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.

********

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?

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