A face-to-face encounter between US president Donald Trump and the Nicaraguan strongman Daniel Ortega was one of the ideas floated by high functionaries of the Ortega regime to the influential US preacher Ralph Drollinger when he visited the Central American country.
Drollinger, Bible teacher for members of Trump’s cabinet, visited Nicaragua last July 19th to participate in the event in Managua commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Sandinista revolution.
In an article published in the New York Times magazine, journalist Mattathias Schwartz notes that the possibility of a meeting between both leaders was suggested by Rosario Murillo, Nicaraguan vice president and first lady, and by Oscar Obidio Cubas Castro, who was charged with the job of guiding the reverend and his wife, Danielle Madison, during their three-day visit to Nicaragua. Since last April, Cubas is officially Nicaragua’s ambassador to Israel.
In the extensive report that appeared in the New York Times’ Magazine, Schwartz offers details of a conversation between Cubas and Drollinger hours before the meeting between the preacher and the ruling couple.
Cubas: When people talk to Ortega face to face, they tell him bad things about Trump. If they can talk face to face, it will be something positive. Like Kim Jong-un. Do you agree?
Drollinger: There will have to be a lot of reforms for that to happen. (He’d heard as much from US diplomat Kevin Sullivan and State Dept. adviser Michael McKinley.)
Cubas: That didn’t happen with the North Koreans. What was the difference?
Drollinger: They had a nuclear bomb.
Cubas: Is it necessary that we have a bomb, to talk?
Complaints about sanctions
Before visiting Nicaragua, Drollinger met in Washington with Michael McKinley, then the chief advisor to secretary of State Mike Pompeo. McKinley suggested that he not accept Ortega’s invitation. Once in Managua, Drollnger was received by US ambassador Kevin Sullivan who offered him a broad report regarding the regime’s human rights violations.
The preacher met with Ortega and Murillo on July 20, at the Olof Palme Convention Center. The strongman spoke to him about Grover Cleveland’s never-consolidated US plans to construct a trans-oceanic canal in Nicaragua instead of Panama. He recounted other episodes from the country’s history, until he arrived at the supposed acts of violence in 2018, taking advantage of that situation to sell himself as a “force for peace and stability” in Nicaragua, according to the New York Times article.
Schwartz writes that Drollinger then went straight to the heart of the matter and asked the rulers how he could help them with the US State Department. At that moment, Murillo, who had been translating for Ortega, entered into the scene while Ortega retreated into silence.
The first lady told the pastor that the problem was the sanctions that the United States has imposed on a number of functionaries of the regime, among them Murillo herself and her son, Laureano Ortega Murillo. Both have been accused of corruption and of violating the human rights of Nicaraguans.
She also emphasized that the US authorities are demanding early elections and accountability for the more than 300 killed by the police and paramilitary during the 2018 repression.
Offering no evidence, Ortega and Murillo cast themselves as the victims of a conspiracy orchestrated by “International NGOs, gay rights activists, abortion rights activists, Catholics who had turned away from God,” the report states.
Pompeo invited to Nicaragua
During the conversation, Murillo brought to light the name of Donald Trump. She recalled that Ortega and Trump had met at a reception in New York in the 1980s, in the context of a meeting of the UN General Assembly.
Schwarz says that the preacher jumped ahead of the implied request for a possible meeting between both leaders, and told Murillo and Ortega that he could promote a visit to Nicaragua from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his wife Susan. This was immediately accepted by Murillo.
“What could I do in my personal relationship with Mike Pompeo that could best help you in terms of reconciliation?” Drollilnger asked.
Murillo suggested that Pompeo could come to Nicaragua: “Not on a public mission, but he could go around the country and talk to the people.”
“So, maybe have Mike and Susan visit Nicaragua?” Drollinger asked. “Would you like that?”
“Yes, of course! Of course!” Murillo answered.
Pompeo is an open critic of the leftist regimes in Latin America: Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua. Last September, on the occasion of the 198th anniversary of Nicaraguan independence, the US diplomat advocated for the reestablishment of democracy in Nicaragua: “The United States supports the aspirations of the Nicaraguan people to restore democracy in their country by peaceful means, so that they can live with dignity in a free and prosperous Nicaragua,” was the message.
Schwartz writes that he followed up by writing to Drollinger last October to ask about Pompeo’s hypothetical visit to Nicaragua. The preacher answered that he “still” hadn’t talked to him about it, although he clarified that the Secretary of State “had bigger fish to fry right now.”
The Drollingers came to Nicaragua to investigate the possibility of establishing a “Bible Studies” group within the Ortega government. The pastor is the founder of Capitol Ministries, a religious organization dedicated to “evangelizing” the political leaders of the world, so that they make laws based on “Biblical principles”.
Drollinger’s wife proposed the possibility of creating such a group within Nicaragua’s National Assembly. They already had a candidate to lead it, a man they had interviewed last July. Ortega accepted the proposal and was in agreement with the person proposed, whose name wasn’t revealed.
Drollinger is Pompeo’s spiritual mentor and that of Mike Pence, US vice president, who brought him into the White House to lead the Bible Study group for cabinet leaders.
The New York Times article highlights Drollinger’s ideas on certain themes: “marriage (men lead, women submit), homosexuality (‘an abomination” and “illegitimate in God’s eyes’), abortion (a slippery slope to infanticide), climate change (a radical belief promoted by ‘secular fad theorists’) and family separation at the Southern US border (an appropriate punishment for ‘illegal immigrants’).
“To Drollinger, the Bible is more than the literal word of God. It is the only defensible basis for any rational thought. The text, under the doctrine of inerrancy, is factually perfect and not open to multiple interpretations,” writes the journalist.
The article goes on to describe how before saying goodbye to the two US visitors, Murillo “fired a parting shot at the NGOs and other interlopers in Nicaragua. They are obsessed, she said, ‘with abortion and gay rights and gay marriage. And they have accused us of everything. Because we have not approved any of those.’”
Amid his observations of the presidential couple’s interactions with Drollinger, and their conversation, Schwartz notes: “Their impassioned sense of victimhood did reveal a delicate truth, one that the [July 19th] rally had been designed to conceal: Nicaragua’s leaders were not secure. They felt vulnerable. They needed a patron.”