Category Archives: Sandinistas

What Does Health Care For All Look Like in Nicaragua?

Since the Sandinistas returned to power in January 2007, child malnutrition has dropped by 45% for children under five and by 66% for children ages 6-12.

I’d like you to imagine for a moment that you are the parent of a child with asthma, living in Ciudad Sandino, just outside the capital of Nicaragua, in a barrio called Nueva Vida, which was recently founded after your family – along with 1,200 other families – was flooded out of your home along the lakeshore in Managua during Hurricane Mitch. The year is 2001, and although your family now has a concrete house and the bus runs regularly down your street in the daytime, nights are filled with rival gangs throwing rocks and bottles, and regular work has been nearly impossible to find. These days, you travel into the market in Managua before dawn to wash potatoes for a vegetable seller; with what you earn, you can usually bring home a little food for your family’s lunch.

Although you have five children, it’s your middle child, the seven year-old, who worries you the most. She suffers from asthma, and you haven’t been able to save up to buy the expensive inhalers she needs to stop her persistent wheezing. Tonight, while your family is trying to sleep, smoke from burning trash in the nearby dump is heavy in your home, and your daughter can’t breathe. In the half-light you can see her eyes wide, struggling with an asthma attack. All you can think is that you have to help her. You don’t have a motorcycle, let alone a car, and the buses don’t run at this hour. You load your daughter onto the crossbar of your bicycle and ride through darkened streets – going around the long way to avoid the gangs – until you arrive at the Hospitalito. Although it’s called the little hospital, it’s really just a clinic. The doctor on duty is distressed when you arrive, he listens to your daughter’s lungs and sadly tells you that he has no medicine, no inhaler, no nebulizer, no tools to help you. Your daughter must go to a larger hospital in Managua, but there is no ambulance to take her. So you set her, weak and wheezing, on the curb, and begin to beg passersby for bus fare as light dawns over the useless hospital.

Life under the neoliberal governments in Nicaragua – 1990-2006 – was exceptionally hard. In those years, the poor got poorer and the rich got richer and Nicaragua became one of the most unequal countries in the world. Lack of access to basic health care was one of the ways in which everyday people suffered.

Health Care 1999

Under the Somoza dictatorship in 1978, there were a total of 209 health units in the country – that is hospitals, health centers and health posts combined. After the Triumph of the Revolution in 1979, the new Sandinista government made health care free, and even in the midst of an economic embargo and fighting the Contra War during the 1980s, they managed to increase health units five-fold; by 1990 there were 1,056 units. But during 16 years, the neoliberal governments only managed to build 35 more health units, the majority of which were in rural areas and sat empty due to lack of personnel and materials.

One of these units was our “Hospitalito,” in Ciudad Sandino. At that time, the public budget for medicines and materials was minimal: when the doctors who were working at our clinic during the day took the night shift at the Hospitalito, they had to turn sick people away because they didn’t even have gloves to examine patients or basic medicines. Even when patients managed to be seen by a doctor, they were given prescriptions for medicines they couldn’t afford. Imports of drugs were in the hands of foreign companies and production of generic drugs was restricted. Patients unfortunate enough to need surgery had to bring their own alcohol, gauze, sutures and sheets – oh, and also family members who could donate the blood they would need. Laboratory tests, specialized treatments, and surgeries were so expensive that poor families effectively could not access the service. During these years, patients literally died on the street outside hospitals for lack of basic medical care.

Since the return of the Sandinista government in 2007, the difference in medical care is stark. Today, the Hospitalito is a fully equipped hospital with emergency care and admitted patient beds. There is outpatient care – general medicine, pediatrics, gynecology, psychology, natural medicine, a rehabilitation center, and a maternal wait home.

Maternity Care

Ciudad Sandino is just one city – public health care has been revolutionized all over the country, the entire structure and indeed culture of the health system has changed. Today, it is a more holistic system focused on families becoming active participants in their own health, and relying heavily on a small army of community workers doing everything from mosquito elimination door-to-door vaccination to health promotion and education.

Since 2007, the largest public health infrastructure in Central America has been built, now with a total of 1,565 health units. In 14 years, Nicaragua has built 21 new hospitals and remodeled 46 more. It has built or remodeled 1,259 medical posts, 192 health centers and 178 maternity homes. In an effort to see patients who don’t normally go to health centers, MINSA also has 66 fully-equipped mobile health clinics. These are made from semi trucks that have been confiscated in drug busts, and converted into clinics; in 2020 these mobile clinics provided nearly 1.9 million consults. In the midst of the pandemic, MINSA rolled out the My Hospital in My Community program which sees patients at neighborhood health fairs with orthopedists, cardiologists, gynecologists and urologists and includes screening for prostate, breast and cervical cancers. Patients are then referred to a specialist at a hospital for follow up.

Healthy Baby

Access to specialized care has drastically changed – services such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy that were once only offered in the capital are now offered at regional hospitals. Prior to 2007, many surgeries were only performed by international brigades; last year 120 child heart surgeries and 4 kidney transplants were performed, all by local doctors. This year, Nicaraguan doctors became the first team in Central America to perform in-utero surgery, on a fetus with spina bifida.

The list of improved health services is comprehensive by any standards: 260,000 cataract surgeries, care of 358,000 older adults and people with disabilities, three prosthetics and orthotics workshops, 91 centers for people with special needs, 265 free daycare centers, and 188 natural medicine clinics, 72 pain clinics, 34 mental health clinics integrated into existing public health centers.

Nicaragua has made a long term financial investment in public health: in 2020, 40 cents of every dollar the government spent was for health care and education. Nicaragua now spends 476% more on health than previous governments, investing 5.2% of its GDP in the sector annually.

In 14 years, total number of health care workers employed in the public sector is up by 66%, doctors up by 123%, free medical consultations are up by 329%, All this, combined with the school lunch program which guarantees a hot meal of beans and rice to 1 ½ million primary school children daily, has resulted in a 46% reduction in chronic malnutrition in children under five and a 66% reduction in chronic malnutrition in children six to 12 years old.

School Lunch

Investment leads to results: a 385% increase in pap tests plus equipping clinics with colposcopy and cryotherapy machines has led to a 25% decrease in cervical cancer mortality, previously one of the biggest killers of Nicaraguan women of child-bearing age.

Both infant and maternal mortality have markedly dropped in the 14 years since the Sandinistas returned to power.

A 212% increase in maternal wait homes has led to an 87% decrease in home births, followed by a 70% decrease in maternal mortality over the more than 1.5 million births attended since 2007, and a 61% reduction in infant mortality.

Moving forward, Nicaragua plans to continue expansion – finishing five more new hospitals before the end of the year, building 12 more new by 2026 and continuing hospital remodeling as well.

It is in this context of more than a decade of these revolutionary changes to the health care system that Nicaragua faced the coronavirus. When COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, Nicaragua was already prepared by having a healthier population with access to the best public healthcare in the region.

Kids with Masks

To date, it has seen fewer cases and fewer deaths than any country in the region; in fact, it compares favorably to the most developed countries in the world. Nicaragua has achieved this by refusing to carbon copy the approach of the developed world like the rest of the region has done – with lockdowns, strictly enforced curfews, and school closures – but rather choosing to fight the pandemic on its own terms, with a strategy devised for Nicaraguan reality. The government recognized that in a country where most people depend on daily earnings to survive, lockdown would result in hunger; that with children depending on their free school lunch for vital nutrition, school closures would result in hunger; and that with the economy already suffering from the failed coup attempt in 2018 (damages are estimated to be equivalent to that of 52 hurricanes like Eta and Iota which hit Nicaragua in 2020), forced economic shut down would cripple the nation. Instead, the government strategy to fight the pandemic played to Nicaragua’s strengths: its well-organized community health system and resilient population.

From late March 2020 when the first coronavirus case in the country was confirmed, through mid-May when the first wave began to peak, lay health promoters carried out 5 million home visits to the country’s 1.3 million homes to share information on the virus, go through symptom checklists and identify possible cases. The public was encouraged early on to learn to live with the virus by going about their business safely, something the international scientific community is now also promoting as the world begins to recognize it is moving from pandemic to endemic COVID-19.

Nicaragua’s adaptation has been agile and widespread: schools, markets, shops, taxis and bus cooperatives came up with creative hand-washing ideas right away. [Author’s note: This was when doctors still thought the virus could be passed through touching surfaces.] The population adapted to wearing masks in crowded areas early on, and we did not see a politicized mask debate. Unlike in countries where the government has made decisions for people what is safe and what is not, Nicaraguans have learned to judge for themselves what is safe, and life has continued.

Cataract Surgery

Nicaragua’s softer approach has resulted in fewer COVID cases than any country in the region, and its economy is in better shape. Nicaragua was forecast to have a 14% loss of its GDP in 2020, but managed only a 2% loss and was the only country in Central America to increase its exports in 2020. Even when adjusting for “excess” deaths – those above the expected death rate – Nicaragua has not only fared better in the pandemic than any other country in the region, but also larger countries like the U.S. and U.K.

Unlike the developing world, the Nicaraguan response has never relied on testing – due to cost and lack of reagents, testing has been necessarily limited; but we also know that testing is also slow and unreliable. Although COVID tests are available – mostly for those who require it for traveling outside the country, at a cost of $150 per test – the current public health protocol calls for only testing at-risk patients: pregnant women, the elderly and healthcare workers. Rather than waiting for a test-confirmed diagnosis, any patient presenting even one symptom is treated as a suspected case. Recently, a member of our community got COVID, so we saw up close what happens when a patient is sick. When she first got a fever and aches, she called the free hotline to ask what to do. The doctors told her to go to the Hospitalito. She was examined and, like all patients with suspected COVID, was given two specific medications, plus others as needed in accordance with her own medical history. She was told to isolate at home for 14 days and come back if she presented more symptoms. Patients are also asked who they have been in contact with, and those contacts are then visited by health care workers, given a round of prophylactic medicines and told to come to see a doctor if they present more symptoms.

Community Health Promoter

In the area of prevention, Nicaragua is vaccinating against COVID-19, but the rollout has been slower than hoped for due to a lack of vaccines. This is especially frustrating because Nicaragua knows how to vaccinate: this country created the internationally used model for how to vaccinate in war zones when it eradicated polio and other childhood diseases with its vaccination campaign during the Contra war in the 1980s. Since 2007, Nicaragua has maintained a nearly universal vaccination rate, and public health workers participate in annual vaccination campaigns door to door throughout the country. Even in the first months of the pandemic, 2 million people were vaccinated against influenza and pneumonia with vaccines made at a lab in Nicaragua.

But, as we have seen around the world, the COVID vaccine rollout is not equal and has been politicized with what is being called “vaccine diplomacy.” The United States – where to date 15 million unused vaccines have been thrown out, enough to vaccinate every Nicaraguan twice – has donated vaccines to every other Central American county except Nicaragua.

Since March, Nicaragua has been vaccinating for free, starting with oldest population – those over 30 are currently eligible. So far, more than half a million people have been vaccinated, with the goal of doubling that by October 9th. Although there was initially some vaccine hesitancy in the older population, as COVID cases have risen in recent weeks, demand for the vaccine has also risen. Fortunately, the health care system’s organization is up to the task of dealing with long lines: I recently went to one of the five hospitals in Managua offering the vaccine. Although I was daunted by the snaking line outside the hospital, once I joined, it moved quickly. Despite the wait, there was a jubilant mood among us all and within two hours we were jabbed and done. We estimated 10,000 people got their vaccine at that hospital that day.

Laboratory

In Nicaragua we are currently experiencing a second wave – which is remarkable since other countries are already on their fourth wave. With this second wave, we are also fighting what Nicaraguan Vice President Rosario Murillo calls “health terrorism,” meaning disinformation about the pandemic situation, which has been widespread during both waves. Around the world, the pandemic has been politicized, and that is especially true in Nicaragua. The USAID “regime change” plan for Nicaragua, Responsive Assistance in Nicaragua, or RAIN, which was leaked in July 2020, specifically mentions exploiting the COVID-19 pandemic into a “humanitarian emergency” through what it calls Nicaragua’s “weak healthcare system.” Even before there were reported cases in Nicaragua, we saw this playing out through manipulation of international media, scare tactics via WhatsApp messages and Facebook, and even the creation of a parallel “authority,” the Citizens Observatory for COVID-19 in Nicaragua, an organization of anonymous “interdisciplinary volunteers” with a slick website. Throughout the pandemic they have reported exaggerated “parallel” numbers; and despite the fact that they admit one of their sources is “rumors,” international media have quoted Observatory counts as if they were official numbers.

I personally have been told that hospitals have “collapsed,” there are bodies stacked in corridors, and patients being turned away, only to speak with someone who had been in that hospital or go myself and find out that simply wasn’t true. Unfortunately, this health terrorism has deadly consequences. The constant disinformation scares people, and understandably so – especially older people who remember the neoliberal years when patients did die for lack of care outside of hospitals. So instead of seeking medical care, patients are self-medicating at home, and too often go to the hospital too late and wind up much sicker or even die. To combat it, this week health care workers have again been deployed to go door-to-door checking on people, giving information, and convincing those who are sick to seek medical care.

Nueva Vida 2000

What does the future hold? Nicaragua will keep caring for its people, plugging away to reduce inequities in health and to eradicate poverty. As President Ortega said recently:

The most terrible virus that exists on the planet is the one that causes poverty, because it is in the genes of those who dominate the world economy under capitalism. It is based on the principle of survival of the fittest, no matter how many dead it leaves in its wake.… That is savage capitalism, the most terrible disease on the planet.

Sources: 1

  1. Gobierno de Reconciliación y Unidad Nacional: Plan Nacional de la Lucha Contra La Pobreza Para el Desarrollo Humano 2022-2026 ; Interview with Ivan Acosta, Nicaraguan Minister for Housing and Public Credit; Ministry of Citizen Power for Health Nicaragua: Advances in Health From 2007 to 2020.
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The CIA: Attempting Coups in Nicaragua with Tax Dollars Through US Agencies and Corporate Foundations

Since the Sandinistas won the 2006 election their anti-poverty policies have had enormous success.

The country is 90% self-sufficient in food. 99% of the population have electricity in their homes that is now generated with 70+% green energy; International financial Institutions including the World Bank, the International Development Bank and The Central American Bank for Economic Integration praise Nicaragua for its excellent, efficient project execution. it has one of the best health systems in Latin America praised by the International Monetary Fund, with 20 new state of the art hospitals since 2007 achieving one of the lowest Covid mortality rates in the world. Poverty, extreme poverty, maternal, child and infant mortality have all been cut at least in half. Nicaragua is number one in the world in both women in politics and women in ministerial positions and it is fifth in gender equity behind the Nordic nations.

Many more advances for the majority of the population in education, housing and infrastructure have resulted in huge wins for the FSLN in the last two elections (2011 and 2016) and polls indicate that in the November 7 presidential elections they will garner at least 60% of the vote with at least 70% voter turn-out. Some 95% of the adult population have identity cards needed for voting. If the US public knew what this nation, impoverished by nearly 200 years of US war and aggression, has been able to achieve in fourteen years it would surely encourage them to demand better education, infrastructure and universal health care in the United States.

To prevent similar acts of sovereignty by small nations still considered colonies by the United States, the CIA prepared the way for the 2018 coup attempt and has never stopped trying to overthrow the Sandinista government since. The CIA uses US agents, many who pass themselves off as journalists or activists, as well as those eternally stationed at the US embassy; it has provided millions of dollars to hundreds of Nicaraguans acting as foreign agents as well as their nonprofit organizations that conspire against the Sandinista government like those recently arrested for money laundering, fraud and requesting foreign intervention.

The US helped grow the pro-US anti-Sandinista media in Nicaragua

Much of the US-directed propaganda apparatus was designed and funded by the US after the FSLN won the 2006 elections ending 17 years of three US-directed governments. A subversive front of newspapers, magazines, television stations, radio stations, websites, news agencies, and social media pages was formed. Journalists and media outlets were paid by the US (millions through the USAID, NED, IRI and US foundations) and much of it was administered by the Chamorro family media cartel, specializing in fake media campaigns to try to promote anti-Sandinista hatred and mistrust of the government.

Part of this has been known for some time. For example, in May, 2018 during the coup, Tom Ricker of the Quixote Institute described 55 NED grants awarded between 2014 and 2017 for US$4.2 million “as part of a U.S. government-funded campaign to provide a coordinated strategy and media voice for opposition groups in Nicaragua. NED grants fund media (radio, social media and other web-based news outlets) and opposition research. In addition, strategies targeting youth get substantial funding, along with programs seeking to mobilize women’s and indigenous organizations. Though the language is of support for “civil society” and “pro-democracy” groups, the focus on funding is specifically to build coordinated opposition to the government.”

US propaganda funds for 2018 coup channeled through Chamorro family media dynasty

On June 2, Journalist William Grigsby on his news analysis program, Sin Fronteras, revealed (see below) US documents which show that the CIA openly channeled US$16.7 million for the coup attempt, between February 2017 and July 2018, through the Violeta Barrios de Chamorro Foundation whose director Cristiana Chamorro is part of a famous family of oligarchs that count eight members as previous presidents; she is also the daughter of former president Violeta Barrios de Chamorro. She and her uncle are owners of the only daily, La Prensa, funded by the US for pro-Contra lies since the 1980s. Her brother Carlos Fernando has his own media empire. US funds to the VBCHF support these family businesses. Her now-deceased husband, Antonio Lacayo is widely considered to have exercised great power during her mother’s presidency from 1990 to 1997 overseeing some 7 billion dollars in privatization of state property, as well as privatization of education and health care. During the early 90s you couldn’t get so much as an aspirin at a government hospital without paying for it.

Chamorro Family, 1990s, Cristiana and Antonio Lacayo are on the right , laprensa.com.ni

The US$16.7 million was given by US agencies and foundations specifically to finance media terrorism [lies, fake news and distortion to foment assassinations and hate, destabilize and create chaos] to incite and maintain the coup attempt. The Chamorro Foundation also received €679,530 from European government-financed organizations during this period. The attempted coup left more than 200 families in mourning, thousands of people traumatized as well as much destruction and severe damage to the economy resulting in the loss of at least 130,000 jobs.

The Foundation’s Director, Cristiana Chamorro, was accused by the Public Prosecutor’s Office of money laundering, and given house arrest on June 2, 2021. She closed the Foundation in February of this year saying she didn’t want to comply with the “Foreign Agents” law passed in October 2020, similar to, but not as strict as, the 1938 US Foreign Agents Act. Under the Nicaraguan law, organizations receiving foreign funding must report that funding and how it is used – thousands of nonprofits are doing this with no problem.

According to Grigsby and Liberal Party news analyst, Enrique Quiñones, there was still at least US$7 million in the Foundation account when she closed it and this money appeared soon afterward in three of her personal banks accounts.

The US$16.7 million given by the CIA during that short time-span was just the money given for fake news – to fund every kind of news media, programs, social media and to directly fund individuals. Many millions more were provided to other nonprofits and “Human Rights” organizations. It is telling that in a country of 6.3 million people there are four human rights organizations – all funded by the US government and one was even founded by the US government in the 80s to cover up for the Contra.

Within that US$16.7 million, US$9,409,853 was provided by USAID for individuals, projects and media. The National Endowment for Democracy gave the Foundation US$564,134 for a project “promoting independent journalism and freedom of expression” in November 2017.

US Financing of Propaganda for Coup Attempt

The Soros Foundations – owned by New York-based tycoon George Soros – also financed fake news in Nicaragua through several organizations that are known to fund destabilization efforts around the world: US$6,722,325 was given by two of the Soros Foundations: US$6,148,325 by the Soros Foundation for the project, “independent and transparent journalism” given in March 2018 a month before the coup began, and $574,000 in July 2018, the month the coup was defeated, by the Open Society Foundation for the “independent journalism and citizenship” project.

The 2017-2018 funding of opposition media and journalists through the Chamorro Foundation by USAID, NED and Soros Foundations – US$16,696,312 million provided just before and during the attempted coup is a small part of funding provided by agencies like USAID, NED, IRI, Freedom House and foundations, like those of Soros with close ties to the Council on Foreign Relations.

USAID spent US$160 million on agents and agent organizations to try to topple the Sandinistas

The US began major destabilization attempts after the Sandinistas won the 2006 elections.

The bigger picture on USAID financing for destabilization in recent years is that it gave US$160 million to opposition organizations and individuals between 2015 and early 2021, information still available by year on the web; however, much information about recipient organizations has been removed. Most information about NED money has also been removed.

Official US documents presented by Grigsby in July 2020 provide more detailed evidence about which nonprofits and individuals benefitted from US$30 million right before the 2018 coup.

Breaking the Yankee Propaganda Apparatus

The USAID says this about their role in Nicaragua:

USAID/OTI partnered with independent media to operate and produce more targeted digital content during the political crisis. The program enabled independent media to preserve and promote democratic discourse, absent further economic destabilization or dramatic state intervention.

In a recent article Rita Jill Clark-Gollub writes:

Anyone who has been watching Nicaragua knows that these supposedly “independent” media in Nicaragua have been the main source of Nicaragua news reported here in the United States. In other words, in my country most people get information about Nicaragua from the CIA!

New laws passed in 2020 (a Foreign Agents Law and a law against terrorism, coups and inciting foreign intervention, which the US vilifies even though they are similar but less punitive than those of the US), and the recent arrests of US Foreign Agents are actions to try to limit US intervention and prevent coup attempts. The US will still get money to their agents, but it won’t be nearly as easy as before and this will limit their ability to carry out the kind of terrorist actions they did in 2018.

William Grigsby on June 2 described what is happening right now in Nicaragua:

[We are] breaking the heart of the Yankee propaganda apparatus in Nicaragua, which was their main way of intervening, now, for the elections – influencing public opinion with lies, instilling fear, instilling hatred in order to try to defeat the Sandinistas. This whole operation that is being carried out from the prosecutor’s office as a spearhead is just that, to destroy the propaganda apparatus of US imperialism.” He asked what all the journalist agents in Nicaragua will do without the salaries they were getting. “Are they committed enough to actually do independent journalism?

 RAIN: the CIA destabilization plan in progress now

Nevertheless, Uncle Sam will still continue efforts to destabilize the country. US ambassador Sullivan is constantly seen meeting with the agents, even denounced by President Daniel Ortega:

This goes for the Yankee ambassador (U.S.) and other ambassadors; they like to meddle everywhere and want to make decisions for us; the Yankee ambassador (Sullivan) parades his candidates, promoting them as if he were Nicaraguan… The Yankee ambassador should not get involved here, nominating candidates, pressuring political parties so that the political parties accept the candidate the Yankee wants, the Yankee ambassador should not forget, Nicaragua is sovereign, Nicaragua belongs to Sandino…

In July 2020 William Grigsby received a USAID document leaked from the embassy. It details in couched terms US destabilization plans for “transition” in Nicaragua and even the contracting of a US company to head it all up. RAIN – Responsive Action in Nicaragua has since been deleted, but not before it was archived. RAIN is a blatant plan for destabilization and overthrow of the democratically elected government of Nicaragua. It is likely that much of what the US has financed in the last year is part of the RAIN plan.

The USAID document establishes three scenarios that they call “democratic transition in Nicaragua:”

RAIN will pursue these activities against a variety of scenarios generally falling under three categories: 1. Free, fair and transparent elections lead to an orderly transition [the US candidate wins] 2. A sudden political transition occurs following a crisis [a coup leads to a US backed government] 3. Transition does not happen in an orderly and timely manner. The regime remains resilient in the face of domestic and international pressure. It is also possible that the regime may remain in power following electoral reforms and a fair election, but without changes to the rule of law or democratic governance [i.e. without changes that benefit US corporations].

It is clear from the RAIN document that the U.S. government realizes that the Sandinistas will win the 2021 election by a large margin: that is another reason they have provided millions to agents, organizations and fake news media, hoping that they can put a dent in the 60% Sandinista win predicted in the polls, or to undermine the elections altogether.

The long-time US agents under investigation for very serious crimes are not leaders: there has not been even one small protest since the arrests began June 2 because those arrested have no “pueblo.” People know that the US funded the very violent coup attempt through them – and hold them accountable. The foreign media tout them as presidential candidates, which they are not. When some of them saw that they might be arrested they ran to try to inscribe with the CXL (Citizens for Freedom) party as pre-candidates thinking this might protect them from detention. They all had the opportunity to form new political parties, but they didn’t even try because they don’t have enough members to fulfill minimal requirements. And more importantly, 17 parties are participating in the November 7 elections that don’t receive foreign funding.

And while the United States wastes millions of tax-payer dollars destabilizing the country, Nicaragua effectively and efficiently makes social and economic advances lauded by international organizations and banks, like universal health care, education, affordable housing, social infrastructure, gender equity, conversion to green energy, natural disaster and climate change mitigation, free recreation, and job creation with the creative and popular economy. The majority of the safest population in Central America with the lowest Covid mortality rate and the lowest emigration rate, who are healthier, better educated and housed, with electricity and potable water, whose food is locally grown and available at a decent price, with parks, fairs, pools and sports stadiums to enjoy their free time, are unlikely to let Uncle Sam influence their vote in November.

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How Billionaire Foundations Fund NGOs to Advance US Foreign Policy Goals

US foreign policy is increasingly promoted by billionaire funded foundations.  The neoliberal era has created individuals with incredible wealth and through “philanthropy”, they flex their influence and feel good at the same time. While these philanthropists can be liberal on some issues, they universally support U.S. foreign policy and the “free market”.  Because many of these super-rich individuals made their wealth through investments and speculation, most do not like a planned economy, socialized services beyond the private sector or greater government control.

These mega wealthy individuals, and the people who run their foundations, are often intricately connected to the U.S. foreign policy establishment. Grants are given to projects, campaigns and organizations which align with their long-term goals.  In this direct way, supposedly independent ThinkTanks and NGOs are influenced if not controlled.  There is much truth in the old saying, “He who pays the piper, calls the tune.”

Independent Nicaragua

Nicaragua is a good example.  For historical and contemporary reasons, Washington is hostile to the Nicaraguan government.  The Sandinista Front ousted the US supported dictator in 1979 and governed until 1990. Then, following a decade of US sponsored “Contra” war and economic sanctions, the Sandinistas were voted out of office. Next, after 16 years of neoliberal governments, the Nicaraguan people voted to return the Sandinistas to power in 2006. Since then, the Sandinista Front (FSLN) won the election with more support in 2011 and more again, 73%, in 2016.

Nicaragua has a capitalist economy, but the government provides many social services, including health care and education, along with community-based policing and an impressive 90% food self-sufficiency. Nicaragua maintains an independent foreign policy which sometimes aligns with Cuba, Venezuela and other independent movements in Latin America.

Nicaragua has made plans for a trans-oceanic canal.  Because this would compete with the Panama Canal and be independent of heavy U.S. influence, the United States does not approve. With the financial collapse of the canal’s Chinese investor, the plans have been suspended if not cancelled.  Regardless of whether the plan is implemented, the US foreign policy establishment and associated media is hostile to the Nicaraguan government for daring to plan this project.

US Targets Nicaragua

US meddling in Nicaragua is thinly veiled behind the US funded “civil society”, a “new generation of democratic leaders” and an “ecosystem of independent media”.  In September 2016, a high USAID official told the House Foreign Affairs Committee that 2,200 youth had received leadership training.

U.S. governmental hypocrisy is quite astounding.  Imagine if Nicaragua (or Russia or any other country) trained thousands of US activists to “promote democracy” in the USA.

In December 2018, the US ratified the “Nicaragua Human Rights and Anticorruption Act” which imposes sanctions and commits the US to preventing Nicaragua receiving a loan, financial or technical assistance from US dominated financial institutions.

In August 2020, journalist Ben Norton at the Grayzone reported details of a new US AID “task order” called Responsive Assistance in Nicaragua (RAIN). The document “outlines plans for a US regime-change scheme against Nicaragua’s elected leftist government”.  In short, Washington is not just hostile but actively trying to undermine, destabilize and replace the Sandinista administration.

The Foreign Policy Establishment, Nicaragua and Elliott Abrams

A key institution of the foreign policy establishment is the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR).  Its role and importance are analyzed in the book Wall Street’s Thinktank. CFR events and publications, including “Foreign Affairs” magazine, give a good picture of key foreign policy priorities and debates.

Hostility to the Nicaragua government is reflected in CFR reports and publications.

One important example is an article by Elliott Abrams. Abrams has been a major foreign policy official for forty years.  He was convicted of lying to Congress yet he is a Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR).  In September 2015 he wrote an article published at CFR titled “The Sandinistas Attack the Miskito Indians – Again“.  He ends the article with an appeal to environmental or human rights groups:

“The open question is whether anyone – groups defending the environment, or defending Indian rights or human rights more generally, or fighting against Sandinista repression – will help them.”

Seemingly in response to Elliott Abrams’ suggestion, several major foundations have financed reporting on Nicaragua emphasizing conflict and tensions in the indigenous Miskitu zone.

In March 2017 a Guardian article funded by Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation described “Lush Heartlands of Nicaragua’s Miskito people spark deadly land disputes.

In the fall of 2018, the Oakland Institute received a grant of $237,294 for “Land Dispute Project – Nicaragua” from the Howard G Buffet Foundation.  This year Oakland Institute published “Nicaragua’s Failed Revolution“. The subtitle of the report is “The Indigenous Struggle for Saneamiento”, with “saneamiento” being the final step of the process toward regaining indigenous rights.

The funding for these reports came from foundations where the key players are interconnected with the foreign policy establishment. For example, Howard W. Buffet,  the former Executive Director at the Howard G Buffet Foundation, is a member of CFR.  Melinda Gates, co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), is a writer for CFR publications and speaker at CFR events.

We do not know if they were influenced by Elliott Abrams’ appeal, but the anti-Sandinista message was likely heard one way or another.  Land disputes involving indigenous groups are widespread in the Americas, including North America.  Research and reports could be done regarding almost every country. But instead of researching and reporting on indigenous land conflict in Colombia or Honduras or British Columbia, the billionaire foundations funded reports on Nicaragua.

The Miskitu indigenous in Nicaragua are not new to conflict. During the 1980’s the CIA manipulated them to advance their proxy Contra army.  Many Nicaraguans died as a result.  Now, 35 years later, people such as Elliott Abrams are trying to use the Miskitu all over again. The Miskitu may have valid issues and complaints. But are the advocates seeking a solution or are they seeking to exacerbate the conflict? There is a big difference.

Economic warfare and “Conflict Beef” 

The United States is increasingly using sanctions and economic warfare to hurt those governments deemed to be “adversaries”.  Some right wing foreign policy advisors would like to amplify the economic damage to Nicaragua. Some would like to prevent the US from importing beef from Nicaragua.

Cattle ranching is a major part of the economy in Nicaragua. Previously Nicaragua exported lots of beef to Venezuela. But with the extreme economic hardships, exports have declined.  Nicaragua has helped fill the gap by exporting larger quantities of high-quality beef to the USA.

On 21 October PBS Newshour showed a 9 minute video about “Conflict Beef”. The documentary said the increase in Nicaraguan exports is “coming at a high cost for indigenous communities that are being run off their land to make way for cattle ranches”. This accusation, and the suggestion that perhaps Nicaraguan beef should not be imported,  was a core message of the video which merged journalism with activism.

Subsequent research including interviews with indigenous leaders from the area reveal that the PBS Newshour  report is fundamentally inaccurate.  Journalist John Perry, based in Nicaragua, gives details in the article “Progressive Media Promoted a False Story of Conflict Beef from Nicaragua” published by Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting. Some of the reported violence was made up; some was exaggerated. The claims of “genocide” are not credible.

The exaggerated and untrue accusations in the PBS report are based on four sources. Lottie Cunningham is an indigenous attorney who heads up the Center for Justice and Human Rights on the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua (CEJUDHCAN).

Her organization is a US AID recipient and she is close to the US Ambassador to Nicaragua. The United Nations Human Rights Commission has issued press releases based soley on her accusations. Judging by this “Conflict Beef” report, her accusations are sometimes exaggerated and sometimes untrue.

Another source for this report is Anuradha Mittal of the Oakland Institute. The Institute received a grant of nearly one quarter million dollars for their research on Nicaraguan “land conflict”.

Much of their information came from the Oakland Institute report and the claims of Lottie Cunningham, a USAID grant recipient and recipient of the Lush Spring Prize sponsored by Lush Cosmetics. Recently published interviews with numerous elected indigenous leaders from Nicaragua’s autonomous zones indicate that Lottie Cunningham is viewed with skepticism if not hostility.  The leaders believe that her organization, Center for Justice and Human Rights in the Atlantic District of Nicaragua (CEJUDHCAN), does not represent the interests of indigenous communities and is actually promoting violence and publicity for personal gain.

The lead journalist was Nate Halverson for REVEAL at the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR). CIR is well funded, with a budget around $10M, and large grants from dozens of individual foundations:  Hearst ($625K), Soros ($325K), Gates ($247k), Ford ($250K), Pierre Omidyar ($900K), etc.

Another journalist, Camilo de Castro Belli, appeared in the video.  He is the son of author and Sandinista critic Giacondo Belli and a “Central America Fellow” at the neoliberal Aspen Institute.  The Aspen Institute is funded by grants from the Rockefeller, Ford, Gates and other US philanthropy foundations.

Key allegations in the “Conflict Beef” story are untrue.  The beef for export comes from cattle that are NOT from the indigenous zones.  The cattle are individually tagged and regulated by the national IPSA (Institute for Agricultural Protection and Health) which is in turn audited by the US Dept of Agriculture. Nicaraguans are currently in discussion with European regulators in preparation for export there. This video, from one of the Nicaraguan beef producers,  gives a sense of the professionalism.

Even the introduction of the PBS video is untrue. They sensationally claim that a young Miskitu girl was shot in the face by someone “sending a message” to the community.  The girl was accidentally shot while playing with another youth who had his father’s gun.  This version is confirmed by the president of the local indigenous community who knows the family of the girl victim. The girl survived the incident, and the family accepted a bribe to fabricate the false story.

Another claim that “dozens of armed men attacked another Indigenous village in northeast Nicaragua, killing four people in the Mayangna community” is false.  A version of this same story was repeated twice in the Oakland Institute report and sent by Lottie Cunningham (CEJUDHCAN) to the United Nations Human Rights Council who dutifully issued a press release. This despite the fact the claims had been quickly exposed as false be the president of the Mayangna indigenous community.  But media quickly jumped on the story, reportedly after two phone calls from people and no verification.

When a government is targeted by Washington, as the Sandinista government clearly is, the media attitude seems to be “guilty until proven innocent”.

This story about “conflict beef” reveals how big foundations influence reports which promote the US foreign policy goals on Nicaragua:  to defame and economically punish those who are too independent.

The post How Billionaire Foundations Fund NGOs to Advance US Foreign Policy Goals first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Unconventional US Warfare Won’t Stop Nicaragua’s Revolution

Republican strategist Karl Rove often advised his clients to attack not the enemy’s weaknesses but its strenghts. The bipartisan US foreign policy disinformation machine has taken Rove’s advice with tedious devotion. So, to attack Nicaragua, the machine’s fabrications and propaganda have targeted some of that country’s strengths: gender equity, Indigenous rights and autonomy, democracy, sovereignty, and a successful response to the pandemic, as well as the Sandinista government’s great popularity.

This should not surprise. It’s the same Rovian method used against Nicaragua’s friends and allies and countries the US designates enemies. For example, to attack Venezuela, the machine ignores the country’s electoral hyper-democracy and dubs the popular government “dictatorial.” To attack Cuba, the machine calls Cuba’s doctors and nurses working in the most medically underserved corners of the world and fighting the pandemic in dozens of other countries, “victims of human trafficking,” or else it calls them “spies.” To attack China, the machine smears China’s lightening-speed discovery and successful suppression of COVID-19. To attack Russia, the machine assails the overwhelmingly popular Crimean referendum as an invasion and undemocratic annexation, and it calls the East Ukraine resistance to the US-implanted coup government in Kiev as Russian aggression by proxy. To attack Syria, the machine disparages as aggressive the popular national defense against the West’s brutal proxy invasion and occupation, while delegitimizing the efforts of allies Russia and Iran to assist Syria.

And so on.

By now, this Rovian practice should be an imperial “tell,” which in poker (I’m told) is key to beating a bluffer. The peoples of the world now read these tells like neon signs. Not so North Americans, at least not yet. This new compendium of essays could not more thoroughly expose the imperial bluff against Nicaragua.

The Revolution Won’t Be Stopped: Nicaragua Advances Despite U.S. Unconventional Warfare (Alliance for Global Justice, July 2020) is a well-organized collection of essays, paragraph-length news briefs, and reference lists, covering recent Nicaraguan history, including the electoral return of the Sandinistas in 2007, through the 2018 counter-revolutionary, US-authored putsch, its aftermath, and the country’s recovery and response to COVID-19 in 2020. It is a compelling and useful collection, like the earlier collection published in 2019 by the Alliance for Global Justice, Live From Nicaragua: Uprising or Coup?. The dozen-plus authors include scholars, reporters and activists well-known in solidarity circles for their deep knowledge of Nicaraguan politics, history and society and their ability to present it with clarity and eloquence.

The story of Nicaragua’s remarkable social, political and economic progress under Sandinista government will be familiar to readers of the alternative press, despite the hostility and neglect of Nicaragua found in faux-alternative media (e.g., Democracy Now). Essays throughout the volume detail this progress, but it can be quickly gleaned from the Introduction by Magda Lanuza and the opening essay, “Economic and Social Progress Continues,” by Nan McCurdy and Katherine Hoyt. The country’s more dramatic achievements include the reduction of poverty and extreme poverty, each by half or more, free basic healthcare and education, virtually zero illiteracy, near doubling of electrification to reach virtually the entire population, and production of about 90% of its own food consumption (“food sovereignty”). Less well-known achievements include Nicaragua’s internationally recognized humane community policing system (ordinary Nicaraguans simply don’t fear their police), and the country’s ranking of fifth in the world in gender equity, just behind four Scandinavian countries (“Nicaraguan Women Take Their Rightful Place,” by Rita Jill Clark-Gollub). Despite recognition of these social and economic achievements, and many more, by international organizations including United Nations agencies, you wouldn’t know any of this if you follow only US corporate and government-sponsored media.

Perhaps the most fascinating essays are those that describe the unique politics that may be behind Nicaragua’s ability to survive and progress despite the US hybrid war of subversion, sanctions, disinformation, and the putsch of 2018. “Peace and Reconciliation in Nicaragua,” by Susan Lagos, explains the non-punitive treatment of members of Somoza’s National Guard after the 1979 revolution, the Contras after the war of the 1980s, and the putschists after 2018. This, along with the decision of the government to keep the national police off the streets during most of the very violent 2018 putsch, may strike one as excessively generous, forgiving and even pacifist to North American readers (including this one). But this piece shows how these practices may be effective in turning enemies into allies, such as when many former Contra sometimes became allies in opposition to the neoliberal policies of the rightist governments in power between 1990 and 2007. Further, these unusual military, policing and juridical policies, while certainly generous and forgiving, may also be good tactics, perhaps analogous to techniques used in martial arts to deflect the attack of a foe without using force, especially a much more powerful and determined foe like the US, the persistent author of assaults on Nicaragua from the 19th century to the present.

“Nicaragua’s Popular Economy: The Face of Five Centuries of People’s Resistance,” by Yorlis Luna, “Tourism in Nicaragua: Breaking with the Defunct Idea of Development,” by Daniel McCurdy, and the Afterword, “Nicaragua Puts People First in Pandemic Response,” by Nan McCurdy, all describe Nicaragua’s unique and successful economic and public health strategies. The Yorlis Luna and Daniel McCurdy pieces explain the theory and practice of Nicaragua’s “popular economy,” emphasizing the informal and smaller business sector, providing much of Nicaragua’s food, clothing and housing. It is a “self-managed, associative and solidarity-based economy,” based in pre-capitalist and pre-Hispanic economics, and which now provides “70% of employment, 42.3% of value added and 59.3% of income, excluding remittances.” It also generates most of the nation’s wealth. (See also, Live from Nicaragua: Uprising or Coup? A Reader, 2019, “The Popular Economy: Nicaragua’s Anti-Shock Therapy,” by Nils McCune and “A Creative, Enterprising and Victorious Economy to Defeat the Coup,” by Jorge Capelán.)

Nan McCurdy’s Afterward describes Nicaragua’s successful pandemic response. Lockdown would have been a luxury that Nicaragua, the second poorest country in the hemisphere, simply could not afford. But what it could do was mobilize health workers and brigadistas to make health check visits to most homes in the nation and give advice, set up COVID-19 hotlines, control entry points at borders and airports, urge 14-day self-quarantine to visitors, and rely on its public health system, which is the best in the region, even better than that of Mexico, a much richer country. As a result, Nicaragua has had fewer than 200 deaths from the disease as of this writing.

Other essays cover Nicaragua’s excellent progress in conservation and environmental policy, including significant conversion from fossil fuels to renewables (Stephen Sefton, Paul Oquist). Chuck Kaurman reviews the data showing the consistent popularity of the Sandinista party and leadership. Jorge Capelán summarizes a week of Nicaraguan news in September 2019, including the little-known but highly significant replacement of COSEP, the 2018 putschist business organization, with CONIMPYMES, an organization of small- and medium-size businesses, as Nicaragua’s representative at the Central American Business Council. The politics and imperial instrumentalization of the Sandinista’s opposition is dissected in a series of short essays by Barbara Larcom, Chuck Kaufman, Ben Norton, and Carlos Fonseca Terán.

Essays by Colleen Littlejohn and Adolfo Pastrán Aranciabia outline the post-revolutionary history of the autonomous regions of the Caribbean coast, which cover nearly half of Nicaraguan territory. It’s a story of material and social progress, increasing communal land rights for Indigenous and Afro-descendant people, and the success and popularity of the Sandinista party in the regions. It’s also a story of relative neglect under the neoliberal governments of 1990 to 2007, the interregnum between the periods of Sandinista governance. All this will surprise those who in recent months have read various reports of government indifference toward the lives and rights of its minority populations, but it will not surprise those who have followed the thorough debunking of these tales in the (actually) alternative press. (See, “Nicaragua Rebuffs Attacks at Human Rights Hearing,” by John Perry, 3/20/21; “Dismissing the Truth: Why Amnesty International is Wrong about Nicaragua,” by AFGJ, 2/26/19; “Nicaragua’s Indigenous Peoples—Neocolonial Lies, Autonomous Reality,” by Stephen Sefton, Tortilla con Sal, 3/5/21.)

The collection includes several essays exposing and refuting media and human rights organizations, such as Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International (AI), which promote false, misleading and demonizing narratives about Nicaragua. (Brian Willson, Camilo Mejía, John Perry, Chuck Kaufman, Stephen Sefton, Nan McCurdy, and Nora Mitchell McCurdy)

It’s curious that these organizations fail to recognize human rights as a social, political and mass project, the kind of project Nicaragua is engaged in. When HRW, AI and others present North Americans with falsified and mischaracterized incidents as salient examples of Nicaraguan society and government, they willfully and disingenuously misunderstand the very idea of human rights, and fuel narratives that support deadly and destructive US sanctions and hybrid warfare. Indeed, this anthology reports Human Rights Watch’s explicit endorsement of US sanctions against Nicaragua (passed, by the way, by a unanimous voice vote Congress in 2018 and later expanded by presidential executive order in 2020). If these organizations really cared about human rights, they would celebrate Nicaragua’s unprecedented human rights accomplishments and compare them to the horrific abuse of human rights in some of Nicaragua’s Latin American neighbors, such as Honduras or Colombia, whose governments would not last a minute without US support.

It is a testament to Nicaragua’s exemplary success in being “the threat of a good example” that the US is hell-bent on destroying Nicaragua’s humane, liberatory, sovereign and democratic project. This book will help defend that example for the good of Nicaragua and all humanity.

The post Unconventional US Warfare Won’t Stop Nicaragua’s Revolution first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Nicaragua: Building The Good Life (Buen Vivir) Through Popular Revolution


As I traveled in Nicaragua on the recent Sanctions Kill delegation, one thing was clear:  social transformation (revolution) requires both political power and participation by the people. Without political power, revolutionary programs will not have the material resources they require. Without the participation of the people, revolutionary programs, even with resources, cannot be put into practice and defended.

Right now, Nicaraguans have both and they are making great progress in building a new society or as it is often referred to in Latin America, ‘Buen Vivir,’ (the good life). They are demonstrating what we mean when we say “transforming society to put people and the planet over profits.” And this is one of the reasons why the United States is targeting Nicaragua through hybrid warfare including a misinformation campaign, direct interference in the politics of the country and economic attacks. It is clear the United States is already working to undermine the upcoming presidential election in Nicaragua scheduled for November 7, but that is a necessary topic for another day.

In this newsletter, I will focus on two aspects of the ongoing Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua: building power through organizing peasant workers and building a multicultural society that respects the sovereignty of Indigenous Peoples. Both contain lessons for activists in the United States.

Wall at the site of the tombs of revolutionary heroes in Managua (Margaret Flowers)

In the last newsletter, I wrote a bit about the history of the popular struggle in Nicaragua, the largest country in Central America that has a low-density population of around six million people. Through a mass armed movement, Nicaraguans ousted the US Marines in the early twentieth century but that was followed by almost 50 years of the brutal dictatorship of the US-backed liberal party led by the Somoza family. Throughout that period, a minority of people (5%) owned most of the land (80%).

In 1979, the same year that the US-backed Shah of Iran was defeated, the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), which began in the 1960’s, overthrew the Somozas and was finally able to start putting its 13-point socialist program into practice. Although there were setbacks during the US-backed Contra War of the 1980s and the neoliberal period from 1990 to 2006, in the past 14 years, Nicaragua has made major achievements that other poor countries and many a rich country like the United States have not been able to make.

Their successes include access to free education from preschool through the university level for all people, universal healthcare, land ownership, a pension, the empowerment of women, youth, and marginalized populations and more. Nicaragua has a primarily popular economy composed of cooperatives and small farms and businesses. It has achieved food sovereignty with 90% of the food consumed being produced locally and a growing agricultural export market. It is building infrastructure, particularly roads, electricity, and potable water. Currently, over 98% of homes have electricity and 75% of that comes from renewable sources. Almost one-fourth of the energy produced is geothermal as Nicaragua is a land of volcanos. Learn more in this Clearing the FOG episode taped in Nicaragua.

It took many decades to create the conditions in which these achievements could be made. The struggle to put the Sandinista revolution into practice and to defend the gains continues. Both the FSLN and the Rural Workers Association (ATC) are integral parts of that struggle.

Yorlis Luna, a professor and coordinator with IALA, lectures the delegation (Margaret Flowers)

The Rural Workers Association officially began forty-three years ago this week, although the work to start organizing and unionizing peasant workers began in the early 1970’s at the same time that the FSLN was growing. In my interview with Fausto Torres, who has been with the ATC from early on and currently serves as the Secretary of International Relations, he explains that the ATC and FSLN were born out of the same struggle with the ATC being composed of workers and the FSLN providing a political platform rooted in worker empowerment. Both arms of the revolution complemented each other. For example, the ATC provided food and safe houses for FSLN fighters during the Contra War and many Sandinistas who defended the revolution during that time came from the ATC.

After the Somoza dictatorship was overthrown, it was the ATC that made the agrarian reform, which transferred land from large landowners to over 120,000 peasant families, a reality and helped to defend those land gains. The ATC provided literacy programs and helped new land owners learn to make their small farms productive. Some land owners formed cooperatives.

After the Contra War, the ATC facilitated a reconciliation process between people who fought on both sides. Today, Sandinistas and former Contras live and work side-by-side in many communities and belong to the same cooperatives. The ATC continues to organize rural workers and educate them about labor laws and it has special programs for youth and women.

The ATC has several schools. One of its newer ones is the Latin American Institute of Agroecology or IALA (based on the name in Spanish), which educates people from all over Latin America. IALA incorporates traditional knowledge and the latest science to create practices that are sustainable, address the climate crisis and serve the cultural needs of local communities. In line with the values of the ATC and FSLN, emphasis is placed on the inclusion and empowerment of youth and women to support the development of new leaders.

In the early 1990’s, the ATC globalized its peasant movement by founding La Via Campesina, a member organization that currently operates in the Americas, Africa, Europe, Asia and Oceania and represents over 200 million rural families who are working to build a democratic and non-exploitative society. In addition to peasant workers, La Via Campesina members include migrants, landless peasants, and human rights defenders. There are four major areas of work: land reform, food sovereignty, peasant culture and socializing common goods. As an organization, it operates through collective leadership and participatory democracy. La Via Campesina values gender equality, youth participation, diversity, discipline and international solidarity. It is anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist and anti-patriarchal.

La Via Campesina runs a number of campaigns. One of them targets transnational corporations, particularly those based in the United States, that are pushing the “Green Revolution,” which is trying to dominate land ownership, control food production and push a toxic and exploitative food system based on profits for a few. A recent success in that struggle was the passing of the Universal Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas in late 2018 at the United Nations. It should not be a surprise that the United States and some European Union countries opposed it.

The ATC and La Via Campesina are building the local and global popular movement necessary to challenge corporate power and capitalism and create a world that can protect the rights of all people and mitigate the climate crisis. We activists in the US have much to learn from them.

Aminta Zea explains who our group is for members of the community council in Tuapi (Margaret Flowers)

Another accomplishment in Nicaragua is their ongoing work in the Autonomous Zone, composed of 47% of the nation’s land on the Northern and Southern Caribbean Coasts, to restore the rights of Indigenous Peoples and Afro-descendants who have been discriminated against for a long time. It offers a model for the United States to consider.

This work is grounded in the Nicaraguan Constitution passed after the overthrow of the Somoza dictatorship that values a multi-ethnic society. Due to the Contra War and the neoliberal period that followed, most of the gains have been made in the last decade or so since Daniel Ortega was restored as the president. There was a ten year period of negotiations between the government and the autonomous communities that resulted in the titles of 33% of the national territory being granted to twenty three Indigenous and Afro-descendant Peoples who requested them.

Indigenous leaders decide what parts of the land are to be used for housing or agriculture and the regulations regarding whether or not non-Indigenous people could live there. For example, the capital of the Northern Caribbean Coast, Bilwi, is owned by the people in Karata and they receive taxes from the city, which was formerly called Puerto Cabezas.

In recent years, unprecedented amounts of money have been spent on building highways to connect the communities with each other and with markets for their goods. There was also a big expansion in health care facilities and infrastructure for electricity and water. Education is also a high priority. Schools are multilingual to include the maternal language as well as Spanish and English. The university system is dedicated to multiculturalism and “rescuing” traditional knowledge. Their development plan is based on human development rather than exploitation.

Some of the major industries in the region include mining, forestry and cattle. They are working on mining methods that reduce the environmental impact and pollution from it. For timber, the community has to approve any plans and it owns and benefits from the entire process. Similarly for cattle, the community decides who can have cattle farms. As the climate crisis expands the “dry zone” outside of the Autonomous Region, non-Indigenous cattle farmers have been looking for other areas to raise their herds and this has been used by the United States as a way to attack Nicaragua through a false tale of assaults on Indigenous communities, known as “the Conflict Beef” story. This is far from the reality, as John Perry explains.

Although there have been a few small victories recently in the United States of returning land to Native American tribes, we still have a long way to go. Nicaragua demonstrates a model that is indigenous-led with the state playing a supportive role. Imagine if land in the United States was returned to the Indigenous Peoples who would control what is done on the land, including who could live there. This would go a long way to reversing the centuries of oppression and stolen wealth and could finally end the era of settler colonialism.

The Sanctions Kill delegation with members of the ATC in Managua (Friends of the ATC)

There is a lot we can learn from Nicaraguan people about how to organize, resist and build a multicultural society based on participatory democracy, empowerment and healing the Earth. The Sanctions Kill delegation provided a glimpse into this powerful work but there is more to know about the specific programs and how they could be translated into our work here to hold our government accountable and transform our society.

One concept that arose during the delegation is that of “revolutionary discipline.” Revolutions don’t just happen. They are the fruit of dedication to education and struggle. We can each practice revolutionary discipline in our communities through political education, organizing, putting pressure on the government and building alternative programs. Through this work, we will build the mass movement necessary to succeed.

We must also work to protect Nicaragua and other revolutionary societies that are targeted by US foreign policy for daring to defend their self-determination and sovereignty. We witnessed the violence and destruction of the 2018 US-backed coup attempt. We already see the US laying the groundwork to interfere in the presidential election in Nicaragua this November. Let us also put revolutionary discipline into practice by not allowing ourselves to be fooled by false media narratives and by raising our voices against US interference.

The photo at the top of this newsletter was taken at the ATC School in Managua. It reads “Globalize the Struggle, Globalize the Hope.” This is our call to action so that we can build a world of Buen Vivir for everyone.

The post Nicaragua: Building The Good Life (Buen Vivir) Through Popular Revolution first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Peace Delegation Visits Nicaragua To Explore Impact Of US Sanctions

For the next two weeks, I am in Nicaragua on the first delegation organized by the Sanctions Kill coalition and the Friends of the ATC (Asociacion de Trabajadores del Campo – Association of Rural Workers) to study the impact of sanctions imposed by the United States on Nicaragua and learn about the Sandinista Revolution. The ATC is a member of the global movement of peasant workers, Via Campesina, that was born in Nicaragua. The NICA Act, passed by the US Congress in 2018, is the beginning of the US’ economic war on Nicaragua after the US-backed coup attempt against the democratically-elected President Danial Ortega failed earlier that year.

Learn more about the sanctions being imposed by the United States on 39 countries representing a third of the world’s population using the new Sanctions Kill toolkit. It includes a short basic presentation with a sample script that teaches what sanctions are, why they are illegal, their impacts and how you can get involved in the work to stop them.

The delegation of about a dozen people, pictured above, is composed of activists, students and independent media. Not only will the group learn about the impacts of the coup in 2018, which shut down the economy and destroyed basic infrastructure, and how Nicaraguans are organizing to limit the effects of the economic war, but it is also learning about the long history of resistance to imperialism in Nicaragua and lessons that are pertinent for current struggles in the Americas.

The Sanctions Kill delegation at the Central Park in Managua in front of a silhouette of Augusto C. Sandino. Ramiro Funez.

For a long time, Nicaragua was the axis of the United States’ power in Central America. The short version of the struggle is that in the early twentieth century, the Nicaraguan people rose up against the US Marines, who were present in the country to protect US interests. Augusto C. Sandino fought in battles to oust the US Marines. He developed a powerful guerilla force in the mountains that refused to lay down its arms as long as there were foreign soldiers on the land undermining Nicaragua’s sovereignty.

In 1932, the US Marines withdrew from the country but they left behind a national guard led by Anastasio Somoza that started capturing, injuring and killing Sandino’s soldiers. Sandino traveled to Managua in 1933 to try to negotiate a peace agreement, but he was captured on the way and assassinated. Beginning in 1936, Nicaragua was controlled by a brutal dictatorship led by members of the Somoza family, which lasted until they were overthrown by the Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional (FSLN), or the National Sandinista Liberation Front (called the Sandinista Front), on July 19, 1979.

The Sandinista Front was formed in 1961 by three students at the National Autonomous University of Nicaragua in Managua. They were Carlos Fonseca, Silvio Mayorga and Tomas Borge. The Sandinista Front fought against the US-backed Contras during the 1970s. The Contras caused a tremendous amount of destruction and killed tens of thousands of people during that ten year period (in a country of under three million people) but they were never able to capture even one town or city due to the popular resistance of the Sandinistas.

Daniel Ortega, a member of the Sandinista Front and a fighter who was imprisoned for ten years and tortured, was made the first leader of the country and then was elected president in 1985. With the Sandinistas in power, they were able to start putting their revolutionary policies into practice. One of the first actions was agrarian reform that redistributed land, of which 80% was in the hands of an elite 5%, to the people. This was accompanied by a literacy program that reduced illiteracy from 60% to 14%, universal healthcare, education, the construction of basic infrastructure and more.

Nicaragua suffered a return to neoliberalism from 1990 to 2006 when the FSLN lost the presidential elections (due to US interference), but with the re-election of Daniel Ortega, they have started to recover. A great focus of the country’s efforts is to establish food sovereignty. Nicaragua currently produces 90% of its food locally through small farmers using agroecological practices. They teach youth to farm and are successful in maintaining small farmers in rural areas through a program called “Volver al Campo” (return to the countryside). A large proportion of their economy is a popular economy of small family businesses.

Yorlis Luna, the Coordinator for the Central South, National Institute of Agricultural Technology. (Margaret Flowers)

The United States has not stopped its efforts to reassert control over Nicaragua. They tried for years to conduct a coup after the re-election of Daniel Ortega and finally gained some traction in 2018 through a campaign of terrorism against Sandinistas (kidnapping, torture and murder), a disinformation campaign and blockades that shut the country down for three months. This attempt failed and so the US moved to impose an economic war on Nicaragua through the use of illegal unilateral coercive measures that cut off access to the capital necessary to implement the country’s programs.

Nicaragua anticipated this economic war and has been working to isolate itself from the impacts but it has also been hit by a number of crises recently including the US-backed coup, the pandemic and two back-to-back category four and five hurricanes last fall. It is currently on track to grow economically but that growth is threatened by the US’ actions. We in the United States must continue to press our government to stop its interference in Nicaragua and demand the US completely overhaul its foreign policy to one of collaboration and cooperation instead of domination and exploitation.

Learn more about Nicaragua in this week’s Clearing the FOG interview (available Monday night) with Erika Takeo of Friends of the ATC, Antonio Tovar of the Farmworkers Association of Florida, a member of Via Campesina North America, and Paul Oqwist, the Minister and Private Secretary for National Policy for the Presidency of the Republic of Nicaragua.

Another country that is currently in crisis due to interference of the United States is Haiti. Learn more about the National Weekend of Actions in Solidarity with Haiti from March 27 to 29 here. Find an action near you or submit your own.

Below is the press release from Sanctions Kill and the Friends of the ATC about the delegation:

A group of 13 North Americans are in Nicaragua from March 14-24 in a delegation organized by Sanctions Kill! and Friends of the ATC to express their deep concern to the Nicaraguan people regarding the impacts of U.S. sanctions on the country. This delegation of journalists, activists and students are meeting with grassroots groups that constitute the Rural Workers’ Association (ATC – Asociación de Trabajadores del Campo) to understand the effects of the sanctions on ordinary Nicaraguans and how they are organizing to mitigate the impact on their day-to-day lives.

“The human and economic costs of the sanctions on Nicaragua have been underreported. One of the goals of the delegation is to share the perspectives of Nicaraguans with U.S. audiences, in the hopes of building bridges of peace. As people from the United States, we need to fully understand the impact of what is being done in our name,” said Teri Mattson of CODEPINK, one of the delegation’s leaders and activist with the Sanctions Kill! coalition.

The Trump administration’s “maximum pressure campaign” on Nicaragua imposed increasingly harsher sanctions against the country, with the goal of fomenting regime change. To date, the Biden administration has given no indication that it will pursue a different policy in Nicaragua.

Friends of the ATC is a solidarity network with the Rural Workers’ Association that spreads awareness, builds solidarity and facilitates support for the struggles and initiatives of the ATC and the international movement La Vía Campesina.

Sanctions Kill! is an international campaign launched in 2019 to end U.S. imposed sanctions and educate the public on the devastating impacts they can have on jobs, healthcare, food, water, education, transportation and more.

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