distaste for Sandinista repression, pure hypocrisy, as we see at once from the fact that the far more brutal regimes of El Salvador and Guatemala do not offend their sensibilities.

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54 NYT, Peter Kilborn, April 5; editorial, BG, April 17, 1988.

55 Center for International Policy, "The Nicaraguan Cease-Fire Talks: a Documentary Survey," June 13, 1988; see also Cease-Fire Primer, International Policy Report, CIP; Julia Preston, WP, June 10, 1988.

56 COHA, "A Critique of the Dole Amendment," Aug. 1, 1988, referring to the events of July; see appendix IV, section 5, also chapter 3.

57 Cited by Michael Conroy, in Thomas Walker, ed., Nicaragua: The First Years (Praeger, 1985, 232f).

58 Julia Preston, WP Weekly, Jan. 2-8, 1989; the latter comment referring to Jalapa in the far north. On the curious amalgam of Maoism and right-wing jingoism that was concocted in the early 1980s when authentic Latin America specialists refused to perform the services expected of them by government and media, see Culture of Terrorism, 205f. On Kirkpatrick's psychiatric insights into Sandinista paranoia as she spun a web of lies about U.S. policies, see Holly Sklar, Washington's War on Nicaragua (South End, 1988, 114f.).

59 BG, Dec. 25, 1988.