All posts by Roger Stoll

Nicaragua: The War of 2018

Nearly all US regime-change wars (Venezuela, Syria, Honduras, Ukraine, Libya, Yugoslavia, etc.) are wars of deception, fabrication, propaganda, coups and false flags. Sometimes there is a direct US military assault, more often not. These wars are waged by proxies, media puppets, hired hit-men, torturers, rapists, vandals, saboteurs, death squads and criminal gangs, through mock or pretextual social protest movements, denunciations by “human rights” organizations, and by internal and external economic assaults on the country’s people, transportation, commerce and communications. These were the methods of the 2018 war against Nicaragua, for which the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) alone, a well-known US regime-change shop, has spent 4.1 million USD on Nicaraguan NGOs since 2014.

There is little mystery why the US would take pains to overthrow the government of little Nicaragua (population 6 million). In addition to Nicaragua’s current and historical geo-strategic importance, President Daniel Ortega’s administration greatly improved people’s lives, presenting what is often called “the threat of a good example.”

Prior to the war and during the Ortega administration, poverty and extreme poverty were halved. Basic healthcare and education were free. Illiteracy fell from one-third of the population to nearly zero. Access to electricity went from a little over half the population to 90%. Through state subsidy programs, small and medium agricultural producers had achieved near-complete food sovereignty for the country. In defiance of the dictates of the US and the global neoliberal order, Nicaragua failed to privatize essential public services, and kept friendly relations with Cuba, Venezuela, Russia, China and Iran.

Also notable, in light of the events of 2018, Nicaragua built a national police force recognized by the UN for its humane, community policing, headed until mid-2018 by Aminta Granera Sacasa, former nun, mother of three and Sandinista revolutionary, who during her tenure was among the most popular politicians in the country.

In the eyes of the US, these achievements are capital crimes.

Pretextual student protests covered the launch of the war on April 18, 2018. The protests came following announced changes to the country’s social security programs, falsely presented by the media as austerity measures. In fact, the changes avoided the austerity plan sought by the Nicaraguan business lobby (COSEP) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). COSEP called for student protests, which were led by relatively well-to-do students from the private universities but directed toward the Polytechnic University (UPOLI) campus, one of the two main public universities that serve poor and working class students.

The police killing of a student protestor was mis-reported on the first day of protests (the student later turned up alive and unharmed). The next day, three more killings at the UPOLI were wrongly attributed to the police.

The UPOLI was taken over by armed opposition forces (not UPOLI students) demanding the government resign. The daycare center, reproductive health center and women’s dormitories were vandalized. The leader of the UPOLI student union, Leonel Morales, publicly denounced the armed opposition, and was tortured and nearly killed.

Directing operations at the universities and elsewhere was Felix Madriaga, US raised and Harvard trained, and funded by the NED. Madriaga’s role was revealed by gang leader “Viper,” whose criminal organization was enlisted by the opposition.

By April 22nd the government withdrew the announced social security changes, but opposition forces continued widespread destruction and assaults, now concealed under pretextual protests against police repression.

Opposition tactics included 100s of roadblocks across the country meant to wreak havoc on the country’s transportation systems and economy. These roadblocks, called tranques, became opposition paramilitary bases, terrorizing the population with killings, beatings, torture, rape and extortion. A 10-year-old girl was kidnapped and raped at the tranque in Las Maderas, and the opposition attacked and set fire to public buildings as well as homes of Sandinista loyalists.

The Catholic Church hierarchy, ostensibly mediating between the government and the opposition, played a leading role in organizing the tranques, something Bishop Silvio Baez was caught on tape bragging about, as well as calling for President Ortega to be put before a firing squad.

Yet the government agreed to opposition demands to withdraw the police from the streets. For nearly two months the police were confined to barracks while the war continued. This controversial, pacifist move may have saved lives by avoiding police confrontations with opposition forces while they were fresh and well-supplied with money, food, hand-held mortar-launchers, guns and other weaponry. Meanwhile, organized civilian self-defense forces mitigated the violence of opposition forces, even managing to remove many tranques. Eventually the police returned to the streets, and after three months of war, relative calm had returned to Nicaragua, although opposition killings of police continued.

Over 250 people were killed and many more injured. More than 250 buildings were burned down or ransacked, with public sector property losses of over $230 million USD. GDP fell nearly 4%, a loss to the economy of nearly 1.5 billion USD, with job losses of up to 300,000.

Not conceding defeat, both houses of the US legislature unanimously approved presidential authority for sanctions barring Nicaragua from receiving aid from international financial institutions, a virtual economic embargo, illegal under the UN Charter.

From the very first day of the war, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the media spun a relentless and knowingly false “human rights” narrative of police repression by a dictatorial state, uniformly attributing to police the injuries and deaths inflicted by the opposition or from accidents. Aiding this propaganda effort were a tiny political party and grouplets of former prominent Sandinistas, who claim left status but lack popular support and have long been part of the US-backed rightist-led opposition.

Yet Nicaraguans have waged an heroic struggle against the most powerful empire in history. The peoples of the world owe them an incalculable debt of gratitude.

Grenada: 40th Anniversary of the Revolution

Forty years ago this March, the Caribbean island nation of Grenada, population 110,000, made a revolution.

Prime Minister Eric Gairy had for years headed a neocolonial dictatorship on behalf of Grenada’s minute capitalist class and British and US interests. A private and brutal militia known as the Mongoose Gang was tasked to silence Gairy’s political opponents. Though the island was rich in agricultural resources, like nutmeg, mace, cacao and bananas, too much of its population lived in poverty.

On March 13, 1979, after years of unarmed struggle, the New Jewel Movement, under the charismatic leadership of Maurice Bishop, successfully executed a nearly bloodless coup. The new government built a mixed economy on socialist principles. With the organizational, administrative and economic planning genius of Bernard Coard, Bishop’s childhood friend, Grenada made rapid social progress. The revolution became immensely popular, with good reason.

With the new government, aided and advised by Cuba, literacy rose from 85% to 98%; the ratio of doctors to patients doubled; new labor laws brought 80% of the population into unions; unemployment plummeted from half the population to 14%; new laws criminalized the sexual victimization of women, ensured equal pay for equal work and mandated maternity leave. Free health care and secondary education were introduced, and scholarships provided free college education abroad.

In the first four years of the revolution, Grenada’s economy grew by 9%, in the midst of a worldwide recession. Agricultural diversification brought significant reductions in food imports and increased exports.

But from its birth, the revolution was menaced by the US. Though tiny, Grenada greatly troubled the US. State Department memos revealed why: Grenada’s population spoke English and was predominantly of African descent, so the revolution and its success would have special appeal to African Americans.

President Carter’s administration welcomed exiled ex-Prime Minister Gairy to the US, where he made broadcasts against the Grenadian government. The Carter administration also worked to cut US tourism to the island and denied recognition to Grenada’s ambassador.  President Reagan’s administration followed suit, blocking economic development assistance from international finance institutions.

The US invasion and takeover of the island on October 25, 1983 was plotted years in advance, rehearsed in exercises called “Amber and the Ambergines,” a transparent reference to Grenada and the nearby Grenadine islands. 100s were killed battling the invasion, including two Soviet military officers and 24 Cuban engineers.

Bishop and other leaders were killed in a tragic conflict within the government days before the invasion.  After the invasion, soldiers and surviving political leaders, including Coard, were tried for the killings on scant and dubious evidence.  The trial was paid for and managed by the US and denounced by Amnesty International. The defendants, known as the Grenada 17, spent decades in prison.  The circumstances of the killings remain mysterious, in part because of the US theft and concealment of much documentary evidence.

But for a time a tiny nation in the belly of the beast made a beautiful revolution.

The Grenadian Revolution, ¡Presente!

Flashpoints

I was just listening to Dennis Bernstein’s Flashpoints, a news and analysis interview program airing every weekday from 5 to 6 PM on Pacifica Radio’s KPFA. Dennis’ guests were three political analysts and academics talking about the Korea summit, including the politics and history of US-Korea relations. South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s political background came up. Tim Beal remarked, “[It’s] as if Dennis Kucinich had become president of the United States.” K. J. Noh countered, “No, it’s as if William Kunstler or Lynne Stewart had become president.” Noh detailed President Moon’s background as a political prisoner, torture victim under the US-backed Park Chung-hee dictatorship, and brilliant people’s lawyer.

This depth is typical of KPFA’s flagship commute hour radio program. Dennis Bernstein is perhaps the most perceptive interviewer on radio. He never asks any but the most relevant questions, has astonishing recall of political and historical events, and always guides, but never hinders, his guests in giving their take on the issues in their own way. He is also a widely published investigative journalist and poet, and the recipient of numerous awards, including the 2015 Pillar Award from the National Whistleblower’s Conference, the National Federation of Community Broadcasters Gold Reel Award and the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee Reporting Award. In 2009, Pulse Media dubbed him one of the “20 Top Global Media Figures” of the year.

Now we have the gift of Dennis’s fascinating interviews in this generous collection — Follow the Money: Radio Voices for Peace and Justice (2018, Left Coast Press) — spanning the years of the Obama administration. Bernstein’s editor is Riva Enteen, a San Francisco Bay Area activist and organizer, who comes to the work with a law degree and a decade of experience as past program director of the San Francisco Bay Area Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild.

The book boasts a foreword by famed journalist, author and political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal, who expresses special gratitude for the volume because in prison he cannot listen to Flashpoints: “So, the stirring, soul-touching and moving interviews with Dennis and his guests are lost to us. That is until Follow the Money.” (Hear Mumia read the foreword.) In her brief editor’s introduction, Riva aptly suggests that the volume’s 66 interviews done in the seven years preceding the 2016 US presidential election “provide the writing on the wall for the toxic stew we now live in.” The book is dedicated to “the late, great Robert Parry, founder of ConsortiumNews.com, home of many Flashpoints interviews, which continues his tradition of true, courageous investigative journalism.” The book’s very last page reprints Marge Piercy’s celebrated poem, To be of use, which shares the spirit of activism in which the book is offered.

The interviews are grouped into nine broad themes, such as “The Class War,” “Domestic Dissent” and “Global Militarism and Empire.” The interviewees include many of today’s most important journalists and academics on the Left. Their voices are invariably eloquent, insightful, and informative, as these excerpts show:

Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, Partnership for Civil Justice:  The Tea Party was having rallies across the US where they were openly carrying weapons. [Some rallies were] outside where the President of the US was speaking, but what does the FBI do? They are going after the non-violent, peaceful Occupy Movement.

Shahid Buttar, First Amendment Coalition: [T]he Obama administration is already our nation’s far-and-away most aggressive anti-press administration. More national security whistleblowers faced prosecution in the last five years than in the entire preceding 225-year history of the Republic.

Birgitta Jonsdottir, member, Icelandic Parliament: I wept. I wept many times over this video. It is painful not only to see the war crimes that happen in this video. … They had kids in their car and they were killed, slaughtered. It was a murder of innocent people who were trying to do a decent thing, by saving somebody who was dying, and the way the soldiers spoke about it was horrifying. Dennis:  There was almost a gleeful hysteria. Birgitta:  It was “Look at the dead bastards. Line them up, nice. It’s their fault to bring their kids to war.” Who brought the war to Iraq? It certainly wasn’t these people — it was from a country far, far away.

Vernellia Randall, retired professor: Of all the churches [Dylan Roof] could have picked in that town, he picked the church that was celebrating its 193-year anniversary.  That’s a church standing since slavery, with membership since slavery. One of the co-founders of the church was hung, murdered by the system, for supposedly organizing a slave revolt.

Martin Espada, poet: “How to Read Ezra Pound” / At the poets’ panel, / after an hour of poets / debating Ezra Pound, / Abe the Lincoln veteran, / remembering / the Spanish Civil War, / raised his hand and said: / “If I knew / that a fascist / was a great poet, / I’d shoot him / anyway.”

Adrienne Pine, anthropologist:  To understand why not only the [Honduran] homicide rate, but also the rate of many other forms of violence is so high, is to understand the coup that happened in 2009, a coup that was carried out by military forces trained at the School of the Americas in Fort Benning, Georgia. … Every Honduran I know has been violently assaulted at one point or another — with a gun. It’s happened in front of me on several occasions. … A month ago I walked by a man who had been killed in a targeted assassination ten minutes earlier, and was lying there on the ground.

Laura Flanders, niece of Alexander Cockburn:  [Cockburn] would cause you to stop and think, “Am I accepting drivel today that I would have rejected five years ago?”… “Yes,” because there’s been such an uninterrupted flow of it … Alexander was inspired by [his journalist father] Claud’s courage and extraordinary freshness of voice. Claud loved to tell the story of interviewing Al Capone for the London Times, only to have the story never appear in print — because the gangster’s views on American capitalism were so indistinguishable from Wall Street and the paper’s editorial page … [I]n 1973, shortly after the CIA backed coup in Chile, most of the press, the Washington Post, and the New York Times, wrote that it should be assumed that the US had played no role. Alexander wrote, “In the absence of evidence, it might seem journalistically more responsible to assume there was American involvement.” Given the coups in Guatemala and Guyana, “There seems little reason,” he wrote, “to wait for Kissinger’s memoirs or a Congressional hearing in 1984 to get the full story.”

Marsha Coleman-Adebayo, fired EPA whistleblower:  Sacrifice zones are essentially primarily African American, Hispanic communities, and low-income white communities … Flint, Michigan, used to be an area where many African Americans moved to who were escaping from state-sponsored violence in the South, from the Ku Klux Klan, the White Knights, and all the organizations that were dedicated to killing black people in the early 1920s, 30s, 40s. … They went to Flint seeking economic value, jobs in the auto industry … Lead poisoning is irreversible. It’s an inter-generational poisoning. So the children of the fetuses who have been poisoned through their mother’s womb — their grandchildren will most likely be lead poisoned.

Robert Parry, investigative journalist:  Dennis: Robert, it looks like the US has entered what you call “the second Cold War.” … Barack Obama is leading the charge. He is a Cold War warrior. Robert: … Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, led the charge in supporting the coup in Ukraine in early 2014. Dennis: Most people don’t know that occurred. Was there a coup? Robert: Of course there was. There was an armed uprising that involved some very far right neo-Nazi militias … Very quickly, despite the unconstitutional change of power, the United States and European Union recognized this as legitimate. … [It is a] Cuban missile crisis in reverse. This time we’re the ones pushing our military forces onto the Russian border, rather than the Russians putting missiles onto a place like Cuba.

The book’s interviews can be dipped into at random or devoured all at once. Anyone engaged by the world will find this book eye-opening, and a keeper.

Author’s Note: You can avoid Amazon and buy the book at a 20% discount through Lulu Press. Also available at Barnes & Noble.