Category Archives: Nicaragua

Correcting The Record: What Is Really Happening In Nicaragua?

There is a great deal of false and inaccurate information about Nicaragua in the media. Even on the left, some have simply repeated the dubious claims of CNN and Nicaragua’s oligarchic media to support the removal of President Ortega. The narrative of nonviolent protesters versus anti-riot squads and pro-government paramilitaries has not been questioned by international media.

This article seeks to correct the record, describe what is happening in Nicaragua and why. As we write this, the coup seems to be failing, people have rallied for peace (as this massive march for peace held Saturday, July 7 showed) and the truth is coming out (e.g., the weapons cache discovered in a Catholic Church on July 9th). It is important to understand what is occurring because Nicaragua is an example of the types of violent coups the US and the wealthy use to put in place business dominated, neoliberal governments. If people understand these tactics, they will become less effective.

Sandinistas and followers of President Daniel Ortega wave their Sandinista flags in a march for peace, in Managua, Nicaragua, Saturday (The UK Morning Sun)

Mixing up the Class Interests

In part, US pundits are getting their information from media outlets, such as Jaime Chamorro-Cardenal’s La Prensa, and the same oligarchical family’s Confidencial, that are the most active elements of the pro-coup media. Repeating and amplifying their narrative delegitimizes the Sandinista government and presents unconditional surrender by Daniel Ortega as the only acceptable option. These pundits provide cover for nefarious internal and external interests who have set their sights on controlling Central America’s poorest and yet resource-rich country.

The coup attempt brought the class divisions in Nicaragua into the open. Piero Coen, the richest man in Nicaragua, owner of all national Western Union operations and an agrochemical company, personally arrived on the first day of protests at the Polytechnical University in Managua, to encourage students to keep protesting, promising his continued support.

The traditional landed oligarchy of Nicaragua, politically led by the Chamorro family, publishes constant ultimatums to the government through its media outlets and finances the roadblocks that have paralyzed the country for the last eight weeks.

The Catholic Church, long allied with the oligarchs, has put its full weight behind creating and sustaining anti-government actions, including its universities, high schools, churches, bank accounts, vehicles, tweets, Sunday sermons, and a one-sided effort to mediate the National Dialogue. Bishops have made death threats against the President and his family, and a priest has been filmed supervising the torture of Sandinistas. Pope Francis has called for a peace dialogue, and even called Cardinal Leonaldo Brenes and Bishop Rolando Alvarez to a private meeting in the Vatican, setting off rumors that the Nicaraguan monseñores were being scolded for their obvious involvement in the conflict they are officially mediating.  The church remains one of the few pillars keeping the coup alive.

A common claim is Ortega has cozied up to the traditional oligarchy, but the opposite is true. This is the first government since Nicaraguan independence that does not include the oligarchy. Since the 1830s through the 1990s, all Nicaraguan governments– even during the Sandinista Revolution– included people from the elite “last names,” of Chamorro, Cardenal, Belli, Pellas, Lacayo, Montealegre, Gurdián. The government since 2007 does not, which is why these families are supporting the coup.

Ortega detractors claim his three-part dialogue including labor unions, capitalists, and the State is an alliance with big business. In fact, that process has yielded the highest growth rate in Central America and annual minimum wage increases 5-7% above inflation, improving workers’ living conditions and lifting people out of poverty. The anti-poverty Borgen project reports poverty fell by 30 percent between 2005 and 2014.

The FSLN-led government has put into place an economic model based on public investment and strengthening the safety net for the poor. The government invests in infrastructure, transit, maintains water and electricity within the public sector and moved privatized services; e.g., health care and primary education into the public sector. This has ensured a stable economic structure that favors the real economy over the speculative economy. The lion’s share of infrastructure in Nicaragua has been built in the last 11 years, something comparable to the New Deal-era in the US, including renewable electricity plants across the country.

What liberal and even leftists commentators overlook is that unlike the Lula government in Brazil, which reduced poverty through cash payouts to poor families, Nicaragua has redistributed productive capital in order to develop a self-sufficient popular economy. The FSLN model is better understood as an emphasis on the popular economy over the State or capitalist spheres.

While the private sector employs about 15% of Nicaraguan workers, the informal sector employs over 60%. The informal sector has benefited from $400 million in public investments, much of it coming from the ALBA alliance funds to finance micro loans for small and medium-sized agricultural enterprises. Policies to facilitate credit, equipment, training, animals, seeds and subsidized fuel further support these enterprises. The small and medium producers of Nicaragua have led the country to produce 80-90% of its food and end its dependence on IMF loans.

As such, workers and peasants– many of whom are self-employed and who accessed productive capital through the Sandinista Revolution and ensuing struggles– represent an important political subject of the stable, postwar social development of the last decade, including the hundreds of thousands of peasant farmers who have received land title and the nearly one-quarter of the national territory that has been given collective title as territory of indigenous nations. The social movements of workers, peasants, and indigenous groups were the base of popular support that brought the FSLN back into power.

Land titling and assistance to small businesses have also emphasized equality for women, resulting in Nicaragua having the lowest level of gender inequality in Latin America and ranked 12 out of 145 countries in the world, just behind Germany.

Over time, the FSLN government has incorporated this massive self-employed sector, as well as maquiladora workers (i.e. textile workers in foreign-owned plants located in free trade zones created by previous neoliberal governments), into the health care and pension system, causing the financial commitments to grow which required a new formula to ensure fiscal stability. The proposed reforms to Social Security were the trigger for the private sector and student protests on April 18th. The business lobby called for the protests when Ortega proposed increasing employer contributions by 3.5% to pension and health funds, while only slightly increasing worker contributions by 0.75% and shifting 5% of pensioners’ cash transfer into their health care fund. The reform also ended a loophole which allowed high-income individuals to claim a low income in order to access health benefits.

This was a counter-proposal to the IMF proposal to raise the retirement age and more than double the number of weeks that workers would need to pay into the pension fund in order to access benefits. The fact the government felt strong enough to deny the IMF and business lobby’s austerity demands was a sign that the bargaining strength of private capital has declined, as Nicaragua’s impressive economic growth, a 38% increase in GDP from 2006-2017, has been led by small-scale producers and public spending. However, the opposition used manipulative Facebook ads presenting the reform as an austerity measure, plus fake news of a student death on April 18th, to generate protests across the country on April 19th. Immediately, the regime change machine lurched into motion.

The National Dialogue shows the class interests in conflict. The opposition’s Civic Alliance for Justice and Democracy has as its key figures: José Adan Aguirre, leader of the private business lobby; Maria Nelly Rivas, director of Cargill in Nicaragua and head of the US-Nicaragua Chamber of Commerce; the private university students of the April 19th Movement; Michael Healy, manager of a Colombian sugar corporation and head of the agribusiness lobby; Juan Sebastian Chamorro, who represents the oligarchy dressed as civil society; Carlos Tunnermann, 85-year-old ex-Sandinista minister and ex-chancellor of the National University; Azalea Solis, head of a US government-funded feminist organization; and Medardo Mairena, a “peasant leader” funded by the US government, who lived 17 years in Costa Rica before being deported in 2017 for human trafficking. Tunnermann, Solis and the April 19th students are all associated with the Movement for Renovation of Sandinismo (MRS), a tiny Sandinista offshoot party that nonetheless merits special attention.

In the 1980s, many of the Sandinista Front’s top-level cadre were, in fact, the children of some of the famous oligarchic families, such as the Cardenal brothers and part of the Chamorro family, in charge of the revolutionary government’s ministries of Culture and Education and its media, respectively. After FSLN’s election loss in 1990, the children of the oligarchy staged an exodus from the party. Along with them, some of the most notable intellectual, military and intelligence cadre left and formed, over time, the MRS. The new party renounced socialism, blamed all of the mistakes of the Revolution on Daniel Ortega and over time took over the sphere of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Nicaragua, including feminist, environmentalist, youth, media and human rights organizations.

Since 2007, the MRS has become increasingly close with the extreme right-wing of the US Republican Party. Since the outbreak of violence in April, many if not most of the sources cited by Western media (including, disturbingly, Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now!), come from this party, which has the support of less than 2% of the Nicaraguan electorate. This allows the oligarchs to couch their violent attempt to reinstall neoliberalism in a leftist-sounding discourse of former Sandinistas critical of the Ortega government.

It is a farce to claim that workers and peasants are behind the unrest. La Vía Campesina, the National Union of Farmers and Ranchers, the Association of Rural Workers, the National Workers’ Front, the indigenous Mayangna Nation and other movements and organizations have been unequivocal in their demands for an end to the violence and their support for the Ortega government. This unrest is a full-scale regime change operation carried out by media oligarchs, a network of NGOs funded by the US government, armed elements of elite landholding families and the Catholic Church, and has opened the window for drug cartels and organized crime to gain a foothold in Nicaragua.

Nicargua meeting of the National Dialogue for Peace (Óscar Sánchez)

The Elephant in the Room

Which brings us to US government involvement in the violent coup.

As Tom Ricker reported early in this political crisis, several years ago the US government decided that rather than finance opposition political parties, which have lost enormous legitimacy in Nicaragua, it would finance the NGO civil society sector. National Endowment for Democracy (NED) gave more than $700,000 to build the opposition to the government in 2017, and has granted more than $4.4 million since 2014. The overarching purpose of this funding was to “provide a coordinated strategy and media voice for opposition groups in Nicaragua.” Ricker continues:

The result of this consistent building and funding of opposition resources has been to create an echo chamber that is amplified by commentators in the international media – most of whom have no presence in Nicaragua and rely on these secondary sources.

NED founding father, Allen Weinstein, described NED as the overt CIA saying, “A lot of what we do today was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA.” In Nicaragua, rather than the traditional right-wing, NED funds the MRS-affiliated organizations which pose left-sounding critiques of the Sandinista government. The regime change activists use Sandinista slogans, songs, and symbols even as they burn historic monuments, paint over the red-and-black markers of fallen martyrs, and physically attack members of the Sandinista party.

Of the opposition groups in the National Dialogue, the feminist organization of Azalea Solis and the peasant organization of Medardo Mairena are financed through NED grants, while the April 19th students stay in hotels and make trips paid for by Freedom House, another regime change organ funded by NED and USAID. NED also finances Confidencial, the Chamorro media organization. Grants from NED finance the Institute of Strategic Studies and Public Policy (IEEPP), whose Executive Director, Felix Maradiaga, is another MRS cadre very close to the US Embassy. In June, Maradiaga was accused of leading a criminal network called Viper which, from the occupied UPOLI campus, organized carjackings, arsons and murders in order to create chaos and panic during the months of April and May.

Maradiaga grew up in the United States and became a fellow of the Aspen Leadership Institute, before studying public policy at Harvard. He was a secretary in the Ministry of Defense for the last liberal president, Enrique Bolaños. He is a Young Global Leader at the World Economic Forum and in 2015, the Chicago Council on Global Affairs gave him the Gus Hart Fellowship, past recipients of which include Cuban dissident Yoani Sánchez and Henrique Capriles Radonski, the Venezuelan opposition leader who attacked the Cuban embassy during the coup attempt of 2002.

Remarkably, Maradiaga is not the only leader of the coup attempt who is part of the Aspen World Leadership Network. Maria Nelly Rivas, director in Nicaragua of US corporate giant Cargill, is one of the main spokespersons for the opposition Civic Alliance. Rivas, who currently also heads the US-Nicaragua Chamber of Commerce, is being groomed as a possible presidential candidate in the next elections. Beneath these US-groomed leaders, there is a network of over 2,000 young people who have received training with NED funds on topics such as social media skills for democracy defense. This battalion of social media warriors was able to immediately shape and control public opinion in Facebook in the five days from April 18th to 22nd, leading to spontaneous violent protests across the country.

Protesters yell from behind the roadblock they erected as they face off with security forces near the University Politecnica de Nicaragua in Managua, Nicaragua, April 21, 2018 (Voice of America)

On the Violence

One of the ways in which reporting on Nicaragua has ventured farthest from the truth is calling the opposition “nonviolent.” The violence script, modeled on the 2014 and 2017 guarimba protests in Venezuela, is to organize armed attacks on government buildings, entice the police to send in anti-riot squads, engage in filmed confrontations and publish edited footage online claiming that the government is being violent against nonviolent protesters.

Over 60 government buildings have been burned down, schools, hospitals, health centers attacked, 55 ambulances damaged, at least $112 million in infrastructure damage, small businesses have been closed, and 200,000 jobs lost causing devastating economic impact during the protests. Violence has included, in addition to thousands of injuries, 15 students and 16 police officers killed, as well as over 200 Sandinistas kidnapped, many of them publicly tortured. Violent opposition atrocities were misreported as government repression. While it is important to defend the right of the public to protest, regardless of its political opinions, it is disingenuous to ignore that the opposition’s strategy requires and feeds upon violence and deaths.

National and international news claim deaths and injuries due to “repression” without explaining the context. The Molotov cocktails, mortar-launchers, pistols, and assault rifles used by opposition groups are ignored by the media, and when Sandinista sympathizers, police or passers-by are killed, they are falsely counted as victims of state repression. Explosive opposition claims like massacres of children and murders of women have been shown to be false, and the cases of torture, disappearances and extrajudicial executions by police forces have not been corroborated by evidence or due process.

While there is evidence to support the opposition claim of sniper fire killing protesters, there is no logical explanation for the State using snipers to add to the death toll, and counter-protesters have also been victims of sniper fire, suggesting a “third party” provocateur role in the destabilizing violence. When an entire Sandinista family was burned to death in Managua, the opposition media all cited a witness who claimed that the police had set fire to the home, despite the house being in a neighborhood barricaded off from police access.

The National Police of Nicaragua has been long-recognized for its model of community policing (in contrast to militarized police in most Central American countries), its relative lack of corruption, and its mostly female top brass. The coup strategy has sought to destroy public trust in the police through the egregious use of fake news, such as the many false claims of assassinations, beatings, torture, and disappearances in the week from April 17th to 23rd. Several young people whose photos were carried in opposition rallies as victims of police violence have turned out to be alive and well.

The police have been wholly inadequate and underprepared for armed confrontations. Attacks on several public buildings on the same night and the first major arson attacks led government workers to hold vigils with barrels of water and, often, sticks and stones, to fend off attackers. The opposition, frustrated at not achieving more police conflicts, began to build roadblocks across the country and burning the homes of Sandinistas, even shooting and burning Sandinista families in atrocious hate crimes. In contrast to La Prensa’s version of events, Nicaraguans have felt the distinct lack of police presence, and the loss of safety in their neighborhoods, while many were targeted by violence.

Since May, the strategy of the opposition has been to build armed roadblocks across the country, closing off transport and trapping people. The roadblocks, usually built with large paving stones, are manned by between 5 and 100 armed men with bandannas or masks. While the media reports on idealistic young people running roadblocks, the vast majority of roadblocks are maintained by paid men who come from a background of petty crime. Where large areas of cities and towns are blocked off from government and police forces, drug-related activities intensify, and drug gangs now control many of the roadblocks and pay the salaries.

These roadblocks have been the centers of violence, workers who need to pass through roadblocks are often robbed, punched, insulted, and, if suspected of being Sandinistas, tied up, stripped naked, tortured, painted in blue-and-white, and sometimes killed. There are three cases of people dying in ambulances unable to pass roadblocks, and one case of a 10-year-old girl being kidnapped and raped at the roadblock in Las Maderas. When organized neighbors or the police clear roadblocks, the armed groups run away and regroup to burn buildings, kidnap or injure people in revenge. All of the victims that this violence produces are counted by the mainstream media as victims of repression, a total falsehood.

The Nicaraguan government has confronted this situation by largely keeping police off the streets, to prevent encounters and accusations of repression. At the same time, rather than simply arrest violent protestors, which certainly would have given the opposition the battle deaths it craves, the government called for a National Dialogue, mediated by the Catholic Church, in which the opposition can bring forward any proposal for human rights and political reform. The government created a parliamentary Truth and Peace Commission and launched an independent Public Ministry query.

With the police out of the streets, opposition violence intensified throughout May and June. As a result, a process of neighborhood self-defense developed. Families who have been displaced, young people who have been beaten, robbed or tortured, and veterans of the 1979 insurrection and/or the Contra War, hold vigil round the Sandinista Front headquarters in each town. In many places, they built barricades against opposition attacks and have been falsely labeled paramilitary forces in the media. In the towns that do not have such community-organized barricades, the human toll from opposition violence is much greater. The National Union of Nicaraguan Students has been particularly targeted by opposition violence. A student delegate of the National Dialogue, Leonel Morales, was kidnapped, shot in the abdomen and thrown into a ditch to die in June, to sabotage the dialogue and punish him for challenging the April 19th students’ right to speak on behalf of all Nicaraguan students.

There have been four major opposition rallies since April, directed toward mobilizing the upper-middle class Nicaraguans who live in the suburbs between Managua and Masaya. These rallies featured a whos-who of high society, including beauty queens, business owners, and oligarchs, as well as university students of the April 19th Movement, the moral high-ground for the opposition.

Three months into the conflict, none of the mortal victims have been bourgeois. All have come from the popular classes of Nicaragua. Despite claims of total repression, the bourgeois feels perfectly safe to participate in public protests by day — although the last daytime rally ended in a chaotic attack by protesters against squatters on a property of, curiously enough, Piero Coen, Nicaragua’s richest man. The nighttime armed attacks have generally been carried out by people who come from poor neighborhoods, many of whom are paid two to four times the minimum daily wage for each night of destruction.

Unfortunately, most Nicaraguan human rights organizations are funded by NED and controlled by the Movement for Sandinista Renovation. These organizations have accused the Nicaraguan government of dictatorship and genocide throughout Ortega’s presidency. International human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, have been criticized for their one-sided reports, which include none of the information provided by the government or individuals who identify as Sandinistas.

The government invited the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) of the OAS, a Washington-based entity notoriously unfriendly to leftist governments, to investigate the violent events of April and determine whether repression had occurred. The night of a controversial skirmish in the highway outside the Agrarian University in Managua ended a negotiated 48-hour truce, IACHR Director Paulo Abrao visited the site to declare his support for the opposition. The IACHR ignored the opposition’s widespread violence and only reported on the defensive violence of the government. Not only was it categorically rejected by Nicaraguan chancellor Denis Moncada as an “insult to the dignity of the Nicaraguan people,” a resolution approving the IACHR report was supported by only ten out of 34 countries.

Meanwhile, the April 19th Movement, made up of current or former university students in favor of regime change, sent a delegation to Washington and managed to alienate much of Nicaraguan society by grinning into the camera with far-right interventionist members of the US Congress, including Rep. Ileana Ros Lehtinen, Sen. Marco Rubio and Sen. Ted Cruz. M19 leaders also cheered Vice-President Mike Pence’s bellicose warnings that Nicaragua is on the short list of countries that will soon know the Trump Administration’s meaning of freedom, and met with the ARENA party of El Salvador, known for its links to the death squads that murdered liberation theologist Archbishop Oscar Romero. Within Nicaragua, the critical mass of students stopped demonstrating weeks ago, the large civic protests of April and May have dwindled, and the same-old familiar faces of Nicaraguan right-wing politics are left holding the bill for massive material damage and loss of life.

Nicaraguan students meet with right-wing Republicans, Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. Ileana Ros Lehtinen  in Washington, DC (Twitter Truthdig)

Why Nicaragua?

Ortega won his third term in 2016 with 72.4 percent of the vote with 66 percent turnout, very high compared to US elections. Not only has Nicaragua put in place an economy that treats the poor as producers, with remarkable results raising their standard of living in 10 years, but it also has a government that consistently rejects US imperialism, allying with Cuba, Venezuela, and Palestine, and voices support for Puerto Rican independence and a peaceful solution to Korean crisis. Nicaragua is a member of the Bolivarian Alliance of the Americas and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, a Latin American alternative to the OAS, neither include the US or Canada. It has also allied with China for a proposed canal project and Russia for security cooperation. For all of these reasons, the US wants to install a US-friendly Nicaraguan government.

More important is the example Nicaragua has set for a successful social and economic model outside the US sphere of domination. Generating over 75% of its energy from renewable sources, Nicaragua was the only country with the moral authority to oppose the Paris Climate Agreement as being too weak  (it later joined the treaty one day after Trump pulled the US out, stating “we opposed the Paris agreement out of responsibility, the US opposes it out of irresponsibility”). The FMLN government of El Salvador, while less politically dominant than the Sandinista Front, has taken the example of good governance from Nicaragua, recently prohibiting mining and the privatization of water. Even Honduras, the eternal bastion of US power in Central America, showed signs of a leftward shift until the US-supported military coup in 2009. Since then, there has been massive repression of social activists, a clearly stolen 2017 election, and Honduras has permitted the expansion of US military bases near the Nicaraguan border.

In 2017, the US House of Representatives unanimously passed the Nicaraguan Investment Conditionality Act (NICA Act), which if passed by the Senate will force the US government to veto loans from international institutions to the Nicaraguan government. This US imperialism will cripple Nicaragua’s ability to build roads, update hospitals, construct renewable energy plants, and transition from extensive livestock raising to integrated animal-forestry systems, among other consequences. It may also signify the end of many popular social programs, such as subsidized electricity, stable bus fares, and free medical treatment of chronic diseases.

The US Executive Branch has used the Global Magnitsky Act to target the finances of leaders of the Electoral Supreme Court, the National Police, the city government of Managua and the ALBA corporation in Nicaragua. Police officers and public health bureaucrats have been told their US visas have been revoked. The point, of course, is not whether these officials have or have not committed acts that merit their reprimand in Nicaragua, but whether the US government should have the jurisdiction to intimidate and corner public officials of Nicaragua.

While the sadistic violence continues, the strategy of the coup-mongers to force out the government has failed. The resolution of the political crisis will come through elections, and the FSLN is likely to win those elections, barring a dramatic and unlikely new offensive by the right-wing opposition.

Latin American Presidents Zelaya (Honduras), Correa (Ecuador), Chavez (Venezuela), Ortega (Nicaragua), and Morales (Bolivia) celebrate Correa’s inauguration for a second term, in Quito, Ecuador. (Prensa Presidencial)

An Upside Down Class War

It is important to understand the nature of US and oligarch coups in this era and the role of media and NGO deception because it is repeated in multiple Latin American and other countries. We can expect a similar attack on recently elected Andrés Manuel López Obrador in Mexico if he seeks the changes he has promised.

The US has sought to dominate Nicaragua since the mid-1800s. The wealthy in Nicaragua have sought the return of US-allied governance since the Sandinistas rose to power. This failing coup does not mean the end of their efforts or the end of corporate media misinformation. Knowing what is really occurring and sharing that information is the antidote to defeating them in Nicaragua and around the world.

Nicaragua is a class war turned upside down. The government has raised the living standards of the impoverished majority through wealth redistribution. Oligarchs and the United States, unable to install neoliberalism through elections, created a political crisis, highlighted by false media coverage to force Ortega to resign. The coup is failing, the truth is coming out, and should not be forgotten.

• First published at Popular Resistance

More on “Keeping Families Together”

Good on everyone who rallied in such large numbers on behalf of keeping families together. I will generalize and break down the participants into three groups. The first was composed of folks who may have participated in their first protest and responded with genuine empathy and moral outrage regarding a transparently immoral situation. They are well-intentioned and believe the Federal government is not acting in ways commensurate with America’s highest ideals. For them, the blame largely lies with Trump but they’re not opposed to hearing more discussion on the subject.

A second group understood that public pressure must be sustained to force any meaningful change. They also grasp that this didn’t begin with Trump but with a long history of brutal bipartisan U.S. policy in Central America‘s Northern Triangle of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. These three countries suffer the first, fourth and fifth highest homocide rates in the world. U.S action on behalf of empire stoked this desperate situation; this second group also refuses to exempt the Democrats for their complicity, including Obama’s horrific immigration policies. They know that in 2014, Hillary Clinton spoke in favor of deporting thousands of Central American migrant children, saying “We have to send a clear message that just because your child gets across the border doesn’t mean your child gets to stay.”

These participants largely connected the dots and know the history of U.S. officials breaking and destroying families both here and abroad from the very beginning. These folks might have read books like Howard Zinn’s People’s History of the United States or Robert Jensen’s Citizens of the Empire. Further, they might have wondered, as did commentator Elizabeth Oram, that considering this past, “Where were the masses, outrage, the fury? Do we care about families or do we just want to make a partisan challenge to an embarrassing Republican?” In addition, the second group are right to worry there will be 24/7 efforts by DNC-level Democrats to coopt the movement and use it to protect incumbants and increase their seats in November.

Those in the third group might have a ”Hate Has No Home Here” yard sign, mouth the right phrases and take part in one-off, media-celebrated, “feel good,“ anti-Trump events. And not a few of them come across as self-righteous while keeping cognitive dissonance at bay. As Noam Chomsky observes, such people are “…deeply and deliberately apolitical in the sense they do not seek to address issues of power, resources, decision making, or how to bring about change.”

I take no pleasure in saying it’s the latter who must “get woke“ from their moral amnesia if they’re serious about safeguarding children and families everywhere. It’s not too late but time is exceedingly short.

Nicaragua: Terrorism as an Art of Demonstrating

For two months, Nicaragua has been through a major political crisis, fueled by clashes between law enforcement and an insurgency. Humanitarian organizations report a terrifying record of nearly 200 deaths. This violence, compromising the attempts of political negotiations, makes it necessary to understand who has interest in paralyzing this Central America country. What are the motivations of protesters and opposition forces? Is the Nicaraguan government the symbol of absolute tyranny?

*****

It was a pension reform project that started the fire. To avoid privatizing social security as recommended by the IMF, the government wanted to increase contributions for both workers and employers. Faced with a public outcry, the government backtracked and withdrew its reform plan. But the protests continued without anyone being able to understand what was their objective. In order to stop the cycle of violence, government spokesmen called on the protesters to participate in peace commissions. They insisted on their willingness to listen to the various demands and to promote the expression of political opposition. To no avail. Calls for dialogue from the government have been shunned.

They were even perceived as a sign of weakness, galvanizing the young protesters of the M-19 movement. With no program, this movement simply calls for overthrowing the “dictatorship” accused of being at the origin of the “repression”. Moreover, the international media aligned themselves without reserve with these demonstrators, regarded as the quintessence of the civil society, in spite of their nihilism and extremism. But the attitude of the M-19 raises questions. By refusing any political solution and promoting violence, the movement offers an ideal motive for the proponents of “regime change” and “constructive chaos” already applied in countries like Libya, Iraq or Ukraine

On 14 June, the M-19 operation consisting of deploying “tranques” (barricades) in certain areas of the capital Managua, as well as in nearby cities such as Masaya or Granada, was supported by a “national strike” of 24 hours. This strike was convened by COSEP, the main employers’ organization. Yes, in Nicaragua, it is the bosses who call to strike! The world upside down? The fact remains that neither the majority of workers, nor the small and medium-sized enterprises followed suit. But it allowed an evaluation of the balance of power as well as maintaining the pressure until the next phase. On June 16, the day when the peace dialogue between the opposition and the government was to be revived, a new episode of extreme violence made the front pages of the international media.

The macabre fire of the Velasquez house

First, the facts. On June 16, a group of hooded people set fire to a building in Managua using Molotov cocktails, causing seven deaths, including a two-year-old child and a five-month-old baby. A mattress store occupied the ground floor of the building while the owner and his family lived on the first floor. Neighbors said they saw hoodlums throw their cocktails at the building, and said some shooters would have prevented the family from escaping. Accident as a possible cause was therefore immediately rejected.

But private media like Televisa or BBC immediately seized the case to blame the authorities for the crime. According to their information, paramilitaries on government payroll wanted to use the roof of the building to post snipers; the paramilitaries, having been denied access by the homeowner, would have locked him up in his residence with his family before setting it on fire. This is the same thesis defended by the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (CENIDH), which pointed out “their complicity with the national police”. For other governments, this argument would appear simplistic, implausible and irrational. Who would have defended the idea that the British government was behind the fire of the Grenfell tower for example? But in the case of Nicaragua, the complicity or even the responsibility of the government is put forth as a matter of fact.

To give credit to the story, the BBC used the testimony of the only survivor in the family: “Hooded people came with police officers and locked up nine people in a room on the second floor and burned us alive.” According to the same testimony, the offenders carried “mortars, weapons, and Molotov bombs”. We can only respect the bereavement of the survivor. But it cannot be dismissed that under shock, and calling for divine justice, she felt the need to find an immediate culprit. This is why it cannot be excluded that her testimony has been influenced in any way so as to channel her anger and to politically exploit it. In an effort to get closer to the truth, it is necessary to look for additional information and to cross-check them with other testimonies and documents.

The problem is that observers are facing a real war of images. Filmed from the balcony of the house burned, an amateur video was immediately relayed on social media. It aims at reinforcing the thesis of police forces and para-police organizations participation. Filmed by the eldest son of the family, Alfredo Pavon, one of the victims of the fire, this video is certainly interesting. But we see only a convoy of five police vans stopping near the house after a motorcycle chase, after which the police fires some warning shots and arrests a young biker. Hard to turn this into evidence. This document is nevertheless used to sow doubt, or even to point at the authorities as being responsible for the crime. Widely shared by the media in the aftermath of the crime, the video continues to be broadcast in a loop and feed hate comments…

However, these images have, in fact, been taken out of context: the recording was made on April 21, that is, at the very beginning of this crisis. What it reveals above all is that this precise area had been the scene of clashes between the two camps since the beginning of the crisis. This corresponds to information sent by Nicaraguan citizens, which indicates that the Carlos Marx district is controlled by the opposition. Indeed, it is hard to believe, as the opposition says, that police forces have surrounded the same neighborhood for two months, without being able to quell the protest movement until June 16, when they finally decided to use the roof of the Velasquez family to post snipers. And that’s not all. According to the same version, short of obtaining the family’s approval, the authorities acted brutally by setting the house on fire, without anticipating that it would cause a resurgence of tensions instead of calming them down.

Not really intimidated by the crime in the Velasquez house, four members of the M-19 were present on the scene the same day, to record a video where they accuse the government of “state terrorism” and call to support their movement. They take the opportunity to send a message to the negotiation table: “We are not going to remove the barricades, they are in our hands and those of the people, and we will not take them off. I want you to know: if the people do not unite, it will end up in new massacres like this one”. But have their accusations, carried by certain media and Internet users on social media, been the subject of a real inquiry gathering enough facts?

Retaliation against the right to work?

A journalist at TeleSur, Madelein Garcia reports a completely different version: the people responsible for the fire are “delinquents recruited by the opposition”, “hooded men who attacked with mortars and Molotov cocktails the family home, after reading in a media that snipers of the police were hiding there.” Garcia explains that according to a friend of the family, “the hooded men asked for mattresses, the owner refused and that’s when they burned the house for revenge.”

Moreover, a disturbing screen shot of the April 19 movement was relayed via social media, including several photos of the owner of the premises, the father Velasquez Pavon, accompanied by explicit threats against him. The document dates from 2 days before the fire, that is to say at the time of the strike organized by COSEP. The commentary indicates that he did not respect the strike directive, preferring to continue working. In the eyes of his attackers, that would have been enough to make him automatically suspicious of sympathy with the government. The M-19 would have then relayed the identity and address of one of the future victims, threatening to “disappear” these “infiltrated” Sandinistas who “refuse to strike by pretending to support the people”.

Since the release of this document, it appears that the text and photos have been removed from the account, the group administrators explaining that it could be a forgery. An explanation that did not convince everyone: some remember seeing these photos before the day of the fire, and point out that the area was under the control of the opposition, including through the “tranques” (barricades).

Who to believe? We only have amateur videos published by Velasquez Pavon on his Facebook account in recent months. He proudly presents his mattress making workshop and says he works tirelessly. Would the small business owner Velasquez Pavon have been the target of opposition or paramilitary forces? Two days after the employers’ strike, would there have been any reprisals against the right to work of the Nicaraguan people? The dead do not speak; it is difficult to answer these questions. But respect for the victims requires a real independent investigation, which is incompatible with political and media manipulation.

Who wants to eliminate the Sandinistas?

Without the same outrage from the media, other killings and attacks have clearly targeted citizens and buildings associated with Sandinismo.

On the same day that the Velasquez house was burned, a funeral home located a few meters from the house was also ransacked and set on fire.

Still near the scene of the incident, two men were spotted in the street dismantling the barricades of the opposition. They were shot dead on the spot. The killers sprinkled gasoline on one of the corpses and set it on fire. Before leaving, they put objects on the burned body to create a macabre scene. It was Francisco Aráuz Pineda, from a historical family of the Sandinista Revolution.

Here is a non-exhaustive timeline sequence of violent actions that took place in just three weeks:

  • On May 28, the public prosecutor’s office in Masaya was subjected to arson, while the police reported an attack on their offices.
  • On May 29 protesters set fire to the offices of Tu Nueva Radio Ya, considered a pro-government media.
  • On May 31, the offices of Caruna, a financial services cooperative, were set on fire.
  • On June 9 it was Radio Nicaragua’s turn, destroyed by the flames. That same day, a young Sandinista activist died in a motorcycle accident while trying to dodge a trap in a barricade in San José de Jinotepe, Carazo.
  • On June 12, a gang kidnapped and brutally tortured 3 workers at San José College in Jinotepe. In the context of the clashes, 2 historic Sandinista militants were murdered. Also that day, the mayor’s house was ransacked and burned.
  • On June 13, another group held captive and brutally tortured Leonel Morales, a leader of the National Union of Students of Nicaragua (UNEN). The emergency doctors at Bautista Hospital treated serious wounds caused by a bullet lodged in the young man’s abdomen, which would indicate a clear intention to kill. The authors of this attack had come from the vicinity of the Polytechnic University of Managua.
  • On June 15, the day after the employers strike, Sandinista lawyer and activist Marlon Medina Tobal was shot dead while walking beside a barricade in the city of Leon. On the same day, demonstrators armed with mortars were spotted in Jinotepe town.
  • On June 18, criminals threw a burning tire inside the house of Rosa Argentina Solís, a 60-year-old communal leader … for “totally supporting the government of the constitutional president Daniel Ortega and reminded that he had won the elections by a majority of votes.” The same day, the house of the mother of Sandinista MP José Ramón Sarria Morales was the subject of arson. Then nine members of his family were held captive and tortured.
  • On June 18, Sandinista activist Yosep Joel Mendoza Sequeira, a resident of Simón Bolivar Matagalpa neighborhood, was held captive and savagely tortured. The same day, a video was relayed via social media, where a young woman accused of sympathy with the government is humiliated and tortured during an interrogation.
  • On June 21, after being held by men manning barricades in Zaragoza, Stiaba, a young Sandinista youth activist named Sander Bonilla was savagely tortured under the impassive gaze of a priest.
  • On June 22, an anti-Sandinist group fired at the house of the teacher Mayra Garmendia in Jinotega and burned the building where her family was, who managed to escape.

The similarities with the crimes perpetrated in Venezuela by the anti-Chavista opposition a year ago suggest that this wave of violence is primarily motivated by a deep ideological hatred that goes beyond the framework of ordinary crime.

When the dead are brought back to life

To these brutal attacks that speak for themselves, we can add the confusion maintained by the protesters themselves with the complicity of the private media.

  • Thus, on April 23, at the very beginning of the protests, motorcyclists carrying Molotov cocktails shot at point blank range Roberto Carlos Garcia Paladino, a 40-year-old man who died on the spot. His mother, Janeth Garcia, denounced the opposition for using his image by making him a student victim of repression. “They are carrying the flag with his image, as if it were a flag of struggle, but he was not a student, you can verify it without problems.”
  • On May 4 a video with the testimony of José Daniel García is broadcast. He denounces the use of his own photo in a demonstration, looking as if he was killed in the clashes. Alerted by his mother, García demands that his photo be removed. According to him, this “manipulation is intended to deceive the people”. Similar cases where the dead are resurrected have been identified:
  • On May 13, a Frente Sandinista activist, Heriberto Rodríguez, was shot dead in the head near a cinema in Masaya. The private media say he was murdered during a protest, portraying him as a martyr of the anti-government struggle, while Sandinismo’s Voice media claims he was killed by gangs of criminals allied with the right.
  • On May 16, a group of demonstrators near the Metrocentro Mall in Managua threw down a metal art installation called “The Tree of Life”. After demolishing it, they stomped on it. The filmmaker of Guatemalan origin Eduardo Spiegler, who was there at the time of the incident, was crushed by the weight of the metal construction and died on the spot. His picture will be used to make it look as if he was a student victim of the repression, which some will denounce as manipulation.
  • On May 30, the 18-year-old Mario Alberto Medina’s family, who died in September 2017, condemns the “unscrupulous actions of people who are using the young man’s photographs to add them to the list of dead”.

Other people also discovered the presence of their name or photo in a list of dead claimed by the protesters: Christomar Baltodano, Karla Sotelo, Marlon Joshua Martinez, Marlon Jose Davila, William Daniel Gonzalez … Much like in Venezuela in 2014, the public was intoxicated by a massive campaign of fake news via social media.

Observers on the “good side” of the barricade

If we want to broaden the perspective, short of exposing the long history, it is necessary to return to the chronology of the facts. On June 15, the Catholic Church’s peace dialogue had just resumed after the talks had been interrupted since May 23. The new agenda between the government and the opposition renewed the authorization granted to a list of international organizations to participate in observation missions in the country, in order to identify all murders and acts of violence as well as their leaders, with an integral plan of care for victims in order to achieve effective justice. They included observers from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), as well as the EU.

An organization dependent of the Organization of American States (aligned with Washington), the IACHR had already carried out a mission between May 17 and May 21. Then it continued to issue reports, the last of which coincided with the day of the strike. Its record attributed to the government of Daniel Ortega the central responsibility in this crisis, while recognizing the presence of armed groups with “homemade mortars filled with gunpowder” in the ranks of the demonstrators. The wording is not very eloquent: the reader of the release is unlikely to imagine the scenes of horror that these groups were responsible of.

On June 14, the Nicaraguan Foreign Ministry replied in a letter that the work of the IACHR had still not taken into account “evidence of atrocious crimes, cruel and degrading treatment, kidnapping and other acts of violence committed against the population and especially against public officials and persons known to be Sandinistas “. Given the biased stance it is accused of, the authorization to visit the premises that the Ortega government granted to the IACHR on June 26, must be considered as a concession in the framework of peace negotiations between the two parties. Especially since institutions like Amnesty International have clearly shown that they are on the other side of the barricade, turning a deaf ear to the testimonies that are not aligned with the dominant narrative.

Caution is therefore required. If we assume the hypothesis of a political motive behind the frightening crime of the Velasquez house, the arrival of the investigators of the IACHR could have constituted a special motivation, in order to attract the international public opinion’s attention. Be that as it may, it did not take long to happen.

First, on June 18 the Civic Alliance, the political opposition movement engaged in dialogue with the government, announced its withdrawal from the negotiation table and demanded the presence of external observers. The reactions were immediate, notably that of the representative of the OAS Luis Almagro and the IACHR… and finally the unavoidable press release of the spokesperson of the US Department of State Heather Nauert, condemning the ‘current violence sponsored by the government, including the attack on June 16 against the residence and trade of a family…”. Nauert recommended that the government should carry on according to the points on the peace agenda, including the planned visit of observers of the IACHR. Her conclusion is quite significant: the United States “takes note of the general appeal of Nicaraguans for new presidential elections” and “considers that the elections would be a constructive way forward”!

This statement contains a thinly veiled threat: it is an interference with the sovereignty of Nicaragua. It relies on a new balance of power, starting from the mid-June sequence – the strike and the peace agreement, undermined by the new violence of the weekend, which has had as a result the opposition leaving the negotiation table. Nauert therefore puts pressure on the Ortega government, which is now confronted on the one hand with increased street violence and lack of dialogue with the political opposition, and on the other hand with the arrival of the observation missions – who have probably already decided in advance the conclusion of their report.

Is “regime change” a thing of the past?

Unless one is uncontrollably naive, everyone will have noticed that the United States continues to regard Latin America as its backyard. For we cannot dismiss the role played in Nicaragua by a certain international activism, which is centered on the United States Congress, where the Nica Act was approved last November. Under the initiative of Ros-Lehtinen, a Cuban anti-Castro elected member of the Republican party, this law aims to stifle the Nicaraguan economy, blocking international loans. The reason? “Human rights violations, the regression of democracy in Nicaragua, and the dismantling of the free elections system in this country”.

When the United States presents itself as the defender of human rights and the champion of democracy in the world, it should be remembered that in recent years bodies dedicated to “promoting democracy”, such as USAID or the NED, showered opposition movements with dollars (support that the protesters do not hide). Simultaneously, Senator Marco Rubio proposed to use the Magnitsky Act as a weapon of financial sanctions against the Vice-President of the mixed enterprise Albanisa. What was Rubio’s aim? “Not only to support the desire for new elections as soon as possible to change the government, but also change the constitution, because a new government on the basis of corruption and dictatorship is more or less the same thing.” Helping to overthrow the government elected by the Nicaraguan people is not enough, so you have to write directly a new constitution in its place, to prevent these latinos from returning to bad habits!

All these mechanisms of destabilization correspond to the different phases of a real hybrid war. In the view of the neoconservative strategists, “constructive chaos” is far better than the loss of the areas of direct influence of yesteryear. If Nicaragua is again in the line of sight of US imperialism, the real reasons are mostly economic.

Nicaragua, theater of a long US strategic war

As early as 1825, the Federal Republic of Central America, a political entity stemming from the wars of independence, had commissioned a study on the creation of a canal on the Lake Nicaragua Canal route. It was a strategic project for the economic development and survival of the young republic. But following the creation of the Independent State of Nicaragua in 1838, the Central American Federation broke out, dividing it into six different political entities (Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica). What about the economic integration project in the region? It fell into oblivion.

For the United States, the break-up of Central America was therefore very advantageous from a strategic point of view. In 1846, the Colombian government signed with the United States the Mallarino-Bidlak Treaty, by which Colombia was to ensure free circulation in this region, where the United States planned to create an inter-oceanic canal. Following the vision of US Marine Corps Captain Alfred Thayer, the goal was to better control maritime trade. The new agreement offered US troops the pretext to intervene militarily 14 times, relying on the legal foundations of the treaty. Thus the United States played a decisive role in the separation of Colombia and the Department of Panama on November 3, 1903.

As a reminder, as early as 1823, the United States had issued a warning to the European powers who would be tempted to regain control over the young emerging republics. It was the famous Monroe Doctrine: “America for Americans”. Translation: The United States were keeping a “right of interference” on its southern neighbors. Well, in 1850 the United States signed a similar treaty with England, which since 1661 had established a protectorate over the coastal region of Mosquitia, allying itself with the indigenous Mosquito people against the Spaniards. The agreement between the two powers provided for the shared control of the coast and the circulation of goods in the future canal. But in 1860, Nicaragua signed another agreement with England, by which it formally renounced the protectorate. In its place, the Kingdom of Mosquitia was created, with a constitution based on English laws. In 1904, Mosquitia was finally incorporated in Nicaragua.

On December 6, 1904, facing the US Congress, President Theodore Roosevelt proclaimed the “Big Stick” doctrine, also known as the “Roosevelt Corollary.” This foreign policy was practiced in the period between 1898 and 1934 where, in order to protect its commercial interests, the United States occupied several Latin American countries, in what would become known as the “banana wars”. William Howard Taft, who had been appointed Secretary of War in the Roosevelt administration, did not hesitate to use force in several countries. Significantly, the same Taft was responsible for overseeing the construction of the Panama Canal, which was finally inaugurated in 1914.

It must be remembered that the initial project for the construction of the Panama Canal was first granted by Colombia to France thanks to the signing of the Salgar-Wyse agreement. The works, led by Ferdinand de Lesseps, the engineer responsible for the Suez Canal in Egypt, began in 1878 and lasted ten years, but was abandoned in 1888. The abandonment of the project by the French led to the United States resuming the idea of the canal and commissioned a study of the American Congress at the Walker Commission. Finally, the choice was on Nicaragua and a construction treaty was signed. But this country opposed the granting of a route planned by the United States, and envisaged the possibility of granting it to Germany. In retaliation, in August 1912, the United States sent troops to Nicaragua. They would only return home after 21 years of occupation, turning the country into some sort of protectorate. The invasion served the purpose of preventing another country from building a canal in the area. In 1916, the newly elected Adolfo Diaz government, with the kind support of the US Marines, signed with the United States the Bryan-Chamorro Treaty, through which that country obtained the concession for the canal for a period of 99 years and the authorization to install a naval base.

The success of the Panama Canal and the long invasion of Nicaragua by the United States threw the other canal project into the dustbin of history. But not forever. Daniel Ortega, the historical leader of the Sandinista Revolution who was president of Nicaragua in the 1980s and re-elected in 2006, brought back the project. In 2013, the National Assembly approved a law granting the concession of the new Transoceanic Canal to the private Chinese company HKND. If it saw the light of day, it would be three times the size of the Panama Canal. In other words, there would be a serious competition issue.

• Translated from French by Tamarvlad

• First published in Investig’Action

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

Shakespeare said it best

Much ado about nothing.

That’s the “Russian interference” in the 2016 American election.

A group of Russians operating from a building in St. Petersburg, we are told in a February 16 US government indictment, sent out tweets, Facebook and YouTube postings, etc. to gain support for Trump and hurt Clinton even though most of these messages did not even mention Trump or Clinton; and many were sent out before Trump was even a candidate.

The Russian-interference indictment is predicated, apparently, on the idea that the United States is a backward, Third-World, Banana Republic, easily manipulated.

If the Democrats think it’s so easy and so effective to sway voters in the United States why didn’t the party do better?

At times the indictment tells us that the online advertising campaign, led by the shadowy Internet Research Agency of Russia, was meant to divide the American people, not influence the 2016 election. The Russians supposedly wished to cause “divisiveness” in the American people, particularly around controversial issues such as immigration, politics, energy policy, climate change, and race. “The indictment alleges that the Russian conspirators want to promote discord in the United States and undermine public confidence in democracy,” said Rod J. Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general overseeing the inquiry. “We must not allow them to succeed.”1

Imagine that – the American people, whom we all know are living in blissful harmony and fraternity without any noticeable anger or hatred, would become divided! Damn those Russkis!

After the election of Trump as president in November 2016, the defendants “used false U.S. personas to organize and coordinate U.S. political rallies in support of then president-elect Trump, while simultaneously using other false U.S. personas to organize and coordinate U.S. political rallies protesting the results of the 2016 U.S. presidential election.”

The indictment also states that defendants in New York organized a demonstration designed to “show your support for President-Elect Donald Trump” held on or about November 12, 2016. At the same time, defendants and their co-conspirators, organized another rally in New York called “Trump is NOT my President”.

Much of the indictment and the news reports of the past year are replete with such contradictions, lending credence to the suggestion that what actually lay behind the events was a “click-bait” scheme wherein certain individuals earned money based on the number of times a particular website is accessed. The mastermind behind this scheme is reported to be a Russian named Yevgeny Prigozhin of the above-named Internet Research Agency, which is named in the indictment.2

The Russian operation began four years ago, well before Trump entered the presidential race, a fact that he quickly seized on in his defense. “Russia started their anti-US campaign in 2014, long before I announced that I would run for President,” he wrote on Twitter. “The results of the election were not impacted. The Trump campaign did nothing wrong – no collusion!”

Point 95 of the Indictment summarizes the “click-bait” scheme as follows:

Defendants and their co-conspirators also used the accounts to receive money from real U.S. persons in exchange for posting promotions and advertisements on the ORGANIZATION-controlled social media pages. Defendants and their co-conspirators typically charged certain U.S. merchants and U.S. social media sites between 25 and 50 U.S. dollars per post for promotional content on their popular false U.S. persona accounts, including Being Patriotic, Defend the 2nd, and Blacktivist.

Although there’s no doubt that the Kremlin favored Trump over Clinton, the whole “Russian influence” storm may be based on a misunderstanding of commercial activities of a Russian marketing company in US social networks.

Here’s some Real interference in election campaigns

[Slightly abridged version of chapter 18 in William Blum’s Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower; see it for notes]

Philippines, 1950s:

Flagrant manipulation by the CIA of the nation’s political life, featuring stage-managed elections with extensive disinformation campaigns, heavy financing of candidates, writing their speeches, drugging the drinks of one of the opponents of the CIA-supported candidate so he would appear incoherent; plotting the assassination of another candidate. The oblivious New York Times declared that “It is not without reason that the Philippines has been called “democracy’s showcase in Asia”.

Italy, 1948-1970s:

Multifarious campaigns to repeatedly sabotage the electoral chances of the Communist Party and ensure the election of the Christian Democrats, long-favored by Washington.

Lebanon, 1950s:

The CIA provided funds to support the campaigns of President Camille Chamoun and selected parliamentary candidates; other funds were targeted against candidates who had shown less than total enchantment with US interference in Lebanese politics.

Indonesia, 1955:

A million dollars were dispensed by the CIA to a centrist coalition’s electoral campaign in a bid to cut into the support for President Sukarno’s party and the Indonesian Communist Party.

Vietnam, 1955:

The US was instrumental in South Vietnam canceling the elections scheduled to unify North and South because of the certainty that the North Vietnamese communist leader, Ho Chi Minh, would easily win.

British Guiana/Guyana, 1953-64:

For 11 years, two of the oldest democracies in the world, Great Britain and the United States, went to great lengths to prevent Cheddi Jagan – three times the democratically elected leader – from occupying his office. Using a wide variety of tactics – from general strikes and disinformation to terrorism and British legalisms – the US and Britain forced Jagan out of office twice during this period.

Japan, 1958-1970s:

The CIA emptied the US treasury of millions to finance the conservative Liberal Democratic Party in parliamentary elections, “on a seat-by-seat basis”, while doing what it could to weaken and undermine its opposition, the Japanese Socialist Party. The 1961-63 edition of the State Department’s annual Foreign Relations of the United States, published in 1996, includes an unprecedented disclaimer that, because of material left out, a committee of distinguished historians thinks “this published compilation does not constitute a ‘thorough, accurate, and reliable documentary record of major United States foreign policy decisions’” as required by law. The deleted material involved US actions from 1958-1960 in Japan, according to the State Department’s historian.

Nepal, 1959:

By the CIA’s own admission, it carried out an unspecified “covert action” on behalf of B.P. Koirala to help his Nepali Congress Party win the national parliamentary election. It was Nepal’s first national election ever, and the CIA was there to initiate them into the wonderful workings of democracy.

Laos, 1960:

CIA agents stuffed ballot boxes to help a hand-picked strongman, Phoumi Nosavan, set up a pro-American government.

Brazil, 1962:

The CIA and the Agency for International Development expended millions of dollars in federal and state elections in support of candidates opposed to leftist President João Goulart, who won anyway.

Dominican Republic, 1962:

In October 1962, two months before election day, US Ambassador John Bartlow Martin got together with the candidates of the two major parties and handed them a written notice, in Spanish and English, which he had prepared. It read in part: “The loser in the forthcoming election will, as soon as the election result is known, publicly congratulate the winner, publicly recognize him as the President of all the Dominican people, and publicly call upon his own supporters to so recognize him. … Before taking office, the winner will offer Cabinet seats to members of the loser’s party. (They may decline).”

As matters turned out, the winner, Juan Bosch, was ousted in a military coup seven months later, a slap in the face of democracy which neither Martin nor any other American official did anything about.

Guatemala, 1963:

The US overthrew the regime of General Miguel Ydigoras because he was planning to step down in 1964, leaving the door open to an election; an election that Washington feared would be won by the former president, liberal reformer and critic of US foreign policy, Juan José Arévalo. Ydigoras’s replacement made no mention of elections.

Bolivia, 1966:

The CIA bestowed $600,000 upon President René Barrientos and lesser sums to several right-wing parties in a successful effort to influence the outcome of national elections. Gulf Oil contributed two hundred thousand more to Barrientos.

Chile, 1964-70:

Major US interventions into national elections in 1964 and 1970, and congressional elections in the intervening years. Socialist Salvador Allende fell victim in 1964, but won in 1970 despite a multimillion-dollar CIA operation against him. The Agency then orchestrated his downfall in a 1973 military coup.

Portugal, 1974-5:

In the years following the coup in 1974 by military officers who talked like socialists, the CIA revved up its propaganda machine while funneling many millions of dollars to support “moderate” candidates, in particular Mario Soares and his (so-called) Socialist Party. At the same time, the Agency enlisted social-democratic parties of Western Europe to provide further funds and support to Soares. It worked. The Socialist Party became the dominant power.

Australia, 1974-75:

Despite providing considerable support for the opposition, the United States failed to defeat the Labor Party, which was strongly against the US war in Vietnam and CIA meddling in Australia. The CIA then used “legal” methods to unseat the man who won the election, Edward Gough Whitlam.

Jamaica, 1976:

A CIA campaign to defeat social democrat Michael Manley’s bid for reelection, featuring disinformation, arms shipments, labor unrest, economic destabilization, financial support for the opposition, and attempts upon Manley’s life. Despite it all, he was victorious.

Panama, 1984, 1989:

In 1984, the CIA helped finance a highly questionable presidential electoral victory for one of Manuel Noriega’s men. The opposition cried “fraud”, but the new president was welcomed at the White House. By 1989, Noriega was no longer a Washington favorite, so the CIA provided more than $10 million dollars to his electoral opponents.

Nicaragua, 1984, 1990:

In 1984, the United States, trying to discredit the legitimacy of the Sandinista government’s scheduled election, covertly persuaded the leading opposition coalition to not take part. A few days before election day, some other rightist parties on the ballot revealed that US diplomats had been pressing them to drop out of the race as well. The CIA also tried to split the Sandinista leadership by placing phoney full-page ads in neighboring countries. But the Sandinistas won handily in a very fair election monitored by hundreds of international observers.

Six years later, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), Washington’s specially created stand-in for the CIA, poured in millions of dollars to defeat Daniel Ortega and the Sandinistas in the February elections. NED helped organize the Nicaraguan opposition, UNO, building up the parties and organizations that formed and supported this coalition.

Perhaps most telling of all, the Nicaraguan people were made painfully aware that a victory by the Sandinistas would mean a continuation of the relentlessly devastating war being waged against them by Washington through their proxy army, the Contras.

Haiti, 1987-1988:

After the Duvalier dictatorship came to an end in 1986, the country prepared for its first free elections ever. However, Haiti’s main trade union leader declared that Washington was working to undermine the left. US aid organizations, he said, were encouraging people in the countryside to identify and reject the entire left as “communist”. Meanwhile, the CIA was involved in a range of support for selected candidates until the US Senate Intelligence Committee ordered the Agency to cease its covert electoral action.

Bulgaria, 1990-1991 and Albania, 1991-1992:

With no regard for the fragility of these nascent democracies, the US interfered broadly in their elections and orchestrated the ousting of their elected socialist governments.

Russia, 1996:

For four months (March-June), a group of veteran American political consultants worked secretly in Moscow in support of Boris Yeltsin’s presidential campaign. Boris Yeltsin was being counted on to run with the globalized-free market ball and it was imperative that he cross the goal line. The Americans emphasized sophisticated methods of message development, polling, focus groups, crowd staging, direct-mailing, etc., and advised against public debates with the Communists. Most of all they encouraged the Yeltsin campaign to “go negative” against the Communists, painting frightening pictures of what the Communists would do if they took power, including much civic upheaval and violence, and, of course, a return to the worst of Stalinism. Before the Americans came on board, Yeltsin was favored by only six percent of the electorate. In the first round of voting, he edged the Communists 35 percent to 32, and was victorious in the second round 54 to 40 percent.

Mongolia, 1996:

The National Endowment for Democracy worked for several years with the opposition to the governing Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party (MPRR, the former Communists) who had won the 1992 election to achieve a very surprising electoral victory. In the six-year period leading up to the 1996 elections, NED spent close to a million dollars in a country with a population of some 2.5 million, the most significant result of which was to unite the opposition into a new coalition, the National Democratic Union. Borrowing from Newt Gingrich’s Contract With America, the NED drafted a “Contract With the Mongolian Voter”, which called for private property rights, a free press and the encouragement of foreign investment. The MPRR had already instituted Western-style economic reforms, which had led to widespread poverty and wiped out much of the communist social safety net. But the new government promised to accelerate the reforms, including the privatization of housing. By 1998 it was reported that the US National Security Agency had set up electronic listening posts in Outer Mongolia to intercept Chinese army communications, and the Mongolian intelligence service was using nomads to gather intelligence in China itself.

Bosnia, 1998:

Effectively an American protectorate, with Carlos Westendorp – the Spanish diplomat appointed to enforce Washington’s offspring: the 1995 Dayton peace accords – as the colonial Governor-General. Before the September elections for a host of offices, Westendorp removed 14 Croatian candidates from the ballot because of alleged biased coverage aired in Bosnia by neighboring Croatia’s state television and politicking by ethnic Croat army soldiers. After the election, Westendorp fired the elected president of the Bosnian Serb Republic, accusing him of creating instability. In this scenario those who appeared to support what the US and other Western powers wished were called “moderates”, and allowed to run for and remain in office. Those who had other thoughts were labeled “hard-liners”, and ran the risk of a different fate. When Westendorp was chosen to assume this position of “high representative” in Bosnia in May 1997, The Guardian of London wrote that “The US secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, praised the choice. But some critics already fear that Mr. Westendorp will prove too lightweight and end up as a cipher in American hands.”

Nicaragua, 2001

Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega was once again a marked man. US State Department officials tried their best to publicly associate him with terrorism, including just after September 11 had taken place, and to shamelessly accuse Sandinista leaders of all manner of violations of human rights, civil rights, and democracy. The US ambassador literally campaigned for Ortega’s opponent, Enrique Bolaños. A senior analyst in Nicaragua for Gallup, the international pollsters, was moved to declare: “Never in my whole life have I seen a sitting ambassador get publicly involved in a sovereign country’s electoral process, nor have I ever heard of it.”

At the close of the campaign, Bolaños announced: “If Ortega comes to power, that would provoke a closing of aid and investment, difficulties with exports, visas and family remittances. I’m not just saying this. The United States says this, too. We cannot close our eyes and risk our well-being and work. Say yes to Nicaragua, say no to terrorism.”

In the end, the Sandinistas lost the election by about ten percentage points after steadily leading in the polls during much of the campaign.

Bolivia, 2002

The American bête noire here was Evo Morales, Amerindian, former member of Congress, socialist, running on an anti-neoliberal, anti-big business, and anti-coca eradication campaign. The US Ambassador declared: “The Bolivian electorate must consider the consequences of choosing leaders somehow connected with drug trafficking and terrorism.” Following September 11, painting Officially Designated Enemies with the terrorist brush was de rigueur US foreign policy rhetoric.

The US Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs warned that American aid to the country would be in danger if Mr. Morales was chosen. Then the ambassador and other US officials met with key figures from Bolivia’s main political parties in an effort to shore up support for Morales’s opponent, Sanchez de Lozada. Morales lost the vote.

Slovakia, 2002

To defeat Vladimir Meciar, former prime minister, a man who did not share Washington’s weltanschauung about globalization, the US ambassador explicitly warned the Slovakian people that electing him would hurt their chances of entry into the European Union and NATO. The US ambassador to NATO then arrived and issued his own warning. The National Endowment for Democracy was also on hand to influence the election. Meciar lost.

El Salvador, 2004

Washington’s target in this election was Schafik Handal, candidate of the FMLN, the leftist former guerrilla group. He said he would withdraw El Salvador’s 380 troops from Iraq as well as reviewing other pro-US policies; he would also take another look at the privatizations of Salvadoran industries, and would reinstate diplomatic relations with Cuba. His opponent was Tony Saca of the incumbent Arena Party, a pro-US, pro-free market organization of the extreme right, which in the bloody civil war days had featured death squads and the infamous assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero.

During a February visit to the country, the US Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, met with all the presidential candidates except Handal. He warned of possible repercussions in US-Salvadoran relations if Handal were elected. Three Republican congressmen threatened to block the renewal of annual work visas for some 300,000 Salvadorans in the United States if El Salvador opted for the FMLN. And Congressman Thomas Tancredo of Colorado stated that if the FMLN won, “it could mean a radical change” in US policy on remittances to El Salvador.

Washington’s attitude was exploited by Arena and the generally conservative Salvadoran press, who mounted a scare campaign, and it became widely believed that a Handal victory could result in mass deportations of Salvadorans from the United States and a drop in remittances. Arena won the election with about 57 percent of the vote to some 36 percent for the FMLN.

After the election, the US ambassador declared that Washington’s policies concerning immigration and remittances had nothing to do with any election in El Salvador. There appears to be no record of such a statement being made in public before the election when it might have had a profound positive effect for the FMLN.

Afghanistan, 2004

The US ambassador to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, went around putting great pressure on one candidate after another to withdraw from the presidential race so as to insure the victory for Washington’s man, the incumbent, Hamid Karzai in the October election. There was nothing particularly subtle about it. Khalilzad told each one what he wanted and then asked them what they needed. Karzai, a long-time resident in the United States, was described by the Washington Post as “a known and respected figure at the State Department and National Security Council and on Capitol Hill.”

“Our hearts have been broken because we thought we could have beaten Mr. Karzai if this had been a true election,” said Sayed Mustafa Sadat Ophyani, campaign manager for Younis Qanooni, Karzai’s leading rival. “But it is not. Mr. Khalilzad is putting a lot of pressure on us and does not allow us to fight a good election campaign.”.

None of the major candidates actually withdrew from the election, which Karzai won with about 56 percent of the votes.

The Cold War Forever

On March 7 British police said that a former Russian double agent, Sergei Skripal, and his daughter Yulia were found unconscious on a bench in Salisbury, a city southwest of London. The police said that Skripal had been “targeted specifically” with a nerve agent. Skripal was jailed in Russia in 2006 for passing state secrets to Britain. He was released in 2010 as part of a spy swap.

Because nerve agents are complex to make, they are typically not made by individuals, but rather by states. British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has said that the Skripal case had “echoes” of what happened to Alexander Litvinenko, a former KGB Operative who British officials believe was poisoned in London by Russian agents in 2006, becoming the first victim of lethal polonium-210-induced acute radiation syndrome. Before he died, he spoke about the misdeeds of the Russian secret service and delivered public deathbed accusations that Russian president Vladimir Putin was behind his unusual malady.

Because of this the Skripal poisoning looks like an open-and-shut case.

But hold on. Skripal was sent to Britain by the Russian government eight years ago in an exchange of spies. Why would they want to kill him now, and with Putin’s election coming up? And with the quadrennial football (soccer) World Cup coming up soon to be played in Russia. Moscow is very proud of this, publicizing it every day on their international television stations (RT in the US). A murder like this could surely put a serious damper on the Moscow festivities. Boris Johnson has already dropped a threat: “Thinking ahead to the World Cup this July, this summer, I think it would be very difficult to imagine that UK representation at that event could go ahead in the normal way and we would certainly have to consider that.”3 It was totally predictable.

Because political opposition is weak, and no obvious threat to the ruling United Russia Party, what would the government gain by an assassination of an opposition figure?

So if Russia is not responsible for Skripal’s poisoning, who is? Well, I have an idea. I can’t give you the full name of the guilty party, but its initials are CIA. US-Russian Cold Wars produce unmitigated animosity. As but one example, the United States boycotted the Olympics that were held in the Soviet Union in 1980, because of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The Soviet Union then boycotted the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles.

Ideology and Evolution

New York Times editorial page editor James Bennet recently declared: “I think we are pro-capitalism. The New York Times is in favor of capitalism because it has been the greatest engine of, it’s been the greatest anti-poverty program and engine of progress that we’ve seen.”4 The man is correct as far as he goes. But there are two historical factors that enter into this discussion that he fails to consider:

    1. Socialism may well have surpassed capitalism as an anti-poverty program and engine of progress if the United States and other capitalist powers had not subverted, destabilized, invaded, and/or overthrown every halfway serious attempt at socialism in the world. Not one socialist-oriented government, from Cuba and Vietnam in the 1960s, to Nicaragua and Chile in the 1970s, to Bulgaria and Yugoslavia in the 1990s, to Haiti and Venezuela in the 2000s has been allowed to rise or fall based on its own merits or lack of same, or allowed to relax its guard against the ever-threatening capital imperialists.
    2. Evolution: Social and economic systems have evolved along with human beings. Humankind has roughly gone from slavery to feudalism to capitalism. There’s no reason to assume that this evolution has come to a grinding halt, particularly given the deep-seated needs of the world in the face of one overwhelming problem after another, most caused by putting profit before people.
  1. New York Times, February 16, 2018.
  2. Mueller Indictment – The “Russian Influence” Is A Commercial Marketing Scheme,” Moon of Alabama, February 17, 2018.
  3. The Independent (London), March 6, 2018.
  4. Huffington Post, February 27, 2018.

The True Stories That Fake News Tells: The Forced Sterilization of Women

I am constantly amazed in this day and age where Americans have a President who touts anything he doesn’t agree with as “fake news” that is the moment that people grow cynical of the term.   Despite Donald Trump’s ability to shun astute critique of his politics, the term does carry currency in terms of how true or false news stories are.  But it is not just American media that is stuck within this paradigm of readers never knowing what is or is not true, the British who have a nationally subsidized media whereby residents in the UK must pay a TV license are subjected to another sort of “fake news,” namely, the endless stream of trivia regarding the Royal Family.

What is “news” today can range from the entirely vapid stories of an impending Royal Wedding to the recent story of a pedophile found in his cell with his penis chopped off.  The former is entirely not newsworthy and stokes the fire of many British who resist paying television taxes because of this sort of abuse of public funds to cover “fluff” and the latter is largely untrue. Yet, both stories are widespread because who doesn’t want to read about a pedophile who has come to his just-deserved end or the happy royal marriage between a Hollywood actor and a prince?

And this is why fake news has become so prevalent: the market forces of advertisement rewards social media shares. Conterminous to this reality of capitalism and social media there is a recent study published in Science last week, untrue stories are shared at far higher rates than factual new items:

About 126,000 rumors were spread by ∼3 million people. False news reached more people than the truth; the top 1% of false news cascades diffused to between 1000 and 100,000 people, whereas the truth rarely diffused to more than 1000 people. Falsehood also diffused faster than the truth. The degree of novelty and the emotional reactions of recipients may be responsible for the differences observed.

And this paradigm of news “out there” ranging from the entirely fantastical to the well-researched and objectively true means that readers are either constantly suspicious about what they read or just more gullible about the intake of news given the paucity of time to research every media byte.

For instance, last fall when the cryptocurrency market began to rise ever so speedily, many people wrote me to ask me about bitcoin and if the stories were true about its reputed rise.  The quality of fake news is so wide-ranging today in subject matter and analysis that it is hard for people to recognize the difference between actual true news, fake news, and as I found out yesterday when posting a satirical piece about a man who abandoned his family to live out his dream of living life as a squirrel. Indeed, at times it is difficult to recognize fake news from real news simply because reality is also troublingly “unreal” and indistinguishable from fable.

So yesterday, I came upon a story which I shared on Facebook where my stream there is largely a bookmarking of stories I hope to read in the not-too-distant future.  The story I posted is entitled “Big Pharma Co. Has License Suspended As Vaccine Sterilizes 500,000 Girls” and immediately upon posting the thread was flooded with skeptical comments asking if this is true, one wondering why the British media hadn’t reported this, and even one posting to a fact-checking website which rates news stories on the conspiracy range from “none” to “tin foil hat.”

This article received a “mixed” review.  And on Snopes, this related to a story from 2014 which was labelled as “false” despite the origins of the story being factually correct:  a press statement released on 7 October, 2015 by the Catholic Health Commission of Kenya – Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops (KCCB) who state their concerns that the Tetanus Toxoid vaccine (TT) might be laced with Beta human chorionic gonadotropin (b-HCG). This press release expressed concern for the role played by sponsoring development partners since such programs had “previously been used by the same partners in Philippines, Nicaragua and Mexico to vaccinate women against future pregnancy.”  A component of experimental birth control vaccines, b-HCG caused alarm to these bishops as it is common knowledge that development aid has historically and negatively affected the bodies of women—especially those of women of color.

Anyone who has lived in countries outside the west becomes acutely aware as to how “humanitarian aid” is peddled, offered up as the panacea to all social and medical ills, when, in fact, such aid usually debilitates local economies, medical practices, and educational institutions.  And view the video of the man at the center of this debate, former Kenyan Prime Minister, Raila Odinga (1992-2013), who has spoken at length on his concerns. Watching this video, it is clear that Odinga is no biologist and that his statement does not account for presence of b-HCG. Similarly, the Washington Post report on this subject makes clear that the results are inconclusive either way due to how the sample of this vaccine was analyzed.  Still many remain cautious about dismissing the accusations, such as Keith Donovan of Georgetown’s Pellegrino Center for Clinical Bioethics, stating:

[T]here are aspects of this that need to be raising red flags because of history and because of the way it was all being done. But raising red flags doesn’t mean that there’s something that actually has occurred.

What Donovan is getting at here is the importance of understanding how women’s bodies have been historically controlled by colonizing forces, especially with regards to their reproductive capacity.  The accusations which target this long-running vaccination program sponsored by the WHO and UNICEF, inoculates women of reproductive age against tetanus in a country where tetanus is a deadly health problem.  Yet the phrase “women of reproductive age” mentioned in the same sentence as any UN organization or NGO will set off alarms for many who have seen the horrors of mass sterilization programs which, oddly enough, British media has rarely covered.

One of the most infamous mass sterilization projects in recent history was that carried out by the Peace Corps in Bolivia in the 1960s and early 1970s. This resulted in the Peace Corps being thrown out of the country in 1971, in large part because of the production of one of Bolivia’s most important films on the topic, Blood of the Condor (Yawar Mallku), by Jorge Sanjínes (1969), which informed the people as to what this US agency was doing to women.  This project involved Peace Corps volunteers distributing contraception, even inserting IUDs into indigenous Quechua women, without their informed consent.  This set off a series of accusations which in turn fueled rumors about widespread US-funded sterilization programs.  Through the 1980s there was a distrust of all US programs, food products, and birth control products.  Meanwhile in this same period, between 1965 and 1971, an estimated 1 million women in Brazil had been sterilized. And in Mexico in 1974 there was a massive sterilization program which gave an anti-fertility vaccine to 1,204 females under the guise of “family planning.”

In Colombia, between 1963 and 1965 more than 400,000 women were sterilized in a program funded by the Rockefeller Foundation. And in the Philippines, where similar concerns of the tetanus vaccine was blamed for sterilizing women just last year, USAID has sponsored family planning programs there to the tune of $40m, with poor women being offered money to go through the sterilization procedure in rural villages.  The Philippines has a long history of sterilization projects dating back to the 1970s which has resulted in a healthy skepticism about any “vaccines” that Filipina women will logically view with great suspicion.

In recent years, there have been numerous reports from the Gauteng province of South Africa of women who are HIV+ people told that sterilization is the “best form of contraception” and others who have been sterilized without any consent whatsoever. Similar reports have been emerging from Uganda, Namibia, and Slovakia as well. In Israel, the government has been sterilizing Ethiopian immigrants to the country with a notable decline in their birthrate in the country. And both Kenya and Chile have various important court cases which specifically address the illegality of forced sterilization in well-documented cases. It is no surprise that the former Prime Minister of Kenya is suspicious of a vaccine that has been called into question by the Catholic Health Commission of Kenya.

Still, let us not forget where such eugenicist notions of sterilization originated.  From the early twentieth century, the eugenics movement in the UK was born which led to the formation of the Eugenics Education Society in 1907. This organization campaigned for the forced sterilization of mentally disabled women, a program supported by mostly Labour MPs such that by 1931 there was a draft bill proposed in Parliament to this end. On the other side of the Atlantic, sterilization laws were enacted in 32 of the US states between 1907 and 1937 only to be repealed from the 1970s onward. Although the sterilization was to affect the bodies of both males and females in the United States, the focus of sterilization would come to bear its weight on the bodies of women.

For instance, in California, even when the state’s eugenic sterilization law was repealed in 1979, other legislation paved the way for operations in state prisons to sterilize female inmates. Between 2006 and 2010, there were 146 female inmates in two of California’s women’s prisons who received tubal ligations with at least three dozen of these procedures directly violating the state’s own informed consent process. Not surprisingly, the majority of those who were sterilized were not only first-time offenders, but largely African-American and Latina. The logic as explained by the physician responsible for these surgeries, Dr. James Heinrich: that the state would save money “compared to what you save in welfare paying for these unwanted children—as they procreated more.” In 2013, a journalist at the Center for Investigative Reporting published on this story which eventually led to the passage of a bill banning sterilization in California state prisons.

And sterilization campaigns have been more than common outside of prisons in the United States and its territories such as the case of Puerto Rico where from the 1930s to late 1960s mass sterilization was underway such that by 1965, a survey revealed that one-third of Puerto Rican women were sterile.  Similar to the surgeries undertaken in prisons was the rationale rooted in the desire to save the government’s money from women who were perceived as reproducing at high rates, especially when Puerto Rican immigrants were coming to the US in the 1970s. Also, there was the fear that Latinos might edge out “white America” which is why so many Latina women in Puerto Rico, New York City, and California were specifically targeted by the government for sterilization throughout the 20th century.

African American women have also been the targets of population control throughout the country’s history and have been disproportionately affected by sterilization abuse. In North Carolina, the state which has one of the worse records for sterilization abuse, 65 percent of its sterilization procedures were performed on black women despite the population of black women in that state hovering at 25 percent.  The case Madrigal v. Quilligan (1978) was ground-breaking in that, even if the judge ruled in favor of the doctors who abusively coerced Latina women into sterilization, this case set the precedent of informed consent, underscoring the obligation to provide forms in multiple languages for non-native English speakers.

So while some are outraged by the claims of UNICEF and the WHO being accused of sterilizing women in countries like Kenya and the Philippines, others view the historical veracity of what similar agencies have done historically and more recently (eg. USAID’s support of Peru’s sterilization of indigenous women from 1997 through 2002 where “USAID provided $18 million to CARE for training doctors to perform sterilization and supplying sterilization equipment used in the coercive campaigns.”1

What is important to take away from these reports is that the suspicion exercised over the control of women’s bodies by foreign agencies and/or by these agencies exercising their monetary power through local politics needs to be regarded with great scrutiny.  Has the Kenya Accreditation Service (Kenas) truly suspended Agriq-Quest Ltd’s license as a testing laboratory? I called their corporate number this morning and received no answer and went onto their Facebook page only to find it removed.  I went onto the Kenas’ website to see that Agriq-Quest Ltd is delisted.

The whole story has not been told and we have only a few blips of information here and there that can easily seem like fake news, or a story that western media doesn’t really care to tell. The larger question is why more western media isn’t concerned about the medicalization of the bodies of teenage girls and young women to the extent that the WHO and the UN are given carte blanche to create policy and to avoid answering any and all questions put to them about these policies.

What consoles me about seeing Odinga’s statement to the press is not that the reports about sterilization are necessarily inaccurate, but they reveal a healthy dose of cynicism towards foreign agencies that have never had these peoples’ best interest at heart.  We need to applaud the reports that may be inaccurate since they at least stick their neck out for the lives and rights of women to have a say in their corporeal autonomy, reproductive health, and lives.

  1. Peru’s Ministry of Health, “Final Report Concerning Voluntary Surgical Contraception Activities,” July, 2002.

Why the Honduras Crisis Matters to Me

For seven months in 1969 I hitch-hiked around the US, Mexico and Central America with my best friend from high school. Some class-mates from our school in Vancouver Canada saved their money then travelled to Europe or Australia but Ollie and I headed south. It was an eye-opening experience for two middle class Canadians. We had a lot of learning experiences in the US but today I want to talk about Honduras because it is in crisis as I write this: the Honduran election took place on 26 November yet the results are still in contention. Will the current right wing government manage to retain power?

When we visited the capital Tegucigalpa in 1969 we went to the university campus to meet and hang out with young Hondurans. They told us about the recent visit of President Richard Nixon who had taken office a few months before and then travelled to Latin America. The Vietnam war was still raging in 1969 and people protested against the war and Nixon wherever he went. The young Hondurans told us that when Nixon visited Tegucigalpa there had been a big protest. Several students who had been protesting from the top of a university building had been shot dead. It made an impression as did the warm and friendly people we met, some living in shacks along the banks of the Choluteca River running through the capital.

In Nicaragua we heard more eye-opening stories from the youth there. They told us about the Somoza family dictatorship, how corrupt it was, and how they came to power through US Marines. They also told us about the death of Cesar Sandino who fought for Nicaraguan independence but was killed by Somoza’s National Guard in 1934. The Nicaraguan youth told us that when the US asked for proof of Sandino’s death, Somoza shipped Sandino’s head in a box to Washington.

Those and many other experiences changed my life. Over the coming decades I kept an interest in Central America.

In 1979, when Nicaraguans overthrew the Somoza dictatorship, it seemed like a good thing. But President Ronald Reagan did not like an independent Nicaragua. Violating international law, the US organized a mercenary army called the “Contras” to destabilize and upend the Sandinista government. The mercenaries were trained in Honduras with US funding, supplies and weapons. The US Ambassador to Honduras, John Negroponte, oversaw the mercenary army attacking Nicaragua and the emergence of death squads in El Salvador. Tens of thousands of peasants and opposition activists were killed with impunity. In Honduras, itself, there was widespread repression and murder of those challenging the status quo.

In 1998 Honduras was hit by Hurricane Mitch. The second worst Atlantic hurricane ever recorded caused huge destruction and death, especially in poor communities with weak infrastructure. The shacks and modest dwellings along the river bank in Tegucigalpa were all ripped and washed away. Over 7,000 Hondurans died, including people we had met three decades before.

Six years later, in 2004, I was again reminded of the US role in Honduras when the same John Negroponte who had overseen the Contra operations went to Baghdad to take over management of the Iraq occupation. Newsweek magazine said he was coming with a new strategy, which they dubbed the “Salvador option”. Over the next year, sectarian death squads emerged to provoke sectarian bloodshed. Negroponte’s right hand man in Iraq, Robert S. Ford, was later appointed as US Ambassador to Syria in 2010 where he helped fuel the uprisings in that country. Thus there is direct connection between U.S.interference and aggression in Central America and the Middle East.

For decades Honduras was alternately ruled by two political parties representing different branches of their oligarchy. They traded power back and forth, effectively preventing alternative perspectives.

But things began to change in Honduras in 2006. President Manuel Zelaya came from the oligarchy but started to initiate changes benefiting the poor. He called for real land reform, raising the minimum wage and he questioned the need for US military bases. That was too much. In June 2009 President Zelaya was kidnapped in the middle of the night and flown from the capital to the US military air base called Soto Cano, only 48 miles away. Hillary Clinton had been in Honduras just weeks before. She disapproved of Zelaya and his policies. The coup went ahead.

After the 2009 coup, conditions in Honduras deteriorated rapidly. Tegucigalpa became the homicide capital of the world. Tens of thousands of youth have fled the country as it has been wracked by drug wars, corruption, and police or paramilitary repression. Alongside this, there has been widespread popular resistance.

In 2011,  I returned to Honduras to see the conditions first hand. With a delegation organized by Alliance for Global Justice and Task Force on the Americas, I visited peasants in the fertile Aguan Valley, indigenous communities in the mountains and workers and church activists in Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula. We talked with a hard-working activist named Berta Caceres and others in her indigenous organization COPINH. We learned that these communities were still actively resisting the coup and forming a new political party to challenge the right wing coup government not with guns but with votes.

In 2013 I returned again to Honduras, this time as an election observer. In the contest, the new LIBRE party surpassed the traditional Liberal Party and made a strong challenge to the right wing National Party. There were many examples of election malfeasance but Juan Orlando Hernandez of the right wing National Party was anointed as the new President.

Since then social and economic conditions have not changed. The Hernandez regime governs to the benefit of rich Hondurans and international corporations. He has a strong military alliance with the US military and is very friendly with President Trump’s Chief of Staff General Kelly.

That has set the stage for the most recent events. Days before the election The Economist ran an article describing a National Party training session in cheating techniques. The election was held on Sunday 26 November . On election night, with 57% of the votes counted, the opposition challenger was ahead by over 5%. Then strange things began to happen. The election commission stopped updating the vote tally for 36 hours. On Monday the head of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal said they were still missing 6,000 tally sheets from different polling places. A few hours later, he said they were missing 7500 tally sheets. When they resumed on Tuesday, suddenly the existing President Hernandez was gaining votes, cutting the opposition lead and then winning. It all looks very fishy, even to the OAS monitors.

The situation is rapidly coming to a head. At this moment it is not known what will happen. Initially the opposition demanded a full and complete review of all the 18,000 tally sheets. Now they are calling for the annulment of the election and a new election under international supervision.

The Honduran government is either stonewalling or is paralyzed. Hundreds of thousands of Hondurans have protested in the streets, with over twelve protesters killed. However, in a dramatic change, the elite para-military COBRA security forces have started to refuse orders, saying their job is not to repress their own communities.

Just as the 2009 coup in Honduras was a setback for all Latin America, the outcome of the current crisis will have consequences far beyond Honduras. As clearly articulated in this article, “The US has a lot riding on the Honduran election“, the US foreign policy establishment wants the continuation of the government of Juan Orlando Hernandez (JOH).

Despite all the indications of electoral malfeasance and human rights abuses, the Trump Administration has praised the JOH government. Meanwhile, North American reporters, analysts and activists are doing what they can to support Honduran popular forces and stop the theft of the Honduran election. The coming days may be momentous.  I have explained why it matters to me. But this is more important than a personal connection. It should matter to anyone concerned with progress, justice, respect and international law.

US Enemy List: Prospects and Perspectives

For almost two decades, the US pursued a list of ‘enemy countries’ to confront, attack, weaken and overthrow. This imperial quest to overthrow ‘enemy countries’ operated at various levels of intensity, depending on two considerations: the level of priority and the degree of vulnerability for a ‘regime change’ operation.

The criteria for determining an ‘enemy country’ and its place on the list of priority targets in the US quest for greater global dominance, as well as its vulnerability to a ‘successfully’ regime change will be the focus of this essay. We will conclude by discussing the realistic perspectives of future imperial options.

Prioritizing US Adversaries

Imperial strategists consider military, economic and political criteria in identifying high priority adversaries.

The following are high on the US ‘enemy list’:

1) Russia, because of its military power, is a nuclear counterweight to US global domination. It has a huge, well-equipped armed force with a European, Asian and Middle East presence. Its global oil and gas resources shield it from US economic blackmail and its growing geo-political alliances limit US expansion.

2) China, because of its global economic power and the growing scope of its trade, investment and technological networks. China’s growing defensive military capability, particularly with regard to protecting its interests in the South China Sea serve to counter US domination in Asia.

3) North Korea, because of its nuclear and ballistic missile capability, its fierce independent foreign policies and its strategic geo-political location, is seen as a threat to the US military bases in Asia and Washington’s regional allies and proxies.

4) Venezuela, because of its oil resources and socio-political policies, challenge the US centered neo-liberal model in Latin America.

5) Iran, because of its oil resources, political independence and geo-political alliances in the Middle East, challenge US, Israeli and Saudi Arabia domination of the region and present an independent alternative.

6) Syria, because of its strategic position in the Middle East, its secular nationalist ruling party and its alliances with Iran, Palestine, Iraq and Russia, is a counterweight to US-Israeli plans to balkanize the Middle East into warring ethno-tribal states.

US Middle-level Adversaries

1) Cuba, because of its independent foreign policies and its alternative socio-economic system stands in contrast to the US-centered neo-liberal regimes in the Caribbean, Central and South America.

2) Lebanon, because of its strategic location on the Mediterranean and the coalition government’s power sharing arrangement with the political party, Hezbollah, which is increasingly influential in Lebanese civil society in part because of its militia’s proven capacity to protect Lebanese national sovereignty by expelling the invading Israeli army and helping to defeat the ISIS/al Queda mercenaries in neighboring Syria.

3) Yemen, because of its independent, nationalist Houthi-led movement opposed to the Saudi-imposed puppet government as well as its relations with Iran.

Low Level Adversaries

1) Bolivia, because of its independent foreign policy, support for the Chavista government in Venezuela and advocacy of a mixed economy; mining wealth and defense of indigenous people’s territorial claims.

2) Nicaragua, because of its independent foreign policy and criticism of US aggression toward Cuba and Venezuela.

US hostility to high priority adversaries is expressed through economic sanctions military encirclement, provocations and intense propaganda wars toward North Korea, Russia, Venezuela, Iran and Syria. Because of China’s powerful global market linkages, the US has applied few sanctions. Instead, the US relies on military encirclement, separatist provocations and intense hostile propaganda when dealing with China.

Priority Adversaries, Low Vulnerability and Unreal Expectations

With the exception of Venezuela, Washington’s ‘high priority targets’ have limited strategic vulnerabilities. Venezuela is the most vulnerable because of its high dependence on oil revenues with its major refineries located in the US, and its high levels of indebtedness, verging on default. In addition, there are the domestic opposition groups, all acting as US clients and Caracas’ growing isolation within Latin America due to orchestrated hostility by important US clients, Argentina, Brazil, Colombia and Mexico.

Iran is far less vulnerable: It is a strong strategic regional military power linked to neighboring countries and similar religious-nationalist movements. Despite its dependence on oil exports, Iran has developed alternative markets, like China, free from US blackmail and is relatively safe from US or EU initiated creditor attacks.

North Korea, despite the crippling economic sanctions imposed on its regime and civilian population, has ‘the bomb’ as a deterrent to a US military attack and has shown no reluctance to defend itself. Unlike Venezuela, neither Iran nor North Korea face significant internal attacks from US-funded or armed domestic opposition.

Russia has full military capacity – nuclear weapons, ICBM and a huge, well-trained armed force – to deter any direct US military threat. Moscow is politically vulnerable to US-backed propaganda, opposition political parties and Western-funded NGOs. Russian oligarch-billionaires, linked to London and Wall Street, exercise some pressure against independent economic initiatives.

To a limited degree, US sanctions exploited Russia’s earlier dependence on Western markets, but since the imposition of draconian sanctions by the Obama regime, Moscow has effectively countered Washington’s offensive by diversifying its markets to Asia and strengthening domestic self-reliance in its agriculture, industry and high technology.

China has a world-class economy and is on course to become the world’s economic leader. Feeble threats to ‘sanction’ China have merely exposed Washington’s weakness rather intimidating Beijing. China has countered US military provocations and threats by expanding its economic market power, increasing its strategic military capacity and shedding dependence on the dollar.

Washington’s high priority targets are not vulnerable to frontal attack: They retain or are increasing their domestic cohesion and economic networks, while upgrading their military capacity to impose completely unacceptable costs on the US for any direct assault.

As a result, the US leaders are forced to rely on incremental, peripheral and proxy attacks with limited results against its high priority adversaries.

Washington will tighten sanctions on North Korea and Venezuela, with dubious prospects of success in the former and a possible Pyrrhic victory in the case of Caracas. Iran and Russia can easily overcome proxy interventions. US allies, like Saudi Arabia and Israel, can badger, propagandize and rail the Persians, but their fears that an out-and-out war against Iran, could quickly destroy Riyadh and Tel Aviv forces them to work in tandem to induce the corrupt US political establishment to push for war over the objections of a war-weary US military and population. Saudi and Israelis can bomb and starve the populations of Yemen and Gaza, which lack any capacity to reply in kind, but Tehran is another matter.

The politicians and propagandists in Washington can blather about Russia’s interference in the US’s corrupt electoral theater and scuttle moves to improve diplomatic ties, but they cannot counter Russia’s growing influence in the Middle East and its expanding trade with Asia, especially China.

In summary, at the global level, the US ‘priority’ targets are unattainable and invulnerable. In the midst of the on-going inter-elite dogfight within the US, it may be too much to hope for the emergence of any rational policymakers in Washington who could rethink strategic priorities and calibrate policies of mutual accommodation to fit in with global realities.

Medium and Low Priorities, Vulnerabilities and Expectations

Washington can intervene and perhaps inflict severe damage on middle and low priority countries. However, there are several drawbacks to a full-scale attack.

Yemen, Cuba, Lebanon, Bolivia and Syria are not nations capable of shaping global political and economic alignments. The most the US can secure in these vulnerable countries are destructive regime changes with massive loss of life, infrastructure and millions of desperate refugees … but at great political cost, with prolonged instability and with severe economic losses.

Yemen

The US can push for a total Saudi Royal victory over the starving, cholera-stricken people of Yemen. But who benefits? Saudi Arabia is in the midst of a palace upheaval and has no ability to exercise hegemony, despite hundreds of billions of dollars of US/NATO arms, trainers and bases. Colonial occupations are costly and yield few, if any, economic benefits, especially from a poor, geographically isolated devastated nation like Yemen.

Cuba

Cuba has a powerful highly professional military backed by a million-member militia. They are capable of prolonged resistance and can count on international support. A US invasion of Cuba would require a prolonged occupation and heavy losses. Decades of economic sanctions haven’t worked and their re-imposition by Trump have not affected the key tourist growth sectors.

President Trump’s ‘symbolic hostility’ does not cut any ice with the major US agro-business groups, which saw Cuba as a market. Over half of the so-called ‘overseas Cubans’ now oppose direct US intervention.

US-funded NGOs can provide some marginal propaganda points but they cannot reverse popular support for Cuba’s mixed ‘socialized’ economy, its excellent public education and health care and its independent foreign policy.

Lebanon

A joint US-Saudi economic blockade and Israeli bombs can destabilize Lebanon. However, a full-scale prolonged Israeli invasion will cost Jewish lives and foment domestic unrest. Hezbollah has missiles to counter Israeli bombs. The Saudi economic blockade will radicalize Lebanese nationalists, especially among the Shia and the Christian populations. The Washington’s ‘invasion’ of Libya, which did not lose a single US soldier, demonstrates that destructive invasions result in long-term, continent-wide chaos.

A US-Israeli-Saudi war would totally destroy Lebanon but it will destabilize the region and exacerbate conflicts in neighboring countries – Syria, Iran and possibly Iraq. And Europe will be flooded with millions more desperate refugees.

Syria

The US-Saudi proxy war in Syria suffered serious defeats and the loss of political assets. Russia gained influence, bases and allies. Syria retained its sovereignty and forged a battle-hardened national armed force. Washington can sanction Syria, grab some bases in a few phony ‘Kurdish enclaves’ but it will not advance beyond a stalemate and will be widely viewed as an occupying invader.

Syria is vulnerable and continues to be a middle-range target on the US enemy list but it offers few prospects of advancing US imperial power, beyond some limited ties with an unstable Kurd enclave, susceptible to internecine warfare, and risking major Turkish retaliation.

Bolivia and Nicaragua

Bolivia and Nicaragua are minor irritants on the US enemy list. US regional policymakers recognize that neither country exercises global or even regional power. Moreover, both regimes rejected radical politics in practice and co-exist with powerful and influential local oligarchs and international MNC’s linked to the US.

Their foreign policy critiques, which are mostly for domestic consumption, are neutralized by the near total US influence in the OAS and the major neo-liberal regimes in Latin America. It appears that the US will accommodate these marginalized rhetorical adversaries rather than risk provoking any revival of radical nationalist or socialist mass movements erupting in La Paz or Managua.

Conclusion

A brief examination of Washington’s ‘list of enemies’ reveals that the limited chances of success even among vulnerable targets. Clearly, in this evolving world power configuration, US money and markets will not alter the power equation.

US allies, like Saudi Arabia, spend enormous amounts of money attacking a devastated nation, but they destroy markets while losing wars. Powerful adversaries, like China, Russia and Iran, are not vulnerable and offer the Pentagon few prospects of military conquest in the foreseeable future.

Sanctions, or economic wars have failed to subdue adversaries in North Korea, Russia, Cuba and Iran. The ‘enemy list’ has cost the US prestige, money and markets – a very peculiar imperialist balance sheet. Russia now exceeds the US in wheat production and exports. Gone are the days when US agro-exports dominated world trade including trade with Moscow.

Enemy lists are easy to compose, but effective policies are difficult to implement against rivals with dynamic economies and powerful military preparedness.

The US would regain some of its credibility if it operated within the contexts of global realities and pursued a win-win agenda instead of remaining a consistent loser in a zero-sum game.

Rational leaders could negotiate reciprocal trade agreements with China, which would develop high tech, finance and agro-commercial ties with manufacturers and services. Rational leaders could develop joint Middle East economic and peace agreements, recognizing the reality of a Russian-Iranian-Lebanese Hezbollah and Syrian alliance.

As it stands, Washington’s ‘enemy list’ continues to be composed and imposed by its own irrational leaders, pro-Israel maniacs and Russophobes in the Democratic Party – with no acknowledgement of current realities.

For Americans, the list of domestic enemies is long and well known, what we lack is a civilian political leadership to replace these serial mis-leaders.

Puppet of History: Panama’s Manuel Noriega

Bush appeared on television to praise the invading troops and to say his cowardly vision – all that a wimp with an inferiority complex could be capable of.

— Manuel Noriega on George H. W. Bush

The late General Manuel Antonio Noriega has done more to demonstrate the bipolar nature of US foreign policy in the Americas than any single, historically anointed individual. In its tendency to veer between outraged morality and cynical cold steel Realpolitik, US foreign policy found in Noriega a thermometer of sorts, though the temperature readings were often confused.

When it suited Washington, Noriega was the CIA’s man in Panama, a glorified errand boy who got above his station.  Then, the winds turned, leaving Noriega high and dry. It was not that he wasn’t a serial human rights abuser, though this was used against him in due course. (The role of the US School of the Americas, located in Panama till 1984, remains a memorably disturbing stain behind various Latin American death squads.)

What mattered was his cultivation, in time, of a network of power interests and influences across Latin America, including Havana. His lukewarm response to assisting Washington in that dirty conflict against Nicaragua with the aid of the Contra army sounded another nail into coffin. Then came the drugs and the dance with the Colombian cartels.

Noriega would subsequently claim in his memoirs that Colonel Oliver L. North had requested he mine Nicaraguan harbours as a willing servant of Washington’s interests.  The General preferred to ignore him.  He was no longer in favour in the morally weary halls of Washington.  He had to be gotten rid off.

The US invasion of Panama in December 1989 was typically imperial: brute force masquerading as moral mission. The ground had been softened by a massive campaign singling out Noriega’s human rights abuses, and the threat to American lives. Provocations by US soldiers were initiated.  Few media outlets in the United States bothered to question the accounts, humming to the sound of government press releases.

Noriega, and Panama, had become symbols of convenient outrage and props for the projection of US power in the closing chapters of the Cold War.  (The previous month, the Berlin Wall had fallen, the Iron Curtain rapidly parting.)

In purely power terms, the General had stepped out of turn, having helped himself to the largesse of US interests and Latin American favour.  He would simultaneously supply secrets about Cuba to US authorities while happily selling Fidel Castro thousands of Panamanian passports to be used by Cuban agents.

Murray Kempton captured this predicament well: “To feed off the United States is to subject yourself to all sorts of inconveniences from a Senate where Jesse Helms arraigns your friendship with Fidel Castro one day and Christopher Dodd your human records the next.”  These subtleties evaporate before the decision to transact with the Medellín and Cali cartels, liberating the subject “from even the lightest chains of ideology.”

Would this caricatured, cartoon villain be able to withstand the US?  Initial suggestions were made that Noriega might manage to bring about another quagmire for US forces.  The “Dignity Battalions” were taken as representatives of genuine patriotic worth.  But there was little getting away from the fact that an Uncle was providing some stern discipline for a pygmy relation.  The invasion resulted in a good deal of slaughter.

The Medellín temptation was powerful, assuming a galloping temptation that supplied Noriega with cash and power broking prestige.  The Senate subcommittee on narcotics and terrorism fielded material about Noriega’s conversion to the narcotics market in the late 1980s.  The tainted Ramon Lillian Rodriguez was a source of ratting inspiration, explaining to the Committee chaired by Senator John Kerry that Noriega had assumed money laundering responsibilities while also supplying Panamanian security forces to the cartels. The golem had gotten out hand.

The more astute operatives would have worked out that he was never controllable in the least.  Furtive sexual encounters do not necessarily suggest understanding, let alone influence.  Links forged in 1976 with George H. W. Bush, who was then the director of Central Intelligence, were not blood insured covenants, but understandings of interest.  But no US leadership can keep unctuousness out for long.  There is always an understanding about who sets the terms.

After the invasion commenced, Noriega fled to the Apostolic Nunciature of the Holy See.  A reluctant Monsignor Jose Sebastian Laboa relented to the imposition, having had next to no time to consult the higher-ups in the Vatican. US special forces, in the meantime, were charged with the task of capturing the diminished figure.

What followed was an ignominious effort to force Laboa’s hand.  The State Department hectored him; military operatives rained psychological warfare upon the compound. Laboa, in time, decided that the church’s promise of sanctuary needed to be reneged – by dissimulation if necessary. Surrender was a foregone, bitter conclusion.

Noriega would subsequently face a farcical and poorly conducted trial.  (Resorting to 40 convicted drug traffickers as witnesses for the prosecution is treacherous ground indeed.)  In 1992, he was sentenced to 40 years in Florida as prisoner No. 41586, convicted on cocaine trafficking charges, racketeering and money laundering.

Subsequent in absentia trials took place in Panama (the execution of soldiers in the 1989 coup attempt) and France (money-laundering). His release in the US lead to extradition battles that landed him first in France, then back in Panama.

Was he being punished for being too American, the showman who went just a touch too far?  Ultimately, the puppet can never be permitted to be the puppet master.