By Stephen Sefton
A recent counterfactual article about Nicaragua posted by the Irish NGO Comhlámh is a good example of how apparently progressive people in the Western non-governmental sector’s managerial class frequently feint left but go right. As often as not, their reporting reinforces the propaganda of the US and European governments and corporations that fund them either directly or indirectly. This is a fundamental betrayal of the democratic principles they claim to uphold, because it denies the general public in their countries a true and fair view of contentious issues. Virtually all international news media depend for their reporting on Nicaragua from local opposition media in Nicaragua. US investigative reporters at The Grayzone have exposed how all these opposition media were organized, coached and funded by corporate operated non-profits and the governments of the United States as well as its European allies.
In this case, a brief comparison of the article’s untruths with well established facts shows that its account of Nicaragua is completely untrustworthy. Starting even before April 18th 2018, Nicaragua was the victim of a failed coup attempt organized and funded by the the US government, US and EU country funded non-profit organizations and extreme right wing US and regional political groups. Denying that reality, the article falsely sets the scene for her article’s subsequent falsehoods by alleging government negligence over the fire in the Indio Maiz Reserve in early April 2018 and government proposals, around the same time, supposedly attacking the rights of workers and pensioners under the country’s social security system.
In fact, Nicaragua’s authorities swiftly mobilized the armed forces and civil defence to effectively counter the fire in Indio Maiz. After initially coordinating with Costa Rica’s fire service and agreeing that assistance overland was impractical, the government sought and received assistance from Mexico and aerial help from Honduras as well as guidance from US specialists, Thanks to these energetic measures and opportune rainfall, damage was limited to under one per cent of the Indio Maiz Reserve’s peripheral area adjacent to the Caribbean Sea.
On the issue of social security, the proposed reforms sought to protect the system’s medium term financial viability by putting the burden of increased contributions of over 3% on employers, while asking workers to pay just 0.7% more. The proposal also suggested giving pensioner’s the same rights to health care in social security system clinics as active workers, via a 5% levy on their pensions. The article omits mentioning that the private business organization COSEP pulled out of talks on the proposed reforms before cynically supporting the initial protests provoked by opposition scare-mongering. Presumably, it does so because, far from being worried about workers and pensioners, COSEP wanted to privatize Nicaragua’s social security clinics and double the number of workers’ contributions for eligibility, both of which the government rejected.
Having set the scene with these falsehoods about Indio Maiz and the proposed Social Security reforms, the article moves on to insist untruthfully that the protests in Nicaragua from April 18th onwards were peaceful. The article even claims that army tanks were deployed to suppress them, which is a downright lie: Nicaragua’s army was never deployed to suppress protests. On April 18th, despite inflammatory opposition social media and opposition news media claims of a “student massacre” that day, no one was killed. On April 19th opposition gangs murdered police officer Hilton Manzanares, fatally wounded supermarket worker Darwin Urbina and also killed Richard Pavón a local authority worker in the Sandinista municipality of Tipitapa.
Then on April 20th, the opposition violence intensified and spread to León where Sandinista student Christian Cadenas burned to death after opposition protestors set fire to a historic university building and adjacent businesses. Subsequently, throughout that Friday April 20th and Saturday April 21st, opposition gangs organized well coordinated attacks across Nicaragua on town halls, Sandinista party offices and even the homes of local Sandinistas. They attacked in Granada, Masaya, Leon, Estelí, Diriamba, Jinotepe, Bluefields, Managua and Chinandega. The town halls in Granada and Estelí were targeted with arson attacks and on Saturday April 21st, opposition gangs burned down Masaya’s famous crafts market.
Faced with that level of extreme violence, the police tried to defend themselves as well as people not involved in the violent protests. Sandinistas under attack also defended themselves and, in a few cases, struck back. President Daniel Ortega called for dialogue on Saturday April 21st and police were ordered not to use their firearms. In the following weeks, mostly peaceful mass demonstrations did take place, largely organized by the right wing bishops of the Catholic Church. But those protest marches were persistently exploited by armed opposition activists seeking opportunities to provoke a violent response from the police, perhaps the most notorious example being the march on Mothers Day May 30th 2018.
The article refers to 300 deaths resulting from the protests, overstating the true number of around 260, but omits mentioning that around 60 of those deaths were Sandinista supporters, including 22 police officers. Additionally, 400 police officers suffered gunshot wounds from the people the article describes as “peaceful protestors”. All told, various analysts, including the Nicaraguan legislature’s Commission for Truth, Justice and Peace, reckon around another 50 fatalities were of opposition protestors while most were people uninvolved with either side, the majority dying as a result of opposition violence.
The article’s misrepresentation of events in Nicaragua in 2018 follows grossly misleading reports by Amnesty International which have been categorically debunked by independent researchers, Even so, it goes on to repeat the false claim of 80,000 political refugees in Costa Rica, allegedly fearful of returning to Nicaragua. In fact, Nicaragua’s opposition traveled freely and frequently, to and from both Costa Rica and the US, ever since the government issued an amnesty in June 2019 for the terrible crimes committed by opposition activists, including campesino figures like Francisca Ramirez and Medardo Mairena, during their failed coup attempt. Mairena is openly campaigning to run as a candidate in this year’s elections, although his violent role in the failed 2018 may well render him ineligible.
The article’s author writes of her interaction with Nicaraguans in Costa Rica giving the impression that rural campesino families and Afro-Caribbean communities in particular have suffered from government repression. The reverse is true, especially as regards Nicaragua’s indigenous and afrodescendant peoples. President Ortega’s government has radically democratized Nicaragua’s economy for rural families and women nationally and for all the ethnic groups of the country’s Caribbean Coast. That is why prior to April 2018, both President Ortega and Vice President Rosario Murillo had approval ratings of well over 70%.
Now, even after three years of relentless, systematic false opposition propaganda and the daunting challenge of addressing the COVID-19 outbreak, current approval ratings for the government of President Ortega and Vice President Murillo are still well over 60%. Given that context, claims of continuing systematic human rights abuses or of an Ortega family dictatorship make no sense either when compared with the facts of Nicaragua’s tremendous social and economic progress since 2007, or with the fall in Nicaraguans inclined to emigrate or with the persistent strong levels of approval for Nicaragua’s government.
The very choice of words in expounding the article’s counterfactual nonsense attacking Nicaragua’s government displays an obvious political bias in favour of Nicaragua’s US funded right wing opposition and their fake-progressive allies. The article claims that Daniel Ortega “retook power in 2007”. In fact, Daniel Ortega did not “retake power”. He was elected to presidential office in November 2006 because back then Nicaragua’s opposition was hopelessly divided, just as it is now but with far less support than it had fifteen years ago. Between 2007 and 2011, Nicaragua’s right wing political parties had a majority in the legislature.
Even the US dominated Organization of American States conceded that subsequent elections in 2011 and 2016 were free and fair. Alleging deep concern for Nicaraguan opposition supporters in Costa Rica, the article camouflages its clear support for a US and EU government funded right wing Nicaraguan opposition, determined to impose anti-democratic regime change on Nicaragua. In doing so, thea article’s author contradicts the very clear desire of the great majority of Nicaraguans to shape their country’s future without foreign interference. An August 2020 poll found that over 76% of Nicaraguans reject foreign interference to resolve the legacy of conflict from 2018, with over 77% agreeing that the crisis resulted from foreign efforts to destabilize the country.
If the article had paid more attention to democratic opinion in Nicaragua it would have given a truer account of the Nicaraguan opposition’s violent failed coup attempt in 2018. Instead, in publishing it Comhlámh has violated its own Code of Good Practice by imparting false information about Nicaragua, based on the highly prejudiced accounts of self-exiled Nicaraguans in Costa Rica. The article also ignores irrefutable testimony to the opposition violence that killed, injured and abused thousands of victims in Nicaragua in 2018. Meanwhile, Nicaragua’s right wing opposition, which the article so clearly supports, continue to lobby freely with much success for illegal coercive measures against their own country by the US and EU governments, measures which would severely affect the human rights and well being of all Nicaraguans.