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’.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
* 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
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
Mae protestiadau yn parhau yn Honduras, i atal y cyn-Arlywydd dwyn yr etholiad, cynhaliwyd ar ddiwedd mis Tachwedd. Gallech chi ychwanegu eich llais i’r rhai sy’n ceisio stopio’r twyll. Arwyddwch y deiseb isod.
Protests are continuing in Honduras, to try to prevent the former President stealing the elections held at the end of November. You can add your voice to those who are trying to stop the fraud. Sign the petition below.
Dolen i’r deiseb/Link to the petition
Am ragor o wybodaeth/For more information
Ein taith nesaf – 6 mis i fynd!
Our next visit – 6 months to go!
Here’s a funny story (well, not really). This week we were interviewed by researchers, employed by one of the UK’s biggest human rights organisations. The organisation is re-considering its banking with the Co-op Bank, asking the question “is the bank still ethical?”
Many will know that the Co-op Bank shut down our account last year, along with around 400 other organisations, including Cuba Solidarity, Palestine Solidarity, and a host of local affiliated organisations. The Co-op Bank has never given us a reason, other than it was carrying out a ‘risk assessment’.
We’ve been pretty clear about why they closed the account. Firstly, our account must be “non-performing” for the bank. We never take out a loan, we never go overdrawn, we have a limited amount of transactions. Therefore we were a cost to the bank, and not a source of income. And the Co-op Bank needs income.A disastrous merger with Britannia, huge losses, and then a takeover by a US hedge fund, meant profit came before ethics. This in itself is a political decision, the denial of banking services to organisations and communities.
The second reason is political as well. You don’t need to be a genius to make a link between Cuba, Palestine and Nicaragua, and their relations with the United States.
But hold on. Surely Nicaragua is not the radical country it once was? Isn’t it the darling of capitalists, including those in the United States? The international press are full of stories, unlike other radical Latin American governments, that the Sandinistas have lurched to the right, abandoned the principles of the revolution, and sold off the country to build the canal. And isn’t another mega project, the Tumarin hydro-electric dam, in trouble?
Well, yes, everything’s gone quiet about the canal, as whatever its pros and cons, the deciding factor was always going to be how to mobilise $50 billion of investment to make it happen. The Tumarin project is now on the back-burner, mainly because the Brazilian construction company connected with it is part of the Lava Jato scandal, and the country has just experienced a constitutional coup which has seen Brazil rolling back years of pro-poor reforms.
Though the Tumarin project might be off the drawing board, Nicaragua has become a regional leader in clean energy, with a decade of investment in projects, mostly small and medium in size (see here for a list of projects, which are announced on a seemingly weekly basis). Last year Nicaragua produced over 50% of its electricity from renewables. For comparison, Wales produces 10% of its electricty from renewables, within an economy roughly three times the size of Nicaragua.
If you look at what the Sandinistas have delivered since taking office in 2007 (rather than what has failed to happen), you see a country going through a slow and steady transformation. GDP has increased by 83%. The economy has grown steadily, at between 4% and 5% a year. Foreign investment has risen by over 400%. On the back of this exports have climbed 150%. Tax receipts have doubled, and together with international co-operation with Venezuela (but also with the more traditional international partners), has led to an increase in public investment from US$277 million in 2006 to US$655 million in 2015 (see here for more details).
All this has led to a steady reduction in poverty levels. With a growing economy, and a host of pro-poor programmes covering everything from food, micro-businesses, women, youth, housing, roofs and roads, “[a]ccording to the 2014 Standard of Living Survey of the National Development Information Institute, between 2009 and 2014 general poverty dropped from 42.5 per cent to 29.6 per cent, while in the same period extreme poverty dropped from 14.6 to 8.3 per cent.” (Nicaraguan Elections: Why combating Poverty is a Decisive Factor, NSC).
Which brings us to the elections. For those mesmerized by the antics in Trumpland, or the farce that is Carry On Brexiting, the Nicaraguan elections might have passed you by. If they haven’t, then you will have read how Nicaragua is poised to turn into a family dictatorship under the Ortegas, and election fraud has been organised well in advance (see here for a fairly representative article from Gioconda Belli, and here for a more general round-up).
Now it is hard for us who do not live in Nicaragua (like the writers of this blog, of course, and Gioconda Belli), to know exactly what goes on behind closed doors, what plots are carried out. But it’s a strange sort of fraud that organises a vote for the ruling party where the number of votes it gets reflects the level of support independent pollsters find. This was true in the last elections in 2011, and will probably be true again on November 6. Surely the reason you organise a fraud is to increase your vote over your actual support? Otherwise i) why bother? or ii) you’re very incompetent in rigging the system.
A continental survey by Latinobarometro in June showed support for the Sandinistas at 69%, the second highest in Latin America. A series of polls in Nicaragua since the beginning of the election campaign has shown support for the FSLN hovering around 60-63%, and the latest by M&R Consultants, on November 1, shows the Sandinistas on 65%.
In the United States the prospect of another FSLN victory has been as predictable as a US Hedge Fund’s response to ethical banking. A sub-committee of the US House Foreign Affairs Committee has started the process to introduce the Nicaragua Investment Conditionality Act 2016. The Act would seek to place restrictions on US support for multi-lateral loans. The Act will fall because of the forthcoming US elections, but could well be re-introduced in the new year.
The contributions in the debate seemed to consider only two conditions for investment i) the FSLN is not the government or ii) if the Nicaraguan people are foolish enough to vote for the FSLN, then they follow the US line. Two Obama officals spoke to the committee. The first, Juan Gonzalez, said “The United States is concerned about the actions of the government of Nicaragua and the Supreme Court to limit democratic space.” The second, aid official Marcela Escobari, said USAID money is helping “to teach youth the rights and responsibilities of a democratic society, including the crucial need for a significant political party with presence and participation at national and local levels.”
With the opposition at less than 10% in the polls, it’s no wonder the US is trying to use its funds to promote the creation of a new political party. USAID’s policy document – US Party Political Assitance Policy 2003 – allows it to do this. Of course, this is totally illegal in the United States:
Foreign nationals are prohibited from making any contributions or expenditures in connection with any election in the U.S. – Federal Election Commission