Thrown under the spotlight since mid-April, the homeland of Sandino is still facing an intense political crisis. From now on, the crisis seems to be approaching its final resolution. On the one hand, the Nicaraguan people are mobilizing more and more alongside the authorities to help them dismantle barricades in insurgent spots. And on the other hand, in one week two big demonstrations for peace took place. Against the wishes of an opposition camp and spokespersons of the US administration, the message of Daniel Ortega during the march for peace of July 7 in Managua was crystal clear: “Here it is the people who set the rules in the Constitution of the Republic. They will not change overnight by the will of some coup leaders. If the putschists want to come to the government, let them seek the people’s vote in the next elections. With all the destruction they have provoked, we will see what support they will have.” But these facts are minimized by the private media and major news agencies, which continue to hide the evolution on the ground and blow on the embers of the dispute. Which side will tip the scales?
A dreadful propaganda scheme
In a recent article, I examined a number of contradictions in the treatment by international media of Nicaragua. Notably, one can recognize one of the principles of war propaganda which is to reverse the aggressor and the victim. The scheme works as follows: first, an opposition sector, one that refuses dialogue with the government, plans to control some parts of the capital and other cities by means of barricades. These areas are then considered “liberated from tyranny”, and thus represent the hearth of insurgency that must recur throughout the country, to defeat the operations of “repression” of police forces. This tactic of deploying barricades has been theorized as an effective means of preventing the authorities from gaining control over the national territory, because it is “impossible for the government to have enough personnel to control every inch of the country”. The first obvious thing to emphasize is that this is not a completely spontaneous crisis that emerges from a massive popular mobilization, but that there is indeed an insurrectional plan in place capable of standing up to the authorities for months. We are witnessing the first phase in the development of an unconventional war to overthrow a democratically elected government.
Then, a number of clashes take place in these areas “liberated” by the opposition. At this point, it is not trivial to note that the activists who defend these barricades are no longer peaceful protesters that the mainstream media has portrayed. Images of hooded youths handling homemade mortars and other explosive devices are impossible to conceal. In fact, they even contribute to the creation of a “romantic” dimension of popular resistance in the context of face-to-face contact with the professional police corps. This is where the second phase of the unconventional war comes in, namely, the decisive role of media corporations that contribute to the production of a dominant and one-sided narrative of the crisis. It is easier to identify with a young demonstrator who is rebelling than a young police officer compelled to use force to enforce the law. Thus, when there have been deaths around the barricades, it becomes complicated for an outside observer to know the truth.
Who is not concerned with these victims?
A simple and quick tour of private media news will make anyone realize that the idealized dimension mentioned above serves only to delegitimize government action. No one is asking themselves this simple question: “Was the victim a pro-government Sandinista helping the police dismantle the barricades, or an opponent who defended them?” Many testimonies in favor of the first version have been systematically dismissed! Indeed, the role of the private media is fundamental in order to give maximum credibility to the opposition’s side of the story. Would the latter be manipulating the victims’ memory with the complicity of some private media in Nicaragua? This is quite a strong point for us: what about the many cases of victims whose membership in the pro-government camp has been proven?
In the framework of the peace talks, the Nicaraguan government first accepted that the IACHR (Note: Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, organ of the Organization of American States (OAS)) lead a human rights observation mission. But it went on to denounce that its report does not include the description of many cases of attacks against civilian victims, including public officials, as a result of the violence unleashed by the opposition. Are the dice loaded? Here are some recent examples that illustrate a much more nuanced situation than that described by some media:
– On June 19, the authorities launch an operation in Masaya to release the Deputy Director of the National Police Ramon Avellan and his agents, who were entrenched in the police station, surrounded by barricades since June 2. Every night, protesters fired mortar at the police station, accompanied by threats: “What do you think? That there were only “güevones” (rascals) in this fight? Here again, here is my little sister… ” Then, the mortar fire would start again near the police station… Under the pretext of playful action, a video shows how protesters positioned behind a barricade sing menacing songs against General Avellan, accompanied by shots. According to the Pro-Human Rights Nicaraguan Association ANPDH organization, as a result of the police rescue operation, six people – including three whose identity remains to be verified – were murdered in several surrounding neighborhoods.
– On June 30, in the context of an opposition march, a protester was shot dead. Recorded a few minutes before the tragedy by a journalist who was there, a video shows how opposition members surround a private security officer and ask him to hand over his weapon, simulating a hostage situation in order to justify their action. Then, the images show a person who stands behind the agent, points a pistol at his temple and steals his rifle. Later, the protesters will attribute the death to government repression.
– On July 3, two people were kidnapped in Jinotepe by a group of armed hooded men: police major Erlin García Cortez and Enacal worker Erasmo Palacios. Three days later, Bismarck de Jesús Martínez Sánchez, a worker from the Managua City Hall, was also kidnapped. A week later, relatives had still not received any sign of life from them.
– On July 5, the lifeless body of National Police officer Yadira Ramos was found in Jinotepe. She had been kidnapped, raped and tortured. She had been forced to get off her vehicle and her husband had been killed on the spot.
– On July 6, FSLN member Roberto Castillo Cruz was killed by opposition hoodlums who held barricades in Jinotepe. His son, Christopher Castillo Rosales had been killed just a week before him. In a video published shortly before his own murder, Castillo Cruz denounced the murderers: “This criminal gang of the right has killed my son, I only ask for justice and that peace prevails so that our children do not lose their lives!”
– On July 8, during a nighttime clash in Matagalpa, a 55-year-old man named Aran Molina was killed while rescuing Lalo Soza, a Sandinista activist who was under attack. The following day, Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional (FSLN) paid tribute to him through a procession. The same day, two other people were killed: social worker Tirzo Ramón Mendoza, executed by hooded people after being kidnapped, and a third victim whose identity remains unknown.
– On 9 July, the authorities dismantled the barricades that prevented free movement in the towns of Diriamba and Jinotepe. Many residents then testified about the many violent actions of the opposition, including torture against the Sandinistas. At the same time, representatives of the Episcopal Conference arrived. Citizens of Jinotepe then entered the church, where they found opposition members disguised as members of the clergy. Residents accused church officials of protecting them and not saying anything or doing anything to stop the violence unleashed in the last two months. In Diriamba, the inhabitants also discovered an arsenal of mortars hidden in the church of San Sebastian.
– On July 12, a criminal gang attacked the Morrito Town Hall in Rio San Juan. A historical Sandinista fighter, Carlos Hernandez, was kidnapped there. Seriously wounded and unable to escape, a youth Sandinista activist, two police officers and their superiors are murdered. A Sandinista activist received a bullet in the abdomen. Later, schoolmaster Marvin Ugarte Campos would succumb to his injuries. The version of the opposition? It says the massacre was … a “self-attack by paramilitaries”!
It seems that some deaths and violent acts have no value, while others are erected as martyrs for a sacred cause. In the end, does everything depend on the prism through which we look at reality? Are we already placed in a camp in a conflict without knowing it or even suspecting it? In this case, would it be a waste of time to try to form one’s own opinion from fact analysis? The search for peace and truth prevents us from succumbing to such resignation.
In a remarkable 46-page work entitled “The monopoly of death – how to inflate figures to assign them to the government”, Enrique Hendrix identified the numerous inconsistencies in the various reports presented by the three main human rights organizations, the CENIDH (Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights), the IACHR and the ANPDH. Comparing the various reports from the beginning of the crisis to the date of the last reports presented (from April 18 to June 25), he concluded that the three organizations recorded a total of 293 deaths. In 26% of cases (77 citizens), information on the deaths is incomplete and remains to be verified. In 21% of cases (60 citizens), the dead are persons murdered by the opposition, either public officials or Sandinista militants who were murdered for helping the authorities dismantle the barricades. In 20% of the cases (59 citizens), the dead were protesters, opposition members or people who erected barricades. In 17% of cases (51 citizens), the dead do not have a direct relationship with the demonstrations. Finally in 16% of the cases (46 citizens), the dead were passers-by who did not take part in the clashes.
As can be seen in this study, the balance sheets of these organizations are sorely lacking in rigor and mix all sorts of victims (fights between gangs, road accidents, murders in the context of vehicle theft, conflict between land owners, police officers, a pregnant woman in an ambulance blocked by barricades …). Conclusion: if we take into account the exact circumstances of each death, it is obvious that we cannot attribute the responsibility to the government alone. In light of these elements, we have the right to challenge the international media about their lack of objectivity. Why such an alignment with a sector of the opposition who has declared itself fiercely hostile to any dialogue?
Who is not interested in dialogue?
This propaganda mechanism is completed by the “blackout” of other information that is not considered relevant. However, while the media focuses on the clashes, other sectors of the opposition continue to participate in the various sessions of the “dialogue tables for truth, peace and justice”, organized to listen to different points of view and seek to establish responsibility in the wave of violence ravaging the country. Moreover, the final conclusions of the various human rights observation missions in the country had not yet been made. They were to be discussed and include new elements. But what can we expect from the dialogue between the two parties, when a number of observers have already decided in advance that the government alone is responsible for the violence?
All over the world, the role of the police is to repress in case of “disturbance of public order”. But we struggle to understand why the authorities would order it to attack civilians wildly and arbitrarily at the same time as the peace dialogue is taking place. On the other hand, one could expect such an attitude from those who, refusing to participate in the dialogues, would seek to sabotage it, having an interest in the derailment of this process. In this case, it is not unlikely that hooded thugs have been posing as police forces on several occasions.
In any case, it is no less credible than the version of these same hooded thugs, who say that the government of Daniel Ortega would have given the green light to disguised civilians to destroy infrastructure and kill other civilians! Still, the government did not deny that at the beginning of the crisis some police officers sometimes acted using disproportionate violence, and it responded that justice will have to determine their responsibility in actions punishable by law. The National Assembly, for its part, has launched an initiative to create a “Commission for Truth, Justice and Peace” with the aim of reporting on the responsibilities of human rights violations within three months.
But in the fairy tale that the mainstream media is manufacturing from dawn to dusk, and on the internet 24 hours a day, it is not even conceivable that the government of Nicaragua is facing difficulties whose causes would be complex and numerous. The media hype and the positions of foreign political figures serve as irrefutable proof! As has been the case in Venezuela in recent years, taking the public hostage in this way is an insult to its intelligence. Of course, not everything is explained by the tentacles of the imperialist octopus. But for those who are interested in the history of inter-American relations for the last two centuries, it is not serious to forget about its weight and consider that this influence is a thing of the past.
How to export democracy in dollars
It seems that few observers are really shocked by the rapid progression of these events, which are shaped like a breadcrumb trail towards a single objective: condemning the Ortega government and demanding early elections. That’s where the hiccup is: Latin American countries where assassinations of trade unionists, peasants and social leaders have been a common thing for years, where the peace efforts of governments are considered, at best, as totally ineffective, and at worst as non-existent, such as Colombia, Honduras or Mexico, are not at all worried about the image of their “democracies”. There is something wrong, isn’t it? To shed some light on this mystery, a reminder of the history of the twentieth century is worth the detour.
The coups and destabilizations fomented from abroad, such as in the Dominican Republic or in Guatemala, show that in the second half of the 20th century the Latin-American context was still marked by the military interventionism of the Monroe Doctrine and the “manifest destiny” of the United States. It was nothing more than an imperialist policy of controlling the resources and raw materials of Latin America, now presented as an anticommunist “crusade” in the context of the Cold War. On the other hand, the dominance of the United States would not be limited to a demonstration of force based on the “regime change” and the sending of troops on the ground, but it would also take forms of cultural domination, in particular through the so-called “development aid” policies.
In his speech in January 1949, US President Harry Truman described non-industrialized countries as “underdeveloped” countries. Thus, in 1950, the American Congress passed an Act for International Development (AID). On September 4, 1961, a US Congress law replaced the AID by USAID, which was to implement a new, more comprehensive vision of “development assistance” directed anywhere in the planet. As can be seen in the coup against Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala in 1954, the anti-communist struggle was only a pretext. The main concern of the US government was to prevent the development of national consciousness within the armies and police of “underdeveloped countries”. That is why, from 1950 to 1967, “the United States government spent more than $1,500 million on military aid to Latin American countries.”1
After the victory of the Cuban Revolution in 1959, John Kennedy announced the Alliance for Progress in 1961. It was a similar initiative to the Marshall Plan in Europe. Between 1961 and 1970, the Alliance for Progress provided $20 billion in economic assistance to Latin America. One of the objectives was the stabilization of the regimes that fought against communism and the influence of Cuba.
John F. Kennedy and his advisers are developing an action plan for the region, the Alliance for Progress, consisting of a $ 20 billion investments for economic development and massive military assistance. The decade of the sixties is marked by the formation of a new generation of Latin American military and the transfer of capital and technology from the US military to Latin America. The Pentagon and the CIA draw their strategy to halt the advance of socialism: the US Army-run Panama School trains the cadres of the Latin American armed forces.2
Under the fallacious concept of “development aid policies”, the “creation of strong armies and police” and “military aid to reactionary and pro-imperialist regimes” served to offer to the monopolies “the most favorable conditions of exploitation of underdeveloped countries “.3 In other words, this “aid” represented above all a political weapon in favor of the economic interests of the countries of the Global North. These were represented in the OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development), founded in 1961 and also known as the “Rich Country Club”. It consisted of 27 countries, mostly those of North America, Western Europe and Japan.
Resistance emerges sooner or later
But the new reality resulting from decolonization in Asia and Africa also represented an awareness: the strength of the liberated countries now resided in their unity. This would enable them to exercise some orientation on the agenda of the United Nations General Assembly, and to defend the autonomous “right to development”. Thus, in the 1970s, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) would play an important role in defending the interests of the Group 77. Created in 1964, UNCTAD was characterized by the Common Declaration of the 77 countries as a “historic turning point”.
The invasion and the military occupation of Nicaragua by the United States makes it possible to better appreciate the historical value of the Sandinista Popular Revolution and the resistance to the interferences which it showed in the 1980s. The scandal of the financing of Contras by the CIA through the drug trade in Central America was proof that these plans are not infallible. Despite the many interferences and destabilizations suffered throughout history, the peoples of the South have an advantage over the powerful: collective memory and intelligence.
After the dictatorships’ repression, the debt crisis and the rule of the IMF in the 1970s and 1980s, Latin America was to experience many social revolts in the 1990s, paving the way for the arrival of new progressive governments in Brazil, Ecuador, Venezuela or Bolivia. The next step was to launch the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA), a regional cooperation body created in 2004 to defeat the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas (ALCA in Spanish) by the United States.
What remains today of yesterday’s meddling?
Since the 1990s, at the end of the Cold War, US aid no longer had the pretext of restraining communism. It then took the form of “counter-terrorism” or “security and anti-drug policies”. Here are the main recipients of US aid in Latin America: $9.5 billion for Colombia; $2.9 billion for Mexico; and since 2016, aid to all countries in the Northern Triangle of Central America (El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras) has exceeded that of the first two. Which explains why we systematically condemn some countries and not others… regardless of reality and the degree of violence.
Yet the Cold War is not over in the minds of some. Thus, OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro believes it is necessary in 2018 to comply with White House requirements, and to harass night and day countries such as Nicaragua or Venezuela at the risk of being ridiculed. Indeed, when in a special session of the OAS the US spokesperson has just criticized the violence in Nicaragua and attributed it exclusively to the government, can we take his word for it? It would be better to remind him that his country does not have the slightest legitimacy to talk about Nicaragua, because it invaded and occupied it militarily for 21 years, then went on to support the clan of the dictator Somoza for another 43 years!
The “conservative restoration” of recent years, with the “soft coups” to overthrow Lugo in Paraguay, Zelaya in Honduras, Rousseff in Brazil; the failure of the peace process in Colombia, the judicial persecution against Jorge Glas, Lula Da Silva and now Rafael Correa, is the ideal context for the OAS, this obsolete organization, to try to put an end to the memory of the social achievements of recent years.
Since the US did not invent hot water, to reach their ends they must use the means at hand. Unsurprisingly, Freedom House, funded among others by USAID and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), decided to create a special task force to fight the FSLN in Nicaragua in 1988. It is always opportune to hear NED Co-Founder Allen Weinstein: “A lot of what we do today was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA. The biggest difference is that when such activities are done overtly, the flap potential is close to zero. Openness is its own protection.”4
Today, the interference keeps going through the financing of opposition movements, framed by training programs for “young leaders” ready to defend tooth and nail the values of the sacrosanct “democracy” and to overthrow “dictatorships” from their countries of origin. From 2014 to 2017, the NED has dedicated up to $4.2 million to Nicaraguan organizations such as IEEPP (Institute for Strategic Studies and Public Policy), CPDHN (Human Rights Permanent Commission in Nicaragua), Invermedia, Hagamos Democracia and Fundacion Nicaraguense para el Desarrollo Economico y Social. When we remind this to young opponents and their sympathisers, they pretend not to understand…
While it may have been extremely effective in some countries like Ukraine in 2014, the pattern we have described must be confronted with the reality and political traditions of each country. In Nicaragua, the FSLN is the dominant political force that has won democratically in the last three elections. It is significant that opposition sectors that rely on the support of the US, the right wing, and local employers are forced to use references to Sandinismo in an attempt to gain credibility. However, this practice goes too far when it tries to compare the Sandinista government and the dictatorship of Somoza, thus demonizing Daniel Ortega.
The march for peace convened by the FSLN on July 13, in tribute to the 39th anniversary of the historic “tactical retreat” of Sandinism in Masaya, was a new show of strength of the Nicaraguan people and its willingness to defeat the violent strategy of the opposition. Will the peoples of the world live up to the solidarity that this moment demands?
• First published at Investig’Action
- Yves Fuchs; La coopération. Aide ou néo-colonialisme ? Editions Sociales. Paris, 1973, pp. 55 (Cooperation. Help or neo-colonialism?).
- Claude Lacaille; En Mission dans la Tourmente des Dictatures. Haïti, Equateur, Chili : 1965-1986. Novalis, Montreal, 2014. p 23. (In Mission in the Torment of Dictators. Haiti, Ecuador, Chile: 1965-1986).
- Gustavo Esteva, “Desarrollo” in SachsWolfgang (coord.) Diccionario del Desarrollo, Lima, PRATEC, 1996. p. 52.
- Washington Post, 22 September 1991.