Category Archives: Amnesty International

Camilo Comes to San Francisco and Analyzes the Soft Coup Attempt in Nicaragua

Western media has described the unrest and violence in Nicaragua as a “campaign of terror” by government police and paramilitary. This has also been asserted by large non governmental organizations (NGOs). In May, for example, Amnesty International issued a report titled “Shoot to Kill: Nicaragua’s Strategy to Repress Protest”.

A Miami Herald op-ed summarized, “It’s not like there’s any confusion over who’s to blame for the recent killings amid Nicaragua’s political violence. Virtually all human rights groups agree that Ortega’s police-backed paramilitary goons are the culprits.”

Much less publicized, other analysts have challenged these assertions. They claim the situation is being distorted and the reality is very different. For example, Camilo Mejía wrote an open letter condemning the Amnesty report for being biased and actually contributing to the chaos and violence.

To learn more about the situation, Task Force on the Americas (TFA) invited Camilo Mejía to speak in the San Francisco Bay Area. TFA has a long history of work in Central and South America educating the public, lobbying around US foreign policy and leading delegations to see the reality in Central and South America.

Veterans for Peace (VFP) quickly agreed to co-sponsor events with Camilo in San Francisco and Oakland. Veterans for Peace also has a long history with Nicaragua. VFP was founded partially in response to US aggression in Central America. VFP members protested against US shipments to the Nicaraguan Contras. VFP member Brian Willson had both legs cut off when a train carrying weapons destined for Central America ran over him. The current VFP president, Gerry Condon, was at that protest and helped stop the blood gushing from Willson’s severed legs. Brian Willson lives in Nicaragua today.

Camilo Mejía was born in Nicaragua, the son of famous musician Carlos Mejía Godoy. His mother was a staunch Sandinista activist but separated from the father soon after his birth. She brought Camilo to the United States as a single mother in 1994, four years after the Sandinista electoral defeat. Living in Florida, Camilo struggled to make ends meet and joined the US Army to pay for college. Just a few months before completing his service, Camilo was ordered into the 2003 invasion of Iraq. After serving one tour of war duty, he refused to return and was imprisoned for 9 months.

Camilo was honored as a “Prisoner of Conscience” by Amnesty International. Thus Camilo’s criticism of the Amnesty report on Nicaragua has special significance. Camilo is Nicaraguan, a member of Veterans for Peace, and a hero to both VFP and Amnesty. He is also the author of the compelling autobiography Road from Ar Ramadi.

As news of Camilo’s upcoming visit to San Francisco was spread, we quickly started to feel a reaction. There is a large and diverse Nicaraguan exile community in San Francisco. While some support the Sandinista government, others are adamantly opposed and some even supported the Contras decades ago. Anti-Ortega Nicaraguan exiles in San Francisco began organizing a protest.

Camilo’s visit to speak on Nicaragua also prompted a reaction from some Americans who had once supported the Sandinistas but now support the opposition. They campaigned to have their viewpoint presented at our events. TFA and VFP organizers thought there was no need to include the opposition voice since their characterization of the conflict is widespread. However, Camilo wanted to be transparent and not exclude the opposition. He thought that if we allowed an opposition supporter to speak briefly, they were more likely to listen to his analysis and he could directly address their concerns.

At the San Francisco event, protesters arrived early in front of the War Memorial Veterans Building. When the event started, protesters flooded into the venue. As promised, an opposition supporter was invited to speak briefly.The audience of about 120 was split between those who wanted to hear Camilo and those who came to protest. Camilo’s talk was repeatedly interrupted and police arrived to prevent violence. Camilo asked what kind of “democracy” was this they claimed to want for Nicaragua when they would not listen or allow him to speak here in San Francisco?

Camilo showed two short video clips. The first video showed opposition activists torturing a Sandinista supporter under the oversight of a Catholic priest and the remains of a Sandinista burned alive.

A second video showed a statement from an American who has lived in Nicaragua for many years. He described how gangs had invaded his town, set up road blocks, intimidated and abused local civilians. He described the joy of the community when the roadblocks were removed and masked “protesters” departed.

The audience got increasingly disruptive during the question period. A prominent Nicaraguan opposition supporter came forward, offering to quiet the disrupters. After receiving the microphone from Camilo, she did the opposite. The disruptions escalated and the event had to be ended early. The protesters had completed their mission: they had prevented Camilo from being able to present his perspective.

Organizers from TFA and Veterans for Peace decided the Sunday event in Oakland needed to be handled differently. Members of Veterans for Peace, including chapter president Paul Cox and others, prevented the protesters from entering. Ultimately the venue was packed with interested listeners. The anti-Ortega crowd protested on the sidewalk and street but were not able to disrupt the event.

Camilo Mejía speaking in Oakland (Photo by Bill Hackwell)

With the loud opposition outside, Camilo was introduced by VFP President Gerry Condon. He gave a clear and concise history of key events in Nicaraguan political history including:

* Nicaragua was connected to the gold rush in California in the the mid 1800’s. That is when the idea of a trans-oceanic passage through Nicaragua was born.

* When Cesar Sandino launched guerrilla war in the 1920’s and 30’s there were two priorities: advancing the working class and anti-imperialism.

* The Frente Sandinista which carried out the 1979 revolution had nine commanders: three from each of three factions.

After the Sandinistas lost the 1990 election, splits emerged and ultimately Sergio Ramirez formed the Movimiento Renovador Sandinista (MRS). The more affluent members plus intellectuals, writers, and musicians gravitated toward it. But though they were well connected to western solidarity activists, they had no popular platform nor base. They did poorly in elections and moved toward neoliberal policies and the NGO world.

* Since taking power in 2007, Daniel Ortega and Sandinistas have improved living conditions for the poor with free healthcare, free education and better economic policies. Nicaragua now supplies 80 – 90% of its own food needs.

* Up until April, Nicaragua was vastly safer than neighboring countries. Their “community policing” is considered a model.

* Support for Ortega and the Frente Sandinista has steadily increased. In 2006, they won 38% of the vote; in 2011, it increased to 62%; in 2016 support increased to 72% with 68% turnout.

* There has been much misinformation about the proposed changes in social security which sparked the protests in April. To stabilize the social security funding, the IMF wanted to implement an austerity plan which would have doubled the work requirements and raised the qualification age from 60 to 65. The Sandinista proposal was much more progressive, requiring wealthy individuals and businesses to pay much more with minor changes for others.

* The death count has been manipulated. Some deaths are counted twice; people who were said to be dead have turned up alive; dead Sandinista supporters have been counted as protesters. The first deaths on April 19 were one student, one police officer and one bystander killed by sniper fire. Camilo asks: Was this done by the government or by outside forces?

* The National Endowment for Democracy and other US agencies have trained students and others in using social media, video and symbols to stir up dissent and destabilize Nicaragua.

At the Oakland event, Camilo showed a torture video which demonstrates opposition violence. He also showed video of the huge July 19 celebration of the the revolution anniversary. His talk was followed by many questions including from opposition supporters.

At times during the event, there was tension and concern about violence from the protesters outside. Some Nicaraguan families were afraid for their safety. After the event, they had to be escorted with protection to their cars. The car of one Nicaraguan family was besieged by the anti-Ortega crowd. Camilo and his young daughter had to be quickly taken away amidst shouts and waving placards.

Ultimately Camilo’s visit accomplished the goal. Media interviews in Spanish and English reached many thousands.  In these and the public presentations, he brought information and analysis which has been largely censored or ignored in coverage of Nicaragua.

Camilo believes Nicaragua has temporarily defeated a “soft coup” attempt but the danger is not over. The opposition forces internally and internationally are still there.

God Only Knows

If they would just confirm to us that my brother is alive, if they would just let us see him, that’s all we want. But we can’t get anyone to give us any confirmation. My mother dies a hundred times every day. They don’t know what that is like.

In July of 2018, an Amnesty International report entitled “God Knows If He’s Alive,” documented the plight of dozens of families in southern Yemen whose loved ones have been tortured, killed, or forcibly disappeared by Yemeni security forces reporting to the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The UAE is part of the Saudi-led coalition that, with vital US support, has been bombarding and blockading famine and disease-ravaged Yemen for three brutal years. The disappearances, and torture, can sadly be laid at the doorstep of the United States.

One testimonial after another echoes the sentiments of a woman whose husband has been held incommunicado for more than two years. “Shouldn’t they be given a trial?” she asked. “Why else are there courts? They shouldn’t be disappeared this way – not only are we unable to visit them, we don’t even know if they are dead or alive.”

The report describes bureaucratic farces in which families beg for information about their loved ones’ whereabouts from Yemeni prosecutors and prison officials, but the families’ pleas for information are routinely met with silence or intimidation.

The families are appealing to an unelected Yemeni exile government whose president, Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, (when “elected” president in 2012, he was the only candidate) generally resides in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The UAE has, so far, supported Hadi’s claim to govern Yemen. However, the Prosecutor General of Hadi’s government, as well as other officials, told Amnesty International the government of Yemen has no control over operations “spearheaded by the UAE and implemented by the Yemeni forces it backs.”
When months and years pass and families of people who are missing still have no news about their loved ones, some try to communicate unofficially with prison guards or with former detainees who have been released from various detention sites. They repeatedly hear stories about torture of detainees and rumors about prisoners who died in custody.

The Amnesty report implicates UAE-backed local forces in Yemen, as well as the UAE military, in the crimes of torture and other ill-treatment of detainees. Of seven former or current detainees interviewed by Amnesty, five said they were subjected to these abuses. “All seven witnessed other detainees being tortured,” the report adds, “including one who said he saw a detainee held in a cell next to him being carried away in a body bag after he had been repeatedly tortured.”

In June 2017, Human Rights Watch and the Associated Press exposed a network of clandestine prisons operated by the UAE in Yemen. Their reports described ghastly torture inflicted on prisoners and noted that senior US military leaders knew about torture allegations. Yet, a year later, there has been no investigation of these allegations by the Yemeni government, by the UAE, or by the UAE’s most powerful ally in the Yemen war, the United States.

“It is shocking, to say the least,” the Amnesty report states, “that one year after a network of secret prisons operated by the UAE and the Yemeni forces it backs was exposed, these facilities continue to operate and that there has not been a serious investigation undertaken into credibly documented violations, including systemic torture in custody.” The Amnesty report calls on the US to “facilitate independent oversight, including by the US Congress, over US military or intelligence cooperation with Yemeni and UAE forces involved in detention activities in Yemen.” It further calls for investigating any involvement of US military or intelligence personnel in detention-related abuses in Yemen.

To date, the US continues selling weapons to the UAE and to its coalition partner, Saudi Arabia, despite several Congressional debates and a few increasingly close votes demanding a full or partial end to US weapons sales considering the terrible practices being carried out as part of the Yemen war.

Since March of 2015, a coalition of nine countries led by Saudi Arabia and the UAE and relying on crucial U.S. logistical aid, has bombarded Yemen while blockading its major port, despite Yemen’s status as one of the poorest countries in the world. Targeting transportation, electrical plants, sewage and sanitation facilities, schools, mosques, weddings and funerals, the vicious bombing has led to starvation, displacement, and the spread of disease including cholera.

On the same day that the Amnesty report was released, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman pardoned “all military men, who have taken part in the Operation Restoring Hope of their respective military and disciplinary penalties, in regard of some rules and disciplines.” It seems likely that the Amnesty report precipitated this royal decree.

Along with three countries in North Africa’s “Sahel” desert region, Yemen has been cited as part of the worst famine crisis in the 70-year history of the UN. In the past three years of aerial and naval attacks, Yemen’s key port of Hodeidah has remained partially or fully closed despite the country’s vital need for relief supplies. And, while Yemenis suffer the chaos and despair characteristic of war, the Saudis and UAE refer to the war as “Operation Restoring Hope.”

Many thousands of Yemenis, subjected to consistent bombing and threats of starvation and famine, have fled their homes. Many seek refuge out of Yemen. For instance, close to 500 Yemenis have traveled nearly 500 miles to reach a visa-free port on South Korea’s Jeju Island. On July 21, during an international phone call hosted by young friends in Afghanistan, listeners heard Kaia, a resident of Jeju Island, describe the “Hope School.” She explained how she and several other young people are trying to help welcome Yemenis now living in their village of Gangjeong. The young people are already committed to peacefully resisting U.S. and South Korean military destruction of their shoreline and ecosystem. Now, they have started an informal school so Yemeni and South Korean residents can learn from one another. Small groups gather for conversational exchanges translated from Arabic to English to Korean. Many South Koreans can recall, in their own familial history, that seven million Koreans fled Japanese occupation of their land. Their Korean forebears relied on hospitality from people in other lands. The Catholic Bishop of the Jeju diocese, Monsignor Kang Woo-il, called on Koreans to embrace Yemeni refugees, labeling it a crime against human morality to shut the door on refugees and migrants.

Kaia’s account of the newly launched school describes an effort that truthfully involves restoring hope. The cynical designation of Saudi and UAE-led war in Yemen as “Operation Restoring Hope” creates an ugly smokescreen that distracts from the crucial need to investigate war crimes committed in Yemen today.

US citizens bear responsibility for the US government’s support of these crimes.

The Yemenis mean us no harm and have committed no crime against us. Congressional votes have come quite close, with bipartisan support, to ending US participation in, and support for, the Saudi and Emirati led Coalition war against Yemen. Ending arms sales to the UAE and Saudi monarchies, supported by both sides of the aisle, will signal to the UAE and Saudi Arabia the US will no longer assist their efforts to prolong war and siege in Yemen. On cue from the initiative and energy shown by young South Koreans, people in the US can and should organize campaigns to educate their communities, educational institutions, and media outlets about the plight of people in Yemen. Conscious of the nightmare faced by Yemenis whose husbands, brothers, fathers and sons have been disappeared or detained by shadowy military enforcers, US people can work toward implementing each recommendation in Amnesty’s devastating report.

Witness Against Torture activists protest at the Embassy of the United Arab (Photo by Witness Against Torture)

God Only Knows

If they would just confirm to us that my brother is alive, if they would just let us see him, that’s all we want. But we can’t get anyone to give us any confirmation. My mother dies a hundred times every day. They don’t know what that is like.

In July of 2018, an Amnesty International report entitled “God Knows If He’s Alive,” documented the plight of dozens of families in southern Yemen whose loved ones have been tortured, killed, or forcibly disappeared by Yemeni security forces reporting to the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The UAE is part of the Saudi-led coalition that, with vital US support, has been bombarding and blockading famine and disease-ravaged Yemen for three brutal years. The disappearances, and torture, can sadly be laid at the doorstep of the United States.

One testimonial after another echoes the sentiments of a woman whose husband has been held incommunicado for more than two years. “Shouldn’t they be given a trial?” she asked. “Why else are there courts? They shouldn’t be disappeared this way – not only are we unable to visit them, we don’t even know if they are dead or alive.”

The report describes bureaucratic farces in which families beg for information about their loved ones’ whereabouts from Yemeni prosecutors and prison officials, but the families’ pleas for information are routinely met with silence or intimidation.

The families are appealing to an unelected Yemeni exile government whose president, Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, (when “elected” president in 2012, he was the only candidate) generally resides in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The UAE has, so far, supported Hadi’s claim to govern Yemen. However, the Prosecutor General of Hadi’s government, as well as other officials, told Amnesty International the government of Yemen has no control over operations “spearheaded by the UAE and implemented by the Yemeni forces it backs.”
When months and years pass and families of people who are missing still have no news about their loved ones, some try to communicate unofficially with prison guards or with former detainees who have been released from various detention sites. They repeatedly hear stories about torture of detainees and rumors about prisoners who died in custody.

The Amnesty report implicates UAE-backed local forces in Yemen, as well as the UAE military, in the crimes of torture and other ill-treatment of detainees. Of seven former or current detainees interviewed by Amnesty, five said they were subjected to these abuses. “All seven witnessed other detainees being tortured,” the report adds, “including one who said he saw a detainee held in a cell next to him being carried away in a body bag after he had been repeatedly tortured.”

In June 2017, Human Rights Watch and the Associated Press exposed a network of clandestine prisons operated by the UAE in Yemen. Their reports described ghastly torture inflicted on prisoners and noted that senior US military leaders knew about torture allegations. Yet, a year later, there has been no investigation of these allegations by the Yemeni government, by the UAE, or by the UAE’s most powerful ally in the Yemen war, the United States.

“It is shocking, to say the least,” the Amnesty report states, “that one year after a network of secret prisons operated by the UAE and the Yemeni forces it backs was exposed, these facilities continue to operate and that there has not been a serious investigation undertaken into credibly documented violations, including systemic torture in custody.” The Amnesty report calls on the US to “facilitate independent oversight, including by the US Congress, over US military or intelligence cooperation with Yemeni and UAE forces involved in detention activities in Yemen.” It further calls for investigating any involvement of US military or intelligence personnel in detention-related abuses in Yemen.

To date, the US continues selling weapons to the UAE and to its coalition partner, Saudi Arabia, despite several Congressional debates and a few increasingly close votes demanding a full or partial end to US weapons sales considering the terrible practices being carried out as part of the Yemen war.

Since March of 2015, a coalition of nine countries led by Saudi Arabia and the UAE and relying on crucial U.S. logistical aid, has bombarded Yemen while blockading its major port, despite Yemen’s status as one of the poorest countries in the world. Targeting transportation, electrical plants, sewage and sanitation facilities, schools, mosques, weddings and funerals, the vicious bombing has led to starvation, displacement, and the spread of disease including cholera.

On the same day that the Amnesty report was released, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman pardoned “all military men, who have taken part in the Operation Restoring Hope of their respective military and disciplinary penalties, in regard of some rules and disciplines.” It seems likely that the Amnesty report precipitated this royal decree.

Along with three countries in North Africa’s “Sahel” desert region, Yemen has been cited as part of the worst famine crisis in the 70-year history of the UN. In the past three years of aerial and naval attacks, Yemen’s key port of Hodeidah has remained partially or fully closed despite the country’s vital need for relief supplies. And, while Yemenis suffer the chaos and despair characteristic of war, the Saudis and UAE refer to the war as “Operation Restoring Hope.”

Many thousands of Yemenis, subjected to consistent bombing and threats of starvation and famine, have fled their homes. Many seek refuge out of Yemen. For instance, close to 500 Yemenis have traveled nearly 500 miles to reach a visa-free port on South Korea’s Jeju Island. On July 21, during an international phone call hosted by young friends in Afghanistan, listeners heard Kaia, a resident of Jeju Island, describe the “Hope School.” She explained how she and several other young people are trying to help welcome Yemenis now living in their village of Gangjeong. The young people are already committed to peacefully resisting U.S. and South Korean military destruction of their shoreline and ecosystem. Now, they have started an informal school so Yemeni and South Korean residents can learn from one another. Small groups gather for conversational exchanges translated from Arabic to English to Korean. Many South Koreans can recall, in their own familial history, that seven million Koreans fled Japanese occupation of their land. Their Korean forebears relied on hospitality from people in other lands. The Catholic Bishop of the Jeju diocese, Monsignor Kang Woo-il, called on Koreans to embrace Yemeni refugees, labeling it a crime against human morality to shut the door on refugees and migrants.

Kaia’s account of the newly launched school describes an effort that truthfully involves restoring hope. The cynical designation of Saudi and UAE-led war in Yemen as “Operation Restoring Hope” creates an ugly smokescreen that distracts from the crucial need to investigate war crimes committed in Yemen today.

US citizens bear responsibility for the US government’s support of these crimes.

The Yemenis mean us no harm and have committed no crime against us. Congressional votes have come quite close, with bipartisan support, to ending US participation in, and support for, the Saudi and Emirati led Coalition war against Yemen. Ending arms sales to the UAE and Saudi monarchies, supported by both sides of the aisle, will signal to the UAE and Saudi Arabia the US will no longer assist their efforts to prolong war and siege in Yemen. On cue from the initiative and energy shown by young South Koreans, people in the US can and should organize campaigns to educate their communities, educational institutions, and media outlets about the plight of people in Yemen. Conscious of the nightmare faced by Yemenis whose husbands, brothers, fathers and sons have been disappeared or detained by shadowy military enforcers, US people can work toward implementing each recommendation in Amnesty’s devastating report.

Witness Against Torture activists protest at the Embassy of the United Arab (Photo by Witness Against Torture)

Open Letter to Amnesty International by a Former Amnesty International Prisoner of Conscience

Through this letter I express my unequivocal condemnation of Amnesty International with regards to the destabilizing role it has played in Nicaragua, my country of birth.

I open this letter quoting Donatella Rovera, who at the time this quote was made, had been one of Amnesty International’s field investigators for more than 20 years:

Conflict situations create highly politicized and polarized environments (…). Players and interested parties go to extraordinary lengths to manipulate or manufacture “evidence” for both internal and external consumption. A recent, though by no means the only, example is provided by the Syrian conflict in what is often referred to as the “YouTube war,” with a myriad techniques employed to manipulate video footage of incidents which occurred at other times in other places – including in other countries – and present them as “proof” of atrocities committed by one or the other parties to the conflict in Syria.

Ms. Rovera’s remarks, made in 2014, properly describe the situation of Nicaragua today, where even the preamble of the crisis was manipulated to generate rejection of the Nicaraguan government. Amnesty International’s maliciously titled report, Shoot to Kill: Nicaragua’s Strategy to Repress Protest, could be dismantled point by point, but doing so requires precious time that the Nicaraguan people don’t have, therefore I will concentrate on two main points:

(a) The report completely lacks neutrality; and,
(b) Amnesty International’s role is contributing to the chaos in which the nation finds itself.

The operating narrative, agreed-upon by the local opposition and the corporate western media, is as follows: That president Ortega sought to cut 5 percent from retirees’ monthly retirement checks, and that he was going to increase contributions, made by employees and employers, into the social security system. The reforms sparked protests, the response to which was a government-ordered genocide of peaceful protestors, more than 60, mostly students. A day or two after that, the Nicaraguan government would wait until nightfall to send its police force out in order to decimate the Nicaraguan population, night after night, city by city, in the process destroying its own public buildings and killing its own police force, to then culminate its murderous rampage with a Mothers’ Day massacre, and so on.

While the above narrative is not uniformly expressed by all anti-government actors, the unifying elements are that the government is committing genocide, and that the president and vice-president must go.

Amnesty International’s assertions are mostly based on either testimony by anti-government witnesses and victims, or the uncorroborated and highly manipulated information emitted by U.S.-financed anti-government media outlets, and non-profit organizations, collectively known as “civil society.”

The three main media organizations cited by the report: Confidencial, 100% Noticias, and La Prensa, are sworn enemies of the Ortega government; most of these opposition news media organizations, along with some, if not all, of the main non-profits cited by the report, are funded by the United States, through organizations like the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), which has been characterized by retired U.S. Congressman, Ron Paul, as:

… an organization that uses US tax money to actually subvert democracy, by showering funding on favored political parties or movements overseas. It underwrites color-coded ‘people’s revolutions’ overseas that look more like pages out of Lenin’s writings on stealing power than genuine indigenous democratic movements.

Amnesty’s report heavily relies on 100% Noticias, an anti-government news outlet that has aired manipulated and inflammatory material to generate hatred against the Nicaraguan government, including footage of peaceful protesters, unaware of the fact that the protesters were carrying pistols, rifles, and were shooting at police officers during incidents reported by the network as acts of police repression of opposition marches. On Mothers’ Day, 100% Noticias reported the purported shooting of unarmed protesters by police shooters, including an incident in which a young man’s brains were spilling out of his skull. The network followed the report with a photograph that Ms. Rovera would refer to as an incident “…which occurred at other times in other places.” The picture included in the report was quickly met on social media by links to past online articles depicting the same image.

One of the sources (footnote #77) cited to corroborate the alleged denial of medical care at state hospitals to patients injured at opposition events –one of the main accusations repeated and reaffirmed by Amnesty International- is a press conference published by La Prensa, in which the Chief of Surgery denies claims that he had been fired, or that hospital officials had denied care to protesters at the beginning of the conflict. “I repeat,” he is heard saying, “as the chief of surgery, I repeat [the] order: to take care of, I will be clear, to take care of the entire population that comes here, without investigating anything at all.” In other words, one of Amnesty International’s own sources contradicts one of its report’s main claims.

The above-mentioned examples of manipulated and manufactured evidence, to borrow the words of Amnesty’s own investigator, are just a small sample, but they capture the essence of this modality of U.S.-sponsored regime change. The report feeds on claims from those on one side of the conflict, and relies on deeply corrupted evidence; it ultimately helps create the mirage of a genocidal state, in turn generating more anti-government sentiment locally and abroad, and paving the way for ever more aggressive foreign intervention.

A different narrative

The original reforms to social security were not proposed by the Sandinista government, but by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and they were supported by an influential business group, known as COSEP. They included raising the retirement age from 60 to 65 and doubling the number of quotas necessary to get full social security from 750 to 1500. Among the impacted retirees, approximately 53,000, are the families of combatants who died in the armed conflict of the 1980s, from both the Sandinista army and the “Contras,” the mercenary army financed by the United States government in the 1980s, around the same time the NED was created, in part, to stop the spread of Sandinismo in Latin America.

The Nicaraguan government countered the IMF’s reforms by rejecting the cutting out of any retirees, with a proposed 5% cut to all retirement checks, an increase in all contributions to the social security system, and with fiscal reform that removed a tax-ceiling that protected Nicaragua’s biggest salaries from higher taxation. The business sector was furious, and together with nongovernmental organizations, organized the first marches, using the pretext of the reforms in the same manipulative way Amnesty International’s report explains them: “… the reform increased social security contributions by both employers and employees and imposed an additional 5% contribution on pensioners.”

The continuing narrative, repeated and validated by Amnesty International, is that the protesters are peaceful and the genocidal government is irrationally bent on committing atrocities in plain sight. Meanwhile, the number of dead among Sandinista supporters and police officers continues to rise. The report states that ballistic investigations suggest that those shooting at protesters are likely trained snipers, pointing to government involvement, but fails to mention that many of the victims are Sandinistas, regular citizens, and police officers. It also does not mention that the “peaceful protesters” have burned down and destroyed more than 60 public buildings, among them many City Halls, Sandinista houses, markets, artisan shops, radio stations, and more; nor does it mention that the protesters have established “tranques,” or roadblocks, in order to debilitate the economy as a tactic to oust the government. Such “tranques” have become extremely dangerous scenes where murder, robbery, kidnapping, and the rape of at least one child have taken place; a young pregnant woman whose ambulance wasn’t let through also died on May 17th. All of these crimes occur daily and are highly documented, but aren’t included in Amnesty International’s report.

While the organization is right to criticize the government’s belittling response to the initial protests, such response was not entirely untrue. According to the report, Vice-President Murillo said, among other things, that “…they [the protesters] had made up the reports of fatalities (…) as part of an anti-government strategy.” What Amnesty leaves out is that several of the reported dead students did turn up alive, one of them all the way in Spain, while others had not been killed at rallies, nor were they students or activists, including one who died from a scattered bullet, and another who died from a heart attack in his bed.

Amnesty’s report also leaves out that many of the students have deserted the movement, alleging that there are criminals entrenched at universities as well as at the various “tranques,” who are only interested in destabilizing the nation. Those criminals have created a state of sustained fear among the population, imposing “taxes” on those who want passage, persecuting those who refuse to be detained, kidnapping them, beating them, torturing them, and setting their cars on fire. In a common practice, they undress their victims, paint their naked bodies in public with the blue and white of the Nicaraguan flag, and then set them free, prompting them to run right before shooting them with homemade mortar weapons. All of this information, which did not make the report, is available in numerous videos and other sources.

Why Nicaragua?

The most basic review of the history between Nicaragua and the United States will show a clear rivalry. Beginning in the mid-1800s, Nicaragua has been resisting U.S. intervention into the country’s affairs, a resistance that continued through the 20th century, first with General August C. Sandino’s fight in the 1920s and 30s, and then with the Sandinistas, organized as the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), which overthrew the U.S.-supported, 40-year Somoza family dictatorship in 1979. The FSLN, despite having gained power through armed struggle, called for elections shortly after its triumph in 1984, and eventually lost to yet another U.S.-supported coalition of right-wing political parties in 1990. The FSLN once again managed, aided by pacts made with the church and the opposition, to win the election of 2006, and has remained in power since.

In addition to Nicaragua’s close ties with Venezuela, Cuba, Russia, and especially China, with whom the country signed a contract to build a canal, the other main reason the United States is after the Sandinistas, is Nicaragua’s highly successful economic model, which represents an existential threat to the neoliberal economic order imposed by the U.S. and its allies.

Despite always being among the poorest nations in the American continent and the world, Nicaragua has managed, since Ortega returned to power in 2007, to cut poverty by three quarters. Prior to the protests in April, the country’s economy sustained a steady annual economic growth of about 5% for several years, and the country had the third fastest-growing economy in Latin America, and was one of the safest nations in the region.

The government’s infrastructural upgrades have facilitated trade among Nicaragua’s poorest citizens; they have created universal access to education: primary, secondary, and university; there are programs on land, housing, nutrition, and more; the healthcare system, while modest, is not only excellent, but accessible to everyone. Approximately 90% of the food consumed by Nicaraguans is produced in Nicaragua, and about 70% of jobs come from the grassroots economy –rather than from transnational corporations- including from small investors from the United States and Europe, who have moved to the country and are a driving force behind the tourism industry.

The audacity of success, of giving its poorest citizens a life with dignity, of being an example of sovereignty to wealthier, more powerful nations, all in direct contradiction to the neoliberal model and its emphasis on privatization and austerity, has once again placed Nicaragua in the crosshairs of U.S. intervention. Imagine the example to other nations -their economies already strangled by neoliberal policies- becoming aware of one of the poorest countries on earth being able to feed its people and grow its economy without throwing its poorest citizens under the iron boot of capitalism. The United States will never tolerate such a dangerous example.

In closing

The Nicaraguan government has deficiencies and contradictions to work on, like all governments, and as a Sandinista myself I would like to see the party transformed in various important ways, both internally and externally. I have refrained from writing of those deficiencies and contradictions, however, because the violent protests and ensuing chaos we have seen are not the result of the Nicaraguan government’s shortcomings, but rather, of its many successes; that inconvenient truth is the reason the United States and its allies, including Amnesty International, have chosen to “…create highly politicized and polarized environments (…). [And to] go to extraordinary lengths to manipulate or manufacture “evidence” for both internal and external consumption.”

At a time when even the Organization of American States, the United Nations, and the Vatican have called for peaceful and constitutional reforms as the only way out of the conflict, Amnesty International has continued to beseech the international community to not “abandon the Nicaraguan people.” Such biased stance, obscenely bloated on highly manipulated, distorted, and one-sided information, has made the terrible situation in Nicaragua even worse. The loss of Nicaraguan lives, including the blood of those ignored by Amnesty International, has been used to manufacture the “evidence” used in the organization’s report, which makes the organization complicit in what future foreign intervention might fall upon the Nicaraguan people. It is now up to the organization to correct that wrong, and to do so in a way that reflects a firm commitment first and foremost to the truth, wherever it might fall, and to neutrality, peace, democracy, and always, to the sovereignty of every nation on earth.

Sincerely,

Camilo E. Mejia

Anti-Semitism and the Silencing of Debate on Palestinian Human Rights

While militarily strong and facing no existential threats, Zionism and Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians has been taking a beating in world opinion.1

The UN passed six new resolutions against the Jewish state, including one denying Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem 151-6.

The United Nations General Assembly in New York passed six resolutions on [November 30, 2017] affirming Palestinian rights and condemning Israeli violations of international law, Middle East Monitor reported.

According to one resolution (‘Jerusalem’), “the Assembly reiterated that any actions by Israel, the occupying Power, to impose its laws, jurisdiction and administration on the Holy City of Jerusalem were illegal and therefore null and void.”

This resolution was adopted by 151 votes in favor to 6 against (Canada, Federated States of Micronesia, Israel, Marshall Islands, Nauru, United States), with 9 abstentions (Australia, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Honduras, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, South Sudan, Togo), the Monitor said.

Israel’s delegate condemned the resolutions, claiming that the UN “continued to annually adopt biased resolutions and devote precious resources…to politicized bodies whose sole purpose was to attack and denounce Israel”. The US representative “echoed that opposition.”2

Even in North American public opinion, both Jewish and non-Jewish, Israel is losing support.3 For example, here is a quote from an article in Jewish Forward magazine: “Where Zionism used to be a given among American Jews, it is increasingly being viewed with skepticism by Jews who see where the political ideology has led us. Startlingly only 40% of American Jews age 18-34 said they were ‘comfortable with the idea of a Jewish State.’”4

Israel has been resorting to lawfare in an attempt to hold back the tide of negative opinion building against the “Jewish State” for its treatment of the Palestinians and its 50 year illegal Occupation of the West Bank.

An Israeli legal group is suing two New Zealanders, one Jewish and one Palestinian, for allegedly convincing the pop singer Lorde to cancel her performance in Israel. This appears to be the first lawsuit filed under a contentious 2011 Israeli anti-boycott law. The Israeli law opens the door to civil lawsuits against anyone calling for a boycott against Israel, including of lands it has occupied, if that call could knowingly lead to a boycott. The law, which is part of Israel’s fight against a global movement calling for boycotts against the “Jewish State,” allows for courts to impose damages against defendants. Critics said the law would stifle free expression.5

Amnesty International has condemned the law in unequivocal terms:

Despite proponents’ claims to the contrary, this law is a blatant attempt to stifle peaceful dissent and campaigning by attacking the right to freedom of expression, which all governments must uphold,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa. “The broad definition of boycott could apply to anyone seeking to use this non-violent means of dissent to criticize any individual or institution involved in human rights violations or violations of international law in Israel or the Occupied Palestinian Territories”, he added.6

 
The Israeli anti-BDS law has not yet been tested in court. Even the Shurat Hadin leader Darshan-Leitner has said that the law poses a challenge, “because proving a link between a boycott and a call for one is difficult”. She said in this case the connection is clear, claiming that the first time Lorde brought up her reservations on the Tel Aviv performance was after the Sachs and Abu-Shanab’s open letter, and that the two women “took credit” for Lorde’s decision to cancel the concert on social media and elsewhere.6

Israel is now proposing to enforce its anti-BDS law against Amnesty International, after the human rights organization embarked on a campaign calling for a boycott of products from Judea and Samaria and a weapons embargo on Israel. Amnesty International has also accused Israel of committing war crimes.

Under its “Israel’s Occupation: 50 Years of Dispossession” campaign, Amnesty calls for “governments to stop enabling the economy that keeps these illegal settlements growing and fuels the suffering of Palestinians … and help put an end to the cycle of violations suffered by Palestinians living under Israel’s occupation.”

Israel Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan have proposed amendments to the anti-BDS law to enable the sanctions. They are going to have a public hearing at which Israeli citizens can voice their objections.

Before imposing sanctions on Amnesty International, Kahlon is expected to invite senior officials from the organization to a hearing. Amnesty International could also be sued for damages for violating the anti-BDS law.7

In what was described as “an unprecedented victory” for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, a federal judge has blocked Kansas from enforcing a state law which punishes those who express support or engage in the boycott of Israel. The anti-BDS law, required that all Kansas state employees sign a certification guaranteeing they do not participate in the boycott of Israel.
The Federal Judge, issued a preliminary injunction prohibiting the state from enforcing the law until resolution of a lawsuit filed in October 2017 by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on behalf of Esther Koontz, a public school teacher. The lawsuit is based on Koontz’s adherence to the Palestinian call for BDS. Following her fellow members of the Mennonite Church USA and in solidarity with Palestinians, she decided to boycott all consumer products from both Israeli companies and those that operate in Israel’s illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank.

In a statement, Micah Kubic, director of the ACLU of Kansas, called the judge’s ruling a “notable victory for the First Amendment” and protected speech. The ACLU Director said, “The government has no right telling people what they can and can’t support, and this preliminary injunction will protect other Kansans from enduring the First Amendment violation that Ms. Koontz has endured.” The ruling was the first of its kind on the judicial level to counter an escalation of anti-BDS measures passed by state lawmakers in twenty-four states with bipartisan support. Activists in several states have stopped similarly proposed legislation from becoming law. However, there are several federal anti-BDS bills that are before Congress.8

Another defeat for the Israeli anti-Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) campaign occurred where an attempt to force state contractors in Massachusetts to prove that they were not boycotting Israel. To quote the Palestine Legal press release on this topic, “Though not on its face an anti-BDS bill, as the coalition stated, “a substantial public paper trail shows that its actual target was the Palestinian civil society movement for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS). As such, it was intended to inhibit the first amendment right to free speech through boycott action, a peaceful expression of dissent.” 9

There also is a recent judgement of the Ontario Court of Appeal that approved a libel decision against Canadian journalist Ezra Levant for calling a young Muslim law student a terrorist and an anti-Semite. The award of $80,000 against Levant was upheld.10

Another public relations setback for Israel’s campaign against BDS is the nomination of the BDS Campaign for the Nobel Peace Prize.11

  1. See, for example, “Israel accuses U.N. rights forum of bias over Palestinians,” by Stephanie Nebehay, Reuters, January 19, 2018. See also “Israel gets flak over human rights record in Geneva,” by Barbara Bibbo, Aljazeera, January 23, 2018. The South African representative said “Israel is the only state in the world that can be called an apartheid state.”
  2. UN votes 151-6 against Israel, an ‘occupying power’ with no rights to Jerusalem,” United With Israel, 1 December 2017.
  3. Vast Numbers of Progressive California Jews Are Disengaging From Israel, Survey Finds: Only a minority of young Jews in San Francisco’s Bay Area believe a Jewish state is important and only a third sympathize more with Israel than the Palestinians,” by Judy Maltz, Haaretz, 14 February 2018. See also “Realization Is Growing That American Jews and Israel No Longer Share a Moral and Ethical Worldview,” by Allan C. Brownfeld, Issues, Spring-Summer 2017; See also “Netanyahu does not speak for all American Jews (COMMENTARY),” by Rebecca Vilkomerson, Washington Post, 25 February 2015.
  4. American Jews Have Never Needed Israel,” by Michael Robin, Forward, 21 February 2018.
  5. Israelis sue New Zealanders over Lorde boycott,” by Tia Goldenberg, Associated Press, 31 January 2018.
  6. Israel anti-boycott law an attack on freedom of expression,” Amnesty International Release, 12 July 2011.
  7. Israel to apply anti-BDS law to Amnesty International,” by Sean Savage JNS, Cleveland Jewish News, 16 February 2018​.
  8. Federal judge blocks Kansas law punishing BDS supporters,” by Jesse Rubin, Mondoweiss, January 30, 2018. Link downloaded on February 12, 2018.
  9. Palestine Legal Press Release, 8 February 2018, Victory! Anti-Boycott Measure Defeated in Massachusetts.
  10. Ontario Court of Appeal confirms $80,000 libel judgment against Ezra Levant: Saskatchewan lawyer brought suit in response to blog posts,” by Alex Robinson, Canadian Lawyer, January 6, 2017.
  11. BDS movement nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.” On February 8, 2018. Norwegian parliamentarian Bjørnar Moxnes officially nominated the BDS movement for Palestinian rights for a Nobel Peace Prize. He did so with the support of his party, the progressive Rødt (Red) Party, explaining why BDS “should be supported without reservation by all democratically-minded people and states.” Mondoweiss, 8 February, 2018.

Anti-Semitism and the Silencing of Debate on Palestinian Human Rights

While militarily strong and facing no existential threats, Zionism and Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians has been taking a beating in world opinion.1

The UN passed six new resolutions against the Jewish state, including one denying Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem 151-6.

The United Nations General Assembly in New York passed six resolutions on [November 30, 2017] affirming Palestinian rights and condemning Israeli violations of international law, Middle East Monitor reported.

According to one resolution (‘Jerusalem’), “the Assembly reiterated that any actions by Israel, the occupying Power, to impose its laws, jurisdiction and administration on the Holy City of Jerusalem were illegal and therefore null and void.”

This resolution was adopted by 151 votes in favor to 6 against (Canada, Federated States of Micronesia, Israel, Marshall Islands, Nauru, United States), with 9 abstentions (Australia, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Honduras, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, South Sudan, Togo), the Monitor said.

Israel’s delegate condemned the resolutions, claiming that the UN “continued to annually adopt biased resolutions and devote precious resources…to politicized bodies whose sole purpose was to attack and denounce Israel”. The US representative “echoed that opposition.”2

Even in North American public opinion, both Jewish and non-Jewish, Israel is losing support.3 For example, here is a quote from an article in Jewish Forward magazine: “Where Zionism used to be a given among American Jews, it is increasingly being viewed with skepticism by Jews who see where the political ideology has led us. Startlingly only 40% of American Jews age 18-34 said they were ‘comfortable with the idea of a Jewish State.’”4

Israel has been resorting to lawfare in an attempt to hold back the tide of negative opinion building against the “Jewish State” for its treatment of the Palestinians and its 50 year illegal Occupation of the West Bank.

An Israeli legal group is suing two New Zealanders, one Jewish and one Palestinian, for allegedly convincing the pop singer Lorde to cancel her performance in Israel. This appears to be the first lawsuit filed under a contentious 2011 Israeli anti-boycott law. The Israeli law opens the door to civil lawsuits against anyone calling for a boycott against Israel, including of lands it has occupied, if that call could knowingly lead to a boycott. The law, which is part of Israel’s fight against a global movement calling for boycotts against the “Jewish State,” allows for courts to impose damages against defendants. Critics said the law would stifle free expression.5

Amnesty International has condemned the law in unequivocal terms:

Despite proponents’ claims to the contrary, this law is a blatant attempt to stifle peaceful dissent and campaigning by attacking the right to freedom of expression, which all governments must uphold,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa. “The broad definition of boycott could apply to anyone seeking to use this non-violent means of dissent to criticize any individual or institution involved in human rights violations or violations of international law in Israel or the Occupied Palestinian Territories”, he added.6

 
The Israeli anti-BDS law has not yet been tested in court. Even the Shurat Hadin leader Darshan-Leitner has said that the law poses a challenge, “because proving a link between a boycott and a call for one is difficult”. She said in this case the connection is clear, claiming that the first time Lorde brought up her reservations on the Tel Aviv performance was after the Sachs and Abu-Shanab’s open letter, and that the two women “took credit” for Lorde’s decision to cancel the concert on social media and elsewhere.6

Israel is now proposing to enforce its anti-BDS law against Amnesty International, after the human rights organization embarked on a campaign calling for a boycott of products from Judea and Samaria and a weapons embargo on Israel. Amnesty International has also accused Israel of committing war crimes.

Under its “Israel’s Occupation: 50 Years of Dispossession” campaign, Amnesty calls for “governments to stop enabling the economy that keeps these illegal settlements growing and fuels the suffering of Palestinians … and help put an end to the cycle of violations suffered by Palestinians living under Israel’s occupation.”

Israel Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan have proposed amendments to the anti-BDS law to enable the sanctions. They are going to have a public hearing at which Israeli citizens can voice their objections.

Before imposing sanctions on Amnesty International, Kahlon is expected to invite senior officials from the organization to a hearing. Amnesty International could also be sued for damages for violating the anti-BDS law.7

In what was described as “an unprecedented victory” for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, a federal judge has blocked Kansas from enforcing a state law which punishes those who express support or engage in the boycott of Israel. The anti-BDS law, required that all Kansas state employees sign a certification guaranteeing they do not participate in the boycott of Israel.
The Federal Judge, issued a preliminary injunction prohibiting the state from enforcing the law until resolution of a lawsuit filed in October 2017 by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on behalf of Esther Koontz, a public school teacher. The lawsuit is based on Koontz’s adherence to the Palestinian call for BDS. Following her fellow members of the Mennonite Church USA and in solidarity with Palestinians, she decided to boycott all consumer products from both Israeli companies and those that operate in Israel’s illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank.

In a statement, Micah Kubic, director of the ACLU of Kansas, called the judge’s ruling a “notable victory for the First Amendment” and protected speech. The ACLU Director said, “The government has no right telling people what they can and can’t support, and this preliminary injunction will protect other Kansans from enduring the First Amendment violation that Ms. Koontz has endured.” The ruling was the first of its kind on the judicial level to counter an escalation of anti-BDS measures passed by state lawmakers in twenty-four states with bipartisan support. Activists in several states have stopped similarly proposed legislation from becoming law. However, there are several federal anti-BDS bills that are before Congress.8

Another defeat for the Israeli anti-Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) campaign occurred where an attempt to force state contractors in Massachusetts to prove that they were not boycotting Israel. To quote the Palestine Legal press release on this topic, “Though not on its face an anti-BDS bill, as the coalition stated, “a substantial public paper trail shows that its actual target was the Palestinian civil society movement for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS). As such, it was intended to inhibit the first amendment right to free speech through boycott action, a peaceful expression of dissent.” 9

There also is a recent judgement of the Ontario Court of Appeal that approved a libel decision against Canadian journalist Ezra Levant for calling a young Muslim law student a terrorist and an anti-Semite. The award of $80,000 against Levant was upheld.10

Another public relations setback for Israel’s campaign against BDS is the nomination of the BDS Campaign for the Nobel Peace Prize.11

  1. See, for example, “Israel accuses U.N. rights forum of bias over Palestinians,” by Stephanie Nebehay, Reuters, January 19, 2018. See also “Israel gets flak over human rights record in Geneva,” by Barbara Bibbo, Aljazeera, January 23, 2018. The South African representative said “Israel is the only state in the world that can be called an apartheid state.”
  2. UN votes 151-6 against Israel, an ‘occupying power’ with no rights to Jerusalem,” United With Israel, 1 December 2017.
  3. Vast Numbers of Progressive California Jews Are Disengaging From Israel, Survey Finds: Only a minority of young Jews in San Francisco’s Bay Area believe a Jewish state is important and only a third sympathize more with Israel than the Palestinians,” by Judy Maltz, Haaretz, 14 February 2018. See also “Realization Is Growing That American Jews and Israel No Longer Share a Moral and Ethical Worldview,” by Allan C. Brownfeld, Issues, Spring-Summer 2017; See also “Netanyahu does not speak for all American Jews (COMMENTARY),” by Rebecca Vilkomerson, Washington Post, 25 February 2015.
  4. American Jews Have Never Needed Israel,” by Michael Robin, Forward, 21 February 2018.
  5. Israelis sue New Zealanders over Lorde boycott,” by Tia Goldenberg, Associated Press, 31 January 2018.
  6. Israel anti-boycott law an attack on freedom of expression,” Amnesty International Release, 12 July 2011.
  7. Israel to apply anti-BDS law to Amnesty International,” by Sean Savage JNS, Cleveland Jewish News, 16 February 2018​.
  8. Federal judge blocks Kansas law punishing BDS supporters,” by Jesse Rubin, Mondoweiss, January 30, 2018. Link downloaded on February 12, 2018.
  9. Palestine Legal Press Release, 8 February 2018, Victory! Anti-Boycott Measure Defeated in Massachusetts.
  10. Ontario Court of Appeal confirms $80,000 libel judgment against Ezra Levant: Saskatchewan lawyer brought suit in response to blog posts,” by Alex Robinson, Canadian Lawyer, January 6, 2017.
  11. BDS movement nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.” On February 8, 2018. Norwegian parliamentarian Bjørnar Moxnes officially nominated the BDS movement for Palestinian rights for a Nobel Peace Prize. He did so with the support of his party, the progressive Rødt (Red) Party, explaining why BDS “should be supported without reservation by all democratically-minded people and states.” Mondoweiss, 8 February, 2018.