San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Trivelli: Populist Governments Always Fail

MANAGUA – Saving his strongest words for last, departing U.S. Ambassador Paul Trivelli delivered a farewell address to business leaders this week in which he warned against the “populist” direction of the Sandinista government, and encouraged people to defend democracy in Nicaragua.

“We share the concerns of many members of civil society that the democratic spaces in this country are being reduced,” Trivelli told reporters following his July 21 departing address to the Nicaraguan-American Chamber of Commerce (AMCHAM).

Trivelli issued a clear warning about the threat of populist government policies, and said the Nicaraguan government has shown a “dangerous” attitude when it comes to receiving criticism.

Without naming names, Trivelli said he is troubled by the attitude of some “members of the political class” who act as if they are above criticism and dismiss everyone who questions them as lacking in “moral authority.”

President Daniel Ortega has argued on numerous occasions that both the rightwing opposition in Nicaragua and the U.S. government lack the “moral authority” to criticize him and others.

“Frankly,” Trivelli said, “I find these arguments unconvincing and even dangerous.” The ambassador said that by dismissing all forms of criticism, some politicians are “giving themselves a moral and judicial immunity.

“No civilized society can flourish in such a climate of moral relativism,” he said. Quoting former U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, Trivelli also warned that “history has told us that populism is destined to fail.”

Trivelli, whose three-year post as ambassador here will end when he leaves the country Aug. 6, was often criticized for the rather abrasive – or “meddlesome,” according to Ortega – role he played here during the presidential elections in 2006, during which the United States was accused of openly backing

opposition candidate Eduardo Montealegre.

Since the election, however, Trivelli and the U.S. government has attempted to establish a closer working relationship with Ortega, despite the Nicaraguan president’s frequent outbursts accusing Trivelli of meddling and the U.S. President Bush of being a “tyrant” and a “terrorist.”

Ortega, who often calls Trivelli the “yankee ambassador,” also made the rather undiplomatic decision last month to withhold a special medal extended to all departing ambassadors as a protocol measure. AMCHAM this week lamented Ortega’s decision to withhold the honor, and instead decorated Trivelli with its own medal.

With the exception of warning Ortega that his constant anti-U.S. rhetoric is “not helpful” when it comes to fostering positive relations and building confidence with Nicaragua’s largest trading partner and source of foreign direct investment, Trivelli has remained relatively low-key since Ortega took office.

The ambassador has taken a leadership role in promoting U.S. assistance programs for Nicaragua, but mostly refrained from issuing some of the more politically barbed comments that caused friction during the campaign.

Though now that his bags are packed, Trivelli was less hesitant to opine on the state of Nicaraguan politics this week.

In clear comparison to the Ortega government, Trivelli pointed to other “nondemocratic” governments in the world that have “utilized and twisted the democratic norms to weaken government institutions, to remain in power and reduce democratic spaces to assume an almost absolute power.”

However, Trivelli said, “Liberty and democracy are not so easily defeated.”

The ambassador ended his speech by urging the business leaders in attendance not to give up on their push for democracy and capitalism, which he said is the best way to help a country out of poverty.

“Those who love democracy and liberty should never crack, bend or give up,” Trivelli said. “Time is on your side. History has taught us that the rewards of democracy are great, the cause is just, and victory is assured.”

Upon leaving his post in Nicaragua, Trivelli will move to Miami to assume his new job as a top civilian adviser to the U.S. Southern Command.

The new U.S. ambassador, Robert Callahan, a former assistant to erstwhile Cold War hawk and Contra war architect John Negroponte, is scheduled to arrive here to present his credentials at the end of August.

As for Trivelli, his advice to his successor is to test the waters here before jumping in.

“I think that Nicaragua, even though it’s a small country, it’s a complicated one,” Trivelli told The Nica Times this week. “So I think that the new ambassador needs to take his time and get to know a lot of different people, and listen to a lot of different opinions to sort of absorb the complexity of this small but fascinating place.”


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