The NGOisation of Nicaragua

It looks like the worst of the violence in Nicaragua is over. It would seem that the self-declared aim of the opposition – to remove Daniel Ortega from power – has failed, at least for now. Though it is likely that there will be sporadic outbreaks of further violence, both sides will now examine the reasons why protests over pensions turned into violent confrontation which led to 300 dead, and what looks like a soft coup (see here for an on the spot account by a US human rights activist) .

After the initial protests and deaths, the opposition coalesced around the Alianza Civica. Many of the players in this unlikely alliance came from the business sector (previously happy to sit down with the Sanindistas); civil society; and students. Some of the organisations were directly funded by the National Endowment for Democracy. Others had decided the wind was now blowing against the Ortega Presidency, and it was time to jump ship. All were held together by the ‘mediation’ of the Catholic Church. Ironically, the church could be said to have sown the seeds of a lot of the discontent with the Sandinista government when they manoeuvred to get rid of the right to abortion three weeks before the Presidential election in 2006, which the FSLN won after 16 years out of power.

Contradictions in the Nicaraguan opposition

If you want to find out what the opposition hoped for, you can do no worse than read this by Azahálea Solís (who was part of the National Dialogue), written shortly after the National Dialogue talks broke down at the end of May. The reality is this was the high point in the opposition to the Ortega government, with a single demand for him to step down with elections to follow quickly.

This was explicit from the beginning. Miami-born student leader Lesther Aleman received widespread praise from some sections of the Nicaraguan and international press when he told Daniel Ortega in the first Dialogue meeting: “This is not a dialogue table, it is a table to negotiate your departure, and you know it very well because it is the people who have requested it!… Surrender before the entire population!”

By the end of the third meeting at the end of May opposition organisations were acively encouraging a military coup. On June 1 electoral observation organisation Etica y Transparencia called on “the corresponding authorities to ensure the appearance in the courts of these two (Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo) thus-far alleged criminals” and on the Army to “ensure implementation of the prompt and necessary arrests, as well as  a fair trial.” Etica y Transparenica have long received National Endowment for Democracy funding through the National Democratic Institute. In 2012 one of EyT’s leading lights made the jump in the other direction after 11 years with Etica y Transparencia. Abril Perez became a Reagan-Fascell Fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy, where she still works today.

Seen from two months on, it’s easy to see that if the oppositon had not obsessed with removing Ortega here and now via a soft coup, instead of making changes to the electoral system and timetable (which was already being discussed with the Organisation of American States), then they would now be in a strong position. The OAS said that electoral reform proposals would be presented to the government in January 2019.

Instead, the Alianza went down the road of more road blocks, more confrontation, more economic pain. Or what Michael Healy, one of the business leaders in the National Dialogue, stated: “We are willing to pay the price [of continued street conflict] to see Ortega leave.” The reality was, of course, it wasn’t Healy and his fellow members of the Alianza who were paying the price on the streets. Their position is comprehensively taken apart here, describing the contradictions which existed within the Alianza.

Contradictions at home

Those same contradictions exist with those who having been supporting the opposition outside of Nicaragua – Wales and the UK included. At first glance their criticism of the FSLN governments since 2007 comes from the left. Ortega has betrayed Sandinismo, with Nicaragua’s neo-liberal ‘navigation of capitalist waters’ (as one journalist described it to us in February). It is curious then to see SOSNicaraguaUK re-tweeting messages from Florida Republican Congress members, some of the most reactionary in the US. Stranger still to see them re-tweeting Trump Vice President Mike Pence, who’s politics are straight out of The Handmaid’s Tale. The VP for Gilead has called for the removal of a string of governments in Latin America.

Many of the opposition supporters in the UK have had long relationships with Nicaraguan NGOs. Many of the NGOs sprung up after the chaos that engulfed Nicaragua when the revolution ended in 1990. The huge experiment in participatory democracy in 1980s Nicaragua cleaved into two halves – a ‘professional’ NGO sector which attracted foreign funding, and grassroots organisations (‘GROs’, like the co-operatives, unions and the Movimiento Comunal) which were left to themselves. Their fates couldn’t have been more different. From 1990 to 2005 NGO numbers grew from 300 to 2,000, and their funding grew from $90 million in 2000 to $289 million in 2005. GROs fared less well. Trade union membership fell from 22% in 1989 to less than 8% in 2008. The number of co-operatives fell from 3,800 to 400 in 1999 (see here for an excellent analysis of the NGOisation of Nicaragua). The success of the NGOs were due to neo-liberal programmes emphasising the sector over governments, and many of the brigadistas during the 80s moving into positions within aid and funding agencies, and channelling funds to ‘trusted partners’ in Nicaragua.

To a great extent this has been reversed since the FSLN regained power in 2007. Trade unions membership has grown considerably, and the number of co-operatives has passed 4,500. At the same time the funding of NGOs in Nicaragua has been squeezed, as donor countries have either chosen to prioritise other regions, or have refused to support an Ortega-led Nicaragua.

Accountable to whom?

What has all this got to do with the unrest? Many of Nicaragua’s NGOs have thrown in their lot with the opposition. Many of the grassroots organisations – like the ATC, the Co-operative sector, and the Movimiento Comunal – have continued to call for support for the National Dialogue. Unlike the trade unions, these three have no formal link with the FSLN. On many occasions they have challenged the government on their policies. But they still were quick to support the dialogue.

The difference between the NGOs and GROs is striking for a very important reason, one which was highlighted by the research above. The grassroots organisations are constituted from the ground up, accountable to their members, and speak on their behalf. The NGOs have no formal accountability to their beneficiaries (they rarely have members), and are more accountable to their donors than Nicaraguans. As we have noted elsewhere, many of the most vocal organisations in the oppostion have received over $4 million from the National Endowment for Democracy over the past four years. Even more striking, USAID pumped $31 million into Nicaragua last year.

What is puzzling is that many of the supporters of SOSNicaraguaUK know this. Many have visited Nicaragua for decades, have long lasting friendships within the NGOs, but have also worked with the grassroots organisations.

So why have they decided to privilege the viewpoint of the NGO sector, whilst ignoring independent organisations in Nicaragua which are democratic and bottom-up, and who call for a National Dialogue as the best way to avoid further bloodshed in the country? Here are some of the views from Nicaragua they don’t share.

Extract from Statement by ATC, May 17 (Association de Trabajadores del Campo has 52,000 members, and is a member of Via Campesina)

Historically, the ATC has been a participant in the Sandinista struggle. In truth, we have not felt consulted or represented by the current FSLN government. The current coup attempt makes use of these historical contradictions and is trying to co-opt the symbols, slogans, poems and songs of Nicaragua’s Sandinista Revolution, since of course the rightwing has none of its own. However we may feel about Daniel Ortega, the ATC would never contribute to making chaos and sowing violence in order to force the collapse of the democratically elected government in order to install a more docile, Washington-friendly neoliberal government. There are clearly real frustrations in sectors of the
population, especially youth, and if these sectors are unable to find popular organizing processes, they will end up being the cannon fodder for a war, which would be the worst possible situation for the Nicaraguan people.

Extract from statement by SOPPEXCCA, July 12 (SOPPEXCCA is a second tier co-operative with 15 co-operatives made up of 650 families. Similar statements have been issued by the co-operative sector body CONACOOP).

‘The UCA SOPPEXCCA, as an entity of organised small producers, promotes a culture of peace, harmony, respect for the law and democratic participation.

We therefore give our support to peaceful solutions and call for an end to the culture of violence generated in our country owing to the events that we are experiencing and which affect us both individually and collectively, since the peace that we enjoyed in our Nicaragua disappeared in the most abrupt and tempestuous fashion.

We feel the grief of many Nicaraguan families who have lost loved ones, tranquillity and have to face up to the consequences.

We, as Nicaraguans, will also face consequences as it is evident that there will be an economic slowdown that will affect the majority of our people, especially the poorest families, the majority.

Sadly, many dreams are being left behind as we wait for the shining light of peace to emerge again; reconciliation and work will be our standard bearers as we endeavour to lift our country out of the poverty levels we find ourselves in.

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No amnesty for liars

The El Sueno Existe festival held in Machynlleth, mid-Wales, last week was a hotbed of debate. SOSNicaragua, who’s clearly-stated aim is to overthrow the Nicaraguan government, were there in force, including two Nicaraguan speakers flown in from Belgium for the event.

But the opposition kicked off with a statement from the floor from a representative of Amnesty International, who is also a former active member of the Nicaragua Solidarity Campaign. His message was simple, the Nicaraguan government ‘has killed over 300 protesters’.

The purpose of the message is clear. It is intended to undermine the Nicaraguan government, and make it easier for it to be removed. There’s only one thing that’s wrong with it – it’s a lie, and isn’t even based on the sources that Amnesty uses.

Amnesty’s report at the end of May relied heavily on Nicaraguan human rights organisations to provide them with information, as well as the local media (see here for their report on the violence in Nicaragua). It was also compiled after a limited number of interviews (30 face to face), and examining the documentation of 16 deaths. It used local newspapers as a source, and reviewed video and photo images, many of which are shared on social media. The report was heavily criticised at the time by a former Amnesty Prisoner of Conscience (see here).

Since then it has increased its estimates of the deaths, to the point where the Amnesty representative in El Sueno claimed over 300 -protesters have died. But even one of Amnesty’s main sources, CENIDH, doesn’t agree with this. In a recent report in Nicaraguan on-line magazine Confidencial (which is aligned with the opposition), CENIDH states at least 52 of the 292 dead are police and government supporters (see here).

Others have challenged this number as well. In a detailed analysis by Enrique Hendrix (see here), who is open about his support for the Sandinista government, he goes through the list of names compiled by human rights organisations in Nicaragua (ANPDH, CIDH and CENIDH), from April 18 – June 25. They add up to a total of 293 deaths, more than CENIDH’s figure a month later. This is partly explained by the fact that one of the organisations, the ANPDH, has consistently stoked the fires by exaggerating the numbers. As of two days ago, it was reporting in the United States that nearly 450 had died.

As the author of the analysis states, at the end of June:

 A significant number of these deaths, however, are *not* the responsibility of the Nicaraguan government.  When all the cases are examined individually, they can be broken down into the following categories:

51 deaths not related to protests in any way

60 persons killed by the *opposition* to the Nicaraguan government

59 deaths of demonstrators (protesters, anti-government opposition, roadblockers)

46 persons passing by the protests (not involved)

77 names with incomplete data and/or whose context could not be determined

Why is there such a huge difference? Since the beginning solidarity organisations have been saying the situation is extremely complex; information has been hard to verify, particularly after much of the country was shut down with tranques (roadblocks); and too many people have been killed on both sides.

This uncertainty is not shared by Amnesty International. Part of the reason may be their Director for the Americas, Erika Guevara-Rosas. She travelled to Managua with the Amnesty delegation that compiled their May report. Even a cursory glance at her twitter feed shows she is openly siding with the opposition, regulary tagging #SOSNicaragua, and re-tweeting Fox News.

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Retweeted

Jul 26Hoy se cumplen 100 días de resistencia pacífica contra la represión letal del Gobierno de Daniel Ortega.

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Jul 23Erika Guevara-Rosas Retweeted Fox News

1 Ortega is a professional liar 2 He accepts existence of paramilitaries, the ones who operate in collusion with his police 3 He said no peaceful demonstration is attacked. I was there as observing the Mothers march and witnessed police and paramilitaries brutal attacks

Guevara-Rosas is also selective in what she choses to share on her Twitter feed. On July 13 she tweeted about the police clearing the tranques from Monimbo and Masaya, after the area had been cut off from the rest of the country for weeks. Tragically one police officer and two protesters died during the operation.

Jul 13AmnistiaOnline Retweeted Derechos Humanos ONU

 : Condenamos enérgicamente los ataques casi simultáneos en Monimbó, Masaya, y contra la iglesia de la Divina Misericordia. Es atroz que el Gobierno de Ortega y sus grupos parapoliciales continúen atacando indiscriminadamente a la población civil.

The previous day there had been greater loss of life in El Morrito (see here), something which Guevara-Rosas was silent about, as were much of the international media. Perhaps this had something to do with the fact that the dead were four unarmed policeman and a teacher? Or that in this case it was the protesters who were armed. Or even that the march was led by Francisca Ramirez, leader of the anti-canal movement, who changed her story several times about the killings as she was challenged.

Anyone familiar with Guevara-Rosas work will not have been surprised by what she is pumping out and sharing on behalf of Amnesty. Before the 2016 Presidential elections in Nicaragua she wrote a piece (see here) telling her readers about four things they should know about the election. One of the four things was that women are second class citizens in Nicaragua, and she directly attacked the government’s record on maternal mortality. Unfortunately for Guevara-Rosas, the people who do know about these things – the Pan American Health Organisation, which is part of the WHO – says maternal mortality has been cut by more than half since the Sandinistas took over in 2007 (see here).

Amnesty has given up all pretence to be an impartial source of information about human rights in Nicaragua, something it now shares with other ‘independent’ human rights organisations in the country. One of them, the ANPDH (who’s claims did so much to ratchet up the tension at the beginning of the violence), has a long history. United States funding for the ANPDH goes back to the Contra War, where it openly supported the counter-revolution. It is also interesting to note that the OAS’s main human rights organisation, the IACHR, moved to ‘protect’ the head of the ANPDH at the beginning of June, as a ‘human rights defender’ (see here).

Another human rights organisation, the Comision Permanente de Derechos Humanos de Nicaragua, has received substantial funding from the US National Endowment for Democracy (see here for more on the NED, in an extract from William Blum’s classic Rogue State). Last year the CPDH received the following from the NED:

Promoting Access to Justice and Human Rights in Nicaragua

Comision Permanente de Derechos Humanos de Nicaragua

 $72,440

To promote and protect human rights in Nicaragua. The project will provide legal assistance to citizens facing challenges in accessing the justice system. Human rights conditions in prisons and detention facilities will be monitored and and proposals for their improvement will be presented to relevant authorities.  International mechanisms will be used to monitor and report human rights violations and raise awareness about the country’s international obligations to protect human rights.

 Promoting Free and Fair Municipal Elections

Comision Permanente de Derechos Humanos de Nicaragua

Supplement: $39,000

To promote free and fair elections in Nicaragua. In partnership with other organizations, local activists and volunteers will receive training to monitor and document any voting irregularities during the November 2017 municipal elections. A call center will receive reports of human rights violations during election day and inform the public about its findings.

Of course, all the above could be dismissed as cherry picking, selective use of sources, and starting from a pre-determined bias which only gives room for one side of the story. But then again, isn’t that what SOSNicaragua, Amnesty and people like Erika Guevara-Rosas have been doing since the end of April?


Nicaragua Solidarity Campaign Action Group briefing

nscag_black_logo_2016_09_20_04_03_16_pm-695x130

The Nicaragua Solidarity Campaign Action Group issued a new statement yesterday about the current situation in the country. It describes the events over the past three months, and repeats its support for the National Dialogue as a way of resolving the crisis which has shaken the country since April. See here for the full statement.


El Sueno Existe – the Dream Lives On

Over the weekend Wales NSC shared a platform with the UK Nicaraguan Ambassador in the ‘El Sueno Existe’ festival in Machynlleth in mid-Wales. It was an opportunity to challenge the mis-information that has been coming from the mainstream media like the Guardian and the BBC, and organisations like SOSNicaragua.

Supporters of SOSNicaragua and the former solidarity organisation Sheffield Esteli Society, were out in force, putting their viewpoint. One of them, a worker with Amnesty International, again claimed that over 300 protesters have been killed by the government. Wales NSC has always acknowledged that violence has involved deaths on both sides, and this was one of the main reasons to support the National Dialogue.

However the opposition, who’s view Amnesty supports, always claim that the government is responsible for all the deaths. The dead include over 20 police officers, government workers, and FSLN supporters who have been tortured, murdered and set on fire. Amnesty has a responsibility to be impartial, something which it is failing to do. It received stinging criticism from a former Amnesty Prisoner of Conscience, the Nicaraguan-American, Camilo Mejia, after publishing its first report (See here).

Amnesty, Sheffield Esteli and SOSNicaragua also present the young people who have been touring the United States and Europe as the inheritors of the Sandinista revolution. Again we challenged them on this. We highlighted the ties between the organisations they are linked to and the United States’ National Endowment for Democracy.

These links are never made apparent when the students are presented to audiences. The students who visited the United States on behalf of the Alianza Civica (Nicaragua’s opposition co-ordinating body), met with the most right wing elements of the Republican Party, including Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

Their visit was funded by Freedom House, which in turn is supported by the National Endowment for Democracy. The NED was set up in the 1980s, partly as a result of the CIA’s aid to the Nicaraguan opposition being exposed. It became a way of channelling money legally to undermine governments the United States disagrees with, many of them in Central and South America. NED’s history in Nicaragua, including recent funding, is set out here, by an author who is not sympathetic to the Nicaraguan government.

To make matters worse for the opposition, the students then went on to meet Neto Muyshondt, the ARENA mayor of San Salvador (see here). Those with any knowledge of Central American history will know about ARENA’s ties to the death squads, most notoriously the death squad assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero, and later six Jesuits. Once this PR disaster was realised, tweets relating to the meeting were deleted, and some of the Nicaraguan opposition tried to distance themselves from the visits (a common tactic once they backfire).

The biographies of some of the students touring Europe, including the UK, make for interesting reading (see here). One is a founder member of the Movimiento Civico de Juventudes, which was set up in 2015. It has since been funded by the National Democratic Institute, which is part of the NED (see here). The General Secretary of the MCJ is David Jose Nicaragua Lopez. He also works for the NDI in Nicaragua.

Another of those on tour has worked for the IEEPP, an organisation which has received $200,000 from the NED. Nicaragua Lopez also has links with the IEEPP. Even as we were preparing for the El Sueno festival at the end of last week the head of the IEEPP, Felix Maradriaga, was lobbying USAID to increase support for the Nicaraguan opposition. It responded with a further $1.5 million in funding (see here ). This is in addition to the $4.2 million that the NED has pumped into Nicaragua over the past three years.

All the speakers in the ‘caravans’ touring the US and Europe are entitled to give their viewpoint. But anyone turning up to the meetings should at least expect to know their background. Anyone with a bit of knowledge of organisations in Nicaragua and 15 minutes of time to google can get access to the above information. But of course, the organisers depend on the audience not being able to do this, and being swept away by the so-called ‘inheritors of Sandinismo’.


Camilo Mejia and Amnesty International

camilo

Sometimes life is surprising. Back in the seventies Carlos Mejia Godoy, perhaps Nicaragua’s most famous singer (along with his brother), were ardent Sandinistas. Many of their songs portrayed the struggles of the guerillas, and celebrated the lives of ordinary Nicaraguans. But in the 1990s Carlos broke with the FSLN, and has been a vocal critic ever since.

But there is another life-story here. Again back in the seventies, Carlos had a relationship with a Costa Rican woman, Maritza Castillo. When their relationship ended Maritza headed north, landing in the US, taking her two sons with her. Her life was complicated, including multiple moves, eventually arriving back in the US. Her youngest, Camilo, worked hard in school, whilst also holding down a job. He joined the US Army, with its promise of paying his college tuition fees. Eventually in 2003, Camilo Mejia was sent to Iraq. After his first tour of duty he refused to go back, spoke out against the war, was arrested and jailed. He was adopted by Amnesty International as a Prisoner of Conscience.

Amnesty has been scathing about the Nicaraguan government, both before and during the present crisis and violence. It lays the blame for all the bloodshed at the door of Daniel Ortega, despite the police, municipal workers and government supporters on the roll of the dead.

Camilo has reason to respect Amnesty International, having seen their work close up. This is what he has written this week about Amnesty and Nicaragua.

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:

  • The report completely lacks neutrality and;
  • 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 antigovernment 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,

Iraq war veteran, resister, and conscientious objector (2003-2004)

Amnesty International prisoner of conscience (June 2004)

Born in Nicaragua, citizen of the world


Who to believe about Nicaragua?

More than three weeks after the beginning of violence in Nicaragua, many of the country’s biggest cities continue to see chaos on the streets. The initial spark, changes to the pension system, have long been forgotten. It has now turned into a clash between the government and its supporters, and some sections of the opposition, supported by the United States.

There’s no doubt that the initial violence included killings by police, FSLN supporters and opposition students. The government has since launched three initiatives to examine the events which led to up to 42 deaths, including: “a National Dialogue without conditions involving all sectors which will be mediated by the Bishops’ Conference; a Truth, Justice and Peace Commission set up by the National Assembly; and an investigation by the Prosecutor’s Office to hold all those responsible for killings, violence and sabotage to account” (see here for further information from the same article by the Nicaragua Solidarity Campaign).

People’s first reaction, even among government supporters, was anger that such violence was seen on Nicaraguan streets, scenes which they expect in places like Guatemala and Honduras. This anger, and sadness, was fed by an unrelenting social media campaign, seeking to blame all violence on the government, and inciting people to not only to protest, but to attack both private and public property.

The protests have also shaken the solidarity community. Anyone familiar with Nicaragua will know that the Ortega government is supported by many, but also intensely disliked by others. This opposition includes both the extreme Right, and those who see the FSLN as having sold out. These divisions are also represented in international opinion on the current crisis (see here).

Since the events of April 19-24, Nicaragua has seen peaceful protests, some organised by the government, some organised by the churches. Much of the country has returned to calm. But on many nights violence returns to some streets, with tourist buildings and shops being ransacked, FSLN political and local headquarters torched. A lot of the violence has crossed the line from protest to looting and extortion, particularly in cities like Masaya (see here).

The continued unrest is now aimed at destablising the government, and getting rid of Ortega and the FSLN. This has been a long term goal of the United States and its allies in Nicaragua. Last year the National Endowment for Democracy provided over $1 million to finance ‘civil society’ organisations (see here).  Many of these helped ratchet up the tension after the initial clashes, using social media to make unverified claims of killings, torture and “disappearances”. At a time when there were deaths on the streets and arrests, this only inflamed the situation.

Many of these organisations, and leading figures in the opposition, have been actively lobbying in Washington to pass the NICA Act, which would see the US use its veto in lending organisations to cut off Nicaragua from international loans. These loans are used to finance Nicaragua’s social programmes, which has made the FSLN government so different from the neo-liberal presidencies from 1990 to 2007. When people call for the removal of Ortega, they are also calling for the ending of these programmes for the poor (see here). 

US Vice President Mike Pence has stated that undermining the governments in Nicaragua, Cuba and Venezuela is a Trump administration priority (see here).

The FSLN government under Ortega is far from perfect. Even the National Dialogue, the best way out of the current upheaval, will not be straightforward (see here).  But we know where to look to see the alternatives. They already exist in countries like Guatemala and Honduras and Brazil, where the poor get poorer, and violence is a way of life.


Statement from the ATC

One of the privileges of our February delegation was meeting with Fausto Torrez, who works for the ATC, Nicaragua’s campesino union. As founder members of Via Campesina, and one of the original mass organisations of the Sandinista Revolution, their radical credentials are beyond doubt.

Over two hours Fausto told us about the challenges faced by Nicaraguan campesinos and campesinas, and the struggle being waged for food sovereignty at a national, regional and global level. He was frank about the gains under the current Sandinista government, with a massive increase in rural co-operatives which has benefited the poorest Nicaraguans. He was also honest about the governments shortcomings, and the penetration of multinationals in the Nicaraguan economy. For this reason, and others, the ATC is one of the few mass organisations (with 52,000 members) in Nicaragua not directly aligned with the FSLN.

He told us: “We came out of the Sandinista revolution. During the years of neo-liberalism (1990 – 2007) we worked alongside the FSLN. But we are not a member. Traditionally our members are Sandinistas, but we are not part of the structure. It’s important we are outside, to put pressure for credit, health, education.”

Fausto also had this to say about the current government: “There’s no such thing as a perfect government. But in the campo (the rural areas) we have seen development. This is the phase where Nicaraguans can re-construct ourselves. So as the ATC we want the government to get on with it.”

With the current crisis in Nicaragua showing no signs of abating, it’s worth reading the ATC statement below, an independent organisation which represents some of the poorest, and hardest working, in the country.

*An Urgent Call for Solidarity with Nicaragua Asociación de Trabajadores
del Campo /Rural Workers Association*

May 17, 2018

Friends in Solidarity,

We have lived a month full of tragedy in our country. The peace we achieved as a people, so fragile and at the cost of so many lives, is in
immanent danger of disappearing irreparably. There are now two sizeable camps of the population with dangerously contrary positions. On one side, there is a combination of private university students, media outlets with rightwing owners representing the oligarchy, Catholic Church bishops close to Opus Dei, the private sector and, of course, the US Embassy, working together to create a situation of chaos in the country in order to remove president Daniel Ortega. This group of actors accuses the National Police of having killed dozens of protesters in the riots that reached all Nicaraguan cities, ostensibly against a reform—since revoked—to the system of social security. As we have described, the reality is more complex, and the violence was generalized and explosive, involving protesters with homemade firearms that often
misfired, as well as counter-protestors, paid pickets, unknown gunmen and street gangs. The National Police was really a minor actor in the violence, using tear gas and rubber bullets to clear crowds in a few points of Managua, but not involved in the vast majority of the 50 or more deaths that have been reported since April. The Interamerican Commission of Human Rights has been invited by the government and currently is investigating the events of April.

A national dialogue began on Wednesday, May 16th, with the participation of anti-government students, civil society organizations, and the Presidency, and mediation by the Episcopal Conference of the Catholic Church led by Archbishop Leonaldo Brenes. However, the coup-like violence has only grown and currently, rightwing armed groups have all of the main highways in the country closed. On the other side of the conflict, the militancy of the Sandinista Front continues to withstandphenomenal provocations, including:

* The destruction of its Sandinista homes (party headquarters) in
dozens of cities
* The destruction or defacement of hundreds of historic monuments,
murals, and memorials of Sandinistas
* The arson of dozens of public buildings
* The interruption of work and the food shortages that have resulted
from the road closures and violence
* The deaths of passersby and journalists by paid pickets and violent
protesters
* Relentless false accusations and lies circulated by corporate media.

It must be added that Facebook has been the primary means for
transforming Nicaraguan society that one month ago was at peace into a toxic, hate-filled nightmare. Currently, hundreds of thousands of fake Facebook profiles amplify the hatred and pressure Nicaraguan Facebook users to begin to share and post hate messages. Many, if not most, of these fake Facebook profiles have been created in countries other than Nicaragua, and in particular, Miami is the city where many of the
Facebook and WhatsApp accounts behind the violence are managed.

Historically, the ATC has been a participant in the Sandinista struggle.
In truth, we have not felt consulted or represented by the current FSLN
government. The current coup attempt makes use of these historical contradictions and is trying to co-opt the symbols, slogans, poems and songs of Nicaragua’s Sandinista Revolution, since of course the rightwing has none of its own. However we may feel about Daniel Ortega, the ATC would never contribute to making chaos and sowing violence in order to force the collapse of the democratically elected government in
order to install a more docile, Washington-friendly neoliberal
government. There are clearly real frustrations in sectors of the
population, especially youth, and if these sectors are unable to find
popular organizing processes, they will end up being the cannon fodder
for a war, which would be the worst possible situation for the
Nicaraguan people.

In this context, the ATC has called for “all national actors to
reorganize themselves based on their aspirations.” With this intention, the ATC proposes to confront the national crisis with aseries of dialogues among young people, without party distinction or any ideological basis, in favor of peace and understanding. We propose extraordinary youth assemblies in the cities of San Marcos, Jinotepe, Rivas, Granada, Masaya, Estelí, Matagalpa, Jinotega, Juigalpa, Santo Tomás and Tipitapa, as spaces for young people to discuss the national situation and find pointsof unity. It is important to mention that we do not have a previously defined “line” to impose upon these debates—they will be spaces for listening, forming ideas and thinking with our hearts.

We call upon your solidarity and generous support for the creation of an emergency fund for peace in Nicaragua that makes possible this round of extraordinary youth assemblies. The national coordinators of the Rural
Youth Movement, Sixto Zelaya and Marlen Sanchez, will have the
responsibility of organizing the assemblies and administering the fund with absolute transparency.

It is urgent to organize the Nicaraguan family and win peace!

– International Secretariat of the ATC