Talk about a guy who can’t seem to catch a break! After winning his presidential election for a fourth time — and by a wide margin — Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega should be riding high.

No such luck. Seems that, on top of voting irregularities, stuffing ballot boxes and locking up leading opposition candidates, he committed the unpardonable sins of running a socialist country and poking his thumb in Uncle Sam’s eye.

The Organization of American States (U.S. shills since its inception in 1948) are enraged, the American press can’t find words to express their condemnation of the excesses of the Sandinista Front. … Even the U.N. is grumbling about last week’s election.

As a follow-up on my previous column where I explored reasons why the developing world doesn’t see us as we see ourselves (i.e., global champions of democracy and all that is decent), why does Nicaragua have a special beef with the USA?

Well, seems it all started in 1899 with what President Taft liked to call “dollar diplomacy.” With the war against Spain showing us a path to becoming a colonial power in our own right, U.S. policymakers saw cold cash as a way to buy easy access to power in the region. When U.S. bank loans weren’t enough incentive to secure the generous trade concessions American businesses demanded from the liberal government in Managua, it was time to find a “conservative” general who would. Estrada was the first. He wouldn’t be the last. What followed was a period of instability where one military junta succeeded another — with U.S. Marines dispatched to “protect American lives and interests.”

Finally in 1912, all pretense of neutrality in these rebellions was abandoned. U.S. Navy and Marine forces landed in force. For the next two decades, Nicaragua was run as a virtual U.S. protectorate, guaranteeing the rights of the United Fruit Company to exploit the country’s resources and in so doing, inflict grievous harm to the peasant population.

It was during this time that the kinder and gentler “dollar diplomacy” morphed into the “banana wars” where U.S. troops were deployed to topple one Central American government after another. In the fateful words of Marine Gen. Smedley Butler: “I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and spent most of my time as a high-class muscle man for big business, for Wall Street, and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. … I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank Boys to collect revenues. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1902 to 1912. … I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. … Looking back on it, I might’ve given Al Capone a few hints.”

1933 saw the inauguration of Franklin Roosevelt and the end of outright U.S. occupation. Within three years, however, Uncle Sam found another general very much his liking and Anastasio Somoza assumed the reins, reins he held tightly until 1979. This was a time of unparalleled profits for American investors, grinding poverty for the common folk, brutal suppression of dissent, and the rise of a peasant insurgency, the Sandinista Front.

All this brings us a little closer to contemporary times. Who among us “boomers” can forget the army of mercenaries hired by the CIA in a vain effort to undo Ortega’s hard-fought victory? Three hundred million taxpayer dollars wasted to oust the left-wing government.

All this sorry legacy of U.S. meddling in Nicaraguan affairs brings us back to Ortega’s recent reelection. I can understand why the intensely nationalistic Nicaraguans are sore at the United States. But why are we and our lackeys so all-fired rattled by Ortega’s heavy handedness?

If Ortega had only sucked up to his neighbor to the north, accepted bank loans with ruinous terms, threw open the doors for multinational corporations to exploit his country’s natural resources, look the other way at the cruel exploitation of his countrymen? If only. Then he’d be playing a round of golf with the Donald at Mar a Lago.

Ortega’s real problem? He’s just not our kind of dictator.

McGehee, a lifelong activist, settled here in 1973 and lives in Palouse with his wife, Katherine. His work life has varied from bartender to university instructor to wrecking yard owner.

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