Destaque Internacional - Year XIII - No. 322 - Madrid - San José de Costa Rica - Santiago de Chile, March 11, 2011.

Costa Rica: Sandinist Aggression, "Hand Washing" and "Spiral of Silence"

Many major media vehicles have enveloped the aggression of Nicaragua's Sandinist government against Costa Rica in a "spiral of silence" - a task in which they relied on the conniving negligence, abstentionism and silence of regional organisms and governments

1. The Calero Island, located along the San Juan River, in the border between Costa Rica and Nicaragua, was invaded in November, 2010 by Nicaraguan troops, in what constitutes an unseasonable aggression protected by an almost complete "spiral of silence" from media vehicles throughout the Americas. The territory at stake is no bigger than a few tens of square kilometers. But the upsetting of international legal principles acquired a symbolic meaning that went far beyond the geographical extension of the invaded territory and the very scope of those two noble and so closely related Central American peoples - the Nicaraguan and the Costa Rican - each of whom having a historical symbolism of its own.

2. In view of such a disinterest from media vehicles, as well as from political rulers and regional organisms throughout the Americas, the Costa Rican government had no way out but to resort to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), in Hay. On Tuesday, March 8, 2011, the ICJ admitted an injunctive relief filed by Costa Rica, issuing an order forbidding both countries to send troops to the bordering region, especially to the Calero Island, whose sovereignty belongs to Costa Rica but Nicaragua claims as its own. The ICJ's order will be valid until the ICJ issues a judgment about the core problem, which concerns the settling of the borderlines now in dispute.

3. For all practical purposes, due to the fact that Costa Rica does not have an army, the International Court's order applies above all to the Nicaraguan army - presently under the command of Sandinist President Daniel Ortega, who is internationally aligned with Chavez, Zelaya, and Gadaffi. President Ortega said he would accept the ICJ's decision. However, no one knows the subterfuges he may resort to in order to continue with the hostility that he and his party (the Sandinist National Liberation Front - FSLN) are currently carrying on against a neighboring country that is basically defenseless.

4. Nicaragua played an important role during the Cold War era, being the stage for a paradigmatic Communist-Catholic union that inspired Sandinism and other revolutionary movements in Latin America. Later on, Sandinism was electorally defeated, but it seized power again in November, 2006 through national elections of a doubtful transparency.

In this upcoming month of November there will be new national elections. President Ortega will try his reelection based on a decision by Nicaragua's Supreme Court of Justice (CSJ) that granted admittance to an appeal against article 147 of the Nicaraguan Constitution - which prevents reelection.

At these times, when the remnants of Venezuela's President Chaves' prestige are fading away, when Cuban Communism is pitilessly decaying void of any glory, and when Bolivia's President Morales faces an increasing internal opposition, Latin American leftist movements are in a desperate need of an electoral triumph in Sandinist Nicaragua.

5. The Nicaraguan invasion episode seems to have an electoral component aimed at fostering an artificial advancement of patriotism, as well as of national interests, that may favor Ortega`s reelection.

Moreover, such an episode also illustrates how all Inter-American governments and regional institutions "washed their hands" in that regard. It is true that on November 18 and December 7, 2010, the Organization of American States (OAS) requested all Nicaraguan military forces to be withdrawn from the island and surrounding areas. But President Ortega simply replied that he did not recognize the jurisdiction of such a regional organism. The OAS's Secretary-General, the socialist Insulza, who relentlessly criticized Honduras when that country dismissed Chavist President Zelaya, bowed his head before the Nicaraguan sandinism and kept his mouth shut.

6. Shortly afterwards, on December, 2010, during a Latin American Summit which took place in Argentina, the attending heads of state remained unexplainably silent over the Nicaraguan aggression.

7. Neither the Obama Administration had any word to say about it. On January 6, 2011, the USA's Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere affairs, Arturo Valenzuela, delivered at the Brooklyn Institute, in Washington, DC a detailed lecture of 2,500 words on the Obama Administration's policy towards Latin America. He included a chapter on Central American and the Caribbean, but he did not mention the sandinist government's aggression against Costa Rica - not even in passing.

8. Altogether, the shameful humiliation of the OAS, the abstentionism of the Latin American Summit, and the enigmatic silence of the Obama Administration bring about a worrying conjuncture. As stated by Costa Rica's President Laura Chinchilla, the sandinist aggression has been a blow against peace and stability not only for Central America but also for all Americas.

9. The example of this almost complete silence about the Nicaraguan-Costa Rican dispute, which was analyzed herein, helps illustrate a propaganda mechanism named in postmodern communication theories as "spiral of silence". The term was coined by German researcher Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann, and refers to the powerful capacity shown by major media vehicles in restraining, neutralizing, and even modifying some public opinion reactions by means of silencing - or by purposely relegating to a secondary level - important subjects of the news agenda.

In basic terms, the "spiral of silence" probably works as follows: a given individual has well-based reasons to consider as relevant a given event. However, when he sees that highly reputed communication vehicles do not recognize it as such, his instinct of sociability - and his fear of being isolated as a result of his opinion - may influence him into adapting and even modifying his thought in accordance to the interpretative guidelines of such vehicles. The concept of "spiral" indicates the progressive character of both the silence artificially imposed over certain topics and the pressure exerted upon those who refuse to modify their criteria and dare to persevere in their discrepancy. The latter may remain increasingly isolated; thus the price of the discrepancy may be increasingly high - as may happen, for instance, with regards to loosing social prestige.

The antidote against such "spirals of silence" consists of simply braking the silence.