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.
Erika Guevara-Rosas Retweeted
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
@amnesty 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.
Erika Guevara-Rosas Retweeted
#SOSNicaragua: Condenamos enérgicamente los ataques casi simultáneos en Monimbó, Masaya, @UNANManagua 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
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
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?
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.
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’.