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Austin ON NOVEMBER 4, Nicaragua elected a president, a vice president and 96 representa tives to a National Assembly. Several weeks before the vote actually took place, the Reagan administration declared the elections a “farce,” claiming that they were little more than Sovietstyle, one-party travesties of the democratic process. I was part of a large, independent group of Latin American Studies scholars from the U.S., including four university professors from Texas schools, which traveled to Nicaragua to observe the elections. The report by our group, a recently-released publication of the Latin American Studies cally with the administration’s characterization. It also provides documentation of U.S. interference in those elections, designed, apparently, in an attempt to produce precisely the kind of election the U.S. had condemned in advance. Few people in the United States know what the results of the Nicaraguan election were, for the reports of the results were crowded from the media by the Administration’s announced “new fears” that there were MiG fighters enroute to Nicaragua in a Bulgarian freighter. For four days the only references to Nicaragua that one heard or read were speculations on the contents of large crates that had “disappeared” from a Bulgarian port and ruminations aloud that the U.S. might have to bomb them off Nicaraguan docks if they reappeared there. There were no MiGs; and the political cartoonists had a field day. But the Administration had accomplished a remarkable manipulation of the national media, pre-empting all coverage of the Nicaraguan election returns, including Mike Conroy teaches economics at UT and is co-director of the Central America Resource Center, a non-profit, taxexempt organization in Austin that is not affiliated with UT. Copies of the fill LASA report are available for $3.00 from the LASA Secretariat at UT or from the Central America Resource Center, P.O. Box 2327, Austin, TX 78768. most of the reports by groups of observers such as our LASA delegation. The Latin American Studies Association is not exactly your run-of-the-mill gang of pro-Sandinista dupes. It is the largest international association of Latin American Studies scholars in the world. Headquartered at UT-Austin, LASA has a total membership of 2600, composed of professors, writers, jurists and diplomats, 80% of them in the U.S. The mandate given to the delegation was to conduct a general fact-finding mission around the electoral process. The 15 members of the delegation were deliberately selected so that it would not be dominated by either Nicaragua specialists or supporters of the Sandinistas. The outcome of the delegation’s visit was not pre-determined. * Reports of election results were crowded from the media by stories about MiG fighters. The delegation spent a total of eight days in Nicaragua, from October 28 through November 5, working 14-16 hour days to investigate every major criticism that had been raised by any critic of the process. We traveled freely in a rented microbus, visiting two of the war zones, Matagalpa and Puerto Cabezas. We interviewed representatives of every major political position, combed through the records of the National *The group was headed by Wayne Cornelius, president-elect of LASA, a political scientist at the University of California at San Diego and director of its Center for U.S. -Mexican Studies. The three Texans in the group besides the author were: Richard Sinkin, a San Antonio native, history professor at UT, and Mexico scholar who is Executive Director of LASA; Michael Dodson, a political scientist at TCU who is widely respected for his work on the troubled relations between church and state in Nicaragua; and John Booth, a government professor at North Texas State, graduate of UT, and the author of one of the most readable and informative histories of the Nicaraguan revolution. Electoral Commission, talked with a variety of foreigners, including personnel from the U.S. embassy and U.S. and European journalists. The official sources were supplemented by dozens of informal interviews with people on the streets. \(Every member of the day we fanned out to cover more than thirty polling places in nine different towns and cities, arriving unannounced and receiving full cooperation because we carried “Official Observer” credentials. Voting in the election was not required by law, but 75% of the registered voters cast their ballots. The Sandinistas, members of the FSLN party that led the 1979 insurrection which overthrew Somoza, won “only” 67 % of the valid votes cast. Twenty-nine percent of the votes went to three parties that were to the right of the FSLN; and another 3.8 % were divided among three parties distinctly to left of FSLN. The opposition won 37 % of the seats in the assembly, a larger proportion than their share of votes because of the tilt of the electoral process toward small opposition parties. The characterizations of the electoral process that follow are drawn directly from the final report and represent the unanimous conclusions of the group. The objections to the election by its critics often take the form of questions based on stereotypical impressions. Let’s look at five questions of that sort. Weren’t these just `phony” elections trumped up to create a veneer of democracy? The Sandinistas announced in 1980 that there would be elections within five years, i.e.,, by 1985. The process of creating the legislation for the elections involved the government and all of the opposition parties over the course of more than two years. Before, during, and after the campaign, the Sandinistas made major concessions to opposition forces on nearly all points of contention. The National Electoral Commission drew upon consultants from the Swedish electoral college in the design of the elections. It conducted a remarkably successful voter registration drive .in July, registering 93.7 % of the estimated voting-age population. The system of representation built into the electoral law provided for proportional representation rather than single-member districts. That meant that opposition groups had the greatest possible opportunity to elect members to the constituent assembly, for they were given seats in each district in proportion to the vote that they received. \(The final election results THE TEXAS OBSERVER 47 The U.S. Hand in Nicaraguan Elections By Mike Conroy