Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega gave a brilliant address at the recently concluded Summit of the Americas, calling for the U.S. to end its bloody interventions in Latin America designed to thwart the popular will.
Ortega unfavorably compared Washington's interventionism with the help Cuba gives in ending illiteracy in Latin America. He read excerpts of the declaration of the ALBA Summit (Bolivarian Alternative of the Americas), in which Bolivia, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Venezuela protested that the declared plan of the Fifth Summit of the Americas is "insufficient and unacceptable."
President Ortega maintained that he felt ashamed and uncomfortable at the Summit of the Americas due to the fact that a country like Cuba, that had cooperated with its neighbors to eradicate illiteracy and poverty, was excluded from that summit, in contrast to the United States, a country that led the war against Nicaragua and other Central American countries in the 1980s and 90s, played a leading role in the 1961 invasion of the Bay of Pigs (Cuba), and was involved in the coup d'etat in Venezuela in 2002.
Ortega's remarks were made last Friday night (April 17) at the Fifth Summit of the Americas held in Trinidad and Tobago. His was the second speech, following Argentina's Cristina Fernandez Kirchner, calling for an end to the U.S. economic blockade of Cuba.
Ortega explained that he had had occasion to meet three American presidents in the past, with Obama being the fourth. Of Ronald Reagan he asked that he end the war that the U.S. imposed against Nicaragua in the 1980s. When he later met with President Jimmy Carter, Carter told Ortega that, the Somoza dictatorship having ended, "it was time that Nicaragua changed." Ortega replied to Carter: "Nicaragua doesn't need to change. Nicaragua never invaded the United States, it hasn't mined the harbors of the United States, it hasn't thrown a single stone at the American nation, nor has it imposed governments there. Therefore, 'You are the ones that need to change, not Nicaragua!'" Ortega later met with George Bush senior as well.
In his speech Ortega recalled that, during the Reagan years, Nicaragua filed a claim against the United States in the International Court of Justice. The Court handed down a ruling that the United States must stop all of its military actions, such as mining Nicaragua's ports and financing the Contra war. "They were ordered to tell where they had placed mines, but they refused to divulge that information. In addition, they were ordered to compensate Nicaragua for the economic and commercial blockade."
"To this day, that sentence has not been fulfilled by U.S. governments. We hope that someday we can raise this topic with U.S. administrations truly respectful of international law and the rights of peoples."
After commenting on U.S. aggression against Central America, Ortega explained that, although the war against Nicaragua was over, poverty, misery, unemployment and inequality persisted in the region. Cuba, and Fidel and Raul Castro, he pointed out, unconditionally helped to spread literacy, now with the help of Venezuela and Hugo Chavez.
Ortega recalled that, when he assumed the presidency the first time (1979), Nicaraguan illiteracy was over 60%, but on handing over power in 1990 it had fallen to 12%. Later, after returning to the presidency in 2008, he found that illiteracy had risen to 35%. He blamed that fact on the privatization of health and education, as well as on other neo-liberal policies carried out in Nicaragua.
"Cuba has extended unconditional solidarity to our people, and for that very reason is sanctioned, is punished, is excluded. And therefore I don't feel comfortable at this summit, I don't feel comfortable at this summit. I feel ashamed at this summit."
"Another country that is not present at the summit is Puerto Rico. It is still subject to colonialist policies. I refuse to call this the Summit of the Americas."
Ortega also recalled other American interventions, like the Bay of Pigs, when U.S. forces were involved in an invasion of Cuba. Ortega emphasized that Obama, who was only a little more than three months old when this event occurred (editor's note: actually, he wasn't even born until several months after the event) obviously didn't have any responsibility for the Bay of Pigs, but that in any case the facts related to the event can hardly be considered ancient history. Ortega reminded his audience that on April 11, 2002 the United States was also involved in an attempt to overthrow and assassinate Hugo Chavez, and that, through its spokespeople, recognized the coup plotters and said they were in the right. "We have reason to say that this isn't ancient history, when scarcely seven years ago these acts against a nation and its popular institutions occurred."
In spite of this apt reminder that U.S. interventions in Latin America continue to the present day (Bolivian President Evo Morales stated at the Summit that there has been no change in U.S. attempts to undermine his government since Obama assumed power), President Obama indicated in his speech that we can dismiss Ortega's historical indictment on the basis that "we've heard all these arguments before," meaning it's old hat, a "stale debate," and we'd better just forget about it. But in Turkey the week prior to the Summit of the Americas Obama took the opposite view vis-a-vis Turkish crimes of state against Armenians, to wit: "History is often tragic, but unresolved, it can be a heavy weight. Each country must work through its past. And reckoning with the past can help us seize a better future. I know there's (sic) strong views in this chamber about the terrible events of 1915.... And the best way forward for the Turkish and Armenian people is a process that works through the past in a way that is honest, open and constructive." (emphasis added)
In any event, President Ortega also explained that the causes of immigration lie in the underdevelopment and poverty that Central American peoples suffer, "and the only way of stopping this flow of immigrants towards the United States isn't by raising walls and reinforcing military security, or by sponsoring joint patrols or repressive policies. The only way of stopping immigration towards the United States is by providing funds - without political conditions or International Monetary Fund conditions - to Central American countries."
Ortega reminded his listeners that "we all want change," referring to the phrase that made Barack Obama famous during his presidential campaign. But he emphasized that Nicaragua, along with Haiti, Bolivia, Honduras and other countries, is among the poorest countries of the hemisphere, and this in spite of "fulfilling to the letter the neo-liberal prescription, applied for 16 years between 1990 and 2007."
"We want change, but we have to come to agreement about what kind of change. Change in order to maintain the status quo, or in order to save a development model that has demonstrated itself successful in concentrating wealth and expanding poverty and multiplying misery? It's an ethical and moral problem."
Ortega indicated that Nicaragua is this year suffering a drop in economic growth of at least 1.5%, whereas last year it had growth of between three and four percent. "The region today demands more than ever resources for development, in order to be able to recover previous growth rates."
Ortega also criticized the G-20 nations. "It is neither ethical nor moral that the G-20 makes the big decisions for our peoples. It's time that it become the G-192, that is, everybody. Everybody discussing and debating, contributing solutions for the crisis, not least the countries of Central America."
Ortega read an excerpt of the Declaration of the ALBA Summit, in which Bolivia, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Venezuela protested that the declared project of the Fifth Summit of the Americas is "insufficient and unacceptable," due to the fact that "it doesn't offer answers to the Global Economic Crisis" and "unjustifiably excludes Cuba, without mentioning the general consensus that exists in the region in condemnation of the blockade and the (U.S.) attempts at isolation" of the island.
"Capitalism is finishing off humanity and the planet. What we are living through is a global economic crisis, of a systemic and structural nature, and not just another cyclical crisis. Capitalism has provoked the ecological crisis by subordinating the conditions necessary for life on the planet to the domination of the market and profit.
"The global economic crisis, climate change, the food crisis, and the energy crisis, are products of the decline of capitalism, which threatens to terminate its own existence as well as that of life and the planet. In order to avoid this tragic outcome it's necessary to develop an alternative model to the capitalist system. A model of:
Solidarity and complementarity, not competition
A system of harmony with our Mother Earth and not of plunder of natural resources
A system of cultural diversity and not of crushing of cultures and imposition of cultural values and styles alien to the realities of our countries
A system of peace based on social justice and not on imperialist policies and wars
A synthesis, a system that recovers the human condition of our societies and peoples and doesn't reduce them to being simply consumers and merchandise.
"We want a world where all the countries, large and small, have the same rights and where empires don't exist. We champion non-intervention, strengthening, as the only legitimate channel for discussion and analysis, bilateral and multilateral agendas of the continent, the basis of mutual respect between states and governments, governed by the principle of non-intervention by one state against another, and the inviolability of the sovereignty and self-determination of peoples.
"With respect to the U.S. economic blockade against Cuba and the exclusion of this country from the Summit of the Americas, we the countries of the Bolivarian Alternative for the Peoples of Our America, reiterate the Declaration that all the peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean adopted this past December 16, 2008, about the necessity of ending the economic, commercial, and financial blockade imposed by the government of the United States against Cuba, including the application of the Helms-Burton Law.
"We are firmly convinced that change, in which everyone has hope, can only come from the organization, mobilization, and unity of our peoples."
"The prevailing development model is no longer possible, it is no longer sustainable. To continue with the prevailing model is to continue digging the common grave toward which we are all headed. The only way to save ourselves is by changing the model, for ethical and moral reasons.
"Ortega avergonzado por la ausencia de Cuba en Cumbre de las Americas," www.aporrea.org
Christopher Hass, "President Obama in Turkey: 'You cannot put out fire with flames,'" April 6, 2009, www.mybarackobama.com
"Remarks by President Obama at the Summit of the Americas Opening Ceremony," April 17, 2009, archived by Council on Foreign Relations at www.cfr.org