What Really Happened in Nicaragua in 2018?

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The publication of Live from Nicaragua: Uprising or Coup? both in English and Spanish helps to counteract with surgical meticulousness the huge mountain of lies and demonization, which the democratically elected government of Daniel Ortega was being buried under so as to facilitate the 2018 coup attempt. In the process, it has also substantially enriched our understanding of the Sandinista Revolution now (2019) and then (1979). This titanic documentation enterprise became a moral duty when on 18 April 2018 a ferocious US-led and US-financed brutal assault on Nicaragua’s democracy, government, state institutions and its people was unleashed. It involved acts of vandalism, arson, assault, beatings, killings, torture and rape, going as far as to set the bodies of their victims on fire, incidents which the coup activists filmed and posted in their social media.


Between April and September 2018, by means of hundreds of roadblocks across Nicaragua, a regime of terror was established, maintained and enforced by armed thugs mobilised by Nicaragua’s extreme right and paid with US dollars, all supported by violent demonstrations provoking clashes with the forces of law and order so as produce as many dead as possible. There were almost daily victims of lethal opposition violence


Confronting the powerful world US-led ‘regime change’ intervention machinery that produces large quantities of fake news, false positives, demonization, disinformation, and straight lies (hourly and 24/7) as Live from Nicaragua does, requires determination and commitment. It demands intellectual integrity and courage, since, among many others, its authors have to take on bodies, such as Amnesty International, that enjoy virtuous standing, especially in the West, and whose pronouncements are deemed flawless by Establishment politicians, academics, even including some on the Left.


The Live from Nicaragua authors have had the courage to confront and denounce not just the US apparatus of intervention (which they do by naming names), but also Nicaragua's powerful and dangerous extreme right wing activists and their oligarchic sponsors, as well as their international supporters internationally (some of the authors live in Nicaragua.) In telling the truth they have exposed pro-coup sections of the Catholic Church’s hierarchy and their involvement in terrorist activities against the people of Nicaragua, a risky and complex endeavour, especially in times of civil strife.


The 270-page Live from Nicaragua, nearly all of which written in response to events as they were unfolding, includes a highly informative section of nearly day to day and week by week snippets which allow to contrast those events with how they were misreported, distorted or simply omitted by the world’s corporate media. We owe it to Nan McCurdy and Stephen Sefton to have compiled The Events of 2018 and their context.


Live from Nicaragua’s commitment to set the record straight clearly informs all its sections. An approach that Gabriela Luna’s Foreword whose subtitle, Telling The Truth as a Revolutionary Act, confirms. Luna accurately describes Live from Nicaragua as “accessible, rigorously researched, politically relevant and timely” so that what was involved with the US-led “regime change’ is fully grasped. For Luna there is a global need “to rebuild solidarity movements and learn the truth about how imperialist strategies attempt to destroy social fabrics and weaponize confusion.” In the Introduction Chuck Kaufman pinpoints the narrative Live from Nicaragua is seeking to deconstruct: ‘Daniel Ortega is a dictator and he has turned his brutal National Police loose to repress and massacre innocent peaceful protestors.’


How Nicaragua defeated a right-wing US-backed coup by Nils McCune and Max Blumenthal, narrates the vicissitudes of fighting off the extreme right wing daily violence and the evolution of the overall situation leading to the coup’s defeat. They show both the intimate links between the golpistas and US state institutions (NED, USAID, etc.), and the role played by key individuals during the violent ‘regime change’ effort. Nils also points out how the “opposition attempted to declare a junta” pretty much as “the Syrian opposition set up rebel-controlled zones in places like Aleppo and Idlib, Raqqa where ISIS declared its capital.” Nils and Blumenthal conclude that what makes Nicaragua different is the historic memory of defeating the Somoza regime, a “constant source of strength”, which is what allows “Nicaraguans to face imperialism.”


Brian Willson and Nils McCune’ section, US Imperialism and Nicaragua, not only dissects US efforts at ‘regime change in 2018, but puts US interference in Nicaragua in historical perspective, thus allowing the reader to learn that it goes back 150 years (from William Walker’s filibuster invasion in 1856), through the intense period of US military interventions (1909 – 1933), the 43 years of Somoza rule, the brutal and devastating 1980s US-backed Contra War against the Sandinista Revolution, and 17 dark years of neoliberalism after the FSLN February 1990 electoral defeat. Each examined in precise pedagogical detail. The defeat in 1933 of the US invasion led by Augusto César Sandino who “became a symbol of resistance to the US empire”, has remained an inspiring historic point of reference ever since.


Chuck Kaufman’s US Regime-Change Funding Mechanisms is another rich contribution to our understanding of the 2018 US-generated crisis in Nicaragua. We learn that in 1990, the US-funded NED, “spent more than twice as much as per Nicaraguan voter to defeat Sandinista President Daniel Ortega for re-election as George Bush and Michael Dukakis spent combined per US voter in the 1988 US presidential election.” No doubt US imperialism attaches huge importance to control this poor Central American nation because Nicaragua’s independent FSLN government complicates its hegemony in its ‘backyard’. Thus the US State Dept. took at least 4 years and tens of million of dollars to prepare for ‘regime change’ in 2018. Those resources went into funding and organizing the thousands of operatives, thugs and criminals who unleashed the violence aimed at bringing about the ousting of the democratically elected government of FSLN. The NED is barely the tip of iceberg since the US ‘regime change’ machinery includes USAID, NDI, IRI, CIA, Freedom House and a few others, the extent of whose activities will very likely shock many readers.


Human Rights in Nicaragua by Dan Kovalik demonstrates how in the 2018 US-backed coup attempt, as in any other war, “truth is the first casualty.” He shows how what I would call the ‘human rights industry’ was objectively and subjectively a powerful ally of US efforts at ‘regime change’ in Nicaragua. It contributed substantially to the demonization of the FSLN government led by Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo with very widey publicised, highly biased reports by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the Nicaraguan Centre for Human Rights, the Nicaraguan Association of Human Rights, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, all of which charged the FSLN government with systematic violations of human rights and of all the violent deaths. The latter was asserted with zero respect for even the most basic requirements of rigorous and irrefutable verification and corroboration. Thus all deaths, including that of 22 police officers, scores of Sandinista supporters and even a few that had not died at all, were systematically attributed to ‘government repression’. Kovalik substantiates this with a detailed and rigorous analysis of each one of the lethal casualties. The human rights organizations’ bias against the FSLN is staggering.


John Perry’s Nicaragua’s Crisis: the Struggle for Balanced Media Coverage (whose title says it all) is an inspiring analysis that scrupulously scrutinizes the intensely partial and subjective coverage of the April 2018 crisis by both the corporate and the social media. A blitz unleashed by these two segments of the media allowed the coup leadership on the ground to dramatically shift the narrative from one of  student marches against social security reforms to one of full-scale violent insurrection. As Perry aptly puts it: “the students [and others] had acquired the skills not simply to make Facebook posts but to create and promote false news stories, [thus] building what was soon being called a ‘tsunami’ of media posts.” This ‘tsunami’ was doggedly maintained throughout the crisis, enabling the golpistas to dominate interpretations of events, which soon came to shape decisively corporate media’s narrative of events in Nicaragua. Perry convincingly shows that “the instant interpretations of events via social media were those which shaped the coverage [of events] both by Nicaragua’s corporate media and mainstream international news channels such as the BBC and The Guardian". No wonder so many people in the West were persuaded of the FSLN culpability.


Popular Economy: Nicaragua’s Anti-Shock Therapy by Nils McCune, Jorge Capelán and others, is likely to be an eye opener to many. The figures associated with the popular economy are a source of inspiration and hope In Nicaragua. 94.1% of all economic and social entities are part of the popular economy (“micro, small, and medium-sized family business, cooperatives and associations in the countryside and city”); they employ 3 million people (73.7% of national employment), are responsible for 42.4% of GDP, 55.7% of revenue and 61.8% of available expenditure in the economy; nearly 80% of the land is in the hands of small and medium sized farmers, making, “Nicaragua the only country in Latin America that produces 90% of the food it consumes.” Provided they implement the right policies, poor countries can cater for the livelihood and the standard of living for their people. Under the FSLN ordinary Nicaraguans are at the centre of economic power, thus health, education and culture are neither ‘expenses’ nor ‘burdens’ but “essential components for unleashing the main productive force of Nicaraguan society: its empowered people.”


Another highly interesting revelation is Coleen Littlejohn’s The Catholic Church and their Role in the Political Crisis in Nicaragua. Littlejohn charts the changing role of the church, including its internal contradictions and complexities, in Nicaraguan politics from the tense 1980s during the US-financed Contra War to its role as “mediator” in the crisis in April 2018. What comes out in Littlejohn’s analysis is shocking evidence of the role played by both priests and bishops (notably Silvio Baez, Bishop of Managua) in giving practical and logistical support to armed thugs managing the roadblocks by storing their weapons and medicine in churches, but worse, by overseeing, or by themselves applying, torture of Sandinista supporters or police officers. Sections of the Church’s hierarchy used the pulpit as a platform to mobilize opposition to the government with the explicit aim of violently ousting it. Seminarians and priests served the tranques (roadblocks) by bringing the opposition activists who operated them food and general support from local churches. Bishop Baez himself was recorded saying, “The roadblocks were a wonderful idea.” In Nicaragua a large proportion of the people remain Catholic (44% according to one recent survey) but many feel that after the events of the last 12 months, the Catholic Church, “given that they were active members of the opposition themselves”, may irrevocably have lost some of its legitimacy.


Dan Kovalik in Live from Nicaragua’s Conclusion brings the book together by linking up all its individual streams but he also launches a well deserved broadside against what he calls ‘humanitarian imperialists’, a section of the Western Left who see that “its role is to promote [external] intervention” in order to advance “human rights, democracy and freedom.” There are among them “well-intentioned individuals, organizations and press outlets (e.g. NACLA, DSA, Jacobin Magazine, The Nation, Democracy Now! and The Guardian.)” For Kovalik, they ask the wrong question since the issue is to organize and agitate in the West “to oppose imperialist intervention abroad”. Kovalik puts forward a cogent legal and moral case against external intervention ending with a poignant call to the Left to oppose “the immoral and illegal sanctions against Nicaragua and the illegal threats to topple Nicaragua’s democratically-elected government.”


Additional contributions were also made to the various sections of Live from Nicaragua by Alex Anfruns, Paul Baker Hernandez, Michael Boudreau, Enrique Hendrix, Katherine Hoyt, Barbara Larcom, Nan McCurdy, Nora McCurdy, Camilo Mejía, Barbara Frances Moore, Louise Richards, Stephen Sefton, Erika Takeo, Helen Yuill and Kevin Zeese. Live from Nicaragua is indeed a model for other solidarity movements and I for one certainly hope such good practice is spread as widely as possible.


What jumps at you from Live from Nicaragua is the US extraordinary capability to mess a small country such as Nicaragua up completely and in no time at all (Venezuela has been substantially more affected by US interference but it has taken years to reach the current level of crisis it confronts). In contrast Nicaragua had had 10 years of solid and stable economic development, constant increases in welfare and a large degree of self-sustainability, yet, US imperialism was able to create a crisis that will take some years to overcome.


From Live from Nicaragua one is also astonished at the ability of the US to organize long term training to form professional counterrevolutionary cadres like Félix Maradiaga: intellectual, professional, able to operate in international diplomatic circles and as a ground operative organizing armed groups, probably also, military actions. NED, USAID and other such outfits channel millions of dollars to train cadres like Maradiaga and set up organizations to carry out the ‘soft’ coups planned by US State Dept. strategists. Other Latin American progressive movements have much to learn from the recent experience of Nicaragua that should be carefully studied in all its multifaceted features for which Live from Nicaragua is indeed very useful.


With such resources the US has shown to be capable to assemble a war-like broad front for ‘regime change’ that comprises individuals from all walks of life: entrepreneurs, politicians, students, bishops, priests, criminals, foreign paramilitaries and, in Nicaragua, renegade Sandinistas. This broad front counts on a well-structured international alliance involving governments, politicians, think tanks, academics, intellectuals, the human rights fraternity, but especially the social and world corporate media. Any solidarity movement must equip itself with the skills and intellectual apparatus adequate to mount a resilient defense when a ‘regime change’ effort is unleashed.


Although Live from Nicaragua does not at all intend to give lessons of political strategy either to Nicaragua or anyone else, its various sections make clear that the FSLN’s leadership capability, tactical flexibility and, above all, strong and close links with social organizations and people at grass roots, forged in decades of struggle, seems to be a sine qua non condition to successfully defeat US ‘regime change’ adventures.


July 5th 2018


The book can be downloaded free in English or Spanish.


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