Category Archives: President Daniel Ortega

The Troika of Tyranny: The Imperialist Project in Latin America and Its Epigones

Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela are today threatened by US imperialism. The first salvo of the modern Age of Imperialism started back in 1898 when the US seized Cuba along with Puerto Rico and the Philippines in the Spanish-American War.

The Age of Imperialism, as Lenin observed, is characterized by the competition of the various imperial powers for dominance. That inter-imperialist rivalry led to World War I. Lenin called those putative socialists who supported their own national imperialist projects “social imperialists.” Social imperialism is a tendency that is socialist in name and imperialist in deed. Imperialism and its social imperialist minions are still with us today.

US Emerges as the World’s Hegemon

The United States emerged after World War II as the leading imperialist power. With the implosion of the Socialist Bloc around 1991, US hegemony became even more consolidated. Today the US is the undisputed world’s hegemon.

Hegemony means to rule but even more so to dominate. As the world’s hegemon, the US will not tolerate neutral parties, let alone hostile ones. As articulated in the Bush Doctrine, the US will try to asphyxiate any nascent counter-hegemonic project, no matter how insignificant.

In the Caribbean, for instance, the US snuffed out the leftist government of Grenada in 1983 in what was code named Operation Urgent Fury. Grenada has a population smaller than Vacaville, California.

The only powers that the world’s hegemon will tolerate are junior partners such as Colombia in Latin America. The junior partner must accept a neoliberal economic regime designed to serve the interests of capital. Structural adjustment of the economy is demanded such that the neoliberal “reforms” become irreversible; so that you can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube.

Colombia recently joined NATO, putting that junior partner’s military under direct interaction with the Pentagon bypassing its civilian government. The US has seven military bases in Colombia in order to project – in the words of the US government – “full spectrum” military dominance in the Latin American theatre.

Needless-to-say, no Colombian military bases are in the US. Nor does any other country have military bases on US soil. The world’s hegemon has some 1000 foreign military bases. Even the most sycophantic of the US’s junior partners, Great Britain, is militarily occupied by 10,000 US troops.

The US is clear on its enemies list. On November 1, US National Security Advisor John Bolton, speaking in Miami, labelled Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Cuba the “troika of tyranny.” He described a “triangle of terror stretching from Havana to Caracas to Managua.”

Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Cuba are targeted by US imperialism because they pose what might be called the “threat of a good example;” that is, an alternative to the neoliberal world order.

These countries are suffering attacks from the imperialists because of the things they have done right, not for their flaws. They are attempting to make a more inclusive society for women, people of color, and the poor; to have a state that, instead of serving the rich and powerful, has a special option for working people, because these are the people most in need of social assistance.

Sanctions: The Economic War against Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Cuba

The US imperialist rhetoric is backed with action. In 2015, US President Obama declared Venezuela an “extraordinary threat to US security” and imposed sanctions. These sanctions have been extended and deepened by the Trump administration. The US has likewise subjected Cuba to sanctions in a seamless bipartisan policy of both Republicans and Democrats for over half a century. Now the US is the process of imposing sanctions on Nicaragua.

Unilateral sanctions, such as those imposed by the US, are illegal under the charters of both the UN and the Organization of American States, because they are a form of collective punishment targeting the people.

The US sanctions are designed to make life so miserable for the masses of people that they will reject their democratically elected government. Yet in Venezuela, those most adversely affected by the sanctions are the most militantly in support of their President Nicolás Maduro.

Consequently, the Trump administration is also floating the option of military intervention against Venezuela. The recently elected right wing leaders Bolsonaro in Brazil and Duque in Colombia, representing the two powerful states on the western and southern borders of Venezuela, are colluding with the hegemon of the north.

The inside-the-beltway human rights organizations, such as Human Rights Watch, fail to condemn these illegal and immoral sanctions. They lament the human suffering caused by the sanctions, all the while supporting the imposition of the sanctions. Nor do they raise their voices against military intervention, perhaps the gravest of all crimes against humanity.

Liberal establishments such as the advocacy group Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) try to distinguish themselves from hardline imperialists by opposing a military invasion in Venezuela while calling for yet more effective and punishing sanctions. In effect, they play the role of the good cop, providing a liberal cover for interference in the internal affairs of Latin American nations.

These billionaire-funded NGOs have a revolving-door staffing arrangement with the US government. So it is not surprising that they will reflect Washington’s foreign policies initiatives.

But why do some organizations claiming to be leftist so unerringly echo the imperialists, taking such umbrage over Venezuela, Cuba, and Nicaragua while ignoring far greater problems in, say, Mexico, Colombia, and Honduras, which are US client states?

Most Progressive Country in Central America Targeted

Let’s take Nicaragua. A year ago, the polling organization Latinobarómetro, found the approval rating of Nicaraguans for their democracy to be the highest in Central America and second highest in Latin America.

Daniel Ortega had won the Nicaraguan presidency in 2006 with a 38% plurality, in 2011 with 63%, and 72.5% in 2016. The Organization of American States officially observed and certified the vote. Polls indicated Ortega was perhaps the most popular head of state in the entire western hemisphere. As longtime Nicaraguan solidarity activist Chuck Kaufman noted, “Dictators don’t win fair elections by growing margins.”

Nicaragua is a member of the anti-imperialist Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America with Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia, and some Caribbean states. Speaking at the UN, the Nicaraguan foreign minister had the temerity to catalogue the many transgressions of what Martin Luther King called “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world” and express Nicaragua’s opposition.

These are reasons enough for a progressive alternative such as Nicaragua to curry the enmity of the US. The enigma is why those claiming to be leftists would target a country that had:

  • Second highest economic growth rates and the most stable economy in Central America.
  • Only country in the region producing 90% of the food it consumes.
  • Poverty and extreme poverty halved; country with the greatest reduction of extreme poverty.
  • Reached the UN Millennium Development Goal of cutting malnutrition by half.
  • Nicaraguans enjoyed free basic healthcare and education.
  • Illiteracy had been virtually eliminated, down from 36% in 2006 when Ortega took office.
  • Average economic growth of 5.2% for the past 5 years (IMF and the World Bank).
  • Safest country in Central America (UN Development Program) with one of the lowest crime rates in Latin America.
  • Highest level of gender equality in the Americas (World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report 2017).
  • Did not contribute to the migrant exodus to the US, unlike neighboring Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala.
  • Unlike its neighbors, kept out the drug cartels and pioneered community policing.

In April of this year, all of this was threatened. The US had poured millions of dollars into “democracy promotion” programs, a euphemism for regime change operations. Suddenly and unexpectedly, a cabal of the reactionary Catholic Church hierarchy, conservative business associations, remnants of the US-sponsored Contras, and students from private universities attempted a coup.

Former members of Ortega’s Sandinista Party, who had long ago splintered off into political oblivion and drifted to the right, became effective propogandists for the opposition. Through inciting violence and the skillful use of disinformation in a concerted social media barrage, they attempted to achieve by extra-legal means what they could not achieve democratically.

Imperialism with a Happy Face

We who live in the “belly of the beast” are constantly bombarded by the corporate media, framing the issues (e.g., “humanitarian bombing).  Some leftish groups and individuals pick up these signals, amplify, and rebroadcast them. While they may genuinely believe what they are promulgating, there are also rewards such as funding, media coverage, hobnobbing with prominent US politicians, and winning awards for abhorring the excesses of imperialism while accepting its premises.

Today’s organizations that are socialist in name and imperialist in deed echo the imperial demand that the state leaders of the progressive movements in Latin America “must go” and legitimize the rationale that such leaders must be “dictators.”

They try to differentiate their position from the imperialists by proffering a mythic movement, which will create a triumphant socialist alternative that fits their particular sect’s line: chavismo without Maduro in Venezuela, sandinismo without Ortega in Nicaragua, and the Cuban Revolution without the Cuban Communist Party in Cuba.

The political reality in Latin America is that a right wing offensive is attacking standing left-leaning governments. President George W. Bush was right: “Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.” There is no utopian third way. Each of us has to determine who are the real terrorists, as the juggernaut of US imperialism rolls out a neoliberal world order.

Chaos: The New Imperialist Game Plan

For now, the coup in Nicaragua has been averted. Had it succeeded, chaos would have reigned. As even the most ardent apologists for the opposition admit, the only organized force in the opposition was the US-sponsored right wing which would have instigated a reign of terror against the Sandinista base.

The US would prefer to install stable right wing client states or even military dictatorships. But if neither can be achieved, chaos is the preferred alternative. Libya, where rival warlords contest for power and slaves are openly bartered on the street, is the model coming to Latin America.

Chaos is the new imperialist game plan, especially for Bolton’s so-called troika of tyranny. The imperialists understand that the progressive social movements in Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Cuba are too popular and entrenched to be eradicated by a mere change of personnel in the presidential palace. Much more drastic means are envisioned; means that would make the bloody aftermath of the US-backed Pinochet coup in 1973 in Chile pale by comparison.

In Venezuela, for example, the opposition might well have won the May 2018 presidential election given the dire economic situation caused in large part by the US sanctions. The opposition split between a moderate wing that was willing to engage in electoral struggle and a hard-right wing that advocated a violent takeover and jailing the chavistas.

When Venezuelan President Maduro rejected the US demand to call off the elections and resign, he was labelled a dictator by Washington. And when moderate Henri Falcon ran in the Venezuelan presidential race on a platform of a complete neoliberal transition, Washington, instead of rejoicing, threatened sanctions against him for running. The US belligerently floated a military option for Venezuela, stiffened the suffocating sanctions, and tipped the balance within the Venezuelan opposition to the radical right.

The US is not about to allow Venezuela a soft landing. Their intent is to exterminate the contagion of progressive social programs and international policy that has been the legacy of nearly two decades chavismo. Likewise, for Cuba and Nicaragua. We should also add Bolivia in the crosshairs of the empire.

We’ve seen what Pax Americana has meant for the Middle East. The same imperial playbook is being implemented in Latin America. Solidarity with the progressive social movements and their governments in Latin America is needed, especially when their defeat would mean chaos.

A Specter of Peace Is Haunting Nicaragua

After four months of violence, peace may be breaking out in Nicaragua, which has gotten those North American partisans opposed to Nicaraguan President Ortega worried. But they have one last hope.

The latest in a series of anti-Ortega articles in The Nation is entitled “An eternal night of persecution and death.” We are told: “Despite mass killings and newly authoritarian laws, a diverse opposition says the movement to oust Ortega is far from over.”

Although some analysts understand the relative calm that has befallen Nicaragua is mainly due to the failure of the opposition to sustain public support, this article maintains it is because it is “too dangerous for resistors to rally publicly.” The article is primarily based on an interview with an anonymous source “whose name has been altered for his safety.” Toward the end of the article, we find out that the anonymous source is “at a coffee shop in New York.” Ever vigilant, he has his back to the wall “facing out at the rest of the café.”

With the opposition in quiescence, The Nation is still hopeful for regime change. The anonymous source “laments” that “the only way Ortega would concede to that would be with US and international pressure.” The article concludes that “while the United States is not the perfect partner, options are limited.”

The article condemns Ortega, who “no longer represents the ideals of…anti-imperialism,” but does not extend that criticism to publications calling for the US to partner in regime change in Nicaragua.

Will Uncle Sam Come to the Rescue?

Academic Latin Americanist William I. Robinson, an opponent of Ortega, questions whether the US will oblige. He contends “Washington’s primary interest in Nicaragua is not getting rid of Ortega but in preserving the interests of transnational capital.”

Much of Robinson’s analysis is consistent with those who oppose US involvement in the recent violence in Nicaragua. Robinson agrees that the CIA surrogate, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), “funding started in the mid-1980s and has never ceased. It is not new to the Ortega-Murillo period.” However, Robinson’s assertion that the US funding has “not been aimed at overthrowing Ortega” is mistaken. The so-called “democracy promotion” dollars from the US went to the opposition who are intent on overthrowing Ortega.

Robinson agrees a viable left alternative within the opposition to Ortega is lacking: “These popular sectors from below have no project of their own to put forward as a viable alternative to replace the regime. This opens up the popular resistance to manipulation or cooptation by the third force.” This third force, Robinson explains “is the bourgeoisie, organized in the Superior Council of Private Enterprise (COSEP), the oligarchic elite, transnational capital, and the United States.”

And Robinson agrees: “Finally, have right-wing forces taken advantage of the uprising to try to gain control over it? Absolutely. Have these forces deployed their own violence. Yes. Have they manipulated a disorganized and politically incoherent grassroots opposition to Ortega-Murillo? Yes.” To his rhetorical question “would the post-Ortega scenario (that) the Right seeks to achieve be ‘more, not less, neoliberal, repressive, and authoritarian’ than the regime?” Robinson answers “probably.”

The Threat of an Alternative to Empire

So what’s Robinson’s beef with what he characterizes as “the infantile manichean view of a significant portion of the US Left”?

Robinson is a major proponent of the view that US imperialism has been eclipsed by a “transnational capitalist class.” Robinson does allow that on a world scale Nicaragua weighs in as being more progressive: “Has the Ortega regime, with its assistancialism (sic), been anywhere near as ‘bad’ as these other neoliberal regimes? Certainly not.” But, less bad is not enough. The crux of his difference with the anti-imperialist left is that they uphold Nicaragua as worthy of defense, whereas in Robinson’s post-US imperialist world no nation passes his litmus test.

Since the fall of the Soviet Union and its allies, all countries are compelled to be integrated into the world capitalist market, including Nicaragua. This is well described by Robinson in his academic work.

But Robinson is less insightful regarding the coercive aspect of US relations with progressive countries such as Nicaragua and its allies in ALBA (Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America) such as Cuba, Venezuela, and Bolivia. These countries and their leaders are very much in the crosshairs of US regime change efforts precisely because they represent some degree of a challenge to neoliberalism and because they are not compliant to every dictate of the empire.

Robinson may label this view as “manichean,” (i.e., seeing a binary world of good or evil), but it is a reality imposed by the US. George W. Bush, in his own eloquent way, summed up US strategy best: “You’re either with us or with the enemy.”

For Nicaragua, a tipping point between US cooperation and US coercion was the adoption of a trans-oceanic canal project with Chinese financing, which fundamentally challenged US geopolitical interests.

Nicaragua and its allies represent a breathing space in a world dominated by the US empire. The US government recognizes the alternative posed by Nicaragua as a threat and has targeted the Ortega government, even if some academics are less perceptive.

Fleeing Nicaragua

Meanwhile, the US has imposed sanctions against top Nicaraguan officials. USAID received an additional $1.5 million to promote “freedom and democracy” in Nicaragua. The NICA Act has passed the House by unanimous consent and is pending in the Senate. The NICA Act is designed to restrict international financing and thereby create misery among the Nicaraguan people to pressure the Ortega government. And the bulk of the US diplomatic corps has been withdrawn from Nicaragua.

The US State Department’s travel advisory warns that the remaining “US government personnel are prohibited…from entering…gentlemen’s clubs throughout the country due to crime.”

“Non-emergency government personnel” have been evacuated to go back home, presumably where gentlemen’s clubs are still safe.

 

What’s Left in Nicaragua after Ortega

Before the violence that started mid-April, Nicaragua had been the most peaceful, safest, and by far the most progressive country in Central America. Now that a semblance of peace has been restored in Nicaragua, the US government continues its campaign for regime change joined by some who formerly supported Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega and his Sandinista party.

While much has been written for and against Ortega, what might replace him were he to leave is less well fleshed out. Latin Americanist academics Dan La Botz and Benjamin Waddell, both with extensive experience in and knowledge of Nicaragua, give us some insights into what might be expected were the opposition to take over.

US Regime Change Activities in Nicaragua

Although La Botz and Waddell are firmly in the “Ortega must go” camp, they are not naïve about US government interference in the internal affairs of Nicaragua. They are not among those that claim, incorrectly, that the uprising was simply a spontaneous phenomenon.

“International press has depicted the rapid escalation of civil unrest in Nicaragua as a spontaneous explosion of collective discontent.” But Waddell contends “it’s becoming more and more clear that the US support has helped play a role in nurturing the current uprisings.”

La Botz provides the background: “US organizations such as USAID and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), and no doubt the CIA had for decades, of course, worked in Nicaragua as they do everywhere in the world.”

La Botz is not indifferent to US interference in Nicaragua. He was in fact critical of Washington’s early tepid reaction. US Vice President Pence, La Botz complained, “only demanded that the Ortega government protect its citizens and their rights,” but did not make a “general condemnation of the Ortega government, only a call for reform.”

La Botz concludes his article with the demand “the US must keep out.” But his evidence suggests that he should be demanding that the “US get out” of Nicaragua.

Waddell is more favorable to the efficacy of the US’s efforts in Nicaragua, reporting:

“Since 2014, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), which was established in 1983 to promote democratic ideals in developing countries, has spent $4.1 million on projects in Nicaragua.”

Waddell describes, “US Congress created the NED—as a non-profit, private NGO—in 1983 at the height of the Cold War.” From “1984 to 1990, the US NED spent roughly $15.8 million dollars to fund civil society groups and to political parties, most of them opposed to the Sandinista government.” Waddell explains how this led to success for the US:

“In 1990, against all odds, Chamorro defeated Daniel Ortega, and ushered in three consecutive terms of conservative leadership.”

Waddell provides documentation on the US funding through NED to groups active in today’s opposition to the elected government of Nicaragua, including over half a million USD to Hagamos Democracia. Waddell commends these soft coup efforts by the US:

“Regardless of whether Mr. Ortega is removed from power, the NED’s involvement in Nicaragua reveals the potential for transnational funding to contribute to the cultivation of the type of skill sets, networking, and strategies necessary for civil society to successfully challenge authoritative (sic) governments.”

Composition of the Opposition to Ortega

“The Nicaraguan popular rebellion of this spring and early summer,” La Botz describes, “developed as a broad multi-class movement.” However, this movement “lacked a common political program.”  “The strongest organization with the clearest political ideas,” is not even remotely progressive, but has “fundamentally conservative, pro-capitalist ideas.” That leading organization “is COSEP (Consejo Superior de la Empresa Privada en Nicaragua), the leading business organization.”

The opposition leadership was joined by the “powerful” Catholic Church with its “conservative hierarchy,” according to La Botz. Other elements within the Catholic Church included “a theology of liberation current led by some university professors and parish priests, and the mass of pious believers.”

The third major group in the opposition are a diverse amalgam of students. In his brief overview, La Botz does not explain that prominent among the students are those from conservative private universities. Nevertheless, La Botz holds on to the wish that “a student ‘left’ could be emerging.”

Developments to date give little credence to the hope for a student opposition that is leftist. For instance, a delegation of opposition students went to Washington financed by the rightwing Freedom House to lobby for US sanctions against their own people. According to NACLA, these students “shared pictures on social media posing with Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), who represent most conservative, right-wing and hawkish sectors of the Republican Party.” More recently the Nicaraguan opposition student voice was heard on a regime change panel at the Koch brothers-funded, rightwing Hudson Institute. These are not leftists.

What’s Left in Nicaragua

“Two left opposition groups with social democratic politics do exist,” La Botz reports, “the Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS) and the Movement to Rescue Sandinismo (MPRS).”

The MPRS or Rescate, an on-and-off left split from the MRS, is a minor actor. It is composed mainly of Mónica Baltodano and Henry Ruiz, who are active on the web and doing interviews.

The more prominent MRS broke from the main Sandinista party in the 1990s. The MRS, heavily composed of intellectuals, never developed a popular base among the Nicaraguan people. Starting off as a left opposition to the Ortega wing of the Sandinistas, the MRS has since shifted to the right. MRS leaders are partly supported by their connections to the US-funded NGO world and are in alliance “with parties with a neo-liberal agenda.” MRS national president Ana Margarita Vijil and Managua president Suyén Barahona hobnob with rightwing US politicians.

Calling the MRS left is like the Tea Party’s claim that Obama is a socialist; it’s a matter of perspective.

La Botz laments the absence of opposition left social movements: “they remain small and marginal to the society as a whole.” In a curious convolution of logic, La Botz blames Ortega for the failure of an anti-Ortega left opposition to emerge: “Ortega’s FSLN has discredited the idea of socialism and repressed rival democratic socialist currents.” This has not, however, prevented the emergence of a right opposition. The left-leaning, well-organized labor and agrarian unions in Nicaragua, according to La Botz, have largely avoided the opposition.

In a revolution, there are only two sides. Despite the highly polarized situation in Nicaragua, La Botz conjurers a third way: “There is, however, the possibility that the democratic struggle could open up a social struggle that would create a new left.” In sum, the picture presented by La Botz is that presently the opposition to Ortega is not democratic or left, but that he hopes it could be, despite troubling ties to US intelligence agencies and NGOs.

NACLA reports reactionaries, not progressives, are emerging from the opposition:

“In fact, many in the (opposition) movement and the civic alliance are fervent anti-Sandinistas. These are people who do not just oppose Ortega and Murillo in the current context but also pro-capitalists who have attacked the Sandinistas since their emergence. This group includes Somocistas (those who defend the legacy of the Somoza dictatorship), Liberals, Conservatives, and former Contras. There is growing evidence that from the ranks of anti-Sandinistas such groups are arming themselves and gaining momentum.”

The Lesson of Libya

The trajectory of the anti-Ortega opposition is to a rightist putsch. Were it to succeed, handing direction of the pension plan over to the IMF would not be socialism. Leaving the enforcement of Nicaragua’s anti-abortion laws to the tender mercies of the Catholic bishops would not be feminism. And this would not be the solution that long-time solidarity activists such as Dan La Botz seek. If we are to learn from history, the overthrow of the Libyan government did not result in the utopian emergence of a socialist third way. Nor would such an outcome transpire with regime change in Nicaragua.

La Botz criticizes what he calls the “neo-Stalinist left” who oppose US intervention in Nicaragua. These same people that La Botz criticizes were also opposed to US intervention in Libya, which left that formerly thriving country a disastrously failed state where slavery is now practiced. There is a lesson to be learned about consistent anti-imperialism, and it is not supporting US-backed regime change.

Nicaragua has been tragically destabilized, threatening to reverse the major social gains achieved by the Ortega government. The North American left should unite around “US out of Nicaragua.” Let the Nicaraguan people choose their own government through elections as they have in 2006, 2011, and 2016 when they returned Ortega to the presidency with ever increasing voting margins.

Beyond the US-backed interests and their NGO-activists are undoubtedly genuine social elements in opposition to Ortega. Likewise any political party, especially one that has been in power as long as the Sandinistas, could benefit from rectification. But these are agenda items to be addressed by the Nicaraguan people without outside interference. The ossification of polarized positions in a climate of opposition-provoked violence guarantees nothing gets rectified and everyone loses.

The US is the world’s hegemon, imposing global neoliberalism. The Ortega government in Nicaragua has been targeted by the hegemon precisely because it has not served as an unquestioning client state. The fall of the Ortega government would close one more space for any alternative to the empire to survive.

Violent Coup Fails In Nicaragua, US Continues Regime Change Efforts

Nicaraguans celebrate 39th Anniversary of the 1979 Nicaraguan Revolution in Managua, July 2018 (Source Redvolution)

Note: Before the update on Nicaragua, I am providing two recent interviews that provide a context for what is happening in Nicaragua.

First, is an interview I did with Lee Camp, the lead writer, and host of Redacted Tonight, “US Pushing for Regime Change in Nicaragua,” where we discuss the economic and political situation in Nicaragua as well as who is behind the coup and the government response. This interview discusses the issues raised in an article by me and Nils McCune.

On Clearing The FOG radio and podcast, Margaret Flowers and I interviewed Stephen Sefton, who lives in Nicaragua and is a founder of Tortilla con Sal. He names the names behind the violence and describes what is happening in Nicaragua.

Nicaraguan president Daniel Ortega arrives at the celebration of the Sandinista Revolution (Photo by Alfred Zeniga for AP)

Lessons Learned from the Failed Violent Coup in Nicaragua and Next Steps

The violent coup in Nicaragua has failed. This does not mean the United States and oligarchs are giving up, but this phase of their effort to remove the government did not succeed.  The coup exposed the alliances who are working with the United States to put in place a neoliberal government that is controlled by the United States and serves the interests of the wealthy. People celebrated the failure of the coup but realize work needs to be done to protect the gains of the Sandinista revolution.

People Celebrate Revolution, Call For Peace, Show Support for Government

The people of Nicaragua showed their support for the democratically-elected government of Daniel Ortega with a massive outpouring in Managua in a celebration of the 39th anniversary of the Sandinista Revolution. In addition to the mass protest in Managua, various cities had their own, in some cases very sizeable ones.

People have wanted peace to return to Nicaragua. They have also wanted the roadblocks removed, which have resulted in closed businesses, job loss and loss of mobility. Roadblocks have been removed, even in the opposition stronghold of Masaya. There were two opposition deaths and one police officer killed in the removal. There was also an earlier death of a policeman in Masaya, captured when he was off-duty, tortured and burnt to death. This brings the total of police killed since April up to at least 21 with hundreds injured. With the opening of the main road on the east side of Masaya, all Nicaragua’s main routes are open to traffic and buses, etc., are operating normally.

At the rally, President Ortega called on the people of Nicaragua to defend peace and reinstate the unity that existed in the nation before the violent opposition protests. He described how the violent coup attempted to destabilize the country and ended the peace that has existed through the eleven years of his time in office. He said, “Peace must be defended every day to avoid situations like these being repeated.”

He also criticized the Catholic Bishops for their role in the failed violent coup. Ortega described the Episcopal Conference of Nicaragua as “coup leaders” for collaborating with the opposition during the protests. Not only did the Catholic leadership side with the opposition during the national dialogue, but priests were involved in kidnapping and torture. Pope Francis has a lot of work to do to reign in the Catholic Church in Nicaragua. If their role in these violent protests and opposition to an economy for the people is not stopped, this will become a scandal for the Catholic Church.

Other Latin American leaders spoke out against involvement in the coup. Bolivian President Evo Morales condemned US “interference” in Nicaragua, denouncing the “criminal strategies” used against the government of Daniel Ortega. Morales accused the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) of “openly supporting violence” in Nicaragua. Also at the celebration were the foreign ministers of Cuba and Venezuela, Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla, and Jorge Arreza, all supporting Nicaragua over the violent coup of the United States and oligarchs.

The United States is Escalating Economic War and Support for Opposition

The United States is not giving up. Also on the anniversary of the revolution, the NICA Act, designed to escalate the economic war against Nicaragua, was introduced in the Senate. It has already been passed by the US House of Representatives. The Senate bill, called the Nicaragua Human Rights and Anti-corruption Act of 2018, imposes sanctions, calls for early elections and escalates US intelligence involvement in Nicaragua. It is a law that ensures continued US efforts to remove the democratically-elected government.

At the same time, USAID announced an additional $1.5 million for Nicaragua to build opposition to the government. This will fund the NGOs that participated in the protests, human rights groups that falsely reported the situation, media to produce the regime change narrative and other support for the opposition.

The coordination between Nicaraguan opposition and the United States was shown by Max Blumenthal‘s attempted visit to an organization that funnels USAID and NED money to the opposition. He visited the Managua offices of the Institute of Strategic Studies and Public Policies (IEEPP in Spanish), but it was closed because its director, Felix Maradiaga, who was at the heart of the violent unrest, was in Washington, DC seeking more funding from USAID.

On July 18, the US-dominated OAS passed a resolution concerning “The Situation in Nicaragua.” An earlier effort to endorse a report of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) was so biased that it failed. The report ignored the opposition’s widespread violence and only reported on the defensive violence of the government. The resolution approving the IACHR report was supported by only ten out of 34 countries.

The resolution, which was finally passed by the OAS, condemned violence on all sides and urged Nicaragua to pursue all options including the national dialogue to seek peace begun by Ortega. On the issue of elections, the resolution urged Nicaragua “to support an electoral calendar jointly agreed to in the context of the National Dialogue process.” Only this mainly symbolic resolution could pass muster in the OAS, despite US domination.

What Happened and What Was Learned

In our article “Correcting the Record: What Is Really Happening In Nicaragua,” Nils McCune and I describe what was behind the violent coup attempt. We reported that there was a lot of misinformation on what was occurring in Nicaragua, indeed the false narrative of regime change was part of the tactics of the failed coup. Perhaps most importantly we described the alignment of forces behind the coup.

The coup was a class war turned upside down. The Ortega government includes none of the oligarchic families, a first in the history of Nicaragua. He has put in place a bottom-up economy that has lifted people out of poverty, provided access to health care and education, given micro-loans to entrepreneurs and small businesses and created an economy energized by public spending. Ortega expanded coverage of the social security system; as a result, a new formula was required to ensure fiscal stability.

Ortega made a counter-proposal to the IMF/business proposal, which would cut social security and raise the retirement age. He proposed no cuts to social security and 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 healthcare fund.  These reforms were the trigger as it was the business lobby who called for the protests.

The forces aligned with the violent coup included the oligarchs, big business interests, foreign investors (e.g. Colombian financiers), the US-funded NGO’s and the Catholic Church, a long-term ally of the wealthy. Also involved was the Movement for Renovation of Sandinismo (MRS), a tiny Sandinista offshoot party, of former Sandanistas who left the party when Ortega lost an election in 1990 who are aligned with the US State Department.

Regarding students, there were already student protests around university elections, and these were redirected by the violent coup effort and supported by a small minority of students from private universities, the April 19th Movement. Some of these students had been brought to the US by the Freedom House, which has long ties to the CIA and met with far-right interventionist members of the US Congress, including Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Sen. Marco Rubio, and Sen. Ted Cruz.

These groups acted in opposition to the bulk of Nicaraguan society and showed their true colors. This includes:

  • Being tied to and subservient to the US government.
  • Being led by oligarchs and big business interests that are out of power and cannot win elections.
  • Using violence as a strategy of creating chaos and trapping the government into responding with violence to restore order.
  • Spreading false propaganda through oligarch-controlled media, often funded by NED, as well as highly-manipulated social media echoed by western media, especially The New York Times, The Guardian, Washington Post and cable TV news outlets.

No doubt more will come out about this in the future as the coup is researched and analyzed. As the facts become clear, the opposition will lose more political power and be even less likely to win elections. The blockades of roads with violence undermined the economy and had a negative impact on the poor and working class. If it becomes evident that this was a strategy of the opposition, they will lose power. NGO’s that are funded by the US and run by members of the MRS will be noted for their dishonest narrative and will be seen as an arm of the United States and not trusted by the people of Nicaragua. Media outside of Nicaragua will come to understand that human rights groups and NGOs are not reliable sources of information but need to be questioned. They need to be pushed to break their ties with the United States.

This does not mean all is well on the Sandinista side of the alliance of forces. The coup is an opportunity for self-reflection and self-criticism that is already happening, as seen in this list of 20 results from the coup, which begins with “A more consolidated and United FSLN.” In addition, the Action Group of the Solidarity with Nicaragua Campaign put forward seven propositions to unify around. The protest took advantage of challenges the Nicaraguan government faces in continuing to lift up the poor and economically insecure. It shows their need to build their capacity to quickly let the public know their side of the story. And, it shows the need for planning for a post-Ortega Sandinista government, as the president is in his third term.

The anniversary of the revolution was a good beginning at strengthening the unity of the Sandinista movement and celebration of the defeat of the coup, but there will be challenges ahead. Nicaragua is a poor country that needs foreign investment. If the United States escalates the economic war, which seems to be the intent, it will make it challenging to continue the social and economic programs that are lifting up the poor. Nicaragua had relied on investment from Venezuela, but it is also in the midst of an economic war, which along with the low oil prices has created economic challenges for them. Nicaragua has begun to build economic relationships with China, Russia, Iran and other countries; these will likely need to expand.

The misinformation was deep and widespread. Inside Nicaragua, there were stories of students being killed that never happened but that escalated the protests. The opposition claimed to be nonviolent when their strategy was to use violence to force regime change while the government quartered the National Police. False news and videos of attacks on neighborhoods and universities never stopped being manufactured.  One example, students calling for help and claiming they were under attack, was later exposed in a video showing the students practicing the false social media narrative.

Peace and justice activists in the United States and western nations have learned they need to be much more careful believing reports on what is occurring in Nicaragua. The US-funding of NGOs involved in women’s issues, environmental protection and human rights in Nicaragua make them questionable sources of information for justice advocates. In addition, US-funded regime change efforts are getting more sophisticated at social media; and thus, care must be taken as social media has it is abused by regime change advocates. We must look to other sources that have shown the ability to report accurately; e.g., Tortilla con Sal, Telesur, Redvolucion.  Peace and justice advocates must be grounded in anti-imperialism and nonintervention by the United States.

In Nicaragua, is Operation “Contra bis” failing?

Thrown under the spotlight since mid-April, the homeland of Sandino is still facing an intense political crisis. From now on, the crisis seems to be approaching its final resolution. On the one hand, the Nicaraguan people are mobilizing more and more alongside the authorities to help them dismantle barricades in insurgent spots. And on the other hand, in one week two big demonstrations for peace took place. Against the wishes of an opposition camp and spokespersons of the US administration, the message of Daniel Ortega during the march for peace of July 7 in Managua was crystal clear: “Here it is the people who set the rules in the Constitution of the Republic. They will not change overnight by the will of some coup leaders. If the putschists want to come to the government, let them seek the people’s vote in the next elections. With all the destruction they have provoked, we will see what support they will have.” But these facts are minimized by the private media and major news agencies, which continue to hide the evolution on the ground and blow on the embers of the dispute. Which side will tip the scales?

*****

A dreadful propaganda scheme

In a recent article, I examined a number of contradictions in the treatment by international media of Nicaragua. Notably, one can recognize one of the principles of war propaganda which is to reverse the aggressor and the victim. The scheme works as follows: first, an opposition sector, one that refuses dialogue with the government, plans to control some parts of the capital and other cities by means of barricades. These areas are then considered “liberated from tyranny”, and thus represent the hearth of insurgency that must recur throughout the country, to defeat the operations of “repression” of police forces. This tactic of deploying barricades has been theorized as an effective means of preventing the authorities from gaining control over the national territory, because it is “impossible for the government to have enough personnel to control every inch of the country”. The first obvious thing to emphasize is that this is not a completely spontaneous crisis that emerges from a massive popular mobilization, but that there is indeed an insurrectional plan in place capable of standing up to the authorities for months. We are witnessing the first phase in the development of an unconventional war to overthrow a democratically elected government.

Then, a number of clashes take place in these areas “liberated” by the opposition. At this point, it is not trivial to note that the activists who defend these barricades are no longer peaceful protesters that the mainstream media has portrayed. Images of hooded youths handling homemade mortars and other explosive devices are impossible to conceal. In fact, they even contribute to the creation of a “romantic” dimension of popular resistance in the context of face-to-face contact with the professional police corps. This is where the second phase of the unconventional war comes in, namely, the decisive role of media corporations that contribute to the production of a dominant and one-sided narrative of the crisis. It is easier to identify with a young demonstrator who is rebelling than a young police officer compelled to use force to enforce the law. Thus, when there have been deaths around the barricades, it becomes complicated for an outside observer to know the truth.

Who is not concerned with these victims?

A simple and quick tour of private media news will make anyone realize that the idealized dimension mentioned above serves only to delegitimize government action. No one is asking themselves this simple question: “Was the victim a pro-government Sandinista helping the police dismantle the barricades, or an opponent who defended them?” Many testimonies in favor of the first version have been systematically dismissed! Indeed, the role of the private media is fundamental in order to give maximum credibility to the opposition’s side of the story. Would the latter be manipulating the victims’ memory with the complicity of some private media in Nicaragua? This is quite a strong point for us: what about the many cases of victims whose membership in the pro-government camp has been proven?

In the framework of the peace talks, the Nicaraguan government first accepted that the IACHR (Note: Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, organ of the Organization of American States (OAS)) lead a human rights observation mission. But it went on to denounce that its report does not include the description of many cases of attacks against civilian victims, including public officials, as a result of the violence unleashed by the opposition. Are the dice loaded? Here are some recent examples that illustrate a much more nuanced situation than that described by some media:

– On June 19, the authorities launch an operation in Masaya to release the Deputy Director of the National Police Ramon Avellan and his agents, who were entrenched in the police station, surrounded by barricades since June 2. Every night, protesters fired mortar at the police station, accompanied by threats: “What do you think? That there were only “güevones” (rascals) in this fight? Here again, here is my little sister… ” Then, the mortar fire would start again near the police station… Under the pretext of playful action, a video shows how protesters positioned behind a barricade sing menacing songs against General Avellan, accompanied by shots. According to the Pro-Human Rights Nicaraguan Association ANPDH organization, as a result of the police rescue operation, six people – including three whose identity remains to be verified – were murdered in several surrounding neighborhoods.

– On June 30, in the context of an opposition march, a protester was shot dead. Recorded a few minutes before the tragedy by a journalist who was there, a video shows how opposition members surround a private security officer and ask him to hand over his weapon, simulating a hostage situation in order to justify their action. Then, the images show a person who stands behind the agent, points a pistol at his temple and steals his rifle. Later, the protesters will attribute the death to government repression.

– On July 3, two people were kidnapped in Jinotepe by a group of armed hooded men: police major Erlin García Cortez and Enacal worker Erasmo Palacios. Three days later, Bismarck de Jesús Martínez Sánchez, a worker from the Managua City Hall, was also kidnapped. A week later, relatives had still not received any sign of life from them.

– On July 5, the lifeless body of National Police officer Yadira Ramos was found in Jinotepe. She had been kidnapped, raped and tortured. She had been forced to get off her vehicle and her husband had been killed on the spot.

– On July 6, FSLN member Roberto Castillo Cruz was killed by opposition hoodlums who held barricades in Jinotepe. His son, Christopher Castillo Rosales had been killed just a week before him. In a video published shortly before his own murder, Castillo Cruz denounced the murderers: “This criminal gang of the right has killed my son, I only ask for justice and that peace prevails so that our children do not lose their lives!”

– On July 8, during a nighttime clash in Matagalpa, a 55-year-old man named Aran Molina was killed while rescuing Lalo Soza, a Sandinista activist who was under attack. The following day, Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional (FSLN) paid tribute to him through a procession. The same day, two other people were killed: social worker Tirzo Ramón Mendoza, executed by hooded people after being kidnapped, and a third victim whose identity remains unknown.

– On 9 July, the authorities dismantled the barricades that prevented free movement in the towns of Diriamba and Jinotepe. Many residents then testified about the many violent actions of the opposition, including torture against the Sandinistas. At the same time, representatives of the Episcopal Conference arrived. Citizens of Jinotepe then entered the church, where they found opposition members disguised as members of the clergy. Residents accused church officials of protecting them and not saying anything or doing anything to stop the violence unleashed in the last two months. In Diriamba, the inhabitants also discovered an arsenal of mortars hidden in the church of San Sebastian.

– On July 12, a criminal gang attacked the Morrito Town Hall in Rio San Juan. A historical Sandinista fighter, Carlos Hernandez, was kidnapped there. Seriously wounded and unable to escape, a youth Sandinista activist, two police officers and their superiors are murdered. A Sandinista activist received a bullet in the abdomen. Later, schoolmaster Marvin Ugarte Campos would succumb to his injuries. The version of the opposition? It says the massacre was … a “self-attack by paramilitaries”!

It seems that some deaths and violent acts have no value, while others are erected as martyrs for a sacred cause. In the end, does everything depend on the prism through which we look at reality? Are we already placed in a camp in a conflict without knowing it or even suspecting it? In this case, would it be a waste of time to try to form one’s own opinion from fact analysis? The search for peace and truth prevents us from succumbing to such resignation.

In a remarkable 46-page work entitled “The monopoly of death – how to inflate figures to assign them to the government”, Enrique Hendrix identified the numerous inconsistencies in the various reports presented by the three main human rights organizations, the CENIDH (Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights), the IACHR and the ANPDH. Comparing the various reports from the beginning of the crisis to the date of the last reports presented (from April 18 to June 25), he concluded that the three organizations recorded a total of 293 deaths. In 26% of cases (77 citizens), information on the deaths is incomplete and remains to be verified. In 21% of cases (60 citizens), the dead are persons murdered by the opposition, either public officials or Sandinista militants who were murdered for helping the authorities dismantle the barricades. In 20% of the cases (59 citizens), the dead were protesters, opposition members or people who erected barricades. In 17% of cases (51 citizens), the dead do not have a direct relationship with the demonstrations. Finally in 16% of the cases (46 citizens), the dead were passers-by who did not take part in the clashes.

As can be seen in this study, the balance sheets of these organizations are sorely lacking in rigor and mix all sorts of victims (fights between gangs, road accidents, murders in the context of vehicle theft, conflict between land owners, police officers, a pregnant woman in an ambulance blocked by barricades …). Conclusion: if we take into account the exact circumstances of each death, it is obvious that we cannot attribute the responsibility to the government alone. In light of these elements, we have the right to challenge the international media about their lack of objectivity. Why such an alignment with a sector of the opposition who has declared itself fiercely hostile to any dialogue?

Who is not interested in dialogue?

This propaganda mechanism is completed by the “blackout” of other information that is not considered relevant. However, while the media focuses on the clashes, other sectors of the opposition continue to participate in the various sessions of the “dialogue tables for truth, peace and justice”, organized to listen to different points of view and seek to establish responsibility in the wave of violence ravaging the country. Moreover, the final conclusions of the various human rights observation missions in the country had not yet been made. They were to be discussed and include new elements. But what can we expect from the dialogue between the two parties, when a number of observers have already decided in advance that the government alone is responsible for the violence?

All over the world, the role of the police is to repress in case of “disturbance of public order”. But we struggle to understand why the authorities would order it to attack civilians wildly and arbitrarily at the same time as the peace dialogue is taking place. On the other hand, one could expect such an attitude from those who, refusing to participate in the dialogues, would seek to sabotage it, having an interest in the derailment of this process. In this case, it is not unlikely that hooded thugs have been posing as police forces on several occasions.

In any case, it is no less credible than the version of these same hooded thugs, who say that the government of Daniel Ortega would have given the green light to disguised civilians to destroy infrastructure and kill other civilians! Still, the government did not deny that at the beginning of the crisis some police officers sometimes acted using disproportionate violence, and it responded that justice will have to determine their responsibility in actions punishable by law. The National Assembly, for its part, has launched an initiative to create a “Commission for Truth, Justice and Peace” with the aim of reporting on the responsibilities of human rights violations within three months.

But in the fairy tale that the mainstream media is manufacturing from dawn to dusk, and on the internet 24 hours a day, it is not even conceivable that the government of Nicaragua is facing difficulties whose causes would be complex and numerous. The media hype and the positions of foreign political figures serve as irrefutable proof! As has been the case in Venezuela in recent years, taking the public hostage in this way is an insult to its intelligence. Of course, not everything is explained by the tentacles of the imperialist octopus. But for those who are interested in the history of inter-American relations for the last two centuries, it is not serious to forget about its weight and consider that this influence is a thing of the past.

How to export democracy in dollars

It seems that few observers are really shocked by the rapid progression of these events, which are shaped like a breadcrumb trail towards a single objective: condemning the Ortega government and demanding early elections. That’s where the hiccup is: Latin American countries where assassinations of trade unionists, peasants and social leaders have been a common thing for years, where the peace efforts of governments are considered, at best, as totally ineffective, and at worst as non-existent, such as Colombia, Honduras or Mexico, are not at all worried about the image of their “democracies”. There is something wrong, isn’t it? To shed some light on this mystery, a reminder of the history of the twentieth century is worth the detour.

The coups and destabilizations fomented from abroad, such as in the Dominican Republic or in Guatemala, show that in the second half of the 20th century the Latin-American context was still marked by the military interventionism of the Monroe Doctrine and the “manifest destiny” of the United States. It was nothing more than an imperialist policy of controlling the resources and raw materials of Latin America, now presented as an anticommunist “crusade” in the context of the Cold War. On the other hand, the dominance of the United States would not be limited to a demonstration of force based on the “regime change” and the sending of troops on the ground, but it would also take forms of cultural domination, in particular through the so-called “development aid” policies.

In his speech in January 1949, US President Harry Truman described non-industrialized countries as “underdeveloped” countries. Thus, in 1950, the American Congress passed an Act for International Development (AID). On September 4, 1961, a US Congress law replaced the AID by USAID, which was to implement a new, more comprehensive vision of “development assistance” directed anywhere in the planet. As can be seen in the coup against Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala in 1954, the anti-communist struggle was only a pretext. The main concern of the US government was to prevent the development of national consciousness within the armies and police of “underdeveloped countries”. That is why, from 1950 to 1967, “the United States government spent more than $1,500 million on military aid to Latin American countries.”1

After the victory of the Cuban Revolution in 1959, John Kennedy announced the Alliance for Progress in 1961. It was a similar initiative to the Marshall Plan in Europe. Between 1961 and 1970, the Alliance for Progress provided $20 billion in economic assistance to Latin America. One of the objectives was the stabilization of the regimes that fought against communism and the influence of Cuba.

John F. Kennedy and his advisers are developing an action plan for the region, the Alliance for Progress, consisting of a $ 20 billion investments for economic development and massive military assistance. The decade of the sixties is marked by the formation of a new generation of Latin American military and the transfer of capital and technology from the US military to Latin America. The Pentagon and the CIA draw their strategy to halt the advance of socialism: the US Army-run Panama School trains the cadres of the Latin American armed forces.2

Under the fallacious concept of “development aid policies”, the “creation of strong armies and police” and “military aid to reactionary and pro-imperialist regimes” served to offer to the monopolies “the most favorable conditions of exploitation of underdeveloped countries “.3 In other words, this “aid” represented above all a political weapon in favor of the economic interests of the countries of the Global North. These were represented in the OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development), founded in 1961 and also known as the “Rich Country Club”. It consisted of 27 countries, mostly those of North America, Western Europe and Japan.

Resistance emerges sooner or later

But the new reality resulting from decolonization in Asia and Africa also represented an awareness: the strength of the liberated countries now resided in their unity. This would enable them to exercise some orientation on the agenda of the United Nations General Assembly, and to defend the autonomous “right to development”. Thus, in the 1970s, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) would play an important role in defending the interests of the Group 77. Created in 1964, UNCTAD was characterized by the Common Declaration of the 77 countries as a “historic turning point”.

The invasion and the military occupation of Nicaragua by the United States makes it possible to better appreciate the historical value of the Sandinista Popular Revolution and the resistance to the interferences which it showed in the 1980s. The scandal of the financing of Contras by the CIA through the drug trade in Central America was proof that these plans are not infallible. Despite the many interferences and destabilizations suffered throughout history, the peoples of the South have an advantage over the powerful: collective memory and intelligence.

After the dictatorships’ repression, the debt crisis and the rule of the IMF in the 1970s and 1980s, Latin America was to experience many social revolts in the 1990s, paving the way for the arrival of new progressive governments in Brazil, Ecuador, Venezuela or Bolivia. The next step was to launch the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA), a regional cooperation body created in 2004 to defeat the proposed Free Trade Area of ​​the Americas (ALCA in Spanish) by the United States.

What remains today of yesterday’s meddling?

Since the 1990s, at the end of the Cold War, US aid no longer had the pretext of restraining communism. It then took the form of “counter-terrorism” or “security and anti-drug policies”. Here are the main recipients of US aid in Latin America: $9.5 billion for Colombia; $2.9 billion for Mexico; and since 2016, aid to all countries in the Northern Triangle of Central America (El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras) has exceeded that of the first two. Which explains why we systematically condemn some countries and not others… regardless of reality and the degree of violence.

Yet the Cold War is not over in the minds of some. Thus, OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro believes it is necessary in 2018 to comply with White House requirements, and to harass night and day countries such as Nicaragua or Venezuela at the risk of being ridiculed. Indeed, when in a special session of the OAS the US spokesperson has just criticized the violence in Nicaragua and attributed it exclusively to the government, can we take his word for it? It would be better to remind him that his country does not have the slightest legitimacy to talk about Nicaragua, because it invaded and occupied it militarily for 21 years, then went on to support the clan of the dictator Somoza for another 43 years!

The “conservative restoration” of recent years, with the “soft coups” to overthrow Lugo in Paraguay, Zelaya in Honduras, Rousseff in Brazil; the failure of the peace process in Colombia, the judicial persecution against Jorge Glas, Lula Da Silva and now Rafael Correa, is the ideal context for the OAS, this obsolete organization, to try to put an end to the memory of the social achievements of recent years.

Since the US did not invent hot water, to reach their ends they must use the means at hand. Unsurprisingly, Freedom House, funded among others by USAID and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), decided to create a special task force to fight the FSLN in Nicaragua in 1988. It is always opportune to hear NED Co-Founder Allen Weinstein: “A lot of what we do today was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA. The biggest difference is that when such activities are done overtly, the flap potential is close to zero. Openness is its own protection.”4

Today, the interference keeps going through the financing of opposition movements, framed by training programs for “young leaders” ready to defend tooth and nail the values ​​of the sacrosanct “democracy” and to overthrow “dictatorships” from their countries of origin. From 2014 to 2017, the NED has dedicated up to $4.2 million to Nicaraguan organizations such as IEEPP (Institute for Strategic Studies and Public Policy), CPDHN (Human Rights Permanent Commission in Nicaragua), Invermedia, Hagamos Democracia and Fundacion Nicaraguense para el Desarrollo Economico y Social. When we remind this to young opponents and their sympathisers, they pretend not to understand…

While it may have been extremely effective in some countries like Ukraine in 2014, the pattern we have described must be confronted with the reality and political traditions of each country. In Nicaragua, the FSLN is the dominant political force that has won democratically in the last three elections. It is significant that opposition sectors that rely on the support of the US, the right wing, and local employers are forced to use references to Sandinismo in an attempt to gain credibility. However, this practice goes too far when it tries to compare the Sandinista government and the dictatorship of Somoza, thus demonizing Daniel Ortega.

The march for peace convened by the FSLN on July 13, in tribute to the 39th anniversary of the historic “tactical retreat” of Sandinism in Masaya, was a new show of strength of the Nicaraguan people and its willingness to defeat the violent strategy of the opposition. Will the peoples of the world live up to the solidarity that this moment demands?

• First published at Investig’Action

  1. Yves Fuchs; La coopération. Aide ou néo-colonialisme ? Editions Sociales. Paris, 1973, pp. 55 (Cooperation. Help or neo-colonialism?).
  2. Claude Lacaille; En Mission dans la Tourmente des Dictatures. Haïti, Equateur, Chili : 1965-1986. Novalis, Montreal, 2014. p 23. (In Mission in the Torment of Dictators. Haiti, Ecuador, Chile: 1965-1986).
  3. Gustavo Esteva, “Desarrollo” in SachsWolfgang (coord.) Diccionario del Desarrollo, Lima, PRATEC, 1996. p. 52.
  4. Washington Post, 22 September 1991.

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