Daniel Ortega´s interview on Fox News

On July 23 Daniel Ortega was interviewed on Brett Baier´s Fox News Program. The full interview with its English translation can be seen here: http://insider.foxnews.com/2018/07/23/bret-baier-interviews-nicaraguan-president-daniel-ortega-special-report

The interview was widely followed in Nicaragua, and it was the first interview Ortega has offered to non Sandinista media in 9 years. So it raised the question as to why he would give that interview to a US Media outlet, and then one like Fox News. What follows is an interview  of Alejandro Bendaña, Secretary General of the Nicaraguan Foreign Ministry in the 1980s, about that interview. He has a PhD in History from Harvard, has published a number of books on Sandino. His most recent is the 500 page “Sandino: Patria y Libertad” (2016). He is also an consultant on international affairs. This interview was published in Confidencial July 27th. [translation was done by Confidencial, we are including it here to make it more available to readers unfamiliar with Confidencial. But Confidencial now has an English section, so more interviews in English can be found at https://confidencial.com.ni/seccion/english/]

Ortega´s effort with the US “Got Nowhere”

Bendana: “Ortega didn’t want to seem confrontational or angry but casts himself as a supplicant because he’s talking to “Mister Trump”

The goal of the interview that comandante Daniel Ortega granted to the United States-based “Fox News” channel was to “get the attention of president Donald Trump”, but Ortega didn’t succeed. This was the opinion of Alejandro Bendana, historian and specialist in International Law.

In the interview with Fox News, Ortega denied any relationship of his government to the paramilitary groups that have seeded death, persecution and terror in the different cities around the country. He also dismissed the idea of early elections, arguing that such would generate instability.

Bendana offered his analysis of Ortega’s interview during the nightly Nicaraguan news program Esta Noche, noting the mistakes of the Nicaraguan leader. He also assured that Ortega’s “weakening” is palpable and that his departure and resignation letter will come through a process of negotiation.

Since finding out on Monday morning, that Daniel Ortega would grant an interview that night to a media outlet from the United States, the initial surprise was his choice: Fox News.  What audience did Ortega want to reach?

Directly to Trump, because Fox is the only television station that he watches and the only one he believes; to him, the others are fake news. His logic to reach Trump was to accept the interview with Fox News and try to explain, to plead, for the government of the United States to please change their position towards his government.

Vice President Mike Pence reacted immediately to the interview. How do you see his response to Ortega’s discourse on Fox?

It was the official line of the United States government, and especially that of Congress. Remember that Ortega’s goal is to try to rise above these hurdles. Ortega is isolated internationally, his strategy is to try and recover some space and what better place than directing himself to Trump himself, who as many know is above his organs, his vice president and who at any moment changes the political direction of his decisions.

So – What could Ortega’s calculation have been? Well, Trump has reached an understanding with dictator Putin; Trump has reached an understanding with the North Korean dictator and, well then, Trump can understand me, Nicaragua’s dictator. The logic must be that, but – What was the reaction? From the vice president, because Trump, who even tweets when he goes to the bathroom, said nothing. So his attempt to reach him, the attempt to change the policy of the United States and the perception of his government got nowhere.

So you believe that Ortega’s strategy failed?

Yes, I think so. It causes confusion among people who don’t know or know very little about what’ happening in Nicaragua, because he came with the tale of “it wasn’t me, I have nothing to do with the paramilitaries,” to which Trump might be sensitive. Something like: “Look here, if I leave this country is left in chaos and you’ll get a trail of immigrants and drugs and all, so you should think twice before they throw me out. He’s using the message of Louis XIV: “Without me, there’s chaos.”

But what the world is telling him is “No, no, papito. You’re the chaos and while you’re here, the country is going to continue suffering a profound human, social, economic and political problem.

There are legislators in the United States, especially conservatives like Marco Rubio or Ileana Ros-Lehtinen who’ve threatened to impose new sanctions on the Ortega government. Do you think that the United States could increase their pressure on the regime over the next few days?

It’s very probable. Remember the dynamic between the executive branch and congress. In principle the Executive doesn’t like having Congress impose foreign policy. The White House prefers to play poker, throw down the cards, throw around sanctions selectively. The poor State Department doesn’t have much weight anymore. So Nicaragua is a little piece of candy that Trump tossed to Congress to have fun with. A speech, an interview with Ortega, isn’t going to change this.

So the policy initiative towards Nicaragua is in Congress but it’s now longer reduced to the Neanderthals in Florida. Instead, you have other people there, like the democrats. Given the bloodbath suffered by the Nicaraguan people, the 300 dead, it’s not a matter just for a small sector of the Republican right wing, now it’s a party concern. So, much less would Trump wish to oppose it.

How do you interpret Ortega’s appeal to the United States when he says: “Nicaragua is a small country with a fragile economy, but we deserve respect like any state of the United States”?

(Ironically) Okay, now we’re a state of the United States, not a sovereign country. The states in the US aren’t sovereign. It’s like William Walker saying “let’s annex ourselves to the United States – we can be the 51ststate.” What changed in Ortega’s speech was the tone. He didn’t want to be confrontational or angry because he’s talking to “Mister Trump” and he casts himself as a supplicant. No one’s buying that anymore.

In addition, it seems like Ortega got on the Trump bandwagon. Everything he said yesterday was fake news.

Of course, and the goal is to confuse. If you can confuse the public, you win some points. If you managed to generate some doubts, well good. But if people think that the paramilitaries are an independent force [like Ortega claimed], well they don’t know Nicaragua.

For those who haven’t been following the news, that image of Ortega saying “it wasn’t me” generates interest, and if it’s genuine interest then people will look for information and they’re going to run into the avalanche of news, of images, of testimonies, of documents that all point in one direction which is what we have here. What the Wall Street Journal described as a State of terror.

For the reader that’s a little more educated, there’s been a report on Nicaragua every day in the large US newspapers.

More educated, but at the same time, now it’s not only in the Washington Post or the New York Times, but it’s been general news. The press in Europe has been important because the governments haven’t simply issued pronouncements through their ambassador’s offices. What’s coming out in the media, in the French Le Monde for example, isn’t going to be ignored by the French government. Here you have important sectors of the old left, with the exception of the Neanderthals on the other side at the Sao Paulo Forum, who have broken with Ortega: for example, the greater part of Podemos [in Spain], Pepe Mujica, one after the other. So – what can Ortega grab onto, where can the countries who would have preferred to stay silent hide?  It’s not possible anymore.

The president said that his government has no relationship with paramilitaries, that Catholic parishes in Nicaragua have not been attacked and that the country is normalizing. What is Ortega trying to do? Is he a president detached from reality?

Fortunately, what has happened in the last three months no longer leaves doubt for lies because it has been accompanied by the presence of hundreds of reporters, images and testimonies. So when Ortega said that, a whole series of lies, no serious government will be convinced. They already know Ortega, they already know that he is lying, what he is doing and therefore it is not going to open a gap in all that strength, increasingly unified, that seeks to condemn him.

While Ortega was talking to Fox Monday, government paramilitary groups were attacking Jinotega. There are at least three dead and dozens wounded. That same night the media reported that the Brazilian final year medical student, Rayneia Lima, was murdered in Managua. What impact does the murder of a Brazilian citizen have on the Ortega government?

It is serious, especially for the Government of Brazil, and hopefully for the opposition to the Government of Brazil, including within the Workers Party itself and some of the sectors that support Lula, who have been with Ortega. This has to make them think. A few days ago, it was Frei Betto, a benchmark for the entire Progressive Christian sector. Where are the political forces in Brazil that are going to support Ortega after this? In none… nowhere.

Even in Venezuela, Ortega is criticized by currents within the Chavistas that are saying “gentlemen, its not a good idea to continue tied to this friend,” regardless of what the Venezuelan foreign minister or the foreign minister of Cuba say. There are sectors of the left, not Cuban government officials, who are following in detail what is happening in Nicaragua and the debate that is taking place in Sandinista non-Ortega sectors.

On Thursday we reach a hundred days of crisis in Nicaragua. At least 295 dead, dozens of disappeared, hundreds of political prisoners. Do you think that Ortega has managed to normalize the situation or are we facing an already weakened Ortega?

The weakening is palpable, and he is in the intensive care unit and will not come out of there right now. And well, when he comes out, we know how many come out. This has no return. There is no perspective of governability or economic stability, of normalization of the situation at night in Managua or in the day, while this man remains in power. Again, I repeat it, it is not the chaos that could occur if Ortega goes, but the chaos that Ortega represents every day that he continues.

For there to be early elections that are fair and transparent, this man must first have left the political scene.

Some sources say that what Ortega wants is another kind of dialogue with other intermediaries and they have talked about SICA [the Central American Integration System].

The SICA is one of the few instances that he has left, and its last resolution was not totally negative, perhaps because Costa Rica had recently changed government and allowed him to score that goal. But now, the Government of Costa Rica, pressured by a number of sectors and the immigration situation that it has internally, may not allow the SICA to play that role.

It is time for Costa Rica, as the most affected country in the region, to bring this situation to the attention of the United Nations Security Council; to call a meeting to the presidency and if not, there is the Secretary General of the United Nations who, under Article 99 of its charter, has the authority to also take the situation to the Security Council.

What departures does Ortega have in this labyrinth in which he got himself?

Let him go. Put in his letter of resignation. Negotiate the logistics a little. Amnesty no, and he can negotiate his conditions of exile in any country. Here, he no longer rules, he lost the power he had. Compare the power he has now with the situation four months ago. Maybe he’ll have an attack of conscience, doesn’t he say he’s a Christian. 

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