US waiver cancelation could spark change in Nicaragua

A week ago the Heritage Foundation in Washington D.C. published an article (also carried in The Nicaragua Dispatch) I had written with Dr. Ray Walser. In the piece, we argue that the United States should deny the property waiver to Nicaragua, an action that would oblige the United States to vote against Nicaraguan loan applications at international lending institutions, such as the Inter-American Development Bank and World Bank. Our position provoked an immediate reaction in Nicaragua, both in favor and opposed, and led to several personal attacks that impugned my motives and questioned my integrity. I think I owe the Nicaraguan people, and those Americans who follow events in the country, a fuller explanation of why I now believe it is in the interest of Nicaragua and the United States to deny the waiver.

In appearing before the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the House of Representatives last November, some four months after leaving my post in Nicaragua, I advocated that we maintain our aid programs to Nicaragua despite deeply flawed national elections and Daniel Ortega’s illegal and unconstitutional candidacy. I expressed the hope that the political opposition might still come together and, in so doing, restrain Ortega’s most authoritarian impulses. I noted that members of the civil society needed our support. I pointed out that most of the European embassies had closed and that we were among the few democratic donor nations still active in Nicaragua.

I did say, however, that “we must be prepared to reduce or eliminate aid and reconsider our diplomatic presence” if over the next several months the political situation did not improve.

We are now over a half year removed from that testimony and there has been no improvement. In fact, the situation has deteriorated. How so?

In the first instance, the Ortega government has refused to reform the Supreme Electoral Council (CSE), the instrument of massive voter fraud and, if repeated articles in respected newspapers are to be believed, the refuge for one of the most corrupt officials in all of the Americas. For so long as the current judges remain in place, there is no possibility of free, fair, and observed elections in Nicaragua. The opposition knows this of course and may not contest the municipal elections scheduled for November. In addition to the judges on the CSE, another 20 or so senior government officials remain in office even though their terms have expired.

The Ortegas continue to buy independent media and transform them into propaganda agents for themselves and the Sandinista government. Daniel and increasingly his wife, Rosario Murillo, also continue to appear on billboards throughout Nicaragua, smiling beatifically on the masses. The cult of personality grows. And it works. According to reliable polls, both Ortega and Murillo enjoy unprecedented personal popularity among the Nicaraguan people.
Finally, Ortega and his cronies are getting richer. Using their power in government and the millions of dollars in unaccounted aid from Venezuela, they are now among the plutocrats. They own hotels, ranches, and abattoirs, live in mansions, educate their children in private schools, drive expensive cars, and travel in style, including in their own planes.

Although now more aware of the need to maintain the appearance of democracy, the Ortega regime, with its ceaseless propaganda, staged rallies, organized bullying, and cult of personality calls to mind Mussolini’s Italy. Like Il Duce, Daniel seeks to build a corporatist state.

He has succumbed to the arrogance of power and seems to do things because he can, like Caligula naming his horse to the Roman Senate. How else to explain why, despite his ill-gotten super majority there, he refuses to have officials confirmed by the Assembly, as the Constitution stipulates? And why does he never grant an interview to an independent journalist or hold a press conference? Why does he surround himself with blue-shirted Sandinista security when he has police protection?

Daniel Ortega, through his systematic abuse of the Constitution and blatant misuse of state power, has forfeited any claim on America’s aid and has shown, through word and deed, that he does not intend to alter his approach. He is a clear and present threat to democracy in Nicaragua.

That is the principal reason that I have now concluded that America must deny the property waiver.

And the opposition? Where have they been? What have they done?

In truth, they have done virtually nothing to arrest Nicaragua’s slide toward one-man rule. They have not been able to agree on a strategy or a leader. Many have accommodated themselves to Ortega in order to protect their investments and safeguard their businesses. Many have been co-opted and silenced, others paid off and placated.

Not all of them, to be sure, but enough of them. There are still many honorable men and women in business, politics, and civil society groups. They continue to resist, and at great peril to their wealth and welfare. But with so many of the influential now muted, with large opposition parties in disarray, with traditional political leaders refusing to compromise or seek common ground, these good men and women must feel abandoned and alone. Yet they persist. I marvel at their courage and admire their tenacity.

It was they, and the mass of poor Nicaraguans, whom I thought of when contemplating the waiver. Would they benefit over time, I asked myself, if the waiver were denied? For sure, the contented and comfortable, many of whom have been the most vociferous in urging that the waiver be granted, might suffer a bit, but since most of them have cut their deal with Ortega, they will find a way to survive, perhaps even thrive.

But, again, what about the honorable opposition, civil society, and the poor? How will they fare if the waiver is denied? Although no one can know with any confidence, I do believe that in the long term they will emerge more prosperous and certainly freer. Meanwhile, in the absence of a waiver and its consequent effects on the economy, Nicaragua’s true democrats will be able to argue more cogently that the Sandinista model is inherently flawed. They will point to growing corruption, intimidation, and nepotism, as the Sandinistas themselves did during the long years of Somoza rule, and the people will listen. Perhaps protests, on the scale now seen in the Middle East, will ensue. If the waiver is denied, it may serve as a catalyst for real change.

Nicaragua cannot afford to allow its democracy to deteriorate further. The country has suffered a frightful history of violent change and political upheaval that has rent the social fabric and beggared the economy. At great cost to the people, the old was extirpated and the new imposed, all in the name of stability or progress, revolution or freedom. Think of Zelaya and Somoza, the Sandinistas and now the Orteguistas.

Doña Violeta and her government made a Herculean effort to reconcile competing factions in the body politic, restore democracy, and restart the economy. Through example and temperament, Don Enrique demonstrated that integrity, transparency, and accountability were essential to a functioning democracy, and he continues to do so through his library. (Contrast that with the current government’s hermetic silence on everything from the health of its officials to the use of Venezuelan money.)

If Ortega is allowed to consolidate his power, if he continues to run roughshod over the Constitution and grows more imperious, he will reverse completely the fragile progress that Nicaragua has made over the past two decades. Then, when this regime passes from the scene, as it inevitably must, Nicaraguans will once again have to start anew, with their democratic institutions undermined, their society polarized, and their economy in shambles.

The Nicaraguans themselves must accept the challenge and stop the decay. The United States can and should support them. That is why I have concluded that, in the interest of the Nicaraguan people and their future, the United States should deny the waiver.

Ambassador Robert J. Callahan is a retired career foreign service officer who served as the U.S. ambassador to Nicaragua from 2008 to 2011.

  • OEstrada

    Great piece! Keep up the great work Mr Ambassador for the people of Nicaragua.

  • Flex

    There is no doubt that with “No” waiver the poor will suffer. But Mr. Callaham argument is valid in every way you look at it. By “Yes” to the waiver we will be helping the Ortega’s Government to keep cheating the nicaraguans of any Democracy.
    Maybe in July 2013 the US will sing the waiver, if the Nica Government show more respect towards his people and to the Americans that own properties here. We will have to be “careful” cos’ any day Daniel can turn against US citizens and ??? but we will be back and regain what ever he took from us.

  • El Macho Raton Rivense

    Mr. Callahan,

    Great piece!! And thank you. As a politically active Nicaraguan, you have seen what we deal with: the mortar-rocks-sticks and machete wielding anti-protester-thugs that silences our right to protest… the constant violation of Constitution and Human Ritghts….the endless consolidation of power, and the brain-washing of the youth……etc etc etc…

    … Please, fight for Nicaragua, use your influence to stop propping this dictator.

    My parents were born and lived under a dictatorship. I was born (1981) under a different dictatorship, and yet, in 2012, we are again, under a dictatorship… and it will only get worse.

    Deny the waiver, and anything else that can prop up this regime. Democracy must survive in Nicaragua.

    Nicaragua Siempre Libre!!!

  • Jose

    Dios lo bendiga estimado embajador Callahan. Nicaragua siempre le va a agradecer su apoyo a nuestra linda tierra!

    God Bless you dear Callaha, the nicaraguan people and our loved country will forever love you all your support to our country!

  • martin

    Great piece. Thanks Mr. Callaham, you are a real Nicaraguan.

  • http://no Damian

    The people who call Nicaragua a dictatorship are basing it on politics. Nicaragua is democratic. There is freedom of press, freedom to strike, freedom of political choice and lots of other freedoms. That the majority are voting FSLN and the minority crying and shouting dictatorship is another thing. It’s really SAD to see people who do not agree trying to bring Nicaragua into the abyss.

    • Oscar

      To Damian

      You must be a Ortegist’s worm… what kind of democratic leader has to buy the electoral authorities to win election? What kind of democratic leader has to manipulate the National Constitution to be sure that It fit and cheating the Nicaraguan’s people and the international opinion? Let me tell you I call that a dictator. M. Callaham loves Nicaragua more that those like you believe in a dictator apprendice as Ortegua. It’s very SAD to read comment like your.
      Thanks M. Callaham to never let us alone…

      • akin

        To Damian:

        Where do you live? Or, where did you hear that fairy tale?

        To Oscar:

        Do you know who Callahan did to Nicaragua in the 80’s? Do you know who this bastard is?

  • Oscar Quintana

    Ex-Ambassador Robert Callahan
    Dear Sir:
    With all due respect
    “Si te quemas con leche hasta soplas la cuajada”

    A new Nicaragua was formed through a bloody and popular revolution in 1979. A new Nicaragua was born through bullet persuasion rather than democratic ideals at the ballot box.
    I had a very dear cousin of mine, Rolando Tellez Quintana, killed by by a Somoza thug, known then as “El Chele Aguilera” before the insurrection in Leon in 1978. My brother Yader, a crop dusting pilot, still wears his scars. He was burned in an accident in a small military Cessna plane while on a training mission in the baby Sandinista air force in Rivas in 1980. My brother survived and is still alive because the U.S. sent a hospital plane and took him and three other compañeros that were traveling with him to the Burn Unit at Gorgas Hospital in the Panama Canal Zone. My eternal gratitude for that U.S. action.

    Successive U.S. Administrations exercised decades of tolerance and extreme patience with the tropical banana democracy imposed upon Nicaragua by its “son of a bitch”, the late Anastasio Somoza. If the United States lost no sleep during Somoza’s decades in power, it should not worry about present day Nicaragua. My country is still dirt poor, richer only to Haiti in the Americas. Little Nicaragua presents no real threat to the mighty United States of America.

    Nicaraguans will decide five years from now whether to change or continue with the Sandinista Administration of President Daniel Ortega. Then and only then Nicaraguans in Nicaragua will decide what to do about it. For now the Nicaraguan economy needs stability and Nicaraguans need to focus to create jobs and work to bring home the bacon. Nicaraguans don’t need to be prodded to rise against anyone à la “Arab Spring.” We don’t even want to hear about the prospect of war anymore. “Si te quemas con leche hasta soplas la cuajada” people say in my country.

    Nicaragua for now needs understanding, solidarity, stability, peace and progress.
    Nicaraguan President, Daniel Ortega, seems to be worried about bringing progress to Nicaragua. As I said before, nobody is perfect. I must respectfully ask, or implore if necessary, U.S. President Barack Obama’s Administration to renew or better yet abolish this annual “hoop jump” of a waiver Nicaragua has to go through every year. Then, with that political stability, it will be easier for Nicaragua to generate revenue by offering the needed confidence to international & domestic investors. Then a more prosperous Nicaragua could easily pay, at a faster pace, what’s owed to the rest of U.S. citizens with outstanding property claims.

    Yours Truly,
    Oscar Quintana

    • larry

      dear oscar, have you forgotten that daniel ortega is a thug himself? bank robber? murderer and traitor?????

    • Oscar

      Otro sapo ortegista! Another ortegist’s frog!

  • Mela Pellas

    Dear Mr Callahan, I agree the USA should deny the property waiver to Nicaragua until the last piece of property taken from US citizens is returned or paid for. It’s been 33 years already, and some of us are still waiting. In the meantime, the thugs, murderers and bank robbers of the sandinista regime still ocupy our properties. And those same people and their families have visas to our country. And our people still visit Nicaragua instead of going to our allied neighbors. Guess we will have to wait until Romney becomes our President.

    • Flex

      to Tela Pelas;
      (Wait until Romney becomes our President.) ?????
      What are you smoking ?? brother.

    • akin

      To whom it may concern,

      Who is Mr. Callahan to be in the middle of this situation?
      Here I you have some of his Resume:
      “Callahan was John Negroponte’s (the former Ambassador to Honduras) right hand man, spokesman and speachwriter while the two were co-ordinating the operations of the Contras in Nicaragua during the 1980s.”
      (, These operations were “illigal”, according to the World Court: “…the Contras constituted an illegal terrorist movement and that the United States had violated international law by funding the Contras. The World Court ordered the United States to pay reparations to Nicaragua; reparations which the United States has refused to this day to pay.” So, this guy, now a “projecter of transparency and moral and political values”, has not precisely the “moral” to be involved in any of Nicaragua’s internal affairs.

      However that, I think that Nicaragua deserves a better person on the big chair, instead of Ortega who is by all means “cleaning his ass” with our constitution. I agree very much with the fact that he is very much a new version of Mussolini. And I am not saying this from a shallow perspective; I was raised sandinista,and I belived (and still) so much on that concept, but I also belive that Ortega has made out of the party a family business through which his family and friends have become the new millioners that hide behhind the inmunity that protects them from the political abuses they are doing to get there, where they are now.

      On the other hand, I don’t agree with his uttering that Violeta was very much like Hercules during her governing Nicaragua. She was very much a toy that made possible to the US to sleep overnight regarding the billionary debt they had with NIcaraguans. Bolanos, subsecuently was playing their game as well. And he is not the person to be considered as honest, since he was part of Aleman’s corrupted goverment, wasn’t he?

      Just to mention!


  • Ken

    Although this piece is less strident than the previous one, and thus many (but not all) of the criticisms of Ortega are worth considering, Mr. Callahan’s thesis is ultimately hypocritical. He argues that the waiver should be denied not because Nicaragua is failing to meet the conditions required for the waiver, but because of other problems with Nicaragua’s current government. Isn’t Mr. Callahan therefore doing exactly what he accuses Ortega of doing, namely mangling the law for a political agenda? If the goal is to strengthen the rule of law in Nicaragua, which it is, the US would contribute most by following the rule of law itself and setting an example. As long as the US plays politics with waivers, doles out slush funds to opposition groups in Nicaragua, and so on, it commits the same political sins it accuses Ortega of committing.

  • Neflyte49

    Americans, GO HOME!

    Dejen de joder a otros paises, ustedes no son omnipotentes y ya les esta llegando su fecha de caducidad! Jodanse Gringos ESTA ES LA TIERRA DE SANDINO QUE DECAPITABA MARINES YANQUEES.

    • Flex

      Tu comentario refleja la xenofobia y poca capacidad mental que posees, (en otras palabras); “sos un pendejo”

    • Ben

      Glad I missed this one. Tim, why was this post not removed? It has no social or journalistic merit & is extremely abusive to most of your audience.

      • Tim Rogers

        Ben, it’s an opinion piece. Everyone is entitled to have an opinion. If you have a different one, you’re invited to write something yourself.

  • Rodrigo Monjarrez

    What a deceiving article! Obviously written for those who constantly swallow the media-tic manipulation.

    The facts are: That the waiver represent less than 3 million dollar as supposed “a reward” for property transparency management on the Nicaraguan fiscal year. This amount is totally non relevant and most insignificant to the country’s national budget, let not forget, Nicaragua as reached record products exports exceeding two thousand millions and the highest Gross Domestic Product, records because never gained by any previous administration.

    “Doña Violeta and her government made a Herculean effort to reconcile competing factions in the body politic, restore democracy, and restart the economy”

    Totally false! this incapable puppet placed by the US government during the Reagan administration, reverse the country almost free of illiteracy to a 52% during her term in office, likewise, land titles provided to various Nicaraguan national intended to provide means for a way of living for thousand were reversed to US transnational such as Monsanto to monopolized the exploit of national land and other resources, the Nicaraguan railroad transportation system was dismantled and sold in pieces by Mrs Chamorro son in law. These are true facts, like many more.

    Robert Callaham made too many mistakes while appointed as a US Ambassador with constant provocative public statements offending the Nicaraguan sovereignty and our cultural, he’s a failed politician with deep hatred for the less favored citizens in this country. Robert Callaham represent the most inhumane system that ever created by man kind, he has no reputable image to critique our elected officials.

    Robert Callaham’s opinions and statements is less than garbage, Who cares!

  • Carlos Briones

    I agree, in part, with former ambassador Callahan.

    Indeed, there are many chameleon-like so-called politicians who dance to the (legally or illegally) elected’s tune in Nicaragua. Their reasons vary from utter greed to cowardly and unapologetic rubber-stamping in order to maintain their seats in the AN and justify their salaries. It is also no news that, as much as any other poor latin american country, the pendulum in Nicaragua violently swings from the extreme right to the extreme left.

    Notwithstanding the above, and as a few have already noted, the waiver in truth is merely a symbolic gesture. It has no significant effect in policy-changing schemes in Nicaragua. This is so because Ortega, much like every other autocrat, heavily relies in the backing of Venezuela’s Chavez. Bluntly, Ortega is back in power not only because of the cowards that Callahan identifies, but because of the enormous financial funding for social proyects from Chavez.

    Unfortunately, the poor (those who represent the over-whelming mayority) will continue to vote for Ortega as long as Chavez continues to entrust hundreds of millions of unconditioned dollars to Ortega.

    The waiver, thus, at best is a symbolic irrelevant gesture, and at worst a political platform to entice the patriotism of the ignorant.

  • AguaMan

    Mr. Robert Callahan

    Dear Sir:

    First of all I want to express my encouragement to you for your contribution to cancel the Waiver. For the benefit of the Nicaraguan people who do not want the Ortega-Murillo continue disguising his dictatorship in Nicaragua.
    It is indeed certain that the denial of the waiver extension to stoke the bellicose attitude of Mr. Ortega’s government towards the government of the United States and toward Nicaraguans who refuse to accept his dictatorship.
    Immediately be expected entry into force of the controls announced against the NGOs so that they do not continue to receive financial aid from the United States.
    At the same time is also expected an increase in tone in the media of radio and TV against the U.S. government for its policy against the government of Nicaragua.
    It may be possible that the Nicaraguan later be convinced to accept this challenge you are referring to halt the decline of democracy. And so would highlight the need to recover lost profits such as the withdrawal of international support from some European governments, the withdrawal of the MCC program and possible cancellation of Waiwer.
    If this does not happen the Ortega-Murillo may continue to enjoy the economic benefits of Venezuelan oil which has allowed them to buy opponents and increase its political power.
    Also continue reaping the benefits of so-called political opponents who lead an apparent opposition.
    The opposite to the above is that the Sandinista electoral minority will continue to increase their influence with the conquest of youth through its political management that performs the Orteguismo party organization and underpinned by the Sandinista media.
    To finish I mean a publication that made El Nuevo Diario a Nicaraguan new paper last year in its edition of July 19, 2011 of a letter from a reader who said: ¨How much the United States contributed to the triumph of the Sandinista Revolution.¨ Practically suggests that American diplomacy in 1979 in fulfillment of its foreign policy facilitated the triumph of the Sandinistas in Nicaragua.
    God help us that history is not repeated due to the democratic party are in U.S. Government and might Approve the Waiver extension.

  • Dr.Rafael Carcamo


  • Nick

    Ken makes a good point about using other political reasons not to grant the waiver rather than the stated reasons.
    Callahan makes a good point with his references to CSE chief Roberto Rivas and corruption. But then again, where was this criticism when Rivas was doing the same thing for Alemán and Bolaños. Rivas has been fatting by grazing on both sides of the fence for years. The grass is greener on both sides.
    Other commentaries reflect the sad fact that there are many in Nicaragua who yearn for the US Cavalry to come to the rescue.
    No one has mentioned the amount of money that the Nicaraguan treasury has paid out over the years to settle property claims… a huge burden for the economy.
    What this political maneuver will result in is a radicalization of Ortega and his crew, who are only too willing to jump and bark when poked when a pointed stick is waved at them. Why can’t they just continue to go about their business instead of playing into the hands of a few from the Heritage Foundation that are trying to regain some ground lost in their version of the game Risk when the Contra War gambit failed? They represent a tiny minority in the USofA. Most of those in power have not the vaguest clue what Nicaragua is, and those that do realize that there are bigger fish to fry.
    Old cold warriors do not die; they just sit there simmering in a stew of resentment, stirring up the pot whenever given a chance.
    Extra note on the Callahan bio…. while under Negroponte in the US embassy in Honduras, he did some of the dirty work of covering up the existence of death squads in that country. Not exactly the trajectory of a true blue democrat.

  • Giovani Luchessi

    Muelle sigue bajo el agua:
    Ya han pasado dos años desde que el lago Xolotlán se tragó al puerto Carlos Fonseca Amador, ubicado en San Francisco Libre, municipio de Managua.
    Un perfecto ejemplo de lo que es la PAYASADA Orteguista y asi con todo. Esperemos que los “Empresarios” realicen que hay que utilizar TODOS los fierros para terminar con esta payasada (incluyendo Waivers) ya que de todos modos a su fin va dirigida y no hay razon para prolongar la agonia. Sobre todo para quienes no tienen que comer, de todos modos…

  • http://nicaraguanewspapers rigo reyes

    he is correct why keep giving money to ortega he is only going to keep the money and rape the poor Sandusky-like behavior

  • MrValeVergista

    Callahan nailed it didn’t he? Ya know, maybe Oscar Arias & Jimmy Carter & George Bush selling out the Contras and leaving Ortega in charge of Military, National Police, Secret Police and all the land and money wasn’t such a good way to ensure freedom and democracy long term. Those c***s***ers sold Nicaragua down the river and got a Nobel Prize for their efforts.

  • irrev448

    I find it intersting that no one ever seems much interested in just exactly who these poor victims are who are being deprived of their “rights”. Consider a little sample of this crowd. Alesio Gutierrez, former leader of the Guardia Nacional in Managua who allegedly spearheaded “operacion limpieza” in the late 1970’s in which scores of young people were killed and the Mercado Oriental bombed? Carlos Vergera who as leader of the GN in Esteli is alleged to have indescrimentely bombed the populace there? Hugo Pineda alleged mastermind of the assasignation of conservative leader Bonifacio Pancho Miranda?

    Whatever you think of the Ortega administration, there is no denying that the Sandinista government has made a genuine effort to try and resolve these cases. More than 20 this year alone which is certainly comendable considering the pressure being brought to bear by the South Florida congressional delegation. The sole basis for the waiver as I understand it is that whatever Nicaraguan government is in power is making an effort to resolve these cases and that is what they are doing.

    Personally, I am outraged that my country harbors alleged war criminals like these, portrays them and goes to bat for them. Where is the justice for those they extorted, raped, robbed and killed.

  • Giovani Luchessi

    “We are very very proud of Mr. Cruz and Mr.Rubio as we Cubans know who is a communist in disguise and trust me,Mr. Obama is a communist. I don’t care if HE knows but that’s beyond the point, we know!”